Completing the trilogy

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My last two posts on not using hedging words in emails to journalists and instead relying on your belief in your purpose seem to have hit home.

Among the many responses I got, reader Carly M. helpfully asked:

“As someone who is always ‘just’ trying to get a story placed, this really hit home. My question is: how would you begin a pitch or follow-up email alternatively to make it come across as stronger and more important?”

So after two messages that emphasize what not do, I am now “completing the trilogy” on this topic with some specific tips on how to do this right.

1. For a cold pitch, the status quo is to start with something like this:

Just wanted to reach out, hoping you can take just a minute to see if there’s something that might interest you here.

Instead, prove your worth and get right to the point:

I know you cover workplace trends such as managing millennials. Here’s what one company has found after upgrading their IT to match digital natives’ expectations . . .

2. When following up after initial interest appears to wane, here’s a common example:

Sorry to bug you. Just wanted to check in and see if you might still be interested in this idea?

But you convey the same point with much more power when you simply write:

Checking in to see if this idea is still alive?

3. After a few follow-ups go by, you want to give yourself one last shot. So don’t water it down like this and hide behind someone else:

I know you get bombarded with pitches like these and I don’t mean to pester you. Just want to get a feel for your interest level on this one so I can let my [boss/client/expert] know if this might still happen.

Instead, you can still show empathy and acknowledge reality, while still being clear that you believe strongly in your story idea:

I know you are juggling so many stories constantly and can’t possibly pursue all the worthy opportunities you come across. Can you let me know if this is still on your radar, or should I move on and take it elsewhere?

If those specific examples help you, great.

But really, the principle is not in the granular semantics of the email. It’s about how you FEEL when you write it. If you feel like a reluctant pest who has nothing of value to offer, that’s usually how you’re going to come across. If you cover up that feeling by choosing more powerful words, that helps a little.

But the real change happens when you re-align the way you view the dynamic between you and the journalist. When you know you have something of value that will help her do her job, that sense of intention will jump off the screen and make you stand out.

Unzipped my bag and my laptop was gone

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I boarded my connecting flight last week, eased into my aisle seat in row 25, and unzipped my bag to pull out my laptop.

But it wasn’t there.

You know the feeling when a sudden crisis hits. Your brain goes into rapid-fire. Here’s the staccato of thoughts that coursed through my head, all in a split second:

Where is it? . . . It’s still under your seat on the plane you just got off!

That plane is going to take off and return to Salt Lake City in ten minutes!

The hardware is replaceable – but it will cost $2K!

The files for this trip’s speeches are backed up on Google Drive – but you don’t want to deal with borrowing a computer and stuff not working.

This aisle and jetway are full of people to climb over – but every second that passes it will get worse.

It’s crazy how you open your mind to a principle and the universe keeps giving you chances to learn more about it. Last week I wrote you about diminishing words like “just reaching out” and “sorry to bother you.” Writing or talking that way weakens the perceived value you have to offer journalists and coworkers.

And then here comes this crazy experience while making that connection in the Atlanta airport (why does this stuff keep happening on trips to Atlanta?).

I am not the type of guy who muscles his way into things. I do not line up for doorbusters on Black Friday. I do not edge my way in front of other people so I can get off planes faster, even when I have a tight connection.

But in that split-second when I resolved to GO GET THAT LAPTOP OFF THAT PLANE, I had a conviction firm enough to do something that normally would have made me uncomfortable. In this case, it didn’t embarrass me at all.

I threw my bag over my shoulder, picked up my roller suitcase with both hands, and just bulldogged my way up the aisle. “Excuse me . . . pardon me . . . I need to get off the plane . . . thanks so much.” Banging shoulders the entire way.

It’s amazing how much room is actually in those aisles when you push the limit. Took about 10 seconds.

You’d think people would be offended or at least annoyed. But nobody was. When I looked at their faces as they saw me coming, there was no frustration. They just leaned out of the way. After a few seconds, the people in the front of the plane started stepping out of the aisle. The flight attendant even threw my suit jacket to me from the closet, otherwise I would have forgotten it.

It was like they all assumed, “Wow, he must have a really good reason to get off this plane” and didn’t judge. If anything, the expressions they gave me were more like, “Hope everything turns out okay.”

I got on the train back to the A Terminal, then ran the length of it (of course the gate was all the way at the end). Arrived just in time to see the gate agent seal the jetway door shut.

She looked at me scared, assuming I had just missed the flight and would be ticked at her.

Lungs heaving, I wheezed out, “Laptop?”

Her face softened into a smile, and she walked over and pulled it out from under her desk . . . where she had placed it after the kind, unknown fellow traveler had turned it in.

I knew I had a good reason for acting like I did. And because I demonstrated that knowledge through my words and actions, the people around me believed that I did, too.

It’s the same when you write your follow-up emails. If you view it as simply “following up” because you have to, and even use those very words, “follow up,” it rarely works. The recipient has no reason to believe there is anything different about your outreach from the hundreds of other formulaic emails he’s received recently.

But if you really believe in your story, and that to the best of your knowledge it will help him do his job better, then you don’t hedge your language to avoid offending or annoying. You simply state what you have to offer. Your certainty of purpose comes across. Whether he accepts your idea or not, he doesn’t think less of you for offering it.

P.S. I got rebooked on the next flight, and three hours later I was eating barbecued ribs in Memphis.

Sorry for sending you this

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I know you’re busy 🙂 I just wanted to reach out and hopefully offer something that might help . . .

Insert screeching-to-a-halt sound. Does my title and opening sentence feel right to you? If you’ve been reading me for any length of time, you noticed a difference. Or at least felt a difference from how I usually approach you.

It’s true – I do know you’re busy. And I do want to help. But I’ve learned – over a long period of time and through lots of emotional growth (even occasional anguish) – that the best way I can help is to not devalue what I have to offer by quasi-begging you to read it.

That’s what subtle words like sorry, just, hopefully, and might communicate. That I’m not sure of myself enough to expect you to pay attention based on the value of what I’m about to give you.

That previous sentence was hard to write because if you go back to my original pitches, and even to the early days of me posting these articles, that’s exactly how I used to express myself. I was basically bleeding insecurity all over the page.

And that’s precisely how most PR pros write pitches today, and especially follow-up emails. Many unknowingly do it in their regular workplace conversations as well.

As I’m writing this, I’m on my way to give a keynote about this very topic. In preparation for the speech, I sought input from friends I respect about their transition from “pleaser” to “value-deliverer.”

One of them in particular nailed it. Here’s how Natalie Ipson responded to my inquiry (she didn’t know I would share it, but has since graciously granted permission):

I read an article once about how people tend to use diminishing words like “just” to hedge their requests, and it changed the way I communicate, especially through email. I like the message you’re trying to convey because journalists expect that PR professionals are going to contact them. In most cases, they want you to do it. That’s the relationship. So don’t apologize for doing the job you’re expected to do. 

That being said, there’s another point of view that “just” can be a polite gesture that says you know you’re asking someone to do something they don’t have to, which is where PR pros get tripped up. They want to be polite, because there’s no obligation for the reporter to cover their story. But that’s why it’s important for the PR pros to believe in themselves and believe that their content is truly valuable. You should only be apologetic if you have poor content. And if that’s the case, you need to do more digging to find the value before you reach out.

Couldn’t have said it better myself – thanks Natalie!

Thinking your way to success

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When I get out of my car in front of my office in every morning, this is what I see:

To the right of that snow-capped peak, there’s a canyon that snakes up between the two mountains. This time of year the creek on the canyon floor surges with extra force because of the melting snow.

I enjoy hiking. I also run a business.

Someone like me might look at that scene every morning and think, “Wow, that’s so great. I wish I could go hiking up there today, but I have so much work to do.”

At least that’s how I used to think: never enough hours in the day, and to get ahead I had to sacrifice “indulgences” like hiking.

But now I think differently. I’ve learned that spending time away from screens, when my mind is free to explore the depths of whatever is going on in my life, is among the most valuable time I have.

I come back from hikes with:

– new ideas for weekly emails
– novel recommendations for clients
– the name of someone I haven’t talked to in years who is now the perfect person to help me solve the new problem I’m facing

Hiking isn’t an indulgence for me – it’s a key part of my work week. So when I looked up at that scene when I got out of my car this morning, I thought, “Wow, that’s so great. I will be up there from 4-6 p.m. today because I have some serious work to do.”

It’s crucial for you to divorce your professional identity from the act of being “busy” as you think the world defines it. You don’t contribute your highest value as a PR pro by being in your email inbox all day.

Your best contribution comes by solving big problems in systematic ways. And that doesn’t happen without deep, creative thinking.

Obviously I’m not saying every PR pro can take up hiking. Instead, give yourself a “change of scenery” of any kind and take the time to think.

You can free your mind just by booking a conference room and whiteboarding the various possible angles for the pitch you’re working on . . . by yourself.

Or blocking out an hour on your schedule – no meetings, no calls – to ponder and brainstorm ideas for your next outreach campaign.

Your takeaway from this message is to tap into your real power by spending more time THINKING, not by continuing to take as much time REACTING to other people all day.

Take media relationships to the next level

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In this post I share the secret weapon for cementing your future relationship with a journalist who has covered you once.

You want to turn this one-off win into a relationship that can pay off for you and for the influencer time and again. To do that, you need to understand their needs better, and they need more proof of the value you can offer them.

After the coverage, you probably already write a “non-thank you note” – you express appreciation for the coverage without sounding like they did it for YOU. You compliment them on one of the values journalists prize, such as accuracy, depth, or quality.

Then follow these steps:

1. Ask for a phone chat. Yes, journalists these days abhor the phone because it can be a time vacuum. But the way you will stand out in the journalist’s mind is by making a PERSONAL impression of professionalism and savvy. Phone contact is much more personal than email. And they are most concerned about cold calls – a brief scheduled call is much different.
2.  Promise brevity. Be specific and prove that you get how busy they are by promising a firm time limit. Five minutes is a good starting point; up to fifteen if they’ve been responsive while you worked on the previous story.
3. Specify what you want to know. Journalists won’t take time to answer, “What do you like to hear about?” We should learn that from watching what they write or air. A good line of questioning these days is “how the changing media environment is affecting you personally.”
4. Suggest a time slot. This creates a small sense of urgency and makes it more likely you’ll get the opportunity before their memory fades and they have totally moved on to other projects.

This won’t always yield a phone appointment, but often it does. You’ll be surprised what a deeper connection you’re able to make when you move your outreach from digital ephemera to a real human connection.

How to give journos what they want

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The simplest way to get amazing results in PR is to give journalists and influencers what they want, in the way they want it, when they want it.

Your ego might have an issue with that, but it’s the truth.

If your pitch shows up PERFECTLY packaged for the journalist, you will win more often.

Now you could spend your time GUESSING about how to do this, or you could just get the straight truth directly from the mouths of journalists and influencers themselves.

That’s what I did. And today I’m going to share with you what I discovered…for free…in the form of an “audio mash-up” I created with interviews I’ve done with top-tier journalists.

In the audio, here are some of the things you’ll hear:

-How to make yourself more interesting to reporters. In this example, we’re not guessing, I just asked a reporter from the Washington Post this very question. You’ll want to hear her answer.

-A much bigger way to think about “news jacking” and a simple way to turn breaking news into even bigger opportunities for you.

-How to cajole a senior TV producer into saying YES to your pitch without even sending anything to them!

-The one thing you HAVE to include in any pitch involving live TV.

-The answer to the “how long is too long” question when you’re sending videos.

-You’ll jump inside the mind of a top-tier journalist and hear the process used to find experts.

This is an extremely valuable audio you need to listen to.

How do you get your copy?

It comes along with access to the Inner Circle Success Manual. And it’s all free.

Get the details and get your copy today.

Something new for you.

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I just put the finishing touches on a new resource for you. It’s free, and it’s something I can confidently guarantee will improve the results you’re getting in your PR work.

It’s based on work we’ve done inside the Inner Circle. I’ve taken a few extremely powerful strategies and tactics that Inner Circle members are using and I’ve decided to “gift” them to you.

I’ve never done this before, so consider this a test.

The resource is called the Inner Circle Success Manual: 14 PR Secrets From Inside the Smart PR Inner Circle.

And since you’re busy, I’ve divided it up into a bunch of sections. That way, instead of a PDF getting lost and forgotten on your computer, you can focus on one idea at a time and put that idea to use in your PR work.

In the first installment of the Inner Circle Success Manual, you’ll also receive an audio “mash-up” of interviews I’ve done with top-tier reporters. You’ll hear their take on what constitutes good pitching and their reactions to real pitches.

There’s a funny thing about success in the PR industry:

Yes, success comes from knowing some things others don’t know. But the most important part of success actually comes from doing things others don’t, won’t, or can’t do. (That’s not so easy to believe until you actually experience it.)

With what you discover inside the Inner Circle Success Manual, you’ll get “Inner Circle approved” tips for how to improve your results in PR.

Get your complimentary copy here.

What’s a good pitching success rate?

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Sometimes the VPs who hire me to train their teams ask what success rate they should be expecting.

As you can imagine, there are so many variables in play here, this is virtually impossible to answer.

But to give you a number, my experience is that good teams who are pitching a lot and who stretch themselves as far as the outlets they target, land coverage on about 15 percent of their pitches.

What’s important about looking at this number is to acknowledge two things:

-Pitching is hard
-It’s not about what your rate is now, it’s about what direction that number is moving

At my last Pitching Boot Camp in New York, we had about 30 people there. As usual, I could tell by the end of the day which were the ones who were going to get major success. It didn’t matter what their topics were or even who they were targeting. All that mattered was their motivation to go out and actually implement what they were learning. They were more focused on improvement than being frustrated about where they were at.

In fact, one of the guys actually introduced himself to a WSJ writer the night after the first day of the workshop and told me about it the next day!

And Giovana Edid came all the way from Mexico City and worked very hard through the workshop. Her topic is esoteric – she works at an art investment fund – and she had a language barrier to deal with. But I could tell she was committed, and sure enough, a few months later I got this email from her reporting her NYT placement:

I wanted to start this year by giving you a well-deserved THANK YOU. Not only because all that I had learned at your seminar has been so useful, but also meeting you has been a life-changing catalyst for my professional career.

I had found it very difficult to make close contact with the international media. But after applying the strategies that you presented at your NYC seminar, I can proudly present you the New York Times interview with my boss. Furthermore, I’ve created a closer relationship with this reporter, and he accepted to receive the editorial analysis we usually send in our newsletter. I think that this will reinforce the relationship with the journalist and help us become a trustworthy reference in the future. Thank you once more for everything! 

Pitching is hard, that’s a fact. But success – at least as defined as hitting on 15 percent of your pitches – is a choice. You simply choose to get better. Then you find the techniques and systems that work. And then you apply them.

The “next Giovana” will be joining me at my next Pitching Boot Camp in two weeks in Atlanta.

If it’s too late for you to book that trip, you can start learning the same material five minutes from now via my online course, Crafting the Perfect Pitch.

The 2 burning questions in journalists’ minds

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Before I started writing this I was video-chatting with a busy influencer who writes one of the top blogs in her industry. And she’s constantly pitched poorly by people she thinks should know better.

“It’s easy! I don’t want all your stats and lists of facts and paragraphs of details!”

When she – or pretty much any journalist/influencer you target – opens your email, they have two questions burning in the back of their minds:

     – What is this? They want to know what you have to offer. What it is, in a nutshell.
     – Why are you contacting ME about this? Why will my readers/viewers care? This is why the typical generic, mass-produced email pitch is so deadly. In a split-second, your target realizes, “Nothing immediately obvious in it for me, I’m out of here – delete.”

This seems pretty obvious when we stack it up like this. But most of the pitches I see, even from experienced pros, don’t answer these questions soon enough. When you’re too close to your subject matter for too long, you don’t even realize that you’ve lost the ability to get out of your own head.

The crazy thing is, the most common way people start off their pitches doesn’t come close to answering EITHER of these questions.

I expose this too-prevalent error and teach how to fix it, in the middle video on this resource page.

ICYMI, I’ve boiled down three key pitching skills into intensely practical short videos for you and your PR friends. Check them out at that link above, and I do appreciate you sharing them if you find them valuable.

And be sure your next pitch answers those two burning questions.

The 24 Hour Pitching Boost: Before hitting ‘send’ on your next pitch…

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Check out these three short videos to boost your pitching results.

They include:

– 5 Tips for Dramatically Increasing The Chances Your
Email Pitch Gets Opened and Read
– 2 Mistakes That Kill A Journalist’s Interest, PLUS The Fix That’ll Prompt A Quick Response
– A Producer From TODAY Gives Away EXACTLY What She Wants You To Say When You Pitch Her

Click here to go to the videos