Columns griping about PR, like the one that ran in the Washington Post last week, are nothing new.

I understand why this columnist is frustrated. And I admire the thorough way he researched the piece – if this were done more often, then the scenario he experienced would be less common.

But he let his guard down with one phrase that highlights the entire disconnect between journalists who feel like he does and the PR pros they are trying to motivate (shame?) via pieces like this:

“. . . looking for instances of companies that declined to comment or were rude enough to never respond to a reporter’s questions.”  (emphasis mine).

Wait – it’s rude not to respond to emails? How many emails from PR people did this columnist never respond the week he wrote this piece? Likely dozens, maybe hundreds. And that’s entirely okay. We get that journalists can’t possibly respond to all the incoming emails they get.

By the same token, a little realism on the part of these journalists might help alleviate some frustration. PR teams at brands like those on his “rude” list – Tesla, Google, Lyft, and so on – don’t have a blanket responsibility to respond to all questions sent their way.

Their job – and yours – is to evaluate the risks and opportunities posed by each inquiry and balance those against the other risks and opportunities their organization faces.

Personally, I prefer acknowledging each media inquiry. But I accept that we don’t know the set of facts these PR teams are dealing with – there may even be a good reason not to respond. If they choose not to participate in a story, that’s likely neither personal, nor hostile to the freedom of the press, nor rude. It’s simply a calculated business decision.

Just like a journalist who declines a media pitch. Or asks to interview your CEO for an hour and then leaves them out of the resulting story. Or asks for your help in finding an expert and then fails to name your organization in a piece, even though you asked politely.

As a consummate PR professional, you don’t dash off an angry email, nor a blog post lamenting rude media. You file that particular journalist’s behavior away and use it to calculate future decisions about working with them. As journalists continue to do about working with you.

The columnist quotes a few people who talk about building relationships between the media and businesses. Relationships are a two-way street. We in PR are racing to adapt to the changing media landscape.

Journalists need to do the same.

Last week a columnist wrote about “rude” PR people, but not about their terrible pitches for once! Here’s what he had to say and what I think he needs to understand.

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The 4th of July is my favorite holiday, for reasons that relate directly to you even if you’re not American.

It’s my favorite because it’s called Independence Day, and that reminds me of the entire reason I do what I do.

My coaching and training business exists to help you, the hard-working PR professional, achieve independence in where, when and how you work. At an even higher level, it’s to help you separate your own sense of meaning and value from your work. That’s being truly independent.

Remember when you were in junior high and you would walk into the cafeteria and look for your place, where you thought you fit in? Maybe you gauged your worthiness by the perceived status of the other kids who were nearby, whether they fully accepted you or not. I certainly did.

To be entirely candid with you, I see many (most?) PR pros doing the same thing as fully grown adults. Except instead of striving for a sense of belonging among adolescent peers, they are allowing bosses and coworkers’ (very subjective) opinions of them dictate their sense of self-worth.

Think hard and be honest with yourself. Do you do this?

This faulty measure of self-worth plagues even successful people. Their whole lives have been spent striving to meet the standards others set – how to get into a good college, then a sorority/fraternity, then a good job, then a promotion . . .

After a while, they don’t even realize that the choices they’re making are being driven more by other people than their own instincts for what’s best for them and the people closest to them.

Earlier this week I was talking with a man who has been laid low by a health crisis that hit him in between jobs. He confessed that he had viewed his ever-increasing salary as a “scoreboard” from which he drew his identity. He didn’t realize how fake his worldview was until it all came crashing down around him.

I told him that this health problem will be one of the best things that ever happened to him. Because as he climbs out of it, he’s got his sights set squarely on what means the most to him and his wife. Not his perception of what it means to be a success among his peer group.

That’s what Ken Li did, and that’s why his story I shared on a previous Independence Day is the all-time most popular post I’ve ever written.

If you find yourself stuck in a trap similar to those I’ve described above, let July 5th, 2018, be the day you declare your independence from others’ measures of your individual value. Seek personal development and career progress because it gets you where YOU want to go, not what some vaguely defined “they” think you should do.

Wherever that destination is for you, I look forward to helping as much as I can.

The 4th of July is my favorite holiday. It reminds me of the entire reason I do what I do.

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The woman sitting next to me on my flight to DC this week asked something about PR that momentarily startled me.

I was traveling to speak at a conference and do my Secrets of Media Relations Masters workshop (next one in NYC in Sept.)

We were doing the get-to-know-you questions before takeoff. She’s a fascinating individual – Ph.D. in engineering, visiting professor at MIT, longtime career as a professor, now on loan to the government with the mandate to help scientists and nerdy tech people translate their innovations to the marketplace. Very passionate and articulate spokesperson for STEM, especially for women and minorities.

Anyway, it was then her turn to ask me, “What do you do?” I have varying answers for that question – this time I went with, “I’m a public relations consultant.”

And she immediately responded with this question, which surprised me with its boldness:

“Public relations . . . and truth –“ she held up each hand as if weighing on a scale – “can they go together?”

Almost reflexively I said, “Truth is the only public relations that endures.”

Her eyes widened, she nodded her head, she paused as if that was profound to her. And then she said: “You should . . . you should publish that!”

So here I am ????.

But I assume your reaction is the same as mine – why is that statement significant? Isn’t it obvious?

Well, obviously not, if a successful leader found it novel. And she’s not the only one. Sometimes, because I’m surrounded by a cocoon of so many ethical PR pros, I’m overly optimistic about the reputation our field has among the public at large and among organizational leaders.

Shouldn’t do that. We need to consistently advocate for PR done the right way, that establishes enduring relationships, not one-time quick wins.

If you find yourself mixed up with people who encourage you otherwise, then it’s time to make a change. Not only will subterfuge and manipulation eat away at your soul, it flat out doesn’t work in the long term. People may never come and say, “I don’t trust you anymore.” But you’ll find your personal network shrinking. You’ll notice fewer invitations and outreach. And opportunities dry up.

As our plane leveled off and the wifi came on, I got back to work on my presentation deck and she started watching Wonder Woman. Before we deplaned, she wished me sincerely, “Good luck bringing the trust back to PR.”

Thank you for joining me in carry out her charge.

“Public relations . . . and truth – can they go together?” Besides my obvious answer, here are my thoughts on this conundrum.

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You know when you’re re-reading the pitch you just drafted . . . and you know it’s too long . . . but everything in it is relevant and potentially useful to the journalist you’re sending it to?

And despite all the research you’ve done, there’s no possible way to know which elements will intrigue them versus which you should delete?

I’ve got a solution for that 🙂

Before sitting down to write this I was doing a pitch review session with Inner Circle members. This was a tip I doled out a few times. Something that is so simple that many PR people are overlooking it.

Here you go:

Pick ONE thing (fact, angle, or element of breaking news). Build the pitch around that. Three (short) paragraphs at the most.

Then, when you’re about to close, you add “I’ve included three other possible story ideas below my signature.” Or “news pegs” or “research findings” or “possible expert sources” or whatever you’ve got to offer.

The idea here is to break up the long pitch, giving your signature as a strong signal that you’ve built a coherent whole pitch in just a few paragraphs. So they can get a quick reward of information for investing just a few seconds. Then, if you’ve appropriately intrigued them, they can review the additional info below.

Another approach is to include links to the additional info. That’s a good solution, too. But I like the idea of being able to hook the journalist with the first sentence of your first additional item. . . and then the second item . . . and so on.

Here are the two cases we used today for Inner Circle members:

One was pitching his CEO for media visits while she’ll be in NYC. Brand and stature-wise, she’s not gonna get those visits on name alone. So he wisely included newsy achievements and timely topics she can speak with authority about. Problem was, the pitch was like nine grafs long. So we zeroed in on ONE of those achievements to build the pitch around. Then moved the rest as bullets after he signed off.

Another wanted to pitch her restaurant management group to a trade pub for a feature because of their recent growth. The entire pitch was background about who they are and how fast they’ve grown. So we bumped all that below her signature, and instead focused on one thing they are doing that accounts for their success, that readers of the trade pub can learn from.

Now, none of this matters if your target journalists don’t even open your email. That’s where your subject line is key. I’d like to help you with that, too, but I’m about out of space here. So I’ve included more tips for you below my signature :).

To your success,

Michael

P.S. Here’s an article I wrote about the virtues of a contrarian subject line.

The first video on this page gives five tips for getting your emails opened.

You know when you’re re-reading the pitch you just drafted . . . and you know it’s too long . . . but everything in it is relevant and potentially useful to the journalist you’re sending it to? Well I’ve got a solution for that.

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I deserve a raise

The job market is red hot. Last year, three-quarters of PR pros got a raise, but more than half of those were 3 percent or less (source: PR News Salary Survey).

Because you’re reading my posts, you’re likely a go-getter who is performing well. And if you haven’t gotten a bigger raise than 3 percent – especially if you’ve been at the same job for five years or more – your employer would have to pay a lot more to replace you than they’re currently paying you.

That’s what an experienced PR recruiter and career coach told my Inner Circle this week. She recently talked with a candidate who is making $30,000 less than market value for someone with her skills and results.

Now don’t read this the wrong way – neither you nor I are entitled to anything. We earn what we’re paid, commensurate with the value we bring our employers or clients. But if that equation isn’t balanced, then it’s up to you to take steps to fix it.

If you like your current job, you don’t have to go out banging on doors just yet. Ask your boss for a “career conversation,” as my guest, Angee Linsey of Linsey Careers, calls it. She teaches that all professionals should be having these at least quarterly. And that smart managers who want to retain their best performers will welcome that cadence.

Angee outlined five steps to a successful career conversation during our Master Class this week, which is available only to Inner Circle members. She taught them how to prepare, gave tips on timing, and how to follow up to make sure they actually get that raise or promotion. I thought one of her most valuable contributions was a set of recommended statements that minimize the emotional discomfort associated with asking for money.

Here’s one of them:

Over the last 18 months I have really expanded my role by adding XYZ to my plate. Would this effort make me eligible for an increase in salary above the standard annual 2%? What would I need to do to make this possible?

So if you’re really delivering, ask for that career conversation today.

If you’ve already tried that, and the enhanced pay or independence you’re seeking hasn’t come, then you may need to move on. One Inner Circle member told me last month she returned to a job after two years somewhere else, and now she makes 49 percent more than when she left. Another took the media relations track record she’d developed applying what she’s learned in my program to a new company and got a 40 percent pay increase.

Inner Circle members are watching the recording of my presentation with Angee and applying her tips – you can join them right now. Here are all the details.

Now don’t read this the wrong way – neither you nor I are entitled to anything. We earn what we’re paid, commensurate with the value we bring our employers or clients. But if that equation isn’t balanced, then it’s up to you to take steps to fix it.

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Most PR pros slug it out with hundreds of other people every week to get noticed in our target influencers’ email inboxes.

Even though this is their most competitive real estate, PR people keep doing it because that’s what they’re used to and that’s what influencers have come to expect.

It’s like a “PR person mosh pit” that goes from bad to worse. You end up getting “bruised and bloodied” with weakened chances of success.

If you want superior results, you must have a superior plan to create those results. And one part of that plan is to show up DIFFERENT. The “least-crowded inbox” strategy is one way to do it.

Step back and scope out a different channel, one where there is less competition. Not every time, but enough to stand out so the influencer starts opening your emails later.

Here are some examples:

– A handwritten note referencing a recent piece and offering some additional value
– Posting a comment, not on the journalist’s primary article, but on his/her post on a less-trafficked blog or video channel
– Believe it or not, the phone is now a less-crowded channel, esp. on Friday afternoons

I shared this concept in more detail in a webinar I did, and a few weeks later I got an old-fashioned letter in the mail. It was from Lia Giachino, a sharp NYC agency pro who wrote that she wanted to reach me via my “least-crowded inbox.” Sure enough, hers was the only letter I got that day :).

Lia also shared that she had used the principles she learned in the webinar to land a feature story for one of her clients on MarketWatch and the Wall Street Journal.

“I am always on the hunt for ways to improve my skills and your webinar has gone above and beyond. Since watching it I’ve seen a huge jump in my HARO responses and received very positive feedback from journalists thanking me for tailored pitches,” she wrote.

This “least-crowded inbox” strategy is a simple thing that 99% of your competition (except Lia!) will never do.

People want to believe that success is made up of silver bullets or “big breaks.” It’s not. It is made up of doing simple things 99% of people won’t do.

Lia has gone on to use her track record of pitching success to transition to a new job with a 20 percent raise. She deserves all the credit for seeking continuous improvement and taking action to implement what she’s learned.

And now I want to help you get pitching results like Lia’s through my special offer below.

PRSA members, a special free offer for you

As a fellow member of our field’s professional society, I’m happy to share my very best pitching tips with you. Click here for immediate access to three 2-minute videos with tips you can implement in less than a day to boost the results of your next pitch.

Most PR pros slug it out with hundreds of other people every week to get noticed in our target influencers’ email inboxes. If you want to stand out and get superior results, follow this strategy.

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How do you turn a pitch from jumbled organizational minutia into a compelling idea your target journalists want to run with?

Look at their profile pic.

That’s the essence of how I did it yesterday, working with an Inner Circle member. I’ll set the stage, and then explain.

Her draft pitch got bogged down right away. I knew immediately why – she’d been given a document by her bosses, and they told her, “Get this in the media.” She had read the document several times. So naturally, the language and terms and style of writing bled into the pitch she used. But that style doesn’t work for pitching.

Lots of proper nouns – names of people, names of organizations – cluttered the opening paragraph. It was all about the issue her organization wanted to promote. Nothing about what this particular editor needed.

So we took a step back and Googled him… third item down was his LinkedIn profile… clicked it… and there he was, looking back at us.

Salt-and-pepper hair. Confident bearing. Trendy glasses. His bio and work history showed a distinctly NYC flavor. This immediately informed the pitch, which had originally had a suburban flavor.

But the most important benefit of looking at his photo was the shift it created in us. No longer were we (even inadvertently) focused on her employer’s program. Now we were focused on him. What does he know his readers need? Where is he right now in his magazine’s production cycle? What do we have that’s going to earn him page views?

Then the edits flowed naturally. A new first sentence that focused on him and what he’s trying to do with the magazine. A new second sentence that spelled out clearly what we have to offer, and why we’re approaching HIM in particular. Then we distilled most of the original pitch into three bullets.

The draft pitch was already really strong at the end. She had cited some web metrics that proved that this topic and expert she was pitching were interesting to this editor’s target audience. And she closed with a strong call to action that had a deadline associated with it.

These edits trimmed about 2/3s of the original pitch, but what was left was entirely focused on him.

You can go back through this email and see almost a sentence-by-sentence guide to crafting your next pitch. But that’s not the point. All of those sentences flowed naturally from applying one principle. And that principle was symbolized in one action:

Looking at his profile pic.

Start with that, and everybody wins.

How do you turn a pitch from jumbled organizational minutia into a compelling idea your target journalists want to run with? Look at their profile pic.

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One of our common frustrations as PR people is getting client/boss approvals on writing projects.

You know – when you send the attachment or Google Doc link and what you get back has more red “track changes” than black original.

There are lots of political and personality dynamics at play, so what I’m about to share won’t automatically cure all your approval woes. But it will definitely help.

The key is to divide the approval process into TWO HALVES.

First half – BEFORE you start writing, email your approver(s) and tell them your intent to write a release, case study, whatever. Tell them you’d like their agreement on three things:

1. Business purpose of the document – the bottom-line business goals you aim to support by producing it. Bosses and clients LOVE this, and once they see that you’re prioritizing what’s most important to them, they are more likely to get on board.

2. Main message – the point you want to get across to readers/visitors that will lead them to the business goal.

3. News hook or content marketing “angle” – this is where your expertise as a communicator comes in. You propose the creative way to make your main message interesting or useful to your key audiences. You’ve essentially said to your approvers: “I know what you want. Now here’s where you give me license to achieve it.”

They will often appreciate your strategic approach and sign off right away. If they don’t, you’ve saved yourself lots of writing time by catching and accommodating their concerns early in the process. Then you write your doc, and you’re ready for . . .

The second half – You send the final copy with a preface that says, “Since we’ve already agreed on the primary purpose and approach, all that’s left is for you to check for any factual errors or vital legal/proprietary concerns. If I don’t hear back from you by (date), then I’ll know all is well and we’ll proceed.”

If you want to get really cagey, you cut and paste the release into the email, so the reviewers are less likely to use “track changes” or Google Doc’s comment feature to weigh in on every comma and synonym.

Divide your approval process in half and enjoy faster approvals and less unnecessary meddling.

With an approved asset in less time, you’ve opened time for yourself to sharpen your pitching approach, and I can help with that. See below for three result-boosting tips you can implement in a day or less.

PRSA members, a special free offer for you

As a fellow member of our field’s professional society, I’m happy to share my very best pitching tips with you. Click here for immediate access to three 2-minute videos with tips you can implement in less than a day to boost the results of your next pitch.

Nobody enjoys getting a document back from a boss or client only to find that it’s covered in red “track changes” edits. Here’s how to make the review process less painful.

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People often ask me for tips on writing subject lines for pitch emails.

What’s the sole purpose of the subject line?

To get the recipient to open the email. Therefore, the absolute best, all-purpose subject line is:

I have your daughter.

Just kidding.

I’ve found some formulas that work and have shared some of them previously via these emails. But what I really want to tell people when they ask that question is something different.

You know what’s even more important to a journalist or blogger than the subject line of your pitch email?

It’s what is in the “from” column.

You want the journalist to see the email is from you and think,

Oh, [name] knows what I cover and only writes me with relevant, concise ideas. So even though I’m super-busy, I’m gonna open this email over the other 30 that came in since I checked last.

How do you get to that point? Try to lay the groundwork of your relationship BEFORE you have a story to pitch. Write to your key target journalists to let them know what you think of their work. Share useful info from third-parties. Tell how you’re sharing their work more widely.

When you do this correctly, they write back, and you have a nice little dialogue. And then, a little while later, when you actually have something to pitch, you really do have the absolute best subject line ever:

The “re: . . .” subject line of a successful previous email conversation.

P.S. If your reaction to this post is, “Yeah, sounds great, but I don’t have time to ‘lay the groundwork,’” I understand. I’ve been there. Work your best subject line magic for your cold email, but then really think about tweaking your workflow and processes so you can reach out to these key influencers BEFORE the next time you really need something from them.

P.P.S. Of course, there’s more you need than just a subject line to engage journalists and influencers successfully. I’d like to help you learn those field-tested skills. See below.

PRSA members, a special free offer for you

As a fellow member of our field’s professional society, I want to share with you my very best pitching tips. Click here for immediate access to three 2-minute videos with tips you can implement in less than a day to boost the results of your next pitch.

It’s great to tweak and refine the subject line of your pitch email, but there’s something else that’s even more important to the journalist or blogger you’re pitching.

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Savoring a huge win

I was at General Motors headquarters last Wednesday when this 5,000-word company profile dropped in the annual “Fortune 500” issue of the venerable business magazine.

It was awesome to see the grins on the faces of the communications team around the conference room. You can try to play it cool, but on a placement this big, you can only hold back the emotion for so long.

The experience brought back memories of that cautious anticipation that comes when you’ve managed the development of a story, and you’ve been told to expect it tomorrow. You have every reason to hope it will be a good one for your employer, but you never take it for granted.

So you’re hitting “refresh” on the outlet’s home page all night. And when it’s finally posted, you don’t know whether to carefully consider every word (so you don’t miss something) or race through to get a general feel. Even though you know you’re going to read the entire thing five times in a row.

In this case, one of the GM media team leaders was told it would be posted in the morning. So he got up early, but it wasn’t there yet. During his drive to the office he checked again – there it was! So he pulled over and read the whole thing on his phone there on the side of the road.

The article provided several useful examples during the day as I walked them through training on media relations and PR writing. Each time I’m at GM headquarters I’m always impressed with the culture of lifelong learning. In one session, the person with the most experience and seniority admitted the most shortcomings. That made it safer for everyone else to ask the questions they otherwise would have stifled for fear of looking uninformed.

Too often in our business we’re forced to dwell on the negative. Journalists frequently complain about the outreach they get from PR people. Bosses habitually underappreciate how hard it is to do what we do. And when good news does get out, the spotlight usually shines on the subjects, not the person like you who earned the coverage.

So today you can review this Fortune piece and consider what it would be like to work on a major success like this. You can realize that something like this doesn’t just fall from the sky, even if you’re at a big company. It’s the product of lots of strategic effort (in this case, two years’ worth) and savvy.

And most of all, you can remember that big wins like this DO happen, and you’re just as much entitled to build the skills to earn them as anyone else. That’s why you read these posts, and that’s why I write them.

Cheers to my friends at GM. And here’s to your future, and your potential to land such a placement that’s just as significant for you in your sphere.

Too often we focus on the stresses and pitfalls in PR, so today I want to share a big win with you.

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