Some of the best writing I’ve ever seen


This is the time of year when you start seeing collections of “the year’s best business writing” or “the best journalism of the year.” As a former journalist and news junkie, I love that stuff.

But let’s face it, that’s not really the year’s best writing. Much respect to those journalists, but they usually get to pick the stories they pursue. And they have one primary purpose – to inform and/or entertain their readers.

The REAL best writing of the year comes in employee benefits newsletters. And software content marketing. And hotel news releases. PR writing is the best out there. Not all of it – of course not. Most of it’s robotic drivel. But when skilled and motivated PR writers apply themselves to mundane topics and succeed, that’s real beauty to me.

Because you, the PR pro, don’t usually get to pick and choose what to write about. And you need to grab and hold the attention of a usually skeptical reader, and deliver a persuasive business message.

Like this line hospitality PR pro Lashley Pulsipher wrote a couple years ago that still resonates in my mind. She was promoting a job fair, of all things, but still dug deep and came up with: “The echo that reverberates across the empty lobby of the new luxury hotel is an audible symbol of the biggest challenge facing (hotel brand) today – the shortage of a key natural resource in Africa: employees.”

How do you know when you succeed as a PR writer? When a reader who had zero intention of learning about whatever your topic was finishes the piece you wrote and didn’t even realize they’d been sucked in. You achieve that with:

– heavily reader-focused headline and opening graf

– disciplined succinctness with zero unnecessary words

– accessible flow that ignores outdated grammar “rules”

I truly believe that high school and college English teachers are the primary cause of most of the common flaws in PR writing today. Most of the stuff they taught us is anachronistic, and it backfires when applied in the real world.

I’ve researched and studied and tested and practiced how to teach PR people to break out of their bad habits and write like Lashley did.

She wrote that release after completing my Definitive Guide to PR Writing online course. I updated it this year, so we are running a 25 percent off promotion that ends tomorrow.

Grab your discount code and research the course further here.

But if you decide to leave behind bad writing habits and strive for real excellence, be sure to do so by tomorrow so you can take advantage of the promotion. We won’t be doing this again any time soon.

I thought this was a Tom Cruise urban legend


In honor of this week’s video release of Mission: Impossible – Fallout, I bring you this tale of an urban legend that wasn’t and what it reminded me about creating truly great content. (No, this post is not sponsored by Paramount Pictures, but I wish it were 🙂

A few weeks ago my brother and I were talking about Fallout, and he claimed that Tom Cruise learned to fly a helicopter and actually flew all the helicopter sequences in this movie. I immediately scoffed and declared there is no way that could be true – flying helicopters is ridiculously hard, and that chase scene goes through canyons and the choppers are right next to each other. (This is not a spoiler because clips of this part dominate the trailer – you can safely keep reading if you haven’t seen it yet).

He then delivered the strongest comeback possible when you’re arguing with a former journalist/current media relations professional: “I’m positive – I read it in the New York Times.”

Sure enough, Cruise trained 16 hours a day for six weeks to learn how to fly a helicopter for the movie. On second look, they shot it so it’s clear he’s actually flying it himself.

Not only that, but the parachuting sequence in the same movie? Cruise did the jump himself, from 25,000 feet. And the director wanted it at dusk, so they could only do one jump a day. And it took ONE HUNDRED AND SIX JUMPS to get the three takes the director wanted for the actual film.

Think how busy someone like Tom Cruise is. He set aside a total of five months just for these two scenes of this movie, which could have been done with stunt doubles and/or special effects.

Well, you say, he gets paid to do it. Not directly – he’s an executive producer on the film, which means he gets paid a cut of the profits. He risked five months of his earning power for just those two scenes. He could’ve been doing another movie. Shoot, he could’ve made more signing autographs at ComicCon over those five months than you or I will make in our lifetimes. In this case, that risk/reward paid off big-time.

First PR lesson I learned from Mission: Impossible – Fallout:

You probably don’t create only one piece of content a year. You should create a steady stream. But every so often – once a year . . . quarterly . . . depends on your resources and responsibilities – you should go all-in to create something awesome. The shareability and memorability will pay off – at the end of the year when you look back on your achievements, that’s what will likely stand out as having made the most impact. Not the accumulated total of your steady stream.

Second PR lesson I learned from Mission: Impossible – Fallout:

When you find a content concept that works, you can keep going back to it again and again and again. Cruise and his production team took a washed-up TV show from the ‘60s that had two things going for it – a catch-phrase (“should you choose to accept it”) and an earworm theme song – and turned it into a six-installment film series that has grossed $3.75 BILLLION.

Enjoy the movie this weekend, and consider whether your commitment to great content measures up to Cruise’s.

Here’s the NY Times article.

Why PR needs to be in the room


You know that feeling when you find out something your organization or client is doing, but it’s too late to take full advantage of it from a PR perspective? I hate it when that happens, so I’m sharing an inspiring example to help you avoid it.

A PR person needs to be in the room whenever the organization is deciding when and how to pull the trigger on a new development. Sometimes, to be the voice of reason and explain how it might backfire. But more often, to advise on how to get the most attention possible for the new venture.

That’s what happened early this past summer during an internal meeting at Duolingo, the company behind the #1 language-learning platform in the world. (I’ve earned four crowns on German).

Senior PR Manager Michaela Kron was meeting with colleagues who were discussing which new languages to add to the app.  Among those they were considering were Navajo and Hawaiian.

Michaela recalls: “I just threw out the idea of how cool it would be to launch them on Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”

The team agreed, and all buckled down to get the courses complete and ready to launch on that day, which was Oct. 8th.

The strategy paid off big-time. The time element Michaela conjured dramatically enhanced the newsworthiness of the announcement, and better still, gave journalists a deadline by which they’d need to cover it for greatest effect. That’s the best way to motivate them to take action.

The announcement earned coverage in TIMEABCNBCFast CompanyTravel+Leisure, and lots more.

For this to work, Michaela needed two things:

– A knowledge of contemporary culture and the media agenda. That’s why she’d recognized the growing movement to “rebrand” Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and how much media like anything tied to “new” or different holidays. That was her responsibility as a PR pro, and she was all over it.

– To be in the room early enough in the development of the new initiative to be able to influence its completion date. Now, contrary to what you might think, that was ALSO her responsibility, not the responsibility of anyone else in the company. And she met that standard for success, too.

If you or your colleagues keep finding out about stuff too late, that’s your opportunity to insert yourself earlier into the discussions. Demonstrate how you can add value to the process – you’re not there to nitpick or naysay, but boost the impact of the idea that your colleagues are cultivating.

Frustrated because you’ve tried and keep getting shut out? Use this example to rekindle the conversation about looping you in to new initiatives. Once you get your own success story, run that up the chain so executives can spread the word that PR needs to be in the room.

I got to know Michaela as one of the most dynamic and engaged members of my Inner Circle group coaching program. In addition to teaching pitching techniques to our members, I talk often about specific ways to earn credibility for our profession and respect for our expertise. Check it out and join in.

When a buzzword can be okay


A software company down the street from me got acquired Sunday for $8 Billion. And there is a great lesson in this success story that’s quite contrary to conventional PR wisdom.

I’m still trying to get my head around this. Qualtrics was just another growing company in the community. People you’d know would get hired there. You’d run into the PR team at networking events. Starting in 2012 they’d make some announcements about big investments from fancy venture funds that valued them around $500 million, and then things would go back to normal.

Now, overnight, billions will be flowing into our local economy via all those stock options and inevitable philanthropy that will result. This gigantic increase in value flows from a key strategic decision they made a few years ago.

At its core, Qualtrics allows its customers – businesses and researchers – to deliver fancy online surveys. You might be more familiar with a competitor, SurveyMonkey. SurveyMonkey just went public a few months ago, and its market value is a “paltry” billion or so. What explains the difference?

Qualtrics stopped describing itself as a survey company.

Instead, they coined their own phrase for what they do, something no one else was using. They are an “experience management” company. “XM” for short, because all useful tech company phrases need a non-intuitive acronym :).

So their press releases, their pitches, their conversations with journalists, would all be riddled with this phrase. Back when they first started doing it, you might have called it jargon or a buzzword.

But it wasn’t. It was a deeply entrenched strategic decision top management made to create an entirely new category of software. Their tools tell companies how their customers and employees are feeling, and that allows the companies to “manage their experience” better. There is obviously big $$$ in that if you can pull it off.

Instead of shying away from that term because of its unfamiliarity, the Qualtrics marketing and PR team took on the challenge to educate journalists and others why the term makes sense. They succeeded.

Your takeaway: Continue to zealously guard against using the same buzzwords everyone else is when there are more clear alternatives. But when your employer is going all-in to create a new position in the minds of journalists and their audiences, rise to the occasion and figure out how to make it stick.

This week nobody in Silicon Valley or on Wall Street is snickering at the phrase “experience management.” They probably wish they thought of it first.

Have you mastered this yet?


As a PR professional, there are many skills you must master to achieve the highest levels of success.

One of those skills is your writing, which, if it isn’t good enough, makes everything else in your career suffer.

There’s no part of PR that is not directly impacted by your ability to write well.

Excellence in PR writing is extremely important, if not THE most important skill you have.

To be clear, we’re not talking about “business writing.” We’re talking about writing in a way where you use facts and transparency to move people to action.

That’s what PR is about: Action. Response. Impact.

And to help you kick off 2019 with the highest chance of success in your career, I’m heavily discounting my freshly updated online course for you, The Definitive Guide to PR Writing (25% off).

Not ready to commit to the entire course?

Grab one of the four modules and still benefit from the 25% discount.

I’m only giving out 100 of the 25% off codes, so get one here to use during the sale. (You’ll have until December 14th to redeem it.)

PS – Put these writing strategies to work in your PR efforts and you might get a result like Teri’s:

“I’m so glad I enrolled in this course! It is super practical and very relevant to our specialized pitch writing requirements at my school. Since completing the course I placed a story in the New York Times that you can see here. Highly recommend it to keep mastering the PR craft.” — Teri Bond, Director of Media Relations at ArtCenter College of Design

There’s a TV show about that?


A friend of mine told me about a new show she’s started watching and it’s going to sound fake, but I looked it up and I promise it’s real.

Tanked is about competitive aquarium design. Did you know there was a world of competitive aquarium design? Because I admit, I did not. I’ve seen shows focusing on the cutthroat world of fashion design, house flipping and professional baking, but I was unaware of the fish tank design niche.

Of course my first thought was, who would watch this, and why? Well, my friend for one, (who to protect her from teasing by everyone but me shall remain nameless).

And the why of it doesn’t really matter, except that people are connecting and relating to more and more niche topics when it comes to TV shows.

This is instructive to us as PR folks because the same trend carries over to media outlets. More and more people are passing over mainstream outlets and spending time on niche outlets with content catered just to them.

That content may be specific to readers of a particular hobby, profession, sports team affiliation, or dietary habit. There are as many niche outlets as there are types of people. Which makes things harder for lazy PR pros, but much easier for those of us willing to do some research.

Of course outlets like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are still relevant and will be for many more years. But it’s no longer enough to pitch your story to a “mainstream” media outlet and assume it is reaching your target audience. Those who continue to do this will remain puzzled why they are not achieving the results they expected and used to get.

Those who take the time to get to know their target audience – not the reporters but the actual people they want to reach – will find themselves creating a whole new media list.

Keep your list up-to-date by identifying the outlets that matter most to your audience now, not just the ones that worked two years ago or sound impressive. Once you dive into this, you’ll be surprised to find outlets you’ve been missing that are a great fit for your client or company. And the good news is, many other PR pros have overlooked these same outlets, making your path to placements a lot less difficult.  

And once you’ve completed your stellar media list, treat yourself to a night of binge-watching Tanked. I hear it’s a great show.

I have a particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a long career


There it was, on my Netflix page. Reinforcing a PR lesson too many of us ignore.


It wasn’t the original Taken movie, starring the incomparable Liam Neeson. Nor was it either of the two Taken movies that followed. Notice I didn’t call them “sequels.” They aren’t sequels – they are more like reboots. Basically the same exact movie made three times. The only variable is which city Liam Neeson half-destroys while he stops at nothing to rescue his family.

And now this.

Turns out it was Taken, the TV series.

Cue the rant about how unoriginal Hollywood is. How everything is derivative, nothing creative out there. What’s next – Taken lunchboxes?

But here’s the thing: Hollywood knows something that PR pros are resistant to learning:

Successful content keeps succeeding.

Doesn’t matter how many times it’s already been out there.

There’s a reason certain storylines and angles work. Whether you understand why is usually academic – just keep repurposing them, and watch the placements and engagements pile up.

I ran into this again last week at my Secrets of Media Relations Masters workshop. One of the attendees just had a great run with a tried and true travel destination story angle – you post a job listing for someone to live at a resort for a year and enjoy a lavish lifestyle. He got great traction with it.

That angle has been around for decades, most famously for Queensland’s Best Job in the World campaign.

I did an Inner Circle training with the guy who pulled that one off. He got the idea from another campaign that used an off-the-wall job title to get attention. He said humbly, “There’s nothing new under the sun.”

Remember that the next time someone tells you that your story idea “has already been out there.”

Overlooked nugget in this popular article about pitching


There’s a popular article about pitching circulating this week – and there is one sentence fragment buried in it that I want to highlight for you.

It’s got the catnip-for-PR-pros headline “How to successfully pitch the New York Times (or, well, anyone else).” I got a lot of mileage out of that headline back in the ‘00s 🙂

But it’s not what you think. It’s on a web site about journalism, aimed at other journalists (although I bet they are breaking traffic records with all the visits from PR people :). Therefore, the piece is designed to tell freelance writers how to pitch editors story ideas, so they can be commissioned into stories they’ll get paid to write. Even though you’ve seen much of these tips and concepts in my previous posts, it’s still a useful read for you as a PR pro.

So, I’ll drill down on this one snippet that most people will miss. I bet the author (a NYT editor himself) doesn’t even realize how overlooked this point is, or he would have spent more time on it.

He’s giving a list of reasons why your story idea won’t work for him, and buried in the middle of a 255-word sentence comes this:

. . . it applies to a very small demographic (caveat: this isn’t a problem if that’s intentional and the publication is interested in that audience). . .

Mr. NewYorkTimes Editor may not say this out loud, but that is old-school-journalism-speak for “There aren’t enough people who would click on that story to meet the page-view quotas that we have around here.”

And even if you don’t agree that the Times (with its increasing reliance on online subscriptions) is that concerned about ad revenue by the click, you definitely accept that most other outlets are.

That’s why you better make sure that your story idea has a built-in audience that’s large enough to attract (or deliver) enough traffic to justify the outlet’s time. Otherwise they are going to be off to the next celebrity gossip item, or reaction to whatever incendiary thing a politician just said.

Here’s an example that I see relatively often during my pitch review sessions: Someone writes a pitch for an online outlet about an issue that is aimed at the elderly. Like how they can keep better track of their prescriptions.

How many elderly people get their news online? Some. But not as many as their adult children. So you reframe the pitch to be about “how to help your aging parents avoid accidental overdoses.”

The other way to meet this often-unspoken demand from the media you’re pitching is to offer up a built-in audience for your topic. You can do this by mentioning the size of your social media following that you share media coverage with. Or the number of subscribers to your email newsletter that serves the same purpose.

Be sure when you conceive your story idea that you have also clearly identified the audience that it will appeal to. And that the audience is big enough for the outlet you’re pitching.

Read the other helpful tips in the article here.

PRSA members, a special free offer for you

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

Mind-stretching pitching tip I hadn’t heard before


Tuesday I learned a tip for better pitches I hadn’t heard before.

I was conducting a training session for my Inner Circle with Noelle Bates, Senior VP of Marketing for Stance. You may know Stance as the company that made socks cool as the official sock of the NBA and now Major League Baseball. Rihanna is one of their brand ambassadors.

Noelle is a great resource for learning what our executives and clients really want, because she came up through the ranks of PR. Started as a “serf” at a couple agencies, working her way up to VP of communications at three ecommerce companies, including one that was acquired by HP.

Now that she runs marketing, she taught our members what she wishes PR pros understood and did better. You know how bosses are always saying, “I wish PR would be more strategic?” She told us exactly how to do that.

One simple and obvious approach (this is not the mind-stretching tip, that is coming in a minute) is for the PR team to constantly generate new pitch angles and new outlets or influencers to approach.

“Understand up front that bosses will probably reject most of them,” Noelle says. “But that one really meaningful piece of coverage that wouldn’t have happened had you not made the effort is likely the reason you will keep them as a client and it will be the reason you grow in your career. We need people who are creative and resourceful and relentless.”

So how do we come up with those ideas? How do we snap out of the numbing routine of the day-to-day and spark better stories?

That’s where Noelle shared a little trick she’s been using herself for years, even though she’s now an executive.

Anytime I watch a news program or read a magazine or newspaper article I am thinking, “How would we pitch this outlet/person to get coverage here?” and I don’t stop thinking about it until I’ve figured it out.”

That means I have to figure out how to pitch a sock brand to “60 Minutes” and what kind of content would be interesting to a reader of Delta’s inflight magazine, but I keep chewing on it until I’ve landed on something where I could actually hear Leslie Stahl saying the words. The vast majority of the time the end idea is not something I’d ever actually pursue. But because I’ve done the stretching to figure out HOW I would if I had to, the simple exercise expands my thinking and provides me with ideas that I would have never come across had I not engaged in the inner brainstorm I’m having every day as I consume media. Most of my good ideas come from me doing this on an ongoing basis, in fact!

Try that out and watch how your thinking expands.

You can watch the rest of the training session with Noelle – including the phrasing of the monthly text message she recommends you send your boss or client – as soon as you join the Inner Circle.

And you’ll also get access to the slate of upcoming trainings. When I announced them at the close of Tuesday’s event, Noelle asked for access so she can learn from them, too.

See you on the inside.

Too concerned about labels


I’m writing this on the flight home from the PR industry’s largest gathering, the PRSA International Conference.

A vibe I got from a significant element of the attendees was a reluctance to step outside perceived norms of the discipline and cross over into other avenues of communication.

Who cares if a social influencer expects you to pay her to blog and post about your organization? If she delivers the audience you want and the behavior change you want, that’s a great thing!

Who cares if someone wants to use paid digital advertising to drive eyeballs to the same piece of content that you’re sharing with media contacts? Why not do both?

And who cares whether it’s called “PR” or “media relations” or even “advertising” or “marketing.” If it’s going to increase positive outcomes for your employer, you should embrace it.

The next level of resistance I saw started with the words: “I don’t have the budget to . . . (contract with influencers) or (pay for digital ads) or (fund an activity to create newsworthiness).”

Okay, that might be fine. You might be able to earn the attention you need without paying (especially if you’re a likeable cause), and that constraint can be a positive driver of creativity.

But if the shrinking traditional media means you’re now getting less “free” coverage than you used to, then you better make a case to get some budget for something that will keep increasing your visibility.

Like paying some influencers.

Or if the influencers you’re working with are delivering quality content but they just don’t have the organic reach you need to hit your goals, then what’s wrong with sending some paid traffic to THEIR work to get there?

If what you’re used to doing isn’t working, your organization is going to change eventually. Trust me — it will turn out better for you personally if you drive that change. Otherwise you might get driven right out of the equation.

Whether something is labeled “PR” or “advertising” or “digital” or “marketing” only matters when Ph.Ds. get together and argue about what to label the degree programs they offer.

Please don’t limit your impact and potential by stopping at the border of what you believe “PR” means. Dare to step across the so-called lines between disciplines to see if there isn’t a better way.

What’s your take on this issue? What can I do to help you be more comfortable with converging forms of outreach? Send a message to me at [email protected] and your note will come right into my inbox.