Are media sell-ins outmoded? Surely not…

Are media sell-ins outmoded? Surely not…

The Guardian runs a great content series and we’re reading with interest its ‘Anonymous’ PR Peep Show – where PR peeps put forward views on the inside track of the PR industry. This week’s, in particular, caught our attention (read more here); around the ‘claimed to be’ outmoded approach of media sell-ins. The big issue? Fundamentally, how this excruciating PR task usually falling to the most junior member of the PR team.

For people not quite clear about what this actually is, it is essentially when we ‘pitch’ our clients’ stories to media to persuade them to write about the news or topic in as positive a light as possible. People often think of PR as ‘ab fab’ glamorous but the day-to-day reality is much more about developing creative ideas, written in a compelling way that makes stories stand-out. The ultimate aim? To capture the attention of target markets via journalist articles, blogs, analyst reports or industry body newsletters. The reality is, pitching to cynical, time-poor and difficult to reach journalists. The ‘sell-in’ – a term that oversimplifies what should be a thoughtful process – is rarely straightforward; it needs to tie back to the client’s objectives whilst mapping onto what the journalist covers.

And herein lies the root of the challenge with ‘traditional’ media relations. To achieve any level of success requires us to understand the client’s business, the messages they want to get across and tying this to the media agenda – ok, perhaps not rocket science but certainly something that requires a level of industry knowledge and acumen (especially in B2B PR). I believe that junior PR practitioners hate this aspect of their job because they have usually not had enough access to the client to understand these issues, nor (usually) has enough access to senior members of their team to help them formulate the pitch, validate it and then practice it.

It’s understandable – PR is a highly pressured industry, where clients pay by the hour and priorities change all the time – for the client as well as the media. Surely it’s simpler and more cost effective to get junior people to handle this, and let senior people deal with bigger client issues.

We may have chuckled when we read the article and recalled some of our worst tales of but, frankly, this structure and approach still lies at the heart of many PR agencies. And it’s what achieves the best coverage.

The media sell-in process is only soul-destroying when you’re not prepared and, hence, can’t pitch a story well. It’s no wonder so many journalists have issues with PR people who simply haven’t spent the time to understand what they write about and what the readership wants to know. In our view, it’s taking the wrong approach to this traditional but highly effective technique that results in a poor outcome.

Let us know your views – whether you’re a client who has suffered in the hands of ill-prepared junior staff, PR practitioners with a different view or journalists who continue to receive mistimed and ill-informed pitches from PR folks, what’s your experience?

Andrea Hounsham,
Director of Firework PR

Follow Firework PR on Twitter @fireworkpr

Posted: 28 January 2015

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