There’s no escaping the fact that communications and public relations work involves an element of rejection. In PR, the rejection likely comes from reporters who may not be interested or available to cover a story idea you’ve pitched. Rejection also occurs when the strategy you’ve proposed to meet an organizational challenge is overlooked or summarily dismissed.
I’ve been a communicator for more than 15 years, and I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard “no” from organizational leaders and members of the media alike. Bo Bennett’s quote, “rejection is nothing more than a necessary step in the pursuit of success” rings true.
For all the stories I’ve pitched and placed, countless others didn’t see the light of day. For all of the meetings I’ve requested with members of the media, many were flat out denied, and in some cases, I didn’t get a response at all.
Dealing with rejection is hard. But overcoming rejection and being resilient is critical to being an effective advocate. I focus on relentlessness in my new book, “Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide,” and here are five things I’ve learned that may help you relentlessly advocate for the organizations and causes you support:
- Believe in Something Bigger Than Yourself. From my experience, the key to being relentless is believing in something bigger than yourself. When we believe in something bigger than ourselves, we are likely to stick with it. We’re passionate when we talk about it, and that passion is contagious. When we believe in something, we’ll go to the ends of the earth fighting for it. In my book, “Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget,” I talk about being on a campaign with the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and how I believed so strongly in the campaign that I traveled to North Carolina almost weekly to support it. From my first encounter in with the campaign and the people supporting it, I determined I would do whatever was necessary to support the movement.
What I learned from this experience is that you cannot effectively promote something you do not actually embrace. If you believe in something, you’ll stick with it even when the going gets tough.
- Know that There’s Always a Silver Lining. Sometimes “No!” comes with a silver lining. A “no” with an explanation may be viewed just as favorably as an immediate “yes, I’ll cover your story.” For instance, I asked a member of my team to pitchThe Washington Post on a guest column about the systemic oppression of Native Americans. The Washington Post declined to publish the piece. When we politely inquired as to the basis for the decision, we learned that the essay was submitted too close to the desired publication date. We had submitted the piece for consideration on the Tuesday before the Sunday we had hoped the column would run, which was also opening day of the 2014 professional football season. The feedback from the publication allowed us to better establish internal deadlines to place opinion pieces going forward.
Relentlessness is about patience and persistence. Had we not pressed for an answer, we may not have known The Post’s desired lead time for nonurgent opinion pieces. Had we stopped at the first, second or third “no” – we had pitched the piece to The National Journal, Politico and The Washington Post before MSNBC.com agreed to run it – our piece would never have been placed. Failing to place an opinion piece is losing an opportunity to share your message.
- Remember, “No!” Isn’t Always Permanent. Just because a reporter or producer doesn’t bite on a story idea today doesn’t mean the idea is permanently doomed. He or she could be sidelined covering breaking news, on work or personal travel, or juggling multiple stories. There’s also a possibility the reporter didn’t see your pitch or press release if you sent it electronically and didn’t follow up with a call. The bottom line is that there are a lot of factors that could cause a reporter to decline your pitch, but that doesn’t mean he or she won’t be willing to consider your source, angle or material in the future.
- Don’t Allow “No” to Ruin a Relationship. Journalists aren’t obligated to cover your issues. While getting reporters and producers to cover your work is key, it’s not worth losing a relationship over. So, don’t come unglued if you don’t receive the response you were hoping for. Practically speaking, journalists often move from beat to beat and from media outlet to media outlet. You’d feel bad to have ruined a relationship with a member of the media only to have to pitch to that person again if he or she moved to a different beat or media outlet.
- Know When to Back Off. If a reporter hasn’t responded to multiple emails or a couple of phone calls, you can safely assume he or she is not interested in covering your story. After multiple attempts to reach a reporter by email and phone, don’t continue to press for a response. The reporter’s continued silence is all the response you need. Similarly, if you receive an unequivocal, “No, I am not interested in covering this story ever” response, move on.
Ultimately, relentlessness is about seeing denial as a temporary, rather than permanent, fixture. It’s about viewing denial as an opportunity to tweak and refine, especially if you are lucky enough to receive feedback. It’s not, however, about pestering reporters or others into submission. Used effectively, the principle can lead to impressive results. To learn more, pick up a copy of my new book “Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget (Berrett-Koehler Publishers).”
Jennifer R. Farmer is managing director for communications for PICO National Network and the founder of Spotlight PR LLC, whose mission is to develop and distribute high-impact communications trainings and workshops. Follow her on Facebook at Facebook.com/Tips4ExtraordinaryPR and Twitter @Farmer8J.