Years ago, I was a corporate communications executive looking for a PR firm, and I had a significant budget to work with. I invited large agencies based in New York, Boston and San Francisco to come to Dallas to pitch their services to my company.
The New York agency brought a team of four to woo us—but all I remember is how they introduced one member of their group: “Katie Couric went to his pool party.”
I crossed them off my list at that moment.
It's Not Who You Know, It's What You Know
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked about my media contacts by prospective clients. Well, yes—I was a journalist and later a media company executive. Some of my friends have won Pulitzer Prizes and Peabody Awards. I have contacts at publications and media outlets all over the country.
But that’s not what has made me a success in PR, or Idea Grove a successful agency. What has made us successful is that we've learned what a good story is and how to tell it. Once you know how to tell a story, it doesn’t matter if you know the journalist you’re pitching or not.
It also doesn’t matter if you’re telling that story to a journalist or directly to buyers via inbound marketing. You can think of inbound marketing as PR with the middleman—the media outlet—cut out.
For more than a century, PR’s driving force has been developing story ideas and getting those ideas published. PR’s gift is finding organic ways to appeal to an audience without having to buy advertising. PR earns media exposure by sharing something that is relevant, something the audience cares about—which also happens to align with a company or client agenda.
What's Old Is New in PR
The transition from a world of media gatekeepers (those newspaper reporters, for example, who have lost their jobs over the past 20 years) to a world of direct communication through blogs and social media has changed the landscape for PR. But at the same time, it has made PR’s unique gift more important than ever.
When it comes to driving inbound marketing success, many practices are just reinventions (or renaming) of tried-and-true PR practices.
PR people have always pitched stories based on topical angles, such as seasonality, trends or breaking news. The same idea extends to social media in a practice known as “newsjacking.” What’s old is new — the only difference is, now you have to react more quickly than ever.
PR people have always been great at building relationships with media to pitch ideas—we call it “media outreach.” Today the same idea extends to finding online influencers based on keywords and topics that they use, attracting meaningful inbound links from high-authority sites via digital PR, and more. Just call it “site outreach”—the principles, and many of the practices, are the same.
PR people pioneered thought leadership marketing; traditionally, the goal was to get your company’s subject-matter experts in the contact lists of top journalists. Now the goal is to get your SMEs’ content read and social media accounts followed as well.
Idea Grove is proud to be a longtime agency partner of HubSpot, whose co-founder Brian Halligan coined the term "inbound marketing."
We think our PR heritage gives us a leg up on the competition—because it's ultimately about what we know, not who we know.
Put another way: PR isn't a pool party—and Katie Couric isn't coming.
Scott Baradell is CEO of the unified PR and marketing agency Idea Grove, one of the top 25 technology PR firms in the United States. His first book,
Trust Signals, is scheduled for publication in 2021.