The opportunity to meet a reporter or blogger you need to pitch and interacting personally is hard to pass up. For this reason, media panels draw PR folks like flies to honey. I attended two such panels this past month. One was hosted by Business Wire and the National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI) Twin Cities Chapter, and the other by Minnesota chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (MNPRSA). The NIRI panel focused on business media editors and engaging them in a digital and social world. The MNPRSA focused on blurred media lines and included a non-traditional media panel. Here are some of the key points from each of the panels.
The truths in pitching
- Use email as your first resource and keep the subject short and to the point.
- Yes, journalists are all on social media, but it is probably not the best place to pitch them. They are using social media to find story ideas and share their work.
- Be professional.
- Don’t send automated emails with “Dear (wrong name or no name).” It’s obvious it’s not a personal email.
- Find a way to tell them what is different. Give them the story behind the story.
- Photos can differentiate your pitch, but don’t make them look like an ad.
- Bullets and lists in your email pitch make it easy to digest.
- Follow-up calls are annoying, but they often work.
The new and interesting
- Consider differentiating your pitch to a web publication with a professional video that is not sales oriented.
- Social media buzz around an ad can lead to media coverage.
- Missy Berggren, Marketing Mama, says a Tweet to follow-up with her on a pitch is OK with her.
- Reporters often go around the PR person and use social media to confirm stories. Dirk DeYoung, editor at the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, used LinkedIn to confirm layoffs at Target.
- Most of the bloggers are more open to having you reach out to the editor and various contributors than traditional outlets, because there are fewer full-time staff at the blogs.
David Fondler, business news editor at St. Paul Pioneer Press, reminds folks to own their negative stories, because any employee can confirm it to an editor on Twitter at any time.
Creating good quality content on your corporate or personal blog is a great way to get your message to consumers. Smaller specialty blog posts can lead to attention by larger blogs or mainstream media. MinnPost has the Minnesota Blog Cabin, where they highlight one Minnesota blog with good writing each day.
I created a Storify of the NIRI event. Missy Berggen wrote a great post with tips for working with bloggers on her blog. Plus, check out tips for pitching broadcast media and smart tips for media pitching success.
Debbie Friez serves as tech editor for the Capitol Communicator and is also a consultant. Previously, she worked as Vice President, Major Accounts for BurrellesLuce. She originally joined BurrellesLuce at their Minnesota Clipping Service affiliate.
Friez was a senior account director for West Glen Communications, a broadcast PR services company. While at West Glen Communications, she was a frequent contributor to the DC Communicator newsletter.
She has a broad understanding of the technologies that are transforming the marketing and communications profession. She serves on the advisory board for the Capitol Communicator, the membership committee for the Minnesota chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, the national marketing committee for the Association of Women in Communications, and is a member and past president of Washington Women in Public Relations (WWPR).
Friez is a graduate of the University of North Dakota. She lives in Minneapolis, MN with her husband Paul Croteau, their two cats, Smokey and the Bandit, and Gus, the dog.
LinkedIn: dfriez Twitter: @dfriez
I can still name the best PR professionals I encountered as an editor and writer at a monthly print magazine and web publication in Beijing. I was swamped by press releases and coverage requests, but when I had an assignment, I often went to the people on my list who I knew as helpful, supportive, and reliable.
Though the journalist -PR relationship can be tense at times, journalists need PR reps just as much as, if not more than, PR reps need journalists. I compared my experiences as a journalist with those of some journalists I know to get some tips for PR professionals to get and stay on a journalist’s go-to list. Some of these suggestions may seem obvious, but they’re real situations journalists encounter with frequency.
If you receive an email or phone call from a journalist asking for anything, respond promptly and keep responding. This may seem obvious, but I learned not to be surprised when PR reps dropped off the face of the planet because it happened so often.
The frustrating reality of changes in modern journalism is that with industry-wide cutbacks and instantaneous online content, journalists are working at a faster pace than ever. This unfortunately means that many journalists may not show you the same courtesy of being responsive. Be the bigger party and remain friendly and patient.
Provide all the information the editor asks for the first time she asks for it
Don’t make her chase after you for snippets of important information five or six times; give her everything she’ll need as soon as she requests information. Don’t make her wait, and don’t give her half the story. Remember to include all pertinent information –who, what, where, when, why. And check and re-check that the information in the press release, in your informational packet, and on your website is correct.
My publication had specific requirements for submitting accompanying photos: more than 1MB in size. The requirement was explicitly stated – and bolded – every time we requested a photo. Maybe 20 percent of PR and marketing representatives got it right the first time. About 60 percent or so got it on the second or third try, and the remaining 20 percent didn’t get it right until the fourth or even fifth try.
Unsurprisingly, we least enjoyed dealing with the latter 20 percent because their unwillingness to follow directions caused us to miss deadlines, and in the long run that probably cost them some publicity opportunities.
Web coverage is still coverage
One of the most common questions PR reps ask: “Is this for web or print?” It’s a fair question, but many print and web publications deal with PR reps who want their stories only in print or not at all, which wastes writers’ time and limits the PR rep’s options.
Print space is finite, web space isn’t, and many publications really want to run web stories. Be open, be flexible, and be happy to have piqued the editor’s interest. Being helpful, pleasant, and gracious can only help you get another story down the line.
Understand the journalist’s audience
Don’t pitch a journalist at a family magazine an idea for a story on your singles cruise – it just isn’t relevant. Likewise, don’t pitch an education editor your story about healthcare. Do your research ahead of time and figure out the publication’s target demographic and the journalists’ beat. If it doesn’t fit, find a different publication or journalist.
Look at back issues
Has the publication you’re targeting just published a story very similar to yours? Check. If they have, chances are they won’t run a similar story for quite some time. Instead, turn to rival publications who haven’t published a similar story; they’re more likely to accept your pitch.
However, don’t pitch to two rival publications at the same time. If they both accept and run the story, they’ll figure out you pitched them both, and neither will be very willing to accept another of your pitches. If, however, you pitch a publication and get no response or they decline, go to the other publications.
Respect the production cycle
Know ahead of time if the publication works on a daily, weekly, or monthly schedule. If you’re contacting a publication about a time-specific event or story, do so well before the event’s date. You increase your chances of getting the event covered if you give advance notice.
Many publications work way ahead of real time. Most monthly publications write October copy in July or August. PR reps contacting those publications in September about something in October are likely to be out of luck.
Take what you can get – and share it
You’re only getting a blurb instead of a two-page spread. Yep, that’s disappointing, but don’t be so difficult about it that an editor completely writes you off for anything in the future. Thank the editor for including you, and then share a link to your coverage and mention the author. This not only gives your coverage a higher profile, it supports the journalist and the publication. Being gracious and helping out means you’re in a better position to get more coverage later.
What strategies do you use when you work with journalists? How can journalists better work with PR professionals?
Most professional writers get itchy when they see typos, grammatical errors, and incorrect punctuation. When I was an editor and journalist, I ignored or deleted press releases that were poorly written, filled with errors, or totally irrelevant. Other media professionals do the same thing, so you need to make sure your material doesn’t fall into that same black hole.
Writers adhere to their outlet’s official style guide, so PR professionals crafting material for the media need to be familiar with the basics of the most common style guides. Understanding these style guides – and even learning some of their guidelines – can only improve your writing, which can only improve your chances at piquing an editor’s interest.
The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
The Elements of Style is a manifesto for clear, effective writing. Packed with helpful guidelines and grammar rules, EOS was first published in 1918 and most recently updated in 2000. EOS covers rules of usage, principles of composition, misused words and expressions, and style tips. At only 103 pages, it’s accessible and necessary for anyone who ever writes anything.
EOS quick tip: Omit needless words. Instead of “He is a man who knows what he’s doing,” write “He knows what he’s doing.” Once you start looking, you’d be surprised how many words are unnecessary.
The Associated Press Style Book and Briefing on Media Law
Since its debut in 1953, The AP Stylebook has become the industry standard for newspapers, magazines, and other journalism media and is excellent tool to have in one’s PR belt. Updated every year, the stylebook’s most recent edition is nearly 500 pages, which diminishes its day-to-day practicality for those who aren’t copy editors. But the guide’s ubiquity means it’s particularly important to grasp the basics and employ them in your writing.
AP Stylebook quick tip: Capitalize formal titles when they appear immediately before a name. For example, “President Fitzwilliam Grant will seek a second term.” Don’t capitalize the title if it appears between commas, like “Fitzwilliam Grant, the current president, will seek a second term.”
The Chicago Manual of Style
The Chicago Manual of Style, or CMOS, is, like AP style, one of the most widely-used style guides in the U.S. CMOS is used primarily in the publishing industry. First published in 1906 and last updated with its 16th edition in 2010, CMOS has a section dedicated to citations, making it particularly useful to those in the academic and research fields.
CMOS quick tip: Access to the CMOS Q&A section is free (unlike AP’s Q&A section, which requires a subscription), so you can check out some of the rules without purchasing the guide, though rules differ from the AP’s.
The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage
The Gray Lady has her own style guide, The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. Initially created in 1950 (three years before the AP’s guide), the guide’s most recent print edition was published in 2002, but editors at the paper use an online version that is frequently updated but not available to the public.
NYT Manual quick tips: The New York Times uses courtesy titles before a person’s last name, for example, “George Smith went to Washington. Mr. Smith is a senate page.” In AP style, that would read “George Smith Went to Washington. Smith is a senate page.” The New York Times also writes “e-mail,” though AP did away with the dash in 2011.
Many publications, companies, and organizations have their own house style guide; those I have seen are all based on AP style. Those who write any public content for their organization should know (and update) their house style guide and enforce it. If the organization has a copy editor or designated writer, ask that he or she provide a copy of the style guide to all employees, and that everyone is alerted to any changes.
What does your company use? How do you decide which style points to follow?
The Internet makes it easy for recipients to share press releases, which is a good thing for spreading your message but a bad thing if the press release isn’t one of your best and it’s shared in the context of being mocked.
The press release is a fickle beast: Crafting, distributing, and seeing results from one brief news blast can seem like both the most important PR task and the most ineffective one. But somewhere along the way, the press release has turned from valuable news distributor into ubiquitous email blast.
So what should you do if you find that one of your press releases has been eviscerated online by one of its recipients? Publicly, probably nothing, unless someone called it out on a national stage – like Stephen Colbert did.
If the person who mocked your press release uses your organization’s name online in an especially negative context, it may be tempting to ask them to take it down. But most journalists won’t react to that well, and relations may further sour. Instead, politely ask the author to remove or redact the name of your organization.
Conversely, use the publicity to your advantage. Embrace the fact that the press release got attention, and use it to get more attention for your next press release. Issue a brief humorous and self-aware statement and ask that it be included in the entry about your press release. When crafting such a statement, ensure the statement is appropriate to your organization’s culture. Keep tone in mind; if your organization’s material tends to be formal, the statement should be too. Run the statement by a few key people to ensure it strikes the right tone.
Finally, do some internal inventory as to why the press release was received with derision rather than excitement. Was the message properly targeted to its recipients? Did the press release make sense to people outside the industry?
Avoid more mistakes by learning from four of the most common press release mistakes:
It’s a bad headline
The headline is the first thing people see, and a headline that’s confusing, off-putting, or just plain bad means your press release is starting at a huge disadvantage.
Quick tips: keep headlines short. – preferably fewer than 65 characters.
It’s filled with jargon
Buzzwords and jargon won’t help you stand out – the PR industry’s most overused buzzwords won’t differentiate your press release. Plus, to people outside your industry, industry jargon just sounds like nonsense.
Quick tips: Find other words for “innovation,” “solution,” and “leading,” and variations thereof.
It’s too wordy
Recall that brevity is the soul of wit; if you can say it in fewer words, do so. The longer a press release, the more likely it is that the writer is struggling to explain everything.
Quick tips: Stick to the facts. List the most important points to convey, and lead with the most important one.
It’s filled with errors
For writers on deadlines, time is short, and receiving an error-filled press release is both frustrating and a waste of time.
Quick tips: Proofread your press release, then have someone else proofread it. Familiarize yourself with AP style, which is considered the media style standard, and stick to it.
Check out more of our tips for crafting better press releases.