Way too many actionable tips and successful examples

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This week I’ve got way too many actionable tips and successful examples to fit into a post.

So join me Tuesday for my free webinar with Cision where I’ll share:

• The foolproof way to begin pitch emails.
• The 3 things that will make your stories irresistible.
• The overlooked media outlets dying for content like yours.
• A pitching strategy more effective than chasing the Wall Street Journal.
• Real pitches you can use to land in the Wall Street Journal (if you’re so inclined).

I only do two free webinars are year, so this is a rare chance to get my latest, best recommendations on adapting to the new media environment.

I’ve been working on this for a couple weeks, and today I’m practicing it with two different test audiences.

Hope to see you Tuesday – register here now.

P.S. If you haven’t heard me speak before, then you should know I’m on a mission to defeat multi-tasking. My goal is that no one live tweets the webinar because they are too focused on what they’re learning to do anything else ?

Something nobody does

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Before you send out a pitch, do you test it by delivering it in person to a real human?

On one hand, this seems ridiculous. You have so much going on, you’re always racing to get the pitches out the door on time. And you’re almost always sending them by email, so talking it through face-to-face appears irrelevant.

On the other hand, a practice shot seems obvious. You invest so much time and effort into this outreach, and you only get one shot to make a first impression. Why wouldn’t you make a trial run?

This is not a theoretical argument. At my media relations workshops I have the participants share their pitches with different “classmates” throughout the day. During last week’s event in NYC, one of the most common pieces of feedback was, “Wow, practicing my pitch showed me ways to improve I’d never realized before.”

This is the reason I’m grateful I cut my pitching teeth on the phone. I’d prepare a pitch meticulously, and then as soon as I had a real human being on the other end of the line, someone with deadlines and self-interests and a soul, I’d hear myself switching it up on the fly to match their needs better. There’s an intuition that kicks in when you’re actually talking to someone else.

Nowadays when we avoid the phone so much, it can lead to us shooting emails out into the ether, feeling almost like we’re typing to our computer instead of a real person.

So for your next pitch, go grab someone else, tell them the name and beat of the influencer you’re sending it to, and try it out. It’s great if they’re also in PR, but they don’t have to be. Here’s what is key – only choose someone who knows as much or LESS about the subject matter as the influencer you’ll be pitching. This exercise helps you de-mystify what might be arcane or jargon-laced corporate-speak into an accessible “story” that someone will want to share.

If you find yourself flying solo, or you’d like to take your pitch reviews to the next level, that’s one of the things we do regularly inside my Inner Circle program. You can talk your pitch over with me directly during our monthly “Ask Michael Anything” session. Or you can get feedback from other members anytime via our private community forum. Members frequently post their placements along with thanks to their peers who helped them hone the pitches that earned them.

Now is the time to register for the Inner Circle Success Manual, because we will soon be accepting new members.

 

I’m concerned about the state of media relations

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When people hear that I’m in media relations, they sometimes ask me if I’m worried media pitching won’t be around much longer.

The answer is definitely no – media relations as a business is stronger than ever. But I AM worried that many people are doing it wrong.

For example, while you’re reading this, I’m teaching a media relations workshop in NYC – it sold out last month, and it’s the biggest crowd we’ve ever had. People are emailing and asking when the next one is because they’re bummed they missed this one.

That’s just one example of how popular media pitching has become and the resources people are throwing at it. But my concern is that too many PR people are grinding it out chasing the OLD media relations model.

Everybody’s CEO wants them in the NYT or the WSJ or on a network morning show or whatever is the Holy Grail in their space. For some organizations that’s still the right priority, and I can help them do that.

But most PR people could get a much bigger return – faster – by adjusting their focus to take advantage of all the new media outlets and channels today.

Take this example – your CEO wants media, but he’s skittish about a couple topics and warns you he won’t answer questions about them. Of course, they happen to be the topics everyone wants to know about your company. You know that traditional media aren’t going to play along.

So instead of tying yourself in knots figuring out how to book an interview with a top-tier outlet, look around. You can find a podcaster who would give her pinky finger for the opportunity to interview a CEO like yours. And would gladly agree to share questions with you in advance, AND give you the right to request edits after the interview. (Don’t dare ask a traditional journalist for either of those, btw).

Even top podcasters make these accommodations. Tim Ferris, who is regularly in iTunes’ Top 50, essentially brags about doing this. That’s how he books celebrity guests who in turn attract more listeners to his podcast. He even persuaded reclusive billionaire Peter Thiel on by allowing him to record the session solo and choose from a list of written questions!

Reid Hoffman started a new podcast (Masters of Scale) off with an incredible run of guests including Reid Hastings, Marc Zuckerberg, Eric Schmidt and Sheryl Sandberg. You gotta believe that those heavy hitters reserved the right to collaborate on question selection and the final edit.

Now, you and I don’t get to work with celebrities or mega-CEOs. But somewhere there is a podcaster with an audience – perhaps small, but passionate – who would LOVE to hear from your CEO. So you book that interview, and then transcribe it. And then you pull out some cool quotes, and the nugget of news that you saved to break on the podcast.

Then you pitch those quotes and the link to the podcast to the digital-only outlets that cover your space. Think Mashable or Business Insider if you’re big enough, or a few respected single-author blogs if you’re not.

They get a post that’s essentially half-written and it’s more credible because it’s not based on your “owned” content, it’s a third-party’s content. The podcaster loves you because you’re promoting her podcast, so she joins in and starts promoting the interview as well.

And then when things go right, these posts get shared and re-purposed on more sites, and sometimes the traditional media even call 🙂

That’s just one example of how you can adapt to the times. When your CEO talks about landing top-tier traditional media, nod your head and do your best to comply. But at the same time, fill up the web with placements from new media who are way easier to work with.

 

P.S. A free press holding top institutions accountable is essential to our society. What I’ve written here has nothing to do with government officials, who I believe are obligated to answer unfiltered questions from representatives of the taxpayers they work for.  My main audience for this message are those companies or organizations who are being overlooked by traditional, top-tier media. Not those who are trying to avoid them.

Is pitching easier or harder than it used to be?

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Most people believe that it’s harder than ever to pitch media. I understand why they think that, but an experience I had last week crystallized how I see it differently.

It’s true that many traditional media outlets have shed staffers – especially local TV. Those that remain are doing the work that two or three used to do. At the same time, the proliferation of PR people and the ease of sending email means this smaller pool of reporters is getting drowned by the PR fire hose daily.

So I get that – pitching is tough. But I don’t think most people stop and really think about how it really used to be.

Last week an old friend texted me a picture of an open folder he found in a filing cabinet where I used to work. In the folder were the materials I had used for a national media campaign in 2003. I remember it – I was fortunate to land the Washington Post and National Geographic, among others. The crazy thing about the folder was that it contained . . . faxes.

Yes, even in 2003, many of the top-tier media (at least the ones I was pitching) still didn’t reliably use email. To get their attention, you had to actually CALL them and give them enough reasons to get and walk over to the fax machine to check out the additional details you were about to send them. And to even know who to target, you had to actually read their stuff regularly, because the online archives weren’t reliable enough (at all outlets) to pull up their recent work before a particular pitch.

Does that really sound easier than today? Yes, we’ve nearly ruined email as a channel for pitching by overdoing it. But journalists are still more likely to actually check it than they were the communal fax machine.

Now, instead of skimming five papers daily like I used to (that was way fewer than many peers), we can use search engines to quickly find the influencer for whom our topic is the most relevant. And there are now so many more platforms to connect with them on! It used to be just the phone. But now we can find them where they like to be – whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or the comments section of their blog. And swap little messages about shared interests to become familiar to them before we reach out.

My candid feeling is that pitching is actually easier now than ever before. But most PR pros don’t actually take advantage of the new avenues for success. They don’t admit it, but almost everybody in this business simply defaults back to the same essential process their predecessors used in the early ‘00s: blast out a news release to a big list of media and hope for a response. The only innovation is that today’s generic pitchers use email instead of blast-fax software.

That’s why you’re more valuable to your organization than you realize. Because you’re still reading, I know that you actually care about the nuances and fine details of the pitching process. Those additional elements “beyond the blast” that set you apart in the eyes of your target influencers.

YOU actually research a narrowly targeted set of influencers. You use social media and other platforms to get noticed well before you need to ask for coverage. You don’t send email blasts – your pitches are clearly customized for each valuable recipient.

As you fine-tune that expertise and stay current on evolving best practices, pitching gets easier. Don’t get me wrong – it will never get straight-up EASY. But it will get easier for you than it used to be. And your placements will increase and you’ll earn more autonomy to pursue media relations the way you know works best.

So you’ll be free to incorporate the next innovation that we don’t even know about. And someday someone will send you a screen shot of an email pitch you once sent, and you’ll think, “How quaint.” 🙂

P.S. Some have asked about options now that the New York workshop has sold out. We are working to schedule the next one in spring 2018. As soon as it’s nailed down, this web site will have the details and will accept registrations.