How to Maximize Your Agency’s Opportunities for Publicity

photo credit Richard Masoner Cyclelicious via photopinccHaving worked with reporters and editors throughout the world during the course of my career—as well as being on the other side of journalism as a correspondent and editor—I’ve made and received my share of media pitches.

I’ve seen what works, what doesn’t work and what downright annoys reporters no matter where on the globe they reside. I’ve also experienced first-hand how publicity can help small- and mid-sized agencies and other businesses—even one-person operations—level the playing field with larger competitors.

The beauty of publicity is that it not only generates awareness and extends your agency’s reach at no cost, but it also gives you something no other marketing tool can replicate: credibility.

That’s because publicity allows a secondary source–the news media or bloggers–to tell your story to the people you most want to hear it.

However, before contacting a reporter with a story idea, it’s important to understand how the news media operate and what they want.

Here are eight publicity tips to consider before making a call or hitting the “send” button with your story idea:

#1: Define your media focus.

Limit your pitches to only those outlets that directly serve your target audience. The more you can demonstrate you understand the reporter’s audience and the better you can explain why your story idea would appeal to them, the greater your chances are of being considered. When I was on the editorial side of a healthcare magazine, I never ceased to be amazed at some of the obviously inappropriate pitches PR people sent my way. It was pretty easy to tell who had taken time to read our magazine and understand our audience and the types of stories we covered, and who had taken a shotgun approach in hopes of hitting something somewhere.

#2: Get to the right person at each media outlet.

Whether you’re dealing with your local paper or The Wall Street Journal, it’s important to take the time to find out which person covers the particular area you are interested in targeting. For example, don’t pitch a manufacturing story to a business reporter who covers healthcare or retail. It’s surprising how often this happens because people don’t take the time to do their homework.

#3: Research a reporter’s previous stories before making contact.

Now that you’ve found the right person to contact, learn all you can about what that reporter covers, his or her interests and reporting style. Media directories are very helpful resources for getting such information, as is the Internet. In addition to having reporters’ names and contact information, the more detailed directories have helpful contact notes such as:

  • Works from home, but prefers all materials be sent to the paper.
  • Prefers to be contacted by e-mail and hates follow up calls.
  • She is interested in the ideas behind technology, not the products.

#4: Know what makes a good news story.

Reporters are busy people who work under constant pressure and deadlines. When pitching a story, get right to the point. The most important things you can tell a reporter about your story are who will care about it and why. Your pitch has to pass the “so-what” factor, as well as be timely and relevant to their audience. Put yourself in the reporter’s shoes and ask: “Would this story be interesting to my audience?” If you can’t honestly answer yes, you need to rethink your pitch.

 #5: Respect their deadlines.

When contacting a reporter by phone, I suggest first asking if this is a good time to talk briefly. If not, ask when would be a convenient time to share a story idea. (Be prepared to be asked to send your idea in an email, though some reporters will give you a minute or two to hear your pitch if they’re not on deadline.) If you’re contacted by a reporter on deadline, do everything you can to respond within that timeframe; otherwise, you may miss out on a golden opportunity. Even worse, if you don’t respond promptly, the reporter may contact and quote a competitor.

#6: Think, write and speak like a reporter.

When the time comes to make your pitch, be sure you not only think like a reporter, but that you write and speak like one as well. For example, don’t advertise or editorialize your story idea (reporters are very sensitive to disguised advertising). Whether you write your pitch or give it verbally, be as objective as possible by emphasizing the news or human interest aspect, or your expertise to comment and provide insights.

#7: Make their jobs easier.

The more you can provide reporters with relevant, factual information that is meaningful and targeted to their audience, the more likely they are to take you seriously and provide coverage. Plus, if they know that you know their audience, area of coverage and deadlines, when they see a pitch from you in the future, they’ll realize you’re credible and will be more likely to give you serious consideration.

#8: Customize your pitch to fit their audience.

When I first started my agency, I had a female client who was launching a residential steel framing business, which was a new concept for our area. While the basic story was the same—the benefits of steel framing for residential homes—I segmented my pitches:

  • To our local business journal, I emphasized the entrepreneurial side of her business.
  • To our local daily paper, I got a front-page feature story that was part of a broader article about alternative materials in housing.
  • To women’s publications, I focused on a female entering the construction business, which traditionally has been dominated by men.
  • To her hometown paper (which ran a front-page story), I pitched a “local lady” angle and tied it to an award she had recently won.

One final thought: Consider giving the place you’d most like to receive coverage the first shot at a story whenever possible. Reporters like to be the first break a story, and not just report the same news that others have. This is a very competitive business and like any other profession, reporters enjoy getting recognition and praise for their stories, especially when they are the first to report them.

 photo credit: Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious via photopincc

Why off-the-Record Conversations Should be off Limits for Agencies

One of the things I stress when doing media training is the importance of not speaking off the record in interviews.

There may be exceptions–such as if you really know and trust the reporter–but generally it’s not a good idea to tell a news media person anything about your agency or clients that you wouldn’t want repeated on radio or TV, in a publication or on the Internet.

Some news media outlets have policies forbidding off-the-record conversations. That’s a good, ethical policy, but unfortunately not all adhere to it.

There are lots of examples of why talking off the record is so risky, but I’ve yet to find one that drives home the point better than this headline titled “India’s nuclear identify unclear.”

Check out the subhead: “‘Off the record, we are totally unprepared’ says one of its top military strategists.”

Off the Record Newspaper Comment

Wow. This subhead makes a pretty clear statement beyond the quote: Don’t trust us because we won’t keep an off-the-record remark confidential. Need I say more?

The best practice is to assume everything an agency spokesperson says in an interview is on the record and may be used.

Understanding the different levels of speaking with reporters is important for PR success in agencies as well as other organizations. A number of years ago, a reporter for The Tennessean newspaper described these levels in a column. They provide helpful guidance to anyone preparing for a media interview:

Off the record:  “To have an off-the-record conversation means that the information will not be used in any way in a story.  Many editors, including mine, don’t allow reporters to have off-the-record conversations.”

On background:  “To have an on-background conversation means that the information may be used in a story, but the person who is talking will not be named in connection with the information that is ‘on background.’”

On the record:  “This is the standard conversation with reporters.  However, reporters should identify themselves as working on an article before beginning an interview…once a statement has been made on the record, it cannot be taken off-record.”

Is Truth Still the Most Important Factor in a News Story?

A number of years ago, the senior editor for our local newspaper authored a column about the paper’s policy for using anonymous sources and its commitment to accurate reporting.

“The most important factor for us in using an anonymous source is that the information given us by the source is true,” she wrote.

“It’s too easy for people to hide behind anonymity, planting information with no accountability. And when you’re not accountable, isn’t it easier to stretch the truth?”

She wrote this column in 2009. A decade later, we’ve witnessed an amazing decline among numerous news media outlets when it comes to accurate reporting and vetting sources. All too many of them are just fine with stretching the truth—or outright misrepresenting it—to advance their agendas.

The latest example is BuzzFeed News’ reporting that Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former attorney, told Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutors that the president directed Mr. Cohen to lie about a potential Trump Tower deal with Russia.

jon-tyson-628533-unsplash.jpgPhoto by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

A spokesman for Mr. Mueller disputed the lie allegation, hurling BuzzFeed’s “Russian bombshell” report into a fiery grave.

As reported by Reuters: “‘BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony are not accurate,’ Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, said in the special counsel’s first comment on a media report since its probe started 20 months ago.”

The Daily Caller noted “CNN and MSNBC collectively used the word ‘impeach’ nearly 200 times on Friday” before the special counsel’s office discredited the BuzzFeed story.

The damage such irresponsible and speculative reporting does to the media’s credibility can hardly be overstated. While there still are a lot of honest, reputable journalists around who care about truth and fairness, the trend is not encouraging.

Sloppy reporting, lack of accountability and the pressure to be first to break a story are all contributing factors in the decline of journalism and its eroding trust among Americans. But surpassing all these is the willingness among an increasing number of reporters and editors to run with stories that have no basis in reality, and to not really be concerned about it because it appears that in their minds the ends justify the means.

Avoid These News Release Mistakes for Agency PR Success

Avoid These News Rel Mistakes 17353990342_d6ee53041e (1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A common complaint among journalists is the lack of relevance of the materials they receive from corporate communications and PR professionals.

Much of this information, they lament, is written like advertising, not journalism.

As a former reporter and editor, I can attest that is a sure-fired way to have your news release discarded.

Here are 6 key mistakes to avoid when writing a news release:

  1. Crafting a “no news” news release. This is where you’re trying to get your agency or client some media coverage but without a real news hook. It’s better to hold off on issuing a release until you have an appropriate angle to justify contacting a reporter.
  2. Using puffery, vague generalities and exaggerated descriptions of people, events, products or services—followed by lots of exclamation marks!!!!!! Nothing screams amateur quite like that.
  3.  Being verbose. It’s usually harder to write short, concise copy than long copy, but journalism is all about being succinct and to the point.
  4.  Writing about “pseudo” events that are contrived to get attention but have no real news value.
  5.  Presenting statements that are subjective and opinion-based as facts. If you want to include a statement that involves an opinion or judgment, turn it into a quote and attribute the statement to someone.
  6.  Writing like an advertising copywriter instead of a journalist. To be considered credible by the news media, you have to write your release as objectively as possible, emphasizing its news value, connection to a trend or its human interest aspect. Use third-person pronouns and the active rather than passive voice.

photo credit: symphony of love Master Cheng Yen Do not fear making mistakes in life, fear only not correcting them via photopin (license)

A New Calling Card for Agency New Business

At one time or another, many agency principals have probably toyed with the idea of writing a book. And with good reason: They have plenty of relevant insights worth sharing.

Niche books can be a valuable new calling card for new business and help your agency stand out from competitors. That’s because writing a specialty book:

  • Increases your agency’s visibility
  • Helps market your agency to key audiences within a particular niche
  • Positions your agency’s leadership as subject matter experts
  • Reaches decision makers your agency might not otherwise be able to access
  • Gives your agency material to repurpose in blog posts, newsletters, articles, etc.
  • Provides an impressive way to conclude a new business presentation: handing prospects a signed copy of the book

Books 20431040803_a2a6aba7dd.jpg

Agency experts typically have busy schedules, and the thought of taking time to write a book can be a bit overwhelming. Plus, some people have a great deal of knowledge about a particular topic but dislike writing.

The good news is that your agency likely already has material on your blog, executive speeches, presentations, case studies, etc., that could jump start the book’s content. In addition, a talented ghostwriter can take a lot of the burden off an executive, while also bringing new thinking and perspective to the book.

The writer should learn as much as possible about how the executive thinks and speaks, and try to capture his or her personality. It’s vital that they work well together and have good chemistry. In some cases it may be preferable to have multiple authors from the agency each write a chapter to showcase the depth of your agency’s expertise.

A niche book truly can be a competitive advantage, and it may well be the best new business investment your agency makes in 2019.

 photo credit: cogdogblog The “Networked” Shelf via photopin (license)

 

The Best Tool for Evaluating the Effectiveness of Your Agency’s Communications

A communications audit helps identify strengths and weaknesses in an agency’s communications, as well as perceptions that exist and barriers which prevent or inhibit effective communication. An audit also flags areas that may require more in-depth, quantitative research.

Comm Audit All Reverse Mort Checkmark 24379202246_5ca2770bdf_n (1)

What is a communications audit?

A communications audit is a management tool that helps agencies and their clients determine how effectively they are communicating with various audiences. It involves the collection and analysis of information about perceptions clients and influencers have about the agency. In essence, a communications audit is a snapshot of an organization at a given time. An audit may be broad or narrow, focusing on a particular audience or a variety of audiences. Likewise, the audit may address a single issue or a wide range of issues affecting an agency. The bottom-line goal for any audit, however, should be to improve the effectiveness of an organization’s communication with important audiences.

Why should an organization have one?

A communications audit can help agencies and/or their clients understand how well their messages are being received and accepted by audiences. While people may think that others understand and accept their messages, the fact of the matter is that we are often unaware of how the messages we send are received or understood. Equally important as sending a message is listening for feedback. A communications audit also can help identify barriers to effective communication and provide practical solutions.

How is a communications audit conducted?

The best way to conduct a communications audit is through an independent, third-part individual who thoroughly understands the communication process. Audits typically include a review of formal and informal communication processes; one-on-one interviews with community and industry leaders, influencers, customers and members of the organization; focus groups; and sometimes surveys.

What are the expected results?

An audit gives organizations an opportunity to find out what they are doing well in their communications and where they need to improve. The audit also may uncover important issues or perceptions that need to be addressed, and in some cases it will significantly alter the way an organization operates.

It’s hard to fix something if you don’t know exactly where it’s broken. A communications audit helps identify communication gaps, barriers and pitfalls, and it ultimately provides a roadmap to get communications back on track.

photo credit: All Reverse Mortgage Check mark via photopin (license)

 

Strategic Use of PR Is a Competitive Advantage for Agencies

Whether your agency emphasizes inbound or outbound marketing—or a combination of the two—public relations is an important tool for attracting attention, building your brand and generating new business opportunities.

I Love PR

Targeted publicity enables secondary sources—the news media and bloggers—to tell your story and build your brand’s image and reputation. 

It also gives your brand something no other marketing tool can fully replicate: credibility. Although you lack control of what’s reported by the news media, that’s exactly why such coverage is so much more credible than an ad—people know the story has gone through a third-party vetting process.

While agencies provide background information, messaging and insights to help shape stories, clients and prospects tend to give more weight to a news article or a post from a credible blog than from advertising, social media or personal sales.

Agency PR also is effective in increasing awareness among decision makers who may be difficult to reach through other means, and it enhances inbound marketing initiatives because a steady stream of favorable publicity makes your agency easier to be found by prospects seeking your area of expertise.

Many people in public relations have backgrounds with print or broadcast media. Former reporters tend to be excellent story tellers, which is essential for good content marketing.

They know how to consistently provide useful, well-targeted information that is enjoyable to read, builds trust, engages customers and enhances the brand—without coming across as disguised advertisements.

If used strategically, PR will give your agency a real competitive edge—particularly in new business initiatives—because it provides an unparalleled way of gaining awareness and credibility; enables your agency to communicate effectively with clients, prospects and influencers; and assists in building your brand and reputation in the marketplace.

photo credit: Cloudberry Communications via photopin cc