Antidote to poisonous PR advice

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I totally get why journalists and bloggers vent their frustrations about PR people online, and why people would think that could be a valuable source of intelligence about how to better connect with them. But the frequent negativity dampens your confidence, and their generalizations can even lead you away from the very tactics your peers are using to get results.

This was reinforced to me after I recently spoke earlier this month at a conference of PR agency owners. After my speech, the attendees shared stories of their discussions with their teams about boosting their pitching results.

Three of them mentioned a version of this of conversation:

Owner: Have you tried calling them?

Staffer: Well it says on (media database, Twitter, their bio) that they want to get pitches by email.

Owner: Of course it says that – otherwise they’d be overwhelmed with calls.

These business leaders, who sink or swim based on results, naturally understand that earning more than your share of success requires going against the grain. Now depending on your comfort level with the phone in general, you may be recoiling that I’d dare suggest that calling reporters is a good idea.

I happen to think it is, but this isn’t a message about phone pitching. It’s about not ceding your freedom of choice to what journalists and bloggers say or post to faceless masses. It’s about determining what actually works when you do it right.

I don’t blame journalists for making those blanket declarations – I’d do the same in their shoes. But I’d be remiss if I parroted those back to you in these posts when I’m seeing savvy pros reap success by doing the opposite.

No technique is dead – it’s all in the execution.

For example, which would give you a better chance of actually getting noticed when reaching out cold to a top-tier reporter? An email, or a hand-written note?

Sure replying to a handwritten note is harder, but I guarantee you’ll stand out from the pack. Try sending one to your hard-to-reach contacts, then time your email for the day after it arrived.

My takeaway for you is that when you’re seeking insights and resources about pitching better, you should turn to people who are doing it successfully. They’ll be constructive and encouraging, and in addition to the new or vetted approaches you’ll learn, you’ll leave those interactions with confidence and enthusiasm.

Stop the PR insanity!

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PR pros are pretty hard on themselves…

You want to succeed; you have tons to do and very little time to do it.

Today, I’m going to offer you a secret that will “stop the PR insanity” almost instantly.

It will give you MORE time, give you MORE energy, and give you much more CLARITY about how to go through your days and weeks.

So first, a definition: what is “PR Insanity?”

PR insanity is when you stress about things OUTSIDE of your control.

The solution should be pretty obvious: develop the discipline to stop doing this.

Easier said than done!

Understand that this is a habit you’ve developed over YEARS, so that little voice in your head is probably going to have a FIT when you try to make a change.

For example, think about how much PR pros stress about getting responses from journalists.

Is THIS something you control?

Well, you control how well you write the pitch, how focused it is, how valuable it is, how attractive it is, how strong the relationship you’ve built is with your network of influencers.

But as for whether or not you control what the journalist does?

YOU DON’T.

So stressing/complaining/getting annoyed/dejected/depressed about what journalists do is a complete waste of time.

And yet, we do it. And it becomes a prison of our own making. We spend an enormous amount of energy doing this. And we end up feeling worn out, overwhelmed and worse.

The solution: FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CONTROL.

As you probably know, the Inner Circle is accepting new members through tomorrow.

This secret I’m talking about today is something we use in the Inner Circle to get more responses and placements.

We have an approach to PR that focuses our attention and effort on the things under our control.

We don’t waste energy obsessing over things we have no control over.

And the magic is that by shifting our focus to what we control, we get better results.

If you’re one of those PR pros who “has no time,” then know that you have been brainwashed. “No time” is a lie that you choose to believe or reject.

If you choose to believe it, then you choose to allow life to happen TO YOU instead of YOU happening to IT.

If that’s what you want, fine. That’s your choice.

But if you want more, then I can show you an effective way to create it.

The sad part is that the average PR pro will choose the pain of the same over the “pain” of change. That’s actually the most frustrating part of my work.

They would actually prefer, at some level, to continue focusing on things they don’t control instead of actually addressing the real obstacle standing between them and the success they want.

The REAL OBSTACLE is the work required to get so good that journalists and influencers CAN’T ignore you.

But I take my own medicine: I focus on what I control and don’t freak out about the rest.

What I control is making sure you know that the opportunity for joining the Inner Circle is coming to a close TOMORROW.

I’m even offering to put 100% of the risk on my shoulders that you’ll double (at least!) the responses you’re getting from journalists within 60 days of enrolling.

From there, I stop stressing and return my focus to another thing I control: helping members get more responses and placements.

So the ball is in your court. What do you want to do?

If you’re coming in, here’s the link to register for the Inner Circle.

No matter what you decide, don’t forget the secret: focus on what YOU control.

My biggest failure

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What’s your biggest failure?

That’s become kind of a trendy question to ask yourself. Various TED talks espousing the merits of failure have gone viral. “Fail faster” has become the battle cry of Silicon Valley.

But I’ve never liked failing. Doesn’t taste good.

So I’ve been pondering this question. Reflection seems natural lately, because I recently passed two milestones:

 – my fifteenth anniversary of my first speech to PR pros on boosting media pitching.
– my fifth anniversary of cutting the employer cord and running my own business full time.

Thinking back to that first speech is crazy, because at the time I had no idea what a fork in the road that would be. If that day finished out the way it started, no way would I be writing this post.

I had barricaded myself in my hotel room – okay, I even locked myself in the bathroom inside my hotel room – because I was too scared of going down to the meeting room to give the speech.

Took me about two hours to get up the nerve to head to the elevator. Upon arriving outside the meeting room, I stood in the hall away from the guests as they filed in. No one recognized me – I’m sure they were wondering who this Michael Smart guy was on their programs. I was too scared to speak to anyone before the training, so at the appointed time I just burst through the door and blurted out my memorized opening line. Makes me laugh now.

Fortunately, the audience was receptive – I think they sensed my nerves and were emotionally cheering me on. We ended up with a powerful exchange of ideas, and they sent me off with kind applause and generous speaker evaluations.

Paid training gigs soon followed, then multiplied. Before long industry organizations were putting me “on tour,” setting up pitching workshops around the country for me to deliver. Land in Boston at midnight, do a full day training the next morning, fly to LaGuardia that night, full-day in NYC the next day, then on to DC, Chicago, LA, and so on.

People liked it. Their placements climbed. So did my rates.

So why did it take me TEN YEARS from that first speaking success to take the natural next step and go all-in on my own training business?

Even after I took that plunge five years ago, I can now look back and see decisions that should have been natural for me that I delayed. My big leaps forward have been rewarding, but with hindsight I realize they would have come a lot quicker if I hadn’t procrastinated taking the first step for so long. I’ve been very fortunate, but would have been able to help more people – faster – if I would have acted instead of waited.

And that, I’ve realized, has been my biggest failure.

So I’ve been working on that. I’m cramming a bunch more of those delayed decisions all into this calendar year. I want to help more people achieve more media relations success instead of holding others back by my reticence to grow.

One of my big leaps of faith is a dramatic upgrade of my Inner Circle program. I’ve been spending the first part of the year crisscrossing the country, learning new skills from new coaches and putting them all together into this new version of my most popular offering.

The enhancements are designed to get everyone who joins quickly up to speed with the veteran members, booking quick wins and re-programming their perceptions of their own value right from the start.

The new stuff gets unveiled next week. You’ll see it in on my site Tuesday at 11 a.m. ET, after the people who requested my Inner Circle success manual get first dibs on Monday. Click here to be taken to the Inner Circle sign-up.

Check it out, and if it’s right, don’t wait. Big growth requires big action.

Completing the trilogy

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My last two posts on not using hedging words in emails to journalists and instead relying on your belief in your purpose seem to have hit home.

Among the many responses I got, reader Carly M. helpfully asked:

“As someone who is always ‘just’ trying to get a story placed, this really hit home. My question is: how would you begin a pitch or follow-up email alternatively to make it come across as stronger and more important?”

So after two messages that emphasize what not do, I am now “completing the trilogy” on this topic with some specific tips on how to do this right.

1. For a cold pitch, the status quo is to start with something like this:

Just wanted to reach out, hoping you can take just a minute to see if there’s something that might interest you here.

Instead, prove your worth and get right to the point:

I know you cover workplace trends such as managing millennials. Here’s what one company has found after upgrading their IT to match digital natives’ expectations . . .

2. When following up after initial interest appears to wane, here’s a common example:

Sorry to bug you. Just wanted to check in and see if you might still be interested in this idea?

But you convey the same point with much more power when you simply write:

Checking in to see if this idea is still alive?

3. After a few follow-ups go by, you want to give yourself one last shot. So don’t water it down like this and hide behind someone else:

I know you get bombarded with pitches like these and I don’t mean to pester you. Just want to get a feel for your interest level on this one so I can let my [boss/client/expert] know if this might still happen.

Instead, you can still show empathy and acknowledge reality, while still being clear that you believe strongly in your story idea:

I know you are juggling so many stories constantly and can’t possibly pursue all the worthy opportunities you come across. Can you let me know if this is still on your radar, or should I move on and take it elsewhere?

If those specific examples help you, great.

But really, the principle is not in the granular semantics of the email. It’s about how you FEEL when you write it. If you feel like a reluctant pest who has nothing of value to offer, that’s usually how you’re going to come across. If you cover up that feeling by choosing more powerful words, that helps a little.

But the real change happens when you re-align the way you view the dynamic between you and the journalist. When you know you have something of value that will help her do her job, that sense of intention will jump off the screen and make you stand out.

Unzipped my bag and my laptop was gone

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I boarded my connecting flight last week, eased into my aisle seat in row 25, and unzipped my bag to pull out my laptop.

But it wasn’t there.

You know the feeling when a sudden crisis hits. Your brain goes into rapid-fire. Here’s the staccato of thoughts that coursed through my head, all in a split second:

Where is it? . . . It’s still under your seat on the plane you just got off!

That plane is going to take off and return to Salt Lake City in ten minutes!

The hardware is replaceable – but it will cost $2K!

The files for this trip’s speeches are backed up on Google Drive – but you don’t want to deal with borrowing a computer and stuff not working.

This aisle and jetway are full of people to climb over – but every second that passes it will get worse.

It’s crazy how you open your mind to a principle and the universe keeps giving you chances to learn more about it. Last week I wrote you about diminishing words like “just reaching out” and “sorry to bother you.” Writing or talking that way weakens the perceived value you have to offer journalists and coworkers.

And then here comes this crazy experience while making that connection in the Atlanta airport (why does this stuff keep happening on trips to Atlanta?).

I am not the type of guy who muscles his way into things. I do not line up for doorbusters on Black Friday. I do not edge my way in front of other people so I can get off planes faster, even when I have a tight connection.

But in that split-second when I resolved to GO GET THAT LAPTOP OFF THAT PLANE, I had a conviction firm enough to do something that normally would have made me uncomfortable. In this case, it didn’t embarrass me at all.

I threw my bag over my shoulder, picked up my roller suitcase with both hands, and just bulldogged my way up the aisle. “Excuse me . . . pardon me . . . I need to get off the plane . . . thanks so much.” Banging shoulders the entire way.

It’s amazing how much room is actually in those aisles when you push the limit. Took about 10 seconds.

You’d think people would be offended or at least annoyed. But nobody was. When I looked at their faces as they saw me coming, there was no frustration. They just leaned out of the way. After a few seconds, the people in the front of the plane started stepping out of the aisle. The flight attendant even threw my suit jacket to me from the closet, otherwise I would have forgotten it.

It was like they all assumed, “Wow, he must have a really good reason to get off this plane” and didn’t judge. If anything, the expressions they gave me were more like, “Hope everything turns out okay.”

I got on the train back to the A Terminal, then ran the length of it (of course the gate was all the way at the end). Arrived just in time to see the gate agent seal the jetway door shut.

She looked at me scared, assuming I had just missed the flight and would be ticked at her.

Lungs heaving, I wheezed out, “Laptop?”

Her face softened into a smile, and she walked over and pulled it out from under her desk . . . where she had placed it after the kind, unknown fellow traveler had turned it in.

I knew I had a good reason for acting like I did. And because I demonstrated that knowledge through my words and actions, the people around me believed that I did, too.

It’s the same when you write your follow-up emails. If you view it as simply “following up” because you have to, and even use those very words, “follow up,” it rarely works. The recipient has no reason to believe there is anything different about your outreach from the hundreds of other formulaic emails he’s received recently.

But if you really believe in your story, and that to the best of your knowledge it will help him do his job better, then you don’t hedge your language to avoid offending or annoying. You simply state what you have to offer. Your certainty of purpose comes across. Whether he accepts your idea or not, he doesn’t think less of you for offering it.

P.S. I got rebooked on the next flight, and three hours later I was eating barbecued ribs in Memphis.

Sorry for sending you this

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I know you’re busy 🙂 I just wanted to reach out and hopefully offer something that might help . . .

Insert screeching-to-a-halt sound. Does my title and opening sentence feel right to you? If you’ve been reading me for any length of time, you noticed a difference. Or at least felt a difference from how I usually approach you.

It’s true – I do know you’re busy. And I do want to help. But I’ve learned – over a long period of time and through lots of emotional growth (even occasional anguish) – that the best way I can help is to not devalue what I have to offer by quasi-begging you to read it.

That’s what subtle words like sorry, just, hopefully, and might communicate. That I’m not sure of myself enough to expect you to pay attention based on the value of what I’m about to give you.

That previous sentence was hard to write because if you go back to my original pitches, and even to the early days of me posting these articles, that’s exactly how I used to express myself. I was basically bleeding insecurity all over the page.

And that’s precisely how most PR pros write pitches today, and especially follow-up emails. Many unknowingly do it in their regular workplace conversations as well.

As I’m writing this, I’m on my way to give a keynote about this very topic. In preparation for the speech, I sought input from friends I respect about their transition from “pleaser” to “value-deliverer.”

One of them in particular nailed it. Here’s how Natalie Ipson responded to my inquiry (she didn’t know I would share it, but has since graciously granted permission):

I read an article once about how people tend to use diminishing words like “just” to hedge their requests, and it changed the way I communicate, especially through email. I like the message you’re trying to convey because journalists expect that PR professionals are going to contact them. In most cases, they want you to do it. That’s the relationship. So don’t apologize for doing the job you’re expected to do. 

That being said, there’s another point of view that “just” can be a polite gesture that says you know you’re asking someone to do something they don’t have to, which is where PR pros get tripped up. They want to be polite, because there’s no obligation for the reporter to cover their story. But that’s why it’s important for the PR pros to believe in themselves and believe that their content is truly valuable. You should only be apologetic if you have poor content. And if that’s the case, you need to do more digging to find the value before you reach out.

Couldn’t have said it better myself – thanks Natalie!

Thinking your way to success

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When I get out of my car in front of my office in every morning, this is what I see:

To the right of that snow-capped peak, there’s a canyon that snakes up between the two mountains. This time of year the creek on the canyon floor surges with extra force because of the melting snow.

I enjoy hiking. I also run a business.

Someone like me might look at that scene every morning and think, “Wow, that’s so great. I wish I could go hiking up there today, but I have so much work to do.”

At least that’s how I used to think: never enough hours in the day, and to get ahead I had to sacrifice “indulgences” like hiking.

But now I think differently. I’ve learned that spending time away from screens, when my mind is free to explore the depths of whatever is going on in my life, is among the most valuable time I have.

I come back from hikes with:

– new ideas for weekly emails
– novel recommendations for clients
– the name of someone I haven’t talked to in years who is now the perfect person to help me solve the new problem I’m facing

Hiking isn’t an indulgence for me – it’s a key part of my work week. So when I looked up at that scene when I got out of my car this morning, I thought, “Wow, that’s so great. I will be up there from 4-6 p.m. today because I have some serious work to do.”

It’s crucial for you to divorce your professional identity from the act of being “busy” as you think the world defines it. You don’t contribute your highest value as a PR pro by being in your email inbox all day.

Your best contribution comes by solving big problems in systematic ways. And that doesn’t happen without deep, creative thinking.

Obviously I’m not saying every PR pro can take up hiking. Instead, give yourself a “change of scenery” of any kind and take the time to think.

You can free your mind just by booking a conference room and whiteboarding the various possible angles for the pitch you’re working on . . . by yourself.

Or blocking out an hour on your schedule – no meetings, no calls – to ponder and brainstorm ideas for your next outreach campaign.

Your takeaway from this message is to tap into your real power by spending more time THINKING, not by continuing to take as much time REACTING to other people all day.

Take media relationships to the next level

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In this post I share the secret weapon for cementing your future relationship with a journalist who has covered you once.

You want to turn this one-off win into a relationship that can pay off for you and for the influencer time and again. To do that, you need to understand their needs better, and they need more proof of the value you can offer them.

After the coverage, you probably already write a “non-thank you note” – you express appreciation for the coverage without sounding like they did it for YOU. You compliment them on one of the values journalists prize, such as accuracy, depth, or quality.

Then follow these steps:

1. Ask for a phone chat. Yes, journalists these days abhor the phone because it can be a time vacuum. But the way you will stand out in the journalist’s mind is by making a PERSONAL impression of professionalism and savvy. Phone contact is much more personal than email. And they are most concerned about cold calls – a brief scheduled call is much different.
2.  Promise brevity. Be specific and prove that you get how busy they are by promising a firm time limit. Five minutes is a good starting point; up to fifteen if they’ve been responsive while you worked on the previous story.
3. Specify what you want to know. Journalists won’t take time to answer, “What do you like to hear about?” We should learn that from watching what they write or air. A good line of questioning these days is “how the changing media environment is affecting you personally.”
4. Suggest a time slot. This creates a small sense of urgency and makes it more likely you’ll get the opportunity before their memory fades and they have totally moved on to other projects.

This won’t always yield a phone appointment, but often it does. You’ll be surprised what a deeper connection you’re able to make when you move your outreach from digital ephemera to a real human connection.

How to give journos what they want

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The simplest way to get amazing results in PR is to give journalists and influencers what they want, in the way they want it, when they want it.

Your ego might have an issue with that, but it’s the truth.

If your pitch shows up PERFECTLY packaged for the journalist, you will win more often.

Now you could spend your time GUESSING about how to do this, or you could just get the straight truth directly from the mouths of journalists and influencers themselves.

That’s what I did. And today I’m going to share with you what I discovered…for free…in the form of an “audio mash-up” I created with interviews I’ve done with top-tier journalists.

In the audio, here are some of the things you’ll hear:

-How to make yourself more interesting to reporters. In this example, we’re not guessing, I just asked a reporter from the Washington Post this very question. You’ll want to hear her answer.

-A much bigger way to think about “news jacking” and a simple way to turn breaking news into even bigger opportunities for you.

-How to cajole a senior TV producer into saying YES to your pitch without even sending anything to them!

-The one thing you HAVE to include in any pitch involving live TV.

-The answer to the “how long is too long” question when you’re sending videos.

-You’ll jump inside the mind of a top-tier journalist and hear the process used to find experts.

This is an extremely valuable audio you need to listen to.

How do you get your copy?

It comes along with access to the Inner Circle Success Manual. And it’s all free.

Get the details and get your copy today.

Something new for you.

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I just put the finishing touches on a new resource for you. It’s free, and it’s something I can confidently guarantee will improve the results you’re getting in your PR work.

It’s based on work we’ve done inside the Inner Circle. I’ve taken a few extremely powerful strategies and tactics that Inner Circle members are using and I’ve decided to “gift” them to you.

I’ve never done this before, so consider this a test.

The resource is called the Inner Circle Success Manual: 14 PR Secrets From Inside the Smart PR Inner Circle.

And since you’re busy, I’ve divided it up into a bunch of sections. That way, instead of a PDF getting lost and forgotten on your computer, you can focus on one idea at a time and put that idea to use in your PR work.

In the first installment of the Inner Circle Success Manual, you’ll also receive an audio “mash-up” of interviews I’ve done with top-tier reporters. You’ll hear their take on what constitutes good pitching and their reactions to real pitches.

There’s a funny thing about success in the PR industry:

Yes, success comes from knowing some things others don’t know. But the most important part of success actually comes from doing things others don’t, won’t, or can’t do. (That’s not so easy to believe until you actually experience it.)

With what you discover inside the Inner Circle Success Manual, you’ll get “Inner Circle approved” tips for how to improve your results in PR.

Get your complimentary copy here.