Lessons Learned from PR News’ 2021 Media Relations Conference


From Senior Account Director Taylor Hadley:


Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend the 2021 Media Relations Conference hosted by PR News. After nearly two years of barely attending any work events at all, and the ones I did attend primarily focusing on my clients’ B2B cybersecurity goals, it felt great to be surrounded by so many professional communicators. 


The event provided a welcome gut check on best practices and trends happening in PR, and some new and different points of view on all aspects of our field. It was reassuring to hear presenters – and fellow attendees while we chatted over coffee – discuss wins and challenges similar to those our team is experiencing at LaunchTech Communications.


Here are a few key takeaways I gathered from the 2022 Media Relations Conference.


There is no one-size-fits-all approach to engage with media

No one asked, but this is a hill I will die on. Over the years, I have attended my share of PR conferences and no matter what any one reporter might tell a room full of PR pros about the secrets to standing out in a reporter’s inbox… there is no one-size-fits-all way to pitch reporters. 


Some reporters prefer email; others prefer Twitter DM’s. Some appreciate a follow up note; others do not. Some still like to take a phone call; others don’t ever want their phone to ring again. It is up to us as PR pros to forge relationships with each media contact and understand their preferences. No one singular approach is going to be right for engaging with every reporter, just like no one approach is right for pitching all news or story ideas.


I did appreciate that keynote speaker, HuffPost’s Washington Bureau Chief Amanda Terkel, remarked, “If you have a scoop that will make me famous, call me whenever. Otherwise, business hours are good.”


There is no one way to be a great spokesperson

I loved this takeaway from Marriott International’s Director of Corporate Media Relations, Sarah Brown. One of the most fulfilling aspects of my job is helping clients prepare for interviews. We work with a wide range of spokespeople, from seasoned CEOs to emerging tech experts, and it is exciting to follow along as society’s expectations for what it means to be a reputable spokesperson evolve. 


In addition to addressing what it means to be dressed the part (which remains professional but is becoming more comfortable), Brown also said, “If you’re not a smiley woman, you shouldn’t have to smile just because you’re on camera.” Louder for the people in the back!


As we prep clients for interactions with the media – whether it is for a formal phone interview, an on-camera broadcast opportunity, or a podcast recording – PR professionals should consider themselves a client’s number one cheerleader. Brittany Marshall, Director of Media Relations at MDOT MTA, calls us “scene setters.” This was a great way to position the support we offer clients before, during and after interviews.


As part of interview prep, Marshall also reminded attendees to remember checking in with spokespeople about what they may be hesitant about or apprehensive about. This can lead to meaningful conversations and an opportunity to strengthen a spokesperson’s confidence. And I think we can all agree that helping clients avoid repeating this 2008 Squawk Box interview with the North American President of Cadbury is our number one goal.


Local media and blogger coverage should be classified as “wins” too

Every spokesperson wants to be quoted in the New York Times (and their PR teams want that for them too). That’s the pinnacle! But there is a lot of other ground to cover. As PR professionals, we could do a better job showing that blogs and local media publications are valuable targets for coverage in their own right. 


Bloggers and reporters at smaller publications deserve as much respect as NYT reporters. After all, if a story isn’t the right fit for NYT, four or six mentions about your news in other publications could achieve the equivalent reach of the NYT. It’s all about the audience.


Additionally, we never know where a blogger or local reporter is going to end up. These contacts are growing their portfolio of work, changing beats, moving publications, etc. At LaunchTech, we have worked with fresh tech reporters their first year on the job who have moved on to be major beat writers at top tier publications.


Final thoughts…

Another theme throughout the conference was that reporters want to talk to people, not companies. This is a great reminder for PR teams, as we work to position thought leaders in front of the media, to encourage those spokespeople to feel comfortable bringing their personality to interviews!


As professional communicators, we should think of ourselves as sources for the media, not promoters. We are at our best not when promoting our clients, but when we are engaging with the media to build trusted relationships. If a reporter can approach a PR contact for a quick source, get a quote they need and go to print quickly, that’s going to go a lot further for our clients in the long run.


I am already looking forward to my team’s next event! If you are a spokesperson who could use support with media relations, reach out to LaunchTech Communications and we would love to chat.

Author : Steve James