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PR, contemporary style

The end game of every PR campaign is to bring exposure to a product or client, but the way PR professionals go about assembling their campaigns can vary greatly. This is further complicated by the emergence of social media as a cultural phenomenon. Traditionally, PR had been operating within the spectrum of two poles. On one side of the PR spectrum exists a campaign archetype based solely on numbers. With a brilliant piece of news in their hands, PR professionals send a press release or pitch to a wide smattering of media targets. This method, sometimes referred to as the shotgun approach, continues to be employed by PR professionals because its rate of success is high enough to justify its repeated usage. This method’s advantages include wide reach and minimal effort. But it also incites the ire of many journalists who receive pitches that are, at best, only loosely related to the topics that they cover.

On the other side of the spectrum is the PR campaign containing a smaller number of highly targeted pitches to a very specific group of influencers. Let’s call this targeted pitching. It is more time consuming than shooting a general pitch to several hundred contacts with little vetting. But it is also the type of pitch highly touted by journalists. With the tools that PR professionals have at their disposal, the importance of pre-pitching homework has not been diminished. Prudent pitches are often personalized down to the specific journalist targeted. As noted in previous inVocus pieces, it is important to do as much research as possible before pitching. This could mean going deeper than knowing what subjects are relevant to the journalist or media outlet, or even how the journalist/outlet has covered similar subjects in the past. As contemporary pitching fluxes with the expansion of digital media, PR professionals have not been shy about using social media platforms as an additional resource to pursue their campaigns and connect with influencers.

Consider this anecdote from Ashley Haberstadt, vice president at Orange Public Relations:

“I once pitched a writer at a major tech blog with a two-word subject line. The words were a phrase this person had coined just minutes before and tweeted about. I tied it in to the product I was asking him to review, and he responded within minutes. He couldn’t avoid opening an email that was so obviously targeted specifically for him.”

Or Jeff Lewis, vice president of media relations at Group M Inc:

“[Twitter] has been most helpful for me when it comes to learning about a reporter’s specific writing habits and beats. Their content and examples of their personalities come though better through Twitter feeds, making it easier to tailor pitches to them as individuals.”

PR occupies a self-conscious space within social media because the medium allows clients and consumers to converse directly. It also opens up the conversation to anyone interested. Social media interaction is at once immediately public and a bit intimate. Its reach is automatically scattershot, but the effort requires no less tact. Like targeting bloggers, pitching social media is not without nuance or risk.

Regardless of whether or not a journalist engages with the PR professional over Twitter, the conversation will most certainly be public. Sending a dozen journalists carbon-copy tweets will probably be written off as spam. To navigate social media, PR professionals have to creatively expose their message while remaining authentic and conscious of the medium’s nebulous and ever-present audience. The value of PR in social media isn’t necessarily in added exposure, but better coverage.

–Tayne Kim

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