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.

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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.

Add an Indie to the Holiday Shopping List

As holiday shopping shifts into full gear, many companies’ PR departments are making their 2013 wish lists, filled with ideas, projects, campaigns, goals, and deliverables.

When the list is complete, they may discover that their current workshop of elves isn’t shoppingbagslarge enough to complete the tasks. If your organization is one of these, then the questions you need to ask are:

  • Should we expand our staff?
  • Do we need to hire consultants?
  • Should we bring on a firm?
  • Do we need to shorten our list?

For these projects—big and small, there’s a segment of PR professionals within PRSA-NCC that can add tremendous value and experience.  These are the members of the Independent Public Relations Alliance, a group of 63 entrepreneurs who own their own small or solo PR firms.

These “indies” have impressive credentials; with experience in many disciplines and industry sectors.  In fact, many held leadership roles before starting their own businesses in corporations, nonprofit organizations and government agencies.

These seasoned pros average 24 years of experience, nearly half have advanced degrees, and many hold APRs, according to IPRA’s October 2012 member survey.

IPRA member firms use various models to conduct their business.  Some act as subcontractors to other firms, some work alone, and some put together customized teams for each client.   Most “indies” offer full-service PR—which includes strategic communications planning, issues management, writing, branding, media relations, speechwriting, social media and marketing.   Many have specialties by issue area, skill and industry.

Flexibility is a key word for IPRA members.  “IPRA-ers” are very flexible in terms of what they can offer clients and enjoy the life of an indie with flexible hours. This flexibility also is reflected in how IPRA-ers work: by the hour, by the project or on retainer.  In addition to flexibility, members also cited senior level experience at competitive prices as advantages of hiring an independent practitioner.  Customers agree as IPRA member firms have been in business nine years on average.

As your organization’s wish list grows this holiday season, consider starting your shopping spree at the IPRA web site, which has a searchable database to help find the perfect match for your PR needs.   The quality of the talent, products and services of an IPRA member may provide just the jingle you need to make 2013 a happy new year.

Shawn Flaherty

2012 IPRA Chair

President, Creative Strategies PR

Creative Strategies gives ideas life through strategic, creative, and effective communications. We provide a range of PR services, including our specialty: media relations.

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.

Podcasting: Beyond the iPod

If blogs can transform people into journalists, does podcasting transform them into TV or radio personalities?  It sure looks that way, based on a presentation by Richard Harrington of RHED Pixel at a June 4 lunch program of the Independent Public

Mary-Jane Atwater

Mary-Jane Atwater

Relations Alliance, a committee of PRSA-NCC.

Several at the meeting were podcast veterans, including Mary Fletcher Jones of Fletcher Prince, who has created PR Conversations in Public Relations, a podcast featuring what Mary says are “DC’s most interesting public relations professionals.”  Others at the IPRA meeting have just begun to create podcasts.  But the majority of us were podcasting rookies, eager to learn about how podcasting technology can be used to benefit our clients.

If anyone thinks that podcasting is tied to iPods and Apples, think again.  Rather, podcasting is a highly targeted, syndicated series of video or audio shows available online to people who subscribe to them (usually for free and through an RSS feed).  And unlike videos posted on YouTube, podcasts can be downloaded from host sites to all types of consumer electronic devices (TVs, computers, mobile phones, gaming systems) to watch when it’s convenient.  That means no more email blasts or expensive postage to ship DVDs.

A quick check of the podcasts available for free download from the iTunes directory shows that there’s no limit to podcast topics:  action sports, arts, crafts, cooking, the environment, how-to, hi-tech, parenting, world news and more.  Since 85% of all Americans can now get online whenever they want, and 82% of U.S. homes with Internet now have broadband, the market for podcasts is enormous.  According to Richard Harrington, 35-44 year olds are the largest groups of podcast subscribers.

With an opt-in audience and the ability to target niche markets, it would seem that podcasts are a smart move for many businesses and nonprofits.  But Harrington cautions that podcasts are not for everyone, especially those who don’t have the time or resources to create new episodes and add new production features.  Podcasts can’t stand alone to establish your brand (but they can help extend your brand), and they certainly aren’t for those who like to keep things private.

Still, podcasting appears to be a great, relatively low-cost way to grow an audience and provide information, including showing how a product is used or describing a service. As PR professionals, we need to know when podcasting should be part of a PR plan and be comfortable explaining this technology to our clients.  IPRA’s program helped move us in that direction.