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Dear PR Up-and-comers...

Posted By Karma Agency on August 17, 2020

Dear PR Up-and-comer,


You have a job to do. You’ve been entrusted to build, elevate or repair reputations for your clients. You’ve been challenged to tell stories that compel audiences to think, feel and act differently. In some cases, you’ve been tasked with making stories seem more important or unique than they really are. You’ve been charged to earn continuous thought-provoking, above-the-fold and before-the-scroll coverage in the nation’s greatest news platforms. You’re a news chaser and revel in the thrill-of-the-hit environment. It’s where you belong. 

Alas, here we are. In the midst of a once-a-century pandemic and a centuries-overdue racial justice movement. You’re about to hit send on a pitch or dial the last digit of the beat reporter’s mobile. You ask yourself, “Is earned media important right now?” My response: has earned media ever been more important?

The world is a very different place. The entire industry has been recast. Proactive campaigns are null and void or in salvage mode. Advertising campaigns are postponed. Influencers are only whispering. General sales and marketing are in the longest hiccup it’s ever experienced. But, public relations comrades, we are living the ultimate DO moment for our industry. We must be courageous, disciplined and relevant as the news cycle changes hour to hour and conversations change minute to minute.


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Now is the time to lean into your craft, flex that storytelling muscle and trumpet genuine, substantive news. Public relations is always evolving and so should your approach. Though, here are some guardrails that will never go out of style.


Sell the story worth telling

There’s an old wives’ tale that good PR is based on the number of names you have in your Rolodex, er, contact list. Journalists don’t bite on stories because they know you. Journalists agree to stories that are new and interesting or angles that are fraught with controversy. Mostly, they say yes to ideas that will engage their audiences and offer a narrative that is unputdownable. Ask yourself honestly: If it wasn’t my job, would I read this? If not, start over.


Say what you mean and mean what you say

Just as I’d advise you to educate people that poo-poo the profession as spin or doublespeak, I’d encourage you to prevent a client, brand or spokesperson from falling victim to that characterization. Brands need to address what’s happening in this world. Messages can’t be formulaic, unimaginative and rely on platitudes. Case in point, this parody meme of a corporate response to Black Lives Matter. Encourage clients to embrace messages that are specific, meaningful and authentic. After all, it’s in times like these where consumers are yearning to see what companies stand for.


Know when no is the right answer

Brands are trying to pivot and reframe campaigns, so they don’t come off tone-deaf or opportunistic. Even still, it’s hard for CMOs or communications directors to see the forests and the trees simultaneously with sales goals as the end-all, be-all. Bring an objective stance and help them navigate what’s newsworthy and what passes the reputational sniff test. Don’t agree to pitch something that, at best, won’t see the light of the day and, at worst, peeve a reporter so much it could potentially jeopardize future coverage. Saying no to clients will make for an uncomfortable Zoom (née boardroom) conversation, but it’s that type of counsel that they need and why they hired you.


Rejection begets resilience

Newsrooms have been slashed in half and the remaining journalists have been pulled tug-of-war style to write only about COVID-19 or the Black Lives Matter movement. You will get the hard, cold no. Heck, you may never even get a response to that intellectual yet relatable pitch (that took you way longer to craft than you care to admit). Don’t let rejection bring you to a screeching halt. Push against it and use it as motivation to land the story that begs to be told.


Endure this public relations moment, fellow public relations pros. I promise you it will make for a storied career full of rich storytelling.


Yours in reputation,

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Forever a fan of handwritten correspondence, Natalie Kay credits her immaculate penmanship to 16 years of Catholic schooling.