‘You need to become a jack of all trades’: Confessions of a publicist on the importance of changing strategies as media evolves

This article is part of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor to get an unvarnished look at the people, processes and problems inside the industry. More from the series →

Clients have long since expected a lot out of their earned media and communication partners. But recently, public relations firm professionals say they have been feeling the squeeze as clients expect media coverage to help them go viral.

With so many changes happening across the marketing and advertising landscape, communication firms are being asked to fire on all cylinders, from earned media coverage to TikTok strategies. As client demands become harder to accommodate, one media specialist says it’s causing the industry to lose client work.

In this edition of our Confessions series, in which we exchange anonymity for candor, a media communications specialist shared how strained client-agency relationships are now and why “PR is no longer like a one-trick pony.”

 This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Talk to me about the PR landscape right now.

In a lot of ways, clients come to agencies right now and they’re like, “I want to go viral. I want press.” They associate press with going viral and that is a huge misconception. They fail to realize newsrooms are shrinking, readership is shrinking. Back in the day, it used to be press and TV ads. That’s how you learned about new things for the most part. Now it’s influencers and bloggers. There’s new media platforms, traditional press, trade [publications], podcasts, etc.

All that is to say, PR is no longer a one-trick pony. That is the approach I think a lot of agencies are still doing, even though they know it’s a wider range. Your clients come to you like, “I want press.” So naturally, you feel the need to give a client what they want.

But that’s still not satisfying clients?

So a lot of times, the agencies deliver press even in significant publications. For example, we had a client and we got them placed in TechCrunch, which is a huge deal. But they still ended up dropping us a month later. You need to become a jack of all trades. That’s why clients drop. Even though you’re getting them in Byrdie beauty, Marie Claire and reputable publications, it’s not driving the results that they are looking for. Covid-19 changed how we digest information. I wholeheartedly believe it’s just diversifying. [Things have] changed and people digest information differently, so it requires us to just diversify our efforts.

You mentioned that press is not your sales or marketing team. Talk about that frustration. 

PR does support the [marketing] funnel and it does help a lot of those marketing functions. But at the end of the day, PR will not alone drive your dollars. It definitely does support those functions. However, it’s not going to give you that spike that you’re looking for. If you’re in the startup [stage], your PR program should look different than if you are in that mid-stage, where people know about your brand and your brand has some momentum behind it. The program should look different, but we approach them the same. That causes a little bit of pain points. 

Is the onus on agencies or clients to find the resolve?

Both. Agencies just want to please clients and do what they want. But it requires agencies to be bold and say, “You think you know what you want, but just trust me on this. This is going to get you there.” Clients have misconceptions. Sometimes, honestly, clients just want vanity press. There’s [a] misconception on the client side, which leads agencies to just want to please them, do what they want and not be bold enough to say, “Let’s redirect, I think you need this, actually.”

What would it take to get everyone on the same page?

Having clients who are open to being redirected would be a huge, huge component. There is education needed from the PR agency side to educate clients on exactly what you’re going to get from this. That’s one of the solutions, educating clients to understand what they need and not just letting them tell you what they want. You hired me to be your expert. Let me talk you through this and walk you through what this landscape looks like, and how we can get you to where you want to go.


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