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10 Key Trends That Will Change the World of Public Relations

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Author: Ashley Waters, Vice President, Media at PAN Communications, headshot
Ashley WatersVice President, Media Relations

2020 was a year of rapid change for all industries, including PR. Some of these shifts will be temporary, while many will be permanent and have a lasting impact on the world of public relations. Staying ahead of these trends will allow us to continue adding value to our clients that go far beyond traditional media practices.

As we enter the second half of 2020, we’ll continue to adapt and evolve to meet the needs of our clients and the ever-changing landscape. These are the trends that are here to stay and will have a significant impact on our industry into the future.

Source: used under CC license.

Top 10 Public Relations Trends & Tips

#1: Make Sure Your Story is Compelling

Even before COVID ravaged industries across the US, newsrooms have seen a massive decline in employees. Between 2008 and 2020, overall newsroom employment in the U.S. dropped by 23%, which amounts to approximately 27,000 jobs. Now, with the coronavirus leading to furloughs, lay-offs, and closures in outlets, there are even fewer reporters to pitch. What does this mean for the PR industry? It’s more critical than ever to do your homework, be extremely targeted in your outreach, and make sure you are telling a compelling story.

Need insights on how to approach reporters during the pandemic? Read, “Navigating the Media Landscape During the COVID-19 Health Crisis.”

#2: Personalize Your Pitches

On the above point, fewer reporters means they are receiving more pitches than ever. If you aren’t grabbing their attention immediately with a compelling subject line and getting to the point quickly, it will end up unread or in the trash. Make sure you are always writing a specific, targeted pitch to individual reporters and personalize your outreach. They know when they are being forwarded the same email as other reporters.

#3: Don’t Be Tone Deaf: Connect Your Pitch With the Larger Media Conversation

Newsrooms haven’t just changed due to fewer reporters, the actual stories they are covering look very different as well. The news cycle was dominated by COVID starting in March, and while other stories have made their way back into publication, it’s still their main topic of interest. Each publication covers COVID differently but these days, every reporter is a COVID reporter. When you are conducting outreach, you don’t want to be an ambulance chaser, however, if your client has something of value to say regarding the economy, their industry, policies, regional business, etc. – take a step back to consider how their perspective plays into the larger media conversation. If they want to be a thought leader on specific passion topics, consider how they align back to COVID.

#4: Be a True Partner For Your Client

It’s critical to be an extension of your clients team, and not just an outside resource. This means being deeply ingrained into their entire marketing function as one integrated team. What are their marketing teams overall objectives, and how can PR support those goals? Marketing and PR are often kept separate, but they should be intertwined to allow for more success on both programs.

It’s also critical for the PR team to act as more than just tactical arms and legs for outreach. PR teams have an opportunity to support our clients’ purpose-based communication. This year was a significant moment in time in terms of responses, both negative and positive, to brands trying to capitalize on things like the Black Lives Matter movement. When a brand’s message didn’t feel authentic, it was quickly called out. As the PR arm, speak up and be part of the solution. If your client wants to jump on a specific topic that you feel is ambulance chasing or not in alignment with their values, say something. There’s a way to do this that is collaborative and positive, but it doesn’t behoove you or the client to not raise your hand when you see a red flag. This is what true partnership looks like, and we should aim to add value beyond traditional PR and be an extension of all our clients internal teams.

Here are 5 Tips for Working Effectively with a PR Agency.

#5: We’re All Human: Build Relationships with Reporters

Networking and relationship building between reporters and PR pros had already started to show signs of changing, pre-COVID. We pitch reporters all over the country, and sometimes world, so grabbing a mid-day coffee isn’t always an option. Deskside tours and meetings at conferences also slowed down, even before the pandemic hit. Now, we’re all working remotely, and in-person meetings are off the table for the foreseeable future. Ironically, these days relationships are more critical than ever. As mentioned, reporters are getting inundated with pitches. One great way to break through the noise is name recognition.

There are a few ways to build a relationship with a reporter, but the best is to familiarize yourself with their beat and only pitch them on topics that are relevant. Seems obvious, but there aren’t any magic tricks that are better than doing your homework. If they open an email from you and you misspelled their name or sent them an angle completely off base, guess what? They probably won’t open the next email they receive from you. You should also make sure you are following them on social media, engaging with them on Twitter, and occasionally reaching out with non-pitch emails, such as congratulating them on a new role.

#6: Remember These Pitching 101 Basics

Like Aviators, Converse’s, trench coats, and plain white t-shirts – the basics never go out of style. In PR, the same concept applies: sometimes you shouldn’t look to the next trend, and instead focus on the basics. Here are some 101 PR tips that should always be top of mind:

  • Make it easy to actually read. No crazy fonts, colors, or italics. Many reporters are checking emails on their phones, so make sure it’s easy on the eyes.
  • If you don’t think it’s interesting, neither will they. Tie your angles into larger trends to elevate your storylines.
  • Have the call to action visible within the first two sentences. Are you offering an interview or sharing data? If a reporter skims your note, make sure it’s clear what you’re offering them.
  • Be respectful in your follow-up. If they didn’t get back to you, it’s likely because they aren’t interested. If you want to send a follow-up note, make sure it’s offering something new or of value.
  • Data is great, as long as it’s interesting, unique, and has a large enough sample size. Make sure your data checks those boxes before offering it.
  • Your subject line is your first point of contact with a reporter, don’t waste that real estate. Write a subject line that pops and makes it clear what you’re offering.
  • Manage expectations with clients and pay attention to timing. As the news cycles shift, and certain headlines dominate, consider your timing with a pitch or announcement. For example, unless you are specifically announcing something related to the Presidential election, it’s probably best to avoid issuing a press release on November 3rd this year.
  • Do your homework. This is listed in other sections, but it bears repeating. DO. YOUR. HOMEWORK.

#7: Integrated Marketing + PR = Successful Campaigns

Integrated marketing (IM), should be part of the strategy and campaign development from the beginning. Adding paid media to the earned and owned media strategies can help generate significant reach and awareness. Measuring your results against client-specific goals will help align on what success looks like and know when you need to adjust. Effective campaigns are where messaging is consistent across IM and PR, and those programs should be in-lockstep with one another.

Not sure where to start? Learn how to define your integrated marketing & PR strategy

#8: Tackle Phone Pitching Challenges

Much like the rest of the world, reporters are working remotely. This means their office lines, that are usually relatively easy to find, are going unanswered. Unless you happen to have a reporter’s cell phone number, phone pitching has become more challenging. While still worth pursuing, as many reporters have their desk lines go to their cell phones, it’s undeniable that phone pitching has changed since no one is in an office anymore. And worth noting – don’t try and reach a reporter after hours. Be mindful of their time zone and the fact that we all need to unplug from our at-home work environments at the end of the day.

#9: Know the Methodology Behind Your Data

We discussed that data needs to be interesting, but it’s worth noting that most reporters will now request methodology to accompany any insights you share. This is them doing their job and due diligence as well to ensure the data is substantial and accurate – essentially they need this to fact check the insights. Have it on-hand, and plan on sharing it immediately upon request or even in the initial email.

#10: Don’t Fall In Love With Your Pitch if It’s Not Working

You should only be spending four or five days for a pitch, maximum. If you aren’t getting feedback or interest within a few days, it’s time to move on. Our job is about our ability to pivot and be creative. Sometimes you have an angle that’s a homerun, and then hear crickets. Don’t take it personally and come up with a new proactive pitch to pursue instead.

Nobody Said PR Was Easy

I’ve had multiple conversations where people are frustrated and feel like it’s harder than ever to get coverage. Tactics or angles that felt like a guaranteed way to get ink a year ago aren’t generating the same kind of interest now. It’s not about what new tactics you need to implement for success, but instead thinking about what the current industry trends are and how you need to adjust. Integrating your PR efforts with social, data, content marketing and measurement practices is a must in 2020 and it will help ensure that your earned media is well amplified.

Many of these lessons aren’t new but have shifted as the world has changed. The same key lessons still apply, and in fact, they are more important than ever. But it’s critical to marry those 101 PR strategies and apply them to the new trends we’re experiencing. PR is a constantly evolving field but think of it as an opportunity rather than a challenge. By staying on top of trends and adjusting our strategies, we can continue to provide value by telling stories that are important to our clients, the media, and their audiences.

Want to learn how your earned media and thought leadership efforts can build a solid reputation for your brand? Download our eBook, “Building a Thought Leadership Program to Drive Value and Trust.”


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