In Public Relations, You Need to Learn to Take No for an Answer


I have been self-employed for much of my adult life, now a PR consultant in Boston. But when I did serve as a public relations director, I had interns that of course where there to learn the art and science of public relations. I’ll date myself but that was long before the advent of social media that has taken over much of the practice of PR.


While public relations has changed dramatically over the past decade, there are still many ways to get in front of the media and obtain press coverage for your organization. I like to say the inventory has been diminished but that means the way you interact with the media is much more important today than it was a decade ago. In short, less pages in a newspaper and more PR people. That means you need to bring your A-Game.


One of my interns was a man who had decided that it was time to make a career change midlife. He was in sales much of his career and when he came to me he said that he thought his sales skills would transfer perfectly to a career in public relations. He felt he could essentially sell his way through reporters and news desks. While his communication skills would benefit him immensely in a PR career, I felt his sales skills would hinder him. When I told him he needed to learn to take no for an answer, he was confused. Because many in sales have a hard time accepting the word NO.


Taking NO for an answer in PR.


I really feel that learning to back off when a reporter said NO made me a better PR practitioner. I earned their respect and at some point, they covered what I had to offer them in the future. While your pitch really does come down to how newsworthy something is, there are many more factors that even the most seasoned PR people don’t always get. A client says they want press coverage, they apply more pressure and you do what you have to do. I get it.


But let’s get to the point of my thoughts here. No comes in many forms. A reporter can flat out say no thanks to your pitch and that should be the end of it in my opinion. You got a no, they are busy and trying to sell them will only chip away at your own personal credibility. And future chances of that journalist calling on you for something else.


But No also comes in the form of being ignored which in most cases is the most popular way of saying NO. Many reporters just don’t have the time to respond to every pitch. Nor do they have time to tell you why they won’t act on your pitch. That’s your job. If after two to three follow ups by phone or email, it’s understood that NO is your answer.


Live to fight another day has always been my philosophy when it comes to working with the media. And while “Fight” might be a strong word, I hope you get where I’m going. It’s not worth becoming that annoying person that has to get a little press coverage at all costs. If you show an editor, producer or a reporter that you know their job, value their time and understand news, you’ll earn much more respect than those that leave a path of destruction behind them.


As a PR consultant in Boston now, I inform clients right up front that I do not control what the media cover. Or anyone else for that matter. But if you’re willing to hear the word NO a few times, you might actually get some traction. Might sound backwards but try it. Respect the process.

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