As someone who's active on social networks including LinkedIn, I routinely see clients from a variety of industries ask about PR and how to find a good PR counselor. On more than one occasion, the replies have essentially touted a particular practitioner's Rolodex of contacts. While that may sound impressive, in many ways, using that metric alone may not result in qualified representation for your business.
Unfortunately, a widespread myth about public relations is that it's essentially high-level telemarketing, where a junior-level PR person dials a phone and reads a prepared script. As anyone who was a journalist in the dot-com days will tell you, that was unfortunately true and it was something that made the job unquestionably more difficult. And as much as clients think the technique works, a seasoned PR pro will tell you that it doesn't have the positive brand impact that a more message-focused campaign does.
Part of the reason "smiling and dialing" is so pervasive is that it's profitable for agencies; junior-level staffers are billed out at a higher profit level given their lower salary structure. Secondly -- and it's unfortunate that it's done for this reason -- it's easier. It doesn't take much strategy or competency to create a list and have someone dial phone numbers and read a script. However, it rarely tells the journalist anything critical either and isn't the approach that you want to use when your product or service is something complicated and not easily understood.
Finally, I'd like to dispel another notion about contacts, which is that the best PR pros have tons of journalists as friends who will do many things for their clients that they won't for the clients of other PR pros who aren't their buddies. This too is false and something that no one should buy into. Fact is, a solid PR pro doesn't have to lean on any friends they have to get coverage. In contrast, they get coverage through clear messages and good research.
Just as financial advisors caution their clients to avoid falling for the latest investment fad, anyone seeking quality PR representation should be wary of anyone promising quick riches as well.