Counsel Beyond ClipsThere’s an episode of Seinfeld where Elaine keeps returning to a Manhattan sub shop even though the sandwiches are terrible.  She keeps going back so she can get 10 punches on her sub card to get…a free sub.
Because:  hey, free sub.

This type of twisted but tenacious logic is also present in its own form among public relations firms and a few corporate PR practitioners. In the PR world, the goal isn’t a free turkey and swiss, it’s media clips. Some aggressively pursue media coverage without enough big-picture consideration or industry insight into the business value such coverage might (or might not) offer.

Just get the clip. Then another. Repeat.

An aggressive pursuit of clips for clips’ sake has never been a good plan, but in today’s media environment this philosophy is especially doomed.  It will turn off agency staff, sour members of the media and generate hollow, short-term results for client companies.

I get the temptation. It’s more validating to see some local clips every month than taking three or four months to work on a national media strategy, digital program or other big idea. It is also often the directive from the client or even the C-suite: we haven’t been in the news for a while, so get on it!
There are multiple problems with giving in to this philosophy, starting with the reality of today’s newsrooms.

First, there are fewer and fewer people to pitch(!) with less and less locally generated content appearing in print, online or on-air.  TV is going more to pay-to-play pieces, while print/online is more and more about contributed content.  Seeking local/regional news coverage these days is a bit like looking for an affordable apartment in GR or Detroit:  there’s just not as much out there as there used to be.

Second, it is stressful for PR account staff to be continually squeezing the last drop of blood from the earned media stone. Actual byline counts have dropped dramatically, so an aggressive long-term local or even statewide earned media push will mean pitching the same handful of overworked reporters again, and again…and again. Tenacity and fearlessness on the phones will always be critical for front-line PR practitioners. However, by continually being in “pitch” mode with media, they will struggle to develop the relationships and levels of trust vital to long-term success. The constant pressure also takes all the fun and sense of accomplishment out of gaining solid, thoughtful coverage for clients.

Third and most important, constant aggressive pitching is seldom of strategic value to companies. PR practitioners at every level have both the need and obligation to push back on empty demands for coverage.  As public relations and marketing practices have blurred together, more diverse and more effective platforms have emerged for successful storytelling and brand building. But the solution isn’t just doing more digital or more video, it’s doing more strategic counseling; considering the “why” before sending that next pitch, or next byline idea or viral video outline. How will the tactic really support a company’s business model and metrics?

Maybe more earned media pitching is the answer. Or maybe it would be better to take two months off from media and focus on a social strategy supported by byline content.

Maybe just release infographics for a while.  Whatever the path, it should be grounded in overall company growth goals that extend beyond clip count targets.

The idea of doing more counseling and less haphazard pitching isn’t exactly new, but it is becoming less and less optional for individuals and agencies alike. Notions of measuring ROI by clip count, impressions and ad value (ugh), are as fresh as a two-day old sub. It’s time to get off the pitching treadmill and devote more time to ideas and platforms that drive sustained, meaningful company growth at every level.

Don Hunt is a managing director and partner at Lambert