Posts Tagged ‘public relations’
May 5, 2015 by Kay Paumier
A pitch can focus on generating immediate coverage or on longer-term ideas and opportunities. The immediate goal is to get to first base, to generate enough interest that the reporter wants more.
The trick is to have something interesting to offer, and to state that idea in a compelling manner. You don’t have much time. Most reporters take only three to five seconds before deciding whether to reject an idea.
In any event, “pitching” is one of the primary PR skills. It’s also one of the most challenging. A good pitch:
Pitches can be written or verbal. Even if pitching by phone, it is good to write a short outline.
How can you develop an effective pitch? Here are some tips.
Know your target. Study the publication or program. Make sure the pitch fits them. Match their style as much as possible. You would not pitch The Wall Street Journal the same way you pitch Rolling Stone.
Personalize the pitch. Identify the right person for your pitch. If necessary, check the publication’s masthead. Better yet, read the publication and identify who covers your industry.
Make it clear that you have done your homework. Point out that the topic would be a good follow-up to a previous report. Suggest a particular section in the publication or program. Or cite some demographic information that shows why your story is appropriate for the readers. (You can find demographic information in the publication’s media kit, which is often available online.) Reporters like to know that you’re paying attention.
In PR, familiarity does not breed contempt. It often breeds success.
Start at the end. Think about what you’d like the final article to look like. Imagine a headline and subhead. Focus your writing to achieve that goal.
Write a good e-mail subject line. If you’re e-mailing the pitch, make sure your subject line tells your story quickly and convincingly.
Write a good lead. You need to immediately draw the reporter into your pitch. You might start either by “writing” the first paragraph of the story, referring to your conversation with the reporter (if you’ve connected by phone), or mentioning a previous article the reporter wrote. Statistics, stories, questions and dramatic statements often work well.
Present the broad story. Take your idea beyond your client or company, and focus on its larger impact. Will the idea help or hurt the economy? Your industry? Your area? Will it tie into a “hot” topic? Spell out the impact; don’t expect the reporter to figure it out.
Focus on the readers’ needs. What is the readers’ pain? How will they benefit from your suggestion?
Think about the obstacles. What would make the reporter turn down your suggestion? Is it too complicated? Too simple? Too similar to the publication’s other stories? Or too different? Think about possible objections and address them in your pitch.
Be specific. Give evidence – statistics, research and stories – to support your idea. Do the reporters’ work for them and you’ll increase your chances of success.
Make the pitch short and easy to read. It should only be a few paragraphs, one e-mail screen or one page. Use short words and sentences.
If appropriate, go negative. People are typically more motivated by the fear of loss (the “pain”) than by the promise of gain. So it might be more compelling to pitch a way to avoid a tax audit than to pitch tips on saving money on taxes.
Do not make the pitch too promotional. Stay factual and avoid hyperbole. Remember, you need to present an idea the reporter can use.
Do not send attachments. You can, however, link to your website and other resources.
Provide “extras” when possible. Offer photos or information for graphics. Offer to connect the reporter with industry experts, spokespeople and customers.
If you follow these recommendations, you’ll increase the chances that reporters will pay attention to your pitch.
A final note: In this discussion, I’ve referred to “readers.” However, the tips work just as well for broadcast media.
April 7, 2015 by Kay Paumier
Most Important Elements
Journalists felt that the most important elements in an online newsroom are:
A few notes on these elements:
Search functionality: 98 percent want to be able to easily access the material.
PR contacts: It continually surprises me that some companies hide their PR contact information. Clearly not a good idea.
News releases: Almost all the respondents wanted to be able to access news releases, and 95 percent of them want those releases to be organized by the type of news.
Photos: 96 percent of journalists wanted both high- and low-res photos. Additionally, 81 percent thought video was very important.
Breaking news: 93 percent of journalists said that it’s important to be able to access breaking news.
E-mail alerts: E-mail is still far and away the best way to reach journalists. However, journalists prefer quality over quantity. Most of them (75 percent) prefer to receive notifications only about news that is relevant to their work.
Product information: It only makes sense to have product information easily available, so that journalists can easily access product details.
Crisis communication: In a crisis, your online newsroom is one of the first places journalists will turn to for information. It’s recommended that you have a “dark” microsite ready for crisis communications.
Events calendar: This information increases the chance journalists will cover your events.
Social media: Nearly nine in 10 respondents said that it’s important for a newsroom to link to a company’s social media pages. What’s more, about the same percentage said they visit corporate Facebook pages, and 93 percent said they read blogs about companies, products and services.
Executive bios: Having bios online means journalists can easily check names and titles.
Information requests: Almost 90 percent of journalists want to be able to submit an information request online.
One last point. Most journalists (75 percent) want to be able to access this information from mobile devices.
These highlights are good reminders of some best practices. I encourage you to read the full report.
March 3, 2015 by Kay Paumier
Surveys are a great way to generate publicity, but many surveys fail to live up to their potential because of a faulty design, an ineffective news release, or both.
That’s why I was happy to see the excellent report from Researchscape, “Amp UP News Releases with Newsmaker Surveys,” which contains a wealth of good information.
The company analyzed more than 250 survey news releases to identify best practices and common mistakes. They also interviewed reporters about their attitudes towards such surveys. Their findings are comprehensive and (I found) very helpful.
Here are some of my favorite points:
A well-designed questionnaire can provide material for two or three news releases. On average, a survey news release reports the findings from five questions. Fifteen percent of releases in the survey reported on the results of a single question.
Economies of Scales
“A simple yes-no question won’t give you much to report on.” A matrix question, where respondents select from a common scale (e.g., “daily,” “weekly,” or “monthly “) has greater potential for generating news.
Reporters are more likely to report on surveys that follow best practices. Among other items, this means that a third-party research firm (not the sponsoring organization) conducted the research.
“Most survey news releases simply include a summary of key findings of the survey, without accompaniment.” The report recommends adding other assets, such as charts, graphs and infographics; the questions themselves; and an explanation of the methodology.
Optimizing Releases for Prospects
Offering a corresponding white paper is a great way to encourage visitors to go to the company’s website. “Many white papers are simply presentations of the survey results, with an introductory slide, one slide per question and a methodology slide.” However, it only makes sense to have the person first fill in a contact-information form in exchange for the white paper. (Only 7 percent of the survey releases examined had such a form.)
Common mistakes in writing survey news releases include:
Again, these are just some highlights from this report, which I highly recommend you read.
February 3, 2015 by Kay Paumier
March has lots of great anniversaries and celebrations. Among other things, it celebrates National Women’s History Month, International Mirth Month, and (dear to my heart) National Grammar Day and National Proofreading Day.
These types of celebrations offer opportunities for publicity. For example, March 10 is the anniversary of the invention of the telephone. How could someone take advantage of that? Well:
Got the idea? Here are some other events, celebrated throughout the entire month of March:
And here are other events celebrated during March:
December 9, 2014 by Kay Paumier
Why is it so hard to connect with journalists? Why don’t they respond? Why don’t they “buy” my pitch?
In short, what do they want anyway?
Many PR pros have asked themselves these and similar questions for years. In many ways, it’s easier than ever to get to know journalists, because their work is generally available online. At the same time, it can be harder than ever to connect with journalists, because their schedules are so demanding and they are overwhelmed with pitches and other material.
Fortunately, the Lawrence Ragan Communications report “What Journalists Want” describes many of the steps needed to develop good relationships with journalists. Here are some of their key points.
Engage with journalists on social media.
Follow them on Twitter. Retweet their tweets, but “don’t just click the retweet button. Instead, quote them in a tweet of your own, and include ‘RT’ or ‘MT’ and their @ handle. Tell your followers why the tweet matters, or even just add ‘Yes!’ or ‘I agree.’”
Target the right reporter.
Journalists have complained about inappropriate pitches from time immemorial. And today there really is no excuse to pitch the “wrong” reporter. Between online and social media, you should be able to confirm that you are approaching the right person.
Send appropriate email.
Most journalists (at least according to many surveys) prefer email to other forms of communication. But to get the reporter to read the message, you need a good subject line. Here are Ragan’s guidelines:
Make the body of the email “a short paragraph explaining what you’d like the reporter to cover.” In the process, answer these questions:
The whole email should be about half a screen. And, in general, you should not follow up with a phone call.
The report has other great tips on press releases, online news rooms and media interviews, which I’ll discuss in subsequent posts. But I am only discussing a few highlights. I encourage you to read the report in its entirety.
October 28, 2014 by Kay Paumier
I recently listened to a webinar entitled “Insider Secrets to the Perfect Pitch” by Batt Humphreys, a former CBS News executive with more than 30 years of experience in the industry.
Here is some of what I took away from the webinar, which was sponsored by Vocus/Cision. Much of this is not new, but it is important to regularly review the basics, especially the importance of the story and the pitch.
It’s all about the story. As the former newscaster Dan Rather said: “We’re all just telling stories here.”
What is a good story? Potential good story themes include:
Whenever possible, do your own research. Thirty-nine percent of respondents to a survey said that exclusive research helped make pitches stand out in the crowd. So look for ways to generate original data related to your topic.
Qualities of a Good Story
Whatever the angle, the story needs to be clear and concise, and connect with its intended audience.
Once you have your story, you need to pitch it. Some tips:
These are just some of the highlights from the webinar, which you can hear for yourself here.
September 18, 2014 by Kay Paumier
Ever since Deep Throat, people have been fascinated by how the news media get information.
Although you probably won’t be involved in toppling a president, you might have reason to consider whether you should say “no comment,” speak “off the record,” or offer some material exclusively.
Unfortunately, these definitions are often misunderstood, both by the interviewee and the interviewer. For that reason, it’s a good idea to discuss the meaning of the term with the reporter before you provide any information.
As the online encyclopedia Wikipedia notes: “Politicians, rock stars, royalty and other celebrities seem to favor the no-comment line of defense.”
For the rest of us, however, the term makes little or no sense. Studies show that people think you’re guilty if you even say “no comment.”
That doesn’t mean you have to answer every question. You can just state that you cannot discuss a particular topic. Just avoid the words “no comment,” which for many people, imply guilt.
“On the Record”
When you speak “on the record,” everything you say can be reproduced verbatim and attributed to you, without further approval from you. Most media interviews are on the record.
“Off the Record”
“Off the record” means you are speaking not for publication or attribution. Many people think that “off-the-record” comments will never find their way into print. However, the term just means that the information will not be attributed to you. The reporter could still attribute the information to “an anonymous source” or could track down someone else who will confirm the information and be quoted.
Also, just saying something is “off the record” (or “not for attribution” or “on background”) is insufficient. The reporter must agree to keep the comments confidential.
I would never advise a client to go “off the record” unless we had a good relationship with the reporter and knew that he or she was trustworthy. In general, it’s good to keep everything “on the record.”
“Not for Attribution”
Speaking “not for attribution” is just a variation of “off the record” and, again, requires the reporter’s agreement to be effective.
The term means that the information will not be attributed to you directly. However, you could be described in such a way as to suggest your identity (e.g., “a high-ranking official in the State Department”).
“On Background” and “On Deep Background”
Another variation of the off-the-record theme is to speak “on background.” The Encarta dictionary defines “on background” as speaking “on conditions of anonymity and in an effort to provide the press with non-attributable information, usually sensitive in nature, which addresses the issue on background only.”
If you speak “on background,” you give the reporter some information that cannot be attributed to you, but could be attributed to an “industry insider,” “high-ranking official’ or the like. Your information can be quoted verbatim.
If you speak “on deep background,” the reporter should not attribute the material to any source.
Both “on background” and “on deep background” are mainly used for explanatory discussions and investigative reporting. However, if the reporter can get the same information from an alternate source, that material may be used.
And, again, the reporter must agree to the terms in advance.
Nondisclosure Agreements (NDAs)
When dealing with unannounced products or initiatives, you can ask the reporters to sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA), which is a formalized version of an embargo.
The NDA describes the terms under which reporters may disclose the information they receive. In particular, the NDA should state the date when the reporter is free to use the information.
The reporter must sign the agreement for it to be effective.
Until this point, all the confidentiality issues we’ve discussed bind the editor. Exclusives and specials bind you.
Exclusives are usually restricted to feature or interview placements. In general, the term means that the article or material will not be given to any other publication or program, or that the spokesperson will not interview with any other outlet. Oftentimes, an exclusive increases the chances a story will be published or aired.
A “special” is just another way of saying an exclusive. The term, which is commonly used for contributed articles, means that the material is tailored for a particular publication. You should not submit that exact material to any other publication or outlet.
Magazines usually insist on specials or exclusives for contributed articles. If a publication requests an exclusive, make sure you understand what the editor or producer means by the term. If the outlet is prestigious enough to request an exclusive, it’s probably important enough for you to give it.
A Final Note
As stated earlier, these terms have slightly different definitions, and misunderstandings are common. Avoid surprises. Confirm the meaning of the term before you providing any information.
September 4, 2014 by Kay Paumier
Here are some of the media’s most common pet peeves, with advice on how to avoid them.
#1: Showing you do not understand the media outlet
Avoid pitching stories that do not fit the publication, program or blog.
One editor told me that a PR firm regularly pitched cooking recipes to his technology publication, a sure sign they didn’t know what the magazine covered.
And there really is no excuse. Review the media outlet. Note its sections and departments, its tone and topics. Check its media kit, which gives you an overview of its audience and mission. (You can typically find media kits either under the “advertising” or “about us” sections on the web.)
Do the same type of research for any broadcast program. Note its format (e.g., news program or talk show). Study the personalities of the host and hostess. Learn the correct pronunciation and spelling of their names. (Don’t be like the PR manager who mispronounced the name of a leading San Francisco radio personality. This definitely showed that she had not listened to the program. It’s fair to assume that the producer only slightly listened to her.)
Throughout this process, consider where your company or organization might “fit” into the publication or program. Remember, the media is not going to adapt to you. You need to find a place for yourself.
#2: Showing you do not understand the journalist’s role
Some journalists regularly filter out communication from companies or agencies they feel have wasted their time.)
Contact the appropriate person for your story or pitch. For newspapers, send news releases to the city editor (for local news) or to the business editor (for business stories). For magazines, send news releases to the news editor. For newspapers and magazines, send story ideas and articles to the features or articles editor. For blogs, send to the blogger who writes about your industry.
For broadcast contact the news director (for newscasts) or producers (of specific programs).
#3: Failing to respond
If a journalist asks you for information, get it to them as quickly as possible. In general, I recommend getting back to the media within the hour, if only to say that you can’t provide the information immediately. If that’s the case, at least let them know you’re working on it, and give an estimate of when you will have the material.
#4: Failing to deliver
If you’ve promised something, deliver it or have a very good reason why you don’t.
One way to assure you’ll keep your promises is to focus on the most important reporters and editors. The 80/20 rule works in publicity as in virtually every other endeavor. Keep in close contact with the people who provide 80 percent of the value of your publicity program.
#6: Hiding contact information
It’s amazing, but many companies do not put media contacts on their websites or even on their news releases. Include contact information on all releases, and place the information prominently on your online press room.
#5: Treating someone poorly
Years ago, someone verbally attacked the assistant of a prominent technology journalist, bringing the assistant to tears. He went public with the story, making it clear that he did not appreciate that kind of conduct.
The moral of the story: follow the golden rule. It’s good business. It’s good PR.
#7: Losing perspective
This is perhaps the media’s biggest pet peeve of all.
Sometimes PR people are too close to their companies to do their jobs well. PR’s function is to facilitate two-way communication between the organization, the media and other outside groups. The best PR people are intermediaries. They help both their companies and the media.
So look at things as reporters would. Ask yourself if your idea would appeal to their readers or viewers. Adapt the idea until it has that appeal.
This ability to balance the needs of the organization with the needs of the media is at the core of solid PR work. Maintain that balance and you will have a win-win relationship with your company and the media.
August 7, 2014 by Kay Paumier
It’s the middle of the year, and it seemed a good time to take another look at the Vocus State of the Media Report 2014.
Some things really struck me, notably the not-so-encouraging statement that “PR practitioners may find it harder to place stories” because of social media. For years we’ve competed with breaking news and other popular stories. Now we have to compete for the attention of journalists “who have a worldwide web of blogs, social media and alternative news sources at their fingertips.”
All this means that PR professionals should not “expect more than 10 seconds” of a journalist’s time.
I agree that the competition has never been greater. But the basics remain. “It’s more important than ever to connect with reporters on social, comment on their stories, offer information that is relevant to their beat and build relationships.”
Findings about Social Media
The level of engagement that social media makes possible has changed the reporting dynamic. In the past reporters didn’t know what their readers were thinking unless they got a letter or phone call. “Now readers and reporters alike know what the other is thinking almost immediately.”
That said, I found some of the specific comments about social media interesting.
June 19, 2014 by Kay Paumier
In my previous post, I discussed the Malaysian Airlines crisis communications, and outlined two things you should do before a crisis:
Here is more advice on what you should do before a crisis strikes.
Prepare your messages and materials.
To be sure that you will be ready when (and if) the time comes, develop your “crisis messages” and materials in advance. Specifically:
· “Our main concern is for the welfare of our (employees, customers, shareholders, etc.). We’re doing all that we can for them at this point.”
· “This is what we know right now. As we get more information and verify its accuracy, we will pass it onto you.”
How many people are affected?
· What kind of severance are you offering?
· Is out-placement assistance available?
· Does this mean the company is going broke?
· Are your executives taking pay cuts so that fewer people will be laid off?
Deal with logistics.
The final step in preparing your plan is to manage the logistics.
Review the plan.
Make sure the entire executive staff and other key management people, including the corporate lawyer and investor-relations executive, review the crisis-communications plan.
Assign someone to check the plan quarterly, if only to update the lists. The entire crisis-communications team should review the plan annually. Treat the plan as you would a company insurance policy.
Media train your spokespeople, specifically practicing crisis scenarios. Review this training at least annually.
Test the plan. Run through simulations of possible situations. Consider contracting with an outside moderator to run “tabletop exercises”— roundtable discussions based on given crisis scenarios.
Crisis communications planning is often on the “to-do” list, but all too often is not done. However, preparing a plan doesn’t have to be arduous. The planning can be broken into manageable pieces and worked on over several months.
In my next post, I’ll discuss what to do during a crisis.
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