It’s weird talking about ethics

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I don’t talk about PR ethics in my speeches. Nor do I cover the subject in these posts.

Never made a conscious decision not to. I guess I tend to view ethics as something that is “lived” and not spoken. Anyone can talk a big game about doing the right thing, but the real test is how they act.

And then I got asked to be a guest in a podcast about PR ethics :).

Mark McClennan is an experience PR executive, a former national president of PRSA, and someone I respect immensely. (I once saw him fulfill a speaking commitment to a bunch of college students and then drive himself straight to the hospital to treat a serious infection.) His podcast “Ethical Voices” is a great resource to our profession and a project I really admire.

But my first reaction was to politely suggest that I might not be a great guest for him. Off the top of my head I couldn’t think of any ethical dilemmas I’d confronted that would be helpful for others to learn from. And like I wrote above, I feel kinda weird talking about my own ethics.

But like the veteran PR pro he is, Mark persisted :).

I listened to a couple of the other interviews he’s done, and I felt really grateful to those PR vets who shared their thoughts and experiences. Because, I realized, if all of us are reserved about ethics, how can we all as a profession develop ethical frameworks for our decisions? How can we evaluate our ideas about emerging dilemmas posed by advancing technology?

So I did the interview. And doing so surfaced some real and lasting ethical lessons I’ve learned over the years. I really should have thought more deeply about this sooner, and gotten over my reluctance to participate in the dialogue about this important topic.

During the podcast, we discuss:

– the ethical lapses I see from media relations professionals, and how these missteps hurt their outcomes and the industry
– how I handled the age-old question of “What do you do when someone asks you to promote something you don’t believe in?”
– why every PR pro (even – and especially – entry-level professionals) needs a “freedom fund”
– my hypothesis on why most of the ethical dilemmas I faced happened early in my career, and how you can apply this yourself
– a crazy-flukey positive outcome that resulted from an ethical decision I made years before (I never connected the two until preparing for this interview. Karma is real!)

You can listen to the interview here (and check out the great other interviews Mark has assembled). And let’s all talk more about ethics.

A few of my favorite things

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You reading these messages I post each Thursday is one of my favorite things.

I really enjoy the challenge of sharing something useful each week, and the dialogue the posts spark with readers who share their reactions.

Another of my favorite things is watching my Inner Circle members succeed.

Like Kathryn Mason, founder/CEO of Masonry in Ireland. She wrote me:

We just had our best year ever. Your program is the best value for the money, I just keep saying this to anyone who will listen. I couldn’t be here without you. I can ask questions and not feel like I’m asking something stupid, and knowing that there are other people wondering the same exact thing.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t make sure you know that today is the last chance to join the Inner Circle before we shut the doors and focus on making more “best years ever.”

Last chance to learn the new insights we’re diving into about how media pitching should integrate with owned, shared and paid communications strategies.

You owe it to yourself to educate yourself about this opportunity.

Go here now and review the details, including brief comments from 50 other PR people like Kathryn who give you their take on the program.

Then make a conscious decision, join or not join. The first 30 days are fully guaranteed, so you know which way I’d lean 😉

Either way, I’ll be back next Thursday with more tips and insights.

Which type of boss do you have?

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I’m seeing a divergence in the bosses that PR people report to. And this has significant ramifications for your PR future.

Not the direct supervisor, but the chief who allocates resources among different teams at your employer or client. Might be the CMO or VP of Marketing, might be VP of Corp Comm.

Let’s start with the Old School Boss:
– Benefits of media coverage are taken as obvious
– Typically over 40
– Subscribe to NYT or WSJ or regional paper
– Heard of the Buzzfeeds or BizInsiders of the world but doesn’t consume them

And then there’s the New School Boss:
– Challenges media coverage with questions like, “How can we grow fastest?” “What do these media placements do for me?” “Why allocate budget for earned media when we can invest in more predictable advertising like FB and Google?”
– Often 40 or younger
– Graduated college with internet & email, smartphone in hand most of adult life
– Doesn’t usually subscribe to anything print
– Gets news from Google News, Apple News, open to new media brands

Which one do you have? How are you adapting to their point of view?

There are still a LOT of “Old School Bosses” out there. My experience is that more than half of bosses fit most of the criteria. People who work for them are challenged, but not around the core function they fulfill, earned media. There will still be “Old School Bosses” around in 5-10 years.

But their numbers will increasingly dwindle.

The “New School Bosses” are taking over. Either maturing to fill the roles the Old Schoolers vacate by retirement, or even nudging them out. They will be the dominant influence in PR in the next 5-10 years.

So your time to adapt is now. Before you get a new boss who pulls the rug out from underneath you.

That’s why I’ve made the biggest enhancements to the Inner Circle in its nine-year history. We’re still THE place to refine and solidify your pitching expertise. And we also teach you how to integrate your media relations with other marketing disciplines to stay relevant.

Enrollment is now open, but it closes June 6. Check out the updates – and reaction from members – here now.

P.S. You owe it to yourself to stay current on opportunities to grow. Check out what we’re doing inside the Inner Circle.

The media team vs. the content team

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Many of the large organizations I work with partition their communications between what they call “the media team” and “the content team.” But there’s a better strategy than divide and conquer.

The media team usually grinds out pitches with fingers crossed they’ll land. And sometimes they’ll admit to looking over the cube wall at the content team and thinking, “They’ve got it easy – all they’ve gotta do is write blog posts and shoot videos all day.”

Meanwhile, the content team is wracking their brains trying to come up with new ideas at the same time they’re struggling to hit their page view targets. They, in turn, look at the media team and grumble, “They’ve got it easy – all they’ve gotta do is send a few emails and make a few phone calls.”

But in the reality of today’s hypercompetitive content and media landscape, both teams need the other to succeed.

Take this example. You’re trying to get coverage for a study your employer or client commissioned and you’re following the old model of giving it to the media first. But nobody’s biting.

What if you could show them that your company’s blog post with the preliminary findings has 10 times the usual amount of views? Or that it has an equally significant number of social shares? That social proof that this topic is interesting will often push previously uncertain journalists off the fence.

And then the coverage you earn brings third-party credibility to your study, which helps the content team generate more direct traffic. And so on.

Think the media won’t cover something if it’s “already out there”? Not anymore. In many cases, they are outsourcing news judgement to online performance metrics.

In fact, you should be more worried that the media won’t cover something unless they can be assured that you’ll deliver an audience that will boost their own page view counts.

All these changes and opportunities are exciting! A little nerve-wracking, yes, but anything worth doing usually is. I’ve been taking my Inner Circle members down this road this year, and it’s been invigorating for me to see the light bulbs going off.

Are you still on the fence about this marriage of media relations and content marketing? Or not sure how to implement it?

Then my free webinar next week is for you.

I’ll walk you through the research data and observations from my clients – hundreds, large and small – that validate the shift I’m advocating. And I’ll give you specific takeaways and action items to apply in your own organization, whether this is totally new to you or whether you’ve been applying these principles already.

If you’ve joined me for a webinar previously, this one will be completely different:

Beyond Media: Changes PR pros need to make now to survive and thrive in the 2020s

– Acknowledge the inherent limitations of proactive media relations and how to adapt
– The justification most PR pros give for their work that is actually already obsolete (the emperor has no clothes, and I’m going to tell him)
– The types of outreach and pitching you must get better at to stay ahead of the trends
– The skills beyond pitching that you’ll need to survive in the coming years
– How to better integrate your expertise in earned media with content marketing, social media, and even paid advertising to add more value to your employer

Please register now to join me Wednesday, May 29th, at 12 p.m. Eastern / 9 a.m. Pacific.

PR pros resting on their laurels

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Lately I’ve been hearing too many media pitching success stories.

Don’t get me wrong – I love sharing in the excitement that comes with winning placements. But I’m concerned that too many media relations pros are still putting all their eggs into the pitching basket.

No, media pitching isn’t dead, nor is it dying. Yes, select PR pros who know what they are doing are earning far more than their share of media coverage.

But forces outside their control continue to disrupt what those media placements mean.

Here’s the scenario I’m talking about:

A hard-working PR pro (or team) is welcomed into an organization, shown their workspace, and then expected to fill up a media hit stat sheet. They work hard and smart, using those special techniques I alluded to above. Then, after they’ve done exactly what they were told to do, some exec comes down from above and asks disapprovingly, “Well, what did all this coverage do for us?” (And that’s after he grumbles about not being in the Wall Street Journal.)

Third-party media placements are still vital to brands’ success. They’re especially important for reversing the waves of distrust that are afflicting today’s organizations. But we in PR need to innovate the way we integrate that hard-earned coverage with our other forms of communication. And we need to either master additional skills related to owned, shared and paid content, or be more collaborative with our colleagues who manage those types of outreach.

Because no matter how many placements you’re getting, not enough of the right people are seeing them – yet.

I want to help you get this right, so I’m doing a free webinar in a couple weeks that will walk you through it. I only do a couple free webinars a year, and this one is entirely new. Unless you’re in my Inner Circle program, you’ve never heard me talk about any of this before.

These are the changes you MUST make to survive and thrive in the 2020s:
– Acknowledge the inherent limitations of proactive media relations and how to adapt
– The justification most PR pros give for their work that is actually already obsolete (the emperor has no clothes, and I’m going to tell him)
– The skills beyond pitching that you’ll need to survive in the coming years
– The types of outreach and pitching you must get better at to stay ahead of the trends
– How to better integrate your expertise in earned media with content marketing, social media, and even paid advertising to add more value to your employer

Please register now to join me Wednesday, May 29th, at 12 p.m. Eastern / 9 a.m. Pacific.

Why I got fired from career day

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Have you ever been asked to participate in career day? I did it once, and then my kids stopped nominating me. You’re going up against firefighters, doctors, construction workers. Cool people with cool jobs where everyone already understands what they do.

And then there’s you. Trying to explain to a group of 5th graders the difference between earned media and paid media and how those boundaries have started to blur in the last few years. At this point the eyes of your audience have started to blur. Their vacant expressions fill you with self-doubt.

Of course the work we do is meaningful. There’s no question about it. It’s just that we don’t save people’s lives, we don’t wear a cool fireman’s helmet, and we don’t always know how to articulate the value we add to our bosses, clients, and communities. At the end of the day it may not be a big deal if your son’s classmates (or your neighbor or your mother) don’t understand your job. It becomes a big deal when the chief executive doesn’t understand what you add to the company.

Make sure you value your work, and have the mindset of a Media Relations Master. Many in the field have spent years belittled by both the journalists they try to work with and the executives they work under. It can be difficult to overcome that. And I don’t expect an encouraging email from Michael Smart to change that. But digging into the analytics of your company can highlight all the ways your work makes the company better.

Identify someone at your company who is an expert at collecting data. This may include web traffic, customer surveys, social media engagement and online reviews. These and other quantitative and qualitative measurements can show how your media outreach efforts are benefiting the company.

If you don’t have a great analytics guy, guess what? Get your own login to the Google Analytics or Adobe Analytics account. You may feel like you don’t need more on your plate, but without some great numbers to show your value, no one really cares what else is on your plate.

Use this data and your excellent communications skills to tell a story of company profit and growth with your PR efforts as the protagonist. Here are two quick but often overlooked steps that can yield some simple proof points:

  1. Correlate your media or content pushes with some web traffic spikes. Sure, without deeper analysis (UTMs anyone?) you can’t prove for sure the boost in visits came from you vs. other marketing outreach, but it’s better than nothing.
  2. Check out Google Trends to see if there was any elevation in searches for your company, product or issue during your successful outreach. You can even compare with competitors’ terms to highlight your contribution.

Family, friends, and 3rd graders may never understand your job. But those you work for should. And it’s within your power to provide them the numbers and insights to show that – even though you may drive a Honda and not a fire-truck – your contribution is making a big difference.

Just how accessible should sources be?

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I got asked something this week that comes up fairly often. Most PR pros have the same opinion on it, but I think they’re missing a bit of nuance that makes a big difference in media outreach success.

Here’s the deal – you’re pitching an expert to the media. You’ve got a timely hook and your source is solid. You know speed matters in this situation, so do you include the source’s direct contact info in your initial pitch? Or do you have the journalist work through you to set up the conversation?

There are pros and cons to this. If you ask journalists, 100 percent will say to include the source’s cell number and let them take it from there. They understandably disdain anything that smacks of “controlling PR people.”

On the flip side, many organizations want their PR pros to be on the calls when their employees talk to news media. Mostly for “defensive” reasons, like jumping in to prevent misunderstandings or even to have a “second witness” of how the conversation proceeds.

Another reason I hear is PR pros wanting their sources to know they are making things happen. If your client thinks the media are calling them up anyway, what do they need you for? You can see why journalists don’t value these justifications at all.

What’s my recommendation? I think in most cases you should have journalists work through you. But not for the reasons above. Instead, for a reason that serves both journalists AND your organization. Because you add value for both – you make it a better experience for both the journalist and your source.

Here’s the way you handle this in your pitch:

“Contacting me is the fastest way to reach Jim. I know how to get a hold of him when he wouldn’t otherwise be picking up his phone or answering email.”

Of course, for this to work you need to make it be true. You’ve gotta have the sense of urgency of a journalist on deadline, balanced with a detailed knowledge of your source’s schedule and communication habits.

I knew an agency exec who worked with a lot of surgeons, and he would literally connect journalists to the operating room and have a nurse hold the phone to the ear of the surgeon while they did an operation.

And it’s almost written into the job description of a university PR pro to be standing in the hallway outside a hard-to-reach professor’s classroom and hand them a cell phone connected to a reporter on deadline when class ends.

The principle to follow here isn’t “acquiesce to media’s needs at all costs,” nor is it to “push organization’s interest no matter what.” Do those and you’ll either have no job or no media relationships.

Instead, find ways to add value to journalists that are consistent with your organization’s needs.

Which came first, the content or the pitch?

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This message is about some drama that doesn’t have to exist. It’s about the PR/Marketing version of the question “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”

Many of the organizations I consult with have a “media team” and a “content team.” Even if they have different names, that’s how they break down. Or if the teams aren’t large enough to divide responsibilities that way, there’s still some pressure on communicators to serve both masters – “earned” and “owned.”

And they feel tension between those two paths. But there doesn’t have to be. You don’t have to sit across the conference-room and hash out compromises about who gets to “go out first” or whose story is whose.

In my most recent training for members of my Inner Circle program, we welcomed Drew Davis, who was named the “2nd-most Influential Content Marketer in the World.” (It makes him try harder 🙂 To summarize his main point: You don’t have to fight over who gets your content first.

There are actually ways to make your story ideas MORE appealing to media by releasing directly to your own audiences first. How powerful is it when you’re approaching an editor who lives and dies by page views to say, “This piece has performed really well for us – it’s only been up for a week and already it’s our most-viewed blog post ever.”

Or what if you’ve tested different tweets or Facebook posts and found the phrasing that gets the most engagement? Wouldn’t that empower an editor or producer to go into an editorial meeting with data to support their contention that your story should get featured that day?

Of course, in other cases, you might see a benefit from the traditional path of reserving first rights for your third-party news media. That’s okay. Then you share their resulting stories with your audiences and drive more traffic to them. Everybody wins.

Drew shared with us the framework he calls the Marketing Momentum Curve. It’s a specific pattern and sequence to know what channel to deliver your story through, in what order, and for how long before you move on to the next channel.

Strategies like this are core to our emphasis in the Inner Circle this year, which is integrating our earned media expertise with the powerful strategies found in the owned, shared and paid realms of marketing.

You can watch Drew outline the Marketing Momentum Curve, plus see all of the other trainings we’ve done this year, if you join the Inner Circle the next time we open up enrollment. The best way to determine if that’s the right choice for you is to get on our wait list for notifications. That qualifies you for the $250 bonus I’m going to throw in for our early birds. Join that list simply by clicking here.

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 🙂