Great PR Begins First and Foremost with Understanding the Media

by Kevin Hawkins on January 9, 2018

For the last few weeks, I have been wearing the hat of a reporter. All I can say to the journalists whom I have worked with over the last couple of dozen years: I now feel your pain when it comes to unsolicited pitches from PR people. Moreover, I apologize on behalf of seasoned PR pros who would be as disappointed from this experience as I am. I now understand why many of you treat me with immediate suspicion and even an attitude of disdain if you have never worked with me before. It appears my chosen profession is still often well, very unprofessional.

It all comes down to one simple PR 101 lesson that I have found hardly any PR person follows whom I have interacted with recently: know the publication you are contacting BEFORE you pitch them a story, invite to your press conference, or ask them to interview your CEO. Let me explain how I discovered this revelation.

One of the hats I wear is that of a contributing writer for a sister company of WAV Group, RE Technology. It allows me to keep my journalistic skills polished. I have published more than 50 magazine features over the years, ghostwritten hundreds of other published works as well, and have won a few awards along the way. So having the good fortune of writing stories occasionally for retechnology.com – which reaches 750,000 agents and brokers via a web interface embedded inside 120 MLSs and through 1.7 million monthly emails – is a pretty awesome gig.

This week is IBS – the International Builder Show hosted by the National Association of Home Builders. I have attended, on and off over the years, more than a dozen of these massive gatherings, which attracts upwards of 100,000 attendees in the past. This year’s confab in Orlando will attract 80,000 people. It also will host a NAREE (National Association of Real Estate Editors) Winter reception, which I joined a bazillion years ago, and the #1 reason for me to find a way to spend 72 hours in Orlando and fly 4,300 miles from Seattle and back to get there.

Two years ago, I wrote about the re-emergence of smart home technology at IBS in RE Technology and my WAV Group blog. I attended a NAREE-sponsored press lunch that focused on the subject. My interest was in Amazon and Alexa that has won over my household and how we were moving from having to build smart home technology into new homes, to having a plug-and-play system so any existing home could become a smart home literally overnight.

So I registered as press for the IBS show this year and I started to get email pitches from PR people. A LOT of PR pitches. I stopped counting at 30. So far, only 1 has legitimately been related to real estate technology. That’s not a very good batting average for PR professionals: .033.

RE = Real Estate and Technology

PR 101 tells us that the first lesson in understanding the media is consuming it. You should read/listen to/or watch whatever you are going to pitch (i.e. propose) to a reporter, if you are asking to write a story about you, your product, your company or one of the leaders of your company. Most PR professional subscribe to an online media service that provides them with a profile of media outlets and what they cover, including specific beats or topics each reporter or writer is responsible for, and often links to their stories. Others rely on old-fashioned printed media directories that have similar content so they know what each media outlet covers. At the very least, a PR professional can Google the media outlet.

But here’s the thing: the name of our publication is…RE Technology! You would think that the name alone is self explanatory, right? That perhaps one could guess that we cover real estate technology topics?

But I have received pitches products that include:

-Patio doors

-Porch screens

-Flooring and decking

-Roofing supplies

-Outdoor faucet

-Commercial roofing

-Sever weather frames

-Gas fireplaces

-Outdoor coffee maker

-First cleaning tool for Gutter Guard

There was one item I will admit was innovative, it just wasn’t technology, but I did find it clever enough to share here. The pitch: “Has the bathroom faucet really been reinvented????”

As someone who thinks about how I might use this every morning when I brush my teeth, the photo did intrigued me.

Faucet, IBS

The bottom line is this: if you are going to propose a story to any media outlet, you need to actually understand the media outlet you are contacting before you make the contact. Sounds simple, right?

But in the age of technology, we make it so easy to create a mail merge list and a generic media pitch, hit a button and do a “spray and pray.” We spray out a message to as many people in the media as possible, and pray that just one or two pick it up. Then PR pros are considered successful because their bosses, or clients, smile.

All that is seen is the one or two successful placements. What is not seen is the potential long-term damage that may be caused from the silent reaction of the media that never responded. The consequence of our collective laziness as a PR industry – because of these speedy and convenient PR tools – is that good media relations suffer. What also is impacted is the effectiveness of seasoned PR people to be immediately accepted as professionals by many journalists. We have to work twice as hard to earn our credibility and regain their trust.

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