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.

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.

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.

Press Release Writing: 12 Tips To Attract the Attention of Journalists

052115Writing a press release may seem like a chore, but it’s really a great tool to use to share information about your organization, association or company. But it’s important to be succinct and clear – journalists spend on average, less than one minute reviewing your press release before hitting the delete button or deciding to get more information or use it.

Tip #1: Use a clear, eye-catching headline. A well-written attention-grabbing headline that shares the most important and newsworthy nugget of information in your press release is key. It’s important though not to be too clever. Being obtuse, silly or anything that renders your news unclear, will get your press release deleted.

Tip #2: Sub-headlines can be helpful. I’ve always been a fan of using a sub-headline, usually in italics below the main headline, to offer additional insight or include source information.

Tip #3: Think carefully about your subject line for your email. In a study last year on journalists and press releases, 79 percent of journalists said subject lines greatly influence whether they open an email with a press release or not.

Tip #4: Get to the point right away. Your first sentence should really summarize in a nutshell the main news you are sharing. This is no time for you to set a stage and build up to your announcement at the end of the paragraph (or even worse, a few paragraphs down). Just spill the beans, please.

Tip: 5: Use Associated Press style. At least give a deferential nod to AP style. Journalists know it and use it. Easy things to fix – state abbreviations in your dateline. There are plenty of AP style tips online.

Tip #6: Use numbers. Statistics, data and numbers bolster your cause and provide context and amplitude. Even if your press release is discussing an interesting situation or observation that is anecdotal but that you think may be a bigger problem, you can sometimes find data in other sources that you can cite in a press release. The point is to give a sense of scope and to verify what you are sharing.

Tip #7: Offer infographics, photos or video if you can. These additional assets can help time-stressed reporters and bloggers access your information and are especially useful if you are reaching out to smaller markets. It’s usually best to have these materials up on your website and link to them in the press release. Do not send them as attachments.

Tip #8: Avoid using a lot of acronyms and internal language. This is where I often see nonprofits struggle, especially if the press release must be “approved” by a committee of people who don’t all work with the media on a daily basis. Internal jargon does not belong in a press release. If you are making statements like, “we had to include this sentence to keep so and so happy,” and not “we had to include this sentence to make the press release more interesting to reporters” – then your release may be set up to struggle at getting attention.

Tip #9: Include a relevant quote written in an informed, conversational tone. While some journalists have remarked that they find canned quotes on press releases to be a pain and never use them, I’ve also seen a lot of journalists use them for sake of expediency. It’s fine to include a quote in your press release. Frame it about the topic, say something interesting, and do not be purely self-promotional.

Tip #10: Don’t regurgitate your boilerplate again at the bottom of the release if you don’t have to – you are just adding to length. If you have a standard news release boilerplate containing information about your organization, association or small business, and you include some of that information in your release copy, then don’t feel the need to regurgitate all of that information again in the boilerplate. You are just adding to length.

Tip #11: Keep it brief. One page is great. Two pages maximum.

Tip #12: Include contact information. Make sure that you include clearly labeled media contact information with a name, phone number and email address for someone who can (and will) respond promptly to any media inquiries or needs.

Bonus tip: Deliver your release pasted into the body copy of an email. This may not be a writing tip, but it is very important. Do not send your release as an attachment. And don’t send only a hyperlink to your press release in an email with a headline and no body copy – this forces a journalist to click and go see the press release on your website. Over the years, I have had clients tell me that releases should be sent as attachments, or only sent as hyperlinks so journalists can “see their branding.” You need for journalists to see your news in your press release and decide to do a story or to keep you on their list of people with interesting story ideas who can make my life as a harried journalist easier. They won’t see your news at all if you send your press release as an attachment or a lonely hyperlink. After they read your news, you can worry about your branding (which should be more about authenticity and less about stunning people with logos).

 

Photo credit: Image courtesy of Kristen Nador and licensed under a Creative Commons license.

 

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites. Ami is also a member of IPRA and serves on its marketing committee. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks

Dogtrick

So here’s the challenge: could someone who has provided media training for 30 years learn more about it? Yes, they can.

At the IPRA October lunch program, Chryssa Zizos, Live Wire Media Relations, LLC, provided 45 lunch attendees with a “train the trainers” media training workshop. Chyrssa has trained member of Congress, CEOs and a president (yes, of the U.S.).With a direct and humorous style punctuated by anecdotes, Chyrssa shared the following information.

The five sections of media training are messaging, preparing the client, training the client to look the part, prepping the client to use body language to their advantage, and creating a strong concluding statement.

According to Chryssa, people try and make messaging complicated but it’s really about these three questions: “Who are you?” “What are you doing?” and “Why are you doing it?” The answers to these questions form the basis for your key messages.

To determine whether your story is newsworthy, think about FUBO–is your story First, Unique, Best and/or Only. If the story contains these elements, it’s newsworthy. Once you finish messaging and determining whether your story is news, you are ready to media train your client.

Chryssa starts her training by putting her clients into a “tailspin”–hitting them with hard questions and poking holes in their answers. The remainder of her media training prepares the client to handle a tough interview. She uses two journalists in her training–they help grill the client and one journalist writes an article off the trainee interview, while the other reporter critiques the client. The journalist’s critique includes whether the client spoke clearly, provided anecdotes that rang true, and how the client’s words would look in quotes.

During the training Chyrssa stressed that the most important thing to impart to your trainees is that nothing is off the record. If it’s off the record, just don’t say it.

Another helpful hint–the fastest way to kill a story is to have your client say to the reporter, “You know three reporters have asked me that, but no one has asked about this yet.”

Here are a few more pointers:

  • Encourage the trainee to be 100 percent his/herself
  • Leverage the passion your client has for their subject and use it to their advantage
  • Have your client use notes for radio and print interviews.

Good interviews are where the interviewee has confidence, knows the content, is organized and has the skills to respond to the journalist clearly and directly. And as PR professionals, we can help our media trainees be their best and represent their organization to the media in a positive way resulting in great press.

 

Sheri Singer, Singer Communications, PRSA-NCC Board of Directors member, IPRA Board of Directors member.

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

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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.

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.