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

Public Relations’ Biggest Image Crisis – The Industry Itself

Digna Joseph, Communications Consultant

Digna Joseph, Communications Consultant

By Digna Joseph

Two years ago, while pursuing my Masters, I was assisting a professor for an Introduction to Communication course, where the topic of Public Relations inevitably came up. At this point, the professor, who interestingly had been a Journalism major, informed the class of mostly freshmen students that the public relations industry was really just a bunch of unethical people, hacks to be precise, spinning stuff to make their clients look good.  As someone in the public relations field, to say I had to bite my tongue, would be an understatement.

Unfortunately, the reality is this professor’s view of the public relations industry is hardly an unpopular one. Multiple studies have shown that many in the public believe the industry and its practitioners to be unethical. The perception is that it is a less than respectable career field. Many consider public relations practitioners to be manipulators – that is, individuals who use their skills to come up with clever strategies, aimed at convincing individuals that what is wrong, is actually right. Some believe that the true work of a public relations practitioner is to distort reality, withhold information from the public and promote questionable industries and organizations, as well as bail them out of negative situations.

While some of these negative perceptions are not completely untrue, such as, it is the job of a public relations practitioner to assist an organization or firm in a crisis situation, it does not mean the work being done is unethical or meant to deliberately lie or mislead the public. However, these negative perceptions and opinions of the industry continue to persist, possibly making the biggest image crisis in P.R., the industry itself. So how can the industry turn things around?

There are a few steps that while they may not completely change the public’s view, at the least, it might make some regard the industry as more ethical than previously believed. Such as, establishing an industry approved and recognized Code of Ethics.  Yes, I am aware that the International Public Relations Association (IPRA) and the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) have both established industry codes. However, particularly in the case of the PRSA’s Code of Ethics, the language and tone of the Code is very passive and lacks authority and “bite.” It reads more like a suggestion of what practitioners should do rather than a stern declaration of “this is what should be done, no questions”. A Code of Ethics with a firmer voice and tone is necessary.

This leads me to a second and very important step that should be taken, if the practitioners want the public’s negative view of the industry to change. That is, a strict outline of specific consequences, should any of the rules of the Code be violated, must be established. With no standard for punishment, many understandably deem the Code meaningless.

Another important step is for more transparency and visibility from the industry. Public opinion and studies have shown that many still do not really understand or know what public relations practitioners do beyond media relations efforts. A greater depth of knowledge and understanding might alter some of the negative opinions.

Finally, there should be a greater promotion and visibility of all the nonprofit work done by the industry. Many individuals are aware of the promotional work for for-profit organizations, businesses, etc. but forget or are simply unaware of just how many NGO’s and nonprofit organizations the industry is just as heavily involved with and just how crucial  the work they do for these organizations, is.

However, even with all that said, I question if the negative perception and opinion of the P.R. industry can ever really be changed. Especially, when the reality is the industry will likely always represent some companies and organizations deemed unethical, and crisis management will always be a key component of the work practitioners do. But maybe the problem is not so much the industry per se, but how it is often categorized.

I have found it interesting that while Advertising, for example, has its detractors, it does not seem to be met with nearly the same disdain and criticism as public relations. And I wonder if part of the problem is because P.R. is often categorized into the School of Communication, and often lumped in alongside Journalism, versus Advertising which is often categorized as a Business function. Consider how many former journalists who successfully transition from journalism to working in public relations. More importantly, the defining difference often outlined between Advertising and P.R. is that the former involves paid media, versus the latter which utilizes earned media.

In other words, there may be more of an “acceptance” of Advertising’s negative qualities because as with any business function, individuals view its bottom line as making profit. After all, the advertiser’s job is to convince the public to buy its product. Now do not misunderstand me, I am aware that it is considered unethical for advertisers to tell bold faced lies about their products and the advertising industry does recognize and punish for this. However, many in the public seem to willingly accept that advertisers may often employ obvious subtle manipulations, to get individuals to buy their product.

Public Relations however, is often considered a storytelling function of sorts. The public relations practitioners’ job is seen as promoting and telling their clients’ story and getting as much coverage for that story. Thus, perhaps there is a greater expectation and demand for complete truth. One key aspect of public relations is media coverage and for many, the media is supposed to be a bastion of truth and honesty. Thus, the rationale is that if something is covered in a paper or television news report, it should be honest and truthful. And perhaps it is this blurred line of public relations, intertwined with the media that increases the public’s ethical expectations for the field, and simultaneously increases their negative perception of it.

*Digna Joseph was a Hill+Knowlton Corporate Communications International Fellow and is now back home doing PR in her native St. Lucia

Finding a PR Firm Isn’t the Piece of Cake it Used to Be . . . and It Shouldn’t Be

Time was, searching for a PR firm meant jotting down a few requirements and shooting it to a few former colleagues or friends of friends at two or three familiar agencies.

Sorry. Like everything else in life, finding the firm that will best serve your needs is no longer that easy. And it shouldn’t be. In today’s bottom line-focused ROI environment can you really invest six digits into an agency that may or may not be able to move the needle for your organization? You need to be assured you’re getting smart thinking and measureable results — and agencies should be accountable for their commitments to their clients.
Embed from Getty Images

The agency landscape is wide, and wide open. Sometimes it feels like there are too many qualified agencies out there. But that shouldn’t guide you toward short cuts, or rushing the process. As we’ve pointed out many times to clients and prospects, if the money you have allocated to a PR agency budget were instead going toward the hiring of two or three full-time, professional staff, how much time and effort would you and your HR department spend investigating their backgrounds, capabilities, and knowledge?

The recently released USC Annenberg biennial GAP Study assessing PR industry trends and practices expects more money to be spent in 2014 and beyond for communications. The study of 347 senior communicators says that PR-related recommendations are being taken more into consideration by senior management, who expect the function to be a contributor to organizations’ financial success. Your organization should be selecting firms with proven experience in supporting your internal managerial needs as well as your overall communications goals.

Today’s agency field includes seasoned veteran agencies, mid-sized niche players, and a crop of very competent rookies that have left some venerable firms to blaze their own paths. Whether they are local, large, full service, or specialty, there are probably dozens of agencies out there most suitable for you. But the right agency can only be discerned through the lens of a detailed and thorough search that is tailored to your organization’s needs.

When interviewing prospective agencies it is critical to include process and procedure as key topics. Too often, we find confusion when the client-agency relationship begins if staffing, structure, reporting, billing, and event contracts are not discussed in the early phases. And, we’ve even advised clients that repairing agency relationships that have gone sour may be a better use of time and resources than parting ways with that agency and starting over with a new search.

Even agreeing on your mutual definition of success is no small feat, and so often is overlooked or not addressed during the selection process. With projects the issue might be easier (one would hope) but with longer-term, multi-year contracts it is very important to establish measureable benchmarks even before searching for your agency, and then making it clear that is what the selected agency will be judged on. Believe it or not, it will more appreciated than you’d expect. Because any good PR firm will tell you that a good client knows what it wants and has, or develops with the agency, the metrics of success.
– Robert Udowitz

Robert Udowitz is a principal of RFP Associates, a PR agency search firm serving trade associations and corporations. This was originally published on the RFP Associates “Cart Before the Horse” blog, which can be found at rfpassociates.net.

Study: The Press Release Is Not Dead

Despite the glut of information available to almost anyone, many journalists still rely on the press release and PR professionals for story leads. One communications pro shares some tips on crafting an effective release and the art of media pitching.

No news is not always good news, especially when you’re trying to generate some much-needed publicity for your association. But getting reporters to cover your event, study, or new CEO may not be easy, especially as newsroom staff and other resources dwindle.

A new survey of journalists by Business Wire sheds some light on how reporters, editors, columnists, and bloggers prefer to be pitched or informed of news in order to effectively cover a story.

For example, the wire service’s “2014 Media Survey” found a heavy reliance on press releases. Almost 90 percent of respondents had referenced a release in the previous week, and 62 percent had used one in the last 24 hours.

When evaluating a press release, the most important information journalists look for is:

  • breaking news (77 percent)
  • supporting facts (70 percent)
  • interesting story angles (66 percent)
  • quotable sources (52 percent)
  • company background (50 percent)
  • trending industry topics (49 percent)
  • supporting multimedia (29 percent).

“The first question you need to ask is why would reporters care about this,” Sheri Singer, president and CEO of Singer Communications, said of writing press releases. “Is it newsworthy?”

While journalists at major consumer publications may not always care about your news, smaller trade publications may pick it up. This is an important consideration when directly pitching media regarding news about your organization, Singer added.

“Should it go to all reporters? Or is it inside news that you’ve got a new CEO, which, unless you’re a big trade association, that’s probably most important to trade press and press in the CEO’s hometown,” she said.

When contacting journalists directly, you may want to forgo a standard press release in favor of an email alert, which is preferred by 69 percent of survey respondents, as opposed to 22 percent who prefer a standard press release.

Given the fact that journalists receive hundreds of emails in any given day, one way to cut through that clutter is to personalize your outreach and include contact information, Singer said.

“Don’t make the reporter work. Don’t make them go back to your website to find out how to get in touch with you,” she said. “You need someone’s name and phone number in the email, and that phone number needs to be a cell number because reporters work 24/7 now. You can’t rely on the fact that you’re going to be in the office when they call.”

– Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now

September Sponsor Spotlight: Phil Rabin, Editor of the Capitol Communicator

Every month or so, we are going to highlight a chapter sponsor so you can learn more about them, and possibly connect with them as they have done so much to support our chapter. We want to thank Phil Rabin, Editor of the Capitol Communicator, for participating in the second spotlight. Here are the details:

Question: Tell us more about the Capitol Communicator and your role there.

Answer: I’m editor of Capitol Communicator, which is an online resource for communicators in the D.C-area and the Mid-Atlantic that’s working to bring together the spectrum of communications professionals by providing news; trends; education; profiles; and opportunities for networking, career enhancement, business exchange and showcasing great work. We focus on building a community that encompasses public relations, advertising, marketing, media, creative, video, photography, printing, digital and the multitude of other professions that support this region’s multi-billion-dollar communications industry.

Question: How long has Capitol Communicator been involved with PRSA-NCC?

Answer: We’ve been involved for years, officially and unofficially, providing coverage of PRSA-NCC events in Capitol Communicator, and working on events that include PRSA-NCC and other organizations – such as The One Party, a holiday party that is held in December. And, for a number of years, I was a member of PRSA-NCC.

Question: Is there anything you want to tell our members about the Capitol Communicator that we may not know?

Answer: There are two things I think that are really interesting from a communications standpoint: First, our still photos have had more than 1.1 million views and the head of the D.C. office of a national PR firm regularly viewed our photos. When I asked why, the individual said it provided a good sense of what was going on outside that person’s agency. Second, we’re seeing significant spikes in views of our still pictures every time we post an “up close and personal” profile of a communicator in the mid-Atlantic. In fact, we had more than 14,500 views of our photos in a single day because, apparently, as the head of that PR firm told me, people want to see other people and what they are doing. BTW, the picture with the fourth-highest number of views is Pam Jenkins, president of Powell Tate and president of Weber Shandwick Mid-Atlantic (Washington, Baltimore and Atlanta).

Question: What do you like best about working with PRSA-NCC so far?

Answer: I’m impressed by the commitment that the leadership and members make to the organization and, as a result, the scope of activities that PRSA-NCC offers its members and the larger communications community. It’s really quite impressive.

Question: How can our members learn more, get more information about what Capitol Communicator has to offer?

Answer: PRSA-NCC members and all communicators should go to our website, www.capitolcommunicator.com, to check out what’s happening in the mid-Atlantic that impacts communicators – and to check out our popular “up close and personal” profiles. And, they can also sign up to get our free weekly email updates at http://www.capitolcommunicator.com/signup.aspx?email. Finally, if they have news they think would be of interest to other communicators, let me know. I can be reached at phil.rabin@capitolcommunicator.com.

The Cost of Doing Business: ACA Can Raise the Cost of Hiring an Intern or Freelancer

Whether for PR or other functions, adequate staffing is a challenge all managers grapple with. Now they must consider the cost impact of the Affordable Care Act, even when using interns, freelancers or temps.

To the government there are no interns or temporary employees; the only categories that exist for the purposes of the health insurance law are Full Time, Part Time, Variable Hour and Seasonal. In 2015 – just a few months away – employers with more than 100 full-time equivalent employees will need to provide coverage for 70% of their full-time employees. By 2016 employers with more than 50 full-time equivalent employees will need to provide coverage to 95% of their full-time employees.

So, bringing in anyone for 30 or more hours per week will mean examining whether the organization will be responsible for the individual’s insurance.

Many PRSA-NCC members are freelancers who work on-site in their client’s offices, supplementing staff or filling in for someone on leave. Now client organizations must consider the impact of adding that professional to the team, even short term, to their health care costs, depending on their role and the work arrangement, and whether that individual has insurance of their own, independent of a subsidy.

And if an intern works more than 30 hours a week and isn’t covered by his or her parents’ plan or other source and signs up using a subsidy on a public exchange, the organization hiring that intern could be hit with a penalty.

For organizations bringing on temporary staff through a temp agency, it is important to be sure that they are contracting with the firm, not an individual associate, and that the associate is an employee of the firm. That way, the temporary staffing agency is the employer of record and the client organization is not liable for the individual’s insurance.

Kate Perrin, CEO
PRofessional Solutions, LLC

Event Recap: “Creating PR Magic…on a Shoestring Budget”

by Danielle Moore, News Generation, Inc.

It is all too common that public relations professionals are expected to create magic publicity on next-to-nothing budgets. With the extensive amount of non-profit organizations and small businesses in the Washington D.C. area, lots of PR pros are affected by small budgets.

On Wednesday, August 13, 2014 at 8:00 a.m., the PRSA-NCC Professional Development committee hosted “Creating PR Magic…on a Shoestring Budget” at the U.S. Navy Memorial. Panelists included: Jeff Ghannam, communications director at the Wildlife Habitat Council; Dionne Clemons, division director of communications and community engagement at the United Planning Organization; Alicia Mitchell, senior vice president for communications at the American Hospital Association (AHA); and Lindsay Nichols, senior director of marketing and communications at GuideStar USA, Inc. Karen Addis, senior vice president at Van Eperen & Company introduced the panelists and moderated the conversation.

After some brief housekeeping announcements, all four panelists gave presentations on their best practices for public relations on a “shoestring” budget. Their combined experience working with small organizations and limited resources allowed them to share great insight to an audience full of non-profit, small business and private sector PR folks.

“Creating PR Magic…on a Shoestring Budget” panelists; Aug. 13, 2014, at U.S. Navy Memorial

Jeff Ghannam offered his advice with “10 Things in 10 Minutes.” He emphasized the importance of having a “roadmap” or focused communications and marketing plan as a reference point for company operations. Ghannam also encouraged building mutually beneficial partnerships with:

  • Staff who need to understand your brand and who value internal communications;
  • Stakeholders and coalitions who are always looking for companies to engage with;
  • Boards, committees, local units, and members who often need media training and can serve as a resource;
  • Customers who have the ability to spread the word about your work; and
  • Meeting attendees, sponsors and exhibitors who you should provide the tools (like social media) to talk positively about your brand.

Ghannam closed by stressing the importance of negotiation, developing meaningful networks, and the vitality of SEO.

The second panelist Dionne Clemons works to maximize her limited resources at her small grassroots organization every day. She presented on “How to De-Structure Your Department” and highlighted seven ways to save money:

  • Assess your budget – see what you have to work with
  • Conduct an audit – see what has worked and what hasn’t worked in the past
  • Use your organization’s strategic plan and fiscal year calendar to help you financially plan – create your own communications plan based on your organization’s strategic plan
  • Be selective in the big projects you want to work on – decide on 5-7 solid projects for the fiscal year that align with your strategic plan and will help you work toward organizational goals
  • Create a master organizational cycle calendar – align your organization’s normal events with “pseudo-events” on the national calendar
  • Put systems in place – set up policies that guide you on how to deal with different situations
  • Spread the love – organize more ways for team members to get involved in projects they’re interested in

Clemons continually emphasized the importance of being critical when deciding how your budget is distributed among different categories. She encouraged audience members to cut out any excess expenses and consider reallocating the distribution of their budgets.

“Creating PR Magic...on a Shoestring Budget” panelists; Aug. 13, 2014, at U.S. Navy Memorial

“Creating PR Magic…on a Shoestring Budget” panelists; Aug. 13, 2014, at U.S. Navy Memorial

Panelist Alicia Mitchell works for a much larger organization, but she shared examples of her successful PR initiatives that can easily translate to small organizations with less resources and a tighter budget. Mitchell focused on three platforms of promotion including:

  • Instagram campaigns – During National Hospital Week, the American Hospital Association encouraged Instagrammers to use the hashtag #myhospital to shoot short videos on how their local hospital helps the community. Mitchell’s team got more than 50 videos from across 34 different states and promoted them through social media.
  • Infographics – She encouraged the audience to invest in outsourcing a graphic designer or learning how to perfect their own graphic design skills because images help to tell a visual story.
  • Radio for audience targeting – Mitchell referenced the effectiveness of earning broadcast coverage. She talked about how using radio was especially useful in publicizing the accolades of the AHA’s medical centers’ palliative care. She urged PR professionals to consider radio outreach.

Mitchell closed with an easy acronym to remember:

M – makeover an existing PR project to make it better;
A – adopt social media because it gets others involved;
G – grassroots approaches allow you to tailor your reports or projects locally;
I – infographics help you tell a story and get people interested; and
C – the company you surround yourself with matters

Measuring ROI can be a challenge. Self-proclaimed “data geek” Lindsay Nichols broke down ways PR professionals can make it much easier. Nichols spoke about how she bases her measurement practices off of the Barcelona Principles and recommended that the audience check out ROI measurement blogger Katie Paine. Before diving in to measurement, dive in to your goals, said Nichols. She emphasized developing hypotheses about what you think will result from your projects and conducting a SWOT analysis before you begin. Once you’re ready to measure, she suggested eight cost-effective “DIY ROI Measurement Methods” for PR pros on a tight budget:

  • Pattern analysis
  • Surveys
  • Online pulse polls (ex: LinkedIn)
  • Content audits
  • Interviews
  • Roundtables, lunch, focus groups
  • In-depth interviews
  • Secondary research

Nichols said qualitative, quantitative and competitive intelligence measurements should be taken consistently every month for specifics and every year for a bigger picture. She uses platforms Vocus, Simply Measured, Social Mention, Twitter Counter, Google Analytics, Excel, Igloo, LinkedIn and more to track her data on a monthly and annual basis. Nichols was sure to emphasize the two things she always measures: the share of conversation index and the brand equity index. “Metrics prove you’re making a difference,” said Nichols. “It’s what you do with it that matters.”

As Karen Addis opened up the question and answer period, audience members presented thoughtful questions asking for advice on how to stay focused, how to show the c-suite your department’s worth, how to monetize and how to adapt to diversity in the media through introducing foreign languages.