5 Ways to Build Better Journalist Relationships

For PR people, few things are more important than media relationships. Ties with journalists don’t guarantee results, but they’re an important entree to getting out the stories we tell for clients. Good relations with reporters and producers usually means your pitch will get a hearing at the very least. Often it means you’ll get valuable feedback even if every offer doesn’t turn into a quick story.

With that in mind, here are five ways to stay on the good side of journalists to ensure that you build — and maintain — strong relationships. 

Always make it relevant 

When approaching media, it’s critical that the news you’re sharing is relevant to their specific beat and the types of stories they cover. The way to ensure this is to do your research. This can be something as simple as a Google search on a reporter, or browsing the publication’s website. Familiarizing yourself with their work will allow you to bring them stories that fit their beat and interests. That, combined with keeping a close eye on breaking news, can give you a serious advantage over others. Jumping on breaking news is a relatively easy way to get your client covered. The key is timing and making sure you’re not late to the game.If you wait even a few hours to reach out to a reporter, you could miss the boat entirely. 

Schedule face time 

Today, the bulk of media correspondence takes place through email and phone. And while this is convenient for day-to-day, when possible, it helps to put a face to a name and meet with a reporter in person. This can be anything from post-work drinks to a quick bite — even something like group karaoke. Getting together can help humanize you outside of a professional setting and help build trust with the reporter. Since COVID-19, in-person meetings aren’t possible, so Zoom happy hours have filled the gap. They’ve become a common networking tool that plays a similar role to build relationships between PR pros and journalists.  

Don’t be a nag

Journalists are often juggling multiple stories and tasks, and their job requires undivided attention. As a result, they may not respond to emails right away. This shouldn’t be a reason to constantly follow up. It’s best to spread out any follow-up emails or calls so that you’re respecting their time. Bugging reporters too much also comes across as desperate. Further, they could be even more likely to ignore you and not consider your ideas for future stories.

Use social media..but thoughtfully 

There’s no denying the importance of social media in today’s culture. And most journalists are active on various platforms, particularly Twitter. They use social platforms to share their stories and to comment on current events in the industries they cover. For PR pros, commenting, retweeting and interacting with their posts in any way shows that you’re interested and knowledgeable about the topics they cover. Connecting with journalists on social media is also a less formal — but definitely effective — way to get their attention before sending them a formal pitch on email. But preferences about social media approaches to journalists vary, and they should be made only when you know the reporter. 

Be yourself

When sending pitches or emails in a professional environment, it’s easy to abandon your true personality for something that’s more formal, or even robotic. In PR, however, it’s more acceptable to be yourself. Keeping things human can strengthen your relationships with media. For example, I like to keep pitches casual. If journalists feel like they’re getting an automated email instead of an approach from a real person, they’ll be less likely to respond and take it seriously. In addition, it’s always good to be transparent about what you want from a reporter. Don’t beat around the bush. If they feel like you’re leading them on or have some sort of ulterior motive, it’ll turn them off and they likely won’t cover. So when communicating with reporters, treat them in a similar (but, of course, appropriate) way as you would a friend.

Crenshaw Announces Two Promotions

As summer comes to a close, we are proud to announce two promotions at Crenshaw Communications. After nearly 2.5 years at Crenshaw, Katharine Riggs has been promoted from Account Executive to Senior Account Executive. Katharine established herself as a first-rate media guru on accounts like MediaRadar and Fractal Analytics. She works hard to support our clients and her team on everything from media relations to content, and we’re excited to see her grow into this new role. 

Ilana Weinberger has been promoted from Assistant Account Executive to Account Executive. Since Ilana joined in March 2019, she has offered excellent media and account support across clients like Bnai Zion Foundation, DoubleVerify, LiveIntent, Arkadium, and SmartGlass. No matter what we throw at Ilana, she takes it on and delivers excellent work. We’re delighted to see her develop now as an AE. 

Pictured above: Ilana Weinberger (L) & Katharine Riggs (R)

The Myth Of The Social CEO

For business leaders, the rise of social media has powered a shift from public relations to public engagement. And most CEOs acknowledge the benefits of social engagement for their personal and corporate brands. Or do they?

Only 39% of Fortune 500 CEOs have a social profile, and most who are active on social media use one platform – LinkedIn. More surprisingly, recent research shows that use of social media by CEOs globally has declined in the past year. The annual report on CEO social media usage by ECCO, an international network of independent PR firms, found that just 15% have a presence on Twitter – down from 17% last year. Moreover, only 31% are on LinkedIn, down 22% from the same time last year.

You’d think that during the COVID-19 pandemic, C-level executives would ramp up social media activity. With digital and social media use skyrocketing during the shutdown and the climate of fear and uncertainty that has resulted, greater engagement would seem to be in order. But you’d be wrong, apparently.

Social engagement by CEOs is declining

What’s going on?

First, it could be that C-levels just aren’t convinced of social media’s advantages. And there’s actually not a lot of definitive research on the benefits of social engagement by CEOs. One of the better studies is from 2016, with data collected in 2014 – quite a long time in digital media years. And while it seems that a strong social media presence can help business leaders build relationships with stakeholders, the causative effect is unclear. Studies by Weber Shandwick find that executives who engage on social platforms are seen as good communicators and often well-regarded as business leaders. But much of the research is based on the perception of internal executives. And it’s not clear if the most well-regarded CEOs are more likely to be socially visible because they’re popular, or if they’re popular as a result of social media activity. It’s a classic chicken-or-egg puzzle.

When perceived risks outweigh benefits

It could be that CEOs simply have other priorities during the pandemic. Or that cutbacks have affected the PR and social media teams that support social engagement by senior leaders.

Or it may be that the stakes are simply higher today. A careless tweet or quote taken out of context can unleash a fury of criticism. In the age of Trump, you can’t blame a leader for thinking twice. Shaping a unique point of view and knowing when and how to weigh in is tricky, especially now. Who wants to take that risk?

Yet the bottom line is this: there’s pressure to be active on social platforms. A strong social profile can be a powerful differentiator. Even in the B2B sector, today’s customers, many of whom are millennials, want business leaders to be present and visible. Social content has a humanizing effect on a brand, making it and the resulting conversation more authentic. A strong leader is expected to be a brand ambassador, a voice for corporate reputation, and even a social media influencer.

It’s a tall order. How can a business leader engage without risking a social backlash?

How CEOs can engage

Start by listening

As PR experts know, social sites are communities, and they can be tools for listening to media, customers and stakeholders. A good social engagement program will start with a listening campaign. It can inform a social media plan by mapping the key topics that engage stakeholders, identifying potential weaknesses, and anticipating questions.

Develop a simple social strategy 

A smart social strategy will dovetail with key communications priorities when it comes to messages and target audience. And when it comes to content, consistency is more important then volume. It’s not a good look for a CEO to have a dormant Twitter feed. Set simple metrics (engagement, re-posts, followship) to gauge progress. Use visuals to simplify a complex tech story or scientific narrative.

Broaden the social engagement bench

A social media commitment can and should be shared across key members of the leadership team. Most senior teams offer distinct subject-matter expertise which can be both valuable and shareable. A CTO or COO will have knowledge or insights that are distinct from those of a customer service office, but social content should be linked by a common strategy and organizational values. And a shared commitment can make the content more authentic while taking the pressure off the top guy.

Invest in content

Some C-level tweets are clearly composed by others – overly commercial, colorless and devoid of personality. A novice CEO should mix personal observations and opinions with sharper reflections about business or industry trends. Entrepreneurship, leadership, culture, and diversity are always fruitful topics. It’s fine to share information but even better to add a personal or business take on the latest news.

Consider a C-level blog

A blog is still a natural hub for a CEO’s voice, and it’s a logical first step in establishing a content program. It’s also a practical way to address part of the problem of what to post/tweet and offers the ability to screen comments before they’re published.  A blog can also help mix it up with guest posts, video entries or interviews.

Think advocacy

In my experience, authentic advocacy helps many C-levels overcome reluctance and drive quality content. Advocacy doesn’t have to mean controversy, either. It’s ideal if the platform is business-related―like STEM education for a technology company CEO or a focus on entrepreneurship for a CEO who got his or her start by bootstrapping a business. It doesn’t need to be limited to business, although that will always be a safer bet. The important thing is a genuine connection.

How To Get Media Coverage When You Have No News

When big things are happening at your organization, it makes the PR roadmap fairly clear. But what if you have no news? What happens when your big story from last quarter has run its course? Media relations can be a lot like that Ariana Grande song, “Thank U, Next.”  You’re only as good as your last story. 

One skill of a great PR team is in generating opportunities to keep an organization relevant and visible, even in the absence of hard news like a new product launch or a CEO change. Here are three ways to get media coverage when your company has no news. 

Chase a breaking story

With credit to David Meerman Scott for the name, “newsjacking” by any label has been around for decades. It can be an excellent way to generate visibility in between announcements. Newsjacking involves injecting your brand into a breaking news story that isn’t generated by your organization. When done correctly, it can generate extensive media coverage and reinforce expertise or even leadership. 

In my experience, the best way to newsjack is to offer a select number of reporters a quote relevant to a breaking story through email, shortly after the news hits. This way, reporters working under tight deadlines can use and attribute the quote in their reporting. Those who have a bit more time may respond with questions or ask for a briefing, which is ideal. But in many cases journalists covering a breaking story don’t have time to chase quotes or do interviews. So sharing a timely comment will increase the chance of your company making it into the piece.  

For example, when we saw reports that President Trump would sign an executive order to boost research and development for artificial intelligence (AI) in the U.S., the Crenshaw team offered select journalists expert commentary from executive leadership at Fractal, the world’s leading AI-provider for Fortune 500 companies. The news gained plenty of coverage, and Fractal’s CEO Pranay Agrawal was quoted in many of the resulting articles, from The Wall Street Journal to TechTarget

There are other ways to take advantage of breaking news stories, especially those that stay in the news cycle for several days or weeks. A company blog post on a newsworthy topic will often help media and influencers link a subject-matter expert with a breaking story. So will joining social media conversations about the news. If all else fails, the calendar is filled with predictable occasions and events that editors and producers tend to cover regularly, like seasonal items, or live events like the Super Bowl or the presidential election. 

Create your own news with research data

Another way to create buzz when you have no news is to make your own news through a well-designed survey. Timely research can spark coverage where there would otherwise be none. And for B2B companies, a survey can strengthen a brand’s positioning as the first port-of-call for relevant data in a given industry. 

Surveys are relatively inexpensive when conducted through a respected third-party research partner. Often the responses can be packaged into a press release or news nuggets for sharing with key media. A recent example is a survey we designed for Lotame, a leading unstacked data solutions company that works with marketers, ad agencies and publishers. 

Our team built a research report around the state of data quality with the goal of communicating Lotame’s credibility and leadership around those issues, which are paramount in the ad tech category. We pulled the most intriguing insights and offered them on an exclusive basis to Adweek. The exclusive was published in advance of a wider outreach, setting the stage for additional media conversations. The survey generated 11 stories that reinforced the company’s standing in its sector, and the data was useful for sales, marketing and analyst relations as well as PR.

Branded content pays long-term dividends

Bylines or longer-form content can be very useful for communicating a brand’s point of view or mission. And as a bonus, a well-written byline can be searchable for months or even years, adding brand visibility and promoting media requests for interviews when news does break.

Our team is very active when it comes to content creation, because it works particularly well for companies with deep expertise and insights who may be hampered in sharing news due to customer confidentiality. One recent example is a piece our team helped generate for Qure.ai, a leading healthcare startup, about the promise of smart intelligence for trauma caregivers. It’s an important topic, yet a specialized one where branded content that offers education and insight can work even harder than product news.  

When offering a bylined piece, bear in mind that each publication has different guidelines for contributed content. Their preferences for inquiries also vary from wanting a short pitch to asking for the complete piece. Also, some publications are seeking regular contributions while others are fine with one-off articles. 

It’s also important to target content thoughtfully. For QURE.ai example, we targeted a publication that reaches leading medical professionals and healthcare decision-makers for the trauma care piece, and it found a home with DOTMed. A strong bylined piece will generate coverage in between announcements, while also reinforcing brand expertise and leadership at the top to the right audience.

Media can have short memories. If you want to be on their radar, look beyond the obvious news stories or devise ways to create your own. 

How To Manage A PR Team: 5 Tips

As a top PR agency we’re lucky to work with many organizations that prioritize the relationship we share. We pride ourselves on working independently and staying ahead of our clients, many of whom are high-growth tech businesses. Yet our success depends on collaboration. The same is true of almost any PR agency or team.

With that in mind, here are some of the key building blocks of a successful collaborative relationship between a company and their PR agency or internal team.

Share as many assets as possible 

More information is almost always better when it comes to a successful collaboration. All kinds of assets – from marketing archives to verbal briefings – are helpful for shaping a story, especially for a B2B company. It’s surprising how often we stumble on a nugget that the client didn’t think to share with us because no one thought it pertinent to the PR program. When in doubt, share. Let the PR team make the final judgment about newsworthiness or relevance.

Be clear about expectations

Although agencies will be able to better anticipate expectations on the client side as your relationship progresses, a lack of alignment here can have a dangerous ripple effect for the relationship and its productivity. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) should be established at the start of the program – in fact, they’re typically included at the proposal stage. Yet day-to-day expectations about level of contact, communications, cadence, and service levels are also important. Daily feedback on performance, ideas, and account management is invaluable for any communications team, and it can serve to nip problems at an early stage.

Get organizational buy-in

A successful PR relationship doesn’t only require buy-in from a company’s marketing and communications team. It works best if it can involve the whole organization from the C-Suite to the HR team. Steps such as periodic PR update emails for internal stakeholders and regular executive briefings can open the door to potential story ideas. And there’s nothing wrong with a little “professional jealousy” when it comes to highlighting executives from different divisions. A little exposure can go a long way to help the organization prioritize and value the PR program.

Coordinate with other partners

Most organizations have multiple PR and marketing partners, particularly when a business is global. Being aligned on goals and messaging will avoid overlap, and it can save time and foster productivity among agency or internal teams. Inevitably there are ideas or content that can be repurposed or that may inspire creative thinking by multiple parties, and when that happens, everyone wins. 

Don’t be shy

PR is all about telling your company’s story and offering a unique point of view. Whether it’s about products, people, values or some combination of the three, each organization has its own characteristics that make it stand apart, so don’t be afraid to put yours out there. 

Access Bio Live on Bloomberg TV

Even several months into the COVID-19 pandemic, testing is needed now more than ever. Our client was recently granted EUA (emergency use authorization) from the FDA for its COVID-19 PCR and lateral-flow antibody tests.

Reeve Benaron spoke with Bloomberg’s Emily Chan about plans for distribution and the importance of testing with precision and accuracy. Check out the full segment here: https://bloom.bg/3gUzSD0.

Is The McDonald’s Lawsuit Smart PR?

Is it a terrible PR move or just a juicy corporate communications case?  Yesterday McDonald’s announced it is suing ex-CEO Steve Easterbrook over previously undisclosed relationships with company employees. The complaint even claims “nude, partially nude, or sexually explicit” photos as evidence.

Yikes. The Easterbrook story is notable, and not just for obvious reasons. As the suit proceeds, it will surely result in more messy revelations for the company, which spends millions to promote a family-friendly brand.

Back in the fryer…

And it didn’t have to be this way. Easterbrook was let go in 2019 because of what was termed a “consensual relationship” with an unnamed employee. It was a disruptive move, but hardly the salacious backstory that the lawsuit has now served up. The ouster made headlines. It also threatened the company’s stock price because Easterbrook was credited with a turnaround at the burger giant. But a new chief executive arrived three months later, and in time, the stock rebounded and things simmered down.

As David Enrich of The New York Times notes, “Normally such disputes would be resolved – and buried – in hushed boardroom settings.”

So, why jump back into the fryer now? Although forced out, the former CEO came away with a rich compensation package reported to be worth $40 million. Monday’s lawsuit seeks to recoup those funds, claiming that Easterbrook lied and hid evidence of his sexual liaisons with subordinates, one of whom he awarded a lucrative batch of company shares.

Keeping the arches golden

But surely this isn’t just about money. As Enrich notes, most companies of the size and stature of McDonald’s would surely choose to move on with a minimum of public fuss rather than risk a protracted lawsuit that rakes up presumably resolved cultural issues and bad behavior at the top.

My bet is that it’s part of a longer-term strategy to shore up the company’s brand reputation led by new CEO Chris Kempczinski and his comms team. McDonald’s has been dogged by allegations of sexual harassment at franchise locations, and a former employee filed a class-action suit alleging a “toxic work culture.”

Just a few months after Kempczinski took over as CEO, The Wall Street Journal report ran a story about a McDonald’s company culture that enabled  “partying and fraternizing between some senior managers and rank-and-file employees.”

Kempczinski reportedly conducted extensive feedback reviews with employees and managers. In a company New Year’s message he slammed the “party culture” and pledged to recommit to a professional one that is more in line with company values.

Can you put a price on culture?

Maybe Kempczinski or his PR advisers were concerned that the details of Easterbrook’s relationships would emerge, and the suit is a defensive move. But it seems more likely that the litigation is exactly what the new CEO promised — a clean sweep for the freewheeling, possibly toxic “old” culture and a promise to walk, rather than just talk, when it comes to corporate values. There’s no way to do that without a reckoning.

It’s a rare move and one that should be applauded, not just by reputation experts, but by decision-makers at other organizations who face similar challenges. You know who you are.

B2B PR Tips For Embargo Pitching In A Crazy News Cycle

PR agency teams are always strategizing about how to tell stories that elevate a brand’s presence through earned media. An organization may have a new product or milestone announcement, relevant research data, or a leadership change to announce. As PR advisors we want to maximize its news value. 

Earned media isn’t always simple

That’s where the right media strategy comes in. In fact, earned media may seem simple when a company has news, but it’s not always so straightforward, particularly for B2B PR. We may handle news announcements in any number of ways.

Exclusive outreach – An exclusive means you’re offering the news first to only one specific media outlet. Depending on the nature of the announcement, an exclusive may be offered to tier-one press such as WSJ, Bloomberg, Reuters, or Forbes, etc. Once the exclusive runs at an agreed upon date and time, the story can be pitched widely to the broader media targets.

Embargoed outreach – Don’t confuse an embargo with an exclusive. An embargoed announcement means the information is shared with a handful of media in advance, but specifying that the news can only be published on a specific date at a certain time. Upon receiving the offer, reporters will inform the PR person if they can honor the embargo time and date, or they may opt to pass the story.

Day-of outreach – This approach is used to drive wider visibility. Immediately after the exclusive or embargo breaks, the news is shared with mainstream, business and vertical media. This approach is commonly used for a big story and/or a well-known brand. When the PR team is confident of the story’s broad appeal, it will typically not choose to go with an exclusive or embargoed strategy. For example, news around Apple launching a new iPhone or Tesla bringing on a new CEO will typically drive widespread coverage across all types of media. 

Why PRs should consider embargos

While each approach has its pros and cons, one question a PR team may debate is that of the media embargo. If you think embargoes are dead, think again. As many as 71% of media still prefer to receive press releases under embargo. That’s one reason why embargo pitching is still relevant in today’s accelerated news environment. There are plenty of advantages for journalists as well as PR people.

Embargoes let reporters plan ahead

Pitching under embargo gives reporters more lead time to review the news, conduct necessary research or interviews to substantiate the story, bring in additional assets and get the story published on time with full confidence they won’t be scooped. The additional time lets them pose or clarify follow-up questions related to the announcement and generally leads to a better and well-thought out story. If all things go per plan, it’s a win-win. 

Agreements deepen media relationships

In the PR world, it all comes down to building and maintaining relationships. By reaching out to the journalists we’ve deemed best qualified to cover a piece of news, we’re fostering trust and paving the way for future announcements.  Reporters may also be more likely to reach out when they’re looking for sources for commentary in industry feature stories. 

They earn coverage in multiple outlets 

Selective embargo pitching makes it more likely a story will generate coverage in more than one media outlet. News announcements like product launches, partnerships, and new data all make for interesting embargo topics. The embargo process requires a discipline that reinforces good media targeting — essentially identifying the right contact at the right publication, rather than pitching blindly into a crowd. 

Embargoes allow a unique POV 

Media are always looking for distinct point of view and colorful commentary to add interest to their stories. Pitching under embargo allows for fresh insight versus a mere wire service release picked up by everyone. By receiving the news under embargo as one of only a handful, media have the opportunity to gain additional information through a briefing with a company exec or email Q&A.  

PR rules for embargoed stories 

So, yes, embargoes are still relevant. But don’t forget these key considerations when sharing the news under embargo.

Do your research. While choosing an embargo date, avoid competing with other big industry news for that day where possible. 

Plan in advance. When pitching under embargo at least pitch a week in advance and give reporters sufficient time to consider the news. Pitching an announcement two days prior to the embargo lift time is unrealistic and may annoy the media. Needless to say, the coverage will also be limited.

Use ‘Embargo’ in your subject line to catch the reporter’s attention.

Make it clear and succinct. As with any pitch, get to the point without divulging too many details. The rest can be shared once they agree to the embargo.

Manage stakeholder expectations. Make sure everyone knows that even if the reporter agrees to the embargo, it doesn’t guarantee coverage.

Assume the announcement date could change, so allow room for some flexibility. In such scenarios, don’t panic. Immediately inform those who’ve accepted the embargo and be transparent about changes.

Follow up the day before the announcement. Make sure they have all the information they need and issue a gentle reminder about the exact embargo lift time.

Follow up with a thank-you once reporters publish, and celebrate the wins!

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In summary, most journalists are working several stories at once and they need to navigate the ever-faster news cycle. Most appreciate having time to work on the story, and an embargoed approach, if planned well and executed, will yield quality coverage. So, it’s worth all the planning and effort!

PR Tips On “Closing The Deal”

Business presentations are both exciting and stressful — whether you’re in PR, sales, marketing or a tech startup looking for funding. 

Intangible factors like personal chemistry, charisma, and energy are top factors. But especially in the COVID era, the packaging of the presentation itself is also critical.

Before you speak in-person or virtually, prospective clients or investors will automatically judge your proposition by how you present your credentials in digital form. The goal of any presentation is to persuade, so the digital document’s contents should wow future clients or investors with its content, design, and impact.

Here’s how you can make yours stand out.

Start with research

When asking for a commitment from a prospective client or funder, it helps to get inside their heads. What do they want to see in a relationship? What are their hot buttons? Their backgrounds? Winning presentations are highly tailored, so it pays to know as much as possible about the targets and, of course, the industry. Use data where appropriate, but don’t throw it in without a reason. Every piece of the proposal should offer relevance and support your goal. 

Make it look appealing

Decks should be both visually appealing and informative. There are many different resources available for clean, professional and powerful digital documents. Are you using a readable font? Is it all the same size and color? Are the tone and graphics suitable for the age and experience level of the decision-makers? Consistency shows your audience that you’re reliable and attentive to details. 

Consider using more visuals over text in decks. Data has shown that 41.5% of proposals see higher engagement from visuals such as infographics and original images. 

Offer examples and stories

Examples are very powerful in any sales situation. Rather than tell your audience what a fine partner you’ll make, illustrate it with actual anecdotes and experiences. PR agencies always include case studies for this reason. They show how we’ve worked with clients in similar industries and can be tailored to very specific problems or needs. The best examples tell a story of how you helped a client or investor meet their goals, and they’re likely to be memorable.

Use data, but use it well

Investors and prospective clients want to see data about ROI and hard facts that will convince them to seal the deal. Data is very powerful when packaged in a visually digestible way and used sparingly rather than overwhelming the audience with reams of charts.

Offer clear strategies

There’s nothing worse than confusing or overwhelming your audience. A good presentation should offer clear, yet simple strategies that topline information before filling in details and examples. 

Differentiate yourself

PR presentations are all about differentiation, and we’re not alone. A good proposal will convey what makes your offer distinct from competitors or alternative strategies. Do you have competitive pricing and more tailored customization for every client? Is your business plan unique in its approach to the marketplace? Emphasize that in your presentation. Your goal is to make the potential client feel confident in your capabilities and credibility.

It’s all about the delivery

Sure, your deck may look amazing and have all the right strategies but how about when it comes to delivery and actually presenting it? Assign roles to designated team members a few days before the big presentation. This will give them time to practice their delivery. You want to sound energetic about the ideas! Preparation is a must for these things but don’t overdo it, or you risk sounding stale.

What are some tips you have for closing the deal? Let me know on Twitter @colleeno_pr.