Most popular PR resolution

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Last week I invited you to choose from three weekly habits for one of your new year’s resolutions, and reply to let me know which one.

The winner by a two-to-one margin was:

Spend one hour per week reaching out to journalists and other influencers you’re targeting and let them know what you think of their work. (Not only right before you’re about to pitch them.)

Longtime Inner Circle member Judy Kalvin, already an accomplished PR vet, vowed to redouble her efforts on this activity.

“When I have done it, it’s only resulted in good things, including much better relationships, requests for sources on stories they are currently working on or just a nice, warm response,” she emailed.

And then an hour later she forwarded an enthusiastic response from one of her key media after she had reacted to a story posted over the holidays.

One thing that stood out to me among the replies from your fellow followers was the number who said they had blocked off time on their calendars to do this activity.

They are very wise to do that. Adding it to your calendar dramatically increases the likelihood that you’ll actually follow through on this activity, make it a habit, and reap the rewards.

If you merely put it on a to-do list, then other people will usurp your time and the undone item will just leave you feeling guilty.

Marilyn Paige, another longtime follower, replied and introduced me to the concept of “attendance goals” vs. performance goals. In short, the idea is that you set yourself an easy-to-achieve goal that’s entirely within your sole control. Like spending an hour a week contacting key media.

You’re more likely to be successful at that, and therefore build momentum, toward your more ambitious “performance goals,” which often rely on other people, such as “Land X placements in top-tier outlets.”

I love this time of year, with the sense of renewal and the annual view. Before your psychology shifts and you dip back into “daily survival mode,” open up that calendar and schedule a weekly appointment with your most important media targets.

That’s one PR resolution you can be sure to keep.

P.S. I have a short training program that teaches best practices for this kind of outreach. Including how to overcome that nagging worry that you feel “inauthentic.” It’s a weekly series of short videos that comes free with your new Inner Circle membership.

The resolution from 3 years ago . . .

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This is the 157th consecutive week that I’ve written about PR.

Not like I’m proud of myself or anything 😉

That New Year’s resolution in 2015 was hard at first, but fortunately I stuck with it. I was sold on the simple power of consistency.

And it turns out that consistency works. I won’t bore you with the details, but forcing myself to deliver value each week to you, my article reader, has been a rising tide. It’s lifted all aspects of my business, and therefore my ability to help PR people excel.

This first week of January, choose at least one resolution that relies on the power of consistency.

Create a new habit, something that you’ll still be doing 157 weeks from now that will make your life that week and that new year so much easier because you’ve invested in doing it regularly to that point.

There are three consistent habits that I see top media relations pros, the people I call Media Relations Masters, do that I don’t see from the other 99 percent of people in our business. These three behaviors account for most of the difference between big-time success and mediocrity.

Give your career a major boost and choose just one of these as a resolution for this year:

– Spend one hour per week reaching out to journalists and other influencers you’re targeting and let them know what you think of their work. (Not only right before you’re about to pitch them.)

– Spend one hour per week talking to people — phone or in person, no digital shortcuts — in your organization (or a client’s) about what they’re seeing and thinking. This is how you uncover the really good angles to share with media. Not waiting for someone to tell you what to pitch.

– Send your bosses an update each week about some win or progress or insight that you and/or your team gained. Not braggy, just keeping them in the loop. This is how you build the trust necessary to get the license to try new and riskier things.

Imagine what your life would be like after 52 weeks of doing just one of those activities. Visualize the relationships with media, the wealth of story ideas, or the sense of partnership with leadership, that you’ll have. Work would be a lot easier, right? So just do it!

It’s entirely in your control. It’s not an aspirational resolution, like, “This is the year I’ll land the New York Times.” I’m all for resolutions like that, for sure. But this consistent-habit-building one I’m pushing here is totally up to you. If you can react to social media posts, make phone calls, and send emails, then you can achieve this challenge.

And you can be reaping the rewards in January 2019 🙂

Send me an email, [email protected], and let me know which one you’re pursuing and why – I’d love to help along the way.

Boss Michael vs. the 3-yr-old

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A funny conversation ensued when my assistant Camille opened up my Christmas card and showed it to her 3-yr-old daughter Annabelle. And it struck me that it’s a conversation we often have in our own heads that likely holds us back.

Annabelle refers to me in conversations with her mom as “Boss Michael.” Not like a title, but rather, she thinks that’s my actual name. It’s probably because Camille would say something like, “Hang on, I need to finish this email to my boss, Michael” and the little girl would just hear the “Boss Michael.”

But this is the same Camille who once set up my official nickname in the federal government’s vendor database as “Bossy McBossFace,” so you never know if that’s really how it started.

Anyway, here’s the conversation:

Annabelle: “Why doesn’t Boss Michael do the work himself?”

Camille: “He’s busy doing other things.”

Annabelle: “And also is he a little bit lazy?”

Camille: “No, it’s better for him to work hard at the other things.”

Annabelle: “But maybe he doesn’t know how to do it?”

Camille: “No, he could figure it out, but he doesn’t need to, because that’s my job.”

Annabelle’s unfiltered candor cracks me up. Keep questioning authority, girl!

At the same time, her insights make me wonder, “How often do we worry that the adults around us are snarkily asking those very same questions when we delegate or outsource work?”

If you manage a team, or even have the help of an admin staffer or even an intern, you can accomplish WAY more for your organization when you focus on the stuff that only you can do.

And if you’re thoughtful about it, your team can achieve a greater sense of accomplishment and meaning at work when you shift a lot of your typical burden to them.

Sounds right reading it here, doesn’t it? But the “work hard!” work ethic that permeates our culture nags at you with the same doubts Annabelle harbored:

You should just do it yourself.

People will think you’re lazy.

People will think you don’t even know how to do it.

On the contrary, you know what people think about the person who delegates or outsources a lot? “Wow, she keeps reeling in big win after big win – how does she do it?”

As technology continues to reduce the friction of so many everyday tasks, EVERYTHING seems easy enough just to do it yourself. But when you succumb to that philosophy, you have too much going on to succeed at the one or two or three things that really determine your success or failure.

So in the coming year, delegate more so you can focus better. (If you’re not at a stage in your career where you have anyone you can delegate to, then nail all your stuff and get to that stage).

More on this next week.

Happy New Year!

“I don’t suck!”

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I feel both haunted and empowered by vulnerable comments two successful pros shared with me recently. I believe their fears are representative of far more PR people than you realize, and that we have a lot to learn when it comes to comparing ourselves to others.

Our holiday tradition around here is that the post on the Thursday before gets deeper and more “real” about life beyond media relations.

One of those startling comments came from a coaching client. She’s got a career that’d be the envy of many: her own practice that specializes in a popular subject that would be her hobby if it wasn’t her job. She is absolutely exceptional at PR, and even more exceptional as a human being. But she doesn’t know it.

She was recounting some of her client work and threw in a mention of a big win. Then she paused for a second and said:

“Most of the time I just hurry through the weeks struggling and feeling like I’m coming up short, and it’s not until I just told you that I’m like, ‘Hey, I don’t suck!’”

Her confession reminded me of another one that came a few weeks ago. It was from a successful entrepreneur, always rubbing shoulders with the movers and shakers in his industry. I had done some work with him, he asked me if I’d shoot a short video testimonial for him, which I was happy to do. When I emailed him the file, his reply included this bracingly honest thank-you:

“I can’t even look at the screen listening to your words. I spent so many years thinking and believing that I was completely worthless. It still shocks me to hear what people think about me as a person, defects and all.”

If you met either of these two people in the hallway at a trade show, or in a conference room for a business meeting, you would never guess that they harbored these painful self-doubts. Their professional success should have swept away those negative thoughts by now, right?

Obviously not. And the more I dig deeper into understanding human performance, the more convinced I am that past a certain level of mastery, it’s got nothing at all to do with knowledge and results. Instead it’s all about making peace with painful emotional baggage – we’ve all got it.

Addictions, habits or vices that are inconsistent with your chosen values. Old fears you tell yourself that you’re over (but you’re not). Emotional wounds shoved deep inside and not acknowledged. Bitterness toward someone you can’t bring yourself to forgive.

In fact, my experience has shown that the more successful people become at their chosen craft, the closer these personal demons bubble to the surface. Because they’re the only thing remaining that’s holding you back!

My hope for you this holiday season is that you’ll:

– draw strength from realizing that those “secret” challenges you struggle with are actually universal

– have the courage and confidence to lean into them instead of shoving them further inside

– remember that improving your PR career is not your focus; that’s just a means to an end to get you closer to the freedom, autonomy and personal power that will allow you achieve your full potential.

Warmest wishes for the holidays and for 2018.

P.S. If you’re newer around here, here are some previous Christmas-week messages that touched on getting life’s priorities straight, not tolerating mistreatment of people, and your power to lift others when they’re down (I just re-read this last one and got boosted all over again – thanks Leon!).

Last time you felt bored?

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Friday night I experienced a foreign sensation. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first.

And then I realized – I was thoroughly bored. It was really uncomfortable for a few jittery minutes, and then I learned an important lesson that relates to how we practice PR.

More on that in a minute – first, I just found out the Inner Circle has been named one of Spin Sucks’ recommended professional development resources for PR pros. I think a lot of Gini and what she’s built, so this is a real honor. There are some other resources there I wasn’t familiar with, so check it out.

Now, here’s how it went down . . . My wife and I were out for a night on the town, looking forward to enjoying the shops and a restaurant decorated for the season. When we got out of the car, I saw my phone only had like 1 percent battery left. I wanted to be accessible to the kids in an emergency so I turned on the “ultra power saver” feature that means you can only use the phone for calls and texts. Didn’t think it would matter because I intended to focus on my wife – not my phone.

About 30 minutes into the shopping she was cheerfully trying on various workout outfits at Athleta. I promise I was cool with this – if she’s happy, I’m happy. But she kept apologizing and worrying that she was wasting my time, so I offered to wander around so she wouldn’t feel like I was looking at my watch.

Thing is, all the other shops on that street were similarly uninteresting to me. So I just sat on a bench out on the sidewalk.

Of course, this is the part where you and I would normally pull out our phones. Check email, scroll through social, check out the news, look at the weather for the third time that day, and so on.

Not this time, because now my phone was only a phone. Not an internet-enabled device. No big deal, I thought, I’ll just wait.

No less than two minutes went by, and I felt like my phone was burning a hole in my pocket. I had the strongest compulsion to whip it out, turn off the power saving, and surf the web even though that would burn through my battery!

This is ridiculous, I thought. So I tried to focus on people-watching. That lasted about 30 seconds. And the urge to grab my phone resumed. There was no particular fact I was interested in checking, no particular news or update I was waiting for.

I just couldn’t handle being bored! My brain was craving electronic stimulation! For about 5-10 minutes my mind and even my soul felt jittery and incomplete.

And then, finally, I came through the other side. I stopped thinking about what I should do next. In fact, I didn’t have any purposeful thoughts at all. My mind just let go.

I found myself pondering deeply some aspects of my personal and professional life. And then I actually received new ideas I can apply to both realms. I don’t want to overstate things, but it’s entirely accurate to say that a new state of serenity washed over me.

And when Amy came out of the store with a bagful of cute workout clothes, apologizing for “taking so long,” I was like a new convert to the idea of sitting still with no phone, babbling about how great it felt. Even writing about it now makes me long for that feeling again.

Here’s the lesson:

Everyone is hyper-stimulated these days, but as PR professionals, you in particular feel obligated to be constantly plugged in. There’s always some news breaking that could affect your company or clients. There’s always another journalist, influencer, or interest group you could be checking on to notice an opportunity to deepen a relationship.

While other people check the news or social media for leisure or to kill time, for you, those things are your lifeblood!

And that means that you rarely – if ever – give yourself time to sit still and . . . think.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Shouldn’t be that way. Some questions to consider:

Which is more valuable to your executives or clients: you being up-to-the-minute right now, or you having spent 60 minutes pondering plans and new methods to provide more value?

When did you get your best ideas that have made the biggest difference in your job? Was it when you were checking email or staying current on Tweetdeck? Or was it when you were in the shower, because that’s the ONLY time you are physically prevented from being plugged in?

What I’m about to share next will probably be jarring to you. You may even be tempted to dismiss it because so much of your identity is tied up in believing this is not true. But there is a huge opportunity for you when you begin to realize how much more you have to offer.

Virtually anyone can “stay current” and be “always on.” If that’s the way you define your professional value, you are fast becoming a commodity. There are legions of fresh college grads every spring who would love to get paid to push emails around and update social media.

Your distinct value as a knowledge worker comes from your ideas and your creative execution of those ideas.

And those ideas can’t come when you’re distracted 24-7.

DIFT = Do It For Them

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DIFT is an acronym I use to remind myself to “Do it for them.” As in, journalists and bloggers are stretched so thin these days, they are willing to – and in some cases – needing to allow us to do legwork for them.

Here are some quick points about what you can “do for them”:

Find a third-party source. Not as important for blogs or digital native outlets like BusinessInsider, but most top-tier journos still require an outsider’s viewpoint to validate a trend or weigh in on a new development. And hunting down such a source with knowledge of the development you’re pitching requires precious journalist time. So find one or two for them. Best such sources are at a recognized, independent institution such as a university or trade association. Consultants and analysts work best if they are citing some sort of research rather than just giving their opinion.

Example: A network morning show producer recently told me about a company that referred her to an industry consultant. The consultant had no incentive to highlight the company, and in fact praised a competitor as well as the original company. The producer told me this really impressed her and made her more predisposed to include the original company and its claims in her roundup story.

Suggest some real people. Identify some regular folk, not in your organization, who are experiencing the trend or using the product or affected by the change. Such are often difficult to find on short notice and therefore appealing to the harried reporter.

Example: That same producer also gushed about a company that provided a list of a dozen customers and invited her to call all of them. She did, and that allowed her to find the “real person” that she thought best illustrated the story. Now, most journalists today won’t invest that much research, so it’s best for YOU to call a dozen customers and whittle those down to the ONE with the most compelling personal story.

Provide visuals. You know from your social and owned content that even slapping a mere stock photo on an item increases engagement. Journalists and their digital marketing overlords know this too, so ideally they’d accompany every piece of content with a visual, preferably a video. You know all those short videos with onscreen text (essentially captions) you see on social? More and more online publishers are moving in that direction. Help them out by sending them cool-looking b-roll they can use to create those videos in their style. When that’s not an option, at least paste a relevant photo into your pitch.

Example: One successful PR shop I know creates a photo illustration for every pitch they send out. As long as it’s clearly identified as such, you can dramaticize a story angle visually, and even traditional media will increasingly share those with their readers/viewers.

P.S. I created a lesson about “Do It For Them” inside the Crafting the Perfect Pitch online course.

The ultimate in media RELATIONS

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The ultimate in media relations is getting past “pitching.” It’s way better when you get into organic conversations where you help influencers help their audiences, which in turn helps you achieve your goals.

But obviously there are obstacles to doing that, otherwise you’d be there already. Here come some thoughts that will help you.

I observed these points while presenting the results of my Inner Circle’s “Best Pitch of the Year” competition on a recent webinar for members. Every year the PR pros inside the program submit their best placements, and I not only pick winners, but observe the trends behind what’s working right now and what is no longer effective.

Key principle: you’re seeking to serve the journalist first, and you simply want to know how they work and what they need so you can serve them better.

That tends to require dialogue, and back-and-forth happens more fluidly on the phone or in-person. But it can happen digitally, too.

Example #1: One Inner Circle member was struggling to break through with a Wall Street Journal columnist whose interests are perfectly aligned with this PR pro’s company. Nothing was working, so she sought solely to be helpful.

She emailed the columnist. In the process of complimenting a recent piece, she offered four sources as possible subjects for future profiles.

“None of them were affiliated with our company – I was not looking to push our firm but instead establish the relationship,” the PR pro says. “I found these folks on my own through my own network.”

Several weeks later the columnist responded. She was grateful for the sources, and – this is the key part – she explained her process to the PR pro. They emailed back and forth a bit more on her needs for these types of stories.

And then the columnist asked for her help in sourcing a column, and our PR friend provided one of her executives and also a customer. Those were the lead quotes in the resulting column. Three more inclusions followed over the ensuing twelve months.

Example #2: A different Inner Circle member was getting nowhere with Business Insider. She studied how competitors were showing up on the site, and who was authoring those pieces. That helped her zero in on the right person. Because she had an upcoming trip to New York, she reached out cold to that writer and was able to land a meeting.

Surprised? Those kinds of meetings still happen when you do your research and show up as potentially valuable.

The writer explained how she and her colleagues approach the types of stories our PR friend has to offer.

“That allowed us to follow up with her and pitch for that specific structure,” explained the IC member.

Understanding this writer’s needs allowed our PR friend to place one of her clients in EIGHT separate Business Insider posts this past year.

Key Takeaways: True, there are many nuances and skills at play here. Knowing how to build targeted media lists. The subtle balance required to compliment a previous piece without coming off like a suck up. And the way to phrase the question around “How do you get your job done?” so you actually get an answer.

But there are plenty of PR pros who have those skills who are flailing around and failing. Inner Circle members saw all 16 “Best Pitches of the Year” that I presented during our last virtual meeting. Winners landed everything from the New York Times to GMA to a hyperlocal web site that drove a ton of sales for a client. Members also have access to dozens more stellar pitches to learn from thanks to the previous years’ winners in their Training Vault.

You can be reviewing all of these winning pitches tomorrow if you decide to ramp up your media pitching skills by becoming a member. Check out the opportunity here.

And then you’ll be fully armed to apply the key principle, what everything else grows from, which is a sincere desire to:

“Find out what they need and give them that.”

Seeing the good in (PR) people

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Here come two feel-good stories for you on this good-feeling holiday week.

I write here often about attributes that I believe are more prevalent among PR people than among business people in general. Not saying all PR people are these things, just that PR people are more likely to be these things than average.

More likely to be people-pleasers. More likely to say “sorry” a lot. More likely to have an instinct to be “responsive” when they should stay focused on deep creative work.

You know what else PR people are more likely to do than average? Be exceptionally kind and generous.

Not saying people in other aspects of business are villains, not by any means. And I’m not saying there aren’t a few royal prima donna PR people here and there.

But most of the time, you and your fellow PR pros are just plain good people. Two great examples came out of the Best Pitch of the Year competition I run through my Inner Circle program.

One of the members had a huge media win this past summer. It was a story that was really important to her company, and to her personally, and I was so happy for her that it finally came to fruition. It was super-positive and positioned her product in a great light.

So I noticed when the deadline was approaching that she hadn’t submitted it for consideration in the competition. I even reached out and encouraged her to enter (there’s no fee). She was kind enough to reply and explain that it didn’t feel right to her.

You see, the story was about a family that had gone through a tragic loss and how her company’s product was helping them recover. This sensitive PR person told me that the family had become friends of hers, and the focus should stay on them, not on her.  Of course, I honored her wish.

Here’s the other example. After I announced the winners last week, I reached out to them to get some details so I could send them their prize money. One of them explained that she was just going to donate it the non-profit where she works anyway. So I made the donation in her name.

She had worked hard and applied expertise she’s developed over many years and earned her organization and her cause great coverage. She was a deserving winner of that prize money. But instead of getting a new outfit or a fancy dinner, she chose to double down and put it back into the cause.

Thank you, Jane and Anne, for reminding me how much goodness is out there. And thanks to all the good PR people out there like you, who so diligently shine the spotlight on others, but tend to slip into the background if it ever gets close to shining on you.

Reading news releases at the dinner table

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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.

The credibility line

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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.