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Relationships are EVERYTHING in PR!

I just came back from the Open Compute Project Summit in San Jose. For those of you who don’t know, Open Compute is a project that was started by Facebook in 2011 to democratize the development of computer hardware and enable businesses  to create enormous efficiencies in their processes and, in turn, better serve their customers – essentially, all of us who use the internet. It’s a very cool, altruistic project.

I was there as the lead PR contact for a client  who is heavily involved in the project. My purpose was to basically be the point person for any media activities that took place. As you might imagine, this is an initiative that has a heavy following amongst the tech and business media. Before leaving for the trip, I pinged a few of the reporters who were on the invitee list to see if they’d be interested in meeting with myself and a couple executives I was with. The goal was twofold: one, to talk about some of the neat stuff we are doing with the project, and secondly, to build relationships with these very influential reporters who are mostly based on the other side of the country. I’d dealt with a couple of them over the phone and via email, but had never met them in person.

We were fortunate enough to meet with most of the folks I had reached out to, and a few others who we ran into. We spent a few minutes with each reporter, first telling them about our contributions to OCP,  but then using our time to learn more about the reporters, personally AND professionally, and see how we could be helpful to them going forward.

While it’s likely that no stories will come as a result of our meetings, these efforts will undoubtedly pay dividends going forward. The meetings not only put faces to names and gave us a chance to promote our work, but they also forged relationships. Relationships with members of the media are not created through email pitches or phone calls. They are created the same way our everyday relationships are – through human interaction. And remember, as a PR pro, you are only as strong as the relationships you have.

Here are three keys to helping create real relationships with your media targets:

Research Your Targets:

Nowadays, with the internet, social media and PR software, PR pros have the ability to find out everything they need to know about the journalists they are trying to reach. We have access to the stories they write, the beats they cover, and even personal information through their social profiles. Use this stuff to your advantage! You can carpet bomb a dozens of reporters and luck out with a handful of stories, but that does nothing to guarantee you future success. Every squirrel finds a nut. Target your reporters intelligently. They know when you are spamming them, trust me.

Make a Connection:

When you reach out to a reporter for the first time, don’t just give them a sales pitch. Tell them why you are reaching out to them. Maybe you saw a story that they wrote that made you think they’d be interested in what you have to tell them. Maybe you came across a post on one of their social profiles. A year or so back, I had an Aha! moment when I finally broke through with a reporter from the New York Times. I’d pitched said reporter several times, with fingers crossed, but to no avail. I  never heard so much as a “No, thanks.” back from them. One day, I saw a clever tweet this reporter had just posted about a movie. I happened to be pitching something that day and was planning to reach out to this reporter again, with high hopes, but little expectations. I decided to open my pitch with a reference to their tweet, and you know what – they responded! Minutes later! It resulted in a conversation on the subject I’d pitched and subsequently, an interview with an executive from the company I was working for. I had made a human connection that resulted in a professional win.

Meet in Person!:

We live our lives behind computers or on mobile devices and we’re able to get by. I work with a ton of folks remotely and will never meet a good percentage of them in person. But, there is no replacement for in-person interaction. It breaks down all barriers and really is the key to forming a strong relationship. Whenever possible, make an effort to meet you’re A-List reporters in person. It doesn’t have to be related to a particular campaign or media tour either. I find informal meetings over a cup of coffee or a quick bite to eat some of the most effective. When you make an effort to connect with these people on a personal level and not just when you want something it shows that you care, and also that you know what you are doing.

Less than half of the time I spent with reporters over the last couple of days was talking about company business or things that we’ll hopefully get coverage on in the future. But you can rest assure that these meetings helped forge and strengthen relationships that will result in tangible results in the future. When I call these guys, they will pick up. When I email them, they will respond.

What are your thoughts on and tips to building relationships with the media and influencers?

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The News Release Gets an “Extreme Makeover”!

In a release from the Government of Canada, their press office announces that they are retiring the traditional news release format in favour of a more digital-friendly product that makes the key messages of announcements clearer, quick facts more accessible and integrates more effectively with social media channels.” The Canadian flacks promise that the new format will provide Two or three paragraphs of short, crisp text will allow [media & stakeholders] to scan quickly for the key messages of the announcement.”

An example of this new format can be seen here.

First off, I don’t think that this is earth-shattering by any means. Communicators should have learned to craft easily digestible, digitally optimized and shareable NRs long ago. I do think, however, that this is a particularly good example to follow for those who haven’t. Maybe even a benchmark.

I really like what the Canadian Gov.’s press office has done here. They’ve made the news release more reader friendly and maybe more importantly, they’ve made it easier for members of the media to do their jobs. By boiling down the release and eliminating all the unnecessary language and superfluous inserts, they’ve created something that the reader can digest in a under a couple of minutes. The headline, news, key facts, quotes and related links are called out separately and bulleted, giving us everything we need in as clear and concise a way as possible.

This format is also more effective for internal use. As noted in the article, the way it’s drafted makes it easier for those manning the social profiles to create Tweets and posts from the NR. No longer do your comms. folks need to comb through a dense few pages of prose to determine what should end up going out on your social channels. Half of the work has already been done!

I get annoyed, selfishly maybe, when folks argue that the written word is dying, citing things like trends in visualization and character constraints on social profiles. Seeing something like what the Canadian Government’s office has done gives me hope. The written word is far from dead – it simply needs to be adapted to a more concise, direct format. To the ignorant, this may seem as a sign that the wordsmith will go the way of the Dodo. I say that’s far from the truth! It’s easy to string a bunch of long-winded words together and trick the reader into believing you are an authority on something. The challenge, and where the skill really lies, is writing effectively in a condensed format.

What do you think? How does this change the PR game?

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Back to the Basics, Strategy & Tactics

Make Your Pitches Readable not Deleteable

A major job responsibility for us fellow flacks, and one that has one of the biggest learning curves, is pitching the media via email. Convincing reporters that he or she should take time out of their insanely busy schedules to pen an article about our company, amidst the hundreds of other companies the reporter is being asked to do the same for daily. This is no easy task, and as most forms of communications do, takes years to master.

There are some very important basics to pitching journalists and bloggers, many of them commonsensical:

Research Your Audience

Your pitch should be highly targeted and relevant to each individual reporter you send it to. Spam is one of the quickest relationship killers. One of the most important pieces of wisdom a fellow PR practitioner and buddy of mine told me some years ago is, “You’re only as good as your media list.” Your pitching efforts are futile if you haven’t spent the necessary amount of time researching and preparing your media list targets.

Tailor Your Pitch

Craft each pitch you send with the specific recipient in mind. Prove your desire to be helpful to them through referencing past stories or areas of interest they have. This will keep you from coming across as entirely self-serving in your attempts to get coverage.

Don’t Overwrite

Your reader is very likely to to press “delete” after the first drawn out sentence.  As Mark Twain said, choose the right word and not “it’s second cousin.” As I’ve said in previous posts, superfluity kills. Journalists are not looking to discover new writing talent; they are looking for stories that will be interesting and helpful for their readers.

Be Authentic

Treat your pitch the same as you would a conversation in real life. Would you feel comfortable saying what you write in your pitch in person? Does it reflect you and the company you work for in a positive light? Is it considerate of the other party in the relationship and their needs?

Now, here are some lesser discussed, but equally important tips,  that will help your pitches get read instead of deleted. Consider these tips from PR 201:

Don’t be Predictable

Reporters are a very intelligent bunch. They are analytical, insightful, thorough creatures who are adept at detecting bullshit. Rest assured that the reporter you are targeting has seen your pitch before. Maybe the company is different and the product has some slight variations, but you can believe they’ve receive dozens of similar pitches from hopeful PR Pros. There is nothing new under the sun. The way we separate ourselves from the masses is highlighting our nuances and differences. Find unique angles the reporter may not have considered before. If he or she hasn’t thought of something you can bet it would be new and interesting for their readers to hear about – which means YOU’RE IN.

Subject Lines Rule

Like any form of copy – headlines are arguably the most important part of your writing. They are the key to opening the door and persuading your reader to read on. For emails – your subject line is often what a reporter will go on in determining whether or not to click “delete” or “open”. And believe me, this decision is made in a few short seconds. Make your subject line intriguing, specific and concise.  If you work for a well-known company you have the luxury of name dropping in your subject line and your chances of getting your email at least opened increase automatically. If this isn’t the case, then the subject line rule is even more important.  Send out a couple of pitches, if you’re not getting responses in a reasonable time, tweak the headline and try again. This is a learning process; a lot of it is trial and error.

End the Pitch Gloriously

Often times, we are prone to trailing off in our witting. We hit the reader with a furious one-two combo of information and persuasion in the opening sentences and think that we’ve done or jobs. That’s not the case. As the great ATL rap group, Outkast, so elegantly said “You’re only funky as your last cut.” The last sentence of your pitch should be as strong as the first couple. This is will strengthen the chances of the reporter following up to learn more. Try hard to keep them locked in to each sentence.

Marathon Mentality

Your job as a PR Pro is to build symbiotic relationships with members of the media and influencers. These relationships will generate publicity and help you manage your company’s messages publicly. Like any real-world relationship, the relationship between the PR Pro and the reporter/blogger/influencer  needs fostering in order to thrive. You may not get a prominent story above the fold off of your first pitch but you very well may have set the groundwork for a relationship that will grow overtime if cared for properly. Keep feeding it and don’t smother it.

Pitching is one of those things that really takes a lot of time to master. I treat each pitch as learning experience. Each word is part of a strategy to not only get coverage or raise visibility, but to nurture a long-term relationship. What are some pitching tips or tricks that help you?

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Back to the Basics, Social Media, Strategy & Tactics, Tools

#FridayFive – 5 Tips to Writing Better Headlines

As a communications pro, writing is one of our core functions. It’s essential to our jobs and value and something we should constantly strive to improve. In today’s world of social media and blogging, one of the most important skills to master, or try to, is the art of the headline. One of the most insightful things I’ve learned about copy writing is that your headline is the beginning of what should be a continuously slippery slide. Each word should push the reader further and further down the slide until they’ve finished your content. Here are 5 tips to help you make your headlines work for you.

Be Creative

We see hundreds, if not thousands of headlines a day but only engage with a handful. Creativity helps separate your headline from all of the rest.  The NYP, while distasteful with some, is masterful at penning creative headlines that suck you right it.

Intrigue Your Readers

Think of yourself as a fisherman. You want to give just enough bait for the fish but don’t want to reveal what’s above the surface because they won’t bite. Here’s an example of an intriguing headline:

Create a Sense of Urgency

Your headline should make the reader think that if they don’t read your article or post then they will be missing out on something important. Here’s an example of a headline that provides urgency: “10 Immediate Tips to Social Media Success That Every Marketer Must Know.”Words like “immediate” , “must”, “success”  make the reader think that if they don’t read further they are missing out on a chance to get better at their craft.

Trigger a Strong Emotion

I saw a great blog post headline today from Guy Kawasaki: “Unbelievable test pilot’s account of an SR-71 disintegrating at 78,000 feet.” I have no specific interest in aviation and have no idea what an SR-71 is, but I clicked on the headline because the emotion that was elicited – the fear of crashing in a plane – was so strong that I had no other choice. Appeal to the emotion of your readers and you’ll be on your way to success.

 Follow the 50/50 Rule

There is a rule in copy writing that you should spend half the time it takes to write your copy on the headline itself. Sounds crazy, but the more I write the more I see how important this is. We are bombarded by headlines 24/7, our job is to create ones that get our material read. If you don’t obsess over your headline you wont get read and might as well not waste your time penning that awesome blog post.

What are your tips for writing great headlines? What are some good one’s that you’ve seen recently?

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Your Brand Story Starts with Your “I Story”!

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Over the years, I’ve given many talks to large audiences, explaining what my company does, or certain projects I’ve worked on – and typical butterflies aside – as long as I’m prepared, I find it relatively enjoyable. But I also recall a time when I was riding in an elevator and someone asked me what I did for a living, causing me to stumble over what seemed like such a simple question. It should be the opposite, right? Explaining what you do day-in and day-out in a low stakes environment should roll off the tongue with ease. But often times it doesn’t.

When you are a leader in a company, not being able to tell your “I Story” with conviction is bad for business. Depending on your role, your brand would not exist without you. It was birthed from your desires, passions, fortitude, and hard work. Your company is much more than an entity; it’s an extension and embodiment of an individual(s).

You may think as the owner of a Public Relations agency, that when you’re asked what you do, the correct response would be: “I own a PR agency that represents companies to the public.” Or perhaps: “I manage reputation for big brands.” Those answers would be fine if you are OK with being deposited in the collective bank of the thousands of other PR agencies that do just that.  And if you are, good luck paying the bills.

If you are not OK with mediocrity and you wish to rise above the dizzying fray of competition, then maybe your response would be similar to what I tell people I do: “I help brands and individuals tell stories that resonate and drive results.” Yes, I do PR, media relations, content marketing, social media, etc. But those are job functions and responsibilities. I’m not a robot driven to perform tasks until I shut down for the day. I am an individual with unique skills that is driven by purpose and passion, and the desire to help others.

Here are some keys to crafting a compelling “I Story”:

1. Dig Deep

Whether you are a company building widgets, or a person helping small businesses market themselves – why are you doing it? What drives you? Your skills should be secondary to why do you what you do. Show empathy, passion and emotion. What drives me is my passion for storytelling and the fulfilling feeling I get from helping people.

2. Prepare a Script

Write it down. The example I gave above is a personal statement, an abridged story of what I do. Make sure you are able to expound on your personal statement with as much conviction and meaning as the one-liner. Depending on what you do, your personal story will take a while to create.  Run it by people you trust until it’s in good shape and then practice, practice, practice!

3. Own It!

You’ll know you’ve nailed it when it doesn’t feel forced. When you say it out loud and it feels good to say it. It’s possible you’ve been toiling for years, caught in the day-to-day of your business and forgotten why you’ve invested so much time and energy into what you do. But when you deliver that meaningful “I Story” it will all come rushing back to you, reinvigorating you and making you feel proud.

People want to do business with passionate people, not emotionless entities. Do not get lost in the mix; your brand is only as strong as the individual(s) behind it!

So, what’s your “I Story” ?

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PR is NOT about Maintaining Public Image…

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… Exclusively.

I recently came across this article in the Globe where a recent graduate working in a marketing agency reveals a special interest in public relations and asks the writer to  “tell [her] more about that field?” First off, I couldn’t believe that the promising youth of tomorrow would still want to subject themselves to such an oppressive, thankless and ever so stressful job. Just kidding… kind of.

When I was in college, PR & Communications was one of the most popular majors. I think there were two reasons for that. One, was the group of students who had yet to unearth the true calling that would determine their path and dictate their life’s work. For them, communications was more of a catchall, a way to ensure that they’d graduate with tangible and easily translatable skills that they could apply to a myriad of positions and industries. These potheads… ahem…  kids seemed to have the shared foresight that communications was the basis of success for any profession.

The other group of kids, mostly females, had the very misguided dream of becoming the next Lizzy Gruman. PR was a one way ticket to socializing with Hollywoods A listers and guiding these already awesome people on how to be even more awesome. Maybe the occasional DUI crisis PR as well. Yes, these girls took up quite a few seats in my comms. classes, but looking back, I can’t think of any who are actually in PR today. Probably safe to credit that with the harsh realization that smacked them in the head on their first day in the agency that PR is NOT glamorous.  It’s a hard knock life.

But the real reason I decided to post about this article was not because it conjured up memories of days where responsibility was optional and 9am seemed an obscene time to rise. Or because I can say I’m one of the few who stuck to the plan. No, the reason this article caught my attention was because I found it incredibly misleading.

The first part of the articles response is dead on:

“In the world of marketing, public relations professionals have one of the greatest challenges of all. In short, PR professionals try to create and maintain a favorable image for their employers (or client, employed by an agency). These professionals might write media releases, act as spokesmen for companies, or both.”

A PR consultant then adds the following insight:

“The PR practice is all about creating public perception… The virtual Rolodex is key — as it’s all about the media you know. The goal is to develop relationships and guide the press into writing”.

And that’s where I stopped – held a pillow to my face – and let out a furious ROAR. This young person is interested in getting into one of the most complex fields there is (OK, maybe not as complex as Neuroscience, or Quantum Mechanics) and all they get is it’s about creating public perception and working with reporters?? What about everything else? What about identifying the real influencers who will have as much or more effect on your client’s public perception? The bloggers, social influencers and advocates. What about being a content creator who can harness their command of the written word, paired with compassion and empathy, to craft messages that are impactful and meaningful?  And then, what about the need to be versed enough to know how to manage that message on an ever-expanding variety of mediums and platforms. And where was the mention of what happens on the inside that dictates public perception on the outside? Guiding and counseling executives to create a culture that will be publicly favorable. Strategy? Research?  Shouldn’t this person have been told about those things?!

Stepping back from this diatribe, I know that this response  was meant to be higher level overview, and again, there was some accurate feedback within. But my first reaction, being someone whose been immersed in the field for some time now, was that it seemed akin to telling a med student interested in being a surgeon that “it’s all about cutting the patient open and patching things up.”

What advice/insight would you impart on a recent grad or college student curious about the world of PR?

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My Vending Machine is Superfluous. You Shouldn’t Be.

This morning I took a trip to my office’s vending machine to buy Trail Mix – a breakfast of champions considering the other options were Pop Tarts and M&Ms. I put my dollar into the machine and what I saw next made me sad. The machine told me that E3, the Trail Mix of course, was “being surrendered.” The words made me feel like a bully… even a captor. All I wanted was a snack – couldn’t it have been “dispensed”??? All jokes aside, this jogged my easily jog-able mind and prompted this post.

Superfluity: simply, something that serves no useful purpose. Something of excess. If you are a communications pro, excess is your nemesis. Our job is to create messages that connect with our audience, period. In today’s world, the time we have to connect is fleeting. Society is bombarded by messages at a staggering rate and only connects with those that convey their meaning in a clear, concise way. Keep it simple, stupid (KISS).

Superfluity rears its ugly head in many ways: grandiose or esoteric words, redundancies and more commonly, words that are used unnecessary (suddenly, simply, just, some).  Like a basketball player making a no-look behind the back pass when a simple bounce pass will do, communicators also succumb to doing more than needed, sometimes in an effort to separate them from the herd. But what separates us is the connections we make.

“Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word, when there is a ten-center handy.”

So how do we avoid superfluity? For me, when it comes to writing, I use a simple system. First, I’ll write a draft of whatever it is I’m working on and then go over it several times with my “audience hat” on, examining every word and sentence to see if what I have written will connect with whomever my audience is in an effective way – the first time. That’s the key, especially in written communication. Often times you will not be there to preface, qualify or explain whatever you’ve written, so write it in a way that needs no further explanation. Write it as if you’ll never have the chance to explain it.

When speaking, I try to choose words carefully. I live somewhere on the fringes, using words that show my command of language but do not come off as arrogant. This is another important thing to keep in mind. Superfluous communication can often come across as arrogant which leaves you dead in the water. I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve sat it where an over the top word is used and my thinking switches from the topic at hand to the use of the particular word and what it says about the speaker.

Superfluity muddles the message and will kill the connection. Do you come across it often in your daily lives? How so? What do you do to combat it?

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