5 Reasons Your Story Wasn’t Picked Up: A PR View

Every experienced PR person has had their share of media opportunities that looked promising but never resulted in coverage. In fact, most can recall a particular occasion where everything went right, whether it was a full interview or a quick comment, and nothing came of it. Although there’s no magic to guaranteeing a 100% coverage rate, there are ways to maximize your chances of seeing your company’s quote in a story. Below are five reasons why the story didn’t materialize.

The spokesperson wasn’t prepared

Even if your spokesperson is an expert in the field and on the subject at hand, they will need a thorough briefing. This should go beyond a topic and journalist bio. A PR rep should get as much information as possible, pressing for detail on the proposed discussion and the story’s slant. You will not get specific questions, but pulling together a predictive Q&A is useful. In addition, structure is just as important as content. Often your spokesperson will review the briefing document during the interview, so creating an easy-to-scan guide they can review and absorb in real time is critical.

The quote lacked color

For a quote, context and color are often the major factors for inclusion in a story. Make sure your spokesperson is providing new and intriguing insights instead of reiterating what the reporter has likely heard, especially since they might have multiple quotes to consider. A quick brainstorm for unique points and turns of phrase can prepare your spokesperson to offer something new to the journalist. In addition, make sure every insight is relevant to the story and topic at hand. Don’t be afraid to go for a contrarian angle or quote, but make sure the opinion is authentic, and that the spokesperson is comfortable with offering a point of view that’s outside the mainstream.

The interview was too late

Reporters are always on deadline and they often need to speak as soon as possible. It’s important to lock in any opportunities quickly. If your go-to spokesperson is busy and can’t talk right away, consider other executives or experts who might be qualified. There are also circumstances where a pre-prepared quote or comment may be helpful, especially in situations that are anticipated, like the release of government unemployment numbers, or an announcement by a competitor. Also, a quick follow-up with the reporter is helpful. A journalist will often request more information or confirmation of details, so quick responses are warranted and appreciated.

The spokesperson wasn’t the right expert

As helpful as a thorough briefing document might be, it’s also essential for any media spokesperson to have real and relevant expertise on the subject at hand. This is why it can be advantageous to have a matrix of spokespersons, whether in-house or outside experts, on hand for multiple opportunities. Trying to shoehorn a vague or irrelevant comment into a story that needs informed expertise is almost always a waste of time. But when the situation calls for an opinion as opposed to an insight, a colorful metaphor or analogy can win the day.

The comments were too promotional

The quickest way to shut down a journalist’s interest in an interview is to turn it into a sales pitch. Any company spokesperson or third-party expert should avoid jargon, especially comments that talk up a product or service that’s not the point of the story. A good PR rep will coach their executive on ways to demonstrate expertise without devolving into sales-speak. 

PR Tips For Securing A TV Segment

In PR, broadcast pitching is sometimes underused and overlooked when it comes to securing coverage for clients. From national outlets like CNN, Fox Business or the Today show to local affiliates, a solid broadcast segment can make a lasting impact. Broadcast segments typically have a large and high-quality reach in real time, and they live online and are searchable thereafter. Most PR teams will amplify segments on social media for further exposure.

When pitching broadcast outlets it’s important to note the main differences between the medium and print, and to offer producers the information the need for potential segments. Here are some top PR tips for scoring top broadcast stories.

Make it relevant

No matter what you’re pitching, to gain a producer’s attention, the subject matter must be topical and newsworthy. Pay attention to the news cycle and breaking stories – can you tie your client into a relevant headline? You may be able to use a current topic in the news cycle for your client/brand, but bear in mind that a spokesperson must be ready to open their schedule for a segment on short notice. Producers and guest bookers work on very tight deadlines, so a fast pitch and even faster response are often essential.

Local vs. national

Are you pitching local news or national? For local affiliates, it’s best to tie the story into a local angle, as that’s what local outlets cover. When you want to target a specific part of the country, regional broadcast is the way to go. National segments are reserved for wider announcements that typically appeal to a national audience, of course. Producers and assignment editors are looking for stories that tie into current news. So if your news isn’t a big story, find a way to tie it to the flow of the news to add the hook for the producer. In our work promoting new COVID-19 diagnostic products, we’re naturally looking for local news outlets where the virus has spiked, which are unfortunately all too common. For a more business-oriented story, you may want to pay attention to regional statistics on employment, spending, and consumer confidence, for example.

Spell it out

When pitching a producer, make the necessary segment points clear. Before the producer even has to ask, you should provide information needed such as expert spokesperson bio, images, b-roll, company description or boilerplate, sample talking points and links to previous interviews the spokesperson has done so the producer can see how they appear on camera. Give the producer any relevant information to make them understand the who, what, and why of a potential segment. Providing any necessary information upfront is more likely to draw the producer’s attention and approval and save on subsequent back-and-forth email exchanges. 

Use the newsdesk

Always send the pitch and relevant news directly to the station’s newsdesk. The newsdesk is the department of a broadcasting organization responsible for collecting and reporting the news. The reporters at the newsdesk make sure any relevant/interesting news that comes in is presented in the station’s morning meeting and possibly selected for segments. It’s important to pitch your story early before the stations have their daily meetings. If you don’t hear back from them, pick up the phone and call them to make sure they received your email!

Know the producers beat

As with any kind of media pitching, it’s best to take the time to research and learn who would be the best person(s) to receive your pitch instead of blasting the pitch to a wide list of contacts. Research the producers, review their last segment, and find out what they typically work on that might be a fit for your story. You can even personalize your note and mention their latest segment in your email. This will help your pitch stand out and they’ll realize that you took the time to do some research before sending a “cold” email. A strong first impression can help build a lasting relationship which may mean additional segment opportunities – a win-win.

Follow up

Producers receive many pitches in a given day, and it’s hard to keep track of everything they receive. They may be interested in your story but get quickly sidetracked by another email or query. There’s a school of thought that PR people shouldn’t bother media after sending a pitch because they risk being annoying. But in the real world, we recommend following up, and if you don’t hear back, consider a phone call. If you have a quality story idea in mind, it will pay to be respectfully persistent.

Three Questions A PR Person Should Never Ask A Reporter

As a PR pro, you are constantly communicating with reporters, whether it be pitching, coordinating interviews, or interacting on social media. Staying in contact with relevant contacts is one of the most important aspects of PR. But to maintain these valuable relationships, it’s vital to remember your role and not overstep boundaries. Here are several questions a PR professional should never ask a reporter. 

“Can we have the questions in advance?”

You’ve drafted the perfect pitch, sent it to relevant targets, and now you’ve secured a media interview. Your job is done, right? Not quite. Now it’s the responsibility of the PR person to make sure the spokesperson is as well prepared as possible, including any tough questions the reporter might ask. 

On the PR side, it is best practice to try to anticipate interview questions in advance. This is done by reviewing the reporter’s background, beat, recent articles, any previous conversations you have had, and the tone of conversations to date. Based on this research, PR people typically draft a set of potential questions and may even conduct a practice interview with the client in advance. This idea is to give them as much comfort as possible and produce a positive interview. 

Yet there’s one question PR people shouldn’t ask a reporter: “Can we have the interview questions in advance?” 

This is doubly tricky because many companies, including clients of ours, might reasonably want to know this. Naturally they want to be ready for the exchange. But asking this of a reporter isn’t a good idea. It’s not the journalist’s job to prepare the interviewee, and it looks amateurish.

Preparing for a media interview is almost like getting ready for a final exam – while you don’t know the exact questions, with a bit of research and some homework, you can anticipate most of them and, above all, prepare your own messages and story.

“So, when is this piece going to run?” 

Asking this isn’t terrible, but it can be presumptuous in some circumstances. 

If the reporter has made it clear that a piece is in the works and your comments will be included, it’s important to understand that media have jam-packed editorial schedules and tight deadlines, especially during news cycles filled with breaking stories. Asking a journalist when a certain piece will go live is a little like asking what the weather will be like next week – there may be no real, definite answer, because things change. Sometimes reporters will keep a story in queue for several months, as more urgent, timely pieces have to get out first. 

Rather than continuously following up with the reporter, the PR best practice is to be patient and monitor for it. Keyword alerts and a daily browse of the publication (which we should do anyway) help flag the story as soon as it’s published.  

“Can we see the story before you publish?”

If a journalist has confirmed that a story including your spokesperson’s interview comments is planned, the worst question a PR person can ask might be, “Can we read the story before you publish?” 

Most respectable media outlets will be offended by such a request. Journalists are objective, and offering the story for review can be seen as an invitation to edit or change it, casting doubt on that objectivity. It’s also presumptuous and betrays a lack of understanding of the journalism process. And if they do it for you, they’ll have to do it for everyone — not realistic even if they’re willing! 

Of course, a reporter may contact us to check a quote or verify information, and many publications undergo a rigorous fact-checking process for longer articles. But in general the reporter is relying on us to be accurate the first time. If you’re concerned about quotes during the interview, ask to have them read back to you in that moment. No one wants to get it wrong, which is why PR people work hard to make sure any information we share is accurate and thorough. 

Yet there are times to be assertive

Of course, there are times when a PR representative needs to be assertive with a journalist or push back with requests in our clients’ interest. It may be during tricky negotiations over ground rules for an exclusive interview with a C-level executive, or on the rare occasion when important information is misconstrued or inaccurate. 

A sensitive announcement or a high-stakes interview that impacts corporate reputation may require additional oversight from the PR person to ensure all facts and quotes are accurate. 

Reporters are helping us, not the other way around 

In PR, it’s helpful to foster meaningful and lasting relationships with relevant media contacts. A solid relationship helps ensure you’re top-of-mind when a journalist or producer needs expert commentary for a piece, an introduction to your company or industry, or a quick quote. Being strategic with your communication is key. Overly aggressive pitching, too many follow-ups, or a request to bend the rules will not make you popular. 

How To Set Expectations In Public Relations

Public relations is known for being versatile, occasionally glamorous, and, yes, stressful. In fact, CareerCast listed “PR executive” as one of the top ten most stressful gigs in its 2019 Most Stressful Jobs report. Some of the pressure we encounter in PR is preventable, however. We’ve all worked with, and been stressed out by, demanding bosses or clients that expect unrealistic outcomes. On the agency side, it’s sometimes because the team overpromises in their eagerness to win a new client. Yet corporate PR officers also fall victim to inflated or impractical expectations when their internal clients don’t understand what’s possible. Here are some tips for avoiding the difficulties that can come with an expectations mismatch. 

Offer honest feedback

Sometimes a client has a program or story idea that they’re certain is a winner, yet the experienced PR team feels less confident. Maybe the story idea simply isn’t compelling or timely enough to capture media attention. PR advisors should voice their opinion when they feel something won’t work. No one wants to be negative, but a viewpoint grounded in experience and phrased constructively can go a long way in heading off trouble later. Often, the idea floated isn’t bad, but it’s incomplete, badly timed, or needs more workshopping. Clients pay us for our recommendations, so we do everyone a service when we share them. 

Explain what is required 

Fortunately, most collaborative ideas can be successful, — with research, work, and creativity. If you want a product launch to be covered in a top-tier publication, journalists will need to talk to someone who has used the product or can speak to its market value. In ad tech, this means getting a brand or publisher client onboard; reporters aren’t going to take our word for it. Stories about products or services in low-interest categories will need to borrow interest in the form of new information, like survey results, new research, or big names attached. Stakeholders must understand that if they can’t secure assets to round out a story, media may not be interested. The same thing goes for business success items; you generally can’t tell a business story in a top media outlet without disclosing financial information. Everyone should be aware of these requirements so they aren’t blindsided later in the process. 

Flag challenges that could impede success

We’re living through COVID-19 and a presidential election year, and both eat up a huge amount of media bandwidth. Media relations deals with the news environment, which is by definition unpredictable. There are huge tech launches, social movements, and hard news stories breaking every day. If a stakeholder is pressing to release something during a big news cycle, it’s the job of PR professionals to explain how the timing will impact reporter interest and coverage. A major announcement or event must be carefully planned around avoidable happenings like earnings calls, congressional hearings, or other news-making things that are on the books, and PR teams need to be flexible for those events that can’t be anticipated. Again, communication is key. 

It’s PR, not ER

News cycles are 24/7, and most PR people are trained to be hyper-responsive to media and client needs. But it helps to establish a cadence for ongoing meetings, email contact, course corrections, and reporting at the beginning of a PR program. Personally, I make myself available from 8am to 7pm on weekdays and only answer email at night or on the weekends if it’s vital. With this, my mind is fresh everyday to think creatively for clients. Others may have a completely different work style or service ethic, but the point is that it should be communicated at the outset.

Never make coverage guarantees

Walk away from any PR person who tells you they can guarantee earned media coverage. A PR team can’t force journalists to cover a particular story, and we don’t exert perfect control over when and how they cover it when they do. Ours is a relationship business, and those relationships will pay off if our insights and content prove helpful to reporters. Being an information resource is an excellent way to build up to getting solid coverage. But for companies who don’t understand that or simply can’t wait, consider mixing earned and paid tactics in the overall plan. Paid opportunities will ensure messaging pull-through while earned media works to validate and build credibility. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive, especially in B2B PR.  

Not everything is about coverage

One function of a good PR campaign is to connect organizations with key media targets so they can tell their story to the right audiences. Unfortunately, those opportunities don’t always result in coverage. For example, we may recommend that a client sit down with a journalist or producer to familiarize them with their brand or business category. We call it a background interview because it is just that – an exchange to provide background for a future story. Every now and then, a PR person forgets to explain the goal, and/or the brand executive gets the idea that the meeting was a waste of time. We need to make sure that participants understand the value of such meetings and make sure they budget time for such media interactions in monthly planning.

And earned media isn’t magic

Congrats, you got a big story! Yet the CMO is disappointed because the interview didn’t immediately produce new business leads. This is also an expectations problem. While earned media can sometimes generate sales prospects, it is primarily an awareness play. Placements generally work to get the name in front of the decision- maker to exert influence over time. If the company name is seen in enough articles, people will become familiar with its offering and recognize it, or even bring it up as an option when making buying decisions. 

Don’t confuse PR and sales

Maybe a marketing executive bores a reporter to tears with brand-speak or hits him with a product sales pitch instead of telling a good story. Our job is to educate them in advance about what media need and want. By the same token, an internal executive may think PR content should look and feel like advertising or sales materials. At our agency we create and place a lot of contributed content, and we know clients need to understand that pieces like bylined articles or op-eds cannot be promotional or commercial. Our content is designed to inform, engage, or issue a call to action, not to sell a product or service.  

With better expectations-setting, PR can be less stressful for those of us on the agency or corporate side. But we still love the “good” stress — tight deadlines, competing priorities, and stretch goals – at least that’s what I’m telling myself today! 

Five Types Of Bylined Content That Work For PR

As outlined in my post on PR tips for effective bylines, bylined content is a powerful part of a B2B PR plan. It can help deliver key messages, communicate expertise and drive thought leadership for business brands. But there are many types of content that build credibility and leadership as part of a strategic PR program. Here are five of the most common.

Traditional Trend Piece

Content that explains a new or emerging trend is among the most valuable for business customers because it helps educate prospects. Educational content is particularly useful for any category with a long purchase cycle and steep learning curve, like software or insurance. Executives who are subject-matter experts can share relevant insights on business happenings. These will typically include a specific point of view about an industry trend, what it means, how businesses should prepare or respond, and possibly even how they can help, although this may only be implied. For example, we represent several ad tech companies at a time when major browsers like Chrome are phasing out support for third-party cookies. What does this mean for digital advertising? How can marketers cope? What does it do for publishers? These issues seem arcane for anyone outside the industry, but they’re hot-button topics in the ad tech lane because the community is rushing to adapt. As in any category, change represents opportunity for those who can seize it.

Personal/Lessons Learned

We love this type of piece because we represent high-growth technology companies often led by entrepreneurs, and they all have stories to tell. What’s more, these pieces are usually both well differentiated and authentic. The important thing to bear in mind for “lessons learned” content is that the most influential and widely shared articles will offer insights for the reader as well as an interesting personal experience. Right now, many businesses have learned and changed enormously as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among our base of clients there are some excellent stories about what they’ve learned, how they’ve adapted and how they’re continuing to navigate the situation as business leaders and as citizens. A “lessons learned” piece is also among the most versatile, and it can usually be augmented or even replaced by a video version. 

Service Content

This type of content can overlap with the “lessons learned” category, but it is typically more tactical and less personal. It may also be far more grounded in research. An effective service piece can be in the form of a whitepaper that offers proprietary industry data and outlines key steps for customers who face a specific decision or business dilemma. The best service articles are generous with data but offer clear tips, steps, or checklists for moving a business forward, responding to customer preferences, or effecting specific change. Service content is among the easiest and best types of content for incorporating different types of visuals beyond text, including digital graphics, charts, and short video snippets. 

Opinion/Contrarian Piece

This type of contributed content showcases a personal opinion on an important business, social, or cultural matter. Op-ed pieces and bylined articles are a staple in politics, but they’re equally effective for entrepreneurs and business leaders who want to communicate their ideas and build a reputation for bold thinking. The most effective such articles set out a single take or point of view and back it up with statistics, experience, or other evidence. An op-ed is a perfect vehicle for experts who want to help shape a public conversation. A contrarian opinion and/or a strong call to action can help an op-ed writer stand out. In our world, a less popular opinion may have a better chance of being published in an influential business or trade outlet – but only if it is authentic. 

Call-to-Action

A Call To Action, or CTA, can exist in nearly any type of content but it’s worth calling out because it is essential to achieving content marketing goals. The CTA tells a target audience what action they should take after reading through the post. The most basic CTAs involve encouraging the customer to buy a product or service. Other types might involve asking readers to share the content, make a donation, subscribe to emails, and so forth. CTAs should be short and concise so the reader knows exactly what to do and can easily follow through. 

Leverage bylined articles for maximum exposure

After deciding on your content mix, it’s important to make sure it is seen by the most relevant target audience. Any business can ensure that its pieces are seen by those who matter most: clients, prospects, referral sources, alumni, colleagues, internal staff, and, of course, the media outlets that influence different segments. Promoting content social media and encouraging others to share it as well is important for gaining maximum exposure for your piece. Direct marketing to customers and employees through timely emails is also useful. We will explore the best ways to merchandise business content in an upcoming post. 

 

Crenshaw Nominated For 2020 PRSA-NY Big Apple Awards

The Crenshaw  team is delighted to be nominated for a 2020 PRSA Big Apple award. The Big Apples are the gold standard of excellence for PR practitioners in the New York metro area and celebrate the best work of PR agencies, companies, governmental bodies, and not-for-profit organizations during the prior year. 

This year, we have been nominated in the  B2B PR category for our campaign on behalf of event management software company Bizzabo. “EMPOWERing Gender Diversity in Events” helped Bizzabo build brand visibility and align with diversity-conscious event and marketing decision-makers. Winners will be announced September 30 during a virtual awards ceremony. Good luck to all who are nominated!   

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.

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. 

PR Lessons From Twitter

In this blog, we often dispense practical media relations or PR advice based on years of experience in the trenches of tech PR. However, no one can advise PRs better on how and what to pitch reporters than… reporters. Journalists love to take to Twitter to offer up best practices or, more likely, let off steam about the terrible pitches that clog their inboxes on a daily basis. Their style is sometimes brutal, but the advice is priceless. So, we monitored some recent tweets from frustrated journalists and were both amused and a little embarrassed by what we saw. Here’s a reminder for those just starting out in media relations.

Note to PRs: It’s still about relevance

It’s probably the most fundamental rule of pitching media, but it needs repeating. PRs have to research the beats, reporting style, and preferences of those they approach in order to avoid irrelevant pitches that are more likely to end up as a mean tweet or on Muck Rack’s bad pitch roundup than as a published story. Take it from BuzzFeed’s David Mack and Tampa Bay Times’ Kathryn Varn (to pick just two): what seems difficult and time-consuming at the outset will save pain in the long run.

Pr pitches

 

Don’t be overly familiar

Media pitching shouldn’t be a vehicle for false intimacy, hints of quid-pro-quo, or – the worst – clickbait-style subject lines. Those are presumptuous at best, unprofessional at worst. There’s another way to get in good with reporters — help them do their job well. See this post for real ways to build stronger media relationships.

bad pr pitches

Breaking: Journalists want to report news

Nicole Perlroth makes a good point in a tweet today about her “PR Wasteland” inbox. The bar for relevance in certain categories, like her beat of cybersecurity, is high. Funding alone isn’t necessarily newsworthy to an IT security journalist. (Try TechCrunch or VentureBeat for those.) It pays to remember that what’s newsy to a client, like a product launch, exciting new campaign, or corporate reshuffling, may not be enough for an article. Our job is to help a journalist connect the dots for a story about a larger trend or happening.

bad pr pitches

Respect ethical lines: PR’s not bribery

This one’s dangerous. Occasionally an inexperienced or unscrupulous PR pro goes beyond carelessness into ethically questionable territory. It’s possible that the person described here confused Dan Goodin with an influencer who accepts payment for social posts or branded content, but if so, that compounds the error. Any good media relations professional understands that no reputable journalist accepts money or gifts, and calling it “compensation for their time” is an insult to both parties.

bad pr pitches

Don’t be a bully

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s also the example noted here — a completely unacceptable attempt by an executive to spike an already published story. While it’s good practice to ask for any mistakes to be corrected, an attempt to bully a publication in the absence of factual errors is doomed to fail, and it will do nothing for the company’s reputation. See our earlier post for more tips on maintaining media relationships under pressure.

bad pr pitches

bad pr pitches

C’mon, PR pros! There’s no excuse for these careless flubs 

Finally, from the dark files of PR pros need to get it together come some real gems. Everybody makes mistakes, but these three episodes show a need for remedial education — and possibly better email software.

3 Rules For “Off the Record” Conversations

An “off-the-record” conversation with a journalist can sound mysterious or complex, but in PR it’s a very effective tool. Whether you’re providing candid background about a frustrating trend in your industry or trying to blunt the impact of a coming story about your organization, off-the-record interactions with reporters can deliver benefit for your brand, even though the impact may be indirect.

Off-the-record chats aren’t limited to politics or crisis management, although we often hear about them in that context. The New York Times posted a primer on the term after President Trump famously spoke about an off-the-record meeting he had with publisher A.G. Sulzburger, thus breaking the agreement. Beyond politics, however, such agreements can be useful for business and technology PR and storytelling. Yet as the Trump incident illustrates, the term is sometimes misunderstood, or it’s confused with other journalistic terms of art like “on background” or “deep background.” Even when the rules are clear, it can backfire when undertaken by the wrong people.

For those who need a refresher on what “off the record” means, check out Mashable’s overview. As they put it, when a conversation is off the record, “the understanding is that she or he will not only not quote you, but not even paraphrase what you’re saying. There will be no record, and no mention of this information anywhere.”

So, if the information can’t be used, why bother? Because off-the-record conversations can impart valuable knowledge that may guide a journalist in subsequent research. It can also help to shape future coverage in meaningful ways. But the reporter must refer to other sources and proof points. Think of it as pointing the journalist in the right direction and offering context for future inquiries.

With that in mind, here are three rules to keep in mind when having off the record conversations in 2019.

Get it in writing
Keep in mind, an off-the-record agreement is not legally binding. Rather, in the news world it’s a culturally accepted method of sourcing information. Reporters generally honor off-the-record agreements because they want to continue being trusted by sources to share worthwhile news and background. It’s also widely accepted practice among journalists and frowned upon in media organizations to burn sources.

With that said, mistakes can happen. Perhaps a journalist you spoke to on the phone recalled the conversation differently, or for some reason is backpedaling on what you believe was an agreed upon off-the-record exchange. This is why it’s smart to get the “agreement” in writing over email (“Can we chat off the record?”) in advance of any conversation so that you can refer to it later, if need be. And even after an exchange of emails, it’s best to reconfirm the off-the-record guidelines before speaking on the phone or in person. Needless to say, if you or a client speak publicly about the meeting, the agreement changes and the discussion becomes fair game.

Don’t go overboard
An off-the-record conversation is an opportunity for you to share essential information. It’s not an excuse to speak endlessly about every opinion or grudge because you’ve been granted immunity. Do not go overboard when engaging media off the record. Otherwise, you risk having the journalist go down the wrong path.

Consider the nuance here. Professor of Journalism Roy Greenslade has said: “A single ‘off the record’ quote is also qualitatively different from an ‘unattributable background briefing’, which usually involves a lengthy and considered statement by a source to a trusted journalist.” Length matters, and when sources provide too much information, things get fuzzy.

For example, a client might feel compelled to badmouth a competitor in an off -the-record conversation. This can backfire, with the media contact going to the competitor with seemingly independent questions that provoke a similar negative response. The result is a back-and-forth in which you and/or your organization is badmouthed. It’s a vicious cycle with no winners except for the reporter who will pick the best angle to run with later. (There is no loyalty here.) My advice: steer clear of hollow bloviating. When it’s off the record, get in and get out, and stick to the issue at hand.

Trust your PR team
The biggest mistake a brand makes when an executive wants to have an off-the-record conversation is that they go over their PR team’s head. Every PR person has seen this happen at some point. For whatever reason, the exec takes it upon his or herself to negotiate an off-the-record agreement and conversation with a contact rather than allowing the PR to do it. And more often than not, it fails.

Collectively, PR teams have negotiated hundreds of these types of conversations. Remember — an off-the-record dialogue is not a simple transaction. It’s a delicate negotiation that requires experience to understand the nuances that deliver success. Your PR team has shared experience that is absolutely critical to ensuring the best outcomes for your brand. (Assuming you have the appropriate PR team, that is.)
—-
Going off the record is an invaluable strategy. But its execution can be complicated and involves navigating multiple sets of individual (reporter-specific) and cultural (industry) norms. What do you think about the practice? What tips have worked for you? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @chrisharihar.