How To Kill It As A PR Assistant

Guest post by PR Assistant, Chanel Roopchand

As a first-time PR Assistant at a B2B technology PR firm, I knew I had to take in a lot of information, learn new jargon and acronyms, and adjust to real-life work experience within a short time. There was also the shift to working from home. This was a huge and important adjustment because my prior jobs have been in-person. It was a bit nerve-wracking, but I approached things with an open mind and was eager to learn. 

After just a few months, I can confidently say that with the help of my team members, it has been a great experience. My role here is teaching me new things every day, and they’re useful rules for success. Here are the main factors that have helped me support the Crenshaw PR team and kill it as a PR Assistant.

Stick to a routine

At a PR firm, you can work with different teams and for different clients, so there’s a lot of variety. For me, following a routine is a great way to feel productive and comfortable working from home. Waking up on time and making sure to eat breakfast and get ready for the day (even if it means putting on a different pair of sweats) gives me energy and prepares me for the day ahead. Making a to-do list and organizing my calendar for the day is my first task, and at the day’s end, I go through the list and make sure everything is checked off. 

Don’t be afraid to ask questions

No question is a dumb question. It’s the only way to learn, and my questions not only help me with daily tasks, but offer insight into the PR world. During my first week as a PR Assistant, I was taking in a lot of new information which led to many questions. At first, I was nervous to ask because I was a bit intimidated. I quickly realized my teammates are open and willing to help. I use Slack to reach out to my teammates quickly and effectively. 

Asking a colleague to review an email before I send it or to make sure I’m on the right track when writing a pitch is a huge help. It gives me confidence and comfort with my daily tasks. Since this is my first PR job, there are many things I didn’t know – from how to use Cision to how to prep for a client meeting. Instead of trying to muddle through, I asked for help and the team took the time to show me step by step how to use new tools or understand different elements of our work. 

Stay organized

Staying organized is one of the most important things I’ve learned while being a PR Assistant. Having a priority tracker to share with my team leads lets me prioritize my time and keep track of everything. Using Google Drive is a huge help in staying organized because there is no need to dig through documents. Everything is filed and easy to find. Setting reminders is another way to ensure that I’m getting things done in a timely manner. 

Keep an open mind 

There’s something to gain every day from my team. Being receptive to new ideas and suggestions and being able to apply them is a rewarding feeling. I learned that there isn’t just one way to do things. There are many, and being open to my team members’ different ideas and suggestions has been helpful. I’ve learned a few different tips and tricks while taking action items during client calls. When I first started, I would try to get everything written down and grammatically correct in my first attempt. My team members advised me to have a “rough draft” of notes, then go back after the call and edit them. This way I’m getting all the information and organizing it later instead of rushing to get it into final mode. 

Being introduced to new tools can be overwhelming. To do a mail-merge, for example, there are several steps, and one wrong move can throw everything off. At first, I tried to avoid using mail merge tools, but I eventually realized how convenient it is if used wisely for certain announcements. Staying open has helped me to better accomplish common PR tasks.

Note everything – maybe the analog way!

My notebook is my most useful tool. Whether it’s a thought that comes to mind or action items from a team meeting, note-taking is how I make sure I retain everything. At first I used my laptop, but I soon realized that physically writing was more useful for remembering information and eliminating the confusion of too many open tabs. Yes, I was the type of person to write notes in class rather than using a laptop. According to an article written by Suzy Frisch, “writing by hand tends to boost your ability to retain information, comprehend new ideas, and be more productive — with the added bonus of eliminating the distractions of your device”. I agree, because not only are handwritten notes fast and accurate, they allow me to better process information. Instead of typing on my computer and missing crucial information due to being distracted by emails popping up, I can focus all my attention on taking effective, useful notes that I can share with my team.

The Best PR Agency Asset: Flawless Media Contact Lists

For a PR agency team, few things are more important than having media contacts at the ready. In fact, a media placement strategy with the perfect balance of quality and quantity is one of the unsung secret of great PR and media relations.

Media contacts aren’t magic….they’re work

But media contacts aren’t magic. They’re a resource requiring constant maintenance by users. In fact, part of the “perfect balance” strategy means treating your media spreadsheet with the care, focus, and obsessive attention to detail of a NASA rocket scientist preparing for a space mission.

The first order of business is making sure all contacts are up to date. That may sound easy enough, but check out any reporter’s Twitter feed and you’ll probably see complaints about agencies who reach out to irrelevant or outdated contacts, or target their pitches in clumsy ways.

According to the 2021 State of Journalism study, 61% of journalists agree that the way most companies share information with the media is outdated. It’s likely that outdated lists are at least a contributing factor. Regardless, reporters are all but telling PR agencies that they need to up their outreach game and take steps to stay current and relevant, from their strategies to contact lists. Here are some simple steps PR reps should take to maximize success.

Research, research research

The simplest way to keep contacts up to date is through simple research. For example, if you haven’t contacted a certain reporter in a while, look up whether they’re still in the same place and on the same beat. Take a peek at some of their recent pieces. Study the depth of coverage and the tone of their pieces. Even if a reporter regularly covers a relevant topic, they might not showcase your information or spokesperson in the way you’d imagine. It sounds obvious, but not enough people browse reporters’ recent pieces, especially for the broadest beats, or, conversely, the specialized ones, like technology or, say, the Apple or Amazon beat.

Verify information before you press send

After authenticating the status of specific contacts, you need to verify contact information. Before beginning the search manually, savvy PR professionals should use the services at their disposal. For many, this includes media relationship management software Cision, which can help confirm email addresses by simply plugging in the name of the reporter. Other media resources that can be used to verify contact information include Muck Rack, Prowly and Anewstip.

However, Cision and media softwares should not be the first step in building a media list. Rather, think of them more as a last, but helpful, resort. Software often has outdated information on outlet, subject matter and even contact information. Overreliance on software tools can result in a subpar outreach. Even though it may be time-consuming and at times grueling, the best PR agencies consistently check the web to confirm email addresses, starting with the outlet’s or reporter’s website.

Update and delete bouncebacks

One of the biggest differences between PR agencies that run efficient media contact programs and those who don’t is consistent updating of contact lists. That’s right, it’s not glamorous or brilliant, but it works. It’s just essential for team members to update the shared spreadsheet following every outreach. If you are reaching out to a wide variety of media contacts, you are bound to get a few undeliverables. Make sure to remove them. It saves the next team member time, energy and a host of similar bouncebacks. Additionally, PR agencies are often hesitant to reach out to a group of journalists from the same outlet. Leaving an outdated reporter, or at least their contact information, there can mean that a colleague fails to connect with the right contact at that particular outlet. We can all help one another.

Record reporter responses 

Every piece of information you receive after pitching serves a purpose. Following a pitch, you may see auto-responses like an out-of-office message about a vacation, family leave, or departure. Again, share the information on a centralized sheet. And if your pitch leads to an interview, coverage, or simply use of background material, note that in the spreadsheet. This is especially useful for unpleasant experiences. There are always journalists who simply don’t want to be contacted about certain topics, or at all. Others are on book leave and only want to tell you once. When in doubt, err on the side of including the information and letting the next user make the decision on whether it’s relevant.

Media list access is vital

Sometimes we spend days making perfect contact lists and they’re not easily accessible. Using outdated lists, either by accident or because someone was in a rush, is actually a common problem for subpar PR agencies. Make sure your lists and documentation are easily accessible to everyone in the shared resource. Regular training sessions on software are a useful habit of successful PR agencies. Finally, any and all team members should feel free to let the entire team know of a major change regarding a reporter or outlet. Our agency Slack is full of this kind of news, especially in the key sectors we cover regularly like adtech and cybersecurity.

For a PR team or agency, reputation is everything. Thus, how reporters, clients and even your own colleagues view you will have long-term consequences. Being slightly obsessive about your media contacts and your team’s system for keeping them in perfect shape will help bolster your standing, and, more tangibly, yield excellent outcomes. Media contacts will be happier due to more consistent and relevant pitches, clients will be happy about increased coverage, and your staff will be grateful for the team effort.

The Follow-Up Pitch: PR Tips On Getting It Noticed

As PR teams know, creating and distributing content is one thing; getting journalists to use it is another. The way we conduct media outreach is critical, especially with reporters receiving hundreds of pitches and press releases each day.

From relationships to cold outreach, the way a publicist reaches out to a reporter is key. One of the most effective ways to do so is through email. Gone are the days of calling reporters and pitching them over the phone; most prefer a simple email with relevant details. But how do you know when to follow up and how? Here are a few ways to successfully pitch and follow up with reporters.

What should a follow-up look like?

Keep the note short and to the point. Reply with the original pitch underneath the follow-up note. This way the reporter can see the full details of the original pitch. If possible, include a new data point or link the follow-up to something timely that broke in the news and is relevant to the topic at hand. This may make it more enticing for reporters. 

Timing is everything

Be aware of reporters’ schedules and deadlines. Send pitches and follow up emails in the morning between 9:00 and noon; that’s typically the sweet spot. An early note is more likely to be noticed and potentially turn into a media interview or feature. Avoid reaching out after 4:00 p.m. as reporters are wrapping up for the day and may miss it. 

Pitching earlier in the week (i.e. a Monday or Tuesday) also helps a pitch be noticed, and it can offer enough time to conduct any follow-up emails through the week, without sending too many too closely together. Research shows three in 10 journalists want two to three days to look over a pitch before someone follows up with them. So, space out any outreach. 

Also take time zones into consideration. Most media outlets are based in New York City but with the popularity of freelancing and working from home, journalists may be spread throughout the U.S. You check reporters’ social channels for their location. This will help determine the best time of day to reach out.

How many follow-ups?

The majority of journalists (59%) say following up once is enough. But based on the amount of feedback received or the time of day the first email was sent, you may need to send another follow-up just to be sure.

While a significant number of journalists are okay if you send a second note, avoid a third follow-up. Most journalists say they’re likely to block a PR person who follows up with them repeatedly.

Of course, if you already have an established relationship with a journalist, it’s probably okay to be a little more persistent – or simply ask what they prefer. They’ll appreciate your consideration of their time.

News cycle matters

Keep in mind that if you didn’t get much feedback on a pitch, there might be something occurring in the news cycle that takes priority. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear back the first time. 

Most reporters have very full inboxes and may be working on breaking news, so when they see the follow-up email they may never have even seen the original one. This is why a follow-up is important. It may spark the reporter’s interest and elicit a response.

Do the research

While you should research before reaching out to journalists, it is critical when following up. Check their previous coverage and make sure that reporter covers similar topics to the one you’re pitching. A little research will also help you personalize outreach and show the reporter you’re current on their work. Citing a previous article they wrote will help your email stand out. 

Other ways to follow up

Depending on the subject matter of the original pitch and its timeliness, you may want to go beyond email for outreach. When pitching something to broadcast journalists, start with an email. But call the news desks at each station first thing in the morning before the crews leave for field coverage. Briefly mentioning the announcement over the phone helps ensure it will be brought up in the news meeting and potentially covered as a story that day.

What about social platforms? Journalists will vary on preferences here, but if you know the reporter fairly well, it may be useful to DM them on Twitter. Or, if you don’t have the best email address or want to get a conversation going, it can be a good idea to reach out on social media – usually Twitter or even LinkedIn. Once you get a response going, you can then politely inquire about the pitch or ask for a better email address.

Overall, journalists are under deadline pressures, constantly dealing with overflowing inboxes, and regularly juggling several stories or pitches to their editors at once. Our role as media relations reps is to smoothly hand over information in an effective and timely way. Using simple but judicious follow-up lets us be more effective and productive.

A PR Spring Cleaning Checklist

Finally after a long winter (at least here in New York), the change in weather means it’s time for PR professionals to refresh their plans and get re-organized. Just like the tradition of ‘spring cleaning’ a home, PR teams should consider cleaning up daily tasks to start the new quarter and season on a fresh note. 

Media lists 

We all have “master” media lists for different verticals but as any good media master knows, journalists and reporters move around, frequently changing publications or beats. We have a Slack channel where we exclusively update our team on media moves, which is a good tactic for updating lists. Another great source is a journalist’s personal Twitter. They will often share announcements on job changes or even upcoming story needs. 

Check in with reporters

A big part of PR is having strong media relationships. It helps to have contact that you can pitch informally and know you will get a response – either a yes or a pass. But what about the ones with whom you want to form a deeper relationship? Shoot them a friendly email checking in and ask for an informal conversation. Chat about what they’re working on and how you can help. This can also put you on their watch list for a go to source for a quick comment.

Email inbox

Personally, I love newsletters as a way to start my day (check out this list of some of my favorites) but more is not always better. After being out of office for two days, I came back to an inbox that was almost 300 emails – half of them being newsletters. It took me longer than it should have to sift through the clutter to catch up on necessary messages. Think about what newsletters are most important and best for media opps. I ‘m also a big fan of folders for organizing and quick searching based on different email groups. Wouldn’t it be much better to come from some time off, or the weekend, with a clean and organized inbox?!     

Refresh PR plans

As the first quarter of year ends, so do Q1 PR plans. Pitches and announcements from last quarter are yesterday’s news and it’s time to plan for the next few months. Schedule separate planning meetings with executives to find out about upcoming announcements, initiatives, or speaking engagements. It will spark ideas for pitches and targets that PR can go out with throughout the quarter.  

Social media audit

Social media is a great tool for corporate and personal branding. Before scheduling that post on Twitter or Instagram, think about your goals and what message you want to convey. Do you want to gain more followers or increase engagement? These are all great questions to consider before creating social media goals for the next few months. There have been times when I go through people I follow on Twitter and curate who you are actually following. Interest change over time and people you once followed may not be relevant anymore. Another great clean up would be to polish that LinkedIn profile. In the business world, LinkedIn is the go-to place to present yourself. Take a new profile picture, update your job description – keep it up to date as possible!    

Desk organization

My WFH desk is a mess. I have papers, pens and old copies of Adweek lying there with no rhyme or reason to them. There is no reason for it; sometimes things just land there and stay until I get a spark of motivation to do a deep clean of my apartment. If you have a similar situation, consider inexpensive filing cabinets and folders. Waking up each morning and starting the day at a clean and organized desk will make you more productive. Vow to clear the desk before walking away from it at the end of the day and your future you will thank you. 

Set new goals

A new season brings a blank slate of possibilities. One great way to become a stronger PR pro is to set goals outside your comfort zone. Have you never tackled a PR plan on your own but want to get involved with this? Connect with your team and talk about ideas for getting stronger in your position. It shows you want to grow and gain skills that will help your career. If the goal seems intimidating, go for it! Going outside your usual lane is a good thing! 

Schedule that overdue PTO

With warmer days coming, we all have a bit of spring fever – longing for time away from the computer and emails. If you spent your winter cooped up inside, look at your calendar and plan some much-needed days off. It doesn’t have to be any extravagant trip (unless you want to) but get some fresh air and disconnect – you deserve it.  

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Happy spring cleaning! What are you cleaning up this spring? Let me know on Twitter @colleeno_pr

How To Build A Purpose-Driven Brand

In the years since “purpose-driven” brands have become hot among marketing and PR people, one thing has become clear – having a well communicated purpose is good for business. As Joanna Seddon of Presciant brand consultancy puts it, “Purpose-drive brands are more successful (than others) in every way.” An organization linked to a coherent purpose can make better products, offer better services and attract better employees. Her statement is backed by impressive research.

Seddon recently joined Craig Charney of Charney Research and Sarah Colamarino, former Vice President of Corporate Brand Equity and Partnerships at Johnson & Johnson, to discuss the hows and whys of successful purpose-driven marketing. At a webinar presented by the American Marketing Association New York, the three shared experience and insights on the relationship between brands and customers today.

Seddon noted that the 1980s were characterized by an emphasis on shareholder value. But when Jim Stengel and Marc Pritchard rose within the marketing ranks at Procter & Gamble, things began to change. Together with consultants like Joanna Seddon, they demonstrated how the fiscal benefits of true purpose-driven marketing to a team of financial executives with absolutely no background in marketing.

Here’s what marketers need to bear in mind when building and growing a purpose-driven brand.

Purpose is different from values

An organization’s values should act as the pillars that support its purpose, but that purpose itself is bigger and exerts more impact than principles like a commitment to DEI. As Colamarino explained, J&J’s purpose was changing the trajectory of health. For Google, it’s “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” These are often huge and in many ways challenging ambitions.

Purpose isn’t created in isolation

Sarah Colamarino pointed out the value of “co-creation” of corporate brand purpose during her J&J years. It cannot come down from the C-level without the buy-in of the rank and file, for example. She explained that a true brand purpose comes both from the bottom up and the top level of the organization and warned that recruitment, hiring, and HR policies must match a company’s values and dovetail with its purpose. Her challenge in owning J&J’s purpose mission was in integrating it across all company sectors, an enormous but richly rewarding goal.

A brand’s purpose depends on its customers

Know your customer. “KYC” is a critical tenet of purpose-driven marketing. As Craig Charney reminded us, when Nike chose to embrace former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick after he refused to stand for the national anthem, calls for boycotts followed. But after a drop in its stock price, Nike rebounded and blew through its earnings targets shortly afterward. This was because Nike’s core customers supported its stance. We see this time and again when it comes to potentially controversial brand positions. Brands who understand the values of their core customers are far more likely to weather a backlash to a stance that is unpopular among some.

Purpose is a strategic management tool

Purpose has its own business purpose. And nowhere is this more evident than in Pfizer’s quest to create a COVID-19 vaccine, as recounted in CEO Dr. Albert Bourla’s book Moonshot. Bourla shares that the most critical factor in Pfizer’s success was the sheer impossibility of the goal.

When you ask people to do something in eight years that normally takes 10, they will find it challenging, but they will think of solutions within the current process.

I didn’t ask people to do it in eight years. I asked them to do it in eight months…. I insisted that these targets were not negotiable. Saving as many lives as soon as possible was our priority. The team recognized this, went back to the drawing board and came back with a completely new way of working – and the results were simply phenomenal.

Harnessing the power of purpose

After her 14-year stint at J&J, Sarah Colamarino says, “I look at purpose as a powerful management tool.” But its strength isn’t limited to mega-brands. Joanna Seddon’s most memorable experience with the influence of corporate brand purpose isn’t about P&G or Coca-Cola, although their programs were impressive. It came when her team was engaged by MD Anderson Cancer Center, whose purpose is reflected in its tagline, “Making Cancer History”. The CEO was leaving late one evening and he fell into conversation with a janitor who was cleaning up after a long day. When the janitor mentioned that he’d been with the company for 10 years, the chief executive asked why he had stayed so long. “Because I know I’m doing my part in making cancer history,” was the response.

That’s the power of purpose.

7 PR Tips For Nailing A Media Interview

Your B2B PR strategy is working and the press is interested in knowing more about your expertise. Congrats! Wondering what to do between now and then? Here are a few tips on preparing for a media interview so you can absolutely nail it.

Remember your media training 

If you haven’t already undergone formal media prep, ask your PR team to set up a session when possible. For more on mastering your media training, check out this post. If you can’t fit in a whole session before the upcoming media interview, make sure you have a one sheet-with interview tips/tricks to review prior to meeting with the reporter. 

Study the briefing doc

Our clients agree that briefing docs make media interviews a breeze. What’s a briefing doc? Typically prepared by a PR team, it’s an overview of recommended messaging, the topic at hand, and the reporter leading the interview, including his or her last five stories. This document also acts as an easy access to the interview details–  meeting time, link to the meeting (or phone number), and even a photo of the reporter to help with prep. It should offer key messaging and quotes for consideration during the interview. We like our clients to use their own words, but for most of them, bullet points or suggested phrasing helps keep their thoughts in order and the interview on track.

Practice answering questions out loud

A briefing doc often includes a Q&A section with written-out responses to the questions the PR team anticipates. It’s smart to take the time to fully review and practice answering the questions aloud. Try standing in front of a mirror and reciting key points, as if you were explaining them to a friend or neighbor. It will feel awkward, but it’s very helpful. If the language isn’t comfortable, change it so that it flows naturally. Practicing with the PR-approved language goes a long way in building confidence and ensuring a smooth interview.

Match your  language to your audience

In technology PR, it can be challenging to explain technical issues or products to a general audience. Conversely, if you’re talking to a journalist from a sophisticated trade or tech outlet, you’ll need to communicate at the level of its audience. That’s why advance preparation is critical. For a less savvy audience of readers or viewers, take care to use accessible language and avoid acronyms or jargon unless you can explain it quickly and smoothly.

Prepare examples and analogies

One way to explain a technical product or avoid a long-winded explanation is to use an example. We work with many technology companies who partner with well-known brands, so one way to shortcut a lengthy response is to cite a positive outcome in a customer situation (e.g., “Warby Parker drove a 32% sales increase with our contextual technology.”) But of course, any customer mention must be approved in advance, and that approval might be time-consuming or impossible. Another excellent way to make an impact is to use an analogy. In adtech, for example, we might talk about a “clear box” as an antidote to the convoluted tech some call a “black box,” or we might use a “passport” analogy to explain the opportunity that Web3 offers for brands to market in the metaverse. Common analogies help audiences understand the relevance and impact of a company’s offering.  

Do your research

Even if you know the reporter, take the time to be up-to-date on their recent pieces. Be familiar with recent changes in your industry’s media landscape. Again, a good briefing doc will summarize (and link) the reporter’s most recent, relevant articles and include relevant background for the upcoming interview’s topic. Getting a sense for the journalist’s writing style and knowledge of your industry will help everyone align during the interview.

Beware lengthy tangents

Definitely take a little extra time to connect with the reporter during the call. Feel free to make small talk, compliment them on recent stories, or to ask about recent work. But avoid rambling about topics that haven’t been approved or discussed internally. The last thing you’d want is to give too much away that could jeopardize a future announcement. Or, worse, giving the reporter an opening to flip the sentiment of the upcoming coverage on its head. In short, stay on script without forgetting to be personable and helpful. Often, the PR rep will sit in on the meeting to help keep the conversation on track.

At the end of the day, the most important thing when preparing for an interview is to remember that you’re the expert. Share what you know and have fun doing it!

Best Practices For Starting A Killer PR Program

Any good PR agency team wants to get a new engagement up and running as quickly and as well as possible. A strong start on a PR program makes for a more lasting and fruitful relationship. Yet getting the ball rolling is easier said than done. The first 90 days of an engagement can be the most hectic time of an entire client-agency experience. There’s an endless list of priorities, from onboarding and immersion to setting expectations and navigating the processes within a new company or organization. There’s also lots of pressure to make things happen while you get smart.

With that in mind, here are a few best practices that we find to be helpful when it comes to launching a new PR program and a budding relationship.

Build an asset request list

To build an effective PR plan, agencies need any relevant – or potentially relevant – assets so they can quickly onboard and understand the nuances and factors at play. This includes material like past PR coverage, product spec sheets, blog posts, preferred talk tracks, conference and award wins, executive bios, and marketing calendars, just to name a few. The agency’s first step should be to create a consolidated list of deliverables to serve as a central reference point for clients to populate. The list will not only be an educational resource for the agency team, but it can spark thoughts about “out of the norm” assets that have been overlooked in the past.

Set workflow and communications processes right away

Each client is different and prefers to work in certain ways. Understanding how they work is essential for an agency to jumpstart a PR relationship and build trust. We like to sync with clients even before an engagement “officially” begins to hammer out how they like to work, preferred communication channels, ideal weekly call times, team roles and other specifics so everyone can hit the ground running on day one. This not only shows that we are keen to meet clients where they are, but that we also take process seriously.

Use the RFP process as research 

Though not every agency search involves a formal RFP (request for proposal), many do, and the document is generally an excellent guide to goals and priorities. Its style, tone, and length will reflect the organization’s culture, whether it’s highly detailed and jargon-y or light and breezy. And the search process itself, from initial conversations to building the presentation, offers opportunities for agencies to gain insight about a company, its sector, and idea of success. The early RFP discussions and research that goes into a winning proposal also yield good and valuable information that can inform an agency team’s strategies and communications style.

Do a deep dive

“Deep dive” onboarding sessions with product teams, comms teams and other internal client stakeholders provide the next-level specifics that help build detail and substance for the PR plan. We like to plan a full or half-day session that ideally brings together different client-side executives for briefings. These meetings are also the PR team’s initial opportunity to assess potential B2B spokesperson, define their “lanes,” and gauge how comfortable and effective they will be in a media interview or keynote situation. 

Be curious

You never know which bit of information will be helpful in driving PR results down the road. So, don’t be afraid to ask questions – especially open-ended ones. This is your chance to pose “stupid” questions because the relationship is new. The client-side team members are steeped in both the industry sector and their particular company’s operations and processes, so use the time to pull out their insights about the organization as well as their own SME (subject-matter expertise.) This will show a keen interest in understanding the finer points of a business but also a nose for each stakeholder’s areas of interest and proficiency. Moreover, it allows agency teams to expand their knowledge around particular categories that lead to creative pitch ideas.

Use your proposal as a guide

This one sounds obvious, of course, but it’s funny how often an initial proposal is put on a shelf after the agency team dives into the program. Unless the strategy or circumstances change, the proposal should be the basis for the PR plan. It’s also interesting to periodically review it as a kind of blueprint for expectations, deliverables, and story ideas. In certain fast-moving tech sectors original proposals can quickly become outdated, but we’ve occasionally flipped through a one or two-year-old deck and realized that there are some strong ideas buried inside it!  

Media Alert Or Press Release? PR Tips

In PR, we often draft, edit, and distribute press releases to announce news about our companies or clients. In ad tech PR, we might write releases that detail new hires, acquisitions, partnerships, or product launches. There’s no real limit to what we can write a release about, as long as it’s newsworthy. 

Yet, a press release isn’t the only way to share news, and it’s not always the best way. Sometimes we turn to media alerts instead. 

What’s the difference? And when do you draft a press release vs. a media alert? The short answer is: it depends. 

Press releases and media alerts follow the same basic structure. Each includes the “five Ws” of news (who, what, when, where, and why) and often the “H” of the news, which is the “how.” Where they differ is in the amount of detail, timeliness, and formatting.

Media Alerts

A media alert is far more abbreviated than a press release. Media alerts are used for announcing an event or  briefing – to invite media to attend, and they include only the most important details. Media alerts are a good tool to generate buzz around the event and encourage media and journalists to cover it. 

They’re typically one page and have bullet points and headers to break out the “who, what and where” of the announcement. Media alerts are clean and precise and quickly call attention to the facts. 

Instead of long, detailed paragraphs about the news, media alerts include bullet points with short sentences. It’s easy for reporters to quickly scan the alert and know exactly what the announcement is about, why it is important and determine if they are interested. 

Press Releases

Whereas media alerts are short and bulleted, press releases are more descriptive and flexible. In B2B PR, we draft press releases for new products, new hires, acquisitions or partnerships, or funding, for example. Press releases go into more depth than an alert and are usually written in an “inverted-pyramid” format, –  the most important information is at the top, with details and quotes following. 

Another difference between releases and alerts is that media alerts don’t typically include quotes, but press releases often feature a quote or two from representatives of the organizations involved. The quotes in a release should offer valuable information that adds to the story. In general, press releases are more informational and descriptive than media alerts.

Newsworthiness 

The importance of the announcement and its news value should be considered when deciding on a media alert or press release. If a company just announced a significant partnership, it may want to consider a press release. If an organization is holding a press conference, doing a product demonstration, or sponsoring a charity event, it may want to issue a media alert. 

Distribution 

Before distributing a media alert or press release, determine media and journalist targets. Since an alert is essentially an invitation to cover an announcement or event, you will consider how exclusive it is. Or, it may well be a local announcement, or a highly visual one, so plan accordingly. For example, a media alert can be sent to the local broadcast outlets, weekly magazines and daily newspapers. 

Press releases are typically distributed to a much wider audience because there is nothing to attend – you’re simply sharing news in hopes of gaining coverage. You’ll have a better chance of a West Coast journalist writing about the announcement based on a press release than if you send a media alert for a local New York City briefing, naturally. 

Timing

Timing is also important when deciding between a media alert and press release. Press releases aren’t typically tied to an event so the timing of the distribution is more flexible, though still tied to news. As a PR person, you determine the best day and time to send out the release, and sometimes the timing may change by a day or two. Media alerts, however, are very time-sensitive. Given that they are tied to events, they’re often distributed a few days before the event, and then again at the last minute as a reminder. 

Media alerts aren’t used as often as press releases but they can be just as effective for coverage results. It all hinges on the nature of your news and the desired audience for the story.

 

How Ukraine Is Winning The PR War

As Russia prepared to invade his country, many feared Ukraine’s president, former comedian Volodymyr Zelensky, was in over his head. Before his election Zelensky was best known for starring in a popular TV series about a history teacher who wins the presidency after a video of his anti-government rant goes viral. And like his sitcom character, the real Zelensky was swept into office as an outsider who promised to end corruption. But he soon ran into obstacles, and his popularity suffered. Even after Putin began threatening aggression against Ukraine, Zelensky seemed unsure of himself; first, he sought to calm things down and avoid panic. Then the threat worsened, and he seemed to realize the stakes involved.

From everyman to wartime leader

Novelist James Lane Allen said that adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it. That may be a fair description of Zelensky’s improbable rise.

Less than a week into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Zelensky is a wartime president, and one who is deftly using his performance and communications skills to inspire not only his own people, but the Western world. His status as an icon of leadership under fire peaked last week when Russian forces began to assault Kyiv. As the U.S. government and others urged him to evacuate and offered help, Zelensky refused to budge. “The fight is here (in Kyiv); I need ammunition, not a ride,” he said.

Ukraine has a natural advantage when it comes to perception. As a smaller country attacked by a cartoonishly autocratic dictator, it’s the David to Russia’s Goliath. But the rush of support wasn’t inevitable. (See: Yemen, Bosnia, and Crimea.) Zelensky and his advisers have deployed classic PR and propaganda tactics to win public opinion at home and abroad.

And at least some of the young president’s winning style is innate; he’s a performer after all. What’s fascinating is that he has harnessed his personal talent and bolstered it with sophisticated tactics to wage a credible PR war. Here’s how.

Speak directly to your audiences

Zelensky is a little like Donald Trump in that he has disintermediated the press. Trump famously derided the media and used Twitter as his platform of choice, going directly to his base. Zelensky has a similar reputation in Ukraine. His electoral campaign was almost entirely online. On rare occasions where he used the national media, he did so shrewdly, even hijacking the traditional New Year’s Eve address of the then-president by announcing his own candidacy. According to The Atlantic, his people maintained that “they do not need journalists in their efforts to communicate with the public, opting instead for social media and slickly produced ‘interviews’ carried out in-house.”

Since the invasion Zelensky has used messaging platform Telegram to speak directly to the Russian public to counter Putin’s version of events and urge them to protest the invasion. He continues to post short videos that reinforce his presence and the determination of Ukrainian citizens to defend their home. He has humanized Ukraine’s crisis and invoked powerful support.

Understand the power of imagery

A single screen-grab of Zelensky on the streets of Kyiv or huddled inside with his military staff is worth a thousand thunderous speeches. Contrast images of the young president with those of Putin — seated yards away from his generals at the end of a long table as they consult about war strategy. The Russian president is literally and figuratively isolated. Zelensky, by contrast, looks like an everyman, a relatable guy who is simply doing what anyone would do to protect his family and home. He could be your neighbor.

Be authentic

When it comes to authenticity, Zelensky was made for this moment. From his street selfies to his formal video appeal to European leaders, he comes across as the real deal. Russia has tried to foil his outreach by spreading rumors that Zelensky had fled, but the videos don’t lie. There’s just not much Putin can do to counter compelling images of a young leader, unshaven and exhausted, but calm and determined in the face of grave personal danger.

Own the information

Zelensky himself has morphed into an icon of leadership, but Ukraine’s sophisticated approach to information is also critical. And it has powerful allies. In a refreshing change, the big social media platforms have cracked down on Russian misinformation and many have banned Russian media outright in Ukraine. Aided by U.S. intelligence, Ukraine was able to expose a fake video of a Ukrainian “attack” on Russians, intended to provoke outrage and offer an excuse for the invasion. Social platforms are filled with posts about the heroic exploits of a legendary Ukrainian fighter pilot known as the “Ghost of Kyiv” who probably doesn’t exist. But much of the reporting is real. Look at the extraordinary recording of Ukrainian guards for an isolated outpost on Snake Island. The video features the Ukrainians cursing the Russian fleet in open defiance of warnings to surrender. It was everywhere on social media platforms and amplified on media channels in American living rooms.

Leverage your moment

A good crisis shouldn’t be wasted, as political experts say, and Zelensky has seized his opportunity to try for things that haven’t previously been possible. He is petitioning loudly for military support as well as quick entry into the European Union, which would be unprecedented. Addressing the European Parliament this week, he said, “We have proven our strength. So do prove that you are with us. Prove that you will not let us go. Prove that you indeed are Europeans.” Ukraine has inspired not only NGOs and ordinary citizens but businesses and brands that don’t normally wade into geopolitical issues.

Of course, inspiration may only go so far. Ukraine’s perseverance may not be enough for it to prevail, and the odds are long. But the massive outpouring of emotional, material, and financial support has been heartening, and it makes it impossible for us to turn away.

Can PR Agencies Protect Their Ideas?

“You give away your best thinking on spec.” My husband once said that as he watched me sweat a high-stakes new biz proposal that hinged on The Big Idea. That observation bothered me for years, because it was true. But how does a PR or ad agency avoid it?

A recent Twitter dustup highlighted the dilemma. The CEO of crytocurrency exchange Coinbase tweeted about its wildly successful Super Bowl ad. You know the one…it featured a simple QR code floating about the screen, changing colors against a music track. The ad won raves within the industry and subsequently crashed the Coinbase website. The QR code thing was a great match for crypto enthusiasts, and the accompanying PR didn’t hurt.

CEO Brian Armstrong is proud of the ad’s success, naturally. He tweeted over the weekend about how it came to be, crediting his team with a bold departure from “traditional” Super Bowl spots. His final tweet concluded that “no agency could have done this ad.”

Coinbase CEO tries to weave a compelling story about how their own team came up with a Super Bowl ad that "broke the rules on marketing", is quickly revealed to just be

CEO called out on Twitter

Except according to Martin Agency CEO Kristen Cavallo, an agency did. Or, at least her team presented the idea to Coinbase in a pitch meeting back in August, which she helpfully notes in a tweet, complete with dates and deck page numbers. Awkward.

To make matters more interesting, Coinbase CMO Kate Rouch jumped into the feed with her own version of events. She explained that multiple agencies pitched a QR-code idea but that it was “inserting a QR code in a popular meme” that won the day, crediting Accenture Interactive with the work. This led some ad-watchers to conclude that after Accenture was engaged, they looked through old proposals and adapted Martin’s idea.

Creative minds can think alike

Every agency person has pitched to a prospective client, only to see their idea executed months later – by another firm. I’ve honestly thought there should be some kind of “Hall of Shame” site that embarrasses clients who steal ideas from spec pitches. It’s why lawyers advise agencies to copyright their proposals and trade groups urge them not to participate in spec creative presentations for free.

But the thing is, more than one agency group may pitch similar or even identical ideas in a competitive situation. In fact, it happens all the time. You can copyright a tagline, a creative execution, a storyboard or a script, maybe. But there’s simply no way to own an idea. This is particularly true in the PR business, where a presentation might rely on a great brand or media strategy, a clever angle or an unexpected juxtaposition of ideas rather than a graphic or copy line. Then, too, timing can be a huge factor. What seemed off-strategy in August can be brilliant by December. In public relations especially, the news cycle is critical.

Don’t give away your best thinking

That’s why in my experience most of the advice is sensible, but a bit beside the point. It’s tough to sit out all agency reviews on principle. And as much as I admire those classy companies who pay competing agencies for the creative that the company will then own, that doesn’t really solve the problem. You may get $5000 for the work, and that helps restore some of the billable time sucked away by spec pitches, but it’s cold comfort if someone else executes your idea.

It also strikes me that what really set off Kristen Cavallo was the Brian Armstrong’s dismissive attitude (“No ad agency would have done the ad”) when he actually used an agency for the execution and probably the idea, too. It was not only untrue, but smug and disrespectful.

So, what’s the answer? It helps to be selective about RFPs for big competitive searches, and most agencies are. And it might help to throw a copyright symbol on the last page of every proposal, as my supervisor at Edelman routinely did to try to deter idea theft. Most clients are fair-minded and want to make the process less painful for everyone; for ways they can help fix the broken RFP process, this post holds up pretty well.

But that observation – “you give away your best thinking on spec” still bothers me. Maybe the best antidote to losing your IP is to try to generate your best ideas for existing clients – you know, the guys who are already paying, with whom there already exists a relationship based on a certain level of trust, and yes, respect.