The Myth of “Contacts” in PR

The Myth of “Contacts” in PR

In 1989 I was selected to be an intern at Ruder Finn Public Relations.  Getting to that offer was grueling: writing tests, crisis plan analytics, and three interviews.  Ultimately, I was one of 12 selected from 350 applicants.  The industry’s “gold standard training program” started my career.

Among the many lessons learned during those months, one still stands out today: Founder David Finn rounded up all us interns to dispense his vision, thoughts and some advice.  I share this with anyone seeking a PR agency, trying to fill a PR/Comms role, or looking for a good PR pro –

David said, “In our business, lots of people ask about your contacts.  Let me tell you – they mean nothing.  Just because you know a reporter really well does not mean he/she will do a story for you.  At best, it means he will take your call.  It does not mean he can leapfrog over his boss to get something on the air or printed.  More importantly, if you use that chip for one client, and along comes another with a bigger problem requiring the same chip – you “used it” already.

The bottom line is this – we are hired for our skills at storytelling; message management and ability to connect the dots between the reporter’s need and our client’s message.  “Contacts” are among our tools.  They are not our currency.”

Any PR person selling their contacts is selling a relationship rolodex.

Real results come from deep understanding of PR and its role in the greater marketing mix.

This is not an indictment of PR.  It is meant to re-frame how it is seen.