Best Pitches of the Year


I recently determined the winners of my annual Best Pitch of the Year competition, and here’s what you can learn from them.

I also have a brief announcement to make below.

Average word count

No surprise that they were short. Average word count was 209, but most were shorter than that – a couple skewed the average higher.

Turning vanilla into llamas

Two honorees were handed less-than-stellar materials and dug deeper to deliver more than their clients expected. One agency lead didn’t stop when the foundation she reps offered her a great spokesperson. She asked lots more questions and poked around the organization until she turned up an amazing visual. She’s used it to book segments on mornings shows in major markets up and down the East Coast, and also on Fox & Friends.

Another intrepid PR pro literally climbed a mountain for her client. She was hired to do local publicity for a popular trail running race. She hiked up to an aid station at 10,000 feet and learned about the team of llamas race organizers use to pack supplies up that high. What story can’t be made more appealing with a llama angle? Her placements got picked up Runners World, a bonus her client told me they are thrilled with.

Land the New York Times – 3 and 12

The two pros who shared the overall Best Pitch of the Year honor both landed positive placements in the NYT without major news or a big organization behind them. Their approaches both revolved around the numbers 3 and 12.

Both used a three-paragraph pitch structure: a customized intro that tied their idea into the writer’s beat; then a brief description of their idea; then a call to action with offers to help.

The 12? That’s how many months it took for them to get that precious placement. Lots of back-and-forth with the journalists led to further story development. A nice blend of patience and persistence is evident when you read through their long email conversations.

Want to see the Best Pitches of the Year?

You can check out all 15 pitches, word for word, along with the placements they landed (WP, Wired, New Yorker, LAT, USAT), as well as my commentary and takeaways. I deliver this exclusively to members of my Inner Circle group coaching program.

If you’d like to get access to all that you can learn from these great success stories, apply to join the Inner Circle here.

An Announcement

If you’ve been considering the Inner Circle, be sure to decide soon, because enrollment in the Inner Circle will be closing indefinitely on Feb. 15.

This is a return to the process we used for the first eight years of the program – we carefully guarded access, only opening from time to time. Last year I experimented with year-round access to see what that would be like. The user experience stayed great, but things are much easier for us on the backend with more control over when people join.

Doing thought leadership “backwards”


Last Thursday, about the time my previous post went live online, Jeremy Littau sat down to post some tweets.

He’s a journalism professor at Lehigh who had about 3,000 followers, and he had some thoughts about the demise of local newspapers that he thought people have been overlooking. I don’t know this for sure because I haven’t contacted him, but I doubt he anticipated that his tweets would be retweeted 18,000 times and liked 39,000 times.

Now the thoughts he shared are important and valuable for us as PR pros. But that’s just a bonus to the lesson I learned from this case study.

Our PR takeaway grows out of what came next: Jeremy placed an op-ed in Slate, and a separate one in Wired, that each said much the same thing as his Twitter thread.

That flow might seem obvious to you – the popularity of his tweets proved interest in his ideas, so editors naturally wanted to publish his writing.

But that logic flies in the face of what has been PR conventional wisdom forever, that “the media demand to be first,” that if you share your ideas on your “owned” channels first, they’ll consider it old news.

In fact, that’s a point of tension between many PR teams and their content marketing counterparts. Both want to go first, but the PR teams often win the battle because of the contention that media won’t take seconds.

Not so, as this case proves. In fact, publishing your own ideas first often buttresses your subsequent media pitches. “People really want to talk about this idea,” you can insist.

The part that makes this extra fascinating to me is that Jeremy didn’t write a blog post or an article in a trade pub. He wrote a tweet and replied to it literally 39 times.

I’ve seen this approach with increasing frequency from people with interesting things to say that won’t fit in one tweet. I guess Twitter users who can’t be bothered to click a link to an article are more likely to get sucked in by an initial tweet and then keep scrolling down.

Here’s how you apply this as a PR pro: As you’re developing your thought leaders and trying to place op-eds or contributed content, think about ways you can get quantitative proof that their ideas are provocative. Build up metrics on other platforms – your own web site, Reddit, social feeds – that show their thoughts are resonating.

And then use those numbers to land your thought leaders third-party publishing venues (like Slate or Wired for a digital journalism professor) to boost their credibility and reach new audiences.

Congratulations to Jeremy and Lehigh – thanks for the lesson, and for the advocacy for local journalism.

Here’s the original Twitter thread, and the Slate and Wired pieces.

UPDATE: Jeremy reacted to this post via Twitter.

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Fear of phone pitching


We all see the tweets from journalists that say “Never call me” and “Any PR person that calls a journalist should be fired.”

So don’t call those journalists.

And if you want, you could throw the baby out with that bathwater and never call any journalists. That just makes it easier for people like Laura Orrico.

Laura knows that a well-researched phone call to the right person at the right outlet still works, and she trains the staff at the PR firm she runs how to do it successfully.

I know this because I was doing a pitching webinar and mentioned something about this fear of phone pitching. And a listener named Taylor Leddin piped up via the chat and said her boss helps her and her coworkers get over “phone fright” and be successful. After the webinar I had to get in touch and hear more.

Laura was very generous with her insights and even passed along the phrasing she’s used for successful phone pitches – I’m going to share that below. But, if you’re currently nervous about using the phone to pitch, the most important message here comes from Taylor. Because she used to feel just like you.

But Laura not only encouraged her, but sat down next to her and demonstrated exactly how to do it on a real pitch. Taylor was inspired to get over her nerves, and gave it a shot. The first time she wasn’t as awesome at it as Laura, but she stuck with it, and now gets more placements because of it. You can do the same.

Here’s a great example. Laura was repping an organization related to the Bill of Rights. She picked up the phone and cold called a reporter at Parade magazine and made a two-sentence pitch. The reporter explained that their deadline had passed, and Laura thanked her and was gone.

Some time later, Laura called the same reporter about a different client. Here’s what she said:

Hi [reporter]! It’s Laura Orrico with Laura Orrico Public Relations. We spoke a few months ago about the Federal Bar Association and the Bill of Rights Anniversary? How are you? Well, this time I have something that isn’t happening for a few months, so I wanted to call as I have all of the details to give you advance notice. My client, the Federal Bar Association, is doing a pro bono veterans initiative helping vets to draft wills across the country, and I thought this would be perfect for your Veterans Day issue.”

The writer responded positively and invited Laura to email the details. Closer to the deadline, Laura called back to check and the reporter told her the story was set to run right before Veterans Day. Which it did 🙂

Best part of the story? It goes on. Laura’s team got another client featured in Parade a few months later. It all started because she was willing to pick up the phone that first time.

It’s obvious Laura does her research and only selectively calls people she knows are the right ones to approach. A couple other tips that might not be as obvious, especially if you have been doing all your pitching by email.

“Smile while you’re talking,” Laura says. “That’s so important because it affects how you sound. And don’t match their bad tone if they have one. Some people just sound moody on the phone.”

Thank you to Taylor for bringing this to my attention. And kudos to her boss Laura and the team at Laura Orrico Public Relations for doing the best they can for their clients.

“Tidying Up with Michael Smart”


There’s something hypnotic about the new year that makes you want to “tidy up” your life.

That’s why Netflix waited until Jan. 1 to launch the now-ballyhooed “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.”

If you don’t recognize her name . . . Remember a few years ago when it seemed like half your friends kept going on and on about the new method for decluttering your house? How you keep only those items that “spark joy” – and to all the other stuff that’s hard to throw out, you hold it, say “thank you” to it, and then toss? That’s Marie Kondo (her book was a hit worldwide in 2011)

Haven’t watched the show yet (my wife is way ahead of me). But over the Christmas break I was obsessed with cleaning out my closet. Did it at 9 pm on a Friday one night!

That urge to “edit your life” comes from a good place. You know that being overwhelmed is not the natural state you were meant to be in. But you – like I did for so many years – tell yourself that “Things are different in PR – we’re in a service business after all.”

You’ve told yourself that it’s normal and natural to either be at your keyboard or have your phone in your hand all day. That everyone checks their phone first thing in the morning and last thing at night.

But not really . . .

A quiet groundswell of knowledge workers – including and especially PR professionals – are taking great strides to “tidy up” their lives by editing out meaningless digital distractions. They’re having productive conversations with bosses, coworkers and clients about how they can do their best work for them.

And they’re getting killer results without killing themselves mentally by being perpetually distracted.

I’m going to introduce you to these pros, and tell you how they do it, on a free webinar TODAY. I’ve never taught any of this outside my paid programs before.

Work Smarter, Not Harder, in 2019: Get Beyond the Daily PR Grind to Get Better Results Without Being Tethered to Your Phone 24/7

TODAY, 3 ET/2 CT/1 MT/noon PT

Register now.

See you there!

P.S. The recording will be up for a week, so go ahead and register if you can’t make it live.

Work smarter (not harder) in 2019


A while back – but not anymore – when I’d ask a PR person about their job, they’d usually start with what they liked. “I like using creativity and storytelling. I like completing intellectually stimulating activities at work. I like building relationships with new people.”

But now, most of the time, they start with how busy they feel. “I always feel rushed. I feel like my mind is always racing. I feel like I’m perpetually behind. I’m always worried I’m missing something.”

Is that how you feel, too?

What if, in contrast, you could feel like your mind is clear? Have that be the new normal. What if you could feel like you’re doing your very best work at almost all times? What if you could feel certain you’re on the correct path with the daily work you choose and your career direction?

I know people who feel like that. I know how they act and think differently than the typical PR person.

You can feel like that.

But you have to let go of three false beliefs about working in PR:

This is a service business, so my job is to carry out orders and meet requests.  

False. That servant mentality may work for restaurants and flight attendants. But this is a creativity business. Your job is to be the expert, and to do that you sometimes need to ignore distractions and turn down requests.  

Because I carry this phone/text messaging machine/email inbox all the time, I therefore need to check it and respond to it all the time. 

Dig a deep hole and bury this thinking forever. Any recent college grad can be “responsive.” Your job is to be effective. And you can’t be effective when you’re constantly checking your digital tether.

I’ve got to finish all these things everybody wants me to do. 

Not anymore. In the information age, it is impossible to process every input and complete every request that comes your way. You have a bigger challenge – you need to use your mind and carefully evaluate and prioritize all the incoming you have. Accomplish the vital few tasks that really matter, and have the knowledge and confidence to ignore the rest.

And now you’ve got these questions:

“What about clients or bosses who expect me to be responsive? What about missing inquiries from media? If this stuff is true, why does everybody I know act and think the opposite? That rings true to me, but where do I start?”

Good questions. I’m doing a complimentary training that will clearly walk you through the specific answers. I’ve been teaching these principles to paying clients for the last three years – this is the first time I’ll discuss any of these tips and takeaways in a public webinar or conference.This will be entirely different than the free webinar I did in the fall – totally different content, totally different style. Unless you are one of my paying clients, you have never heard me teach any of these techniques and principles.

Join me next week for: Work Smarter, Not Harder: Get Beyond the Daily PR Grind to Eliminate Distraction, Get Better Results, Please Clients/Bosses WITHOUT Being Tethered to Your Phone 24/7

You’ll learn:

– Scientific research that proves the conventional approach to day-to-day work in PR is the absolute opposite of what works best

– How to change others’ expectation of you from “responsive” to “effective”

–  Specific phrasing for your emails and conversations with others to set boundaries in a way that builds respect, not annoyance

– Free or inexpensive software tools that shield you from incessant digital distraction

– Ways to create space for the creative side of your brain, which is why you got into PR anyway!

Attendance for this complimentary live webinar is limited to the first 500 attendees, so register now and log in early to secure your spot.

Having fun doing PR


This week between Christmas and New Year’s is often a “fun” time of year, so here’s a message about having fun doing PR.

There’s a family in my neighborhood with three teenage sons who have a terminal disease that means they use wheelchairs to get around. Their dad has to lift them, one at a time, from their wheelchairs into the cab of his pickup. Then he loads each of the three heavy power wheelchairs on a flatbed truck. Takes 30 minutes to go anywhere.

Some other neighbors decided to step in and do something to help. They wanted to get the family a large van equipped with a mechanical lift system. They worked with a local auto dealer who told them if they raised $25K, he’d make sure it was enough to get them a great vehicle. They organized a GoFundMe campaign – shot a video, wrote a moving description, and got the word out via social media. Their charitable enthusiasm was infectious, so I wanted to get involved.

A few phone calls later, a local TV station was at their house, covering the campaign. Working with that reporter was different – he was personally really into the story. Made sacrifices and efforts that journalists don’t usually make.

His piece was awesome. So were two newspaper articles we got. The publicity re-ignited the campaign and pushed it past the goal.

But by this point I was hooked. This was fun! I called the dealer to talk about how to present the vehicle to the family in a media-friendly way. He was humble about it, but I insisted.

It came down to the wire, but he got the vehicle just in time. And we had a great Christmas Eve story to offer the local media. You know how you feel awkward or torn about follow up phone calls? Not me, not this time. I was going over people’s heads, talking directly to editors, whatever it took, because I knew this was a great story. And all the journalists thanked me for it.

I don’t know about you, but my experience has been that media are almost always late to events. I showed up thirty minutes early, and the first TV crew had already been there shooting for a half-hour!

I’ve never felt such a positive spirit at a car dealership :). Watching the boys react to their new vehicle was incredible – this TV story does a great job of capturing it. Definitely one of the best Christmas experiences I’ve ever had.

Do you have fun doing PR? Maybe your employer sells ball bearings or obscure financial instruments or something you find equally un-redeeming. If so, you probably don’t get media showing up early or working on their days off to cover your ideas.

But if you want to, you can lend your rare and valuable skills to a cause you believe in, pro bono. They’re all around you. And trust me – it’s really fun.

An ingenious feel-good story


The articles I post the Thursday before Christmas every year is my favorite one to write. Because our hearts tend to be more open to messages of deeper meaning than how to earn more media placements.

But today’s is the best of both worlds. Tuesday I witnessed something inspirational. And there’s a great PR lesson in it, too!

My wife and I were walking in downtown Salt Lake City, and we came across the most unusual vending machines you’ve ever seen. You put in your credit card, and then you punch in the number of your “item.” But instead of getting a soda or a snack, you bought an eye exam for an underprivileged child. Or soccer balls for kids in a refugee camp. Or a goat for a single mom outside Syria.

They have these “giving machines” in Manhattan and London and Manila, too, as detailed in the London Daily Mail.

It’s part of a giving campaign by my church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and its charitable partners.

Pretty cool idea, huh? And it incorporates two frameworks that you can learn from to draw attention to your favorite causes.

The challenge here is that pretty much everyone thinks it’s good to donate to charity, and most people do, and this time of year there is a ton of competition around that message. So how did this campaign stand out?

– Contrarian imagery. They took a practice that’s synonymous with superficial “taking” – grabbing something from the vending machine – and flipped it to meaningful giving.

– Changed the “process” to create novelty. The typical charity story focuses on outcomes – “Your donation will go to help these people . . .” So this one shakes things up by focusing on the methodology of your donation.

There’s one more thing I love about this campaign. It highlights the positive influence of expertise in public relations. When you hone your craft honorably, you are exercising your power to prompt others to do good in the world.

And that’s why I take it as a great honor that you’ve chosen to read these posts this year. My warmest wishes to you and yours for a wonderful holiday.

P.S. If you’re in the mood for more holiday-tinged messages, last year I wrote about defeating inner demons holding us back. The year before that was refuting what the business media and success literature say about how to treat people.

Some of the best writing I’ve ever seen


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

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

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

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

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

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

– heavily reader-focused headline and opening graf

– disciplined succinctness with zero unnecessary words

– accessible flow that ignores outdated grammar “rules”

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

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

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

Grab your discount code and research the course further here.

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

I thought this was a Tom Cruise urban legend


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the NY Times article.

Why PR needs to be in the room


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For this to work, Michaela needed two things:

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

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

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

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

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