Three Mistakes Agencies Often Make with Reporters

One of the lessons I’ve learned from interacting with reporters throughout the world is that making the right pitch to the right person at the right time is vital to publicity success.

It’s also important to know how the news media operate and have a good grasp of what constitutes a newsworthy story if you want to have effective working relationships with reporters. Public relations and advertising are very different, and failing to understand these differences can be fatal to an agency’s publicity efforts.

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The following are three mistakes agencies and other organizations often make when dealing with reporters:

1. Failing to do adequate research.

Whether you’re dealing with your local paper, an industry publication or The Wall Street Journal, you need to take the time to find out which person covers the particular area you are interested in pursuing. Sending media materials generically to “Editor” or “Producer” isn’t good protocol and probably won’t get you very far.

Finding the right person is an important first step, but it’s equally important to research the reporter’s previous stories. Learn all you can about what the reporter covers, his or her interests and reporting style, and follow the reporter on social media before making contact. The more you can demonstrate that you understand a reporter’s audience and story preferences—and how he or she wants to be approached with ideas—the better your chances of success.

2. Wasting reporters’ time with irrelevant pitches.

In a major survey of journalists, nearly 60% said the relevance of the materials they receive comes up short, citing it as their top problem with PR. Reporters are busy people who work under constant pressure and deadlines; don’t waste their time with pitches that aren’t appropriate.

When presenting a story idea, the most important things you can tell a reporter are who will care about it and why. Get to the point right away because media people don’t have time to hunt through your pitch to get to the news. Be clear and concise, including all the necessary information but nothing more.  Here’s a simple test to determine if your pitch passes the “so-what” factor: Put yourself in the reporter’s shoes and ask, “Would this story be interesting to my audience?”

A good story, from a reporter’s perspective, is one that:

  • Is timely
  • Fits the media outlet’s demographics and psychographics
  • Is controversial or novel, or takes a contrarian perspective to conventional wisdom
  • Has a local angle (if pitching a local reporter)
  • Ties in with a current issue or trend

3. Writing like an advertising executive instead of like a reporter.

Trying to get earned media by sending disguised advertising or editorializing your story idea is the quickest way I can think of to get your information trashed and lose credibility with the news media. In fact, in the survey of journalists cited above, their biggest concern was that the information they receive is written like advertising, not journalism.

Craft your pitch as objectively as possible emphasizing its news or human interest aspect, or your expertise to comment and provide insights. If you’ve done your homework, you will know the reporter’s audience and area(s) of coverage so you can customize your pitch accordingly.

The more you can provide reporters with relevant, factual information that is timely, meaningful and targeted to their audiences, the more likely they are to take you seriously and provide positive coverage that enhances your agency’s credibility and builds its presence in the marketplace.

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Win-Win Guest Posting for Blogs

Pitching a blogger for a guest post isn’t much different than pitching a print or broadcast reporter. Guest posting has to be win-win for everyone, so be sure to make it clear in your pitch why what you are proposing makes sense for that blog’s audience and how it will benefit them.

Just as you can build on local or trade-specific news media coverage to reach larger media outlets, doing guest posts on some lesser-known blogs may help you get coverage on an A-list blog down the road.

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Here are seven tips for presenting guest-post ideas to bloggers:

Do your homework. Research sites to find ones that are viewed by your target audience and develop a short list of places you’d like to approach. Blogger Link Up provides helpful resources, including a page that lists guest posts wanted by categories. In addition, Effectivebusinessideas.com has what it calls “The Ultimate List of Blogs that Accept Guest Posts.” These are good places to get started.

Become familiar with the blog’s style, personality and content. Just as you should read a publication or watch/listen to a program before pitching it, read several posts on the blog you are targeting and make sure what you have in mind fits into one of its categories. See if you can bring a fresh perspective to a topic or address a something that hasn’t been covered recently or at all.

Establish your credibility. When contacting a blogger, include information about yourself and your credentials to write about the topic you’re proposing. Even if you are acquainted with the blogger, it doesn’t hurt to remind him or her about why you (or your client or boss) would be an ideal person to address this topic.

Get to the point. A good media pitch letter is brief, engaging and quickly gets to the point. Use that same approach with bloggers, and don’t waste their time. The more targeted and creative your pitch, the better your chances of success.

Make the blogger’s job easy. Rather than asking the blogger about topics he or she would like you to write about, suggest a couple of good ideas that would be of interest to the blog’s audience.

Write to help the audience succeed. Once you have approval to submit a guest post, focus your writing to the specific audience you’ll be addressing. What challenges do readers face, and what advice can you give them to help them overcome these challenges? What opportunities may they be missing that haven’t been previously covered? Are there trends or new research results you can discuss?

Don’t be pushy. It’s fine to see if you can get a timeframe of when, if ever, your guest post will run, but don’t hound the blogger. If you don’t get a positive response or you don’t get a response at all after a couple of inquiries, move on—and keep in mind that you may have an even better pitch next time.

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Do You Know the Name of the Person Who Cleans Your Building?

In his second month as an MBA student, one of Mike’s professors gave a pop quiz.

Mike breezed through the questions until the last one: “What is the first name of the woman who cleans this building?”

Surely this was some kind of joke. He’d seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall, brunette and in her 50s, but how would he know her name?

He handed in the paper, leaving the last question blank.

Before class ended another student asked if the last question would count.

“Absolutely,” the professor answered. “In your lives, in your careers, you’ll meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say hello.”

“I’ve never forgotten that lesson,” Mike wrote many years later. “I also learned her name was Dorothy.”

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With a simple test question, that professor communicated a powerful truth about recognizing the importance of every person.

The Golden Rule—treating others as you would like to be treated—is the most effective way I know to develop loyal, trustworthy team members who feel appreciated, valued and respected.

In his book EntreLeadership, Dave Ramsey writes: “Too many people in business have abandoned sight of the fact that their team members are humans, they are people. Too many people in business have become so shallow that they are merely transactional, not relational.

“The people on your payroll are not units of production, they are people. They have dreams, goals, hurts, and crises. If you trample them or don’t bother to engage them relationally you will forever struggle in your operations.”

Being kind, inclusive and demonstrating genuine interest are not only right things to do, but they also make good business sense.

I have seen great marketing ideas come from people at all levels of an organization. It’s amazing what creative thinking and insights people have if we take initiative to draw them out a bit.

They’ll open up if they trust us and believe we really care about them.

But first, we need to know their names. Whose name do you need to learn today?

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20 Questions to Consider When Developing an Agency PR Plan

Whether your agency emphasizes inbound or outbound marketing—or a combination of the two—public relations is an important tool that can help you attract attention, showcase your expertise and generate new business opportunities.

A successful PR plan has a clear focus, target and purpose.

Without those strategic elements, PR tactics tend to lack direction and consistency, or they simply fall off an agency’s radar as the tyranny of the urgent takes over.

A written PR plan will serve as a road map to guide you in reaching your desired destination, and help you avoid unproductive detours and distractions along the way.

But before getting started on the plan, it’s important to assess your agency’s strengths and weaknesses; evaluate what your agency does best; and determine whether your greatest need is to create awareness or to change the perception of your agency.

Question markAnother strategic consideration is whether you want public relations to assist in positioning your agency team as experts in an existing niche or aid you in entering a new industry and becoming experts there.

Being vague in your positioning, and trying to be all things to all people, won’t make you stand out from your competition and likely will result in a confusing image for your agency.

The following questions will assist you in assessing your situation, determining your highest priorities/needs and fine-tuning your PR objectives:

  1. What do you want to accomplish with your PR efforts?
  2. Who are your key audiences?
  3. How would you describe your best prospects for new business?
  4. What are the best communications vehicles to reach these audiences?
  5. What are your points of differentiation and key messages?
  6. What words best describe your agency’s brand?
  7. Who are your main competitors?
  8. How are they perceived in the marketplace?
  9. Do you want to utilize PR for your agency, offer it as a service to clients, or both?
  10. What is the primary way you use or would like to use PR: agency promotion, new business development, as a service to clients or to enhance your integrated marketing communications capabilities?
  11. How would you rate your agency’s PR capabilities on a scale from 1-10, with 10 being the best and 1 the worst?
  12. How would you rate your agency’s new business focus on a scale from 1-10, where 10 is perfectly targeted and 1 is we’re all over the map?
  13. How effective were your past PR efforts (assuming you had some)?
  14. What PR opportunities can you identify that have not been maximized?
  15. How should PR integrate into your new business strategy?
  16. How does social media fit with your new business strategy and PR?
  17. Where would you like to obtain publicity (i.e. target publications, bloggers, radio/TV programs)?
  18. What speaking events or media interviews would you like to be invited to as a participant?
  19. How will you define PR success?
  20. How will you measure that success?

Going through the discipline of answering these questions, and then developing a written plan based on your responses, will pay great dividends in terms of helping your agency manage its time, resources and activities in the most effective way possible. It also will enable your agency to obtain the targeted, consistent coverage necessary for long-term PR success.

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Ad Agencies: Three Ways to Prepare an Inexperienced Leader for Media Interviews

In an age of sound bite communication, companies need articulate spokespeople who are prepared to deal with the unexpected and can deliver clear, concise and consistent messages to a variety of audiences. After all, how well a leader communicates, and the degree of credibility he or she maintains with important audiences, will likely affect your agency’s or your clients’ image for a long time.

Trouble is, leaders who are inexperienced in doing media interviews can easily fall into traps and say something they later regret. They can go off message, start rambling or fidgeting, freeze up when the camera light comes on or give out inaccurate information—any one of which can create a giant headache for the organization.

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Having done media training for 20+ years, here are three ways I’ve found to help prepare inexperienced leaders for interviews, build their confidence and give them the tools they need to be successful:

1. Demystify the news media for them.

I think of this as a “News Media 101” overview of how the media work and the criteria they use to determine a potential story’s news value. For example, leaders need to understand that reporters are looking for high impact stories which will capture attention. They especially like a local angle for a national or regional topic, trend stories, controversy and a contrarian point of view. And they are always looking for articulate, expert commentary on current issues. It’s also important to make sure that inexperienced interviewees have a good handle on the differences they will experience in a print interview vs. a radio interview vs. a TV interview.

2. Have a goal for each interview.

Leaders need to realize that if they don’t control what they say to the news media, the media will control them. They need to have a clear idea of what they want to get across and accomplish with each interview. Stress the importance of preparation because “winging it” can lead to disaster. One of the best ways to prepare is to develop key messages—also known as talking points—to help your leader communicate effectively

Practice asking questions you think the leader could be asked, and then counsel your leader to use the questions to bridge to what he/she wants to talk about (i.e. your interview goal, using the talking points to achieve it). Leaders possess valuable expertise, and in most cases they are going to know much more about the subject matter than the person doing the interview.

3. Teach them how to take control of an interview

This usually doesn’t come naturally, even for leaders who have excellent communications skills. However, it’s vital that interviewees learn the art of taking control of interviews and dealing appropriately with difficult questions. Here are some practical tips to share to make sure your leader stays on point and doesn’t get off in the weeds:

Answer only within the scope of your authority and responsibility.  If you don’t know something, say so—and then offer to get back to the interviewer later with an answer.

Look for opportunities to use transition phrases, such as “The real issue is…” or “What I can tell you about XYZ is . . .” or “What I’m here to discuss today is…” or “What’s important to know about XYZ is….”

Identify ways to turn negatives into positives. For example, in a layoff situation, stress how many jobs were saved by taking this action. It won’t put a happy face on a negative situation, but it can provide the audience with much-needed perspective.

Be aware that your body language often will speak louder than your words. Remember to smile and have energy during the interview. Don’t lose your temper no matter how provocative or loaded a question you are asked.

If you’re on camera, look at the person conducting the interview, not into the camera (unless you are specifically asked to do so).

Avoid industry jargon, and never say “no comment,” which equals guilt in most people’s minds.  If you can’t discuss something, explain why (e.g. confidentiality, proprietary information, pending litigation, timing because you’re still gathering all the facts, etc.).

When you’ve made your point, stop talking. This may be the most important point of all, because more times than not people make their best points in the first sentence or two they give in response to a question. When they elaborate too much and get “off message,” they typically end up in the swamp and say something they later regret.

TV Leaders Interview Tips 26554989678_ff03a10665_n Media training can make the difference between a successful interview and a disastrous one.

With proper coaching, the right messaging and some practice responding to challenging questions, leaders will have the tools they need for a successful interview and the confidence to pull it off.

If the interview is a high profile one, or you have concerns that it may be hostile, or the leader seems to be having difficulty delivering key messages and you sense he/she is not ready for the interview, you may want to consider retaining a media training expert from outside the organization to help.

One final thought: Now days even a local interview in a small market, or an Internet radio interview with a tiny audience, can go viral. Social media has been a game-changer and can broadcast mistakes all over the world instantly. Small doesn’t necessarily mean safe when it comes to interviews, so the best approach is to devote the time and resources needed to make sure leaders doing interviews are prepared, confident and effective.

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Crisis Management: Don’t Close the Door on Your Organization’s Fire

One of my friends when I was growing up in the countryside of Indiana was a boy named Billy, who lived a few houses down the street. Billy was a nice kid but not the sharpest tool in the shed when it came to common sense.

We were both around ten years old when “the incident” occurred: While playing with matches in his bedroom, Billy set the window curtains on fire. He tried putting the fire out, but the flames quickly spread. Billy was so overwhelmed by the situation that he walked out of his room, closed the door and started watching TV in the living room. Really, that’s exactly what he did.

For a few minutes, he didn’t have to deal with the awful reality of what he had done, and he was able to go about life as usual. 

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However, it wasn’t long before the entire house was engulfed in flames. Fortunately he and his family escaped, but the house burned to the ground. I still remember hearing the sirens and watching flames shoot out of their house as firemen tried in vain to save it.

Now I understand why my mother encouraged me to make some new friends.

Billy never talked much about “the incident,” so I can’t say for sure what was going through his mind. But I suspect when the fire started in his bedroom, he was afraid he’d get in trouble for playing with matches and thought he could handle it. After all, it was just a little flame at the end of a match—at least, at first. That was MISTAKE #1.

When he realized he couldn’t put the fire out, Billy apparently became so overwhelmed with what he’d done that he convinced himself he could just close the door on the fire and it would magically go away. That was MISTAKE #2.

When I tell this story in my crisis communications seminar, people are amazed at such irresponsible behavior, and rightfully so. Billy should have known better—a raging fire doesn’t extinguish itself by shutting the door on it.

Yet, many organizations with intelligent, well-educated leaders often take the same approach to dealing with a crisis in their organization.

Rather than face reality, they try to ignore the crisis or put a lid on it.

More often than not, the crisis grows and becomes consuming, and in the process devours time and resources. Sometimes the organization’s reputation is severely harmed, and out of the ashes investigations suddenly appear.

It’s not unusual for negative publicity and intense scrutiny from the outside, which often occur during a crisis, to be accompanied by a creeping sense of panic over loss of control of the situation and concern about what might happen next.

Sometimes a crisis is created by an opposing special-interest group that wants to stir up trouble and put the organization on the defensive. With the advantage of surprise, the group then continues to pour kerosene on the fire it has set. If the organization is caught off guard, it may be forced to divert valuable resources to fight the fire.

More times than not the result is a siege mentality and short-term focus among senior management, which only makes the situation worse.

Facing reality and engaging the crisis in its early stages will make the situation more manageable and less damaging.

When a crisis strikes, those charged with managing communications should have three primary objectives:

  1. Maintain control of the message
  2. Minimize damage
  3. Achieve accurate and balanced coverage through the news media and Internet

One of the best ways to help maintain control and minimize damage when a crisis strikes is to have a flexible crisis management plan in place.

The plan should:

  • Contemplate the types of crises that could occur
  • Set forth policies to deal with them
  • Identify all audiences and the best ways to communicate with them
  • Have a pre-selected crisis management team in place
  • Establish a system for communicating accurate information quickly and effectively

The only thing worse than not having a crisis plan is having one that is not communicated, reviewed or tested by those who ultimately will have to implement it.

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

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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.

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