Every public relations pro knows that email pitches, phone calls and even industry events like conferences and tradeshows only go so far. The key to building relationships with journalists and other influencers—or anybody, really—is often facetime (note the lowercase ‘f’). Enter the deskside briefing, aka the deskside meeting or simply: “the deskside.”
The deskside is a tried-and-true method of developing relationships, especially in the world of media. Like just about everything else, however, a deskside briefing can look much different today than it did in the world before COVID-19. And pre-pandemic, deskside meetings looked different than they did in the 1990s. To understand why is to understand what exactly a deskside briefing is and why they are so effective.
Let’s dig into some of the benefits and challenges deskside meetings can pose for public relations professionals—particularly those working on behalf of cannabis brands.
What is a deskside briefing in public relations?
First of all, a deskside briefing doesn’t have to happen at an actual office desk. It can take place at a coffee shop, bar, restaurant or even somebody’s kitchen. And, of course, it can happen over Zoom.
Deskside briefings are simply face-to-face meetings with a journalist or influencer. Traditionally, these tête-à-têtes were held at the office of that professional’s place of business. But in the era of hybrid and remote work—when more and more journalists work as freelancers instead of full-time staff and #officeoftheday posts are standard LinkedIn and Instagram fare—the “deskside” moniker might have stuck, but the actual practice has changed.
What is the purpose of a deskside briefing in PR?
The goal of most deskside briefings is primarily twofold: First, it’s much easier to get a “yes” from a journalist about covering a particular product, brand, founder or story when you’re on the phone or face to face than pitching by via email. That in-person communication allows the publicist or brand leadership to establish a personal rapport with the journalist. Suddenly, your brand isn’t one more story taking up space in a busy reporter’s inbox. You’ve planted the seeds for a fruitful professional relationship.
Second, a deskside meeting allows the publicist or brand representative to provide more detailed information tailored to what the journalist or influencer is looking for in real time. Without the static of a press conference or busy industry event, a good rep should be able to maximize this time and deliver a comprehensive and winning message.
How have deskside briefings changed?
In the pandemic era, deskside briefings do still happen face-to-face at desks. But desksides are jumping into the digital era at a greater rate, as publicists and journalists increasingly connect on platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Google Meet.
Sure, we’ve all been on a call with somebody who just can’t get their computer to work, or looks and sounds like Max Headroom of 1980’s British television fame (except maybe less handsome). And after years of this, I’m willing to bet even you forget to unmute yourself from time to time. Still,it never hurts to offer a remote option in these unprecedented times. Indeed, these days sending a Zoom or Google Meets link goes beyond mere courtesy.
Even before the pandemic, however, deskside briefings were already changing along with the rest of the media landscape. There has been a marked decline in the number of journalists in recent years as newsroom employment has shrunk by 26%. There were just 39,080 media professionals in 2021 compared to 242,710 public relations workers that same year.
That means journalists’ time is more competitive than ever. Media organizations now rely on freelancers and “parachute journalists” who don’t live in the communities on which they report to a degree that would have been unimaginable 30 years ago. That means it is more important than ever for publicists to come prepared with a deep understanding of a publication’s readership, and the target audiences of the brands they represent.
What are the benefits of a deskside briefing?
First and foremost, an in-person deskside briefing can establish those invaluable trusted ties with a reporter or influencer. Indeed, one of the reasons we pride ourselves on being a Journalism-Minded™ agency is that we deeply understand how reporters and members of the media do their jobs, and what they’re looking for from their professional connections.
Other benefits of deskside meetings include:
- Body language. Being able to read nonverbal cues and making necessary adjustments. In other words, if the journalist is obviously uncomfortable or bored with the conversation, it’s time to switch things up.
- Fewer distractions. When you meet with somebody in person, they’re less likely to check their phone, notice a Slack message or fade out when a LinkedIn notification dings them.
- Bring a brand to life. Meeting a journalist or influencer in person gives a publicist or brand representative a chance to dig into the kind of exposition you can’t easily fit into a pitch or other PR materials.
- A value-add for journalists. Sure, adding another meeting to publicists’ and executives’ busy schedules can feel onerous. But when the subject of a potential news story comes to a journalist and engages on their turf, at their convenience, it can go a long way to building trust and respect. Think of it as a big value-add for journalists—who, let’s face it, are working in a corporate media structure (and broader culture) that often devalues their work. As in personal relationships, making life easier for someone can go a long way.
Why are deskside briefings important for cannabis PR?
Cannabis is a fast-moving, rapidly changing and totally fragmented market. Face-to-face contact is perhaps more important in cannabis now than in any other industry.
Here’s why, beyond the pros we’ve already discussed:
- Demos. If the company you represent makes hardware, there is nothing like putting that product in somebody’s hands and showing them how to use it. Especially if that product is techy and/or innovative. And especially if it’s an influencer who will be demonstrating your product on TikTok or Instagram, you want to be sure they know how to use it.
- Compliance. If you want to get that device or edible into somebody’s hands, it could very well be illegal to mail a sample to them. Give your local bike courier a break—a personal delivery (within a legal state, of course) can make a positive impression.
- Expertise. It’s one thing to watch somebody talk on a screen or read a report. It’s an entirely different beast to have a real heart-to-heart with a journalist about the expertise you and your team have to offer them. Even better if that expertise is presented in a face-to-face setting where the journalist can feel your enthusiasm.
- The inside scoop. The great thing about meeting journalists where they’re at—literally—is they have a chance to share themselves with you. Remember, a deskside meeting ins’t just a pitch. It’s a conversation. This is a chance for your team and your publicists to get feedback on your brand narrative and pitch specifics in real time. It’s also an opportunity to learn what kind of stories editors do and do not want and what they have coming up on their editorial calendars.
So if you’re looking to make maximum impact on a journalist or influencer—and the people they influence— you’d do well to work a deskside briefing into your public relations strategy, whether in person or over Zoom. Take these tips to heart and make that conversion!
Are you ready to set a higher bar for your cannabis PR strategy? Reach out today to find out how we can take your messaging further.