One pitch was hailed by the journalist who got it as “the best pitch I have received. Ever, actually.”

The other got posted to the recipient’s Facebook and Twitter feeds as an example of how NOT to pitch with the hashtag “#cringeworthy.”

My followers shared these two pitches with me recently, a few days apart. What struck me was actually how similar they were. The PR pros who wrote them don’t know each other, but they were both using the same approach to grab the attention of their target journalist. And both did it well, in my opinion.

The key difference boiled down to one word in the “bad” pitch that dramatically shifted the perspective and subconscious of the reader. It created a totally different feeling in the reporter who received it than what the PR pro intended. I’ll show you that one later. First, here’s the “good” pitch.

The “good” pitch

This example comes courtesy of Adam Yosim, whom I met last month when he attended my pitching workshop in Washington, DC. Adam explained to me he was a bit hesitant about pitching because he knows from personal experience how infuriated journalists get by irrelevant and sloppy pitches.

Four days after the workshop, he sent me the success story that came from implementing the action steps and mindset growth that he learned. He explained that he was targeting a reporter for a trade outlet that’s important for his client. As part of his research, he noticed that she had earlier tweeted about a colleague bringing a French press to her Friday editorial meeting with the hashtag “#FrenchPressFridays.”

So he included “#FrenchPressFridays” in the subject line of his pitch email. He explained that he’s also a French press fan who uses it to make cold brew coffee at home. Then he introduced his client – which is wholly unrelated to coffee – and explained a large contract they had recently won and why it’s important.

She replied: “Hi Adam, This is the best pitch I’ve received. Ever, actually. So thanks for that!” And then asked some questions that led to booking the story.

To be sure, I’ve heard journalists complain about PR pros lazily inserting a reference to a recent tweet as “trite.” But the positive reaction shows that Adam researched this reporter properly and pushed the right buttons to make this approach appealing instead of off-putting.

Unfortunately, that one pesky word in the other pitch, and the attitude it represents, is what turned it from one with promise to one held up for scorn. I explain that next week 🙂

How YOU get there

Would you like to go from nervous about pitching to having journalists thanking you for your pitches? Like Adam did here? You can achieve the same rapid growth (if you are as attentive and action-oriented as Adam). Join me at my next Secrets of Media Relations Masters workshop in New York in September. This is a popular destination at the optimal time of year, so it may sell out. I wouldn’t wait.

This is the story of two similar pitches. One pitch was hailed by the journalist who got it as “the best pitch I have received. Ever, actually.” The other got posted to the recipient’s Facebook and Twitter feeds as an example of how NOT to pitch with the hashtag “#cringeworthy.”

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Sometimes, when people hear what I do for a living, they ask me, “Aren’t you worried there won’t be any media left to pitch?”

No way.

There are more media than ever before. And even the “legacy” or “traditional” media are giving us more opportunities to reach their audiences. Here comes a specific example, but don’t get fixated on this one channel. There’s a bigger point here that I’ll drive home at the end of this article.

Every January I present to members of my Inner Circle “What Will Matter in the Coming Year – and What Won’t.” This past January I spent significant time on Facebook video, including Facebook Live. Sure, local TV is enduring big budget cuts and it’s harder than ever to get a camera to your events. But now every journalist – newspaper writer, blogger, or web producer – carries a camera. Right in their pocket.

Inner Circle member Sarah Snyder works at a university that hosts the National Orchestral Institute and Festival every year. She’s worked hard to develop relationships with the small cadre of journalists who cover that space. One of them is the classical music critic for the Washington Post.

Now, if Sarah were like many PR pros, she would complain about how the pool of traditional journalists to pitch is shrinking and that her bosses have unrealistic demands. But she’s not like most PR pros.

Instead, she’s constantly seeking new and better ways to get her organization’s messages in front of her audiences via venues those audiences trust and respect. So she started looking at “traditional media” in a non-traditional way.

She proposed several angles to her contact at the Post for this year’s festival. And one of them worked out so well that the critic ended up producing a Facebook Live feed of a rehearsal before the festival. To date is has more than 60,000 views.

“It was a ton of work,” Sarah says – 120 emails back-and-forth – “but it’s been a huge success!”

Even though Sarah also landed other, more traditional, coverage in the Post, she’s likely reaching a different group of people through the FB Live channel and sharing her message more broadly than she would have otherwise.

Where do you go from here? Maybe it’s not Facebook Live, but there is definitely a new channel that has emerged this year that your key audiences are paying attention to. If your media list is shrinking, you’re doing it wrong. Find new outlets that have emerged recently, and supplement your usual approaches with entirely new channels like Sarah did. She says:

“I love being an Inner Circle member because it challenges me to keep thinking about new angles or ways to put our story out there.”

If you’d like to find out more about the Inner Circle and get a free taste of what it offers, register here.

Sometimes, when people hear what I do for a living, they ask me, “Aren’t you worried there won’t be any media left to pitch?” In short, no way. A more thorough answer though is that the media isn’t shrinking, but rather shifting.

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I’ve had a look inside some PR campaigns that worked with celebrity spokespeople.

I wish I could tell you about the celebrity you’ve heard of who brought her mom to the media training. She had no connection to the brand and the cause the brand was promoting, treated the whole thing like a chore, and ended up flipping out and bailing.

But instead let’s talk about some tips in working with spokespeople, particularly those from outside your brand.

Why is authenticity so important when choosing a spokesperson?

What’s the value of earned media? It’s credibility. It’s that extra trust created by knowing that a gatekeeper made a decision to put this spokesperson in front of me. Your spokesperson needs to double down on that by speaking naturally, not in a canned way.

What are some best practices for corporate and non-profit spokespeople?

For spokespeople to be effectively authentic, they need to believe in the point of the campaign! An editor once said to me, “You know what I want to tell these PR people when they call me? I want to ask them, ‘If you weren’t getting paid to pitch this, would YOU even be interested in this?’”

That’s a fair standard for her to hold us to. And we ought to find spokespeople who meet it. In contrast with the rude daughter above, a pharma company I once worked with did it right. They did the research and booked a well-known golfer who has an immediate family member who struggles with the ailment their drug treats. He was naturally effective transitioning the interviews they booked for him away from his golf game and into raising awareness for the ailment.

What are some mistakes to avoid when choosing spokespeople?

Beyond choosing someone simply because he was the “celebrity we could afford,” be thoughtful about propping up your CEO just to support his vanity or because of default thinking.

Instead, explore using a real person – someone affected by your product, service or cause who is outside your organization. Media train them for sure, but let them tell their stories in their own voices. In today’s social-media-driven world, authenticity beats polish every time.

A brief video on this topic

I talked about these points and a couple others during this interview I did for Spokies University.

The Spokies is the awards program that recognizes the best corporate and non-profit spokespeople. I’m honored to be a judge for this inaugural year.

Details here if you’re interested in submitting for it.

I’ve had a look inside some PR campaigns that worked with celebrity spokespeople. But instead of focusing on some celebrity horror stories, here are a few tips I’ve gleaned on how to do celebrity or “real people” spokespersons so they are authentically representing your organization.

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The wording of the storefront sign in downtown Manhattan was so transparent it was jarring. I couldn’t take my eyes off it, and it occurred to me that pitch writing would benefit from the same surprisingly honest approach.

My family just completed a 17-day tour up the East Coast from Williamsburg to Boston guided by, of all things, the musical “Hamilton.” My four tweens-and-teens are obsessed with that show, have the soundtrack memorized, and have read a book about its production.

So when we got to the NYC area, of course, we had to hit such atypical sites as the dueling grounds where Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton and his grave outside Trinity Church near Wall Street.

While the kids were looking at his tombstone, my eyes wandered to the permanent sign outside the shoe store across the street:

(If there’s a problem with the image, it says, “We are probably the lowest priced in the city.”)

In the midst of being bludgeoned by thousands of hyperbolic ads on cabs, buses, bus stops, and more, the honesty was more than refreshing – it was captivating. My mind raced – “Do they have really strict lawyers who wouldn’t let them say ‘lowest prices in the city?’ Or are the owners just old-fashioned? Or are the marketing people doing it on purpose to be ‘authentic?’”

Regardless, at least for me, it worked. Are you the same way? When you encounter direct, forthright communication, does it stand out from the deluge of overly promotional wording?

Most journalists and bloggers are cut from this cloth. Think of it – all day they open emails that say, “New users are flocking to our best-in-class UX and raving about their delight on social media.”

What if yours was the email that said, “Our site just launched, so there’s no way we can compete – yet – with the user experience of sites with more resources like AirBnB or VRBO. But the one way we are different – which is why users are trying us out anyway – is our . . .”

I know, your initial reaction is that your marketing people might have a fit. But maybe they’re so sick of fake promotional language, they’ll hear you out and sign off on an experiment.

If you want to get noticed, go against the grain.

And next time you’re in downtown Manhattan, you now know where to get your shoes :).

On a recent East Coast trip with my family, I saw a sign on a downtown Manhattan store that was so transparent it was jarring. I couldn’t take my eyes off it, and it occurred to me that pitch writing would benefit from the same surprisingly honest approach.

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Last week a few readers emailed me links about a new software startup that is going to “disrupt” the public relations industry by automating much of the pitching process.

This used to happen about once every two years. Now the emails come about every six months. Investors are really into artificial intelligence replacing humans.

I love it when this happens for two reasons. First, because it would be awesome if someone could get this right someday. Second, because that day is a loooong way off, when people are chasing this dream that means less competition for those of us who still believe in “old-fashioned” one-to-one relationship building.

The start-ups tend to go like this. A software engineer sees a bunch of people who want content (journalists and bloggers) and a bunch of people trying to give it to them (us). But the exchange is super-messy, with lots of unwanted emails flying at the wrong times. To the engineer, this appears to be a marketplace like collectibles were before eBay came along. The engineer thinks, “If I can be the one to unify this market onto a platform that smooths out this exchange of information, everyone will be better off, and I’ll win.”

They usually start by creating some artificial intelligence that processes jillions of articles and posts and tweets around the world to determine who covers what. This is the part of the process that I’m looking forward to someone conquering. Right now, when we build media lists we basically have two choices – pull a list from a subscription database built by humans, or apply our own “mental algorithm” to our own Google searches.

After identifying the targets, the engineer’s process typically involves a smoother communication process for the gatekeeper, like some sort of opt-in platform where they can quickly click “yes” or “no” after receiving a pitch. The engineer is looking to build a walled garden where everyone wants to be.

And this is where the approach breaks down. I’ve seen this happen repeatedly in the 15 years I’ve been training on media relations. The startups haven’t been able to get a critical mass of journalists or bloggers to join their system.

It’s telling that the only such effort that’s worked has been HARO, the platform where influencers can query PR people to ask for sources for stories they’re working on. That succeeded because the journalists are the ones driving the process, on their time and their terms.

And if the engineer pivots and tries an approach that doesn’t require permission from the influencers, it requires too much human expertise to be cheap enough to sell at scale.

Until I see a system that is invisible to the influencers that captures the same nuance as the savvy media relations pros I work with every week, I won’t believe that software can replace PR pros. I sure hope it can get better at the repetitive tasks associated with pitching, such as combing for producers of relevant content.

And I’ll continue to be excited whenever one of these new approaches builds momentum, because the more common it becomes for influencers to see outreach handled by a computer, the easier it will be to stand out by simply being human.

Last week a few readers emailed me links about a new software startup that is going to “disrupt” the public relations industry by automating much of the pitching process. Here are my thoughts on AI coming into the PR industry and why I would be happy if it did.

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Why would a time-starved journalist make the time to accept an in-person meeting when they could just as easily get information from you by phone or email?

That was the question that came in various forms during the virtual training meeting I held for my Inner Circle members this week.

We heard from two Inner Circle members who are making media visits work:

 – Maureen Carrig has conducted five media trips over the past 12 months for her large company to top-tier business press. One of those trips alone has yielded articles in the WSJ, USAT, AP, Bloomberg and counting.
– Jane Putnam works for a scrappy consumer tech startup and booked visits for her CEO with CNBC, Good Housekeeping, Fit Pregnancy and Parents. They took a redeye to New York, went straight into the visits, and flew home that night – a 24-hour trip with no sleep. It paid off, as the CEO was an in-studio guest on CNBC a few weeks later, among other placements.

Maureen and Jane generously shared the planning timelines, briefing book tips, and actual email pitches they used for these successes.

But still the question kept popping up: why would busy influencers accept a meeting invitation?

And I understand. We see journalists on Twitter all the time expressing how full their schedules are, and occasionally criticizing the way some PR people approach them. Plus, when you take the question at face value, there ISN’T any reason why a busy reporter, editor or producer would block out time for a meeting when they could just get the information by email or even phone.

To find the answer, you look deeper than that question.

These busy influencers aren’t taking the meeting to get information. They’re taking the meeting to begin a relationship. They’re looking beyond an immediate story and realizing that the executives Maureen and Jane are connecting them with will be valuable resources in the long run.

There’s another layer to this, too. Maureen and Jane didn’t say this, but after I reviewed their outreach in detail over the past couple weeks, I observed that they provided so much value THEMSELVES that the influencers – consciously or subconsciously – must have realized, “She’s got it together. She’s helping me do my job better. If she thinks I should meet this guy, I’m going to do it if I can.”

These two PR pros thought of every little reason why their sources and their companies mesh with these journalists’ goals, and communicated that with just the right balance of helpfulness and tenacity.

In short, the way that you see journalists taking the time to do things they don’t normally do – talk on the phone, accept meetings, thank you for sending five follow-up emails (true story) – is to know their needs so well that you can provide unmistakable value.

That’s when you shift in their minds from a faceless “PR person” – or even “flack” – to a valuable “source” they look forward to meeting.

Why would a time-starved journalist make the time to accept an in-person meeting when they could just as easily get information from you by phone or email? That was the question that came in various forms during the virtual training meeting I held for my Inner Circle members this week. Here’s my answer.

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During our hike in the mountains Saturday my wife pointed to some dandelions beside the trail and said, “I keep thinking these are weeds, but up here they’re wildflowers.”

What’s a weed? A plant that grows on its own, without nurture, that people don’t like.

What’s a wildflower? A plant that grows on its own, without nurture, that people DO like.

The same idea came to mind when I noticed Melody’s question on our private Inner Circle forum. She described a promising idea she had to contact a reporter. But she was conflicted because it was outside the journalist’s published preferences: “Is this being resourceful or being annoying?” she wondered.

My answer to her: “If the reporter likes your pitch, you were ‘resourceful.’ If not, then you might have been ‘annoying.’”

This ambiguity might seem frustrating at first, but it’s actually a great thing. It means you can develop the judgment and experience to ignore “rules.” Those have limited applications and can be arbitrary at times anyway. Rely instead on your expertise when making pitching decisions.

Today you can learn more than ever about the media you hope to contact – not only can you review all their recent work instantly, you can get a great feel for their personality via the clues they drop on social media. You devour as many examples of successful pitches as you can get your hands on to expand your vision of what’s appropriate or even possible.

When Media Relations Masters say they “trusted their instincts” or “followed their gut” when explaining how they succeeded with a contrarian approach, what they really mean is that they paid the price to develop a deep enough perspective that they knew which rules to ignore and which to follow.

Know your targets up and down, know your story cold, and seek out great pitches to learn from, and you can eventually show up like a wildflower every time.

During our hike in the mountains Saturday my wife pointed to some dandelions beside the trail and said, “I keep thinking these are weeds, but up here they’re wildflowers.” So what’s the difference between a weed and a wildflower?

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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.

I totally get why journalists and bloggers vent their frustrations about PR people online. 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.

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Stop the PR insanity!

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.

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!

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My biggest failure

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.

So I’ve been pondering this question. Reflection seems natural lately, because I recently passed two milestones: 15th anniversary of my first speech to PR pros on boosting media pitching and 5th anniversary of cutting the employer cord and running my own business full time.

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