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.

Advertisements

6 Tips for Working with Today’s News Media

By Angel White

Washington Post Media Blogger Erik Wemple and IPRA Membership Committee Member Robert Deigh of RDC Communications. Photo credit: Sabrina McGowan

Washington Post Media Blogger Erik Wemple and IPRA Membership Committee Member Robert Deigh of RDC Communications.
Photo credit: Sabrina McGowan

Washington, D.C. is considered the news capital of the world and a great place from which to observe big changes in the media industry, so it should come as no surprise that our hometown paper follows the changes closely – reporting on big players and rising stars alike. In a May 7 Independent Public Relations Alliance program, Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple discussed ways that PR professionals should be engaging with reporters and focusing on the new reality:

 

  • PR people are a growing part of the press industry. News organizations are becoming similar to corporate America by creating their own PR departments. Often, you have to go through a PR person in order to speak to anyone at the news outlet. The result is the media has become more regulated by the people we are trying to talk to which can result in frustration for reporters.
  • Beats are fragmentary and boundaries are disappearing. Reporters are expected to cover a lot more news these days trying to feed multiple platforms. So, don’t give up if one reporter isn’t interested in your story – share it with another reporter.
  • Deadlines are obsolete. Reporters are working in a 24-hour news cycle, always writing and always on deadline. This reality changes how and when we approach reporters.

Here are Erik’s six tips for creating the strongest relationships with reporters:

  1. Pick up the phone. PR professionals tend to overlook the value of making calls to reporters in order not to interfere with deadlines. Ignore the adage of “don’t call a reporter on deadline” – if you have a reason to communicate with a reporter then do it and be direct.
  1. Write letters. Another effective but underutilized tool is the handwritten letter. Yes, snail mail still exists and reporters pay attention to it.
  1. Use Twitter. PR professionals should be using this tool to message reporters on Twitter – a simple “Have you seen this?” can be an effective way of reaching reporters you know and those you want to know. Reporters also monitor their mentions on Twitter more than email and voicemail.
  1. Pay attention to bloggers. In the past, journalism standards didn’t always apply to news blogs. But, today’s news blogs are held to the same journalism standards as other media. PR professionals should work with bloggers in the same way they work with traditional reporters.
  1. Maintain trust. Don’t ask a reporter to do something considered un-journalistic. It’s expected that they will talk to your competition for a story, so don’t ask them not to. That will only erode their trust in you and make you look defensive.
  1. Engage early. There’s no excuse for a reporter not getting the facts straight, but there are also areas of judgment, interpretation and nuance that go into writing a story. These are areas where you need to engage the reporter early – it will be too late to do so after the story is filed.

The state of the news media today is being driven by the rise of social media and the consolidation of traditional media outlets that affects the way in which we regard reporters. PR professionals who understand these changes will ensure they have the most beneficial relationships with reporters.

 

Angel White is a May 2015 graduate of George Mason University where she received her bachelor of arts degree in communications​. She is a former vice president of the Public Relations Student Society of America at GMU. Connect with her on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/angeldwhite.

Prepare Thy Self: 5 Ways to Make Yourself a Better Media Trainer

Peter Piazza of Live Wire Media Relations, photo credit: Jay Morris

Peter Piazza of Live Wire Media Relations, photo credit: Jay Morris

By Nicole Duarte

To help your clients prepare for anything, you must first prepare yourself. In an April 9 reprise of a popular Independent Public Relations Alliance media training seminar, Peter Piazza and Angela Olson of Live Wire Media Relations, LLC outlined five ways PR practitioners can improve their training sessions.

  1. See what the reporter will see

It’s an often-skipped step, but research can make or break your training session. Before you meet with your clients, do a public record search to uncover any potential landmines. An ugly court case, embarrassing social media post, or past professional controversy may be just the ace a reporter will play to shake up the conversation or get the upper hand over your trainees.

  1. Shock and awe

Manufacture the anxiety clients will face in a tough interview to give them a chance to work through it. Managing anxiety and scrutiny is a skill like any other, and proficiency comes with practice. Trainers should use the first moments of their media training sessions to try to rattle interviewees, make them defensive or angry, and try to provoke them into saying something provocative or contentious. Hot lights, a live video camera, and some record of a prior embarrassing moment are all tools to unsettle your interviewees. Once you see them at their worst, you will be better able to help them get back – and stay – on message.

  1. Speak the truth

Your clients are relying on your expertise. Insist they hear it. Many staff media trainers pull their punches, hoping to keep the peace or avoid ruffling feathers, but it’s better if your client is embarrassed for a moment in your presence than humiliated on the Internet indefinitely. Be diplomatic, but don’t avoid telling your trainees if they have any distracting nervous habits, speak too fast, overuse jargon, come across as arrogant or defensive, or display any other behaviors that would make them look foolish or unprofessional.

  1. Play if Forward

Most media trainers do some form of practice or role-playing that simulates real interview conditions. However, media trainers need to apply their own news judgement to these conversations. Help your trainees refine their message points by asking tough questions and then pushing for clarity until you hear the quote the reporter should use. Questions like, “Why should anyone care,” “So what,” and “Prove it,” should elicit quote-worthy answers that move the story forward, and if they don’t, keep pushing.

  1. Add Value

Editors insert themselves to play up drama and tension. Reporters have a point of view and may be biased based on their sources. Both are outside your control. The best way to avoid surprises in how your clients’ quotes appear — or don’t appear — is to anticipate the reporter’s story and craft your message points to add value. Statistics and anecdotes can add context and color. Think about how your issue affects the heads, hearts, and wallets of the audience members, and illustrate your message points with examples and metaphors to which the audience can relate.

Just as organizations rely on their directors to lead with their expertise in their industries, your trainees will rely on your expertise to guide them through the news media landscape. You need to help your clients strategize how they might help reporters write better stories. Keep in mind how journalists do their job to think through how you can you help them do it faster and better. Your clients may be expert sources, but it is your chops and preparation that will ensure their expertise gets recognized.

For more information, see this refresher from Live Wire:  http://livewiredc.com/2013/08/a-quick-refresher-on-the-art-of-media-relations/ or check out the PRSA recap of the last Live Wire event: https://theprsanccblog.com/2013/10/30/teaching-old-dogs-new-tricks/

Nicole Duarte is Senior Communications Manager at the Center for Community Change.
Connect with her on LinkedIn at: http://www.linkedin.com/in/nicoleaduarte

Brand relevance and the art of finding your sweet spot

“Relevance” is a word that D.C. marketing expert Bob London likes to use when talking to clients or giving branding advice to groups like the Independent Public Relations Alliance.

Bob London speaking

Marketing expert Bob London was the guest speaker at June’s IPRA luncheon.

“It sounds simplistic, but in every way, be relevant. Striving for relevance hits all of the touch points of personal branding,” he told a group of about 30 PR practitioners attending last month’s IPRA luncheon in Tysons Corner.

The veteran D.C. marketer is the principal of London, Ink, a firm he started in 1995 to help companies solve business challenges through effective marketing and communications strategies. He often steps in as a “virtual vice president of marketing” to provide interim leadership and execution.

As far as staying relevant, London offered three prescriptions for PR practitioners:

  1. Figure out what you’re great at and make it your brand specialty.
  2. Listen to your clients so you can address their “elevator rants.”
  3. Market yourself through LinkedIn and other social media.

London observed that most PR and marketing people are good at many things, but they are great at only a few. “What engages you the most?” he asked. “What excites you and makes you want to go to work? And what kind of work or client do you dread?”

He noted that we often pride ourselves in being generalists—able to do everything and anything for a client—but in reality we should be focusing on what we do best. “There is great power in being specific. You have a much better chance of succeeding. Find your sweet spot and develop that.”

A few years ago, London took it upon himself to visit clients and old associates to ask them what they thought his strengths were. “I was hurt that some things weren’t mentioned, but that exercise taught me a lot. It helped me refocus my business. Now, every summer I reevaluate what I’m doing.”

London recommended Michael Port’s book, “Book Yourself Solid,” which suggests that entrepreneurs spend more time with the clients they love working with and dump those “dud” clients who frustrate and drain them. “I’m not saying that you should just dump all of your clients overnight,” London said, “but gradually you do need to weed out the duds.”

London is also big believer in listening. “Every client has an ‘elevator rant,’” he noted. “This is what keeps them up at night. It’s the thing they would tell you in the space of an elevator ride that is really bothering them. You have to be able address those rants if you want to succeed.”

London has been able to create added value by translating his clients’ rants into marketing solutions. “Once you’ve talked to customers and better understand their concerns,” he said, “questions about strategy, message and channels just fall into place. It has taken my services to a whole new level.”

London also spoke of the need for solo practitioners to constantly market themselves. “I probably devote 20 to 30 percent of my waking hours to networking,” he confided. His favorite social media tool is LinkedIn. “I can’t say enough good things about it,” he said. “If you have a specific service to offer, I would suggest trying LinkedIn ads.”

London also uses other social media and his blog to get his name out there, and he said he has had success with his weekly “Drivetime Marketing” video series posted on YouTube.

Jay Morris is president of Jay Morris Communications LLC, an independent PR and marketing firm in Alexandria, Va. He serves on the PRSA-NCC and IPRA boards and blogs at waywardjourney.com.

Pitching Media in the Digital Age: Journalists from Huffington Post & USA Today Weigh In

photo-620x830

Arin Greenwood of Huffington Post talks for a packed lunch crowd while Gwen Flanders of USA Today looks on.

The Independent Public Relations Alliance held a packed house lunchtime program in April called, “Secrets to Getting Ink in Traditional and Digital Media” with journalists from the Huffington Post and USA Today. There was plenty of practical advice on pitching that will ring true for PR pros.Gwen Flanders from USA Today covers breaking news. She said pitches should be succinct and to the point (include the 5Ws and the H – who, what, where, when, why, how) and that pitching multiple people in the newsroom is frowned upon. Arin Greenwood  from Huffington Post’s DC page said that pitching multiple people is fine for them, so there is some wiggle room on this point, based on the outlets  being targeted.

Both Flanders and Greenwood prefer pitches arrive via email. Faxes don’t make it onto news desks, so don’t fax anything unless requested. Both recommend including the topic in the subject line (no teasing or coy headlines, no beating around the bush).

It’s essential that PR pros check their work and avoid type-os if they want for a pitch to be taken seriously by journalists. Flanders noted one public relations firm in particular, is notorious for sending out terrible press releases loaded with errors – she ignores anything the firm sends out.

Researching who covers a topic on the outlet’s website, is critical to making a successful pitch. Thankfully, because of the internet, doing this footwork is easier now than its ever been. “It’s your credibility and you should check your work,” said Flanders. “Do your homework and find out who the right person is.”

It’s important to note the perspective of the outlet when putting together your pitch. USA Today is a national newspaper that wants unreported national trends and does not want stories that have already appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post or other competitors. They love exclusives. USA Today especially likes trends that are popping up here, there and everywhere, but have not quite bubbled to critical mass yet. The Huffington Post DC page where Greenwood works is focused on DC based stories, not national ones (although they are routinely pitched national ones).

Deadlines for editors and reporters are constant now in this space. “If I’m at work, I’m on deadline,” said Flanders. She observed that she has double the duties she used to have and edits twice the number of stories she did a few years ago.

The digital world also means story enhancements – graphs, videos, photos, slide shows and interactive elements are more important – so mention these elemental possibilities when pitching a story. Greenwood noted that trying to call journalists at the end of the day is almost always a bad idea – as they are tired, grumpy, and generally trying to get things wrapped up so they can get out of the office.

The digital and print worlds have been on a collision course for a long time. In addition to ratcheting up the deadline pressure to a feverish and never-ending hum, the online world is also opening up new avenues for readership. Flanders noted that USA Today has 1.3 million print readers each day, but has double that number of readers online for its website.

For Huffington Post, readership is a key factor in decision making about a story. “The ‘clicky-er’ it is, the more likely we will write it up,” says Greenwood. Having a DC angle with a story line that stands out is critical for Huffington Post’s D.C. page. Greenwood said, “If it’s saucy enough, we will go for it. The less work you can make me do to figure out if we want to do a story,  the better.”

When it comes to follow-ups, both journalists expressed frustration with public relations staffers who do multiple follow-ups that intrude on their limited time. “Follow up once, not four times,” said Greenwood. And don’t be pushy, advised Flanders.

“Twitter is one more place to look for good stories,” noted Greenwood, when asked by audience members about how they use social media for news gathering. Stories featuring real and living people still reign supreme, said Greenwood.  Flanders noted that her reporters watch Twitter for story ideas, and that attempting to drum up artificial hype in social media is also noticed  (but not in a positive way).

Greenwood said she appreciates the work public relations professionals do and that she wants to hear from them with relevant story pitches. She also reminded the audience that Huffington Post allows blog posts that focus on issues (don’t be overly self-promotional) and op-ed submissions.

PRSA-NCC member and IPRA founding member Ami Neiberger-Miller owns Steppingstone LLC, an independent public relations consultancy working with nonprofit and association clients, with a special focus on supporting organizations assisting trauma survivors. This post originally appeared on her blog.

Free e-tools and apps for the busy PR professional

We’ve all had those exasperating moments at the office when we stomp and fume, “There’s got to be a better way of doing this!”

That’s definitely the case when you’re a solo practitioner, or you’re a one-person PR department. Efficiency and productivity take on new meaning when it’s just you and your computer, and you have no support staff.

Marcus O'Malley at a recent IPRA luncheon.

Marcus O’Malley talks about free e-tools at the IPRA luncheon.

Luckily, there are a lot of slick web and mobile applications out there, many of them free, that can make your life easier. A couple of weeks ago, Marcus O’Malley of Immerge Technologies gave the Independent Public Relations Alliance an excellent overview of some time-saving, life-simplifying e-tools that PR professionals can put to use right away.

In addition, there are quite a few publications and blogs that provide good advice to entrepreneurs and small business owners, and they often provide lists of apps worth checking out. One source of small business advice that I like is The New York Times’ “You’re the Boss—The Art of Running a Small Business.” This blog has lots of great stories and ideas.

So if you haven’t already discovered these, here are a few free apps worth exploring (even if you’re not self-employed):

Google’s suite of office tools. Most people are aware of Gmail and Google Docs, but Google offers many other products that can increase your productivity and improve your professional image. For example, you can create aliases for your Gmail accounts to give them the appearance of coming from your business address. You can aggregate and manage various Gmail accounts and link them to Google’s calendar. You can also create “hangouts” for collaboration and group chatting.

Screenr. This free, screen-capturing tool allows you to create screencasts of websites, including recording your own voice-over. It’s extremely helpful for explaining to customers or clients how to login to an account or manage content. Check out this Screenr video by Marcus that explains how to use some of Google’s free tools.

FreeConferenceCall.com. I’ve used this conference call service myself, which allows you to set up calls (and record them) at no cost to you. The only catch is that participants must make a long-distance call to dial in, but nowadays most people are able to make free long-distance calls anyway.

CamCard. How many times have you been to a networking event, collected a bunch of business cards and then failed to follow up because you’ve tossed them into a drawer, never to be seen again? CamCard scans the information from business cards using your smartphone’s camera and then allows you to save and organize the information for later use.

MailChimp. This easy-to-use email service allows you to create your own marketing emails and e-newsletters. You can create lists, monitor opens and click-throughs and customize the look of your emails with your own artwork.

DropBox. Tired of losing flash drives or leaving them at home? DropBox is one of the original cloud storage applications. Once you’ve set it up on your computer, tablet or smartphone, you just drag and drop documents and files to share across platforms. You can also allow others to access your DropBox files.

Evernote. Another cloud-based app, Evernote helps you organize and share all of the snippets and scraps of information you collect, from to-do lists and notes to photos, scans and documents. Regardless of what it is, you can use Evernote to capture it, share it and make it searchable.

Jay Morris is president of Jay Morris Communications LLC, an independent PR and marketing firm in Alexandria, Va. He serves on the PRSA-NCC and IPRA boards and blogs at waywardjourney.com, where a version of this post originally appeared.

Thoth winners and the art of storytelling

Thoth winners (l-r) Adam Shapiro, Jewel Jones and Juanita Thompson spoke at a recent IPRA luncheon.

By Jay Morris

In public relations, a good story wins the day every time. Whether it’s pitching to a reporter, making your case on Capitol Hill or influencing public opinion, a compelling personal story always trumps the dispassionate recitation of facts and figures.

At last month’s IPRA luncheon, Adam Shapiro, senior vice president at Lipman Hearne, credited good storytelling for the success of a Thoth Award-winning campaign his firm created for the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. He stressed that PR practitioners need to be good storytellers and should always look for the “human interest side” of a client or issue.

“Look for unusual stories or contrarian views,” he said. “Think about the people behind the headlines.”

He gave as an example getting a Powerball lottery winner on the “Today Show” who had agreed to donate his winnings to establish scholarships for local high school Hispanic students. As a result of this segment, Chrysler decided to become a Hispanic Scholarship Fund donor and is now the Fund’s largest contributor.

In encouraging IPRA members to “think behind the headlines,” Adam cited advice from NBC News Correspondent Bob Dotson, who says any good story contains four key elements:

  • Scene setting
  • Foreshadowing
  • Conflict
  • Resolution

Adam said that every news story or marketing message, no matter how short, should contain these elements.

Of course, even good stories can miss their mark if they aren’t delivered by an appropriate spokesperson or if they fail to reach their intended audience. Building trust with an audience is absolutely essential, as evidenced in another Thoth Award-winning campaign by Senior Account Executive Jewel Jones and Senior Art Director Juanita Thompson at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide.

In their remarks to IPRA, Jewel and Juanita stressed the importance of understanding cultural values when targeting minority and ethnic communities. The two are the architects of the “Kidney Sundays” outreach campaign aimed at the African-American faith community on behalf of NIH’s National Kidney Disease Education Program, and they won “Best of Show” at this year’s Thoth Awards.

They stressed the need for authenticity and compassion in partnering with Black churches to explain the high risk of kidney disease among African-Americans. The Ogilvy team found success by encouraging church members to discuss kidney health in small group meetings called “conversations” where members could share stories and a volunteer, using a toolkit developed by Ogilvy, could provide useful information.

Juanita and Jewel also talked about the value of partnering with other groups and described how they leveraged the networks of the American Diabetes Association, Chi Eta Phi Sorority and BlackDoctor.org. By utilizing their partners’ channels, they were able to tell their client’s story to a lot more people.

Ultimately, good PR is about telling good stories that resonate with an audience. Quoting from the celebrated director Frank Capra, Adam noted, “Drama isn’t when the actors cry, it’s when the audience cries.”

Jay Morris is president of Jay Morris Communications LLC in Alexandria, Va. He is on the PRSA-NCC Board and can be reached at jmorris@jmcomllc.com.