If your company's contributions are more newsworthy than the media coverage generated, you could have a sales problem. That's right, I said a "sales" problem.
The minimum cost of entry into a successful career in public relations is the ability to write. About 50 percent of those in the field have strong writing skills, capable of inspiring readers. Given the sheer volume of press releases crossing the average reporter's desk each week, however, it's clear that writing skills alone don't land stories.
Above-average PR professionals also have strong relationship-building skills with reporters and editors, allowing them to garner more media attention than their writing-focused counterparts. About 20 percent of the field touts this skill set as well.
Stellar PR pros couple their writing and relationship-building skills with the finesse of a veteran sales consultant. Less than two percent of those in the profession have these unique powers of persuasion, which is why having these skills allows you and your company to stand apart from your colleagues and competitors in a remarkable way.
Supporting this premise, PR Newswire reports that just 55 percent of its stories get picked up -- no doubt a result of less than stellar pitching -- or sales -- skills. To generate a different result, you must transform your approach.
Much like the steps in a traditional sales pitch, begin your PR pitch by establishing a relationship with a reporter, which begins by doing your homework. Read a variety of the reporter's work. Know his or her beat, style and common story angles. Use social media to learn about a reporter's interests. Use this information to engage and connect with each reporter you call.
Then offer the reporter an inspired 30-second elevator pitch about your company -- just enough to pique interest -- followed by a request to ask a few questions. Your questions and the reporter's answers will allow you to tailor the story angle you're proposing based on the outlet's content needs. Explain your desire to make the best use of both of your time.
Proceed with your needs assessment by asking open-ended questions to get the reporter engaged in the conversation and to identify content needs with which you may be able to assist. There is a direct correlation between the time a reporter spends talking and your likelihood to land a story.
Next, restate the content needs and story opportunities that you learned from the reporter. If applicable, offer up a content suggestion by explaining what makes it newsworthy today, how it's unique, and why the reporter's readers will care.
At this point, you've earned the right to ask for the story outright. If you get anything other than a definitive yes, revert back to the Needs Assessment. Inquire further about what's causing their pause, uncovering any objections, resolving them and attempting to close again.
Lori Turner-Wilson is an award-winning columnist and CEO/Founder of RedRover Sales & Marketing in Memphis, TN, www.redrovercompany.com. You can follow RedRover on Twitter (@redrovercompany and @loriturner) and Facebook (facebook.com/redrovercompany).