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Tag: pitching

How To Increase Contributed Article Placement Success

abstract-1260505_640Pitching and placing contributed articles is a staple of a good PR program.  Editors are bombarded with ideas every day.  Some make the cut, some don’t.  Want to up your chances?  Think and write like a journalist.

I’ve received a few pitches lately that I found quite incredible.  I imagine the PR reps thought the pitches were logical – I certainly would have before I had journalism experience myself – but sitting in the chair of a journalist, I could see how faulty their strategy was.

The idea was, “How about if my client contributes an article that highlights the features of its product?”  My response was, “Sounds like a sponsored editorial product.”  Why?  Because the proposed content was essentially an ad.

My audiences – business executives and technologists – don’t have much of an appetite for blatantly self-promotional prose.  Moreover, promotional content does little to establish your client as “a thought leader.”  It positions them more like a salesperson.  The same can be said for other media including video and webinars.

The best contributed pieces really show off an expert’s chops.  That person knows more about leadership or emotional analytics or programming in Python than most of his or her peers do, and that person is willing to share their expertise, free of blatant product or service tie-backs.  A good pitch reflects that.

I bring this up because I hate to see people waste time and their clients’ budgets.  There are better and worse ways to do things.  It is entirely possible to advance your client’s agenda without attaching flashing lights to it.

Having said all of this, I see contributed articles published that are self-promotional, especially in the tech pubs have had their budgets slashed dramatically.  I don’t think those articles do the community or the contributor much good, so I’m sticking to my guns.

If you want to improve your chances of making it into the little pile, think and write like a journalist.

 

 

Are Media Relationships Dead?

question-mark-160071_640Strange as it may seem, PR pros used to spend incredible amounts of time cultivating relationships with the media. It wasn’t an email here or there or a social media ping. It was face-to-face time with editors of the target publications at events, on the road, and elsewhere.

I don’t know how many lunches, dinners, and media tours I went on when all of those things were fashionable.  While my PR clients were more interested in “hits” and cover stories, my agency was more concerned about the relationships we established because relationships transcend any client engagement.

In today’s highly fragmented world, things are very different.  PR people have to multitask on entirely different levels and in doing so, they sacrifice focus – focus on relationships, focus on targeting pitches, focus on learning what their clients really do.

I believe it’s still important to develop actual relationships with the media.  I can’t speak for all journalists on this point, but I can tell you that if we’ve established a relationship, your pitch will be placed at the top of the virtual pile, and I’m less inclined to delete it in the first place.  Also, if I have to do outreach for a story, I’ll probably contact you first.

One time, I spent 30 minutes on the phone talking to a PR person about his client’s product strategy simply because every time I needed him to cut through the red tape at that client’s organization, he did it.

PR success requires a confluence of many things, some of which are in your control and some of which are not.  One thing you can control is the way you approach and work with the media.  If you want to have more influence, stop looking at your job as a series of rat-tat-tat news announcements and start looking at the bigger picture.  Cultivate actual relationships with people, because there will be times when you need them, and vice versa.

Remember:  actual relationships transcend clients and publications.  You or I may move tomorrow.  If one or both of us does, you can count on me to point you in some kind of helpful direction, even if your client does not fit within one of my beats.

Pitch Closes That May Not Help You

smiley-1041796_640As a journalist, I’m pitched constantly.  I’d say that 20 percent of the pitches I get are good and perhaps 5 percent are excellent.  How would I know?  Lots of journalism experience and lots of PR experience.

Interestingly, whether a pitch gets a response or not can boil down to a few words.

“If you’re interested in X let me know.”  I don’t need to respond, then, with your permission.  If the close had been different, I probably would have said, “You should try pitching X instead.”  Likely, this person will follow up and ask if I got their pitch.  Yup.

The same close is often posed as a question:  “Are you interested?”  This is an easy one to answer most of the time because the answers are binary (yes or no).  These are so easy to say “no” to without explanation.

I guess my issue with all of this is the PR person doesn’t understand why they’re getting no response or curt responses, neither of which feel good.  I understand.  I spent a lot of years as a PR pro and PR exec, and I know how frustrating pitching can be.   OTOH, when you’re sorting through a pile of pitches, we can and will choose the path of least resistance whenever possible.

Why Great Pitches Don’t Make the Cut

I and some very talented PR pros are absolutely anguished that we can’t work together on my latest story.  Do I care?  Yes.  Is there anything I can do about it?  No and yes.

I can get well over 100 responses to a HARO query I post.  I get more than 50 often.  The statistics shouldn’t discourage you; they’re meant to give you some insight into why great pitches sometimes don’t make the cut.

Often, it’s a matter of timing.  My queries are designed to start at 5:35 a.m. ET and end at 7:00 pm ET.  Because I’m on PT, I start receiving pitches while I’m dreaming and throughout my work day.

HARO sends PR pitches in batch, which a lot of PR people don’t know.  That means, I’ll get no emails for an hour or two, or maybe more and than BAM!  I’ll get lots of them, all of a sudden.

The batch process is frustrating for both of us.  I sometimes wonder whether I’m going to get enough of the right sources for a story, and usually I end up with way too many.  Almost without fail, some of the best pitches come later in the day.  The pitch itself may not be top-notch, but the client is.  Alternatively, the pitch is excellent.  It hits all the points, includes interesting information and all that.  Ultimately, we’re both anguished because I have too many sources.  This current story has 16 which is waaay to many.  It takes a lot of creativity to fit that many people into a story, and a lot of fact-checking.  At some point, I just have to say “no,” when I really want to say “yes.”

The good news is, I can say “yes” to something.  That’s explaining the situation to the person and leaving the door open for future pitches.  People seem to appreciate that, which makes it worth the effort.

So, to recap:  Your pitch will have a better chance of succeeding if it’s relevant and timely.

Believe me, I understand why pitches are late:  You’ve been busy with other things, you needed to talk to your client, whatever.  I get it and I don’t fault you for it.

If you have any complaints about HARO, I’d love to hear them.  I’m not out to bash HARO.  I just want to understand what’s driving you nuts on the other side of the system.

Keep up the good work.

Crafting the Ultimate Email Interview Response

email-824310_640More journalists have moved to email interviews, including this one.  You’d be surprised how different the responses are, and IMHO, it’s the little things that can make or break coverage.

This post assumes your client has been selected for an email interview.

#1:  Include Your Client’s Information

Wait, what?  I already gave you that stuff in my original pitch over email…

Maybe, but is it correct?  A lot of times in a pitch, PR pros will say something like, “Anil is with…” or “Anil is lead at XYZ Company.”  That may be true.  On the other hand, his LinkedIn title, or the title on the company site (assuming he’s listed) may say something more specific like VP of Technology and Co-founder.  Perhaps he was just promoted to CEO and it hasn’t been announced yet, but will be by the time the story hits.  Stuff happens.

Include your client’s information so you can be sure that it’s correct and free of typos.  Sometimes email pitches include typos that include misspelled client names or misspelled client company names (which happened this week).  Also, in the unlikely event that your client’s name or company name is misspelled when the story hits, you can show the mistake wasn’t yours (which makes a difference).

And another thing:  Sometimes an email thread related to a pitch for ONE story is unbelievably long.  Some of them exceed 20 messages to and from Ms. PR Maven.  She may have included the client’s title in Message #1, in Message #19, somewhere in between or not at all.  It’s cheap insurance (and a best practice) to include your client’s information at the top, in boldface type, with a link to your client’s website.

#2:  Advise Your Client to Provide Thoughtful, Well-Reasoned Responses

Most interviewees do this, which is great.  A few don’t.  Those that don’t run the risk of not being included in a story because what they said just doesn’t fit in.  FWIW, at the top of my email interview questions I say, “Thank you for your thoughtful, well-reasoned responses.”  The implication is provide short answers at your own risk.

From where I sit, stories have a life of their own.  I pitch ideas, get approval, fish for sources on HARO, interview people, and then weave that into something coherent.  It’s kind of like putting together a puzzle: I know the subject matter of the puzzle, but I don’t know what the pieces are (depends on the interviews) and how they’ll fit together.  Here’s why brief commentary is dangerous, if you’re working with me.

As background, brief commentary takes a couple of forms – the pithy response and the general short answer, both of which can be difficult or impossible to include in a story.

Knowing journalists use quotables, sometimes (albeit rarely), an interviewee will try to provide short, pithy, supposedly quotable quips that are “cute” and most likely unusable.  The quips are based on false assumptions about how the story will flow.

Comparatively, thoughtful, well-reasoned answers provide perspectives and the reasons for those perspectives.  This is great because intelligent minds, and even experts, disagree.  It’s always helpful to understand why.  Also, the richer commentary also provides more to work with, and therefore more opportunities (and a better likelihood) for coverage.

The general short answer typically shows a lack of effort.  The interviewee provides one or two sentences, which tend to be obvious points that others have also made and so there’s nothing original.  Because there’s nothing original (and someone probably said the same thing more eloquently), guess what?

Obviously, when I don’t use commentary I get questions about it.  I answer those questions honestly, and essentially say one of the two things above.

#3:  Make Sure The Answers Align With the Questions

This sounds obvious, but people can go off on tangents.  Sometimes, I’ve hit a hot-button issue to the point of opening Pandora’s Box.  The interviewee spews out all kinds of information, perhaps little or none of which address the question directly.

Sometimes people want to promote their products.  This is fine to some degree, assuming that’s the point of the piece, but I don’t tend to write about products or how great they are unless it’s sponsored content.  My Help a Reporter Out (HARO) posts always state “non-promotional” content, but not everyone pays attention.  If I ask for commentary on issues and trends, and receive answers about all the bells and whistles of a product, I find myself explaining why the commentary wasn’t used.

Related to this are transparently obvious self-serving answers.  I don’t blame vendors for this.  They’re doing it because PR is a promotional vehicle, but it ain’t advertorial.  Sometimes, transparently promotional stuff is kind of amusing, but perhaps unusable.  I’m really not going to quote someone saying, “what they really need is the industry’s most robust, scalable, global, award-winning, industry-leading API platform.”

Bottom Line

There are a few simple things that can make the difference between getting coverage and not getting coverage.  I’ve included three things that could help probably 40% of the people I work with over time.

If you’re already doing these things, thank you very much.  Hopefully this commentary will be valuable for you nevertheless, because even if you know the ropes, you’ll probably need to teach someone else, soon.

Does HARO Really Work?

HARO logo

HARO: Just a Medium

PR pros sometimes tell me that Help a Reporter Out (HARO) doesn’t work. I would argue the opposite, based on extensive experience with it and the ongoing relationships I’ve established through the medium.

There was some sort of batch-related technical glitch that kept me from receiving about 10 pitches yesterday, but that’s nothing – and certainly not an indication of its lack of usefulness – especially when you consider I’ve been using the medium every week for the last year.  You may or pay not know that ProfNet and HARO are merging, and every merger has technical glitches.

That’s not the reason people have been complaining over the last year.  The reason they’re complaining is twofold:  a lot of journalists are unresponsive and I imagine they’re not getting the results they want.  Ergo, HARO doesn’t work.  OTOH, who’s fault is that?

Don’t Confuse the Medium and the Message

HARO is a medium, nothing more.  It’s just a website or “marketplace” that connects journalists with potential sources and their PR reps.  Blaming HARO for the way journalists behave or the outcome of pitches is like blaming your toothbrush for failing to do a root canal.

On the other hand, I know how frustrating pitching can be.  Been there, done that.  I still do it.  I  understand how frustrating it is when people don’t respond to a pitch, or they’re just plain rude.  It happens to all of us.  However, that kind of stuff happens to some people more often than others – with or without HARO and here are a few reasons why:

You’re Playing the Numbers

If you send a pitch out to a sea of people, it’s likely someone will bite no matter how good or bad the pitch is.  I see people using this tactic as evidenced by pitches that do not directly relate to  a query I’ve posted.  A good example are the fashion pitches I’m getting out of Europe.  Guess what?  Fashion isn’t my beat, not even close.

I usually tell people it’s not my beat, hoping they’ll get the message and stop pitching me.  Although, the more fashion pitches I get, the more likely I am to ignore them.  They’re irrelevant and poorly targeted.  Of all the pitches I get, these are the ones I’ll most likely ignore.

You’re Advancing an Agenda

Well, of course you’re advancing an agenda.  That’s why companies hire agencies and independent PR pros.  OTOH, people often try to advance an agenda that isn’t in line with the specific direction of a story.  And in most cases, it makes no sense to try to shoe-horn a bolted-on topic into the story.

The most common form this takes in my experiences is product-related pitches that are responding to an issues-oriented query.  I get that a lot.  “XYZ company would be happy to tell you why business leaders today need [our client’s product capabilities, including these specific features and functions].”  OK, but I’m actually interested in the personality traits of a data scientist, for example.

Alternatively, I can get things that may seem logical to the person who is pitching, but are not relevant in fact.  An example of this would be, “I see you’re writing a piece on data science.  My client hosts grade school biology science camps.”  The word, “science” is common to both topics.  A pitch about grade school data science camps would have a better chance of succeeding.

I respond to these types of pitches and tell people why their pitches are irrelevant, but I’m apparently among the minority of journalists who do.

Having spent years managing clients and account groups at agencies, I know exactly why people are being trained to do these kinds of pitches – it’s just one tool in the toolbox. The theory is, if you pitch something related to a story, you may succeed.  “May” is the operative word.

You Want the Story Angle Changed

This is a very unlikely outcome, especially when there’s an editorial hierarchy and the writer or editor has already sold an idea to her editor.  A couple of people try this tactic on me every week and it doesn’t work.

The inherent flaws in this tactic are 1) it sends the message that the original story angle is flawed, weak, or or without merit; and 2) the client agenda is usually as transparent as freshly-polished glass.

People pitching themselves tend to do this more.  Don’t write about THAT topic!  Write about me!

It’s Time the Journalist Covered Your Client

After pitching a journalist on the same client time and again, one gets to the point where one feels it’s about time this journalist got with the program.  After all, the journalists’s beat is X and your client fits squarely within the realm of X.  In one of the areas I cover, an industry analyst recently told me there were 2,000 companies he could possibly include in a report but there was only room for 20 or so.  Yikes.

I like to hear from fresh voices assuming the pitch is on-target.

One tenacious young lady who pitches me often had a hit rate of 0 (with me at least).  She pitched me almost every week about the same client and same basic angle.  It wasn’t a fit…until it was.

There were a sea of other pitches that also would have worked but I chose hers over some others because she had the fortitude to stick with it until she succeeded.  I admire her tenacity.  On the other hand, had her pitch been off-base – yet again – I would have passed on it.

Whether it’s “time” to cover a company, topic, product, or whatever is a matter of opinion.  Your opinion won’t align with all the people all the time, but don’t give up.  The most important thing is to learn from your experiences.

Got HARO Horror Stories?

Share ’em.  I’d love to hear about ’em.

Why You Should Fire Your PR Agency. Now.

puzzle-432569_640PR agencies are inefficient in ways that are not apparent to their clients.  The inefficiencies can cost you tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the only “insight” you’re going to have is a rising level of frustration.

One problem is the way PR agencies are organized.  The other has to do with philosophy and people.

PR Agencies May Be Structured Inefficiently

PR agencies have historically been hierarchical organizations.  That’s not true of all PR agencies since the general business trend has been to replace hierarchical organizational structures with flat or matrix structures, but a lot of PR agencies are still structured the same old way.

Typically, your “PR team” includes several people, if your budget allows it.  The most junior people handle the rote stuff and more senior people oversee what they do.  While that operational process is not always inefficient, consider in-house agency meetings.

In-house agency meetings sometimes involve the entire team dedicated to a client.  A one-hour meeting is the sum of all their billable rates, which, if you add them up may astound you.  For your sake, I hope such meetings are fruitful.

Hierarchical structures also fuel egos in a way that is not in the best interest of clients.  Quite often, as people move up the agency ladder, they rid themselves of tasks that tend to be assigned to more junior people.  Depending on what’s happening on the client side, that hands-off mentality may work against the client, especially when a sensitive issue arises such as a product recall, a security breach, or a public attack by a competitor.

They’re Clueless

The typical agency-client relationship looks something like this:  The client is the subject matter expert and the PR agency is the media expert.  It’s a very simple formula that sounds good and is flawed.

For one thing, the client contact may or may not be a subject matter expert.  If the client contact is a subject matter expert – great, especially if the PR reps are actively listening, taking notes, and asking smart questions.  If the client contact is not a subject matter expert, few PR pros will be able to tell because their domain knowledge is either weak or non-existent.  That’s one way misinformation gets propagated.  Everywhere.

Worse, a lot of PR pros don’t understand their clients in any real depth, which I think (and I have always thought) is a mistake.  There are a few reasons for that:

It’s not my job.  Most PR pros don’t take the time to understand their clients and their clients’ products or services because they don’t consider it part of their jobs, as unbelievable as that may seem.  After all, the client is the subject-matter expert.  The problem with that philosophy is that journalists often ask second-level questions that few PR pros are prepared to answer such as, “Why do I need a smartwatch if I have a FitBit?”  If they can’t answer basic questions, you’re likely losing coverage at your expense.

It’s not billable.  Coming up to speed takes time, and the question is, who’s going to pay for it?  Clients generally don’t want to pay to educate agency reps.  Agencies don’t want to invest in fishing expeditions ad infinitum, especially if the time spent isn’t billable.  There’s a balance.  Finding it can be tricky.

They’re green.  Most PR pros on the front line are very young.  They lack the life experience and work experience necessary to infer important insights and ask insightful questions.  It’s not their fault.  They’ll learn eventually,  most likely at your expense or another’s client’s expense.

They lack passion.  Some PR pros aren’t passionate about what their clients do, and when they’re not passionate, they’re not interested, and they’re not doing the best job they could possibly be doing.  In my role as a mentor, some PR people have told me they have a feeling they should be doing something else because they’re uncomfortable with their clients’ subject matter.  These people tend to disappear on their own terms – or on the agency’s terms – in relatively short order.

Good PR People Are Golden

Generally speaking, agencies and people who work for agencies vary greatly in their abilities.  Sadly, clients end up paying for a lot of inefficiencies that are not obvious (even to the people who work in agencies).

My advice is observe the people who are on your PR team and make your own assessment.  You should be able to tell from words and deeds who “gets it” and who doesn’t.  If you have a team full of people that doesn’t get it, it may be time to review your options.

On the other hand, it may be time to look in the mirror.  Quite often the reason agencies fail or people at agencies fail to grasp critical information is because their client contact doesn’t want to share it, for fear of spilling trade secrets, or for political reasons (information is power).  If you’ve had the same issues over and over again from agency after agency, perhaps the agency isn’t the problem afteer all.