The wealthy attorney was cursing while his BMW sputtered and jerked its way into the auto repair shop.

He was late for a client meeting and demanded the sole mechanic look at it immediately. The lawyer, clad in his Armani suit, fidgeted in frustration while the grizzled old guy lifted the hood and looked for a minute. Then he pulled a screwdriver from his coveralls, reached in and tightened a single screw.

“Try it now,” he said.

The attorney jumped behind the wheel and turned the key. The engine purred like a kitten.

He leaned out the window with a huge grin and asked, “How much?”

“Two hundred dollars,” came the deadpan reply.

“What?” cried the attorney, now scowling. “All you did was tighten one screw! It took you less than a minute!”

“Charge for tightening one screw is one dollar,” said the mechanic, loving every minute of it. “Knowing which screw to tighten costs $199.”

Pitching media can be similar.

Your final email, after all your strategizing and revisions, might not look very complicated.

You might only have two sentences in your initial email pitch, but you know better than to clutter that email with loads of details the reporter doesn’t need to see your angle.

So stand strong in keeping your pitch emails brutally brief. Anyone can paste a news release into an email and press “send.”

Your real value to your organization is knowing what to include, and often more importantly, what NOT to.

Is your real value the time you spend at your job or the results you produce?

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I got the same good question from a couple people after last week’s message.

That was the one where I talked about delivering the opening keynote about pitching at a conference that went on to feature a total of 11 journalists presenting later in the day.

The question was: “How did the journalists react to what you said?” (Thanks Shelby and Tom!)

To be clear, only one was there when I was speaking (the others arrived right before their speeches). She complimented me after (as I did her, she was great). But that’s a sample size of one.

In reality, I don’t ever expect journalists to see things from our perspective. They have enough to worry about. The pressures and ambiguities of PR people aren’t their problem.

In a fluke, one of my very best friends has become a top editor at a major daily. The fluke is that he graduated in PR, had a distinguished and varied PR career, and THEN switched to journalism. Very rare career track (usually it’s the opposite, like me and many of the people in my audiences who started as journalists).

I asked him if he’s more sympathetic to the PR outreach he gets, since he knows what it’s like to the be the person sending the pitches. Here’s what he said:

I value good pitches – I just don’t get any. It’s the same generic crap that I was doing at [PR agency] 15 years ago. My immediate reaction is, “You have no idea who we are or what we do.”

You can see immediately that it would do no good to explain, “Well, those people probably are pitching another 25-50 people so they can’t possibly take the time to know what you do.”

He already knows that. Does that make his life any different? No – he’s still has to wade through all that bloat, and it’s made him resentful. I imagine you and I would be the same way if we changed jobs and started receiving pitches all day. Because we know what it’s like to really focus on an influencer’s needs, and therefore it’s all the more glaring when someone doesn’t.

We succeed when we anticipate and meet journalists’ needs, not by educating them about ours.

P.S. If you need help keeping up with the rapidly changing nature of journalists’ needs, that’s what my Inner Circle is for. Watch your emails for a special opportunity coming up soon.

I got the same good question from a couple people after last week’s message. And I think everyone can benefit from my response.

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Yesterday I spoke about media pitching at a conference where 10 of the speakers presenting after me were journalists.

I warned the audience that I was going to say things that some (or all of the journalists) might disagree with. How can this be? My job is to help you understand how to be successful building relationships with journalists. So how can you do that if I’m telling you to directly contradict some of the advice they give out themselves?

Because when those journalists – generous and helpful as they are – are sitting up there on stage on those panels, they are thinking about their typical interactions with PR pros. If you want to keep getting typical results, then their general recommendations will be enough for you.

But if you want extraordinary results – if you want to be an outlier – then you need to thoughtfully violate some of the conventional wisdom journalists share at conferences like this and on social media.

Think about it from their perspective – they’re getting hundreds of emails a day that ramble on and on and dribble out buzzwords and jargon and hype and spin. So naturally they’re going to say – “Just tell me about your product or service. Just the facts.”

And they aren’t going to remember that last week, a single extraordinary PR pro wrote them a carefully crafted email – without a single wasted word – that explained a whole new angle beyond merely the product or service.

Or when they say, “Don’t follow up with me – if you don’t hear back, that means I didn’t like it.” They’re thinking about all those emails they get every day that simply forward the original email, which was just the same press release blasted to all their competitors.

They’re not thinking about that thoughtful note that shared an additional asset that wasn’t included in the initial pitch. That actually saved them from missing a great story, because they totally missed the first email in the deluge they swim through every day.

If your overriding objective is to avoid committing some theoretical “cardinal sins” of media pitching, then you’ll probably achieve that objective. And you miss out on coverage you could have otherwise gained.

Don’t be constrained by the errors of the masses. Stand out from the crowd by doing what’s right for your particular pitch for your particular targets.

I appreciate journalists that take time to share feedback and tips with PR pros. However, I don’t always agree with their advice and here’s why.

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Some parting advice my last CEO gave me when I went out on my own stuck with me.

He said:

“Maintain your integrity. In your business, it’s really the only thing you’ve got.”

It was interesting to me that he as an executive prioritized trustworthiness so much in a PR professional.

When I first started training people how to boost media coverage, I was surprised by the reaction of many. In every group there would be a few who would pull me aside during a break or at the end.

They’d confess that they found my approach refreshingly honest. “You’re not slick,” more than one of them said. This caught me off guard because it’s the only way I knew how to do it. I’d been fortunate to come up through the ranks surrounded by straight shooters. Plus, I reasoned, journalists will figure out if you’re conning them and then you’re through.

But I soon learned that many people in PR haven’t had that experience. They’ve often felt icky about how PR was taught and practiced. They struggled, fought and pressed forward anyway. But they always suspected there had to be a better way. So when they see me with a platform to push methods that rely on trust and relationships instead of quick wins and misleading claims, they breathe a sigh of relief. They realize they CAN make it in this business without feeling sleazy.

You should never feel as though you’re compromising your integrity in your attempts to gain media attention. It’s never worth it in the long run.

Furthermore, when readers . . . journalists . . . bosses or anyone else knows that you always tell the truth and you don’t stoop just to earn media points, you gain a compound interest of street cred in your industry. It accumulates over time. And eventually it becomes a huge asset. You can get hired simply because influential people in your industry or market trust you.

Last week I talked to a guy who just signed a $10K/month solo client for that very reason. In his city, he’s respected by everyone – journalists, politicians, and business leaders. You earn that kind of respect in two ways – through intimidation, or through consistent trustworthiness. He’s chosen the latter :).

It sometimes takes a painful transition before you get to his level. You might need to extricate yourself from a situation where you’re expected to stretch the truth. Do it now while the job market is strong. It’s definitely worth it in the long run, even if only for your peace of mind.

Some parting advice my last CEO gave me when I went out on my own stuck with me and I hope they resonate with you as well.

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Someone recently pointed me to an incredible free resource online.

It’s a blog post about how a software company earned coverage in the Sunday New York Times. It even includes screen shots of all the email dialogue back and forth with the Times writer.

Here’s the initial cold pitch (they simply guessed the writer’s email address) that started it all:

You can see the other emails and read the full account of how it happened on Dave’s blog post.

This post is obviously valuable on its face. But it’s also extremely valuable for another reason – it’s so rare.

There’s an overwhelming amount of content online about what NOT to do when pitching media. It feels like every time a blogger or Forbes contributor needs an idea for a post, they decide to write a rant about bad PR pitches.

But nobody shows you exactly what to do that works.

Before reading this email, how many verbatim pitches that have landed the NYT have you ever seen?

For that matter, how many successful pitches that have landed any top-tier outlet can you get free access to review?

As far as I’m aware, this is the only word-for-word, NYT-winning pitch freely available on the entire internet (if you know of another, please send me the link, I’d love to check it out). Thanks for sharing, Dave!

That fact hit home to me because my Inner Circle members see pitches like this all the time. We have 10+ pitches that have landed the NYT available inside the Inner Circle – including, amazingly, two that landed the very same column that Dave’s did.

There are literally hundreds of successful pitches across all industries available for Inner Circle members to review, word-for-word. And I add new ones every month or two.

–>One time I shared a pitch that member Adam used to land an education client in the Washington Post.
–>Then member Ginny copied the structure of that pitch – even cribbed entire sentences – and landed a profile of her CFO in the WSJ.
–>Then member Bev used Ginny’s pitch structure (which was really Adam’s) to get her non-profit client on Philly’s top news radio station.

I don’t know of anywhere else you can even pay money to get access to successful pitches. Let alone for the low price of an Inner Circle subscription.

So enjoy the takeaways from Dave’s generous post. Then drive your learning forward and supercharge your results by accessing hundreds more successful pitches inside the Inner Circle today.

 

Someone recently pointed me to an incredible free resource online. And now I want to pay it forward and share it with you.

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Some advice a Washington Post reporter gave me 20 years ago still resonates.

His name is Gary Lee. He covered the environment, having returned from a stint as the Post’s Moscow bureau chief. Nowadays, according to his LinkedIn profile, he owns a Peruvian hotel and runs a restaurant in DC with the mission of providing employment to recent immigrants. Obviously, a smart dude.

Back then one of my college professors saw something in the freelance articles I was writing for the local paper, and she kind of knew Gary. She arranged for us to meet when I went home to the DC area for Christmas break.

I arrived at the Post newsroom a bit awe-struck. Gary showed me around, very polite, and didn’t say much. We sat down at his desk and he gestured for me to hand him the portfolio of articles I had clutched against my left side.

You know that nervous tension you feel when you’re in a job interview and the interviewer is reading your resume? It felt like that, only lasted a lot longer.

Eventually Gary finished and said something obligatorily nice. Then he gave the pearl of wisdom that’s persisted these 20 years, and has developed even more meaning now that I’m on the PR side:

Your role isn’t to simply write down what people said and what happened. That’s what a stenographer does. Your role is to interpret and synthesize everything relevant for your audience. Don’t be a stenographer.

Gary was talking about the relationship between sources, me as a journalist, and my audience. Here’s how I’ve applied the same advice to the relationship between “clients” (internal or external), me as the pitching pro, and the influencers my clients want to reach.

The Client often tells you what the news is, and even the “messaging,” which to them are the words you should use to pitch the news. And most PR people simply act like a stenographer, writing down what The Client says and then relaying that to the media, even to the very same list of influencers the client dictates.

Like Gary said, don’t be a stenographer. You gain respect and earning power in this business when you take what the client gives you and then inject added value at least three levels of the pitching process.

1. Targeting and customizing for the right influencers, not whomever the client says.
2. Creatively framing the information in a way that’s newsworthy and useful to your targets, regardless of what The Client gives you to work with.
3. Persisting until those targets consider what you have to offer.

If you don’t feel like you have the authority or license to apply your own creativity and expertise at those three levels, you need to achieve a track record of success that you can point to and respectfully demand such license.

More to come on all three of those levels.

Some advice a Washington Post reporter gave me 20 years ago still resonates.

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I had an experience once that illustrates the best way to ask for a raise, whether it be from your current boss or your current clients.

It started one day when I was walking from the parking lot into the office with a friend. I remember walking under these trees and telling him, “If I could just find a way to earn another $500 a month, then we’d be set.”

My family was growing, the house felt like it was getting smaller. Getting that raise seemed like the answer. But we both knew nobody was getting raises where we worked – he suggested writing a book instead.

I had an awesome boss – we still get together as friends now, six years after we stopped working together. But she had maxed out the limited resources she had authority over. I could ask again, like I had at every review. I could show the killer results I’d been achieving. But I knew the answer would be the same as it had been for years – delivered kindly, with an apology – a 3 percent cost of living raise.

For a while I just pondered the situation (I’ve found that most major leaps forward in my life have begun as nothing more than a growing desire in my heart). But after a while I got an email from the PR leader at the big hospital down the street. He and I had served on our local PRSA board together. He was hiring – was I interested?

The answer wasn’t as obvious as you might think. I loved everything about my job – the people, the mission, the work. I was given every opportunity to flourish professionally. But I decided that if I really thought I was worth more than I was getting, then I couldn’t very well sit around complaining about it and doing nothing. So I applied.

Fast-forward to the final round of interviews, the one where you meet the top executives. While I was sitting in the waiting room, I picked up that day’s newspaper that was laying on the coffee table and pulled out the local section. Two of the stories on the front were ones I had placed.

They called me into the conference room and started doing introductions. The medical director (top doctor at the hospital) winked at me. Through a coincidence (?), I had already gotten him on the Today show when he had partnered with a researcher at my organization. In an answer to a question about my relationships with the media, I showed them that day’s paper and explained how I had placed those two stories.

The next day, I was offered the job.

The hardest part was telling my boss. To me, it felt like good-bye. But to her, it was a call to action.

She hopped on the phone to the HR director. It’s amazing how fast they can assemble a meeting of the compensation committee when they really want to. She and I wrote a new job description that night (well, we just wrote down all the stuff I was already doing), and that got approved the next morning.

I got a new title, more authority, and that $500 more a month – and then some. But more importantly, I learned how you really get the respect and compensation you deserve.

Bosses and clients are busy – they have problems just like you. When you’re a good employee or vendor, they don’t think about you very much. They are relieved they can let you do your thing while they have to focus on problems.

You’ve got to prove your value in two ways:

First, build a track record of results that becomes almost irreplaceable in their eyes. Or at least that would take a lot of time and effort to find someone who could replace it.

Second, go out and prove your value in the marketplace by getting a better offer. (If you serve clients, you land new ones that pay more so you can afford to leave your lagging current ones).

To put this in a coldly rational way – you’ve got to have better alternatives than your boss or client does.

Therefore, the best way to ask for a raise is to say, “It’s been great here – thanks so much for the opportunities you’ve given me. I’ve been offered XXX at this other place – I’d like to stay, but if you can’t match that I’ll understand and be grateful for our time together.”

Either way, you progress. And when you’re sincere and polite about it, you can either stay or go with a clear conscience and a good reputation.

 

P.S. Inner Circle members tell me all the time they are getting raises or better jobs. If you’re not, it could be because you’re not producing enough. Or you don’t know how to properly position the results that you are already getting. Join us and fix that.

This is my personal journey of how I was able to get a raise at my job when it seemed impossible.

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That line from the Field of Dreams movie – “If you build it, they will come” – is the worst advice a PR pro or content marketer could ever hear.

It may have been true at some point. But not in today’s fiercely competitive attention economy. If anybody is telling you that all you have to do is put out great content and let it take off, you should run.

Each new communications channel quickly gets saturated. And now, with the backlash against Facebook, we’re even seeing simple user frustration boil over into outright rebellion. If you think Snapchat will be different . . . or podcasting . . . or whatever comes up next, you’re wrong. If you are having an easy time producing content and getting engagement, then very soon everyone else will find out and crowd into your space.

I’m not here to be dire. There are still ways to stand out and get your brand’s great content noticed. They’re the same two ways as they have always been:

-Pay to get it in front of audiences. (Used to be commercials on network TV or ads in local papers, now it’s Facebook ads or YouTube ads or whatever. Will always be this way.)

– Find ways for it to meet the self-interests of gatekeepers who have bigger audiences than you do.

Number two is where you come in as a PR pro.

Coming up with great content or story angles is a minimum standard now. The battle is won or lost by the expertise and commitment of the people who pitch that content to gatekeepers.

You can have some killer news, but if all you do is post a news release on a wire service, you’re most likely hurting more than you are helping.

The way you get more than your share of attention is to carefully determine which gatekeepers can reach your most important audiences. Then figure out how to help those gatekeepers do something they can’t do on their own. And then usefully, cheerfully, politely, and persistently stay in front of them until they see that themselves.

That’s why YOU are the secret weapon for brands who either don’t have the budgets to compete with advertising, or who have already reached the point of diminishing returns with advertising. Your skill and commitment to pitching your content is the difference.

That line from the Field of Dreams movie – “If you build it, they will come” – is the worst advice a PR pro or content marketer could ever hear. It may have been true at some point, but not today.

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When you sign up for a career in PR, you accept the reality that you’ll always be fighting for respect.

You resign yourself to the fact that when you pull up your chair to the conference room table, the dudes will look right through you while they’re sizing each other up by the prestige of the MBA schools on their LinkedIn profiles. They probably don’t even notice you are there until you start talking, and generally don’t even realize that they’re interrupting you once you do.

When that happens, remember the PR guy who was also a victim of this lack of respect, but who then turned the tables on the “suits” and became a legend you’ve never heard of.

Bill Rasmussen was the public information officer for the minor league hockey team in Hartford, Conn. Not the pinnacle of our field. And when the team had a bad year on the ice, they dealt with that by unceremoniously firing him. Makes sense right? Put out a bad product, then shoot the messenger.

Instead of sulking, Bill explored an interest he’d been nurturing. This was some time ago, and he had the idea to televise high school sports around the state of Connecticut. He had no background in TV, but he knew there was an audience there.

So he started asking around, and one of his friends told him about this new form of broadcasting that involved using a satellite. That same day, Bill called up the company behind the technology. There was so little interest in satellite broadcasting that the sales guy drove out to meet Bill the next day.

He tried selling Bill the right to broadcast five hours a day on the satellite. But Bill ran the numbers, and realized it would be cheaper to buy the whole 24 hours a day (remember, Bill had no content yet). He maxed out his credit card – and all his family members’ – and started building out this network.

A short time later, a Wall Street investment bank called and offered him millions of dollars for his slot on the satellite. What would you do? You’ve been laid off from your job, you’re deep in debt, and you have an offer that would make you rich by the end of the day?

Bill shot them down. He realized that this meant he had something really valuable. He kept scrapping and brought in some investors. He expanded to college sports, and then even pro sports.

And then, five years after he got fired, he sold the network he founded to ABC for $476 million in today’s dollars. To the guys with MBAs who should have been the ones to think this kind of thing up in the first place.

So the next time someone disses you – purposefully or inadvertently – because you’re in PR, just say to yourself four letters: “E-S-P-N.” And remember what you’re really capable of.

When you sign up for a career in PR, you accept the reality that you’ll always be fighting for respect. Here’s a PR legend (you probably didn’t even know about) to inspire you when you’re feeling defeated.

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Results like this

This is the opening slide for a presentation I did last week:

These are some of the media placements earned in the last 12 months by one member of my Inner Circle group coaching program, Jessica Krakoski of Austin, Texas.

Would you like to increase your chances of consistently placing coverage like that? If so, you should apply to join the Inner Circle.

During the presentation, Jessica and I showed the other members how she follows the principles I teach in the program, many of which run counter to the way that media relations is commonly practiced today. (She even labels her spreadsheet tabs with the same terminology I use in the training videos that get you up to speed as a new member when you first join.)

Jessica brought a strong skillset with her when she joined the Inner Circle two-and-half-years ago. More importantly, she brought a legit work ethic and a willingness to listen and learn. That’s the real reason she’s had so much success, not anything I’ve done.

She described in detail her daily and weekly routines. She showed us the language and phrasing she uses on her pitch emails. She talked about how she developed the mindset of a winner (“To me, confidence follows competence. I don’t believe in ‘fake it ‘til you make it.’”)

And it was AWESOME to see all the things we emphasize in the Inner Circle come together and the success that results. Not just the placements, but the effect on Jessica’s life.

“I’ve earned the opportunity to work on the big stuff and now my boss knows I’m going to deliver no matter what… She gives me complete autonomy over how I structure my day because she knows that I know how to get results. You just have to earn it, which means you have to be consistent.”

You can hear Jessica describe her journey – and see exactly how she gets results like this – as soon as you’re accepted into the Inner Circle. The first web page you’ll see has a link to the video recording and transcript of the presentation we did together.

And each Monday for the next eight weeks you’ll get a brief video that covers the principles that Jessica and other members have applied with so much success.

Apply now to join Jessica and hundreds of other Inner Circle members on the path to becoming Media Relations Masters. There’s a full money-back guarantee for your first month, so there’s absolutely nothing to lose.

This is the opening slide for a presentation I did last week: These are some of the media placements earned in the last 12 months by one member of my Inner Circle group coaching program, Jessica Krakoski of Austin, Texas. Would you like to increase your chances of consistently placing coverage like that? If so, […]

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