Lack Of Media Contacts No Reason To Sit On Stories

Posted on May 25, 2014. Filed under: Public Relations | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Which comes first, the story idea or the media contact relationship?

Believe it or not, I’ll take the great story idea first — if I have to choose. So should you.

I’ve worked with literally thousands of media outlets and their people — reporters, editors, program producers, photographers —  over the years. From that experience, I’ve distilled some basic facts about “working with the media” that I’d like to share.

  • It’s not necessary to be on a first-name basis with reporters before you can pitch them on a story idea. “Who do you know” at such-and-such a media outlet is one of the most common things clients and prospective clients ask. I understand why clients ask this question so routinely. They want to be successful. Having contacts is important. I don’t want to downplay the advantage that a PR person has in knowing a key reporter personally, especially at the larger, more influential media outlets. But there’s no reason to believe that you have to know reporters and editors in advance to pitch them on your story idea. Not if you’ve done your homework first, to figure out if the story you’re pitching is relevant to the type of the coverage that the outlet handles, and matches up to the specific beat of the reporter, editor or producer. If you’ve got news, and it’s of interest to the media outlet’s audience, then you’ve got reason enough to get in touch with the editorial people who handle the type of story you’re proposing.
  • Do your media relations homework. Be a student of the game. Read, watch, listen to what’s being said about your industry — and where it’s being said. Analyze stories to understand what makes them newsworthy. Put yourself in the reporter’s place — think like a journalist! Build up a file of stories similar to what you’re hoping to get for you own business (online storage services like Evernote and Microsoft’s OneNote are great for saving reference material like this).
  • Put it in writing. Most reporters will listen to your pitch, and then say something like “send me something written and I’ll taka  look at it.” Now you’ll send your press release, fact sheet, backgrounder, bio, news alert, white paper or whatever. Or maybe you’ve already sent the press release along as an attachment to an email pitch you sent to the reporter. You might have to send it again – or send more information that supports your story. Be sure to have this material prepared and ready to go in advance. You don’t watch to capture the reporter’s attention, only to lose it again because you can’t follow through with something so basic as a press release or fact sheet.
  • Concentrate on your story. Is it really newsworthy? Have you considered all the angles – are you looking at it from the journalist’s point of view?
  • I would never let not knowing the media stand between me and getting a good story placed. Neither should you. Let your story be your guide; if it’s a good one, and you’ve got the right attitude and know-how, you can be sure that the media will listen to you — even if they’re not in your pantheon of close personal friends prior to your contacting them.

Once again, I’m not saying that personal connections with the media aren’t important. They’re invaluable. All PR people of any standing have their personal media contact lists that they guard like family jewels. I’m no exception. But it’s no either/or situation. Enthusiasm for a good story can carry the day, no matter whether you’re pitching it to your best friend or to a complete stranger.

 

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

Public Relations, Best Served With A Dash Of Magic.

Posted on May 23, 2014. Filed under: Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Time was when magicians were loath to reveal their trade secrets to anyone. To do so would be akin to Coca Cola giving away its secret recipe for its eponymous soft drink. There probably isn’t enough money in the world to entice Coke to publicly expose its secret soda recipe. But the lure of television dollars broke the brotherhood of magicians. Who hasn’t watched one of those hoary TV shows in which a professional magician takes you behind the scenes to see how the magic is actually made?

Not that I don’t believe in magic still. I do, just as I believe – against all the sputterings of the stern-faced naysayers – in the Curse of the Billy Goat on the Chicago Cubs and in the theory that says Oswald didn’t do it by himself.

But most magicians are showmen and show-women, crowd pleasers who practice a learnable trade, it seems.

Let There Be Magic

Public relations people are often urged to go “do their magic” by clients. It’s a high compliment when someone – especially someone who’s footing the bill for your work – tells you that. It means they believe you as a PR person can move mountains of media coverage and publicity their way. That’s what PR people do, truth be told, especially if they’re on the agency or freelance side and must earn their way by performing magic on a routine basis.

But is there really magic involved? Public relations is certainly a learnable trade. It’s routinely taught in colleges and universities, alongside other disciplines such as accounting, public policy and law.
Sober-minded professionals will tell you that public relations is 99% hard work and 1% inspiration. Little room for magic there. But the wise public relations practitioner always keeps a little container of magic dust hidden about the office somewhere.

Because what clients, especially on the promotional side of things, want is real magic to take place. They want to see their story come to life through the media. They want to become more relevant with customers through social media. They want to see demand for their products and services soar. They believe in PR magic. And so should we, the PR practitioners. Because PR, when done well, does have an element of magic to it.

No Glory In Obscurity

How’s that, you say? (I won’t assume you’re a stern-faced naysayer if that’s what you say.)

How else to explain the sudden explosion of news coverage that occurs after a well-timed media event or well-crafted and disseminated news announcement? Yesterday, you weren’t even on the news media’s agenda. You were Mr. or Ms. News Nobody. Today, you’re in the news everywhere – or at least in all the news media outlets that mean something to you and your business. It’s a new day for you and your company. You feel good, like you just knocked in a 40-foot putt on the 18th hole at Augusta to beat a gape-faced competitor by one stroke.

Later in the week or month, as the case may be, after the excitement has died down some, you get to thinking: that was great, but what’s next? Is there any magic left in our story? How do we keep the momentum up, going forward!

Glad you asked.

This is where good PR people really earn their keep, by coming up with creative ways to keep their clients in focus with customers and prospective customers. We do it by recommending strategies and tactics that will engage and motivate customers to choose you over the competition. The selection of tools to use may vary, depending on a host of client-specific variables. Newsletters, social media, media briefings, feature story placements, new events, celebrity tie-ins, games – the PR toolbox is bigger than ever today.

The public relations world is bristling with opportunity for companies that are willing to open themselves up to it. Not all good PR ideas, it’s true, come from the outside PR experts. But a good many of them do, precisely because of that “outsider” point of view. That’s why it’s so important for clients – in my opinion – to engage with public relations agencies and freelancers (the aforesaid “outside experts”) not just on a one-time, gimme your best shot type of thing but for a longer-term engagement.

Inspiration Is Good Magic

Good PR people deliver outstanding value. There is a kind of magic in that. It’s a hard-won magic – public relations is the kind of profession where experience really counts, along with a near-rabid belief in one’s ability to make a difference in the world. Therein lies the true source of magic.

No good comes from trying to dispel the sense of magic that informs the world of public relations and marketing. True, they’re both disciplines, and in this age of big data driven marketing systems, it might seem that the scientific approach is dispelling any sense of magic that a PR practitioner might bring to the table. Can’t argue with the facts. Big data is impressive. Fixed up with a little PR magic and you might be surprised at just how impressive it can be!

So, to recap, PR is 99% hard work, 1% inspiration, leavened occasionally by a slight sprinkling of magic dust – some might call that mightily inspired thinking – by the PR practitioner who knows when and how to apply it. It all comes down to knowing what you want, knowing how to attain what you want, and then having the willingness to expend the time, effort and resources to achieve the goal.

The idea of magic might be off-putting to some. And yet, consider the Cubs and their Billy Goat problem. The last time they won a World Series was in 1908. They haven’t even been in a World Series since 1945. What’s really amazing is that Cubs fans still flock to Wrigley Field in droves, acting as if they believe every year that someone is going to wave a magic wand over the Northsiders and turn them into world-beaters.

What about you? Has the magical muse of public relations ever touched your life? Are you interested in making some PR magic for your own business endeavors? Feel free to leave comments, ask questions, even contact me directly and we could have good conversation about what type of PR magic might work best for your business.

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

Email Pitches From Public Relations Agency Go Plunk, Plunk Plunk Into The Night

Posted on July 22, 2012. Filed under: Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary | Tags: , , , , , , |

Reading the newspaper: Brookgreen Gardens in P...

Reading the newspaper: Brookgreen Gardens in Pawleys Island, South Carolina, United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a good reference piece about pitching stories into a highly competitive news media market Email pitches went unnoticed.

The writer – Alyson Shontell of Business Insider — indicates she deliberately ignored the 3 – count ’em, 3 – email pitches sent to inform her about a new Internet startup.

As it happened, the news about the launch of Rally.org would of interested Shontell. She might have written about the launch, had the PR firm — or more specifically, the “PR Lady” pitching the account for the firm — tailored its pitch to Shontell more adroitly.

Startups Clog The Email Pipeline

As Shontell tells it, she gets an “absurd amount” of email about startups daily. So to cut down on the information overload, she screens messages by looking first, to see if she knows the sender; secondly, by what’s in the title line; and thirdly, by what’s in the first sentence of the release as revealed by Gmail’s preview tool.

One of the pitches failed because the title line indicated the attached news was embargoed until a certain release date and time. No no no, Nanette or whatever the PR Lady’s actual name is, this didn’t work because Shontell doesn’t want to be treated like a commodity. She wants exclusives, like every other reporter! (It’s actually refreshing to hear a reporter say that’s how the game is played.)

Another pitch failed because of a weak title line, something about some company named Rally.org — not yet on the national business radar screen — pointing out a flaw in rival Kickstarter’s formula for social fundraising via an Internet-based technology platform.  Fair enough. Subtlety is not a virtue when pitching stories into the national media maw.

Stranger In A Strange Email Inbox

All of the pitches had one strike against them with this reporter by virtue of the fact that the sender was unknown to her. That’s an absurdly common problem in PR, since most PR practitioners, especially in agencies, deal with a wide variety of companies and industries and can’t know everybody who’s anybody in the news business – else why have media list services? It’s also a bit of a canard, and good PR people know it’s ultimately the newsworthiness of the pitch that will make or break the selling of the story to a reporter and his or her news organization. Shontell actually acknowledges this, noting it was obvious that the PR Lady did not know her – meaning she didn’t know what made Shontell’s news detector screen go on full alert.

How so? Because the pitch was not well-tailored enough to grab Shontell’s attention. The news, the really interesting part of the news, as she notes, was buried in the news release somewhere (the really interesting news was that some big nationally known investors were backing this unknown company). Use of those names as calling cards in the title line of the email or at least in the lede sentence, would have piqued Shontell’s interest and caused her to read on — because she knew those investors’ names, had probably written about other investments they had made (something that the PR person could have discovered in advance) and so was inclined to grant the all-important credibility factor to any startup company backed by such financial luminaries.

Hold That Cursor, There’s More To The Story

Shontell seems to be just telling it like is is. As a reporter for a digitally based, breaking news-focused business news site, she probably has little time for idle chit-chat or investigating every little news release that comes  her way.

Exclusive angles, sharply written title lines in emails, powerful lead sentences, and an approach hand-tailored to each reporter and outlet – especially the majors, however that is defined on an individual client basis — all are important considerations. None of this is to say that Atomic PR failed its client, Rally.org, in getting news out about the startup. Shontell only thought to write about what went wrong with the pitches that the PR agency sent her way after seeing news about Rally.org elsewhere. Something must have gone right for the PR Lady.

More to the point, Shontell provides a warts-and-all look at what it takes to separate the wheat from the chaff in email pitching. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not just about who the public relations practitioner knows in the media world but what the PR pro knows about crafting messages that attract media attention. Why warts-and-all? Shontell’s anatomy of why she missed the Rally.org story has a bit of a mea culpa feel to it as well. She did miss the Rally.org story, after all – while others got it.

A followup telephone call might have helped clarify things, but it’s not clear whether that’s even an option in this case.

PR people continually face the obstacle of getting past the various shields that people in the media put up to keep from becoming paralyzed by info overload. It’s a never-ending job. Every reporter is different. As Shontell suggests, it’s the PR person’s job to get to know them.

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )

Fortune Favors The Press Release

Posted on March 17, 2012. Filed under: Public Relations | Tags: , , , , |

Press release announcing U.S. de jure recognit...

Press release announcing U.S. de jure recognition of the state of Israel, 01/31/1949 (Photo credit: The U.S. National Archives)

Embattled writers of press releases, rejoice.

Much-maligned as a tool of yesteryear’s PR pro, the press release has a significance that may well earn it a second life in today’s digital world. So argues Sarah Skerik, vice president of social media for PR Newswire.

And I agree with her.

Skerik admittedly has a vested interest in ensuring the viability of the press release. For that matter, so do I. They’re part of my stock in trade.

That said, there’s much to be said for the continued survival of the press release — and thank God the profession has reverted to calling a press release a press release, versus the neutered, politically-corrected “media release” that came into being as a means of curtsying up to broadcast industry types.

Say “press release” and people know exactly what you’re referring to. A “media release,” however — it’s just not so redolent with meaning. A bit abstract, and in this age of direct communications, there’s no percentage to being abstract.

Skerik points out the value of using the press release as a means of promoting blog postings. Good thought. Not every blog posting is press release-worthy, but those that are laden with news and thoughtful analysis can certainly merit a bit of self-promotion. It’s a way of making sure that the tree that falls in the vast digital forest is heard.

Certainly Skerik is hopeful of drumming up more press release distribution business for her employer, the venerable PR Newswire. And why not? But with all the wonderful distribution options available today via the Internet — Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and so on ad infinitum — along with whatever proprietary email distribution lists a company or non-profit organization might have available — there’s no reason to just toss out a newsworthy blog post and hope that the world discovers it.

A well-written press release, customized for digital distribution, can call attention to a blog post that otherwise may languish in a limbo of obscurity.

No, the press release is still alive and kicking and more useful than ever. It’s an action-oriented communications device, and one that no longer is simply for whetting the interest of the media gate-keepers.

Today, a press release can be issued to directly reach a target audience — via any number of distribution channels. Yep. Long live the press release, still a publicity tool worth betting on.

See what Skerik and PR Newswire have to say about using press releases to promote a blob promote a blog.

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

No Country For Dull Press Releases

Posted on March 19, 2010. Filed under: Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

(And Other Thoughts In A Public Relations Vein)

Here’s best-selling author Michael Connelly on the state of the newspaper world, as seen through the eyes of Jack McEvoy, erstwhile star crime beat reporter for the fictional L.A. Times, a major daily newspaper in the City of Angels. In Scarecrow, Connelly’s 2009 novel, McEvoy is going the way of all aging reportorial flesh. Which is to say, he’s been riffed, let-go, pink-slipped, fired, in short, a casualty of the ongoing catastrophe that is 21st century newspaper journalism.

“There was no newspaper out there in the market for an over-40 cop shop reporter…Like the paper and ink newspaper itself, my time was over. It was all about the Internet now. It was about hourly uploads to online editions and blogs. It was about television tie-ins and Twitter updates…The morning paper might as well be called the Daily Afterthought. Everything in it was posted on the web the night before.”

newspaper revenue projections

Connelly’s a former Los Angeles Times cop shop reporter himself, so he knows whereof his bloodied lead character rants.

Okay then.

The newspaper business is in a bad way, no argument there.

But where does that leave us, the scribbling foot soldiers of the public relations world?

Writing, Still A Primary Tool Of The PR Trade?

Does good writing matter anymore, PR-wise? And if so, how so?

I was thinking all this through the other day as I pondered a client’s reaction to a piece of writing I had produced for publication – on the client’s behalf — in a daily newspaper. In a slight bit of deadline haste – ever had an anxious editor say you have to make a few last minute changes just before the ink hits the newsprint? — I put in a sentence that might not have totally captured my client’s thought process. My bad. Expediency can be a killer. Fortunately I had an understanding client, who did not let one bad moment spoil what I believe to be a good working relationship.

But, let’s think about this for a moment more. Here we are, in the post-literate age supposedly, and words obviously still count for something. More to the point, the written word counts, even if its published in that most maligned of modern media institutions, the daily newspaper.

Why is that?

Writing Sticks.

I thought of all the words that pour forth from the mouths of politicians and corporate spokespeople, celebrities, athletes, scientists, lawyers, cops (a passing nod to the crime beat reporter there), experts of all stripes, luncheon keynote speakers, not to mention babes, all emptying into the mighty maw of broadcast, print, Internet and personal journalism (AKA the grapevine). Such a mighty roar, and yet the power of the printed word is such that it can make a grown man nearly cry if he gets it wrong.

And why is that?

The only thing I can think of is that the printed word, is still understood to have lasting significance. Maybe that’s granting it a magical essence that it really doesn’t deserve. Personally, I don’t think that’s true though.

People instinctively know that they can be moved by the power of well-written words, be they found in a press release, a corporate backgrounder, a brochure, a newsletter, even – God forbid – in a Twitter alert. Moved to think, to learn, to take an action. Stuff that moves markets, in other words.

It may be that ink and paper newspapers are slouching towards extinction. I don’t know for sure about that. Everybody seemed to declare them dead in 2009, but even so recently as yesterday I found someone willing to sell me a hard copy of the daily newspaper over the counter for 50 cents.

But words in print, hand-crafted for a specific commercial/social realism purpose such as selling a product, building brand awareness, establishing a position, informing and motivating a target audience (or audiences)?

Not Quite As Post-Literate As We’d Like To Think.

I think my client was dead-on in expressing a concern about the way in which the newspaper article – an op-ed piece, as it were – depicted the issue at hand. There is magic in the printed word (and let’s call it like it is, the Internet does bear a striking resemblance to the world of print in some ways, noticeably by its durability). Good writing is powerful. It has staying power. It is memorable. When applied commercially, it is a reflection of the company that sponsors it.

Newspapering may not be what it once was. Public relations isn’t what it used to be either (it’s better, in my opinion, more comprehensive, more multi-dimensional).

But good writing, good story-telling, there’s a need for that – quite possibly now more than ever, what with the increasing emphasis on content as a marketable business and social commodity.

So while Jack McEvoy might be out of a job (or maybe not, you should really read Scarecrow to find out what happens to him, it’s a good read), those of us who labor away in the PR trenches know this: you can’t keep a good press release down!

 

 

 

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

  • Most Viewed

  • Back Posts

Liked it here?
Why not try sites on the blogroll...

%d bloggers like this: