Too many PR pros feel like slaves

GET THESE ARTICLES WEEKLY IN YOUR INBOX HERE

I picked up a distinct vibe while doing the PR conference circuit this spring:

Too many PR pros feel like slaves.

Slaves to their bosses. To their clients. To their media targets. Even to their phones!

Do you?

The worst is when you absolutely nail a project and over deliver, and then you’re rewarded by getting more worked dumped on you. With no increase in pay. (I hear this a lot from PR pros).

Part of the problem is that many of us were attracted to this field because we are natural-born people-pleasers to a fault. I know I’m still guilty of this sometimes. Another part is we feel we have to constantly justify our existence to people who don’t get the value of PR.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

Last week I ran into Sarah Funderburk at a conference. She joined my Inner Circle program a year ago as a talented and dedicated media outreach pro at an Atlanta PR agency.

She ramped up her media placements even higher and started teaching her coworkers the techniques she was learning. Didn’t take long before competing agencies started reaching out to try to hire her.

The founder of her agency isn’t dumb. He did what it took to keep her – he gave her part-ownership of the firm and made her his partner.

Those are the kind of people in the Inner Circle.

When you trust a proven system to consistently land results, you get to call the shots. Even when you work as part of a team and have a boss.

If you’d like to take the next step toward earning the autonomy you deserve, learn more here.

If not, thanks for reading, and I’ll be back next week with more PR tips.

P.S. Marcus Hardy wrote me this week. He recently landed a meeting with a WSJ reporter and a positive spread in a key trade pub, but best of all, he reports: My work-life balance hasn’t ever been this good. As a dad of two little boys with a talented wife who is balancing her own music teaching career, this is huge for me. If you’d like to join Marcus and my other Inner Circle members in learning how to earn more media coverage with less effort per result, check this out.

Suggest the right story to the right journalist at the right time

GET THESE ARTICLES WEEKLY IN YOUR INBOX HERE

It’s no secret that successful pitching boils down to suggesting the right story to the right journalist at the right time.

Although media relations is inherently difficult, you do have a couple of things going for you. Web archives help you identify the right journalists for pretty much any topic you pitch. Reviewing what they choose to cover then gives you strong hints to determine the right stories to offer.

Now . . . identifying the right time? That’s a lot harder.

Sure, you can tie your pitches to timely events or breaking news, but those are inherently more competitive, because everyone else is pitching around those events, too.

I’m talking about pitching a USA Today reporter about an Oregon-based company a couple weeks before she departs on a previously scheduled trip to . . . Oregon.

Or pitching a Wired reporter about earthquake visualization software two days BEFORE the Nepal earthquake.

Both of those “coincidences” actually happened to PR pros I know – how did they do it?

No, you don’t have to be clairvoyant to succeed in our business.

But it helps if you are consistently contacting journalists and bloggers with useful info. Not necessarily pitches. Your outreach shouldn’t always be about your company/client.

When you are consistently in your key targets’ inboxes or Twitter mentions with useful info, they are more likely to engage with you. And that’s when they actually tell you things they are looking for or places they are going.

“But Michael,” you might be wondering, “I have 73 reporters on my media list for my next pitch. How could I possibly do that with all of them?”

You can’t. You need to de-couple what I’m recommending here from the one-time transactional pitching process you’re using when you’ve got a list of 73 reporters. Go ahead and follow that approach if that’s what your bosses or clients demand right now.

But separately, over time, cultivate relationships with five to ten absolutely crucial influencers. These are your right journalists.

Following their work will reveal the right stories.

And their receptiveness to your helpful and tactful outreach will reveal the right time.

The secret to knowing the best time of day to pitch

GET THESE ARTICLES WEEKLY IN YOUR INBOX HERE

The second-best time of day to pitch media is between 10 am and noon, their time zone.

That used to be a slam dunk time slot when they weren’t as busy. It was a sweet spot after they had rolled in, had their coffee, got through their overnight email, and started moving forward with their day. But before lunch and looming deadlines.

But now they have to turn in multiple stories a day. Many are expected to post to multiple platforms. And then promote their work on social media.

So even that morning window has gotten cluttered. Absent any additional insight into your target media’s workflow, it’s still a decent time slot, if you have to guess.

That’s because the actual best time to pitch a given journalist or blogger is unique to each one.

One reporter might check email religiously at 8 a.m. but never after 5 p.m. (like the USAT reporter I spoke with recently). Another might put off non-urgent email until she turns in her primary story for the day around 7:30 pm (like a WSJ reporter I used to pitch).

And, of course, the best time of day to pitch varies widely depending on the type of media you’re pitching. A general rule of thumb for pitching TV and radio producers, especially for morning shows, is to contact them within an hour of the end of that day’s show.

So how can you find the best time of day for your target media? Short of asking them, which is usually unwise until you’ve earned their trust, here’s what you do:

Whenever you receive an email from one of your target journalists, record the time it was sent. Same thing with any contact from them via Twitter. Over time, your record will show if there is any rhyme or reason to their typical workflow (for some, there isn’t – they’re in their email constantly or virtually never).

What if you’re not receiving emails or tweets from them? Give them a reason. React positively to their work. Then add value beyond simply complimenting.

The primary takeaway from this week’s post is to be systematic about logging timing clues. Anything you can do to inform your guesses increases your probability of success.

How to succeed by NOT pitching media

GET THESE ARTICLES WEEKLY IN YOUR INBOX HERE

Here’s a commonly overlooked opportunity for building relationships with media: Help them with stories you didn’t pitch.

I know one PR pro who did this so well that once she fielded a call from a reporter asking if she knew how to get certain (non-confidential) financial info from a different company. Our intrepid colleague still doesn’t know why the reporter called HER, but she tracked it down anyway.

Another example: An agency pro was working with a transportation writer. He mentioned he needed to talk to someone who had been injured in a car accident while traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday. Although this story had no bearing on her client, the PR pro used her network within the worldwide agency to quickly find three such people willing to talk to him.

Do you think that reporter paid attention the next time she emailed or called him?

Here’s one simple way you can implement this helpful approach. When you see an influential journalist looking for a source to speak about something beyond what your organization can address, find someone anyway. You know your industry – who would be qualified and effective on that topic? Maybe you’re aware of a university professor or think-tank analyst – go the extra mile and find contact info and share with the influencer.

To be sure, rendering this kind of assistance doesn’t guarantee us any coverage. It’s not a quid pro quo. What we earn is simply attention – the media members we help are more likely to give us the time of day the next time we have something to offer. Not merely to return the favor, but rather because we’ve demonstrated we know a bit about their topic and that we understand how demanding their jobs are. We better make sure we still “bring our A game” and suggest good angles that matter to their audiences.

You can determine media needs by:

– watching their social media posts to see what they are working on

– noting what’s coming up on their editorial calendars

– simply asking, “What’s coming up that you’re working on?”

Finally, a qualifier. You obviously don’t do this for every reporter who has needs. Focus on those who reach audiences that are strategic for your organization. And if you help a reporter or blogger out a couple times who doesn’t respond to your outreach, don’t get mad. Just move on and apply your helpful approach to someone who may be more appreciative.

The age-old PR question: What is the optimal length for my media pitch?

GET THESE ARTICLES WEEKLY IN YOUR INBOX HERE

When pushed for a one-size-fits-all guideline for email pitch length, I usually say 150 words.

But in this post I’ll share some recent evidence to justify when your pitches can be effective even if they’re twice that length.

First, the justification for 150. That guideline came from looking at my successful pitches, asking other prolific media relations pros, and asking journalists. About 150 words kept coming up, which is about twice as long as what you’ve read to this point.

Now check this out. I went back and looked at the six winners of the 2014 “Best Pitches of the Year” contest that I held for members of my Inner Circle.

We had two overall winners and four honorable mentions. They landed the likes of the WSJ (three of them), USAT, TheAtlantic.com, and Ad Age. I was surprised to see that the average word count of these winners was 283!

Then I looked at the distribution and saw a pattern emerge:

Three of the winning pitches were 163, 177 and 180 words long.

The other three were 367, 378, and 435 words long.

What accounted for the difference in the two groups?

The shorter pitches were sharing an asset, while the longer pitches were introducing a self-contained new idea.

Sharing an asset

The shorter pitches were about: a study of breastfeeding habits, a list of the seven best forests to visit, and a survey of millennial spending habits.

You can see how a short pitch would be all that’s necessary to pique the target reporter’s interest and get them to look at the “asset” – the study, the list, or the survey results. Same principle would hold if you’re sharing a video or other piece of content.

Introducing a new idea

The three other pitches faced a tougher challenge. They took an abstract concept and shaped that into a newsworthy angle.

One was about a training program that helps NYC doormen identify elder abuse – but the program is a bit dated so the pitcher used some creativity to make it timely. Another was a bold suggestion for a positive profile of an ad agency that shared concrete examples of why the agency deserved that treatment. And the final one listed similarities between an episode of Game of Thrones and actual medieval history to make a point.

You can see why these would require longer treatment.

Now, here’s an important caveat. The longer pitches were expertly written. After all, they were the best of the year.

So now you have some evidence for a more nuanced approach to determining the best length of your pitches.

When your story idea is good enough and lacks an accompanying asset – you can “go big.” Just make sure you do it well.

When it comes to professional development, are you a skimmer or a diver?

GET THESE ARTICLES WEEKLY IN YOUR INBOX HERE

Got this reply to a “tips” email I sent out last month:

Michael, I quickly searched your email for the subject line that got an 80% response from national media.  But you overwhelmed me with information… if the subject line was among your text I missed it.

The tip for the subject line was most definitely in the email – near the end, of course.

But it doesn’t bother me that this reader missed it. I’m not going to cut away at the other important elements that were included in that email just so it’s easier for people to skim.

That approach doesn’t attract the type of people I’m looking to help.

Some people, like the woman who sent the reply above, only have time to skim their professional development resources. For them, there are lots of helpful industry web sites with snackable PR listicles.

Those resources exist for people who are skimmers when it comes to their professional development.

My preference is to offer you a deeper look into the relatively few topics that will have the biggest impact on your PR success.

People who connect with me tend to be divers when they explore ways to hone their craft.

Which approach fits you right now? You know yourself and your situation best.

Have you liked what you’ve been reading from me lately? Are you a diver who is looking to invest more thoughtful effort in your professional development?

If so, you might be a good candidate for my Inner Circle group coaching program. But I’m not sure.

The way for you to find out is to register for the new complimentary Inner Circle Preview Pass.

It’s a series of emails that give you an inside look at the program, now in its sixth year.

The Preview Pass is the way to determine if the Inner Circle is right for you, and if you’re right for the Inner Circle.

Get the Preview Pass here.

We’ve ruined the compliment approach to pitch introductions

GET THESE ARTICLES WEEKLY IN YOUR INBOX HERE

You might not realize that the well-intentioned opening sentence of your email when pitching media might be backfiring.

You’ve heard it’s a good idea to start your pitch by referencing a reporter’s previous work.

And because you’re naturally a positive person, you likely say something nice about it. Like maybe:

“I am an avid reader of your column and have especially enjoyed your coverage of successful leaders – many of whom are inspirational to me.”

And because you’re honest, you actually DO read the column and you ARE inspired by it.

Problem is, too many other PR people have been pitching media with lines like that when they DON’T actually read the column. And the journalists can tell. So they can be dubious at times.

What’s happened is we have ruined the compliment as an opening when pitching media.

Okay, maybe not totally ruined it. There’s a simple way to preserve this approach.

We just need to be more specific so that our opening comment is credible.

Try this instead:

“I read [column name] every Monday morning after I catch up on email from the weekend. Was impressed – even inspired – by [column subject’s name] and [subject of different column].”

See the difference?

Sure, some journalists might say they’d rather get the news right away. But in practice, they get so many generic, irrelevant pitches that it’s a best practice to PROVE you read or watch their stuff right from the beginning.

This is on my mind because it was a recurring theme during the Q&A webinar I did with my Inner Circle members this week. Talking with them individually, I could hear their sincerity in their voices. But unfortunately while pitching media in a digital medium like email, such sentiment doesn’t always translate. So we worked on perfecting those customized introductions so they won’t be doubted.

Once you complete your specific and credible opening, then you transition into why your news is relevant enough to be appropriate, but different enough to justify further coverage. And that’s a topic for another post :).

How one short media pitch spiked a client’s web traffic

GET THESE ARTICLES WEEKLY IN YOUR INBOX HERE

I’ve been hearing from many of you who are having success reacting to journalists’ and bloggers’ previous work.

Here’s a case study to help you hone your approach.

Mercy Chikowore came to my pitching workshop in DC and paid special attention to the section on customizing pitches and keeping them “brutally brief.”

When she was introducing her bitcoin online retailer to the world, here’s what she sent to Business Insider writer:

Hi Dylan,

Just read your story on the bitcoin ATM – definitely impressive. We’re also so impressed with bitcoin that we opened an online megastore where bitcoin users can buy just about anything they want. If you don’t believe me, just click the link.

You can find more info about the store in the release below. We haven’t been on Letterman, but let us know if this is something that interests you.

Sincerely,

Mercy

Two hours later, this story ran on Business Insider. Mercy found out when a cofounder emailed her that traffic was spiking (he was so excited we can’t share his language here :). Page views went up more than tenfold. The BI story also got picked up by Yahoo Finance and the San Francisco Chronicle.

It started discussions on reddit that resulted in people reaching out for opportunities to invest in or work for the company.

In what’s perhaps a signal of how well Mercy did her job, one of the 141 reddit commenters asked “How did these guys get Business Insider to write an article about them!?”

Takeaways for us:

1. If non-traditional-media sites like Business Insider and reddit aren’t already on your radar as potentially influential ways to reach your audiences, they should be.

2. Mercy’s dogged research before her pitch not only identified someone who was clearly interested in bitcoin, but also gave her a way to make a personal connection to the fact he had been on Letterman.

3. Have the courage to let your careful customization stand on its own, and resist the urge to bog down your initial pitch with background.

We talk about pitches like this multiple times a month in the Inner Circle.

Congrats to Mercy, and to all of you who are getting responses and placements by pitching smarter.

When you’re discouraged because everyone else seems to be succeeding where you’re not, remember this

GET THESE ARTICLES WEEKLY IN YOUR INBOX HERE

Three weeks ago I was delivering a pitching webinar that 6,900 people had registered for.

I fought back my nerves and skipped the typical intro, background, bio and stuff. Right at the top, I dove into sharing five successful pitch examples. My anxiety ebbed as I hit points I’d labored long hours to prepare.

And then out of the corner of my eye I saw the questions coming in over the chat box, poking holes in why the examples weren’t relevant to individual questioners. Not something that had ever happened to me before. Here’s an example:

“These somewhat obscure stories get great coverage because they’re creative, but can you discount the fact that you have GREAT existing relationships already?”

I suppose it’s natural to look for excuses for why we’re not succeeding when others are. But I didn’t want listeners to short-change themselves out of potential growth.

So I set aside my notes and encouraged them to, yes, be realistic about their circumstances, but look for reasons they CAN succeed, rather than for reasons they’ll fail before they even start.

And then I said something that became the most-tweeted quote from the webinar. And that’s funny because I not only didn’t have it in my notes, I’d never said it before or even thought it before that moment:

“Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s end.”

You and I see somebody else’s glistening placement in a sought-after media outlet. We don’t see the hours of planning, prep, and execution. And we certainly don’t see the frustration when things went wrong, when pitches got ignored, or when clients went AWOL. So when we consider our current progress (or lack of it) compared to others’ triumph, the gap can seem insurmountable.

Instead we should visualize our successful conclusions and seek out others’ successes we can aspire to emulate. Not only is this attitude more effective, life is much more fun lived this way.

So thanks to those initial questioners who knocked me off my talking points and helped us create some new thinking that day. And thanks to the other 300 or so who asked constructive questions , which I took a stab at answering here.

If you’re interested, the helpful Cision marketing team that hosted me has posted a replay of the webinar and a recap.

Streamline your news release approval process by following this simple tip

GET THESE ARTICLES WEEKLY IN YOUR INBOX HERE

One of our common frustrations as PR people is getting client/boss approvals on writing projects.

You know – when you send the attachment or Google Doc link and what you get back has more red “track changes” than black original.

There are lots of political and personality dynamics at play, so what I’m about to share won’t automatically cure all your approval woes. But it will definitely help.

The key is to divide the approval process into TWO HALVES.

First half – BEFORE you start writing, email your approver(s) and tell them your intent to write a release, case study, whatever. Tell them you’d like their agreement on three things:

1. Business purpose of the document – the bottom-line business goals you aim to support by producing it. Bosses and clients LOVE this, and once they see that you’re prioritizing what’s most important to them, they are more likely to get on board.

2. Main message – the point you want to get across to readers/visitors that will lead them to the business goal.

3. News hook or content marketing “angle” – this is where your expertise as a communicator comes in. You propose the creative way to make your main message interesting or useful to your key audiences. You’ve essentially said to your approvers: “I know what you want. Now here’s where you give me license to achieve it.”

They will often appreciate your strategic approach and sign off right away. If they don’t, you’ve saved yourself lots of writing time by catching and accommodating their concerns early in the process. Then you write your doc, and you’re ready for . . .

The second half: You send the final copy with a preface that says, “Since we’ve already agreed on the primary purpose and approach, all that’s left is for you to check for any factual errors or vital legal/proprietary concerns. If I don’t hear back from you by (date), then I’ll know all is well and we’ll proceed.”

If you want to get really cagey, you cut and paste the release into the email, so the reviewers are less likely to use “track changes” or Google Doc’s comment feature to weigh in on every comma and synonym.

Divide your approval process in half and enjoy faster approvals and less unnecessary meddling.