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One of the first and most important things I’ve ever learned about PR is that it’s all about relationships. This makes sense, considering PR is a people business (not to mention the fact that we live in such a socially connected world). PR has been about relationships since the old school days of traditional tactics, yet it still holds true in the digital age we live in now.
I realize that there is a lot more involved in PR than just relationship building, but I do believe it’s the foundation for the way in which you practice PR. So, if we’re working under the premise that PR is all about relationships, then how can we apply it to tactics today?
Here are a few things I’ve learned that go a long way in helping with your PR efforts:
Handwritten Notes (I know I'm a little old school)
Yes, that’s right—handwritten notes. A note you write with pen and paper. They still exist. I’ve actually written a few handwritten notes lately and received lovely responses. Everyone appreciates a handwritten letter because it requires a person to go out of their way to get some sort of stationery or card, think of a message to write, and then mail it (you heard right—this involves addressing an envelope and putting a stamp on there…imagine that).
I crafted handwritten thank-you letters to all my professors at Loyola upon graduation. These were people who truly helped me get where I am today and they deserve a personal thank you. And that’s just what handwritten notes are: personal. Keeping a personal touch in a digital age is an essential aspect of relationship building. People are going to remember you favorably if you take the time to send a handwritten note, and chances are the next time you reach out they will be ready to take the time to do something nice for you.
Research, Research, Research (Google can find anything—use it!)
There are many reasons why research is important for anyone who works in PR. In terms of relationships, research is key because you need to know who you’re talking to. Just flip it around and put yourself on the other side of things: do you enjoy receiving emails that are obviously part of a huge email blast and have nothing to do with you personally? No. It’s a waste of time.
Through research (and I’m not talking about PR software, but actually doing your own news searches) you can find out not only which beat(s) a reporter covers, but what they’ve written recently, other publications they might contribute to, if they have a personal blog, where they spend on time on social media, what they’re interested in, etc. Knowing all that about a person will immediately give you an edge in building a relationship with them.
You can reference some of what you know in an individualized pitch. Even if they aren’t receptive to the idea at hand, you know enough about them to suggest something else that they might actually be interested in. At the very least, you’ll have gained enough respect from this person (because you took the time to find out a few things about them) that they’re likely to respond to you the next time you reach out.
Go the Extra Mile…Quickly
Sometimes it’s a pain and hard to do in a busy day, but you need to go the extra mile for the people you’re working with. Go out of your way to do the extra work to get journalists and your clients the materials they need. If they have questions, find out the answers as soon as you can and relay that information back. People appreciate your efforts and they don’t go unnoticed. Respect deadlines, respond quickly and often. It seems simple, but you’d be surprised at how many people won’t go this extra mile. It goes a long way. It keeps everyone you’re working with happy and much more willing to work with you again in the future—hence, relationship building.
Honesty Will Always Remain the Best Policy (Another throwback)
PR folks don’t always have the best reputation on this front, but honesty is always the best way to go. People can recognize when you’re giving them the runaround, and they don’t like it. Don’t promise things that won’t happen or aren’t actually true. If something isn’t going to work out or a story just isn’t a fit, be upfront about it. If you don’t know something, just say that you don’t know but are working to find out. Making up answers and giving false promises will end up hurting you. Anyone you work with will appreciate you being straightforward and realistic. From there on out, they will know they can come to you for honest answers. This is something to be valued. It’s rare.
Recognize the Importance of Non-Traditional Methods
Most people you’re trying to get in contact with spend time on social media, right? Don’t forget that when you’re doing PR outreach. Social media can be a very effective way to begin a conversation with someone, which is how you start to build a relationship. If you converse with a journalist via Twitter, for instance, the next time you have an idea for them you can send a quick DM to at least gauge their interest. If they want to know more, they can quickly answer and ask you to send a more detailed email. It’s much more efficient and effective, especially because most of us are already spending time on social media sites as it is. This method also sets you apart from the rest because clearly you know who you’re talking to and sent that message directly to them.
Follow Up…and Follow Up again
I can’t stress enough how important it is to follow up. Don’t be a stalker, but remember that people are busy and they can innocently forget about you. They will appreciate a follow up. It also keeps you in communication, which is another large part of relationships. Following up not only helps you stay at top of mind, but it shows you’re interested and truly care about the matter at hand. But don’t only follow up for selfish reasons (aka to push information on a person). If a journalist covers your client, reach out to them upon reading the article to let them know that you read it and enjoyed it, appreciate that they wrote it, thank them for working with you, and then share it via social media. If you just fall off the radar after you give a journalist all of your client’s materials, then you aren’t really building any sort of relationship with them.
I only gave a few tips on things I’ve learned about relationship building as it relates to PR. What do you have to say about it? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.