There. I said it. The in-person media tour is dead. In the 1990s, “desk-side” briefings reigned. We regularly tracked executives’ travel schedules and lined up press meetings in New York, San Francisco and Boston, often with five or six each day. These often took place months in advance of an announcement, back when lead times for some print publications that published on a monthly schedule were as long as six, or even eight months.
Today, the technology world often works on deadlines of a few minutes. We’ve heard stories of stressed out bloggers, working around the clock to keep pace with their ambitious competitors, and then suffering heart attacks. I understand how this could happen. Often, if we have set an embargo for 8:00 a.m. ET, we’ll see a number of bloggers post their pieces at 7:58 a.m. ET just so they can say they were first, and to inch their way up in the search results. Embargoes, of course, are an entirely other issue (for more, read: The Embargo Lives, for Now).
As online media has quickened the pace of reporting, so too has the pace of PR increased. When just two or three years ago, we’d schedule quick 5-10 minute calls to provide quotes about breaking news to the press, today, now we frequently respond electronically, writing quotes and sending them in, often with a deadline of an hour to meet the reporter’s shortened deadlines. Reporters simply don’t have time to take the call. While they are writing their articles, we’re working on a quote that they can drop in at the last minute before pushing the story live. This does not mean that we won’t try and be opportunistic to schedule meetings around clients’ travel schedules – a good angle or a unique point of view always has potential to break through this clutter.
However, in general, all of this illuminates the way in which time has become a precious resource in the wake of constantly breaking news. Lunch breaks are a thing of the past, and office hours don’t exist. Reporters don’t have time to take an in-person meeting when a 20-minute call or an email interview will do. Likewise, they don’t have time to break away from their computers to attend events. We rarely, if ever, recommend scheduling an event just for the media. There are lots of good reasons to host in-person events, but you should consider media attendance an unexpected bonus if it happens.
There is good news for PR. The opportunities for inclusion in these short lead-time stories are numerous. We should stop lamenting the days when we could develop face-to-face relationships because they are, unfortunately, coming to a fast close. Relationships are still critical, and the way we can best foster them is through responsiveness and transparency. Following are a few tips from our experience here at InkHouse:
- Be fast. Get back to reporters within five or 10 minutes for proactive requests for comment.
- Be gracious. Don’t complain about short deadlines – we are living in the world of the press, and if we want to be included, we have to play by their rules and realities.
- Respond quickly. If you have an opinion about a story that happened this morning, tell your PR people within minutes. Once the story breaks, it will be over within the hour. You can get ahead of this by identifying the types of news stories on which you’d like to comment in advance, and even preparing broad points of view to fuel the PR engine.
- Be compelling and unique. If your point of view is exactly the same as everyone else’s, it’s likely to get cut.
- Be helpful. If a reporter comes to you for commentary and the request is either outside of your specific area of expertise or irrelevant for your business, don’t ignore it. Respond, if you can, or try and help them find another resource. They’ll remember the next time. I believe in karma.
As in life, PR lives in shades of gray, so there are exceptions to my black and white perspective. For example, I’m fairly certain that people such as Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Al Gore could easily book an in-person meeting about virtually anything (or nothing) with almost any relevant reporter of their choosing. We also secure in-person meetings for the top executives at our Fortune 500 and high-profile venture capital clients. Additionally, if you have a major launch and happen to be in the same city as the beat reporter who always covers your news, chances are fairly good that you could book a meeting.
For the rest of us though, there is reality. You have to accept the reality of who you are, and adjust your expectations accordingly. Just because I love singing in the car and my three-year-old thinks I’m good does not mean I’ll be the next Adele, no matter how badly I believe I deserve it.