My LAST year’s resolution – 2016 edition


It’s taken me 43 years, but I finally cracked the code on keeping New Year’s resolutions. See if my approach can likewise help you branch beyond diets that disappear in February and gym memberships that go unused.


In 2015, I resolved to send you an email every Thursday. Did it.

And I did it again last year – this is the 105th Thursday in a row I’ve emailed you (with the exception of a very significant event two months ago that justified moving it up to a Wednesday).

At the beginning of 2016, I resolved to finally get a huge monkey off my back. I’d been teaching my daylong boot camp on pitching media for more than 10 years. And about half that time I’d been “wanting” or “hoping” to package it into an online format so that more people could access it more conveniently and reap the results that so many had already achieved.

But two things don’t mix well:

       – Being a perfectionist about how I present content
      – And the natural limitations on technology in reproducing the experience I love about connecting with a          live audience

So I’d take some steps forward, get frustrated, and then allow other priorities to take over. Not to mention it was straight-up hard mental exertion, and I’m as lazy as the next guy.

What I learned about myself

Turns out I’d become quite good at keeping commitments and meeting deadlines WHEN PEOPLE ARE WATCHING. Like, when I book a speaking engagement, I know there will be a bunch of people there expecting a great speech, and a meeting planner who deserves to look good for booking me. So I push through obstacles and procrastination and deliver.

But my weakness was in following through on resolutions where I was the only one who knew “what could be.” Nobody was asking me to write an email every month. And, last January, I had no client expecting me to deliver an online training course on media pitching.

The twist

So in each of the last two years, I picked the ONE thing that nobody knew about that would allow me to deliver the most value to the most people. I focused all my willpower on that one internal promise I made only to myself. Knowing that my inherent “people-pleaser” personality gravitated to naturally accomplishing all the external commitments I’d make throughout the year.

The result for last year? Focusing on all the people who (unknowingly) would benefit from my labor fueled the fire. Once that course was finished and launched, it immediately tripled the number of PR people who have access to the resource they need to skyrocket their media pitching results (I got emails over the holiday sharing placements in the WSJ and NYT – congrats Mitch and Giovanna!). And then they enjoy the fruits of that success, like earning raises, promotions and, more significantly, more independence to choose time with those who matter most to them.

Sitting here writing this now, it’s so exhilarating. Makes it that much easier to resolve my one thing for the new year that will deliver the most value to the most people (check back on the first Thursday of 2018 to find out ☺).

You try

Ignore the stuff that other people already want you to do. What your boss expects, or people close to you. Pick the one thing that will most accelerate your ability to deliver the most value to the most people.

Take the focus off yourself and put it on those people you’re striving to serve (coworkers? journalists? family?) and it will happen. And then you can spend 2018 watching all those people benefit from the value you created for them 🙂

P.S. If your resolution involves getting better at your job – and impact on your freedom and financial security that goes along with that – consider the Crafting the Perfect Pitch online course to help you get there.

Most fun I had at work this year


If you’re working this week, you absolutely should pitch any media you can think of. This is the easiest week of the year to get coverage for stuff that otherwise wouldn’t get noticed. NOBODY is calling newsrooms this week – your competition is dramatically limited. True, more journalists/producers are out themselves, but the ones that have to work are much more interested in story ideas than usual.

If you’re not working this week, here’s an otherwise irrelevant, fun experience I had recently for your reading pleasure during your break.

I had to call the customer service number for the federal government’s vendor approval unit (yes, it’s as intimidating a bureaucracy as it sounds). My assistant-extraordinaire Camille had been handling this process for me, but they wouldn’t go further with her because they had to verify that it was really me on the phone.

For reasons you are about to discover, this requirement horrified Camille. She tried everything she could to get around it and have them make an exception, but this is the federal government we’re talking about here.

You see, earlier she had been just cranking through all the applications. When she got to the part where you set up your security questions, she didn’t pay much attention to them. She certainly never thought anyone else would ever see the answers she gave, let alone that I would actually have to admit them to another human being.

Well, she got up the nerve to confess all this to me via an email and I could not stop laughing. I mean, I feel bad she was worried to tell me, but to me this was the best prank ever.

So when I called the 800 number I made sure Camille was on the line, too. Here is the actual conversation I had with the rep:

Rep: Okay Mr. Smart, now I’m going to ask you your security questions. What is your favorite color?
Me: Pink.

Rep: That’s funny, I don’t usually hear that from the gentlemen I speak with. And what is your favorite book?
Me: Twilight.

Rep: Yes it is. Okay, what’s your nickname?
Me (cracking up): Bossy McBossface.

Rep (neutral pause): Yes, that’s right. Okay, here’s what you need to do next…

When I asked Camille if it was okay to include this in a post, she responded: “With time, the mortification has faded and this has become a favorite work memory. Feel free to share!”

Here’s to awesome coworkers who keep us grounded. Happy New Year!

When Steve Jobs made me cry


In keeping with what has become an accidental tradition, this message on the Thursday before Christmas is more about life and values than media relations. And this year, it’s because of an experience I had a couple weeks ago I can’t shake.

I was awake at 3 a.m. Nothing was wrong, sometimes that happens when I’m on the road speaking – changing time zones and a blur of hotel rooms can do that to you.

So I opened up my laptop and watched the Steve Jobs movie – the Michael Fassbender one, not the Ashton Kutcher one.

At the end, he quasi-reconciles with the daughter he had earlier denied paternity of. And I found myself with wet eyes.

Not because of the redemption, or because I was overtired, or because of Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue.

But because I was so sad for what he missed out on all those years to that point. (I’m extra vulnerable here because my own daughter is the same age his was in that climactic scene.)

There’s another aspect of that movie that brought me pain. It depicts his head of marketing, a woman portrayed by Kate Winslet, as his trusted right-hand. She’s the only one who can stand up to him. But the price she pays for this access and influence is that she has to watch while he verbally abuses employees – even his closest friends.

There’s one point when Winslet perfectly nails the tortured expression of the person who briefly questions, “What am I doing here being part of this?” and then compartmentalizes her conscience and puts her head down to keep working.

That hurt because I’ve seen that look more than once from a veteran PR pro, tops in her field, working for her own version of an autocratic CEO. The brief pause, and then “But it’s okay…”

In Jobs’ defense, by most accounts he eventually became a good father to that daughter and his later children. And that marketing head cried when he passed away. I firmly believe in forgiveness and second chances.

But isn’t life better when you’re not always asking for patience or forgiveness, and instead making the most of the time you have?

The business media and the success literature teach that dramatic success in the workplace justifies temporarily sacrificing people who should otherwise be close to you.

That’s false. There is NO OTHER SUCCESS that can compensate for failing people who love you.

The holidays tend to make us more reflective and bring our real feelings closer to the surface. Those are our core values, and we’re always happier when we act consistently with them.

Don’t work for people who make you sacrifice those values. Even if you might not be around when they invent the iPhone later.

The holidays certainly make me even more grateful for you and your trust in me. Thank you for reading this year, and warmest holiday wishes to you and your loved ones.

Snapchat vs. Facebook Live vs. paid Instagram


I just finished my last PR conference of the year. You know what conference organizers have found is the easiest way to sell conferences (and webinars and other PR information products)?

Tout whatever new tactic seems to have achieved critical mass. So Snapchat for the last little while, now Facebook Live. This is not some blunder or flaw on the part of the conference folks.

They do it because of their customers – PR people. You.

It used to be because people were searching for a silver bullet that would make everything easier. But now the clamor is clearly driven by something even less constructive: fear of missing out.

There’s nothing wrong with staying abreast of trends and new developments. It’s a requirement in this era of hyper-change. But as you do so, don’t watch through the lens of, “What’s the hot new thing?”

Instead, evaluate every new tactic and channel against this fundamental question:

What sources are most trusted by my key audiences?

Some of them – loyal customers, employees maybe – already trust YOU. And therefore owned channels work great with them – you can email them, or post on Instagram, or if you’re extra hip even do a Facebook Live video for them, and they’ll eat it up.

But lots of your other audiences – prospects, potential hires, regulators, just to name a few – don’t trust you yet. You do a Facebook Live video for them and it’s a ghost town. That’s why it’s valuable to reach these more wary crowds via credible third parties.

Maybe that’s a top-tier media outlet,  or maybe it’s a 19-year-old YouTuber – doesn’t matter. This is how Chief Marketing Officers think when they are deciding where to allocate resources.

And here is how you make this work for you and your career in media/influencer relations:

Your unique value comes when you frame your organization’s message in a way that appeals to the right influencers so that they share it with their audiences.

Every tool that’s been invented and will be invented is secondary to that. Focus your energy on developing this rare and valuable skill, and the opportunities and money will follow.

Grand Opening!


This week a new sign appeared at the entrance to the office park where I hang my hat.

“China Wok Grand Opening!”

The thing is, China Wok has been there for as long as I can remember. At least four years. Serving up hot and sour soup that clears your sinuses way better than Sudafed. There’s no new ownership, no name change. Nothing whatsoever new.

It’s not really surprising. The owners of China Wok are trying hard, and they know that their fellow human beings tend to be infatuated with whatever is new. Or seems new.

We in PR tend to make that same shortcut too often. We’ve heard journalists demand fresh ideas and to-the-minute announcements for so long, we may think that if we don’t have any, our hands are tied. It’s called the “news,” not the “olds,” for heaven’s sake.

But anyone who pitches magazines knows that’s not really the case. Month after month, Better Homes & Gardens will run an article about making over a room in your house, Outside is going to have one proclaiming being in nature is good for you, and Cosmo will have one about… you know.

And this principle increasingly applies even to top-tier dailies and broadcast.

Last month a Today show producer told my Inner Circle that exclusivity is not a requirement to pitch her and her colleagues. And that a topic having gained traction on social media can actually be a plus, not a minus.

One of our Inner Circle members placed a story in the New York Times recently about an eye-catching program at her company… that’s been running since 1995.

To be sure, you need to be more creative than the equivalent of slapping a “Grand Opening!” sign on your stale restaurant. But avoiding media relations because you “don’t have anything new” is just another PR mind virus that you can kill and enjoy more coverage and more opportunities yourself.

P.S. Today I’m speaking at the PR News Media Relations Conference in DC and then visiting the Washington Post. I’ll have thoughts on both for you in coming posts.

What journalists REALLY think of PR pitches


Journalists have been conditioned to expect that when they open an unsolicited email from a PR rep, it will have nothing to do with what they actually cover.

Here’s how bad things have gotten:

Last week I was on a conference call with journalists from Slate, the Washington Post, and Aviation Week. I’m moderating a panel with them at next week’s PR News Media Relations Conference in DC.

I intended to ask them how they want to be pitched, but I’ve done this enough times to know that I needed to make a disclaimer at the beginning.  I specified: “Okay, we all already know how important it is to ONLY send you information that’s directly relevant to your beats and your audiences. Aside from that…”

And then I asked each one a question specific to their unique situation.

And each one of them STILL answered by emphasizing how important it is to only send news that’s relevant to them!

You know how your friend needs to vent about a frustration, and you’ve validated that frustration back to her already, but she keeps repeating it? That’s what this phone call was like.

It’s not their fault, it’s our fault as an industry. Most journalists I talk to, rightly or wrongly, expect (but not accept) the fact that PR folk just write generic pitches and send them to every journalist they can find an email address for.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that all you have to do to stand out is not be that bad!

I’m only half-kidding here. Of course, you’re not guaranteed a placement just for sending something that’s actually relevant. But when you do it right, you show up different. And they appreciate it.

And sometimes they even thank you for it:

Increasingly, I get responses from journalists forwarded to me from members of my Inner Circle or users of my online course like these:

Boy, do you do your homework!

I liked your pitch email. It resonated with me as far as what I’m interested in, and what our readers want to know.

Nice pitch, best I’ve seen in a while.

In a way, the laziness or ignorance of others becomes an opportunity for you. And the simple fact that you subscribe to these posts and have read this far already shows you’ve got the drive and alignment to earn way more than your share of placements.

Taking local stories national


Yesterday a coaching client opened up to me in front of her teammates:

I just got promoted. I’ve worked hard to develop good relationships with the local media, and now I want to do the same with the national media. But I’m scared they’re going to be like, ‘Who is this woman, and why is she bothering me?’

I know exactly how she feels. I remember when I got to the point where I pretty much maxed out all the local media coverage we could get. So the natural next step was to take our stories national. But guess what my solution was?

Shop around for a PR agency to do it for us 😀

Nothing wrong with outsourcing if you do it for the right reasons. But my sole reason was FEAR.

I was terrified of those reporters and producers at national outlets, even though I had never interacted with a single one. I remembered when I was a journalist, how my more experienced colleagues bad-mouthed the PR people they heard from. In my overactive imagination, national journalists would be even more mean and ornery. More on this in a minute.

Fortunately, I had a wise boss who wasn’t afraid to push me out of my comfort zone. She encouraged me to take on national pitching as a short-term project. I gulped and decided to trust her trust in me. It went well, and here’s why:

All journalists, whether local or national, are PEOPLE first. They have hopes and dreams, frustrations and inadequacies, career goals and cranky bosses, just like you and me.

Whether pitching local or national, your first priority is putting yourself in your contact’s cubicle and determining:

– What type of information would this person’s audience appreciate?

– How can I help this person win and progress in his/her career?

Now, the difference between national and local becomes obvious in the answers to those questions. Generally speaking, national reporters or producers need stories that impact people in Iowa and Idaho just the same as they impact people in the locale where the stories originate. And because they have so many more options to choose from, their standard of newsworthiness is justifiably high.

But those answers are not hiding in some mystical cloud only accessible to a few veteran PR pros. They are in plain sight, in each journalist’s track record of content. It takes skill to determine what will work at the national level and what won’t, but any skill is learnable.

The real secret to taking local stories national is overcoming what held me back at the beginning, the raw fear of the unknown. The first and most crucial step is changing your mindset about the real value you have to offer. Like Kristina did in this article I published earlier.

After you get clear on that, your path to top-tier placements crystallizes in front of you. Then it’s up to you to put in the work to acquire the skills and do the research to make it happen.

Pitching checklist: available today and tomorrow


14 years ago, I started on a journey that ultimately ended in the creation of a resource called the Media Relations Master’s Pitch Checklist.

It’s basically a 17-step blueprint for creating a pitch that works.

You can read it in about 90 seconds and then put it into action right away. It’s fast, it’s effective and it’s pretty simple.

Up until now, its existence has only been known to those inside the Inner Circle.

Enrollment for the Inner Circle is open now through Friday. And YOU GET THIS Checklist (along with the masterclass video explaining how to use it!) when you enroll in the Inner Circle by tomorrow.

It might be hard for someone on the OUTSIDE to believe that a single piece of paper like the Media Relations Master’s Pitch Checklist could land you coverage in national media, but it’s true.

Today I’ll give you just one piece of proof.

It has to do with Checklist Item #2.

Now I’m not going to reveal exactly what this mystery Item #2 is, but I am going to show you how powerful it can be.

Inner Circle Member Kate Whiteley, VP of Kirvin Doak Communications in Las Vegas, used it to land her client coverage in USAT.

In her situation, she used one of the strategies on the checklist to get her client coverage for a special exhibition of artifacts from the Titanic.

(In the masterclass video that comes with the checklist, I even walk through Kate’s pitch and point out what made it work so well.)

But that’s not all that’s happened to Kate since she joined the Inner Circle. Here are some other comments she sent me about her experience “on the inside.”

“Michael and his Inner Circle have been truly valuable for me. I could point to the tools, tips and access that come through the monthly webinars and training vault – they are most certainly worth the investment.

“But as a senior PR practitioner, with a team of young, up and coming PR pros working with me, what I value most is the ability to tap into a pool of trusted industry pros. Rarely are we able to bounce ideas off of someone, let alone a group of someones, who have deep experience in the industry and get thoughtful, unbiased feedback. 

“Sometimes you need some outside inspiration or someone to tell you when you’ve missed the obvious angle because you’re so deep into subject.  Sometimes you need a group of objective peers to weigh in without worrying that you’re betraying your “expert status” or opening yourself up to condescension.  I’ve found that in the Inner Circle. 

“It’s a group where practices are cultivated through sharing and vulnerability. It’s a place where we can learn from both our and others mistakes and it is a place where doors to the latest trends and tactics are regularly opened.  It is also what you put into it. You can be a casual member and just observe, tune in every now and then or you can jump into the deep end. I’m not the most active member, but leaning into the Inner Circle when I needed it and sharing when I felt I could help someone else has given me a better understanding of the business, made me a better leader and a better communicator.”

My question to you is this:

What could happen to YOUR results if you were able to “plug in” to a resource that allowed you to leverage the expertise, experience and success of others?

That’s the opportunity that’s in front of you through Friday. You can enroll here.

The doors are open now, but they close tomorrow. So this is pretty time sensitive…especially if you want the Pitch Checklist.


P.S. One more thing. One of the other resources available to you as a new Inner Circle Member is the masterclass I did with a producer from the Today Show. We had 15 pitches from Inner Circle members and she gave reactions to those pitches. (She even liked 5 enough to ask for more information!)

This was such a valuable presentation, I created a one-page “action sheet” summarizing the main takeaways of the Today Show producer.

If you pitch morning shows, this piece of paper is EASILY worth $1,000.

And you get it, along with the main Pitch Checklist, when you enroll in the Inner Circle before tomorrow night.

No election can change this


The past 95 weeks in a row, I’ve sent out my weekly email on Thursday. But I’m posting here a day early for a reason.

Last night when I went to bed, anchors were saying “World financial markets are in turmoil; the Dow futures are down 800, and it’s getting worse.” It was tempting to lay awake worrying about how this could affect my business.

With all the information at our fingertips, it seems easy to want to analyze what’s going on and how it will affect us. Listen to the pundits on the TV while you check the political sites on your phone – then toggle over to social to see what your friends are saying, then back to the pundits.

It reminds me of earlier times of change and uncertainty, and how I would just sit and watch the world go by. Like the undecided presidential election of 2000 – I spent the months of Nov. and Dec. that year operating at about 50 percent capacity because I was engrossed in the recount and wondering how it would all affect my life. That felt safer than actually making decisions and taking action.

You know what I’ve learned since then after wasting all that time? To focus on what I can control.

Sure, it’s important to be informed and civically engaged. That’s why we voted. Now the election is over, and realistically speaking, staying informed takes, what, 15 minutes a day or so?

Turn off the TV, close the political sites, limit your time on social, and focus instead on the one reality I’m absolutely sure of in these uncertain times:

The way you’re going to grow – both personally and professionally – is to wake up every day and ask yourself, “What can I do today to provide more value to more people than I did yesterday?” Then go do that.

That’s what I did this morning. No matter what the stock market does, no matter what politicians do, I’m going to keep finding ways to add more value for YOU this week than I did last week.

When you choose to act this way, your circle of influence grows, and the value you send out finds its way back to you. But that’s not even the most important outcome – what really matters is how you change inside. There’s a serenity that comes from proving to yourself that external factors never dictate your life and your potential.

Of course, when the U.S. markets opened this morning, they were moving back to equilibrium. Doesn’t mean they’ll stay there, and by now you know that’s not the point. Nothing a news anchor reports has more power over your life than the choices you make every day.

How to become a Today show producer


Two days ago I watched and listened as a Today producer reviewed 15 pitches out loud, one after the other, rapid-fire. It was the closest I’ll ever get to reading the mind of a top-tier influencer.

And I wasn’t the only one – my Inner Circle members witnessed it, too. She was generous enough to join me for our monthly Master Class so we could hear pitching tips straight from the source.

And the members delivered – she requested more information about five of the pitches! That’s an incredible ratio for such a hard-to-reach outlet.

After a month of arranging and preparing for the experience, here’s my primary takeaway:

Successful top-tier media pitching is all about developing deep empathy for the individual influencer you’re targeting.

Before the program, I sorted through the pitches the members had submitted for her consideration. In a way, I was acting as a proxy for her, seeking to identify the ones that had the best chance at success, and put them in the right order. I had interviewed her twice by phone and carefully watched a couple episodes of her show so that I would know what to look for.

Obviously, I have a lot of experience with media relations – I review members’ pitches every month during our pitch review sessions. But reading these pitches – as a stand-in for her – crystallized my thinking in a way that had never happened before. It was way easier to sift and sort the winners and to spot the elements that deserved emphasis and those that needed to be cut.

By the end of the live class, I felt like I was coming very close to being able to “impersonate a Today producer.” Not just to share her evaluation of newsworthiness – but to understand what it’s like to BE her. A real person, with an apartment in NYC, a looming election to cover, demanding bosses and a job that’s sometimes exhilarating and other times exhausting.

My lesson learned: Don’t merely customize your pitch. Empathize your pitch.

Think of the human being you’re sending it to. Pull up his/her photo on LinkedIn. Watch, listen, or read their content. Wonder what their day has been like. Consider the relationship they feel with their audience – and how protective they are of that. And only then start using your keyboard as a paintbrush to create a picture in their mind of the idea that will thrill their audiences and make their lives easier.

Or you can keep copying and pasting the same pitch to multiple people and getting nowhere :).


P.S. We’re accepting new Inner Circle members in two weeks – the recording of this session with the Today producer will be available for those who join. If you signed up for Preview Pass, you’ll get early notification and a head start to secure one of the limited number of slots. If you didn’t sign up, you’ll have a shorter window to secure any slots that remain, so watch your email closely.