There’s PR writing that gets results and there’s PR writing that puts people to sleep.

Just imagine taking a stack of news releases and reading them out loud at your next dinner party. That would probably be the last dinner party at your home that anyone would come to.

While this is a silly story, it describes what we’re up against in PR in 2017 and beyond:

We’re dealing with the challenge of connecting with people in a way that inspires, empowers and motivates them to take action.

If you do this well, people call you a PR genius. If you can’t do this, your work will be completely invisible.

A while ago I discovered someone who is making these connections at an expert level and getting amazing results. He’s an ex-Forbes reporter who now the internal news team at GE. He trains his team there to tell stories that spread and get shared.

I recorded an entire presentation where he reveals how to do this.

Here’s a short list of what he talks about:

–  How to structure stories in PR in a way that will “pre-program” them to spread easily.

–  How to write more effective PR content by completely taking your focus OFF the product/person/company/cause you think you’re supposed to feature. (This is extremely counterintuitive, but it’s genius!)

–  Proven “Dos and Don’ts” for making sure that your stories get noticed. This is not rocket science, but it IS human science. Humans are wired to respond to certain types of stories.

–  How you can “push back” internally to get the types of stories you need to make them successful.

The good news is that this single presentation could change the way you view PR for years.

The bad news is that this presentation is not something you can buy.

But it IS available to anyone who enrolls in the Definitive Guide to PR Writing course before tomorrow (Friday) at 5PM PST. You’ll also save $200 off of regular price. But you have to enroll before Friday’s deadline.

Between the skills you learn in the writing course AND the Storytelling Secrets presentation you’ll get as a bonus, you will be very well prepared to make 2018 your best year in PR yet.

Just imagine taking a stack of news releases and reading them out loud at your next dinner party. That would probably be the last dinner party at your home that anyone would come to. While this is a silly story, it describes what we’re up against in PR in 2017 and beyond.

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The credibility line

There’s an invisible line in the PR world that I want to highlight for you today.

In an age where the attention of the people you are trying to reach is constantly bombarded with requests, you have to be smart about getting your message through.

And that’s where this mysterious “line” comes into play.

It’s something I call the “Credibility Line.”

If you go over it, you lose.

If you go nowhere near it, you lose.

If you don’t even know it exists, you lose.

So while this is a line that should never be crossed, it’s also a line that should never be feared.

In fact, my recommendation is to learn how to walk right up to this line and then walk on tip-toes right along it.

When it comes to PR writing, you have to know how to avoid hyping what you have while still making sure the quality and relevance of what you have gets communicated in a powerful way.

“Writing credibly” is how I define this practice.

When you do it right, you get noticed and your writing creates impact.

When you do it wrong, you either get ignored, or worse, you have journalists thinking you’re “out of touch” or a hyped-up “charlatan.”

Your writing can’t sound like an advertisement but it also can’t put people to sleep. It’s got to be targeted so that it gets results.

Now you can leave this up to chance, but that usually means you’ll completely miss opportunities for big wins.

It’s best to develop the insight and skill required to walk this “Credibility Line” like a pro. This IS what pros do. They LIVE on this line.

I’ve worked on this skill for over ten years. And everything I know about how to do it successfully, you’ll find in The Definitive Guide to PR Writing course I released last week.

Developing the mastery required to walk the Credibility Line is completely within your reach.

And for the PR pro, there is NO other skill that can impact every area of your work like upgrading your ability to use the written word can.

How do you know if your PR writing needs an upgrade?

Just look at the results you are getting now. If those results are enough to please you, your boss or clients and keep your career on an upward trajectory, maybe your writing is fine.

But as you’ll see on this page, PR pros are often the LAST to know when their writing needs some help.

There’s an invisible line in the PR world that I want to highlight for you today. In an age where the attention of the people you are trying to reach is constantly bombarded with requests, you have to be smart about getting your message through. And that’s where this mysterious “line” comes into play.

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Today we are going to take a tour through the toolkit of the PR pro. Actually, I’m going to focus on one of the tools we all have that very few people refine to the level of true mastery.

If you’re looking for ONE thing to focus on that will impact your work in every area of PR, that thing is writing.

Understand that we’re talking about PR writing, which is a very specific breed of writing.

It’s not business writing. It’s not the “corporate speak” type of writing where it takes six paragraphs to say almost nothing. And it’s certainly not hyped-up sales writing that makes you sound like a used car salesperson.

PR writing requires a strategic use of words and ideas to create impact and behavior. It’s about training your brain to think in effective ways and then taking those thoughts and carefully communicating them to create ACTION.

There aren’t many places to learn this skill.

And that becomes obvious when you read the writing of your average PR pro. You quickly realize that most people in this industry have a lot of room for improvement.

This is actually an enormous opportunity for anyone who chooses to take some action.

When I was getting started, I hated writing. I hated it because it took me forever. To get started, to finish, to edits, to get approvals.

And when the edits came back on my work, it basically looked like the page was bleeding.

If you’re looking to boost your pitching results, writing can do it.

If you’re looking to win awards in PR, then improving your writing can do that, too.

If you’re looking to earn a raise or a promotion, better writing can make it happen.

And if you’re simply looking to (finally) get the respect you deserve from leadership and industry peers, writing can deliver that…and more.

There’s a dark side to this as well.

The dark side involves the real problem that comes with not mastering the art of PR writing.

And that leads me to a project I’ve been working on for some time that I want to show you today.

In the PR world, there’s actually something far worse than finding out your PR writing isn’t good.

You can find out what that one thing is by visiting this page.

P.S. So I don’t get a flood of emails: yes, I purposefully misspelled “mistakes’ in the title 🙂

Today we are going to take a tour through the toolkit of the PR pro. Actually, I’m going to focus on one of the tools we all have that very few people refine to the level of true mastery. This tool will impact every area of your work in PR.

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A while ago I started getting persistent online smacks from the same anonymous person. I was actually excited.

I’ve arrived! I’ve actually got a troll! That was my thinking at the time.

I’m pretty sure it’s a guy, so I’ll use “he.” He started with negative comments on my Facebook posts. Which is fine – people can disagree. Sometimes I’d acknowledge his point and explain why I disagreed. Most of the time I ignored it.

Then he started replying to my weekly emails. Which is weird, because that meant he actually clicked on the link in the Facebook posts to opt-in to get the emails. His tenor grew more agitated. I figured he didn’t like the emails, so I helped him out by unsubscribing him.

But the replies kept coming! He had opted in again using a different email address. I unsubscribed that one, too.

And that’s when I realized that he wasn’t my first troll. And that YOU have at least one troll.

My first troll was that voice in my own head. My first troll was me:

What will they say about this? How should I write this so I don’t look weak? Do I really know what I’m doing here?

In PR, we fight a constant battle for respect. Every textbook I read in my college PR courses talked about how we have to prove ourselves to management. Even well-meaning executives or peers from other departments believe that anyone can write and talk and therefore we aren’t that valuable.

PR also tends to attract “nice” guys and gals, the people pleasers, and therefore we end up over-servicing everyone, which in turn leads them to view us as order-takers rather than leaders in our own right.

As proactive and secure as we may feel, we are often driven by wanting to pre-empt the second-guessing we’ve been conditioned will come.

You have it too. Ask someone in PR why they’re so hard on themselves, and if they’re really candid, they’ll say, “So nobody can beat me to it.”

We think that it’s okay to listen to that voice because we’re channeling it into something positive. That it will refine us, make us stronger. That’s kinda how I looked at my online troll. I’d consider his arguments, wonder if maybe I was somehow misreading my audience, maybe I’m losing touch . . . NO! It’s just one guy, one anonymous guy!

Same with that “troll” in your head. You know the difference between it and a valuable instinct or gut feeling. The troll voice is not constructive. It’s doubt, it’s negative energy.

So just “unsubscribe” from it. Imagine that you’re clicking “block” on Twitter or Instagram. That’s it – I’m not listening to you anymore.

To help with the “unsubscription process,” avoid people who give off negative energy, especially toward or about you. And gravitate toward those who are constructive. Not sycophants or enablers – I’m talking about real friends and true coworkers, who are engaged in the battle with you, not against you. They’ll tell you hard things when you need to hear them, but it will be with your best interest at heart.

Don’t suffer fools, and definitely don’t listen to trolls. Especially if that troll is you :).

A while ago I started getting persistent online smacks from the same anonymous person. I was actually excited. “I’ve arrived! I’ve actually got a troll!” That was my thinking at the time. But then I realized I already have a troll and so do you.

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Ban this word

Two brief conversations last week at the PRSA International Conference prompted me to encourage you to ban a word from your vocabulary. It seems more prevalent among PR professionals than other fields.

The first conversation came when I ran into an Inner Circle member whom I had noticed on the conference program.

I said, “That’s great that you’re presenting! Tell me about it.”

He said: “I’m just the third person on a panel. My mentor invited me to join her.”

The second convo came at a reception when a young woman introduced herself as a reader of these posts. As we chatted I asked where she works and she said, “I’m just an account coordinator at a small agency in . . .”

What’s the offending word?

Yes, you saw it: just.

Never say “I’m just . . .” There are enough people out there who will diminish your standing in the world, you don’t need to help them by doing it to yourself. I touched on this earlier this year with the “sorry” post, which generated a ton of responses.

Crazy thing is that guy on the panel is one of THE sharpest young PR pros I know. I would recommend him anywhere. I actually called him out for saying “just on a panel” and he explained that he thought he should be humble about it. That’s true. But when someone asks you about your presentation, it’s not bragging to answer it straight-up. And he killed it on the panel.

And beginning your career as an account coordinator is a noble start. All of us have been there.

So how do you talk about yourself without selling yourself short? Say the same thing you would normally say without any modifiers. Like Alyssa did.

She showed up at a small gathering I organized one evening. She introduced herself to me and the others there by explaining, “I’m attending with my CEO (name) at a boutique public affairs agency in (city). She is on her way to join us.”

And then she actively participated in the conversation. She listened, offered her opinion, and answered questions directly. If I had thought about it, I would have put her at about 10 years’ experience, the way she held her own with the experienced PR pros at the gathering.

She didn’t say, “I’m just filling in for my CEO, who is running late” or “I’m just a junior member at a small agency . . .”

Later I asked her when she finished school, and she said with a smile, “Two years ago.” I told her she carries herself the same as someone much older, and that’s a good thing. Her CEO is lucky to have her.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should brag. Don’t even humblebrag. Simply avoid saying, “I’m just . . .”

You’re better than that.

Two brief conversations last week at the PRSA International Conference prompted me to encourage you to ban a word from your vocabulary. It seems more prevalent among PR professionals than other fields.

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On Monday, I was getting miked up before speaking at the PRSA International Conference, and a lady approached me from the audience.

“I just wanted to tell you that I already applied what you told us this morning and heard back from an editor who has been ignoring me for weeks!” she said.

I had been a part of a panel three hours prior. Each of us panelists were asked to share one communications “hack” during our brief remarks. In this context, “hack” means a shortcut that gets you more results than the effort you put in. When you find them, they’re great.

There are a couple downsides to hacks. Because they work well, word gets around, and they lose their novelty and therefore their potency. And they can distract you from learning the underlying principles that make the hacks effective.

In this case, I told the panel audience this “hack” would immediately boost their response rates. I know this because it has worked for the Inner Circle members I’ve taught about it. But I also warned them that it would lose effectiveness over time – probably within the next twelve months.

This audience member had it right – she immediately took action and applied the hack and got the result. And she came back for more from my solo presentation.

This was my 13th time addressing the world’s largest gathering of PR people. The reason they keep inviting me back, and the reason people were sitting on the floor in the aisles, is because I explain not just hacks, but also the core principles that make them work. So that when the hacks dry up, they can apply the underlying principles to come up with their own new shortcuts.

The longer I do this, the more I realize that too many people ignore core principles because they think “I’ve heard that before.” People are constantly looking for something new that makes everything easier. Sometimes those appear – like when a guy on a panel gives you one. But enduring success comes from axioms that others dismiss as “clichés.” Like:

– Find ways to give journalists value before you ask them to cover something

– Notice how everyone else is approaching journalists, and do the opposite to stand out

– Dig beyond what your company or clients give you and find shareworthy nuggets, and then your pitch will essentially write itself.

You believe you’ve heard those before. But are you acting on them every day? Are you pondering them to find new ways to apply them to your unique circumstances?

Inner Circle members have already learned the things I shared at the PRSA conference. The hack that lady applied is taught during the Pitch Transformation Quick Start that all members get upon joining. So are more core principles, along with examples of them working in the real world.

If you don’t travel to conferences – or even if you do – the Inner Circle is a great way to stay ahead of the competition. Read more here to see if you belong on the inside.

Hacks might get you quick coverage in the short term, but what about the long term? That’s where principles come in.

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A few weeks ago I shared my interview with a 19-year-veteran of the Wall Street Journal with members of the Inner Circle. I grilled her about what Journal writers are looking for, and I showed her 12 actual pitches from members and recorded her real-time reactions, just like she was opening them in her email inbox.

One of the things that stood out to me was how big of a distinction the Journal places on beat writers compared to feature writers. The beat writers are typically focused on a specific industry, and usually even more narrowly focused on the major players in that industry.

Feature writers, like my guest, have more latitude. They are also organized around various subject areas, so they’ll show a “beat” in a media database, but they individually define those much more broadly than any database could depict. Yet another reason to regularly consume the content of your top media targets.

Here’s a useful rule of thumb to apply when pitching a features reporter at the Journal – or anywhere, for that matter, including top-tier broadcast. She said:

The pitches I was more likely to cover were ideas that were interesting enough and that hadn’t been done before, but weren’t unique enough that there was just one company in the whole world doing it.

One other thing she said surprised me – her voice grew pretty irritated when she talked about how PR reps would push back during fact-checking on minor details like the wording of an executive’s title or omitting a marketing position statement. She explained that sometimes she’d choose to cut a source from the story rather than go through the hassle of bargaining with what she felt were obstinate PR people. Didn’t surprise me that annoyed her – it surprised me that people would risk a positive WSJ mention over some minor semantics.

Two of the highlights were:

-the way she lit up when she saw a particular expert pitch and explained why it stood out to her versus several of the previous pitches I’d shown her

-the point where she referred to “a good stealth way to get into the Journal” that I hadn’t necessarily thought of before.

The video recording and the transcript of the entire interview aren’t available for sale anywhere. But you could be watching it or reading it within a day or two.  They’re already available to members of the Inner Circle 24/7, along with other similar interviews I’ve done with top-tier media who review members’ pitches, including:

– The Today show producer who liked one of the pitches so much that she took a crew out to shoot it

– The home-page editor for the Washington Post who shared counterintuitive insights about just how much the emphasis on web traffic has changed journalism

– The USA Today reporter who was extremely generous and encouraging at the same time she dissected pitches with precision, objectivity, and unrelentingly high standards

Those are just a few of the assets Inner Circle members are accessing right now.

Just last week, we updated the way we accept new members. You now have the opportunity to join right away. You just need to fill out a brief application so that we can manage the growth of the program and make sure it’s a good fit.

There’s so much more to the Inner Circle than I have time to share here. And it’s absolutely adaptable to your needs and availability. Most people are surprised at how affordable it is.

Go to this page now and review the opportunity, then click the button to apply.

I look forward to seeing you on the inside 🙂

A few weeks ago I shared my interview with a 19-year-veteran of the Wall Street Journal with members of the Inner Circle. Here are a few highlights from that interview.

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This week I’ve got way too many actionable tips and successful examples to fit into a post.

So join me Tuesday for my free webinar with Cision where I’ll share:

• The foolproof way to begin pitch emails.
• The 3 things that will make your stories irresistible.
• The overlooked media outlets dying for content like yours.
• A pitching strategy more effective than chasing the Wall Street Journal.
• Real pitches you can use to land in the Wall Street Journal (if you’re so inclined).

I only do two free webinars are year, so this is a rare chance to get my latest, best recommendations on adapting to the new media environment.

I’ve been working on this for a couple weeks, and today I’m practicing it with two different test audiences.

Hope to see you Tuesday – register here now.

P.S. If you haven’t heard me speak before, then you should know I’m on a mission to defeat multi-tasking. My goal is that no one live tweets the webinar because they are too focused on what they’re learning to do anything else 😊

Join me Tuesday for a free webinar where I share the latest media relations tips and successful examples, because all of this knowledge can’t fit into a single post.

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Something nobody does

Before you send out a pitch, do you test it by delivering it in person to a real human?

On one hand, this seems ridiculous. You have so much going on, you’re always racing to get the pitches out the door on time. And you’re almost always sending them by email, so talking it through face-to-face appears irrelevant.

On the other hand, a practice shot seems obvious. You invest so much time and effort into this outreach, and you only get one shot to make a first impression. Why wouldn’t you make a trial run?

This is not a theoretical argument. At my media relations workshops I have the participants share their pitches with different “classmates” throughout the day. During last week’s event in NYC, one of the most common pieces of feedback was, “Wow, practicing my pitch showed me ways to improve I’d never realized before.”

This is the reason I’m grateful I cut my pitching teeth on the phone. I’d prepare a pitch meticulously, and then as soon as I had a real human being on the other end of the line, someone with deadlines and self-interests and a soul, I’d hear myself switching it up on the fly to match their needs better. There’s an intuition that kicks in when you’re actually talking to someone else.

Nowadays when we avoid the phone so much, it can lead to us shooting emails out into the ether, feeling almost like we’re typing to our computer instead of a real person.

So for your next pitch, go grab someone else, tell them the name and beat of the influencer you’re sending it to, and try it out. It’s great if they’re also in PR, but they don’t have to be. Here’s what is key – only choose someone who knows as much or LESS about the subject matter as the influencer you’ll be pitching. This exercise helps you de-mystify what might be arcane or jargon-laced corporate-speak into an accessible “story” that someone will want to share.

If you find yourself flying solo, or you’d like to take your pitch reviews to the next level, that’s one of the things we do regularly inside my Inner Circle program. You can talk your pitch over with me directly during our monthly “Ask Michael Anything” session. Or you can get feedback from other members anytime via our private community forum. Members frequently post their placements along with thanks to their peers who helped them hone the pitches that earned them.

Now is the time to register for the Inner Circle Success Manual, because we will soon be accepting new members.

 

Before you send out a pitch, do you test it by delivering it in person to a real human? On one hand, this seems ridiculous. On the other hand, a practice shot seems obvious.

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When people hear that I’m in media relations, they sometimes ask me if I’m worried media pitching won’t be around much longer.

The answer is definitely no – media relations as a business is stronger than ever. But I AM worried that many people are doing it wrong.

For example, while you’re reading this, I’m teaching a media relations workshop in NYC – it sold out last month, and it’s the biggest crowd we’ve ever had. People are emailing and asking when the next one is because they’re bummed they missed this one.

That’s just one example of how popular media pitching has become and the resources people are throwing at it. But my concern is that too many PR people are grinding it out chasing the OLD media relations model.

Everybody’s CEO wants them in the NYT or the WSJ or on a network morning show or whatever is the Holy Grail in their space. For some organizations that’s still the right priority, and I can help them do that.

But most PR people could get a much bigger return – faster – by adjusting their focus to take advantage of all the new media outlets and channels today.

Take this example – your CEO wants media, but he’s skittish about a couple topics and warns you he won’t answer questions about them. Of course, they happen to be the topics everyone wants to know about your company. You know that traditional media aren’t going to play along.

So instead of tying yourself in knots figuring out how to book an interview with a top-tier outlet, look around. You can find a podcaster who would give her pinky finger for the opportunity to interview a CEO like yours. And would gladly agree to share questions with you in advance, AND give you the right to request edits after the interview. (Don’t dare ask a traditional journalist for either of those, btw).

Even top podcasters make these accommodations. Tim Ferris, who is regularly in iTunes’ Top 50, essentially brags about doing this. That’s how he books celebrity guests who in turn attract more listeners to his podcast. He even persuaded reclusive billionaire Peter Thiel on by allowing him to record the session solo and choose from a list of written questions!

Reid Hoffman started a new podcast (Masters of Scale) off with an incredible run of guests including Reid Hastings, Marc Zuckerberg, Eric Schmidt and Sheryl Sandberg. You gotta believe that those heavy hitters reserved the right to collaborate on question selection and the final edit.

Now, you and I don’t get to work with celebrities or mega-CEOs. But somewhere there is a podcaster with an audience – perhaps small, but passionate – who would LOVE to hear from your CEO. So you book that interview, and then transcribe it. And then you pull out some cool quotes, and the nugget of news that you saved to break on the podcast.

Then you pitch those quotes and the link to the podcast to the digital-only outlets that cover your space. Think Mashable or Business Insider if you’re big enough, or a few respected single-author blogs if you’re not.

They get a post that’s essentially half-written and it’s more credible because it’s not based on your “owned” content, it’s a third-party’s content. The podcaster loves you because you’re promoting her podcast, so she joins in and starts promoting the interview as well.

And then when things go right, these posts get shared and re-purposed on more sites, and sometimes the traditional media even call 🙂

That’s just one example of how you can adapt to the times. When your CEO talks about landing top-tier traditional media, nod your head and do your best to comply. But at the same time, fill up the web with placements from new media who are way easier to work with.

 

P.S. A free press holding top institutions accountable is essential to our society. What I’ve written here has nothing to do with government officials, who I believe are obligated to answer unfiltered questions from representatives of the taxpayers they work for.  My main audience for this message are those companies or organizations who are being overlooked by traditional, top-tier media. Not those who are trying to avoid them.

When people hear that I’m in media relations, they sometimes ask me if I’m worried media pitching won’t be around much longer. The answer is definitely no – media relations as a business is stronger than ever. But I AM worried that many people are doing it wrong.

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