Behind the scenes at a PR agency
The account manager’s story on sell-in day
This story has been in a holding pattern, sitting on the runway for weeks. It’s been on, it’s been off. But today you’ve had the word it needs to go right now. And we need to drop everything else we had planned and get the whole team on it.
The carefully planned media strategy is in the bin. The exclusive you had planned - the heads up calls to key targets - impossible. It just needs to go and go fast.
Fortunately you’ve already prepared the media list and identified angles to pitch to specific media outlets. The pitch is written and has been tailored for relevant media categories. You check that all track changes and amendments have been cleared before you send the final signed off version to the team.
One member of the account team is on holiday so you need to substitute another and brief them on the story before they can start pitching. After months of waiting and careful planning this feels rushed and frustrating.
But the reality of working in media relations is that business needs dictate the timing of a press release. As an Account Manager you can advise the client that this is a risky strategy, that sending it like this will impact the results you can secure.
If you are lucky you may be able to persuade the client to delay so you have more control over the distribution. So you can work with the media schedule, not against it, and secure better coverage and a bigger reach.
But today, for reasons far above your paygrade, you are scrambling to get this story in front of a very targeted list of journalists.
Everyone in the team is feeling wrong footed. What they planned to do today has been scrapped and will need picked up. It’s a big media list with multiple sectors - news, business, two trades and local.
The plan had been to give it as an exclusive to one national media outlet and then release under embargo. But now it is going out on general release to everyone at the same time. All you can hope for is that it is a slow news day.
To get it onto the news desks as early as possible you have divided the list among three account executives. Each one has a written pitch to send by email with the press release and to use as a script for pitching by telephone.
The team is used to working like this. It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last. There is a feeling of urgency but they work calmly and methodically through the list. Your agency has a policy of no BCCing or mass emailing because personalising the pitch increases your hit rates.
The calls have started but no-one is picking up. This is a growing trend, it is becoming harder and harder to reach journalists by phone. The email pitch has to punch through the weight of dozens if not hundreds of other press releases to get the attention of a harassed journalist on deadline.
Already you are thinking about the update you will have to send your client at the end of the day. The dread of having nothing to say, the disappointment they will feel, the embarrassment you will feel, is constantly at the back of your mind.
You rally the troops - encourage them to give it another push. Keep calling, circle back and start follow ups. You remind them it is a process. If you follow the process you will get results.
Pitch the press release to the right journalists at the right time and keep following up until you have locked down as many hits as you can. If you get a knock back or no response, move onto the next name.
It’s lunchtime and you still haven’t got a hit. Doubt is starting to set in. Has the team followed the process? Have all the press releases been sent? Have the follow ups been done? One of the team has had to go to a client meeting so now you are searching through his emails and call notes to pick up for him. You won’t get another chance. It has to be done today
And finally, the first hit lands. The collective relief in the team is palpable. The story has found its home and you know more will follow. Stick with the process. Keep the team on track and you’ll have a coverage report to send the client through by close of play.
Every PR person has a massive competitive streak - the need to get results - courses through us all. And journalists need you, they need a constant stream of stories to fill their pages. It’s important to remember that. No matter how difficult they are to reach, no matter how rude they can be, they need you. And that is your permission to keep sending the press releases, keep being persistent and follow the process.
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