Op-Ed: Cashing in on Long-term Relationships between Media and PR Professionals by Stefan Pertz
The time of the lockdowns due to the Corona virus may turn to be the biggest stress test for media, publishers and related businesses, but it also hints at where the focus should be once things normalise: building strong relationships between media and public relations professionals.
Of the many ways public relations are aiming to build a positive image in communities, one of them is through the dissemination of information to relevant media outlets. These ready-to-use press kits may either be suitable to be published as they are or serve as the starting point for the media to probe further and develop more extensive material. I know of publishers who will not run any story unless they are being incentivised with ads or sponsorship. For Asian Trucker / Asian Buses, I adopt the approach where I will run a story if I feel our readers could benefit from the information.
Given the nature of our content, many brands may not see the need to post a lot of press releases. Overall, the commercial vehicle industry may not be the most prolific when it comes to the production of press releases. However, there is plenty of good material out there. I like press releases for a number of reasons: one is that I cannot be aware of everything that is happening and when I receive interesting news, the content may help me to better understand the industry. Secondly, quite frankly, sometimes I just can’t attend an event, but would still want to publish what happened.
Over the past decade I have worked with a number of truly great PR professionals. Those who understand the needs of the media and have been great supporters. They are also the ones we can call upon if we need additional content. They will provide a quote or add in more details. We have built a relationship that is beneficial for both parties. I admit that sometimes I go to PR agencies with the intention to leverage on their clients a bit to get me what I want. Say, for instance, a trip to Europe to cover a truck launch or an industry event. The PR agency, knowing they can count on us to come back with an awesome story, will put in a good word for us and assure the client the investment will be worth it.
Now we fast forward to the eighth week of the lockdown (In Malaysia, we are only allowed to go shopping and to seek medical assistance. One has heard of people being herded inside by the police when they were enjoying their own garden!): Luckily, our last two magazines that published at the end of March were mostly done by 18th March, the day when the lockdown came into force. With the next magazine to go out at the end of May, I am now trying to compensate for the lack of happenings in order to generate content. And the first ones I will call upon are those PR professionals who have looked after us the past or have been a friend of the brand.
Not only many of them are able to help us with content, in one case we even managed to secure a project with a big brand. As a media outlet we could guarantee exposure and were able to offer a unique service that was needed by the brand (as some dealings are confidential, I will not disclose more). Eventually, not only did the PR agency make money, but we too could issue an invoice for our involvement. As tough as times are, this is made possible only because we have the trust and support of the PR agency and the agency, in turn, know that we would deliver as promised. Opportunities await and this little story only proves that such partnerships work.
Meanwhile, there are numerous brands still using PR firms as proxies to get their message out amidst this crisis. Many of which I know by name. Many that I have asked for a meeting to simply let them know what we are all about, but unfortunately they never bothered to give us the time of the day. Sadly, these companies are now becoming a distraction as I would rather help those who have been in our corner in the good times, than those companies suddenly scrambling for help in the bad times. Suddenly, we are of interest to those, in the past, never wanted to sit down with us over a beer and see if or how we could be of service. Considering the conditions, my approach to free publicity might have momentarily changed.
We all have that one friend who only calls when s/he needs your help. They are never to be found when you need them. My request would be that when dealing with media, try not to be that one fair weather friend. Media depends on income, and some, such as a start-up, may not have a big budget for advertising. You don’t have to have a big budget. There are other ways you can return the favour to the media after they run your release or interview. If anything, one day a journalist may ask you to help with a story and then you can provide the needed input.
Personally, I hate one-way streets whereby a brand is only sending me their stuff to publish, but never even reply to my inquires. It is also a wise investment of time to actually sit with a journalist and pick their brain on how they work. And it does not have to be a journalist in your specific industry. Anyone will do. From dealing with my colleagues and other publishers, editors and writers; I can say that the similar mindset is shared, no matter what topic they write about.
Some of the PR professionals whom I have spoken to in recent weeks are, as expected, in a tight spot, just as many others are. What I feel though is that a certain group of people will emerge stronger, better and proud to have made it to the other end of the tunnel: those who have built relationships long before they need to call upon the media to publish that release they promised their client will get exposure, will be successful. Now is the time to really scratch someone else’s back in return for scratching yours.