Last time you felt bored?

GET THESE ARTICLES WEEKLY IN YOUR INBOX HERE

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

GET THESE ARTICLES WEEKLY IN YOUR INBOX HERE

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

GET THESE ARTICLES WEEKLY IN YOUR INBOX HERE

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

GET THESE ARTICLES WEEKLY IN YOUR INBOX HERE

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

GET THESE ARTICLES WEEKLY IN YOUR INBOX HERE

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

GET THESE ARTICLES WEEKLY IN YOUR INBOX HERE

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.

About your writing misteaks

GET THESE ARTICLES WEEKLY IN YOUR INBOX HERE

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

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

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

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

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

There aren’t many places to learn this skill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s a dark side to this as well.

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

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

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

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

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

My first troll – you have one, too

GET THESE ARTICLES WEEKLY IN YOUR INBOX HERE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ban this word

GET THESE ARTICLES WEEKLY IN YOUR INBOX HERE

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the offending word?

Yes, you saw it: just.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re better than that.

Shortcuts vs principles

GET THESE ARTICLES WEEKLY IN YOUR INBOX HERE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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