Behind the scenes at a PR agency
The account exec’s story on sell-in day
Media relations is one of those jobs you either love or hate. You can’t learn to love it. You can learn to survive it by following the process. But if you don’t get a buzz from calling up a massively stressed reporter and persuading them to listen to you and cover your story, above the dozens of other stories flooding their inbox, pitching will always give you some level of anxiety.
Let me paint a picture. It’s 9.00am and you’ve been emailing press releases for a solid hour. You are still only a third of the way through your list of media outlets. And now you need to pause emailing and start calling your top targets to make sure your email has been spotted.
Your first call is to a notoriously difficult character who, true to form, tells you to do one. But at least you know now he has the story. And five minutes later you see the story go live on his site. Good. The story is out and your job is to continue building momentum.
The office starts to fill with noise and chatter. The usual start of the day buzz. You’ve got your first call out of the way though and you can move on down the list. The next few numbers are engaged or ring out. No-one’s answering. You leave messages. You move onto the next number on the list.
Noone said you were getting into sales when you started your career in PR!
You check in with your teammates. You’ve split the list so you can get the story onto the news desks as early as possible in the news cycle. The physical process of sending individual pitch emails takes time and means you cannot do what you really need to be doing during those critical first couple of hours of a distribution - speaking to journalists.
By now it’s 12noon and you’re panicking because you’ve not spoken to anyone but Mr Grumpy at the very start. Your account manager is asking how the distribution is going and you only have one hit. That means the story is out and you can’t take it back. You need to keep going. You have to get more than one hit.
You circle back and start calling everyone again. You remind yourself it’s part of the process and if you follow the process you will get those results. This time round people are picking up, you get a few warmish responses. Enough to motivate you to keep going.
You hear the words: “Send it over, I’ll take a look.” “Can you send it again?” “Not for us.” “I’ve sent it to news.”
More often than not you don’t get a definitive answer on the day. But if you get questions, you know you’ve got their attention and your chances of getting coverage have significantly improved.
Then the dance begins. You take the questions to your client. They don’t want to answer. They don’t understand the urgency. You explain politely why it’s important to say ‘something’. And that, no, they can’t leave it until next week.
You’ve promised the journalist you’ll get an answer by deadline. You can’t let them lose interest in the story. You need to keep them engaged, trusting you will get them the answer they need to take the story forward.
And all the time you are liaising between client and journalist, you need to keep the pitching going. Keep sending the emails, following up and locking down more hits. There are a lot of plates to keep in the air and spinning.
Sell-in days are stressful for everyone. So much of the process is out of your control. Your top contacts might not be at work that day, a bigger story might knock yours off the schedule, the angle might not fit the news agenda of the day. Sometimes it just doesn’t land - for no good reason.
The anticipation and expectation of the client adds pressure to the pitch team to get results. The thought of going back to the client and telling them the story has bombed is often the thing that keeps you focused, pushes you to make one more call, try one more journalist.
You only get one chance with a press release, you can’t stop once you have started. Even if you send just one email there is a risk that the story will appear and it will be old news if you try to take it out again next week.
All the work that goes into the research, the interview, the approvals, the planning. It all culminates in pitch day. And that is super stressful.
Media relations is the cornerstone of PR. Earned editorial has never been more valuable as the cost of advertising escalates and its impact declines. And behind every story is an Account Executive making it happen by pitching press releases day in day out.
Account Executives have one of the toughest jobs in a PR agency. No matter what happens they never give up, they find a new contact, they make another call, they follow up just one more time. They are responsible for making headlines. And for that reason we should celebrate them and never forget how hard media relations is and the process behind making news.