As the Qwoted 100 series of PR superstars continues to roll, this week we bring you Beth Booker, the founder/CEO of Gracie PR and based in Naples, Fla. She boasts a wide range of proficiencies and expertise, centered on creative storytelling, targeted media placements, and strategic partnerships in the name of organic awareness. Booker also brings impressive education to the role, having earned her master’s degree in Communication and Media Studies from the University of North Carolina.
Combine that with overlapping competencies in marketing, and you’ve got all the makings of a PR standout that the tough judges at Qwoted and Talking Biz News could ask for. Here she discusses the shifting nature of media relations, remembering the human side of dealing with reporters and what it’s like to work at building brand awareness while avoiding the “spray and pray” approach.
Qwoted: What do you see as the future of PR—technologically, strategically, or in any category you’re passionate about?
Beth Booker: The public relations field is constantly shifting, much like the journalism world. We’re starting to see that technological focus grow more and more each day amid media layoffs. Unfortunately, that shift is something we can’t stop alone. But one thing that won’t change as we move forward — at least for my team — is creating meaningful relationships with journalists and staying away from transactional or spray-and-pray pitching. Looking at publicists on a surface level, our job is to build brand credibility and trust on behalf of our clients with their target audience. However, many people need to improve on building credibility and trust between your agency and the media you work with daily. By continuing to learn and understand where journalism is going and how we can support our friends in the media, we’ll be much better for it as a team they can depend on and still garner meaningful results for our clients in the process.
Qwoted: What do you think you do other PRs could learn from?
Booker: I rarely use media lists and I don’t spray and pray. I pitch every media contact with intention and when I do, I know what they cover and aim to provide value to the stories they care about. As a publicist, the moment you stop looking at the quantity of pitches over the quality of pitches you’re putting out into the ether, you’ll find yourself earning the best results. I would rather dive into research and consume every bit I can for 10 solid leads over pitching 50 leads who show up under a keyword in a search for a topic I’m working on. Pitching media with an intention backed by research to provide value to their reporting is always the best way to go.
Qwoted: What’s your toughest challenge with reporters?
Booker: Remembering they are humans first, right? They all have their own personalities and preferences, much like we do on the other side as publicists, so it can be challenging to learn how they like to be pitched. Some journalists and reporters are very open about how they want to receive pitches from publicists; some make it clear that they don’t like working with publicists; and some give no indication at all, so finding that balance can be tricky when you’re pitching someone you haven’t worked with yet. Relationships with media contacts take time to nurture and don’t happen overnight. Following them on social media, reading their work, and amplifying and sharing their stories go a long way in forming those relationships, learning their preferences, building trust, and sharing your clients’ stories.
Qwoted: How do you approach breaking through the noise floor to get effective coverage?
Booker: When laying out pitch angles, I try to look at it from a journalist’s perspective: Why should they, or their audience, care about what I’m sharing? Is it timely? Is it trending? Is it relevant? Does it have an impact? If none of those questions can be answered, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and figure out a new story angle. Then — and I’m going to sound like a broken record here — after I have the “Why do people care about this?” of the pitch, I research which journalists will also care about it.
If I pitch a story on mental health, I will try to find contacts who cover that or have shared their own journey with mental health publicly on social media or through their work. In addition to a solid pitch, which I typically try to keep under 300 words and for researched contacts, I spend a lot of time with my subject lines. Journalists, producers, and the like receive hundreds of emails daily, so you have about seven words to catch their attention in a sea of (assumed spray and pray) pitches. As quickly as we move in the public relations world, journalists are moving at five times that speed and juggling deadlines, new assignments, interviews, multiple inboxes, and more. And, of course, it always comes back to those relationships too. Many contacts I work with regularly know that I’m dependable. I’ll always stick to their deadlines and ensure they have everything they need to do their job. Putting yourself into a journalist’s shoes, researching the right contacts, finding the story angle and pairing it with an impactful and concise subject line, and forming actual relationships with media contacts so they know they can depend on you will break you through the rest of the noise every single time.
Qwoted: How does PR in 2023 square with the future of journalism?
Booker: Journalism is shifting amidst mass layoffs and the rise of AI, especially used by major companies such as Google, who plan to use AI to generate commerce content from major publishers. Publicists must continue to learn and understand where journalism is going and how we can support our friends in the media industry. If I know that a freelancer I work with is looking for new publications to write for, and I see someone tweet that they are looking for freelancers to support a beat I know they cover, I will always send it their way. Similarly, we must continue to amplify and drive home the value behind journalism, the research and thoughtfulness they put into their stories, the perspectives they add to the media landscape, and why their work matters.
Qwoted: What advice would you give to those seeking to find an effective PR person?
Booker: 1) Find someone passionate about you and your brand. I work with clients across various verticals because I choose which clients to sign based on how well we vibe on a discovery call and what connection I feel to the work they do. If I don’t feel connected to the business or brand I’m representing, I would be doing them a disservice working with them. 2) Find a publicist who has some grit and is research-oriented. To survive in public relations, you have to be determined, persistent and have the research to back it. When it comes to your PR team pitching your story, you have to be prepared for the fact that journalists receive hundreds of emails a day. Your publicist needs to know how to get that message across to the correct contacts. 3) Choose a publicist with empathy for other people and who you like as a person. To do this job and do it correctly, your publicist needs to genuinely connect with other people, whether that be media contacts, brand partners, or your own internal team. You can hire the most intelligent and most well-connected publicist in the world, but if they don’t have a connection to your brand, grit and intention behind their work and are likable as a person, you need to keep searching.
The one publicist or public relations professional you never want to hire is the one who guarantees you coverage. There are no guarantees in PR — and suggesting there are or promising coverage is unethical in many ways on a professional and human level.
Qwoted: What is your golden rule of PR?
Booker: People first, including yourself. PR and media can be an incredibly thankless career, so always remember that real people cover your clients, real people have hired you to share their stories, and real people will consume the stories you’re pitching:
1) Thank journalists, producers, editors, freelancers, etc., for covering your clients, and share their work and have your clients share their work, too.
2) Understand your client’s goals and expectations, be prepared to manage them, and educate them on the media and public relations industry along the way.
3) Take pride in the wins you get for clients. I’ll always remember my first WSJ placement, New York Magazine story, or interview with The TODAY Show. Still, every single win for a client is exciting, so remember to relish that every once in a while. It’s good for the soul.
Qwoted: Anything else to add?
Booker: Balance is essential and passion projects are a great hobby for someone in a creative field. I recently launched a lifestyle brand called Press Kit alongside a fellow publicist Kaela Krakoski, as a vertical under my boutique lifestyle public relations company Gracie PR. We created it for publicists, journalists, and every corporate professional who has uttered the words “for f*cks sake” after a meeting that could have been an email creating t-shirts, sweatshirts, stickers, and tote bags custom-made to be comfortable, cheeky, and relatable AF.
February 14, 2023