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March 8, 2012
Who You Know vs. What You Know
There is a general belief among publicists that a solid media Rolodex will get you news placements. Even business owners are buying into this theory. Potential clients frequently ask me in sales meetings which reporters I know in “tech” or “political” or “fashion” — you name it.
They seem to believe that a friend or “contact” at the right paper or TV station will suddenly get their business in the news, but is it true?
When I was an Executive Producer with WNBC in New York, publicists frequently asked me out for drinks and I usually said yes. It was an opportunity for me to hear new ideas and socialize at the same time. Those personal connections with publicists did help, but here are the hard news facts.
You can be married to the Executive Producer, but if you don’t have a solid idea, you’re not getting a story in the news. Rarely did those drinks lead to a story on our newscasts. The rare exceptions were when I heard a solid story idea that I envisioned our viewers watching.
Unfortunately, (and this is a very general statement) many publicists don’t understand that solid story ideas drive news coverage — not contacts. As a result, they don’t spend enough time refining an idea. Instead, they rush out the unfleshed idea to reporters, hoping they will finish the job and get it in print.
I’ve had the “who you know vs. what you know” debate with several experienced PR executives. They tried to convince me that in specific industries like technology or medical, “who you know” is more valuable than “what you know.” They supported their argument with personal experiences.
“I’ve seen it work. I get my calls returned when I know tech reporters.”
Perhaps, but here are the harsh facts of the ever-evolving journalism industry.
In most newsrooms, you will get thrown under the bus whether you’re a friend or foe, especially in tight, financial times when everyone is worried about losing his job. The rare exception is when you pitch a great story idea in the morning news meeting and everyone loves it. Suddenly, you are pimp of the prostitutes…until the next day rolls around.
Media contacts are not a PR strategy.
Editorial direction is crucial for a successful PR strategy.

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Mark Macias is the co-founder of BigBirdFans.com. He produces social media videos for all kinds of clients and consults on publicity campaigns. You can read more at www.MaciasPR.com.

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