Behind the Headlines With Adriana Stan
Adriana Stan, public relations director at W Magazine, says being empathetic to the contacts you are pitching is the key to winning them over.
In this interview, Adriana discusses the nuances of promoting media brands, the evolving role of social media in media relations and how to adapt your public relations strategy to the changing media landscape.
What drew you to the field of public relations?
Curiosity! I’ve always been an avid consumer of journalism and loved writing. What sparked my interest in public relations for magazine brands was the idea of learning something new each time you pitch a story, discovering trends and delving into a variety of topics — from culture to politics to fashion. And what fueled it has been working with incredible mentors and leaders in both publishing and PR.
When employed to its full potential, PR can shape public opinion, build trust, transform news narratives and drive business growth. And as an industry, it’s ripe for innovation, so there is a lot to be explored in the future.
How do you approach public relations for fashion, luxury and entertainment brands versus other types of brands?
Promoting media brands is a unique vertical within PR – particularly when you add layers like fashion and luxury. It involves a mix of reputation-building and personality-driven outreach for the people behind the brand. And from a culture and entertainment perspective, it includes chasing news commentary or coming up with a larger trend story or segment ideas.
There is an element of keeping a pulse on culture and identifying what’s next – while introducing your brand or your magazine editor’s voice into the media conversation in a meaningful way.
On a consumer level, it’s also about translating magazine content into a broadcast interview or other forms of media. And doing so in a way that stays true to the brand’s identity, while expanding its audience and reach.
And on a trade level, it involves working with business, advertising or fashion industry media, whether it’s to announce an initiative or a partnership, or to serve other strategic goals for the brand. So there is a level of business knowledge that’s required, from media and publishing-related terminology, to digital and social metrics, to staying up-to-date on what’s happening in the luxury world.
What roles does social media play in your job?
What I’m seeing is that all media has become social, and all social can become media, in the sense of making headlines. This changes the way you approach a story – when it can be read, interpreted and decoded in different ways by a large audience that may or may not be familiar with your brand.
Social media also raises great questions about new ways to do PR and share your message. There are tactics that have been used for some time in areas like celebrity PR, but less so by media brands.
Recently at W magazine, I worked on a live Q&A on Tumblr as part of the platform’s “Answer Time” series. The audience was incredibly engaged, passionate and they cared and knew a lot about our brand. In just a couple of hours, the session generated more than a thousand questions and millions of impressions.
Another example is when W launched a modeling search, which tapped into the Instagram community to scout for new talent – and where our hashtag and the submissions we received became a powerful tool for communicating what our brand stands for, both direct to consumers and to industry media.
You’ve secured media coverage in outlets like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Entertainment Tonight and more. What’s your secret to success?
Empathy: understanding the journalist I’m pitching, their interests, their past coverage. Being strategic and selective about what to pitch and when. Making sure I’m answering the five W’s, anchoring the pitch with a timely hook and anticipating questions. Absorbing all the information I can on the subject matter before I even think about sending a pitch.
At the same time, I’m fortunate to work on W magazine, because it means that what I’m pitching are provocative stories—often with a predictive look at fashion, film and art—along with addictive videos and bold imagery.
How do you think media relations has evolved in recent years? What are brands and media outlets doing differently today that they didn’t do in the past?
In a fragmented media environment, the segmentation between print, online and broadcast is disappearing. A story you might intend for a specific business audience can quickly reach a wide consumer audience. An exclusive you might plan with a broadcast outlet gets instantly picked up on social media, then turns into a piece of online news. It’s important to plan accordingly and consider these outcomes when you develop a PR strategy.
Similarly, there is no longer any geographical segmentation of media – whereas in the past you might have had separate strategies and specific exclusives for US, UK and international press. Now, the minute a story is published online, it can be shared across the world.
And going back to social media, a traditional pitch might not always succeed in securing the story you were aiming for, but a social post might generate buzz that in turn leads to a news item or contributes to a larger narrative you are building.
What do you think is the biggest mistake brands make in their media relations strategy?
Forgetting that there is a larger context around the story they are pitching. For a journalist, the story rarely revolves around a brand or what they are launching, so pushing a product or message won’t resonate.
There are very few brands in the world that have the luxury of generating news purely based on who they are. So the pitch needs to lead with why the news is significant to the larger public, or what it means in the context of what’s happening in society.
Another mistake is a lack of flexibility – for instance, being set on making an announcement on X date at X time. You have to consider the news cycle, think macro level and adapt your timing based on what’s happening in the world to create the best conditions for the reception of your message.
And one aspect that should not be overlooked is integration: the PR strategy should be conceived as a whole and incorporate social media, and when applicable, keep in mind global news schedules and time zones.
What advice do you have for those looking to begin a career in public relations?
Focus on developing your writing skills. You might study liberal arts or journalism – a PR major is certainly not required. Reach out to people you admire—whether it’s through research on LinkedIn or through your university career center or a professional club you belong to—and schedule quick informational interviews.
Make sure you’re meeting with people at various stages of their careers and in varied organizations and agencies to learn about different types of PR and organizational cultures.
At the same time, understanding the changing nature of the media business is essential, as new platforms, media outlets, formats and distribution channels are emerging at a rapid pace. Staying informed and cultivating a well-rounded perspective is more important than ever.
Rapid Fire Round
1. My favorite social media platform is…Instagram for its visually immersive quality and Tumblr for its creative community.
2. If I could have lunch with anyone, it would be…Hillary Clinton.
3. My hobbies outside of work include…exploring art galleries and music venues.
4. I always thought I’d be…a journalist.
5. The thing that gets me up in the morning is…wondering what’s happened in the world and checking the news.
6. My hidden talent is…singing.
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