Media Relations in the Age of the Mobile Device

By Ailis Wolf, Van Eperen

media-mobileOn Thursday, Nov. 19, the Professional Development Committee hosted an exciting media panel at the Navy Memorial to discuss what the rise of the mobile device means for the future of media relations campaigns and for the outreach being conducted now by media relations professionals.

The panel consisted of Lisa Stark, national news correspondent for Al Jazeera (@LisaStark); Lenny Bernstein, fitness and health correspondent for The Washington Post (@LennyMBernstein); Eric Lichtblau, justice department correspondent for The New York Times (@EricLichtblau); and Andrea Shalal, defense industry correspondent for Reuters (@andrea_shalal). The panel was moderated by Aaron Cohen, president of Aaron Cohen PR, LLC (@aaroncohenpr).

The panelists shared insights into what the changing digital landscape has meant both for how they work and for the level of their workload, which informs how best to reach them when pitching. They also offered a variety of useful information about the changes going on within their organizations in order provide content optimized for mobile platforms, both phones and tablets.

On Al Jazeera America and what she does, Lisa Stark shared that she loves PR people as they give her a window into items about which she would not know otherwise. But for her, the worst thing is individuals who try to “pull the wool over my eyes.” She said the most important thing to her is that PR professionals are honest. She says, “You want me to be straight with you, and I want you to be straight with me.” Lisa said, and other panelists agreed, that it is important to know the audience of the media outlet you are pitching and know the types of things they cover, particularly when pitching a journalist who has a specific beat. She noted that Al Jazeera America, for example, is focused on covering stories about inequality, social justice, immigration, gender issues, and pioneers. They think of themselves as the “anti-Kardashian” network. They tend to do larger pieces and their pieces run longer than most found on other networks. Their network is also on social media across all platforms and she has been told the big issues for them on social media are gender and race. And unlike some of the other speakers, Lisa said 60 percent of Al Jazeera’s online traffic is from desktop, with 40 percent coming from mobile.

Last month (October), 80 percent of the online traffic for The Washington Post – 51 million out of 66 million – came from mobile, either through phone or tablet. That statistic, reported by Lenny Bernstein, is indicative of a major trend affecting changes at all media outlets with the goal of optimizing online traffic. What changes are being made at the Post that have allowed them to recently beat The New York Times in unique page views? Bernstein reported that the big difference between what is seen on mobile versus on a desktop has to do with design. The Washington Post has a team of people focused on redesigning content to make it shorter, punchier and grabbier to appeal on mobile. Other Washington Post statistics the audience was interested to learn include:

  • Forty percent of mobile users are millennials.
  • The top levels of traffic come from (1) Facebook, (2) Google search, (3) other sites. Direct site visitors fall fourth or fifth when it comes to overall online traffic.
  • Many readers only read through the fourth paragraph of a story.

Bernstein also said he gets 200 emails a day and he does try to read them all. Therefore, it is key that you have a compelling subject line and a short, interesting pitch. You don’t need to put all of the information in your pitch email, just the key points – you can always send additional details later if he contacts you with interest. If you have a health pitch for him, he said not to call unless you know him – just send an email. He is interested in health and medical trends, particularly topics he would have a hard time finding himself.

Eric Lichtblau said about mobile: “It’s all about the delivery.” As with the Post, The New York Times is also seeing a lot of traffic “coming in sideways” – from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other mobile platforms. Only about 20-30 percent of their online traffic comes directly to the website – the rest is all from mobile. He said as the focus shifted to delivery, there was initially pushback from reporters who wondered about why content wasn’t the focus. But the change had to be made to stay competitive as the digital landscape continues to shift. Regarding how to pitch him, he agrees with Bernstein – if you don’t know him, email him. The only exception, of course, is if you have something that would be a page 1 exclusive. Eric also added that while he is not as involved in Twitter, as is the case for many reporters over 40 years old, the younger reporters often do everything on Twitter so PR professionals should do their research. And younger reporters don’t only use Twitter to share their own stories, they use it to track news, competitors and even to find sources for stories.

At Reuters, the world’s largest wire service, reporters are always racing against other newswires, newspapers and all other media to be first to a story so PR professionals need to keep in mind that the pace is incredibly fast. Andrea Shalal told the audience that she gets a daily report showing scores for how fast they were on the daily headlines as compared with other media outlets – down to the millisecond. She said the average length of a Reuters story is 400 words – for PR pros, that means pitches need to be quick, pithy, honest and to the point. The short length also changes what she is able to do with a story, even a really good one.

Across the board, the panelists agreed that a pitch with visuals was better than one without. Even better – if the reporter can bring a photographer or videographer with them to film it themselves. The speakers also agreed that they are all open to an introduction to a good source, given that source is easy to connect with when needed. Also, the speakers said it is fine for a PR pro to sit in on a call with a source that they have coordinated, but they should make the call happen as fast as possible and stay out of the way so as not to clutter up the process.

Top 5 Tips for Pitching Multimedia Newsrooms

Jennifer Nycz-Conner of the Washington Business Journal and WTOP

Jennifer Nycz-Conner of the Washington Business Journal and WTOP

Why didn’t they respond to my pitch? Why doesn’t this reporter care about my client? Sending out generic pitches to reporters is not only a waste of your time, it also won’t get coverage for your clients. Jennifer Nycz-Conner, an editor at Washington Business Journal and a business reporter at WTOP, knows first hand what goes into pitching the right story to the right reporter. During this month’s IPRA Luncheon, Jennifer provided her top five tips for successful pitching in today’s multimedia newsrooms:

  1. Get to know your prey. Reporters receive countless numbers of pitches every day, so you need to make your pitch worthwhile. Reporters often get emails that read “I see you have written about X, so I assume you will like this story.” Jennifer recommends researching the reporters you’re pitching to determine how often they’ve covered a particular issue. Was the topic covered in one story or several?
  1. Pitch stories that are interesting. Nine times out of ten, sending pitches with photos of your client holding a giant check or giant pair of scissors at an event is not going to generate coverage. There is no true meat behind those stories and nothing that really interests readers.
  1. Choose the best subject line. When you’re emailing reporters, it’s all about the subject line and it will make or break your pitch. Try equating your subject line to a good headline – it should grab the reporter’s attention. “If you can’t put your pitch in a headline, then it’s not a good pitch,” says Jennifer.
  1. Know if and when it’s appropriate to attach files. Reporters don’t want multiple files attached to an email. Opening multiple attachments creates more work for them, so skip the file attachments. Instead, send a brief, two-paragraph pitch with a link to the full press release. If you have photos or videos to include with the pitch, add a link to a Dropbox folder with the files. These steps will save reporters time and help you get straight to the point with your pitch.
  1. Be prepared for a response. PR professionals are used to pitching so many reporters in a given day that they can forget to be prepared when the reporter responds sooner than expected. If you’re pitching a great story, then you and your team needs to be ready for the story to be picked up.

The next time you start to pitch a reporter, keep these tips in mind and make sure your pitch is tailored to the person you are pitching. It should be easy for the reporter to understand the point of your pitch – and if they don’t, chances are your pitch won’t turn into coverage.

Erin White is the vice president of the George Mason University Chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America. She is also an intern with the Independent Public Relations Alliance and PRSA-NCC.

Three Musts of a Presentation’s Content

From the PRSA-NCC Workshop “How to Make Great Presentations” Held Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015
By Robert Krueger

If you believe in what you are presenting, the audience will naturally find you credible. This has become the central takeaway for public speaking instructors in recent years. But what if you are presenting something to an audience that does not care to hear your topic? This was the takeaway discussion from a recent PRSA-NCC workshop on presenting to internal and external audiences.

HEKWorkshop leader and award-winning communications coach, Heathere Evans-Keenan, APR, of KPR presented attendees with the three characteristics of content in an effective presentation. She stressed not only asking yourself what is the intended “big idea” of your presentation, but also what’s in it for the audience. According to her, your content must have a benefit for the audience. Building the body for your presentation around this allows you to not only be clear and compelling, but also capture your audience.

Second, your presentation must use the correct content. Audience members are always looking for the logical benefits in a presentation, which is needed to justify why to make a decision or accept a call to action. Evans-Keenan said that some presenters make the mistake of stopping with logic instead of also addressing the emotional benefits. The best presenters always speak to the heart because they are able to talk from the heart. Tapping into people’s emotions can easily be achieved through the art of storytelling. Presentations are brought to life with our personal stories.

Finally, the third content characteristic is commitment. Staying on message with the presentation and questions will transform a presentation. Communicators always want their message to have a lasting impact on its target public. Immersing oneself in with the people involved and focusing on the experience of the audience always makes for a more memorable presentation.

But content is not always king with presentations. Sometimes you have to win over a hostile or distracted audience. Evans-Keenan emphasized the winning strategy of first admitting your differences and then presenting the opponents’ favorable arguments. Finally, humor them by appealing to their objectivity.

Since there are times with executives and audiences where there is a limited amount of time to make a case, she recommended the Boylan Method as a successful model for framing your talk, even if you only have 30 seconds. According to her, the first 90 to 120 seconds are the most critical part of any presentation. Your opening is where audiences actually decide whether your content is worth their time and attention.

Heathere Evans-Keenan can be reached through her website at and Follow her on Twitter @coachingevolved.


Strategic PR Magic: Find Your Story and Build Around It

By David Ward

Pop quiz. I’m a blueberry business owner and I want you to help me double the consumption of blueberries in the U.S. I need you to develop a strategic, multi-pronged and results-oriented communications campaign. Feeling lost?

102815For those who attended PRSA-NCC’s Building a Successful Integrated Communications Strategy last Thursday at the Navy Memorial, they know exactly what to do.

The abundance of information sharing rivaled any good book on communications strategy. This included tips and tricks from PR pros Dan Drummond, Director of External Communications Certified Financial Planners; Lindsey Goebel, Director of Social Media and Content for Crosby Marketing; Jeff Wilson, Senior Director of Business Development and Agency Marketing, PadillaCRT; and Brooks Aukamp, Political and Advocacy Sales for Twitter.

Collectively the group had one core message: Success comes from customization.

“We’re communications agnostic,” said Jeff Wilson of PadillaCRT in explaining how his firm developed their plan to sell more blueberries to more Americans. For Wilson, developing a plan and the tactics you employ depends entirely on how you can best target your primary and secondary audiences.

By using primary and secondary research as a guide, Wilson’s group found whereas the baby boomer generation were already evangelical supporters, women 25-45, specifically moms, was an audience that they could target to increase market share.

That meant content being designed and placed for outlets that included Women’s Day magazine and the Huffington Post and spokespersons like Allison Sweeney, host of the biggest loser. That also meant being active on Twitter, by throwing a “twitter party,” and being active on Pinterest.

102815aFor Dan Drummond, a targeted plan means finding your story and building around that. His “circle of communication” preached “objective, research, metrics, core messages, strategy, resources, and tactics.” All of these items are found in a successful integrated communications plan. “It’s a 360 approach to planning,” said Drummond.

You can’t work in silos. Your marketing team, advertising, public relations, and social teams need to have a plan on how they are going to work together. “You can’t work in silos, you can’t have swim lanes.”

Crosby Marketing’s Lindsey Goebel agreed with Drummond. “You have to have weekly meetings. Clearly lined up roles.”

Goebel’s campaign example focused on what she called increasing awareness around “the nation’s collective responsibility” to support veterans. That meant developing content with a clear purpose, voice and optimizing it. That also meant cutting through the “noise” of today’s media landscape.

“YouTube creators have produced more content in the last 60 days than U.S. TV networks in the last 60 years,” explained Goebel.

To cut through that noise, Goebel’s team created powerful, emotional content that was featured across the paid, earned and social landscape. Success across each derived from developing a content calendar that most effectively put to use content both created by the client and by users themselves, veterans, who produced compelling real-world images from their time at war.

Goebel’s team worked closely with Twitter’s Brooks Aukamp to use the nimble social media platform to amplify content. For Aukamp, using Twitter answers three questions: “Who are you most wanting to convince? What do you want them to think, feel and do?” If you can answer all three in 110 characters then you’re doing it right.

Whatever you do the next time someone asks you to double the sales of blueberries, you have to have an integrated communications plan.

Top 5 Takeaways from Digital Summit DC

by Peter Morscheck

Several hundred digital marketing experts descended on the Gannett headquarters in McLean, Va., last week to share best practices and cutting-edge digital marketing strategies at Digital Summit DC. What follows are my top 5 takeaways from the conference, and a quick snapshot of the state of digital marketing in October 2015.


1) Content Marketing Needs Strategy

Content Marketing has been the hot “new” buzzword combo in PR for the last three years, along with the concept that brands should act as their own media companies – gaining awareness, credibility and (eventually) sales through the consistent production of content.

More than half a dozen sessions at this year’s Digital Summit dealt with content marketing and how it’s evolving.

The greatest theme is the need for a more systemized and integrated approach to content marketing across an organization. Specifically:

  • Use a content calendar – While brands are now producing content across a range of media and distribution channels, very few companies are using a systematic approach, including a content calendar. Content calendars ensure a consistent publishing cadence and that the individual pieces reinforce and amplify each other to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
  • Metrics Tracking – Even with ubiquitous access to Google Analytics, few companies are taking the time to review and analyze the effectiveness of their content, including which topics and distribution channels are most effective, and where their best (not necessarily most) traffic comes from. If you don’t know how your blog posts, videos or podcasts perform, you can’t focus on creating the most valuable pieces that best drive customer awareness and sales.
  • Internal Communications – It’s not enough for the PR or marketing department to be on point with their content marketing game. Without consistent internal communications, the sales department and other key employees may not know, let alone use, these great resources.

Companies can fix this by centralizing their content in one place, granting universal access to employees and informing them of the best new pieces, and periodically training employees on how best to optimize the content for use across different social media channels.

A key takeaway here was the reminder that a company’s employees remain among its best brand ambassadors, and are an untapped resource for spreading great content across personal and professional social media channels.

2) Measure the Cost of Content Strategy

Now that many companies have adopted some form of content marketing, a key but oft-forgotten next step is measuring its cost. As with all aspects of marketing, measurement is key to proving ROI.

If you don’t know how much that individual video, blog post or infographic cost to create, there’s no way to prove whether the effectiveness of your overall content strategy is driving sales.

3) Influencer Marketing is Changing

DMCcloudSeveral speakers at Digital Summit DC touched on the resurgence of influencer marketing and use of paid celebrity spokespeople, particularly in launching new products or companies.

But more telling was a shift in the definition of “influencer” away from traditional media celebrities to social media stars.

A chart of the top 12 current media influencers among millennials counted only three traditional stars (such as Kim Kardashian), compared to 9 stars (including PewDiePie and Jenna Marbles) whose fame comes entirely from platforms such as YouTube or Vine. (See Forbes’ list of highest-paid YouTube stars of 2015.)

4) Blogs Still Matter

Consistent blogging is key to organic SEO rankings in Google, as it indicates fresh content and a larger web footprint.

When Google released its Panda update in February 2011, it began punishing websites that had employed early SEO tactics like keyword stuffing and backlinks to low-quality sites that artificially boosted Google search rankings.

Since then, Google has rewarded websites that seem to grow naturally, through things like quality backlinks from respected sites, as well as a cadence of fresh content.

For most companies, the easiest way to show Google that you are continually updating your site is through a steady cadence of fresh content via blog posts.

Further, companies that regularly blog receive 126% as much lead generations as those that don’t. (source)

5) The Rise of Video

By 2017, video will account for 69% of all consumer internet traffic. (source)

While we’ve long observed a shift of communications towards visual media, video marketing remains a largely untapped resource and will soon become as essential to marketing as building a website was 10 years ago.


Peter Morscheck is a communications consultant for Dale Curtis Communications, a Foggy Bottom-based PR firm with specialties in the telecommunications, federal technology, non-profit, and education sectors. You can follow him on Twitter via @PeterMorscheck.

4 Twitter Tips for Businesses and Organizations

By Sabrina McGowan

The explosion, variety and evolving nature of social media has created both PR opportunities and challenges for businesses and organizations. In an October 1 Independent Public Relations Alliance program, Lisa Nicholls, CEO of Tira! Strategies, offered her suggestions for leveraging Twitter to create greater interaction between you and your followers, and to increase your numbers.

Lisa Nicholls, CEO of Tira! Strategies

Lisa Nicholls, CEO of Tira! Strategies

  1. Define your audience. Customers, members, business partners and vendors are just a few of the people you should be following on Twitter. Professional and industry organizations as well as local businesses will likely produce additional followers for you, too. Don’t forget to follow your competitors for insight on how they’re engaging with your ideal customers.
  1. Build a content strategy. If you want to know what type of content you should share on Twitter, follow other accounts and decide what you like about them. You can also monitor conversations by using the “search” function to find examples of content you like. It’s important that you find the sweet spot between what your target audience wants to hear and what you want to say that promotes your business. So add value through your tweets and give people a reason to follow you. Lisa suggests following the 80/20 rule for your content strategy – 80% follower interaction (retweets, favorites, replies) and 20% offers. Creating a calendar will help you stay on task.
  1. Expand your reach. To get more interaction with your tweets, you need to be visual and creative. Your tweets should encourage immediate action from your followers, so include offers and calls to action. And don’t hesitate to ask for replies. You can increase your followers by putting your Twitter handle everywhere – be sure to add a follow button to your website and email signature, and ask your existing customers to follow you, too.
  1. Use Twitter ads effectively. Did you know that the click-through rate on Twitter is higher than Facebook – 3.6% vs. 0.4%? Twitter ads can be a great tool to increase followers and engagement as well as drive more traffic to your website. According to Lisa, Twitter ads are also great for lead generation. For example, you can grow your list via an ad that asks followers to enter their email address to receive a coupon or other offer. Keep in mind that Twitter ads can be pricey and that the most effective ads use photos and brief videos (under 30 seconds).

The key to Twitter is conversation, so use it to communicate with your followers, and let your personality shine. By focusing on how your products and services benefit your customers, you can help ensure your Twitter success.

Sabrina McGowan is the owner of SQM Communications, bringing creativity and integration to the communications efforts of non-profits, trade associations and forward-thinking businesses. Sabrina is also the marketing chair of the Independent Public Relations Alliance. You can follow her on Twitter at @sabrinaqmcgowan.

Words of Hope and Caution from New Hall of Fame Inductee

Robert Mathias, CEO of Ogilvy Public Relations in North America, and President of Ogilvy Public Relations, was inducted into the National Capital Public Relations Hall of Fame, along with two others on Wednesday, September 16.

Below are some excerpts from his acceptance speech.

With the hope that there are some people in the audience with us tonight who are closer to the front end of their careers than me, I thought I would offer both a word of hope and a bit of caution.2015 - Mathias

First, the caution. As public relations professionals, we have all fought long and hard to earn a seat at the proverbial table. And I think we do have that seat now. As was not necessarily the case when Harold Burson founded Burson Marstellar in 1953, we are thought of today as an established business discipline that has a legitimate role in helping to propel an enterprise forward. But this is not guaranteed. We have to work harder than our friends, the lawyers or the bankers or the dreaded management consultants. We have to demonstrate value and ROI. Everyday and in everything that we do. And, above all else, we need to remember why we are here.

Our job, first and foremost, is to be the tellers of the truth. We do our profession and ourselves a tremendous disservice when we play fast and lose with the facts or try to create something that is, in fact, not there.

We need to avoid the sin of spin and work to excise it from our vocabulary, as it connotes an attempt to obfuscate or deceive, a slight of hand designed to hide the truth. We are not spin-doctors and must not aspire to be so. Good or bad, our job must be to take the facts as they are and help our clients – be they internal or external – craft the most compelling argument possible; an argument that will convince and persuade, motivate and inspire. This is what we do. It is the value we add. And it is how we will maintain our seat at that table.

Now, the hope.

The practice of public relations has never been more exciting or more needed than it is today. The way in which consumers, investors, policymakers and other stakeholders receive and process information has never been more varied. And our options for reaching and engaging them have never been greater. From long-form writing to traditional media relations, to the creation of compelling, shareable content that is instantly distributed across multiple social platforms, we now have virtually limitless possibilities in our took kit.

Adding uncertainty to the mix, the choices and decisions that now sit in front our clients are significant, complex and are changing every day. And while it used to be as simple as placing a story in the Washington Post or on any one of three network news programs, today’s engagement strategies need to be smarter, faster, and more robust than they ever have been before.

And somebody needs to make sense of it all.

This is where we come in. Our role is that of interpreter and translator; architect and builder. We are the ones who can see the big picture; who have the greatest potential to understand it all. And we are the ones who have the most legitimate role in advising our clients as to the best path to take; the course of action that makes the most sense.

As a result, this truly is our moment to shine; our moment to demonstrate that magical combination of creativity and effectiveness and, perhaps most importantly, our opportunity to deliver the greatest impact that we have ever had in the history of our profession. This is our time.

If I were to start my career all over again, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to go into public relations. In fact, I would be more excited than ever.

Thank you all very much.

Good night.