Media relations is without a doubt the toughest and most frustrating part of working in public relations.
Many in the business I’ve known through the years secretly despise, dread and fear media relations as a necessary evil of PR. We know no matter what we do, our efforts will always be judged on our latest media campaign or placement. Even after more than 20 years in the business with an impressive track record of securing media coverage for all kinds of clients, I am still doubted daily by skeptical, clueless clients and even my colleagues and bosses. And if had a dollar for every time I heard an ignorant, clueless statement about media relations from clients and colleagues through the years I would be a wealthy man and would no longer need to work in public relations.
Now there’s no denying the value of a strategic media relations program truly can’t be underestimated in helping build and shape a company’s brand or image.
Everyone in business knows they need media coverage, but very few understand how this is actually done. Too many think they have a great story or innovative product, but prove delusional in the end.
How to achieve impactful media coverage is still up to debate as media relations is hardly an exact science, especially in this ever-changing digital age and media landscape. Everyone in business and the PR industry it seems has their own opinions, strategies, approaches, and ideas of how to secure lasting and meaningful media coverage for clients and I have found most of them are wrong.
You can’t finesse the media relations process, and you can’t guarantee media coverage no matter how slick your public relations plan, size of your team or how creative your pitch is. The media has its own agenda and will choose or not to choose to cover your company or product on its own time table.
Successful media relations is frankly about timing, just as much as it is about creativity and having a great story.
My former boss Lulu apparently never got the memo on media relations.
Lulu used to try an inspire our teams at the Yilmaz Agency to obtain media coverage for our clients through fear or what I dubbed “media relations beatdowns.”
Lulu would attack at our teams in horrible conference calls for not achieving media relations results for our clients. Sure, it would scare our team into pitching the media even harder, and sometimes it worked, but it didn’t inspire us at all. It only built up resentment in our teams, especially with the younger staff members, and drove people to leave our agency in droves.
Even worse, Lulu would try to emotionally manipulate us and make us feel guilty if we didn’t meet her crazy standards and tell us we were keeping her up at night by not securing media relations for her clients. It was like a personal affront to her if we didn’t make her clients happy, even though many of her clients were unreasonable assholes who took advantage of their close relationship with Lulu.
Now before joining Lulu’s agency, I was used to dealing with unreasonable pressure from clients and employers to secure top media relations. It came with the territory.
Lulu’s crazy media relations expectations were on a whole different level of dysfunction and made me eventually question whether I should be working in public relations at all.
When I first joined her agency, I was quickly disheartened and became disillusioned with her weekly, almost daily mental beatdowns about a tech client with a sports fitness coaching application product that we had launched a PR campaign for. Like most clients, they thought their sports tech coaching app was unique and deserved major media coverage. Our team did secure impressive coverage from top media outlets such as Mashable, the Huffington Post, Good Housekeeping and L.A. Times to name a few, but it took time as the media wanted to try out their sports coaching app. However, Lulu, even more than our client had no patience and blamed our team for the slow response to the client’s new product. To be fair, this was a small startup company without major national brand presence launching a new product that boasted to provide top fitness coaching in a convenient app. So naturally, the media that had been bombarded by numerous sports fitness apps from much larger companies, were skeptical and wanted to find out first to see if the product really delivered on what they claimed.
I remember our team being excited, after many frustrating weeks of struggling to secure coverage for our fitness tech client, sharing a positive review and story from Mashable. Our client’s director of marketing, a clueless fool named Manda, was hardly impressed and sent us an email showing that the story led to no new sales over the weekend. That’s when I knew our client was a complete idiot. The main role of public relations to indirectly build a company’s reputation and brand exposure so when someone is ready to buy their product or service, they can make an informed purchase decision.
Public relations does NOT lead to direct sales and investment.
I can’t recall how many times I have had to tell clients of this unavoidable reality and still do even today.
Of course, Lulu didn’t defend us to our client and when I mentioned that PR doesn’t impact sales directly Lulu went ballistic and forbade me from educating our client of this uncomfortable truth about media coverage.
“You’ll come across as defensive,” she said.
I disagreed as I told Lulu it was our role to be informed consultants for our client, not cowed, scared sycophants.
Lulu, who hated when anyone disagreed with her, told me I was wrong in front of the whole team – further damaging my credibility — and asked me not to bring it up again.
Let’s just say no matter our team’s efforts, and after many media relations beatdowns, we couldn’t make our fitness client, not to mention Lulu, happy.
When our client finally fired us several months later, I was more than relieved. Lulu was furious, resentful, and took it personally like a broken-hearted lover. She told us she had been up all night after she heard the news, and was so upset, she couldn’t sleep. It was crazy and embarrassing to pull this craven and insane guilt trip on us over a fucking lame PR client. It was hardly a surprise Lulu blamed us for losing the client because we couldn’t break through to the media. She said this even though we had secured more than 100 stories for this client, including many top placements, over the past year.
Honestly, not having much control over who or how many media covered our clients made these beatdown sessions all the more ridiculous and demoralizing.
The post mortems we used to have at Lulu’s agency after we lost a client were by far the worst, I have ever experienced in my PR career. She never took any blame for her horrible management style or clueless strategic decisions. It was always our fucking fault even if the client we were dealing with and pitching were lame and had no business launching a product at all.
The fitness app client was in denial in a fiercely competitive industry. They, like Lulu, refused to realize that their company succeeding was always going to be a tough uphill struggle.
Unfortunately, this sorry episode of Lulu accusing her employees of letting her and clients down was repeated many times in the years I worked at the agency. It became a sad inside joke among us at the agency.
Far too many times, Lulu was strategically clueless.
Everyone in PR knows that Fridays are the worst day to pitch the media and typically is when companies and politicians dump bad news. That didn’t stop Lulu, though. She refused to listen when we told her that pitching a business story (that wasn’t top breaking news) late in the afternoon Pacific time on a Friday during August?!! (or any time) would receive little or no traction among most of the business media located back east that had already started on their weekends.
Lulu forced us numerous times to create a pitch in a panic because some fucking client attacked us, and pitch it out late Friday even though we told her it would best to wait until Monday morning. As expected, when we got no results, she would blame us anyway.
“You guys didn’t pitch hard enough,” Lulu would say. “You can’t tell me no one responded at all. What I am supposed to tell the client.”
Well, you could tell the client that pitching on Friday when the media is gone is not advisable, is a waste of time and money, and will reap no results…
Lulu didn’t do that, of course. She just berated and pushed us to pitch harder even the team members that worked in Chicago and New York that were ready to call it a week and enjoy the weekend.
Unfortunately, there were no weekends when you worked for a workaholic freak like Lulu.
The worst and most ridiculous media relations beatdowns were over her long-time housewares client.
For many months, our team drafted numerous pitches about our client’s business story, but we struggled to get coverage.
Lulu went apoplectic about our difficulty breaking through. She pulled a lot of us from other work and clients to try and get this lame client business coverage as she was worried that they would hire another firm to take over their company’s business pitching.
During our horrible meetings about this client, Lulu would boast that she used to get coverage for this client just by “picking up the phone” not realizing that the industry had changed. Good luck trying to get a media person to pick up their phone as they all want to be pitched through email now.
In fact, I began to doubt the story of her media relations prowess when I secured the company’s first national business story – with a small business magazine – and got them included in a Wall Street Journal roundup story, which was another first.
As I described in an earlier blog, the low point in the pitching for our housewares client came when I secured a Forbes cover article for them, which they shockingly turned down.
Although Lulu kept pushing us to pitch our client’s business story after the Forbes debacle, I never took it seriously after that and just went through motions in my pitching efforts. I wasn’t giving Lulu or those fools any more of my talent or hard work on that account.
When the inevitable happened and our client hired another competing agency behind our backs to handle their business media pitching, Lulu flipped out and blamed our lack of media relations for losing the business.
Yet when I reminded her that this foolish client has turned down a Forbes opportunity, she just ignored me and said that wasn’t relevant and went on ranting about our so-called media relations failings for this lame account.
Lulu should have blamed herself for weak leadership and not realizing our client didn’t care all that much if we secured business stories for them. They had already hired a local agency behind our backs for business media outreach and they wanted to retain us only for product public relations.
I mean WTF?!! Knowing what your client wants is Public Relations 101!
Yet the thing about Lulu she only listened to clients and other people selectively. She only heard what she wanted to hear and many times this meant she would be lost in her delusional notions and standards of what she felt was needed on an account. Sadly, those of us who had the misfortune of working for her were caught in the middle of this nightmare dysfunction.
When it came to working for Lulu it felt like having to deal with two unreasonable clients – an internal and external one.
It was extremely demoralizing, to say the least, because no matter what we did for Lulu to secure top media coverage it was never enough and didn’t built any kind of trust with her.
You were always the idiot in her eyes even though I believe she truly knew nothing about media relations. She was a lying fake who had no clue how to motivate people except through fear.
Going through her media relations beatdowns did one good thing for me, though. It forced me to rethink the whole tenuous nature of media relations and how I would never pressure or attack people that worked for me over something as difficult and valuable to obtain as media coverage.
As I have learned, a little finesse, strategic and common sense, and a keen ability to recognize a great story can go a long way toward achieving media relations success.
No need to resort to ugly scare tactics.