Axios Communicators

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August 18, 2022

🙋🏻‍♀️ Welcome to Axios Communicators! Today, we examine the ever-changing world of public relations.

Smart Brevity™ count of 1,196 words ... 4.5 minutes.

1 big thing: The future of public relations

Illustration of a microphone stand and base with the top mouthpiece replaced with a lightbulb
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Public relations isn't what it used to be, with social media, nontraditional publications and the influencer movement upending the traditional platforms of print, TV and radio.

Why it matters: An effective PR campaign sits at the intersection of strategy and creativity, with earned, paid and owned media working hand in hard to meet audiences where they are.

What they’re saying: "It’s no longer a given that any traditional outlet is going to deliver you the audiences you’re after," Todd Ringler, U.S. managing director of media at Edelman, told Axios. "In some cases, the 'who' you’re looking for is operating and active in completely different channels."

Understanding the fractured audience is part of the learning curve, says Ephraim Cohen, global managing director of media + platforms at FleishmanHillard.

  • “The purpose of PR is to get the right information into people's hands at the right time in the right way,” he said.
  • Cohen pointed to political campaigns as offering "some of the most strategic and most disciplined PR campaigns.”

That’s because the good ones are willing to take risks to engage a wide range of people, says political strategist Lis Smith.

  • “You're creating a beautiful tapestry of top outlets, local media and nontraditional publications like TMZ Live or Barstool because that's how you expand your reach," Smith said. “The idea that you would leave these things on the table because they're not “presidential” is absolute lunacy to me."

Zoom out: Brands can take this outreach a step further by partnering with the creator economy — and media companies are bringing influencers under the umbrella of journalism to accommodate this market.

  • Most recently, Morning Brew launched a creator program that allows independent personalities to work for the company full time while maintaining separate products and brands.
  • Through influencer journalism, brands can get two bites of the apple with hits across social media and news platforms.
  • “Media companies are forming their own network of influencers,” Cohen says. “And we’ve partnered on a paid basis with the media companies to provide editorial direction for the influencer. ... So you're striking a really interesting balance between paid, disclosed and earned — and certainly the reach extends beyond pure earned media.”

Zoom in: It’s an interesting strategy for engaging with teens, who nearly all (97%) say they use the internet daily on video apps like YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat.

  • Audience analytics like this prove that "traditional and nontraditional channels are part of a larger ecosystem that’s no longer just one or the other — they operate in tandem," says Ringler.

The bottom line: Reaching people is hard and audience habits are super scattered, which means PR professionals need to do more on the backend to effectively — and creatively— engage them.

Go deeper.

2. Pitching with AI

Illustration of a typewriter typing binary code on a sheet of paper.
Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

As public relations evolve, so do the tools we use.

Why it matters: Artificial intelligence (AI) is changing the game — and saving time — by examining crisis statements, pitches and press releases for specific keywords to better predict how they will land.

  • “The goal is to replace guessing with knowing, or replace gut instinct with data,” PRophet CEO and founder Aaron Kwittken told Axios.

How it works: Axios got a first look at PRophet 2.0, an AI-driven platform that scans press materials for keywords that match the recent coverage of active reporters — those who publish at least once a week — and ranks the match based on sentiment and outlet reach.

  • Pressfriendly offers a similar service for startups by using AI to review beat reporters' past coverage and open rates. This intel helps identify the best send times and will increase the likelihood of pickup, explains CEO and founder Joel Andren.

State of play: This technology could save publicists a lot of time — and it's an investment 70% of chief communication officers are willing to make, Edelman found.

  • Publicists "aren’t reading as much as they used to," Kwittken says. "They don't even pick up the phone and pitch anymore. They're blindly sending out emails in a way that's very spammy. PRophet uses technology to bring the art and the relationship back."
  • AI tools like this have worked for other industries, Kwittken points out: “If book publishers and film production companies can run the scripts through AI to determine future commercial viability based on past success, why can't we run stories that reporters have written through the same kind of machine learning and better predict who we should be pitching?”

Yes, but: While these tools can help publicists properly identify a small group of interested reporters, it's on the PR pro to build the relationship.

The bottom line: AI technology can't replace publicists, but it can sharpen a pitch, clearly define the targets and most importantly, free up the professionals to do meaningful work.

3. News you can use: Axios' guide to pitching

Illustration of a blue street sign that says Driving the News, featuring an Axios logo.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Just because you have the right point of contact, it doesn't mean your story is going to land — and with six publicists for every one reporter, it's harder than ever to break through.

To help, I surveyed some of my colleagues in the newsroom.

Here's what they're saying:

  • Do your research. “Know what the reporter covers and use their work to frame the story in a way that will interest them.” — Caitlin Owens, Axios health care reporter
  • Build relationships. "The pitching process doesn't have to be transactional. Develop relationships with the reporters you’re pitching and you'll get a better understanding of what's relevant to them and their audience." — Alex Fitzpatrick, Axios What's Next editor
  • The subject line matters. “If it’s an exclusive, make sure that’s in the subject line. If it’s not, make sure the subject line includes the name of the company being pitched.” — Sara Fischer, Axios media reporter
  • Lead with why. “Have a clear understanding of why it matters and then lead with that in your pitch — don't bury it at the end. Compelling data is an added bonus.” — Ashley Gold, Axios tech reporter
  • Put yourself in the reader’s shoes. “Do a gut check and ask whether your pitch is something you would actually see in the publication you’re pitching. It could save us both time.” — Thomas Wheatley, Axios Local Atlanta
  • Be reachable. “ALWAYS keep your cell in your email signature. If a journalist can’t reach you, they will drop the story.” — Fischer
  • Finesse the follow-up. "Assume I missed your email. No passive-aggressive ‘bumping.’ Offer the follow-up in the form of an update and always think about how the email would hook you if you were the recipient." — Mike Allen, Axios co-founder

4. Public relations identity crisis

Data: Muck Rack, Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Muck Rack, Chart: Axios Visuals

A majority of PR pros think it’s time for a rebrand.

Why it matters: The job of communicators goes beyond scheduling media interviews and crafting pithy tweets. Senior leaders now view modern communicators as strategic partners and problem solvers.

  • Responsibilities have expanded to include crisis communications, rapid response, employee engagement, change management, executive positioning, investor relations, brand campaigns and more.
  • So it’s no surprise communicators want the term "public relations" to be redefined, according to Muck Rack’s “State of PR 2022” report.

Given the evolution of communications, how would you redefine or rebrand your role? What are your daily tasks?

1 fun thing: Tweet du jour

Screenshot: @Olivianuzzi/Twitter

Throwback to this timeless gem.

🤗 Thanks, as always, for reading!

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