Me and my shadow

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“How do you start off on a typical day?”

My 13-year-old son was sitting across from me in my office, pencil in hand, anxious to finish filling out his school worksheet so he could go home.

We were finishing up his “job shadow” day. All the seventh-graders get the day off from school to shadow someone of their choice. (It’s not like he has any particular interest in PR – he just procrastinated lining up anyone else so he defaulted to me.)

I turned it around on him: “You watched me all day, what did you see?”

He thought for a minute and said, “Well, first you started off by getting focused . . .” And that’s when I knew the whole experience had been worth it.

Up until then I wasn’t sure. Do you know what most teenagers’ frame of reference is for office jobs? Binge-watching “The Office” reruns on Netflix. I’m not joking – ask a couple and you’ll see what I mean.

But if I could choose only one lesson to sink in, it was the one he’d just verbalized.

We in PR lament being pulled in so many directions, frantically putting out one fire after another, no time to think and be purposeful and make a real difference. I wrote a popular post about this once after having an unorthodox experience.

After years of falling victim to that mentality, I started experimenting with different approaches to starting each day. And eventually hit the jackpot.

When I get to my office every morning, I don’t turn on my computer. I don’t chat with other people in the office. I DON’T check my email. I don’t return calls.

I sit down with a notebook and a pen and I write down what’s in my head. The stuff I feel frantic about. The little one-off things I keep forgetting to do. The big, important things I WANT to do. This all spills onto the page while I journal for a little while. Pretty soon the thoughts bouncing around my head are all on paper, and I can relax mentally and write what’s been going well, what I want to accomplish. Big picture stuff. Then I choose the activities I can do today that will have the biggest impact on achieving those long-term goals.

Once I’ve broken free of the tyranny of the urgent, I open up my calendar on my laptop and block out time for those most meaningful projects. Only then do I fill in the gaps with those one-off to do’s, then brief windows for emails and calls.

I told my son that I don’t care if he remembers the difference between publicity and advertising. Or how to get journalists to open your emails. Or any of the other stuff we talked about during our day together.

But I encouraged him to remember to avoid the temptation to dive into all the digital distractions that surrounds him every day. And instead to stay unplugged until he’s discerned what really matters, and build his day around that.

Your audience has AirPods in

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I’m writing this on a plane to North Carolina. And something is really standing out to me this spring as I’m traveling to deliver live training events.

It drives home an important truth that most of the people at those events don’t seem to appreciate yet, whether their emphasis is media relations or content or something in between.

Until a few years ago, the FAA had a rule that you couldn’t wear headphones during the final approach to landing. Flight attendants would come around and tap on your shoulder.

So the headphones would come off, and you’d actually start chatting with the people sitting nearby. Don’t worry – I’m not that guy who sits next to you on a flight and tries to talk to you the whole time. (I’ve sat next to him a few times, though). If my seatmates seemed interested in engaging, I enjoyed getting to know them for the final few minutes of the flight.

But now that the FAA abandoned that rule, the headphones and earbuds stay in, all the way to the gate. My last roundtrip I noticed my seatmates took it one step further. They got to my row with AirPods already in and immersed themselves in their phones right away.

I was sitting two inches from them, but I might as well have been hundreds of miles away. Let’s say I had something important to share with them. If my message wasn’t showing up in the podcast they were listening to, or the BuzzFeed roundup they were scrolling through, or the email newsletter they were checking (yes, I was snooping glances at their consumption), they weren’t going to get it. Didn’t want it.

Here’s my point for you: every person you are trying to reach is figuratively wearing AirPods. Your messaging could be right next to them, but they’ll never notice it.

Not unless you identify and target the third-parties they are already engaged with, whether those are traditional media or somebody else’s “owned” content. Place a guest on that podcast. Do a content partnership with the email newsletter they receive. Get some of your content picked up by the media outlets they actually subscribe to.

And then use that exposure to win them over as a subscriber to YOUR podcast or email newsletter or Instagram feed or whatever platform you’ve built.

Simply pushing out content to your existing audiences won’t cut it. Neither will earning coverage in the same media outlets you always have (let’s face it, you choose those primarily because they’re the ones your executives consume).

We need to earn our way into communication vehicles produced by third-parties our audiences already trust. Whether those third-parties are media or other companies or thought leaders or whatever.

That’s what we’ve been emphasizing inside the Smart PR Inner Circle this year. We’ve been looking at identifying influencers, integrating earned media with owned and shared, as well as the latest pitching techniques that are just as likely to win over another company’s content marketer as they will a traditional magazine editor.

In the next few months I’ll be sharing insights about content promotion, earned media amplification, even using paid techniques to land squarely within the very narrow field of view that your potential audience has.

When we next accept new enrollments, I’m going to offer a couple bonuses only to people who are on our wait list. If you’re already one of my subscribers, you can simply click here to join that list. Otherwise, you can join it here.

And when this flight lands in Raleigh, I’ll see if I can at least get a smile and a nod from this guy next to me 🙂

A surprise from “The Great Communicator”

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This week I was surprised by a bit of trivia I learned while touring Ronald Reagan’s Presidential Library with my family. It struck me that the former president known as “The Great Communicator” is still teaching PR lessons from the grave.

It’s our spring break so we’re enjoying sunny SoCal. Took a drive into the green hills of Simi Valley and checked out the library, which is much more like a museum. It has a full replica of the Oval Office as it looked during Reagan’s presidency.

It seemed a bit small to me – not that I’ve ever been to the real one, but I have watched every episode of “The West Wing,” so you’d think I would know ;). So as the rest of the tour group filed out, I asked the guide about it. She said it’s a precise replica, and then added this really cool story (I’m summarizing what she said here, I haven’t checked it out through other sources):

When Reagan reviewed the original plans for the library, he noticed that the ceiling on the replica Oval Office was only 15.5 feet – not the 18.5 feet of the original. When he called this out to the architects, they told him the county zoning would not allow any structure that high.

“You can see the little plaque the president kept on his desk,” the tour guide said, pointing to the item that read “It Can Be Done.”

At this point I was sure she was going to say that he inspired the team to rally support and get an exception granted to the zoning ordinance, or something dramatic like this. After all, this was a former President of the United States, the man who called on Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”

He wouldn’t let some little zoning law stop him!

But no. “Did you notice how you walked down a gradual ramp to get in here?” she continued. “This floor is three feet lower than the rest of the library. And you’ll walk up that little ramp when you leave.”

The next group was coming in, so I took the cue and paced up the slight incline, pondering the lesson here for us PR pros today.

I know how to run grassroots PR campaigns that support government relations initiatives. So that’s the assumption I defaulted to. I also know lots of other communications and PR strategies that can resolve other business challenges.

But from now on, before I throw all my resources and energy into the messiness that is human relationships, I’m going to look around very carefully for a solution that doesn’t involve outsiders.

Because sometimes it’s way easier to just dig a hole.

Cooking dinner for a journalist

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My wife recently signed our family up for a meal kit delivery service. You’ve probably received enough fliers offering a free meal with one of them to fuel a bonfire.

A box arrived at our house with some raw chicken, veggies, a few spices and a recipe. We certainly could have gone to the store ourselves and purchased those same items and looked up a similar recipe online. But there was something great about it coming straight to our door, in a refrigerated box, ready to go. It made our part much easier.

Journalists are crazy-busy, and like everyone else, they appreciate when there is something that makes their life and job easier.  In this scenario YOU are the meal delivery service. You can give them everything they need to write their story, in a tidy little package all ready to go. Just like my family had to do the actual cooking, journalists still have to do the actual writing or production, but you’ve made it much, much easier for them.

I call this principle Do It For Them, or DIFT, and I’ve been teaching it to PR audiences for years. As traditional newsrooms have gotten smaller, the demands on remaining journalists have increased. They are expected to write more stories on more platforms, and many simply don’t have the time and resources to get it all done.

A reporter may like your story idea about the impact of student loans on millennials. And if that’s all your email included, maybe he’ll decide to look into that down the road, if nothing better comes along.  DIFT can help turn that maybe into a yes.

Along with your story idea, include everything your journalist would need to actually write the article. You can start by including a third-party source. This could be research not conducted by your company, or the analysis of an opinion leader unconnected with your organization. In some cases, it might even mean tracking down other similar companies for a round-up.

Next, give them a great visual. A video is ideal and even if it’s just b-roll it saves the reporter a lot of work when they don’t have to shoot it themselves. You might include a compelling chart that shows student debt increases over the years. You might even have a picture of a group of debt-ridden millennials commiserating over avocado toast. What journalist wouldn’t love that?

Tracking down real people (not executives or company spokespeople) can take up a lot of a reporter’s time. Connect them with people they can interview who have been affected by your issue and are willing to share their story.

Doing It For Them helps you build relationships who will come to see you as a trusted source. It also makes it much more likely that they will run your story.

How does the pitch end?

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People often ask me how to phrase the very first words of their email pitch – which actually barely matters at all. But nobody asks about the very end, which is crucial.

Yes – a surprising amount of people in my training sessions ask if they should begin with “Dear Andy” vs. “Andy” vs. “Hi Andy” vs. whatever else they come up with.

Doesn’t matter. Only keys are to get the name right and don’t call him “Mr. Johnson.”

Instead, look much more closely at the way you conclude your pitches. Here are some common approaches:

Let me know if you’re interested . . .

Thanks for your consideration . . .

If you’re interested, you can access . . .

What weaknesses do all those have in common?

First, they aren’t direct questions

You know how pressed and distracted these folks are. When they are skimming your pitch they are looking for a way to justify ignoring or deleting it. If you’re successful at intriguing them, you gotta capture that moment and prompt them to engage with you right then. Not a soft “let me know if you’re interested . . .”

Instead, pop a simple question. Something like, “Can I send you more details about . . .?” The goal is to turn their mild curiosity into a simple action. They can just hit reply and type “Yes.”

Second, and more subtly, they don’t communicate a lot of confidence in the pitch.

You and I know that every journalist isn’t going to cover every pitch. Not even close. But we should only be sending them stuff that we sincerely believe they’ll be interested in. Your confidence should come across in your language. No, I didn’t say presumptuousness – I said confidence.

If you’re really thinking about this, you’re realizing right about now that the real work here doesn’t happen with simple word choice at the end of typing an email. In fact, the real work happens before you ever start off, regardless of whether you’re a “Dear” or a “Hi” person :).

The real work starts way back when you develop a compelling story angle. And then match it with appropriate journalists or influencers. That makes your confidence and language automatic.

A PR Limerick for St. Patrick’s Day

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There once was a PR pro,
Who did it wrong but didn’t know.
Hardworking and bright,
He stayed late every night,
But never had too much to show.

He emailed all day,
Not knowing what to say.
He had a big list
Didn’t want people missed!
And figured he’d just “spray and pray”

Our guy felt really burned out.
This isn’t what PR’s about.
Too much on his plate,
Meant no time to create,
He was filled with frustration and doubt

Then he met a media relations master,
Who worked less, but got results faster.
Not glued to her phone,
Her time was her own.
And guess what? It wasn’t a disaster!

She taught him “Read and React;”
How to pitch less hype and more fact.
Plus solid advice,
To write more concise
And cut out things that distract.

Now his confidence is high.
No longer “that annoying PR guy.”
His results are so great,
He’s doubled his rate!
And gained happiness money can’t buy.

By Camille Metcalf and Michael Smart

If you got a kick out of this, please share on social and feel free to tag me @michaelsmartpr.

Pitching? Think like a real estate agent

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As any good real estate agent knows, location is everything. Even the most beautiful homes are unappealing if they’re in a bad neighborhood. Location is just as important in PR pitches. A great story angle is not going to attract if you put it in a terrible location in your pitch.

So let’s look at the most valuable slices of real estate in your email pitch.

Your subject line is Las Vegas. It grabs attention in a crowded and boring inbox. It stands out with its flash until journalists can’t resist opening your email. But just like Vegas, a lot of people get into trouble here. Never promise more than you can deliver. If your subject line says “Pop icon to endorse new diet trend,” your email better include an iconic pop star. Never bait and switch.

Your customized intro is San Diego. It’s warm. It’s not overly formal. And it makes the journalist want to stay and keep reading. In this very valuable space you show the journalist you know who they are, what they do, and the stories that are relevant to them.

The next section of your pitch is your compelling story idea, and this is downtown Manhattan. It’s the most valuable space you have, and you use it to put your story front and center in the middle of Time Square, not buried under paragraphs of background info (the email equivalent of somewhere in rural North Dakota.) It’s crowded here, so you’ll have to select your words carefully and may even want to use bullet points.

Lastly, your pitch should tease the additional assets you have to offer and include a call to action. We’ll call this space a vacation home in the Hamptons. It’s valuable, but often goes unused. The majority of pitches do not invite journalists to act, which can make all the difference in whether you get a response or not.

The journalists I invite to critique pitches with my Inner Circle group take about 5 seconds to skim a pitch. Which means it doesn’t matter how great your story is, if you don’t have the right info in the right location, your journalist is going to pass.

The good news is, understanding the real estate of your email pitch will lead to a much higher response rate from journalists. And who knows, that may also lead to your own vacation home in the Hamptons . . . or at least more vacations 🙂

 

P.S. The “P.S.” section of your email is where you can put in the info intended for people who have been intrigued by what you wrote earlier. For example, we still have slots available for the Secrets of Media Relations Masters workshop in Atlanta later this month :). If you’d like to dive into the pitch structure outline above in way more detail, this workshop is a great way to do that.

Why PR people are weird

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“I just can’t see people paying me that much.”

That was the response I got from a coaching client when I told her that the results she was getting typically warranted a rate twice what she was charging.

The conversation that ensued was insightful, and it led in part to an announcement I’m making later in this post.

On one hand, her reaction was . . . well . . . weird. She knew other people or firms charging that much, and knew that plenty of clients were paying that much. She wasn’t a newbie – she had a proven track record of success on her own, even after she’d excelled at significant in-house roles earlier in her career.

But on the other hand, that reaction is entirely typical of PR pros, whether they work for clients or one organization. And it’s not always about money. I often hear a similar lament about not being trusted or respected enough.

There are a few reasons for this:

-PR tends to attract highly empathetic people who don’t like the feeling of being at odds with someone else, even if we know we’re on the right track.

-People in other fields, especially executives, tend to assume that anyone can do PR, that there’s no particular knowledge base or expertise involved. It’s just writing and talking, right? And being “good with people . . .”

-We in PR hear often about the challenges in showing our financial impact, and don’t remember that almost every other discipline (except maybe straight sales) has much the same challenge.

But the biggest reason of all, that may be uniquely prevalent among PR people, is that we don’t carry ourselves in a way that warrants the respect we deserve.

We’re wired to shine the spotlight on others, so when it comes to asking for what we want, setting boundaries, and pursuing our own agenda, we shrink back and end up as inadvertent order-takers.

This problem starts with us, not with other people. And that’s super-good news and empowering! Because we are in control of us, not other people. We can change.

That’s what I worked through with the coaching client I mentioned earlier.

She changed the way she thought about herself. And that changed the way she acted. And that changed the way her clients viewed her.

And when it came time for her annual review with her largest client, she confidently told them her new rate . . . and they happily agreed to it 🙂

I want more PR people to experience that transformation from order-taker to respected expert. More people than I could serve with one-on-one coaching. More people than could afford the premium price for that service.

So I’ve created a brand-new program that bottles the training and direction that so far has only been available to a select few.

The Respected Expert Intensive starts next week and runs through March.

P.S. If this post resonates with you but you’re thinking “I don’t have time for one more thing right now,” that’s the first mind virus you’ve got to eradicate. Think about it – you’re actually too busy to address the primary issue that’s holding you back from greater success and control of your work life? Whether you join this program or pursue respect some other way, do something different. Don’t take the “busy” cop-out. That’s a big reason you’re stuck in this position in the first place.

Blame it on your mother-in-law

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PR people who come to my workshops often say the same thing when I ask why they’re approaching a pitch in a certain way.

Like, “Why do you introduce yourself in the first sentence?” or “Why are you including everyone’s job title?”

First they pause and have to think about it. Then they usually say, “That’s the way my first boss always did it.”

Reminds me of a story I heard about this guy after he got married. When his wife cooked Sunday dinner, she would serve the ham with both ends cut off. He asked his her why and she responded “it brings out the flavor better.” That didn’t make sense to him, and he was still curious. When he pressed her, she got exasperated and said, “Ask my mother, that’s how she did it when I was growing up.”

Next time they got together with his in-laws, he asked his wife’s mother why she used to cook ham with the ends cut off.  She said:

“Because it wouldn’t fit in the little oven we had back then.”

Makes you wonder what you might do just because that’s how it was handed down. Whether someone actually taught you an outmoded practice, or whether you picked it up by osmosis.

Back to the examples at the top that I cover during my workshops:

-Introducing yourself first in an email pitch is a holdover from the days when most pitching was done over the phone. With email, journalists can see who you are in your signature and they want you to get right to the point.

-Including job titles in a pitch, that’s a relic of sending news releases by fax, when people felt bound to write a full story out in AP style. Now with a pitch, you merely want to intrigue the journalist – they can get titles from clicking on a link or your follow-up info. Most of the time they don’t really care anyway.

I’ll go way deeper into the strategy and psychology of media relationship building – plus some brand new stuff I’ve added this year –  at my next “Secrets of Media Relations Masters” workshop coming up in four weeks. I recently got this really nice email from someone who took a previous version:

I have scored some huge media wins. I sometimes have a hard time coming up with ideas for what to pitch, but definitely have done much better finding reporters writing about topics related to what we’re doing and pitching them a compelling email, and getting coverage. Thank you! Just in the past two years, I’ve gotten: USA Today, Associated Press, NBC News, CNN Espanol, Inc., Forbes, NASDAQ, MSN, Reader’s Digest, U.S. News and World Report, Military Times, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Yahoo, Working Mother, Fox News, Federal Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Moneyish, MarketWatch, Huffington Post, The Hill, Mashable, Upworthy, New York Post, Catalyst, and others. 

– Amanda Ponzar, Chief Communications Officer, Community Health Charities

Check out the list of everything we’ll cover. The last five workshops have sold out, so if you’re interested, make your decision soon.

Hope to see you in Atlanta!

The most-watched TV show in . . .?

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What was the most-watched TV show in 1998?

What about 2008? (Don’t cheat – take a guess . . .)

And 2018?

No soup for you if you didn’t get Seinfeld, American Idol and Big Bang Theory.

That was just for fun. Here’s what’s important about this exercise:

The average number of viewers for those shows was 38 million, 27.8 million, and 18.6 million.

That’s right – viewership for the top-rated show has dropped by half over 20 years, even though the number of potential viewers increased 19 percent.

Don’t get me wrong – more people than ever are watching more “episodic video,” when you consider all the streaming and cable options we have now.

People are more reachable than ever – it’s just harder than ever to reach them through a few large platforms. Same thing has happened with newspapers. And network TV news. Obviously. More people than ever consume news. They just consume it across more varied platforms.

That means the credibility boost that comes from third-party media placements is more important than ever. But you can’t rely on these dwindling “reach” numbers to get your message to your audiences. You often have to help the media do that.

Content marketers and social media managers are experiencing the same fragmentation of audiences. The average number of shares for a given piece of content dropped by half from 2015 to 2017, according to a Buzzsumo analysis of a million posts.

That’s why this year in the Inner Circle our focus is this:

How to better integrate your earned media strategy with paid, shared and owned outreach.

We’ve already covered, and will soon, the following best practices:

– how to educate your leadership about these changes and recalibrate their expectations about what really matters

– new types of non-media platforms that will eagerly share your message . . . for free

– how to identify influencers, both paid and non-paid

– using paid tools to boost engagement with your earned media

– better connecting your hard-won media placements with the value they bring to your SEO team

And lots more. If you’d like to be a part of this and magnify your media relations expertise across other disciplines, apply today or tomorrow. Because we’re closing enrollment indefinitely Friday at 5 pm PT.

Check out all the details and apply here.

And check out the message below I just got yesterday – it’s from an Inner Circle member who just accepted his dream job.

Hope to see you on the inside,

Michael

 

I have learned an incredible amount by being part of the Inner Circle and from the coaching Michael has generously offered over the years. It has been an instrumental part of my professional development.

I recently landed my dream job as a Press Secretary at the Danish Department of Education. I am mindful that many people have contributed to positioning me for that. But I feel comfortable saying that the experiences, lessons, and member feedback from the Inner Circle played as big of a role as anything in getting me to where I am today. 

I couldn’t recommend the program highly enough. The value is second to none. And on a personal note, you will rarely find a person as thoughtful and friendly as Michael. I hope that I can repay him with Danish treats and a tour of Copenhagen soon. 

Soren Dal Rasmussen

Departing as Media Relations Manager, Voices of Justice