Despite being only in my mid-thirties, I’m constantly teased by my colleagues for being long in the tooth, principally because of my love for Victoria Wood, Hinge and Bracket and The Two Ronnies*; cultural references now sadly lost on my millennial colleagues.
When it comes to media relations, it’s no surprise that I put a strong emphasis on the importance of the more traditional skills. These include picking up the phone rather than emailing, reading the physical newspaper and meeting journalists regularly face-to-face to understand what’s on their wish list.
New technologies available to communicators are nevertheless incredibly valuable when it comes to social listening and engagement. Rich media content continues to change the landscape dramatically, and rightly so, with the growth in use of LinkedIn and international business press staking their claim on Instagram.
Even though I am the young-fogey of the office, I’m a huge advocate of these technological advances. My second screen has a constant Twitter feed of breaking news, meaning I’m often the first in the office to know if something important is happening.
What bugs me is that the phrase “traditional PR” can sometimes become synonymous with “old fashioned” and “behind the times”. I disagree. Traditional PR is the fundamentals of being successful in this industry and represent core skills we should be teaching new joiners to the profession.
Tech is valuable, but all too often sophisticated databases and emails can lead to a ‘fire and forget’ approach to media outreach. Personally knowing the one journalist that you can sell-in a front page-worthy story can be more powerful. How do you know who that journalist is? The answer is simple: you build meaningful relationships.
The skill of being able to pick up a phone and speak to a journalist, craft a story and be convincing are all skills that complement the effective use of technology. Taking the time to meet a journalist for coffee may seem like a chore, but by meeting them you can get better results because they remember you. It’s far easier to stand out and make an impression in person.
Moreover, being able to have a catch-up with a client and give them useful insights into what editors and journalists are looking for is where we deliver real value. As my mentor always points out, there is a huge difference in telling a client that Joe Bloggs writes for the FT, and telling them Joe Bloggs’ favourite cereal brand.
This also means not just talking shop all the time. I’m allergic to young public relations employees sending emails to journalists they have never met beginning “Hi, hope you’re well?” – do you? It’s not authentic, and the journalists know this. Whereas if you’ve taken the time to get to know them and you email to wish them congratulations on a big event, or give them tips on their upcoming trip to Marrakech, all of a sudden you have a meaningful rapport. Reading their work regularly is vital here.
Traditional media relations are not the enemy of new tech – they are complimentary. I enjoy Round the Horne* as much as I do hip hop. They don’t cancel each out, but they make me a more rounded person. In the same way, combining traditional PR skills to new tech can make you better at your job and ultimately, get better results.
No-matter how sophisticated technology advances, one concept will remain paramount: communication is a human activity. The art of persuasion is a skill that needs to be taught, practiced and applied. Master it, and you will become a great PR professional.
Benjamin Thiele-Long is an associate director based in London