Is it Who You Know or What You Know?

How important are personal relationship in public relations? I can’t recall how many new business pitches seem to hinge on the quality of your Rolodex (or for you younger readers, your database). If you can name drop that you just had lunch with Walt Mossberg, or you just had coffee with the producer who handles bookings for Oprah, then people will generally say “Oooh, Ahhh” and be sufficiently impressed. But do those kinds of connections really help your clients tell a mediocre story?

Naturally, prospects want to make sure you know something about their business. You need to be able to demonstrate you understand what their company and its products offer, how they fit in their market, the value they offer target customers, and how to effectively differentiate their brand. The objective of every marketing campaign differs. Some are about brand building, others are focused on thought leadership, and others are to support sales. In fact, most PR campaigns measure success on multiple levels, but never by who you know.

So when I am pitching prospect or talking to a client and asked, “Do you know So-and-so?” or “Who do you know at this Trade Journal Weeky?” I usually respond, “Who do I need to know?” Granted, relationships are built and maintained over time, and I have a number of established and respected journalists that I consider friends as well as professional contacts. I also can name reporters at various technology trade magazines, and even have a lot of history with most of them. I reconnected with a former CMP editor who is now a freelance analyst, and we remembered each other from past stories and pitches.

So it turns out I do know a few journalists. But that doesn’t mean I can pick up the phone to pitch them a bad story. Without the solid foundation of strategy, storytelling, and an understanding of what editors need to make a good story for their readers, it doesn’t matter who you know.

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