Category Archives: Public Relations Society of America – PRSA

Has traditional media relations bit the dust?

This topic is one that hits home for me – media relations and its relevance in our digital world. When I was in college at Kent State University (yes, an amazing school!), I was fortunate to be taught by some of the best practitioners I’ve ever met, even to this day. But one topic that surmounted them all – including top-notch research, strategic planning and writing – was media relations.

Now I am well aware that term can be interpreted in many ways depending on your education, or the type of business or industry you work in. But, at its crux, media relations is building and harnessing mutually beneficial relationships to reach and engage your target public/s. Remember that phrase “mutually beneficial relationships?” Yep, it’s part of, and has been a centerpiece of the Public Relations Society of America’s mission statement for 60 years now.

So, has the traditional media relations I so fondly remember bit the dust? The answer… NO.

What do I mean by traditional media relations?
When I use that term, I am referring to what most of us have done for years now – forging relationships with media contacts through pitching, editorial meetings, tours of newsrooms, etc. Remember the press conference or the media tour? It’s like we’ve forgotten about the all important two-way, face-to-face communications we had drilled into our minds in every PR class. That’s how we used to reach key people in the media – by showing some form of personality and tact. It didn’t matter if you were trying to attain coverage or to learn more about a respective media outlet, it all revolved around connecting with that person on some level. That connection remains of great importance to our field, even with the advent of social media.

Why is traditional media relations still important?
I will argue anyone that utilizing traditional media relations, like picking up the phone and calling a journalist to discuss a story idea or inquire about their needs, is still critical to our profession. Even now, I find myself garnering far better coverage – not to mention quality of coverage – by just calling a reporter and having a candid conversation with him or her.

These people don’t have all day to shoot the breeze though – even with shrinking newsrooms and less time to gather data. But let’s face it, we’re living in a time when these folks crave great content. When we package that content in newsworthy and practical ways, we will reap the rewards of story placement; and more importantly, build trust among the media.

Do college students or entry-level pros get it?
I don’t think college students or young practitioners right out of college really understand the importance of media relations from the perspective I am describing. Many students I’ve met are inundated with the power of social media and the infinite possibilities surrounding this exciting term. Yes, I’m an advocate of using social media tools to reach key media personnel and even score coverage, but that’s only part of the job. Social media platforms are a way to introduce yourself and learn about the person, but a balance of online, social media and traditional pitching are necessary to create a true relationship.

What’s my advice to students on old school media relations?
My advice is simple. Swallow your fear, think strategic (script with bulleted facts), know what you will say and pick up the phone! I assure you, it really works. For those of you who are so bold as to attempt this daunting and horrific task, let me offer my short-list of 10 ways PR professionals can still use media relations to build invaluable relationships with the media:

  1. Create a media list of your local or regional media outlets.
  2. Identify the key players you want to get to know.
  3. Call them up and ask what types of stories they’re looking for.
  4. Extend an offer to meet for coffee or lunch to learn more about them, and for them to learn about you.
  5. Setup an editorial meeting with section editors to discuss your news depending on the level of urgency and news value.
  6. READ their publications as much as possible! (Knowing what they write and how they present it makes a huge difference).
  7. Provide occasional recognition to a published piece. (Don’t pitch here… it’s just a way to let them know you’re paying attention).
  8. Keep them in the loop on what you’re working on as it relates to them. You’d be surprised by the mundane things that can skyrocket to the top of a journalist’s hot list without even realizing it.
  9. Follow their careers as they progress. People quickly turnover and change positions in this industry. Keeping in touch makes a world of difference! (They pass along contact names and other valuable information).
  10. DO NOT be afraid to pick up the phone and call them. Even with social media and email, a phone call goes a long way in showing you care and that you’re genuine. Email and social media can be impersonal and sometimes seem too forward.
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The state of the PR industry has changed

The PRSA International Conference was held this past week in San Diego, Calif. It’s a time that many PR professionals look forward to because of the pre-conference seminars, keynote speakers, networking and general sessions. By the way, the weather, food and entertainment only add to the excitement.

Of the nearly 25,000 PRSA members, a select group of us (about 325) have the opportunity to represent our local chapters as Assembly Delegates in the National Assembly – a day-long event akin to a session of congress. This marathon day typically entails review of PRSA bylaws, including amendments and resolutions to enhance the structure of our society.

Ralph J. Davila, Tom Duke, APR, Fellow PRSA at Assembly

Akron Area Chapter Delegates: Ralph J. Davila and Tom Duke, APR, Fellow PRSA at Assembly

But this year was different. We were tasked with reviewing and finalizing a complete rewrite of the society bylaws, which would constitute the most significant change in the PRSA since its inception in 1947.

Many thought it would be impossible to achieve such a feat. But after about 10 hours of laboring, conversing, amending, compromising and sometimes arguing, we made it happen.

At about 6 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 7, a majority vote of two-thirds was reached.

What changes were made to the bylaws?
The Assembly made vast changes, but  a few major ones should be mentioned. I will touch on them without going into too much detail since they are still in legal review.

APR Accreditation
The first major change that was debated for quite some time was the APR accreditation among membership and the National Board of Directors. According to a 2009 Membership Satisfaction Survey, 63 percent of the respondents stated that the APR was one of the most important programs offered by PRSA. With that said, the Assembly moved to require that any candidate for National Board have an APR to be eligible.

APR_Logo_smThis amendment makes a critical statement to the profession. It says that we, as PR pros, must work to achieve a higher standard of excellence by attaining an APR status.  The APR sends a strong message that PR is a true profession, and that we hold a stake in all levels of communication and at the management table.

I’d like to add that it’s not all about using your APR accreditation as a sales tool or getting a job. It’s about grounding yourself in the theory and practice of public relations, as well as the confidence you gain.

Membership Criteria
The other main issue discussed at length was how we, as a society, can increase PRSA’s value among the profession. There are approximately 250,000 people practicing PR in the United States, and only about 10 percent, or 25,000 of them, are PRSA members. Additional terminology was added within the language of the criteria that would have allowed other related professions to become members. After much debate, we as an Assembly voted to keep the language focused on public relations professionals as the membership target.

PRSA LogoWe have worked, since the start of the PRSA, to make our society the pre-eminent organization for PR pros. And to make sure that PR is taken seriously among others, we agreed that targeting our efforts on the other 90 percent of practicing PR practitioners would be best, and only strengthen our society and profession.

So, many members and PR pros asked why bylaw changes were made and how it would benefit them. Dave Rickey, APR, chair of the Bylaws Rewrite Task Force said:

The primary objective of the bylaws rewrite is to enable a flexible, nimble governance structure to support the best possible PRSA for members, leaders and the profession.

Final Thoughts
I believe that the rewrite will allow all of us to have a greater voice in decision-making and the direction we take PR and the society. It’s about inclusion, and we are in an age of both traditional and non-traditional communication, which makes this change both critical and timely.

We all have a voice in our society and profession, and need to come together to enhance PR’s reputation and understanding among the masses. Only then will we be appreciated and valued like we should be.


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