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

Ad Agencies: What Publicity Opportunities Are You Missing for the New Year?

New Years Blog Post 39308187491_5087e48ec3

My first job in public relations was with an international nonprofit organization. I was blessed to have a terrific mentor—a former newspaper editor—who took me under his wing and really taught me how to write for reporters, evaluate news like they do and develop effective working with them.

We had a small staff and typically were overwhelmed with requests and things to do; frequently, we were putting out fires. We did very little actual media pitching, except for some of the large events we held.

At the time, my idea of media relations was when the phone rang we answered it, and if it was a reporter calling we did our best to be helpful.

When I went to work for a large PR firm, I was immediately introduced to the concept of generating publicity for our clients by coming up with ideas and angles for what would hopefully be positive coverage.

And, by the way, the clients expected ongoing coverage, so we sometimes had to be creative in coming up with story ideas and new angles. 

As you think about publicity opportunities for 2018, the following are some topics to keep your agency in the news:

  • Commentary about marketing trends/current issues
  • Sponsorships
  • Community involvement
  • Events
  • New clients, employees, awards, publications
  • New services, office expansion, etc.
  • Mentoring programs
  • Pro bono work
  • Guest columns in the local newspaper or business journal
  • Articles in relevant industry publications
  • Human interest stories about employees or clients (unusual hobbies, their community involvement, humanitarian work, etc.)

To expand on that last point about human interest stories, one of my favorites was an article our local paper ran about a real estate agent in the Nashville area who gives a portion of his commission for every house sold to sponsor impoverished children in developing countries. At the time the story was published, he was supporting 53 children in 19 countries.

Sometimes feature stories like this get overlooked internally, but they have great potential to build a brand.

Not only did this story generate positive publicity for the real estate agent, but it also was a boost for his company’s image. If I were looking to buy or sell a house, he’s someone I’d like to do business with because he’s a generous person who gives back to those less fortunate.

Goodwill like this is hard to quantify, but it makes a lasting impression in a way that no other marketing tool can replicate.

photo credit: KorneelPhotography 2018 via photopin (license)

For Ad Agency PR Success, Avoid These Mistakes When Writing a News Release

Bundle of newspapers

One of the most important roles of ad agency PR is to disseminate agency news to reporters and bloggers. There are, however, some pitfalls to avoid when seeking publicity, especially when it comes to writing a news release. Here are four mistakes journalists often gripe about when receiving releases from agencies and other sources:

1. Attempting to disguise advertising to make it look like a news story. One of my more memorable academic experiences was the day a college professor returned a paper I submitted with “SJ” at the top instead of a grade. When I asked what SJ meant, he replied “snow job.” Trying to put one over my professor didn’t work in college, and it rarely, if ever, works with reporters. A news release needs to be about news, and it should be written objectively using Associated Press style. Write the release with third-person pronouns and the active rather than passive voice (e.g. John shot Mary, not Mary was shot by John).

2. Stating things 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. Otherwise, stick to the facts and let them stand on their own merit.

3. Using puffery and exaggerated descriptions of people, events, products or servicesfollowed by lots of exclamation marks!!!!!! Nothing screams amateur quite like that. Ditto for platitudes and vague generalities. Be as concise as possible. Mark Twain said he would have written a shorter letter, but he didn’t have time to do so. It usually takes longer to write short, concise copy than long copy, but journalism is all about being succinct and to the point. Don’t fall in Twain’s trap; less is more in a news release.

4. Failing to be relevant to a reporter’s area of coverage. You may have some great news to share, but if you haven’t invested the time to understand a reporter’s beat, audience and interests, you may very well reach the wrong person. There are times when a considerate reporter will email you back and say that he/she has forwarded your release to someone else who might be interested, but don’t count on that happening. It’s far better to take the time to make sure you reach the right person the first time.

If you learn to think and write like a journalist, and understand their criteria for judging the value of news, you’ll have a much easier time getting them to pay attention to your releases and take you seriously as a useful source. And that will improve your chances of getting publicity for your agency and your firm’s clients.

photo credit: Steve Rhodes via photopin cc

 

Eight Ways Your Ad Agency Can Increase Its Chances for a Publicity Hit

baseball-hit-small-image-oct-2016-27354773760_7445ba5b26_n

Getting a good publicity hit is a combination of art, science and sometimes just plain luck. You can increase your chances of getting “lucky” in your publicity efforts by following some basic dos and don’ts.

Here are eight ways to get your agency on the path to successful publicity.

#1: Define your media focus.

Limit your pitches to those outlets that directly serve your target audience. Otherwise, you may end up wasting a lot of time and energy. When I was on the editorial side of a healthcare magazine, I once got a very nice press kit for a horse show. There was no way we were going to cover a horse show in our healthcare magazine. Clearly whoever sent the press kit to us was taking a shotgun approach to the news media, hoping to hit something. That generally doesn’t work very well.

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

Whether you’re dealing with your local paper, a trade publication or a national TV news outlet, it’s important to take the time to find out which person covers the particular area you are interested in targeting. “Dear Editor” or “Dear Producer” will not impress the recipient.

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

Learn all you can about what the reporter covers, his or her interests and reporting style. Most reporters use social media, so it’s a good idea to follow them on Twitter, their blog, etc., before making contact. You can learn a lot about their interests (and dislikes), and even engage in online conversation, before presenting a story idea to them.

#4: Don’t waste their time or mislead them.

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.

 #5: Respect their deadlines.

When contacting a reporter, I always first ask if he or she is on deadline. If so, I then ask when would be a convenient time to share a story idea. (Some will prefer you email the idea to them.) If you’re contacted by a reporter on deadline, do everything you can to respond within that deadline; 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 and pitch like a reporter.

When the time comes to make your pitch, be sure you don’t sound like a commercial. 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(s) of coverage and deadline, when they see a pitch from you in the future, they’ll realize you’re credible and are more likely to give you serious consideration.

#8: Know what makes a good news story.

There’s a simply way to evaluate your story idea before presenting it: 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.

photo credit: PMillera4 Baseball via photopin (license)

PR Stunt with Fake Military Commandos Generates Awareness but Tarnishes Brand

Sometimes a PR stunt may seem like a clever idea when it’s first being kicked around, but upon further reflection it becomes apparent that the idea should never see the light of day.

Such was the case with a French Internet company’s spark of genius in using fake military commandos near the Cannes Film Festival. This one apparently skipped the further reflection phase and went directly to implementation, followed by disaster.

I Love PR button

According to a FOX News story, a group of six men in ISIS militia-style gear approached a historic celebrity-filled hotel near the festival. One of the men reportedly stormed the stairs leading up to the resort. Panic ensued as “someone screamed and people jumped out of their chairs and started moving quickly.” Surprise, surprise. Who would ever have anticipated a reaction that like?

When the dust cleared it was disclosed that the incident was a publicity ploy to promote Oraxy, a French start-up tech company’s Internet site, which the company says is “reserved exclusively for Ultra High Net Worth Individuals.”

Did it get attention? Oh yeah.

Did it build awareness of Oraxy? Definitely. No telling how many zillions it would cost in advertising to equal the publicity garnered by using fake terrorists to scare the daylights out of wealthy hotel guests at one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world.

Will amused “Ultra High Net Worth Individuals” flock to Oraxy’s “global marketplace” site after this incident? I have my doubts.

Gaining attention does not necessarily gain market share, and adverse publicity like this can cause enormous long-term damage to a brand.

An Oraxy spokesperson confirmed the incident was a publicity stunt and said it was coordinated with maritime authorities. “The spokesperson said the unidentified owners feel ‘really bad’ about scaring people on the hotel property.”

Given the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere, and the authentic look of these fake commandos, could anyone really think there would be any other reaction than fear? If the Oraxy folks couldn’t foresee the panic that was likely to take place, wouldn’t you think the maritime authorities would have raised a red flag and put the kibosh on this?

A little common sense and what-if questioning could have saved  a lot of grief.

For more years than I can remember, I’ve had a sign in my office that some insightful unknown person created to outline the six phases of a project (in this case a stunt):

  1. Enthusiasm
  2. Disillusionment
  3. Panic
  4. Search for the guilty
  5. Punishment of the innocent
  6. Praise and honors for the non-participants

I suspect Oraxy followed the first five steps but will skip number six altogether, because no one will want to take credit for this fiasco.

photo credit: Cloudberry Communications via photopin cc

Ad Agency PR: Can It Guarantee Publicity for Your Agency or Client?

NewsChannel 5 Truck

One of the biggest challenges in ad agency PR is managing expectations for publicity. If you work in the PR industry long enough, there’s a good chance that sooner or later you’ll be asked if you can guarantee news media coverage of a new product, service or event.

Better yet, someone in your agency will say or imply that you can get coverage in an effort to impress a client or win a new piece of business.

Generally speaking, no one working in PR can guarantee coverage in a legitimate publication or program.

I’ve seen exceptions—such as a small newspaper, radio station or trade publication offering coverage in exchange for advertising—but the higher one goes in the news media chain, the less likely it is that such an exchange will take place. In fact, most media outlets would be downright insulted if approached that way.

What can be promised is that the PR practitioner will devote his or her best efforts to success; explore a variety of possible angles; utilize knowledge and experience (such as understanding how news media operate and what constitutes a good story from their perspective); and leverage existing relationships with reporters in a good-faith effort to generate positive coverage.

Still, there’s always the possibility of striking out. And that can sometimes be hard for advertising executives or clients to understand because they think the story idea is great and everyone should be interested in it.

Maybe it really is a great story, but the timing isn’t right because the targeted media outlet recently did a similar story; perhaps there are other earth-shattering events taking place that have crowded your story out of the running. Or, possibly, gatekeepers have made it impossible for you to reach the right people.

There are days when a career in advertising sounds pretty good compared to a career in PR with all its uncertainties. While advertising and PR should both base their strategies and messaging on research, advertising has the distinct advantage of being able to control the message, determine where it runs and when.

With publicity, you have no real control over the message—though you can influence it—and you have no control over where a story runs, when it runs or even if it runs—not to mention that the publicity may backfire by being negative.

Despite these drawbacks, PR has an advantage that no other marketing tool can replicate, and that is giving your agency or client credibility.

That’s because publicity allows an objective secondary source–the news media or bloggers–to tell your story to the people you want to reach. Best of all, publicity does so at no cost, (other than what one might be paying a PR person to do the story crafting and pitching).

It’s this high risk/high reward carrot that makes PR so energizing and addictive. Win or lose a particular publicity battle, it’s worth the challenge. I guarantee it.

photo credit: Pensacola Beach Oil Spill Craziness via photopin (license)

The Most Important Part of Your Agency’s Pitch to Reporters

 

Man pitching a baseballWhile there are a number of things that go into an effective pitch letter to reporters, I believe the most important is your headline (or subject line if sending by e-mail). The reason is simple: If the headline doesn’t grab them, they’re not likely to read your pitch letter no matter how well it’s crafted.

During my days as an editor for a healthcare magazine, I got a lot of mail. Here’s a news release headline that a well-meaning hospital or agency public relations executive sent me one day:

CDH TO HOST LAPAROSCOPIC HERNIORRAPY PRECEPTORSHIP

One in a half-million or so people would have a clue what that headline was about.

And ask yourself: how much interest does it generate?  The release itself was fairly well written, and once I read the first few sentences I realized the hospital was hosting a seminar about advancements in hernia operations.

But most reporters – even those in healthcare –wouldn’t get past that headline. The release would end up in the recycle bin or deleted before the first paragraph was read.

The headline should describe, in simple terms, what the seminar is about and why it merits attention. For example, if this involves a new procedure, the headline should make that point up front.

A couple days ago a colleague forwarded an article to me titled “A World-Class News Release.” The writer, Denny Hatch, is a columnist for Target Marketing magazine and author of a new book called Write Everything Right!

Mr. Hatch gets a lot of news releases e-mailed to him, 90% of which he estimates are “unreadable.” Recently he received an e-mail with this subject line:

Infographic: Who is a fraud perpetrator?

Intrigued, he began reading an e-mail news release (with an introductory note) from Scott Patterson, senior public relations specialist with the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. Mr. Hatch described it as “perfect in every way.”

The copy started with a couple of attention-getting questions: What are some of the characteristics of a fraudster?That is, who are the people who commit occupational fraud, stealing from their employer or clients?

Mr. Hatch – not an easy man to please – liked the content so much that he listed the entire pitch, with key takeaways that included this:

  • If the reader does not get beyond the headline, the entire effort is a 100 percent failure—in terms of money spent and time wasted.

“Hey all you P.R. folks, learn from this guy!” Mr. Hatch advises.

Duly noted – and congratulations to Mr. Patterson for an excellent pitch that started with a stand-out subject line.

photo credit: Scott_Calleja via photopin cc