In May, I attended the PRSA 2016 Travel and Tourism conference in Houston on behalf of The James Agency. Industry conferences are always interesting experiences. You can usually count on thought-provoking keynotes, valuable breakout sessions and great networking opportunities, along with conference room cabin fever and an abundance of mediocre banquet food. Thankfully, this conference was at the Four Seasons Hotel Houston so the conference rooms were at least beautiful and the food offerings were surprisingly good. Although I learned a lot of useful information from specific sessions about online newsrooms, pitching national morning shows, luxury travel trends and tips for working with tastemakers, the most valuable takeaways came from sharing insights with other PR agencies and interacting with the high-caliber national travel media in attendance.
Here are my top five takeaways:
Other agencies share the same pain points
No matter how big or small, all PR agencies share the same frustrations. There was a lot of discussion around tools for clipping, media databases and distribution. As much as PR professionals would love for there to be a one-stop shop that flawlessly captures all earned media hits, generates reports and provides only current and accurate media contact information, no such service exists. Tools are just that – tools. None of them are end-all-be-all solutions for automating the arduous process that is clipping. Unfortunately, the only foolproof solution is manually doing the work yourself.
Bigger isn’t always better
In a session I attended led by an Emmy-winning producer for CBS This Morning and a producer for CNN, they joked that they can tell the size of the PR firm by the quality of the pitch. Although this is perhaps an unfair generalization, they claim the larger the agency, the worse the pitch. I found this to be surprising at first because one would assume that global firms subscribe to PR best practices and have a leg up on pitching national media, but it makes sense considering that big firms tend to employ a larger number of junior talent who are generally tasked with media outreach. So, lesson learned – bigger isn’t always better.
Don’t forget about freelancers
In a shrinking media market as more outlets consolidate their staffs, freelancers are more important than ever before. Many outlets have cut costs by employing contractors not only to report their news, but also to generate and pitch story ideas. In days past, pitching freelancers often was an afterthought or added value. Today, not working with freelancers is a hugely missed opportunity.
Work/life balance is a thing of the past
Work/life balance is no longer a thing, especially when it comes to millennials and team members with a millennial mindset. Today’s workforce expects blurred lines between their personal and professional lives and, in fact, they prefer it this way. Most people, at least in our industry, don’t think twice about answering an e-mail after hours, but they also expect leniency to take a personal phone call during the work day. Work/life balance is a thing of the past. Work/life blend is the new normal.
Sometimes the best pitch is no pitch at all
On the way to a conference media mixer I happened to share a bus seat with the travel editor of National Geographic, which was a very cool experience in itself. He gave me advice for booking a trip to Italy and told me what it’s like to live in New Orleans. We had a real conversation and connected on a level that had nothing to do with me cramming a story angle down his throat.
My conversation with him was a good reminder that reporters are people too and that sometimes the best pitch is no pitch at all. Public relations at its core is about cultivating relationships. In a high-pressure profession, where we are evaluated by securing earned media coverage, it is tempting to take every possible opportunity to pitch a story. However, doing so often comes at the expense of forming a valuable relationship that could pay dividends down the road.