By Jennifer R. Farmer
There’s no escaping the fact communications and public relations work involves an element of rejection. The rejection likely comes from reporters who may not be interested or available to cover a story idea you pitched. Rejection also occurs when the strategy you’ve proposed to meet an organizational challenge is overlooked or summarily dismissed.
As someone who’s been in the communications field for more than 15 years, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard “no” from organizational leaders and members of the media alike. For all the stories I’ve pitched and placed, there were countless others that didn’t see the light of day. For all the meeting requests I’ve sent to media executives, editors and reporters, many were flat out denied, and in some cases, I didn’t get a response at all.
Dealing with rejection is hard. But quickly overcoming rejection and being able to jump back is critical to being an effective advocate and a successful communicator. Often communicators will experience “no” multiple times before finally making it to a “yes.” Bo Bennett’s quote, “rejection is nothing more than a necessary step in the pursuit of success” rings true.
However, sometimes “no’s” come with silver linings. 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 pitch The 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, the opinion page editor, Michael Larabee, graciously offered that the piece was beautifully written, but submitted too close to the desired publication date. Our piece was submitted for consideration the Tuesday before the Sunday we hoped the column would run, which was the opening day of the 2014 professional football season. Such valuable information allowed me better establish internal deadlines to successfully place opinion pieces in the future.
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 non-urgent opinion pieces. Had we stopped at the first, second or third “no” (we pitched the piece to The National Journal, Politico and The Washington Post before finally getting to yes with MSNBC.com) our piece would never have been placed. Failing to place an opinion piece is losing an opportunity to share our message. Opinion pieces allow commentary (i.e., your message) to be shared directly with readers, and as an earned media tool, can be published without a corresponding price tag. In this way, stopping at “no” is unacceptable.
Relentlessness is about seeing denial as a temporary, rather than permanent, fixture. It’s about viewing denial as an opportunity to tweak and refine. It’s also about refusing to take denial as rejection, which is personal. My work however is professional. Therefore, I cannot experience rejection for my work, only denial. This shift in perspective enables me to better cope with obstacles that will invariably come. Moreover, just because a reporter or producer doesn’t bite on a story idea today, doesn’t mean the idea is permanently doomed.
So How Does One Become Relentless in PR?
From my experience, the key to being relentless in public relations 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.
A memorable time when I experienced this was in North Carolina in 2013 during the start of the weekly Moral Monday protests. I had run the Nike Women’s Half-Marathon: that’s 13.1 miles. After my run, I wanted to do nothing more than go home, shower, sit on the couch and devour the biggest cupcake I could find. The problem is I pledged to attend a planning meeting with the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP the same day as the half marathon. Having just run my heart out, I wasn’t the least bit excited about flying to North Carolina.
I was tired when I arrived, but by the time I left the Davie Street Presbyterian Church in Raleigh where the pre-demonstration service was being held, I was completely energized. At Davie Street, I witnessed the greatest display of compassion and camaraderie between people who were young, old, Black, white, people of faith and those who professed no faith at all, gay, straight, Christian, Muslim and many others. I had never seen such brotherly love in my life. Attendees treated each other with such love and respect. They were a family, united in a belief that their state needed a change. From my first encounter in that church, I was SOLD-HOOK- LINE-AND SINKER. From that point on, I decided I would do whatever was necessary to support the movement. Supported by my employer Advancement Project, I flew to North Carolina almost weekly from April 2013 to September 2013. I was tired, but I was energized.
What I learned from this experience is 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. You’ll fly from D.C. to N.C. on a weekly basis for it. It is easy to lay your all on the line once you have a firm belief in the issue in which you’re involved.
I’ve shared my tip for being relentless. If I’ve overlooked anything, kindly share in the comments section. And if you like the post, please keep a look out for my forthcoming book on public relations, A Media Marvel, which will be released in March 2017.