Strategic Insights and Clickworthy Content Development

Tag: PR

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.

What Your PR Client Should NOT Do


Runaway clients can hurt coverage

Media interviews are an interesting thing to “manage.” There are clients who just want you to set up interviews, clients who value your involvement and guidance, and clients who are like helium balloons that just lost their strings.

Every now and then, even the best clients can get a little out of control, because they’re so passionate.  Passion is fine, but when it gets to the point of bulldozing an interview, it’s time for media training.

Why Bulldozing is a Bad Thing

I’m one of those journalists who prepares for interviews.  I have a set of questions I develop for a story because somebody is going to ask me for one and I need to define the scope of the interviews.  Sometimes I have to improvise when I’m interviewing which is fine, but when the whole interview is off-script, it may cause problems for everyone involved.

Sometimes I can’t get a word in, let alone a question, if it’s a telephone interview (which is very rare these days).  If it’s an email response, I’ll read through it, but…

Why I Have a “Script”

I develop a list of questions for every set of interviews I do.  I’m happy to send them in advance when requested, but I tend not to send them as a matter of course.  Occasionally, whether or not the interviewee has the questions in advance, that person will say, “I know you want to cover this, but…[I’ve decided the angle of the story should be something else]” or “I’ve looked at your questions and [I’m going to ignore them].”  Then they wonder why they’re not included in the story, or why the other guy was quoted multiple times.

There are several answers to to these types of queries which are:

  • The content was irrelevant
  • The content was difficult or impossible to use given its lack of structure
  • The content doesn’t dovetail well with other conversations
  • It’s just too much work to use

An important thing to know is: I write on assignment.  That means an editor says, “write this,” or I pitch an idea, and that’s what I’m expected to deliver.

The Good News

The good news is that most interviewees have figured out that the best way to conduct interviews is to answer the questions asked, directly.  It’s fine to give examples, cite use cases, or use analogies as supplementary material as long as the content is relevant to the angle of the story.  If they respond to questions  in a relevant manner, their chances of being included in a story or getting more coverage than they would otherwise get can improve significantly.

I do my best to include everyone I interview, but it’s not always possible.  I am happy to explain the situation to the PR rep, if asked.  After all, I spent many years sitting on that side of the desk.

Thankfully for all of us, the bulldozers are few and far between.  If your client is one of them, you’re wise to explain why bulldozing isn’t wise.  It will help you better manage client expectations down the line.

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.

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.