High anxiety from high expectations


How do you feel when someone unexpectedly pressures you with high expectations?

For me, the emotions that well up in that stressful circumstance have varied widely. Years ago when I was getting started at this, I heard:

“Michael, we need you at the registration desk right away.”

The look in the conference organizer’s eyes was urgent. As we weaved through the hotel hallways, I’m wondering, “What could I have possibly done wrong?  I haven’t even presented yet.”

When we get there, I see a poised woman, stylishly dressed, lecturing the CEO of the conference company about something. He’s nodding furiously, and when I walk up, relief washes over his face, like “Phew, now I can hand her off to Michael.”

He begins: “She feels the conference hasn’t been up to her standards so far, and she’s thinking of cancelling her registration for your workshop tomorrow. Tell her how great it’s going to be and why she shouldn’t cancel.”

She jumps in: “Frankly this conference has been way too basic for me not a good use of my time and money. I’m already getting placements in places like the New York Times style section and the front page of USA Today. Am I going to learn anything from you I don’t already know?”

And she folds her arms and furrows her brow.

Fortunately for me, this all happened so fast I really didn’t have time to think about it. If I had, I would have balked – this was only the first year I’d been teaching this pitching workshop. I’d never had someone this vocally demanding in my groups. And I might have shirked the challenge by giving her an out. But I didn’t have time for any of that. So I just said the first thing that came to my mind:

“I don’t know, but I definitely want a shot. I’d love the challenge of working with someone with your experience and helping you get to the next level. Having you there will lift the experience for everyone.”

She nodded and her expression softened a bit. We exchanged some get-to-know-you pleasantries and she said she’d see me in the morning.

As she walked away, my gut tightened, I got a little dizzy, and I was like, “What have I gotten myself into?!” And I stressed out all night about how I was going to deliver. Ultimately, I chose to rely on my preparation and then sleep finally came.

To her credit, when the workshop began she stayed off her phone and laptop and really applied herself. At lunch she told me that within the first hour she’d learned two new angles for her clients she’d never thought of before.

Shortly after that, she founded a PR firm, and today it has 60+ employees in LA, Austin, and NYC. Many of them are reading this post, and they also know the stress that comes from her high expectations and the thrill that comes from meeting them 🙂

You know what’s cool about people putting high expectations on you? You tend to perform better than if they hadn’t. And then your trust in yourself grows, and then you welcome additional challenges and the rewards they bring.

Like this email I got last week from someone who referred a friend to my next workshop. He wrote, somewhat ominously:

“His agency is small, so that means he and his team member are making a big professional development investment in your workshop (no pressure).”

Now, he absolutely WAS trying to put pressure on me. But he didn’t need to. I know that even people from big shops are making a huge sacrifice to trust me with some of their precious time. At this point in my career I like it when people come to workshops with this attitude, because they’re going to work hard and apply themselves, and get better results because of it.

If that’s you, we’ve only got 9 spots left for Secrets of Media Relations Masters in NYC next month. If registrations continue at the current rate, it’ll sell out before Labor Day.

Here’s the page with all the details. If you register, send me an email with your high expectations 🙂

Get out of my office


The most important thing I do in my business is pay very close attention whenever I speak with a Media Relations Master.

They come in many packages, each with his or her own personality and background. But I’ve come to notice certain things they all tend to say. They don’t always even realize that these seemingly tiny habits are key to their consistent success.

One such throwaway line I heard a Media Relations Master say recently was, “I just make sure I get out of my office and go out and visit with people.”

And I realized I’d heard the same thing from many others: I get out of my office (or my cube).

What do they do with this “out of office” time? They might:

– Sit in on meetings of other departments – nothing to share, no announcements to make
– Find different people to sit with in the cafeteria or casually plop down with someone in a break room for a few minutes
– Attend some kind of exhibition or presentation of successes, even if it’s after-hours
– Simply ask for a one-on-one meeting for 30 minutes “to get oriented to the great work your team is doing.”

But what if I’m a contractor/work from home/at an agency?

Definitely makes this tougher. I asked this MRM about that, because she came up through big NYC agencies. She said to work even harder to get this kind of face time, even if it’s only FaceTime. If you can’t drive over and do sit-down meetings with people beyond the client contact, ask for video conferences. “Make yourself an indispensable part of their team,” she said.

You can’t view this approach as yielding immediate results – you’ll quit too early. But when you do it consistently over a few months, the time you invested starts multiplying and coming back to you in spades. You start to get these kinds of benefits:

You suddenly have two dozen “reporters” sprinkled throughout the organization that are tipping you off to interesting customers, cool human interest angles, and extraordinary employee achievement. (Granted, you also breed one or two who keep sending you lame stuff, but since when was PR life perfect 🙂

You start getting a heads up on something cool or potentially controversial BEFORE it happens, rather than continually finding out too late to steer the communications around it.

Peers and even bosses start respecting the value of PR more and asking more for your input.

Back to this particular Media Relations Master conversation. After we hung up with each other, she forwarded me an email she received while we’d been speaking. It was from one of the other directors at the company and the subject line was a person’s name. It said, “Today I met this [customer]. I know you’re looking for interesting back stories and here is his . . .”


P.S. Are you thinking, “Nobody has time for that”? Then you might be in a situation that’s simply not conducive to achieving Media Relations Mastery. Or you might be letting distractions like email and social media keep you from the high-leverage activities that will bring you the biggest results and make the biggest impact on your career. I don’t know, but I bet you do.

My best investment advice


It’s an age-old discussion. Should you invest in stocks, bonds, real estate, gold, or what?

I’ve said repeatedly: Invest in yourself first. Raise the value you contribute to the world and you raise your earning power forever.

I walk the walk.

Last week I spent a half-day with an expert I’ve been following for 15 years. It cost me the equivalent of three months’ salary of what I was making when I first signed up for his email list way back when. And it was a steal.

He’s seen hundreds of businesses like mine up close, and I know from reading his emails and watching his videos that his values match up with mine. Getting his direct input on my work and mindset was like having someone come back from the future and say: “You can wander around trying all the stuff you’re thinking about doing for five years if you really want to. Or you could just focus on these four things and they will bring you the highest return.”

I knew it would pay off because my earlier investments in his consulting already have. It was a gradual process though. When I was starting out on my quest for self-improvement, I had been taught that “gurus” were scams and that knowledge had to be hard-won from years of poring over books. That’s what teachers and professors have been telling us, right? After college, I looked at training opportunities as expenses, not investments.

And now, it seems like there’s so much free advice on YouTube and blogs, why should anyone pay hard-earned money for it?

My hard-earned answer is: you get what you pay for. There is in fact great information for free online. But you may need to “pay” hundreds of hours sifting through it to find the key elements that are what YOU need right now. For example, I’ve analyzed dozens of free tutorials on media pitching online. About half of them do a good job hitting the same 8-10 key points (the other half do a poor job hitting those same points). If you were serious about learning how to dominate the pitching game and you relied solely on that info, it’d be like looking at the world through blinders that only allowed in 10 percent of the available light.

After I returned from my session with my business mentor, I held a call with one of my new coaching clients. Together we uncovered an insight that’s going to allow her to double her rates overnight. It’s value she has already created, but she couldn’t see it by herself. The investment she made in her professional development has already paid for itself several times over.

Invest in yourself. Raise your earning power just one percent a month, and the compound interest on that is astronomical.

Devin & Ken vs. the world


Through a fortunate fluke in space and time, the past two days found me eating with two of the most successful PR pros I know. You can learn much by comparing this week’s conversations to those I had with them years ago.

They’re successful not because of their income or resumes (although they both easily check those boxes). They’re successful because they’ve worked creatively to build the lives they really want to live.

You’ve probably heard me talk about Devin Knighton. He’s the guy who strung together enough creative media splashes to eventually earn a seven-figure cash out on his employer’s IPO. We had breakfast Tuesday and talked about his first year in a Ph.D. program at Purdue. He has five kids and his wife doesn’t work, but he’s still able to pursue his dream of being a college professor without taking loans and while spending time with his family.

Remember Ken Li? He became so valuable to his Chicago agency that he “bought the farm” in Indiana, told them he was only available in the office one day a week, and they felt happy to hold on to him. Last night I was in Chicago on his “one day a week” and we had dinner.

Looking across the restaurant table at these guys took me back in time. When I first met them, they had people in their lives who doubted them, and sometimes those other voices won out. They both struggled with the same inexperience and lack of confidence that plagues everybody. In many cases, they had no idea what they were doing.

I wondered: What’s the difference between Devin/Ken and most of the other PR pros on Earth? What is it about these two that allowed them to arrive at this most wonderful place in life?

And the answer came clearly – they are doers. They didn’t wait for someone to show them the way, they went out and found it.

Devin quasi-snuck into one of my first workshops when he was just out of college – he found out I was beta-testing it for some experienced professionals and just showed up.

Ken was much more experienced, and he pestered me for months to take him on as a coaching client. I was booked up and not taking new clients, but his earnestness wore me down.

Later, they both signed up immediately when I rolled out what was then a fledgling, unproven program called the “Inner Circle” eight years ago. And they constituted about 25 percent of the membership until it got rolling 🙂

Not only did they invest the time and money in honing their skills, they acted on what they learned. Devin walked out of that first workshop and pitched the WSJ the next week. Even though he was young, he went against the grain and followed the 80/20 principle I teach about how to allocate your media relations efforts. As a one-person shop at three different companies he crushed the results of competitors who employed large agencies.

Ken was a self-proclaimed workaholic, so the productivity and work/life balance lessons I coached him on didn’t come naturally to him. Over time he applied them at his own pace, until he ultimately found himself able to “let go” of doing everything himself all the time. Instead, he focuses on the most important projects and tasks that brought the highest payoff for his clients, his agency, and his life.

Achieving the life you want, like Devin and Ken have done, isn’t complicated. The path is clear (although, like anything in life, it’s never easy).

Learn, then act.

My rant


It’s a weird thing to get frustrated about. It should have made me ecstatic – and it did – but then I got ticked.

On Wednesday of last week two of my Inner Circle members sent me huge hits they landed that morning.

Sarah Weston got not one, but two different clients in a WSJ story. She battles in the fiercely competitive property development market, where there are hundreds (thousands?) of well-heeled companies bludgeoning each other over the scarce attention of a shriveling handful of national real estate reporters.

Her proud email to me has a subject line of “WSJ!” and reads:

I’m so excited and so thankful to be a member of the Inner Circle! I just couldn’t wait to share with you! I’ve forwarded my pitch below … you’ll see some of your tips deployed here!

And Jane Putnam placed a moving feature about a grassroots movement involving her startup’s product on the home page of People.com. The story was 2nd-most-read on the site, the writer is already doing a follow-up, and it spun off into 10 stories (and counting) on other outlets.  Most importantly, it sparked 3,000 applications to a new non-profit that’s donating Jane’s product to families who need it.

When she sent me the link, she wrote: I knew we had an incredible story to tell, and the Inner Circle helped me refine the pitch, as well as outreach methods, so that we could stand out from all the competing pitches. The response to the story has been incredible.

So why in the world did this great news – which arrived in my inbox only a couple hours apart – set me off?

Because if this can happen for two Inner Circle members on the SAME DAY, think how many MORE media relations pros could be enjoying this level of success and impact!

Top-tier media relations works, when you do it right. It’s not luck. And it’s not out of reach. As I read over these two pitches (which I’ll be sharing with the rest of the Inner Circle soon), I see enduring principles and best practices that can be replicated no matter the topic or industry.

But so few media relations pros are actually willing to put themselves in position for that level of success. The number one reason  excuse I hear from people about why they can’t won’t do what it takes to land big-time coverage is because they are “too busy.”

Taking the easy way out. Staying in reactive mode all day, answering emails and putting out fires, knocking out whatever someone ELSE hands them.

Real growth and real impact – like Sarah and Jane achieved – come when you take ownership of your schedule and stop letting other people set your entire agenda. You choose a grand vision and you carve out the time to do the work.

If that’s what you are about – if you’re not “too busy” to land career-changing media – then check out the Inner Circle and decide if you’ll be ready to apply the next time we accept new members.



Continued from last week . . .

Two recent pitches crossed my desk – one hailed as “best pitch ever, actually” by the journalist that received it, the other posted to Facebook and Twitter with “#cringeworthy.”

The difference comes down to one word in the so-called “bad pitch.”

Before I go any further, I want to state that I believe the journalist in this case was unfair and unprofessional. If he didn’t appreciate the pitch, he could have simply deleted it and moved on. If the felt like there would be some teaching value in sharing it on his social media, he should have at least omitted the PR pro’s name and email address. Veteran tech journalist Harry McCracken extended this courtesy when he famously posted bad pitches to his Facebook page.

That aside, what set the reporter off?

This pitch used a clever subject line to attract attention and entice the reporter to open it. Just like the “good pitch” by Adam Yosim that I shared last week.

And in this case, the subject line actually related directly to the point of the pitch, which was to highlight an expert on Generation Z:

“GenZ will drive political establishment cray cray. Here’s how.”

This playful style isn’t for everyone, I know. But I respect the PR pro’s attempt to make this stand out. And that much obviously worked – the reporter opened it, right?

Here’s where things went wrong. The first sentence after the greeting is:

“Ok, I apologize for using the words ‘cray cray’ in an email subject line. Forgive me on that? It’s cringeworthy indeed.”

The key word here is “apologize.” Why use anything in a pitch if you’re going to apologize for it?

Can you see how the apologetic tone immediately creates a feeling around this pitch of desperation? That the PR pro is using a trick to get attention and then having to backtrack?

I can very much relate to this feeling, because I used to have it myself. I viewed the PR-journalist dynamic as entirely uneven – the journalist had all the power, and I was just a little peon begging for a morsel of attention.

Now go back to Adam’s pitch with the similar playful, creative subject line. Adam had a tougher hill to climb, because his didn’t have anything to do with the story idea he was pushing! But there’s no apology there – he just owns it, explains the connection and moves on.

That’s because Adam has learned that he can provide immense value to the right journalists. Those who are stressed out every day because they have to find the exact kind of content that Adam has access to. He knows he just needs to find the right targets and clearly convey the relevance and usefulness of the info he has.

Adam did a lot of this work on his own, and he honed those skills razor-sharp at my media pitching workshop in June.

The next one is in New York – register now to spend time with me and striving PR pros like yourself and Adam and get the placements and respect you deserve.

“The best pitch I have received. Ever, actually.”


One pitch was hailed by the journalist who got it as “the best pitch I have received. Ever, actually.”

The other got posted to the recipient’s Facebook and Twitter feeds as an example of how NOT to pitch with the hashtag “#cringeworthy.”

My followers shared these two pitches with me recently, a few days apart. What struck me was actually how similar they were. The PR pros who wrote them don’t know each other, but they were both using the same approach to grab the attention of their target journalist. And both did it well, in my opinion.

The key difference boiled down to one word in the “bad” pitch that dramatically shifted the perspective and subconscious of the reader. It created a totally different feeling in the reporter who received it than what the PR pro intended. I’ll show you that one later. First, here’s the “good” pitch.

The “good” pitch

This example comes courtesy of Adam Yosim, whom I met last month when he attended my pitching workshop in Washington, DC. Adam explained to me he was a bit hesitant about pitching because he knows from personal experience how infuriated journalists get by irrelevant and sloppy pitches.

Four days after the workshop, he sent me the success story that came from implementing the action steps and mindset growth that he learned. He explained that he was targeting a reporter for a trade outlet that’s important for his client. As part of his research, he noticed that she had earlier tweeted about a colleague bringing a French press to her Friday editorial meeting with the hashtag “#FrenchPressFridays.”

So he included “#FrenchPressFridays” in the subject line of his pitch email. He explained that he’s also a French press fan who uses it to make cold brew coffee at home. Then he introduced his client – which is wholly unrelated to coffee – and explained a large contract they had recently won and why it’s important.

She replied: “Hi Adam, This is the best pitch I’ve received. Ever, actually. So thanks for that!” And then asked some questions that led to booking the story.

To be sure, I’ve heard journalists complain about PR pros lazily inserting a reference to a recent tweet as “trite.” But the positive reaction shows that Adam researched this reporter properly and pushed the right buttons to make this approach appealing instead of off-putting.

Unfortunately, that one pesky word in the other pitch, and the attitude it represents, is what turned it from one with promise to one held up for scorn. I explain that next week 🙂

How YOU get there

Would you like to go from nervous about pitching to having journalists thanking you for your pitches? Like Adam did here? You can achieve the same rapid growth (if you are as attentive and action-oriented as Adam). Join me at my next Secrets of Media Relations Masters workshop in New York in September. This is a popular destination at the optimal time of year, so it may sell out. I wouldn’t wait.

“The media” aren’t contracting


Sometimes, when people hear what I do for a living, they ask me, “Aren’t you worried there won’t be any media left to pitch?”

No way.

There are more media than ever before. And even the “legacy” or “traditional” media are giving us more opportunities to reach their audiences. Here comes a specific example, but don’t get fixated on this one channel. There’s a bigger point here that I’ll drive home at the end of this article.

Every January I present to members of my Inner Circle “What Will Matter in the Coming Year – and What Won’t.” This past January I spent significant time on Facebook video, including Facebook Live. Sure, local TV is enduring big budget cuts and it’s harder than ever to get a camera to your events. But now every journalist – newspaper writer, blogger, or web producer – carries a camera. Right in their pocket.

Inner Circle member Sarah Snyder works at a university that hosts the National Orchestral Institute and Festival every year. She’s worked hard to develop relationships with the small cadre of journalists who cover that space. One of them is the classical music critic for the Washington Post.

Now, if Sarah were like many PR pros, she would complain about how the pool of traditional journalists to pitch is shrinking and that her bosses have unrealistic demands. But she’s not like most PR pros.

Instead, she’s constantly seeking new and better ways to get her organization’s messages in front of her audiences via venues those audiences trust and respect. So she started looking at “traditional media” in a non-traditional way.

She proposed several angles to her contact at the Post for this year’s festival. And one of them worked out so well that the critic ended up producing a Facebook Live feed of a rehearsal before the festival. To date is has more than 60,000 views.

“It was a ton of work,” Sarah says – 120 emails back-and-forth – “but it’s been a huge success!”

Even though Sarah also landed other, more traditional, coverage in the Post, she’s likely reaching a different group of people through the FB Live channel and sharing her message more broadly than she would have otherwise.

Where do you go from here? Maybe it’s not Facebook Live, but there is definitely a new channel that has emerged this year that your key audiences are paying attention to. If your media list is shrinking, you’re doing it wrong. Find new outlets that have emerged recently, and supplement your usual approaches with entirely new channels like Sarah did. She says:

“I love being an Inner Circle member because it challenges me to keep thinking about new angles or ways to put our story out there.”

If you’d like to find out more about the Inner Circle and get a free taste of what it offers, register here.

Authenticity vs. polish


I’ve had a look inside some PR campaigns that worked with celebrity spokespeople.

I wish I could tell you about the celebrity you’ve heard of who brought her mom to the media training. She had no connection to the brand and the cause the brand was promoting, treated the whole thing like a chore, and ended up flipping out and bailing.

But instead let’s talk about some tips in working with spokespeople, particularly those from outside your brand.

Why is authenticity so important when choosing a spokesperson?

What’s the value of earned media? It’s credibility. It’s that extra trust created by knowing that a gatekeeper made a decision to put this spokesperson in front of me. Your spokesperson needs to double down on that by speaking naturally, not in a canned way.

What are some best practices for corporate and non-profit spokespeople?

For spokespeople to be effectively authentic, they need to believe in the point of the campaign! An editor once said to me, “You know what I want to tell these PR people when they call me? I want to ask them, ‘If you weren’t getting paid to pitch this, would YOU even be interested in this?’”

That’s a fair standard for her to hold us to. And we ought to find spokespeople who meet it. In contrast with the rude daughter above, a pharma company I once worked with did it right. They did the research and booked a well-known golfer who has an immediate family member who struggles with the ailment their drug treats. He was naturally effective transitioning the interviews they booked for him away from his golf game and into raising awareness for the ailment.

What are some mistakes to avoid when choosing spokespeople?

Beyond choosing someone simply because he was the “celebrity we could afford,” be thoughtful about propping up your CEO just to support his vanity or because of default thinking.

Instead, explore using a real person – someone affected by your product, service or cause who is outside your organization. Media train them for sure, but let them tell their stories in their own voices. In today’s social-media-driven world, authenticity beats polish every time.

A brief video on this topic

I talked about these points and a couple others during this interview I did for Spokies University.

The Spokies is the awards program that recognizes the best corporate and non-profit spokespeople. I’m honored to be a judge for this inaugural year.

Details here if you’re interested in submitting for it.

An article “possibly” worth reading


The wording of the storefront sign in downtown Manhattan was so transparent it was jarring. I couldn’t take my eyes off it, and it occurred to me that pitch writing would benefit from the same surprisingly honest approach.

My family just completed a 17-day tour up the East Coast from Williamsburg to Boston guided by, of all things, the musical “Hamilton.” My four tweens-and-teens are obsessed with that show, have the soundtrack memorized, and have read a book about its production.

So when we got to the NYC area, of course, we had to hit such atypical sites as the dueling grounds where Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton and his grave outside Trinity Church near Wall Street.

While the kids were looking at his tombstone, my eyes wandered to the permanent sign outside the shoe store across the street:

(If there’s a problem with the image, it says, “We are probably the lowest priced in the city.”)

In the midst of being bludgeoned by thousands of hyperbolic ads on cabs, buses, bus stops, and more, the honesty was more than refreshing – it was captivating. My mind raced – “Do they have really strict lawyers who wouldn’t let them say ‘lowest prices in the city?’ Or are the owners just old-fashioned? Or are the marketing people doing it on purpose to be ‘authentic?’”

Regardless, at least for me, it worked. Are you the same way? When you encounter direct, forthright communication, does it stand out from the deluge of overly promotional wording?

Most journalists and bloggers are cut from this cloth. Think of it – all day they open emails that say, “New users are flocking to our best-in-class UX and raving about their delight on social media.”

What if yours was the email that said, “Our site just launched, so there’s no way we can compete – yet – with the user experience of sites with more resources like AirBnB or VRBO. But the one way we are different – which is why users are trying us out anyway – is our . . .”

I know, your initial reaction is that your marketing people might have a fit. But maybe they’re so sick of fake promotional language, they’ll hear you out and sign off on an experiment.

If you want to get noticed, go against the grain.

And next time you’re in downtown Manhattan, you now know where to get your shoes :).