About your writing misteaks

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Insider tips from a WSJ vet

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A few weeks ago I shared my interview with a 19-year-veteran of the Wall Street Journal with members of the Inner Circle. I grilled her about what Journal writers are looking for, and I showed her 12 actual pitches from members and recorded her real-time reactions, just like she was opening them in her email inbox.

One of the things that stood out to me was how big of a distinction the Journal places on beat writers compared to feature writers. The beat writers are typically focused on a specific industry, and usually even more narrowly focused on the major players in that industry.

Feature writers, like my guest, have more latitude. They are also organized around various subject areas, so they’ll show a “beat” in a media database, but they individually define those much more broadly than any database could depict. Yet another reason to regularly consume the content of your top media targets.

Here’s a useful rule of thumb to apply when pitching a features reporter at the Journal – or anywhere, for that matter, including top-tier broadcast. She said:

The pitches I was more likely to cover were ideas that were interesting enough and that hadn’t been done before, but weren’t unique enough that there was just one company in the whole world doing it.

One other thing she said surprised me – her voice grew pretty irritated when she talked about how PR reps would push back during fact-checking on minor details like the wording of an executive’s title or omitting a marketing position statement. She explained that sometimes she’d choose to cut a source from the story rather than go through the hassle of bargaining with what she felt were obstinate PR people. Didn’t surprise me that annoyed her – it surprised me that people would risk a positive WSJ mention over some minor semantics.

Two of the highlights were:

-the way she lit up when she saw a particular expert pitch and explained why it stood out to her versus several of the previous pitches I’d shown her

-the point where she referred to “a good stealth way to get into the Journal” that I hadn’t necessarily thought of before.

The video recording and the transcript of the entire interview aren’t available for sale anywhere. But you could be watching it or reading it within a day or two.  They’re already available to members of the Inner Circle 24/7, along with other similar interviews I’ve done with top-tier media who review members’ pitches, including:

– The Today show producer who liked one of the pitches so much that she took a crew out to shoot it

– The home-page editor for the Washington Post who shared counterintuitive insights about just how much the emphasis on web traffic has changed journalism

– The USA Today reporter who was extremely generous and encouraging at the same time she dissected pitches with precision, objectivity, and unrelentingly high standards

Those are just a few of the assets Inner Circle members are accessing right now.

Just last week, we updated the way we accept new members. You now have the opportunity to join right away. You just need to fill out a brief application so that we can manage the growth of the program and make sure it’s a good fit.

There’s so much more to the Inner Circle than I have time to share here. And it’s absolutely adaptable to your needs and availability. Most people are surprised at how affordable it is.

Go to this page now and review the opportunity, then click the button to apply.

I look forward to seeing you on the inside 🙂

Way too many actionable tips and successful examples

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This week I’ve got way too many actionable tips and successful examples to fit into a post.

So join me Tuesday for my free webinar with Cision where I’ll share:

• The foolproof way to begin pitch emails.
• The 3 things that will make your stories irresistible.
• The overlooked media outlets dying for content like yours.
• A pitching strategy more effective than chasing the Wall Street Journal.
• Real pitches you can use to land in the Wall Street Journal (if you’re so inclined).

I only do two free webinars are year, so this is a rare chance to get my latest, best recommendations on adapting to the new media environment.

I’ve been working on this for a couple weeks, and today I’m practicing it with two different test audiences.

Hope to see you Tuesday – register here now.

P.S. If you haven’t heard me speak before, then you should know I’m on a mission to defeat multi-tasking. My goal is that no one live tweets the webinar because they are too focused on what they’re learning to do anything else ?

Something nobody does

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Before you send out a pitch, do you test it by delivering it in person to a real human?

On one hand, this seems ridiculous. You have so much going on, you’re always racing to get the pitches out the door on time. And you’re almost always sending them by email, so talking it through face-to-face appears irrelevant.

On the other hand, a practice shot seems obvious. You invest so much time and effort into this outreach, and you only get one shot to make a first impression. Why wouldn’t you make a trial run?

This is not a theoretical argument. At my media relations workshops I have the participants share their pitches with different “classmates” throughout the day. During last week’s event in NYC, one of the most common pieces of feedback was, “Wow, practicing my pitch showed me ways to improve I’d never realized before.”

This is the reason I’m grateful I cut my pitching teeth on the phone. I’d prepare a pitch meticulously, and then as soon as I had a real human being on the other end of the line, someone with deadlines and self-interests and a soul, I’d hear myself switching it up on the fly to match their needs better. There’s an intuition that kicks in when you’re actually talking to someone else.

Nowadays when we avoid the phone so much, it can lead to us shooting emails out into the ether, feeling almost like we’re typing to our computer instead of a real person.

So for your next pitch, go grab someone else, tell them the name and beat of the influencer you’re sending it to, and try it out. It’s great if they’re also in PR, but they don’t have to be. Here’s what is key – only choose someone who knows as much or LESS about the subject matter as the influencer you’ll be pitching. This exercise helps you de-mystify what might be arcane or jargon-laced corporate-speak into an accessible “story” that someone will want to share.

If you find yourself flying solo, or you’d like to take your pitch reviews to the next level, that’s one of the things we do regularly inside my Inner Circle program. You can talk your pitch over with me directly during our monthly “Ask Michael Anything” session. Or you can get feedback from other members anytime via our private community forum. Members frequently post their placements along with thanks to their peers who helped them hone the pitches that earned them.

Now is the time to register for the Inner Circle Success Manual, because we will soon be accepting new members.

 

I’m concerned about the state of media relations

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When people hear that I’m in media relations, they sometimes ask me if I’m worried media pitching won’t be around much longer.

The answer is definitely no – media relations as a business is stronger than ever. But I AM worried that many people are doing it wrong.

For example, while you’re reading this, I’m teaching a media relations workshop in NYC – it sold out last month, and it’s the biggest crowd we’ve ever had. People are emailing and asking when the next one is because they’re bummed they missed this one.

That’s just one example of how popular media pitching has become and the resources people are throwing at it. But my concern is that too many PR people are grinding it out chasing the OLD media relations model.

Everybody’s CEO wants them in the NYT or the WSJ or on a network morning show or whatever is the Holy Grail in their space. For some organizations that’s still the right priority, and I can help them do that.

But most PR people could get a much bigger return – faster – by adjusting their focus to take advantage of all the new media outlets and channels today.

Take this example – your CEO wants media, but he’s skittish about a couple topics and warns you he won’t answer questions about them. Of course, they happen to be the topics everyone wants to know about your company. You know that traditional media aren’t going to play along.

So instead of tying yourself in knots figuring out how to book an interview with a top-tier outlet, look around. You can find a podcaster who would give her pinky finger for the opportunity to interview a CEO like yours. And would gladly agree to share questions with you in advance, AND give you the right to request edits after the interview. (Don’t dare ask a traditional journalist for either of those, btw).

Even top podcasters make these accommodations. Tim Ferris, who is regularly in iTunes’ Top 50, essentially brags about doing this. That’s how he books celebrity guests who in turn attract more listeners to his podcast. He even persuaded reclusive billionaire Peter Thiel on by allowing him to record the session solo and choose from a list of written questions!

Reid Hoffman started a new podcast (Masters of Scale) off with an incredible run of guests including Reid Hastings, Marc Zuckerberg, Eric Schmidt and Sheryl Sandberg. You gotta believe that those heavy hitters reserved the right to collaborate on question selection and the final edit.

Now, you and I don’t get to work with celebrities or mega-CEOs. But somewhere there is a podcaster with an audience – perhaps small, but passionate – who would LOVE to hear from your CEO. So you book that interview, and then transcribe it. And then you pull out some cool quotes, and the nugget of news that you saved to break on the podcast.

Then you pitch those quotes and the link to the podcast to the digital-only outlets that cover your space. Think Mashable or Business Insider if you’re big enough, or a few respected single-author blogs if you’re not.

They get a post that’s essentially half-written and it’s more credible because it’s not based on your “owned” content, it’s a third-party’s content. The podcaster loves you because you’re promoting her podcast, so she joins in and starts promoting the interview as well.

And then when things go right, these posts get shared and re-purposed on more sites, and sometimes the traditional media even call 🙂

That’s just one example of how you can adapt to the times. When your CEO talks about landing top-tier traditional media, nod your head and do your best to comply. But at the same time, fill up the web with placements from new media who are way easier to work with.

 

P.S. A free press holding top institutions accountable is essential to our society. What I’ve written here has nothing to do with government officials, who I believe are obligated to answer unfiltered questions from representatives of the taxpayers they work for.  My main audience for this message are those companies or organizations who are being overlooked by traditional, top-tier media. Not those who are trying to avoid them.

Is pitching easier or harder than it used to be?

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Most people believe that it’s harder than ever to pitch media. I understand why they think that, but an experience I had last week crystallized how I see it differently.

It’s true that many traditional media outlets have shed staffers – especially local TV. Those that remain are doing the work that two or three used to do. At the same time, the proliferation of PR people and the ease of sending email means this smaller pool of reporters is getting drowned by the PR fire hose daily.

So I get that – pitching is tough. But I don’t think most people stop and really think about how it really used to be.

Last week an old friend texted me a picture of an open folder he found in a filing cabinet where I used to work. In the folder were the materials I had used for a national media campaign in 2003. I remember it – I was fortunate to land the Washington Post and National Geographic, among others. The crazy thing about the folder was that it contained . . . faxes.

Yes, even in 2003, many of the top-tier media (at least the ones I was pitching) still didn’t reliably use email. To get their attention, you had to actually CALL them and give them enough reasons to get and walk over to the fax machine to check out the additional details you were about to send them. And to even know who to target, you had to actually read their stuff regularly, because the online archives weren’t reliable enough (at all outlets) to pull up their recent work before a particular pitch.

Does that really sound easier than today? Yes, we’ve nearly ruined email as a channel for pitching by overdoing it. But journalists are still more likely to actually check it than they were the communal fax machine.

Now, instead of skimming five papers daily like I used to (that was way fewer than many peers), we can use search engines to quickly find the influencer for whom our topic is the most relevant. And there are now so many more platforms to connect with them on! It used to be just the phone. But now we can find them where they like to be – whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or the comments section of their blog. And swap little messages about shared interests to become familiar to them before we reach out.

My candid feeling is that pitching is actually easier now than ever before. But most PR pros don’t actually take advantage of the new avenues for success. They don’t admit it, but almost everybody in this business simply defaults back to the same essential process their predecessors used in the early ‘00s: blast out a news release to a big list of media and hope for a response. The only innovation is that today’s generic pitchers use email instead of blast-fax software.

That’s why you’re more valuable to your organization than you realize. Because you’re still reading, I know that you actually care about the nuances and fine details of the pitching process. Those additional elements “beyond the blast” that set you apart in the eyes of your target influencers.

YOU actually research a narrowly targeted set of influencers. You use social media and other platforms to get noticed well before you need to ask for coverage. You don’t send email blasts – your pitches are clearly customized for each valuable recipient.

As you fine-tune that expertise and stay current on evolving best practices, pitching gets easier. Don’t get me wrong – it will never get straight-up EASY. But it will get easier for you than it used to be. And your placements will increase and you’ll earn more autonomy to pursue media relations the way you know works best.

So you’ll be free to incorporate the next innovation that we don’t even know about. And someday someone will send you a screen shot of an email pitch you once sent, and you’ll think, “How quaint.” 🙂

P.S. Some have asked about options now that the New York workshop has sold out. We are working to schedule the next one in spring 2018. As soon as it’s nailed down, this web site will have the details and will accept registrations.

What if I’m an introvert?

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It always makes me when chuckle when someone asks what I do for a living.

I tell them, and then they say, “Oh, PR, you’d be good at that, you’re so good with people.”

I know they’re just being nice. But they clearly have NO IDEA what PR really is. And that’s okay – my own dear mother still doesn’t really get what PR is.

You know how fake that “Sex and the City” version of PR is. We’re not hosting swanky parties all the time, or calling up important people and sweet-talking them into doing something they don’t want to do.

This is a strategic communications function that requires critical thinking and objective analysis.

That’s why I didn’t realize that my recent post about “getting out of your office” could make some great PR pros uncomfortable.

One of your fellow readers, Andrew, wrote:

Do you think extroverts have an advantage over introverts on the road to becoming Media Relations Masters? I usually avoid all  four situations you put in bullet points, unless I can blend in while in those environments.

This cogent question made me pause. I have thoughts (I’m about to share), but I don’t know what it’s like to be an introvert. I mean, I used to work all day and then go teach a 2.5 hour night class to budding PR students and walk out more energized than when I walked in.

My mom says that when I was five I would come home from kindergarten and set up a little desk and chair by the sidewalk with a sign that said: “Information – 5 cents.” The idea was that people would walk up and ask me questions and I would tell them the answers. (Sounds ridiculous now – except that’s essentially how I am putting my own kids through college!)

So I have no idea how it REALLY feels for an introvert to walk into the cafeteria with the intention to build rapport with a key organizational player and find out what’s happening in their department. Or to sit in on another department’s meeting and be the only person that nobody knows.

But I do know this – you achieve your highest impact when you focus on your strengths. You might expect me to say something motivational, like, “Introverts, you can overcome this hesitation, just push through it and you can be just like the outgoing and effusive people that fit the mold the lay public has of PR people.”

No. You find ways to apply your unique gifts within the skill set required to become a Media Relations Master. Andrew is already halfway there – you see how he noted occasions when he can “blend in.” He’s already found a partial path to building internal relationships required to get the crucial news nuggets he needs. Now he should step back and make a list of circumstances where he can comfortably “blend in” but still build rapport, and then create those opportunities more frequently.