Getting inbound media enquiries is like watching paint dry

By Josie Herbert, PR consultant and trainer
@phinessence | Phiness PR

When selecting a PR agency, a common question people ask is, ‘How strong are your press contacts in this sector?’ or even, “Who do you know at the BBC?”

Behind this question lies a commonly-held belief that PR consultants have journalists that they can call on to place clients’ content, regardless of its quality or newsworthiness. If only it were that simple, good media relationships take careful work and need time – just like a paint job.

In reality, stories or contributed articles that appear on reputable sites, or in high-quality print publications, are accepted by journalists because they pass one simple test: they are interesting to the readers.

The best way for agencies to create media relationships for clients is to help journalists to do their job, which is keeping their readers interested and informed. I won’t gloss over the facts. It takes time. It takes effort. It takes staying power… and coffee.

Priming your PR campaign

To know what’s interesting to a journalist, it helps to read what he or she has written about recently. To know what’s interesting to readers, you need to know who they are, what they do and what concerns them.

Yes, that means extra work, but if you want lasting results, preparation is vital. A good journalist will soon notice if your brand’s message is flaky.

Once you’ve researched readers’ concerns, barriers and aspirations and you’ve identified how your brand addresses these; then you can start building relationships with the media.

One scattershot press release won’t do the job. You need to repeat the core message, over and over, layer by layer, on social media; in contributed articles; in interviews; in videos; on your client’s website.

Building the relationship

When the base layer is established, and you’ve introduced your spokesperson or client to the journalists who regularly write for the relevant audience, you need to take every opportunity to go over the topics that interest their readers.

If journalists know that you can offer reliable experts who can explain technical topics in layman’s terms, or allay their readers’ fears, without overtly selling to them, then they will be more likely to include your spokesperson in their stories.

Each time a customer story, interview, press release, comment on breaking news, or company blog appears, it will help to reinforce the key messages.

Your campaign needs the proper primer, carefully applied layers, and lots of patience – otherwise, it’ll be a rush job that simply won’t stick.

Over time, your client’s brand values will shine through.

Achieving a lasting finish

As an example of the benefits of providing consistent messages to a core group of journalists, one of my cyber security clients once appeared on Channel 4’s Dispatches to provide expert comment on social engineering and identity fraud.

This opportunity didn’t come about as a result of me pitching Channel 4. The producer had done his research and noticed several comments the brand’s spokesperson had made in reputable publications on the subject of information security and the need to educate employees about social engineering. He found us.

This was a topic that was close to the hearts of this company. The founders were experts who were passionate about protecting people and companies from cyber crime. This came across in all of their communications. They had been discussing the need for cyber-education for the previous six months, at industry events, in opinion pieces and in comments made to journalists reporting on high profile security incidents.

To put a lid on it

Clients often brief PR teams to position their senior executives as industry experts or ‘thought leaders’, but don’t give them enough time, or enough high-quality information to build up their reputation.

I once read a technology story in the Financial Times where the only vendor quoted was a company CEO who had been blogging on the topic for more than a year. The quote was lifted from a post he’d written long before the FT’s editorial calendar was even published. While the journalist was researching the piece, he’d found the CEO’s blog, read through it and quoted the company’s true position on the topic. This was a perfect example of the power of consistently sharing your brand values and core messages over and over again.

Your campaign needs the proper primer, carefully applied layers, and lots of patience – otherwise, it’ll be a rush job that simply won’t stick.

Good PR really is like watching paint dry. It requires preparation, time and sustained effort. When done well, it’s hugely rewarding and provides lasting results for your brand.

Josie Herbert is a PR consultant specialising in business technology. Read more of her work at