PR and communications professionals who have a robust PR strategy in place and execute against that strategy year-over-year know that PR is a game of momentum.
When you first start out you spend a lot of time pitching, educating reporters about your organization, getting your executive director byline placements for thought leadership, and trying to secure speaking engagements. In the beginning, every media hit feels like a big win, each speaking engagement brings excited anticipation from the executive director, and each byline opportunity is regarded as a golden nugget. However, once the pendulum begins to swing, requests for interviews and editorial content will be inbound, speaking opportunities will stack up, and the opportunities for placements may become frequent and plentiful.
When you are sharing your stories and expertise via multiple avenues and channels with frequency and recency, you have reached the PR Shangri-la, right? Right. Until you reach the point where you’ve run out of time in the workweek to accomplish everything. And then all of a sudden the CEO who once was begging for more media hits is now asking you “do I need to do this one?” Insert raised eye emoji and record scratch.
“Did they just ask to pass on a PR opportunity?” 😲
After all your hard work and success, this moment can be hard to fathom! But truth be told, when your team is strapped for time and too busy to do it all, you may have to say no to some incoming opportunities. Here is our guide for deciding when to pass on PR.
Fielding incoming interview requests and when to say no
Some PR pros may tell you never to say no to an incoming interview request and they are mostly correct. Be it online, print, or broadcast, local or national, general interest or trade, most interview requests are 100% worth the time and effort. No matter how “small potatoes” the outlet may seem, published content covering your mission and impact is worthwhile. Here’s why:
- SEO value: media coverage that directs traffic back to your website holds value. With higher SEO rankings, you are easier for existing and potential audiences to find.
- Repurposing value: media hits can be repurposed as social content, newsletter content, website content, etc. The life of the media hit goes far beyond that initial moment of publication when re-purposed properly.
- You never know where that small-town reporter will end up: never dismiss a reporter or trade writer. Reporters these days move around A LOT. They may be on the masthead for the local paper, but chances are, they also freelance and you never know who is pitching stories to the New York Times in their off-hours. Building and maintaining relationships with reporters is always worth it, you never know where their careers will take them!
Unless it is really a major burden for the executive, you really should try to accommodate all interview requests. That being said, is there ever a time to say no? Yes. It is always advisable and OK to ask a reporter what their story is really about. For example, a client whose mission is to recycle shoes for children in need may receive an incoming request from broadcast TV to film their shoe-recycling plant. However, with a little digging, it turns out that the reporter is actually doing a story on minimum wage increases and wants to film workers “who appeared to fit that demographic.” Each interview request requires individual vetting, but it is ok to say no when:
- The story is not really about your mission, your work, or your industry
- The story is not going to showcase your work in a flattering way
- The story has a negative spin (i.e. the reporter is looking for negative commentary on a competitor or colleague)**
**One caveat on “negative spin” stories is that while we would never recommend mud-slinging or talking negatively about others, a reporter who wants to tell a “negative” story about your industry or company can be an opportunity to change the narrative to something more positive. Even in a crisis situation, we always recommend engaging with the media because interviews can be an opportunity to rectify a situation by showing how your organization is involved in a positive resolution. Each story and media request requires individual scrutiny, there is no blanket rule for when to say no.
Determining which speaking opps are worth the time and travel
A highly sought-after executive may find they reach a point in their speaking careers when they just can’t attend every event. We all need and deserve boundaries for our time, so if there have too many requests for your executive to speak, how do you determine which ones they should do and which ones they should pass on? Consider the following:
- Who is the target audience for the engagement? Do they represent your ideal donor base, potential new supporters of your cause, or people who need to know more about your important work? If the audience does not check these boxes, then perhaps the opportunity is not as high a priority.
- How much will it cost? A speaking gig at a major conference in Amsterdam may or may not be worth the cost to your executive. Are they getting paid to speak or will they be required to cover their travel expenses? Will the audience attending the conference be worth the cost to get there? How much would it cost you to reach the same audience via paid advertising? Perhaps your executive has always wanted to go to Amsterdam and this gig is a dream come true. But if the costs to travel outweigh the value of reaching the audience, then you may want to consider saying no.
Prioritizing thought leadership efforts
Thought leadership can be achieved in many ways, be it speaking gigs, byline article placements, blog posts, or simply engagement on social media channels. The leaders of your organization certainly have a lot to say, and important ideas to share. However, not everyone has time to write full-length articles on a consistent basis. So what do you do when you can’t do it all? Make the thought leadership strategy feel more approachable for your executive.
- Choose a reasonable goal for byline placements each year. Full-length articles can feel like a heavy lift for a busy CEO. Strategize with them on how many feel achievable each quarter and determine top media targets. Aim for quality, in terms of topics covered and placements, over quantity if your team is strapped for time and resources.
- Ghost-write for the executive. If they don’t have time to draft the articles or content themselves, request an outline, conduct a quick interview on the topic, and draft the article for them so that they can simply tweak and edit as needed.
- Encourage the executive to engage on a micro level. If they don’t have time to write lengthy blogs or articles, encourage them to share their important ideas on a micro level instead. Quick posts on LinkedIn and other social media channels can help keep their voice in the mix and make them visible to their constituents, the media, and target audiences with minimal time and effort.
When to shell out for the paid award opportunities?
Similar to speaking engagements, award opportunities can be frequent and plentiful and if you have limited time and resources, you may find yourself needing to prioritize which ones to go after for your organization. Not all awards are created equal. Some are free to enter and some are paid. Some are industry-focused, some are national or international. How do you pick and choose?
- Look at audience fit. Much like the speaking gigs, the audience, or who is keeping track of the winners for a particular award, can be a big determining factor. Is this a major industry award that you’ve always wanted to win? Is the resulting press coverage going to turn the dial in terms of reaching your donor base or potential clients? Is the recognition from a win going to affect your bottom line?
- Weigh cost benefit. Some awards are pay-to-play and the price tags that come with the application can be quite steep. Determine if the price paid to participate is worth the investment by looking at how that $500 could be spent in other marketing avenues. Is this award the best place to invest that money, is the return from a win going to be worth the price tag?
When you are forced to say no, go back to your goals
Being in a position where you have to say no to some PR opportunities can be a bummer, but every team has limitations, be it time or resources. Determining when to say no should be determined by your PR goals. Does the requested interview further the story you are trying to tell? Will the speaking opportunity reach the right audience? Do the thought leadership efforts position the CEO in a way to engage with and reach new stakeholders? Will the award turn the dial in terms of financial goals? If you find yourself in a position where you can’t do it all, then make sure each strategy and effort is intentional and supports your overall PR goals. It is OK to say no sometimes, but be sure that you are saying “yes” to the efforts that move the needle.
Rhiannon Hendrickson is the founder and CEO of Orapin Marketing + Public Relations, which helps purpose-driven organizations share their stories and become a leading voice for their cause. She has worked with organizations of all sizes across myriad industries to develop memorable and effective communications programs that generate awareness, engagement, and, ultimately, support for those that are making a meaningful impact.