Is Integrated Marketing Communications Crucial To PR Pros’ Survival?
I’m often surprised when I still encounter public relations agencies whose entire media strategy consists of pitching news via press releases and just hoping for the best. Perhaps I should thank them for turning their clients in the direction of firms like Harf when those campaigns inevitably fall short. Instead, I’d rather bring them up to speed on how the media landscape has changed, in the hopes of raising everyone’s abilities and collectively elevating our industry as a whole. After all, storytelling continues to be a crucial part of how most businesses set themselves apart from the competition.
This is not to say that today’s successful pitch no longer needs to be written well. Of course it does! Pitches must be as intelligent, intentional, compelling and grammatically correct as ever. But if your pitch has any chance of being seen among the masses in increasingly inundated media inboxes, it needs to be so much more than that.
The downsizing of traditional media platforms, combined with an ever-growing number of social media platforms, influencers and bloggers, has forced PR practitioners to evolve. We must move beyond simply pitching news and instead work hand-in-hand with executives and internal marketing teams to tell an authentic story and earn buy-in to back up the pitch. When done effectively, this approach creates a nearly turnkey experience for the media person or outlet.
The PR professionals who are thriving today (and who’ll survive to see tomorrow) have become messaging mavens and expert storytellers at their core. At my agency, for example, we package our stories with appropriate assets, such as professionally produced images and explainer videos, alongside news angles and pitches — because, as we all know, visuals can help take the story to deeper levels of understanding.
- An interesting explainer video: When done well, explainer videos grab attention and allow brands to showcase their personalities. In PR, a good explainer video presents a journalist (someone who is already extraordinarily time-constrained, as it is) with a one-to-two-minute explanation of who you are, what problem you’re solving and what news you’re announcing. This can enhance your pitch’s chances of not only becoming a story, but it can also increase the chances of your video being embedded into that story.
- Great graphics: Branded graphics that make an immediate impact also play a key role in securing coverage. Augmenting your video with high-resolution images and infographics can be crucial storytelling elements that not only grab the attention of journalists, but also free them from having to spend time and money producing their own. Visuals are processed 60,000 times faster by the brain than text, so a striking photo or graphic will present any concept faster and with greater impact. According to Muck Rack’s State of Journalism 2020 survey of over 1,000 journalists, 74% said that images make a story more shareable.
- Compelling social content: Another piece of the media coverage puzzle that should remain top of mind is the creation and curation of compelling, cohesive social media content that supports your story and drives clickthroughs from the media. Before writing (or even considering) a story, nearly all journalists will first look you up on social media. Some are more discerning than others, but almost all will be looking at the amount of engagement across your social platforms as well as how often — or how rarely — you post content. Have you put thought into your social media plan that’s also evident in your feed, or has everything been posted haphazardly, sporadically, and in the moment? Nowadays, a brand’s social media strategy speaks volumes and tells the world how you want to be perceived. The key is to carefully plan your posts and think of social media as an invaluable storytelling platform that must also align with your company’s core marketing plan.
In-House or Freelance?
Now that I’ve shared several of my pitch secrets, how and where do you begin to put them into practice? Thankfully, the market for talented freelance designers, photographers, video producers and copywriters has never been richer (or more user-friendly). Websites like Fiverr and Upwork were created to help connect business owners with freelancers, but you must do your due diligence to decipher the true gems from the posers who are just looking to make a quick buck (at the possible expense, or even loss, of a valuable client).
If you are less risk-averse and have a healthy budget, you might save yourself a lot of time and heartbreak by working directly with a reputable hiring agency that has the resources to more deeply vet a candidate before sending them your way. Ultimately, you want to work with someone experienced, talented, well-versed in your field, and who takes pride in their work.
Serious PR agencies need to either retain freelance designers, photographers and copywriters to plan out their pitches and produce their other content — or they need to bring that work in-house. The benefit of having assets produced internally is that doing so gives you more control over the work and how reliably it gets delivered by creators who are committed to your company long term.
We’ve arrived at a clearly marked crossroads, and it’s time for all PR agencies to decide how seriously we want to bring our art into the future. The messages you put out there have to hit the mark and make an impact if you want to reach your campaign goals and become (or remain) successful. All PR practitioners must internalize the mantra “innovate or die,” since we are the industry tastemakers and ambassadors for change.