When a buzzword can be okay


A software company down the street from me got acquired Sunday for $8 Billion. And there is a great lesson in this success story that’s quite contrary to conventional PR wisdom.

I’m still trying to get my head around this. Qualtrics was just another growing company in the community. People you’d know would get hired there. You’d run into the PR team at networking events. Starting in 2012 they’d make some announcements about big investments from fancy venture funds that valued them around $500 million, and then things would go back to normal.

Now, overnight, billions will be flowing into our local economy via all those stock options and inevitable philanthropy that will result. This gigantic increase in value flows from a key strategic decision they made a few years ago.

At its core, Qualtrics allows its customers – businesses and researchers – to deliver fancy online surveys. You might be more familiar with a competitor, SurveyMonkey. SurveyMonkey just went public a few months ago, and its market value is a “paltry” billion or so. What explains the difference?

Qualtrics stopped describing itself as a survey company.

Instead, they coined their own phrase for what they do, something no one else was using. They are an “experience management” company. “XM” for short, because all useful tech company phrases need a non-intuitive acronym :).

So their press releases, their pitches, their conversations with journalists, would all be riddled with this phrase. Back when they first started doing it, you might have called it jargon or a buzzword.

But it wasn’t. It was a deeply entrenched strategic decision top management made to create an entirely new category of software. Their tools tell companies how their customers and employees are feeling, and that allows the companies to “manage their experience” better. There is obviously big $$$ in that if you can pull it off.

Instead of shying away from that term because of its unfamiliarity, the Qualtrics marketing and PR team took on the challenge to educate journalists and others why the term makes sense. They succeeded.

Your takeaway: Continue to zealously guard against using the same buzzwords everyone else is when there are more clear alternatives. But when your employer is going all-in to create a new position in the minds of journalists and their audiences, rise to the occasion and figure out how to make it stick.

This week nobody in Silicon Valley or on Wall Street is snickering at the phrase “experience management.” They probably wish they thought of it first.

Have you mastered this yet?


As a PR professional, there are many skills you must master to achieve the highest levels of success.

One of those skills is your writing, which, if it isn’t good enough, makes everything else in your career suffer.

There’s no part of PR that is not directly impacted by your ability to write well.

Excellence in PR writing is extremely important, if not THE most important skill you have.

To be clear, we’re not talking about “business writing.” We’re talking about writing in a way where you use facts and transparency to move people to action.

That’s what PR is about: Action. Response. Impact.

And to help you kick off 2019 with the highest chance of success in your career, I’m heavily discounting my freshly updated online course for you, The Definitive Guide to PR Writing (25% off).

Not ready to commit to the entire course?

Grab one of the four modules and still benefit from the 25% discount.

I’m only giving out 100 of the 25% off codes, so get one here to use during the sale. (You’ll have until December 14th to redeem it.)

PS – Put these writing strategies to work in your PR efforts and you might get a result like Teri’s:

“I’m so glad I enrolled in this course! It is super practical and very relevant to our specialized pitch writing requirements at my school. Since completing the course I placed a story in the New York Times that you can see here. Highly recommend it to keep mastering the PR craft.” — Teri Bond, Director of Media Relations at ArtCenter College of Design

There’s a TV show about that?


A friend of mine told me about a new show she’s started watching and it’s going to sound fake, but I looked it up and I promise it’s real.

Tanked is about competitive aquarium design. Did you know there was a world of competitive aquarium design? Because I admit, I did not. I’ve seen shows focusing on the cutthroat world of fashion design, house flipping and professional baking, but I was unaware of the fish tank design niche.

Of course my first thought was, who would watch this, and why? Well, my friend for one, (who to protect her from teasing by everyone but me shall remain nameless).

And the why of it doesn’t really matter, except that people are connecting and relating to more and more niche topics when it comes to TV shows.

This is instructive to us as PR folks because the same trend carries over to media outlets. More and more people are passing over mainstream outlets and spending time on niche outlets with content catered just to them.

That content may be specific to readers of a particular hobby, profession, sports team affiliation, or dietary habit. There are as many niche outlets as there are types of people. Which makes things harder for lazy PR pros, but much easier for those of us willing to do some research.

Of course outlets like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are still relevant and will be for many more years. But it’s no longer enough to pitch your story to a “mainstream” media outlet and assume it is reaching your target audience. Those who continue to do this will remain puzzled why they are not achieving the results they expected and used to get.

Those who take the time to get to know their target audience – not the reporters but the actual people they want to reach – will find themselves creating a whole new media list.

Keep your list up-to-date by identifying the outlets that matter most to your audience now, not just the ones that worked two years ago or sound impressive. Once you dive into this, you’ll be surprised to find outlets you’ve been missing that are a great fit for your client or company. And the good news is, many other PR pros have overlooked these same outlets, making your path to placements a lot less difficult.  

And once you’ve completed your stellar media list, treat yourself to a night of binge-watching Tanked. I hear it’s a great show.

I have a particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a long career


There it was, on my Netflix page. Reinforcing a PR lesson too many of us ignore.


It wasn’t the original Taken movie, starring the incomparable Liam Neeson. Nor was it either of the two Taken movies that followed. Notice I didn’t call them “sequels.” They aren’t sequels – they are more like reboots. Basically the same exact movie made three times. The only variable is which city Liam Neeson half-destroys while he stops at nothing to rescue his family.

And now this.

Turns out it was Taken, the TV series.

Cue the rant about how unoriginal Hollywood is. How everything is derivative, nothing creative out there. What’s next – Taken lunchboxes?

But here’s the thing: Hollywood knows something that PR pros are resistant to learning:

Successful content keeps succeeding.

Doesn’t matter how many times it’s already been out there.

There’s a reason certain storylines and angles work. Whether you understand why is usually academic – just keep repurposing them, and watch the placements and engagements pile up.

I ran into this again last week at my Secrets of Media Relations Masters workshop. One of the attendees just had a great run with a tried and true travel destination story angle – you post a job listing for someone to live at a resort for a year and enjoy a lavish lifestyle. He got great traction with it.

That angle has been around for decades, most famously for Queensland’s Best Job in the World campaign.

I did an Inner Circle training with the guy who pulled that one off. He got the idea from another campaign that used an off-the-wall job title to get attention. He said humbly, “There’s nothing new under the sun.”

Remember that the next time someone tells you that your story idea “has already been out there.”

Overlooked nugget in this popular article about pitching


There’s a popular article about pitching circulating this week – and there is one sentence fragment buried in it that I want to highlight for you.

It’s got the catnip-for-PR-pros headline “How to successfully pitch the New York Times (or, well, anyone else).” I got a lot of mileage out of that headline back in the ‘00s 🙂

But it’s not what you think. It’s on a web site about journalism, aimed at other journalists (although I bet they are breaking traffic records with all the visits from PR people :). Therefore, the piece is designed to tell freelance writers how to pitch editors story ideas, so they can be commissioned into stories they’ll get paid to write. Even though you’ve seen much of these tips and concepts in my previous posts, it’s still a useful read for you as a PR pro.

So, I’ll drill down on this one snippet that most people will miss. I bet the author (a NYT editor himself) doesn’t even realize how overlooked this point is, or he would have spent more time on it.

He’s giving a list of reasons why your story idea won’t work for him, and buried in the middle of a 255-word sentence comes this:

. . . it applies to a very small demographic (caveat: this isn’t a problem if that’s intentional and the publication is interested in that audience). . .

Mr. NewYorkTimes Editor may not say this out loud, but that is old-school-journalism-speak for “There aren’t enough people who would click on that story to meet the page-view quotas that we have around here.”

And even if you don’t agree that the Times (with its increasing reliance on online subscriptions) is that concerned about ad revenue by the click, you definitely accept that most other outlets are.

That’s why you better make sure that your story idea has a built-in audience that’s large enough to attract (or deliver) enough traffic to justify the outlet’s time. Otherwise they are going to be off to the next celebrity gossip item, or reaction to whatever incendiary thing a politician just said.

Here’s an example that I see relatively often during my pitch review sessions: Someone writes a pitch for an online outlet about an issue that is aimed at the elderly. Like how they can keep better track of their prescriptions.

How many elderly people get their news online? Some. But not as many as their adult children. So you reframe the pitch to be about “how to help your aging parents avoid accidental overdoses.”

The other way to meet this often-unspoken demand from the media you’re pitching is to offer up a built-in audience for your topic. You can do this by mentioning the size of your social media following that you share media coverage with. Or the number of subscribers to your email newsletter that serves the same purpose.

Be sure when you conceive your story idea that you have also clearly identified the audience that it will appeal to. And that the audience is big enough for the outlet you’re pitching.

Read the other helpful tips in the article here.

PRSA members, a special free offer for you

As a fellow member of our field’s professional society, I’m happy to share my very best pitching tips with you. Click here for immediate access to three 2-minute videos with tips you can implement in less than a day to boost the results of your next pitch.

Mind-stretching pitching tip I hadn’t heard before


Tuesday I learned a tip for better pitches I hadn’t heard before.

I was conducting a training session for my Inner Circle with Noelle Bates, Senior VP of Marketing for Stance. You may know Stance as the company that made socks cool as the official sock of the NBA and now Major League Baseball. Rihanna is one of their brand ambassadors.

Noelle is a great resource for learning what our executives and clients really want, because she came up through the ranks of PR. Started as a “serf” at a couple agencies, working her way up to VP of communications at three ecommerce companies, including one that was acquired by HP.

Now that she runs marketing, she taught our members what she wishes PR pros understood and did better. You know how bosses are always saying, “I wish PR would be more strategic?” She told us exactly how to do that.

One simple and obvious approach (this is not the mind-stretching tip, that is coming in a minute) is for the PR team to constantly generate new pitch angles and new outlets or influencers to approach.

“Understand up front that bosses will probably reject most of them,” Noelle says. “But that one really meaningful piece of coverage that wouldn’t have happened had you not made the effort is likely the reason you will keep them as a client and it will be the reason you grow in your career. We need people who are creative and resourceful and relentless.”

So how do we come up with those ideas? How do we snap out of the numbing routine of the day-to-day and spark better stories?

That’s where Noelle shared a little trick she’s been using herself for years, even though she’s now an executive.

Anytime I watch a news program or read a magazine or newspaper article I am thinking, “How would we pitch this outlet/person to get coverage here?” and I don’t stop thinking about it until I’ve figured it out.”

That means I have to figure out how to pitch a sock brand to “60 Minutes” and what kind of content would be interesting to a reader of Delta’s inflight magazine, but I keep chewing on it until I’ve landed on something where I could actually hear Leslie Stahl saying the words. The vast majority of the time the end idea is not something I’d ever actually pursue. But because I’ve done the stretching to figure out HOW I would if I had to, the simple exercise expands my thinking and provides me with ideas that I would have never come across had I not engaged in the inner brainstorm I’m having every day as I consume media. Most of my good ideas come from me doing this on an ongoing basis, in fact!

Try that out and watch how your thinking expands.

You can watch the rest of the training session with Noelle – including the phrasing of the monthly text message she recommends you send your boss or client – as soon as you join the Inner Circle.

And you’ll also get access to the slate of upcoming trainings. When I announced them at the close of Tuesday’s event, Noelle asked for access so she can learn from them, too.

See you on the inside.

Too concerned about labels


I’m writing this on the flight home from the PR industry’s largest gathering, the PRSA International Conference.

A vibe I got from a significant element of the attendees was a reluctance to step outside perceived norms of the discipline and cross over into other avenues of communication.

Who cares if a social influencer expects you to pay her to blog and post about your organization? If she delivers the audience you want and the behavior change you want, that’s a great thing!

Who cares if someone wants to use paid digital advertising to drive eyeballs to the same piece of content that you’re sharing with media contacts? Why not do both?

And who cares whether it’s called “PR” or “media relations” or even “advertising” or “marketing.” If it’s going to increase positive outcomes for your employer, you should embrace it.

The next level of resistance I saw started with the words: “I don’t have the budget to . . . (contract with influencers) or (pay for digital ads) or (fund an activity to create newsworthiness).”

Okay, that might be fine. You might be able to earn the attention you need without paying (especially if you’re a likeable cause), and that constraint can be a positive driver of creativity.

But if the shrinking traditional media means you’re now getting less “free” coverage than you used to, then you better make a case to get some budget for something that will keep increasing your visibility.

Like paying some influencers.

Or if the influencers you’re working with are delivering quality content but they just don’t have the organic reach you need to hit your goals, then what’s wrong with sending some paid traffic to THEIR work to get there?

If what you’re used to doing isn’t working, your organization is going to change eventually. Trust me — it will turn out better for you personally if you drive that change. Otherwise you might get driven right out of the equation.

Whether something is labeled “PR” or “advertising” or “digital” or “marketing” only matters when Ph.Ds. get together and argue about what to label the degree programs they offer.

Please don’t limit your impact and potential by stopping at the border of what you believe “PR” means. Dare to step across the so-called lines between disciplines to see if there isn’t a better way.

What’s your take on this issue? What can I do to help you be more comfortable with converging forms of outreach? Send a message to me at [email protected] and your note will come right into my inbox.

Success! Lesson that landed 70+ placements


I got a success story from one of your fellow readers this week that drives home some vital points.

It’s from Denis Wolcott, a veteran pro who runs his own practice in LA who has heard me speak at conferences and follows this newsletter. Next week I’ll be sharing more lessons like this at our industry largest gathering – the PRSA International Conference. It’s my 14th year speaking there (started when I was 15 ;).  Take it away, Denis:


I want to let you know that I took one of your lessons and applied it to a resulting national media win for a client.

Your lesson:  The case study of how bird researchers were taking breath samples of migratory birds. They had a drab-looking white paper to promote, but the creative thinking led to the press release/pitch to highlight “Breathalyzers” for birds.  The point was how PR pros need to search even the most mundane topic and use their creative-thinking skills to find the hook. This bird breathalyzer story is one that I’ve shared many times with may PR colleagues, and, now has been applied to one of my accounts.

My win?  I represent the Port of Long Beach (CA) for a massive new bridge being built at their port.  The bridge will include many seismic features, including the deployment/installation of 70+ “accelerographs” or devices that will measure the movement and energy released onto a bridge from a strong earthquake. A technical story on its face. And my news media audience will need to know how this “design” and quake-resistant features are different, and how this story is different from anything they’ve written or produced in recent years.   

My pitch/hook?  We’re building the “most wired” bridge in the country.  This simple phrase would, I hoped, catch the eye of a reporter and prompt them to explore the second-level hooks – information from this bridge will be shared with engineers around the world; even though other bridges in CA had these same sensors (retrofit), this was the first bridge to be designed to allow sensors be more strategically placed in key areas, etc.     

The win?  An Associated Press reporter from Los Angeles immediately got interested by this angle. 

[Denis related how he also took the following proactive steps before the pitch:

  • Reached out in advance to coordinate messaging with the PIO of the state agency that will collect the sensor data
  • Coordinated with the construction team to be able to media “up-close and up-high” access to the bridge
  • Coached the project director how to break out from engineer-ese and share the story in colorful, non-technical terms]

The result was an AP story that was picked up by 70-and-counting news orgs around the world.  Many news outlets, including the Washington Post, NY Times, etc. also displayed the photo library and video that were part of the AP package.  I have a very happy client.

Notch this as a win for you, too.  I’ve been doing media pitching for 20+ years, and will continue to read your columns and attend your sessions because (a) you can never stop learning and (b) you have structured your programs in a way that give us PR pros – newbies and veterans, alike – invaluable tips, inspiration and very useful lessons we can apply in our own practice.  Keep it up.

Thanks Denis! Hope to see you and many other subscribers Monday morning at my session in Austin.

Come up and say hi.

Coming on too strong


One of my Inner Circle members recently posted the following question to our members forum: “I’ve heard Michael say that pitching a reporter is a lot like dating. How can I get a reporter to remain interested in me without coming on too strong?”

I do often draw parallels between dating and pitching, mostly to make the point that in both cases it needs to be a good fit. But there are some important distinctions in the dynamic between potential daters and journalists and PR pros. Namely, in PR there’s no such thing as coming on too strong. You can come off annoying. You can come off misguided. You can come off as ignorant, sloppy, or lazy. But if your pitch is properly targeted and carefully crafted, there is no too strong. Please remember those italicized words as you read the rest of this email.

Let’s say you email someone you want to date and they don’t respond. Then you text them something cool that made you think of them and they don’t respond. Then you DM them congratulating them on some success they posted on social, with no response. At this point, I’d recommend you move on. And move on quick before things get any creepier. Maybe you already went too far – I don’t know. And you definitely aren’t reading this to take dating advice from someone who has been married for 21 years.

But you could have that exact same experience with a reporter, and not only is it not creepy, it’s exactly what you should be doing.

A friend of mine received this message from a reporter she was working with, “Thanks for hounding me . . . and no, I am not kidding 🙂 I tell people all the time to keep harassing me until they hear from me.”

The world of dating has trained us to look for and decode subtle signs, nuanced silences, and unspoken intentions. Luckily, the PR world is easier to navigate. Journalists are almost always direct. For one, they don’t have time to play games. And two, even though they are wonderful people, they feel absolutely no social obligation to spare your feelings. If they’re not interested, they’ll tell you. Simple as that.

So if they haven’t told you no, assume they just haven’t seen what you have to offer. Again, if your pitch is properly targeted and carefully crafted, reach out again with some new element to your pitch. Give them a call and let them know you’ve got something you think they’ll love.  Follow up as often as you need until you hear back from them or you come against a deadline. And if they do come back with a no, don’t take it personally. Just means your piece doesn’t fit into their schedule or agenda at the moment. Doesn’t mean you can’t reach out again in the future when you’ve got something their audience wants.

And one more thing that works well in PR but not so much with dating: if your original journalist isn’t interested, ask if they have a friend who might be!

PRSA members, a special free offer for you

As a fellow member of our field’s professional society, I’m happy to share my very best pitching tips with you. Click here for immediate access to three 2-minute videos with tips you can implement in less than a day to boost the results of your next pitch.

How well do you know HER audience?


Last week I showed 15 pitches to the executive editor of the best-selling newsstand magazine in the nation.

She reacted to them in real time, as if she were opening emails at her desk in her Manhattan office, and followed my prompting to think out loud.

“She’s 23? Too young.”

“Definitely doesn’t matter to my reader that Gwyneth is involved – celebrities don’t do well for us.”

“This one is completely right. It’s right for our demographic. Brain health is something that we’re very focused on.”

What stood out to me right from the beginning is how intimately this editor knows her readers, and how almost protective she is of them.

She wasn’t applying some “standards of newsworthiness” that she got out of a journalism textbook. Nor was she thinking consciously about society’s views of media bias or anything like that. It was only, “Does this hit home to my readers where they live, with what they’re doing every day?”

Every journalist thinks this way now. Because whether they need to sell magazines off of newsstands, or accumulate a certain quota of page views, earn a certain TV rating, or a certain number of podcast downloads, their success or failure is inextricably tied to their audience’s immediate reaction to their content.

That means your success or failure in pitching them is tied to THEIR audience, not yours.

And if your pitches are like most of the ones I see, they are still too focused on your organization’s key messages. I’m not saying you have to abandon those. You just need to reframe them.

Whether you would ever pitch this particular magazine is irrelevant. You need to get inside the heads of the media you’re pitching. Think like a journalist. Best way to do that is talk to them. If you can’t go down to the nearest bar and run into them, then you’ve got to find a way to hear them talk about their needs and how they think.

Do you know anywhere else you can do that besides my Inner Circle? Because I would love to find out.

Right now, the Inner Circle is the only place I’ve ever heard of that lets you hear real journalists’ reactions to real pitches. We’ve done it again and again, with staffers from USAT, WSJ, WaPo, Today, and more.

All those interviews (complete with the screen sharing of the pitches) are available to members of the program.

You can be watching this one, with this particular editor, later today. And then if you want, you can cancel and get a full refund. I’m so confident in the value of the Inner Circle that I happily invite you to do just that 🙂

It’s all right here.