Are you a PR or a Contact?

Transitioning to different sectors in PR can be a leap, as generally the basis of PR itself is the contact database which you acquire over a number of hustling years. However having done so myself, I’m confident that a little savviness is the key to being successful without stepping on any toes. I believe that although any job can be learned, it’s the love of what you do that makes that innate passion emerge triumphant.

Many of my childhood summers were spent at my grandparents’ house down south with my siblings and cousins, listening to The Archers, making blackberry crumble from handpicked fruit baskets, and twirling around the front room playing old vinyl; rooting radio and music into my heart from an early age.

It so happened that I ‘fell into’ radio without recognising the natural progression from my childhood fervour for broadcast. It’s only now that I spend my working hours living and breathing radio that I’ve identified the influence of the radio scripts I used to write and record over my grandad’s old tapes and the ‘mixtapes’ I would make for myself with devoted patience and meticulous selections, were what inconspicuously drew my career to the broadcast sector.

I found my invisible bond to broadcast opened up my communications clout and was what finally aided my recent transition as a radio plugger, from transparent music-concentrated campaigns to commercially-driven news generated stories, widening my experience in the PR arena. The technique and nuances of encouraging excitement about a new artist or track transferred relatively seamlessly to the tact of ‘selling-in’ to a radio producer or journalist.

But they are by no means the same thing. I’ve found that what really helps with any story, just as with a new record, is if you care about it yourself or believe you are providing something of value; then it is the most natural thing in the world to extoll its virtues.

The one difference that is most evident, though, is in establishing contacts. Whereas plugging involved attending many events and meeting people in person, discussing shared interests and exchanging details as the music industry is very London-centric, the format to broadcast PR is somewhat flipped. The focus shifts to building a relationship over the phone or via email before the inclination to meet is relevant, as producers and journalists can be based anywhere between Shetland and Sark.

My preference has always been to really get to know someone on a better level than just pleasantries. This level of familiarity means I wouldn’t send the biggest new hip-hop record to a house DJ and expect them to add it to their playlist, you learn their tastes and their DJ sets – similarly learning when to send a story to a journalist and how they want to hear about it is crucial, or eventually I will determine my fate as another email address that gets overlooked in their inbox. The difference in being considered a contact or ‘just another PR’.

At a recent Gorkana meeting, Andrew Gregory of the Daily Mirror said: “I don’t see good PRs as PRs, I call them ‘contacts’ and many I consider friends”.

Having moved on from radio plugging to broadcast PR, this particularly resonated with me as I still frequently meet and have stayed friends with many of my contacts – and it’s generally because we have things in common. When you work in the same sector as someone it’s difficult not to find ten other people who share at least one interest, meaning a lunch meeting can easily turn into a happy hour, into a late night kebab, into a headache in the morning but a new and beneficial friend. (Which is what I experienced just two days ago with a BBC contact who I will be frequently sharing stories with, and the odd bottle of wine).

For me, the success of PR is more than just the quality of the story, but how you mould its relevance to the recipient, and you can only do that once an understanding is formed. Traditional and broadcast PR, plugging and communications, in my opinion, are all determined by the rapport you hold with a select number of people of importance, rather than a long spreadsheet featuring little other than a name and an email address.

I’ve encountered excellent pluggers and PRs who all have stronger relationships with certain DJs or journalists. The sea of people who work across radio or in news rooms means that as a PR you don’t need to know all of them, just a select number who can vouch for your credibility is often enough to secure excellent coverage. The saying ‘quality over quantity’ is untiring for a reason.

It’s also important to note that although you may have built a fantastic database of power players, ever-changing staff in newsrooms, DJ schedule shifts on radio and moving TV producers, mean your contact list is always developing whether you stay in the same sector or not – which means ultimately it’s the skill of being able to develop a relationship with new people time and again that is the crux of communications and the foundation of your reputation as a great person to know, or just a PR.

By Kiri Gray


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