Fighting rampant disrespect for PR

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When you sign up for a career in PR, you accept the reality that you’ll always be fighting for respect.

You resign yourself to the fact that when you pull up your chair to the conference room table, the dudes will look right through you while they’re sizing each other up by the prestige of the MBA schools on their LinkedIn profiles. They probably don’t even notice you are there until you start talking, and generally don’t even realize that they’re interrupting you once you do.

When that happens, remember the PR guy who was also a victim of this lack of respect, but who then turned the tables on the “suits” and became a legend you’ve never heard of.

Bill Rasmussen was the public information officer for the minor league hockey team in Hartford, Conn. Not the pinnacle of our field. And when the team had a bad year on the ice, they dealt with that by unceremoniously firing him. Makes sense right? Put out a bad product, then shoot the messenger.

Instead of sulking, Bill explored an interest he’d been nurturing. This was some time ago, and he had the idea to televise high school sports around the state of Connecticut. He had no background in TV, but he knew there was an audience there.

So he started asking around, and one of his friends told him about this new form of broadcasting that involved using a satellite. That same day, Bill called up the company behind the technology. There was so little interest in satellite broadcasting that the sales guy drove out to meet Bill the next day.

He tried selling Bill the right to broadcast five hours a day on the satellite. But Bill ran the numbers, and realized it would be cheaper to buy the whole 24 hours a day (remember, Bill had no content yet). He maxed out his credit card – and all his family members’ – and started building out this network.

A short time later, a Wall Street investment bank called and offered him millions of dollars for his slot on the satellite. What would you do? You’ve been laid off from your job, you’re deep in debt, and you have an offer that would make you rich by the end of the day?

Bill shot them down. He realized that this meant he had something really valuable. He kept scrapping and brought in some investors. He expanded to college sports, and then even pro sports.

And then, five years after he got fired, he sold the network he founded to ABC for $476 million in today’s dollars. To the guys with MBAs who should have been the ones to think this kind of thing up in the first place.

So the next time someone disses you – purposefully or inadvertently – because you’re in PR, just say to yourself four letters: “E-S-P-N.” And remember what you’re really capable of.

The minimum standard for pitching nat’l TV

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On Monday I interviewed a national morning show producer. I showed her 16 actual pitches and recorded her reactions to them.

(If you want to watch the recording, you should join the Inner Circle – you’ll get access to it immediately.)

As you would expect, she emphasized how important it is to actually know her show and prove that you know it in your pitch. And she lamented how few of the pitches she receives actually do that.

Shoot, she said she still gets pitches addressed to “Dear NAME” or “Hi XXX”!!!

The minimum standard for pitching national TV is to mention host name(s) and the type of segment you see your story as fitting into.

Here is a quick checklist on how to do that, depending on how much time you are willing to invest to give your pitch the best chance of success. Times noted are for morning shows:

– 10 seconds – Google the show, note the hosts. Include them in your pitch.

– 3 minutes – DVR the show or watch it while you’re at the gym. Fast forward until you see a graphic with a segment name on it, and include that name in your pitch.

– 30 minutes – DVR the show. Fast forward through the first hour, which is usually stuff you can’t pitch, like White House news and terrorism and so on. Fast forward the commercials. Fast forward the celebrity news and interviews. For what’s left over, start watching until you determine it’s irrelevant to your organization, or otherwise unpitchable. Based on what’s left, you’ll know which segment you best match up with. Include that (and a host’s name) in your pitch.

– 90 minutes – DVR the show three days in a row. See above instructions to watch all three episodes in 90 minutes. Warning – you will feel the same guilty pleasure feeling you did when you skipped a class in high school. You will keep saying to yourself, “I should be actually working right now – I hope no one is noticing me.” Ignore this – you are actually working very hard and very smart. You’ll be close to certain which segment you belong in, and you’ll have one or more examples you can cite in your pitch.

Obviously I’m half-joking with the first two. If you believe your idea is worth considering by some of the most busy and stressed people on the planet (morning show producers), the least you can do for them is spend 30 minutes preparing.

If you read that and just thought, “There’s no way I can spend that much time on just one outlet, and 90 minutes, what a joke,” that’s fine. You just determined that you shouldn’t be pitching a national morning show, so you can save yourself the time of trying and failing.

If you’re still interested in national broadcast and want more of the producer’s helpful tips, apply for the Inner Circle today. The first time you log in you’ll see the link to her interview right in the middle of the page.

What happens after the placement?

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I write a ton of these articles about how to earn media placements.

But after a recent visit with my friend Drew Davis, the author and keynote speaker named the “2nd Most Influential Content Marketer in the World,” I realized something I’ve been taking for granted is . . .

. . . what happens after those placements hit the internet.

Getting media hits feels great. But they are not an end in themselves. They are a means to an end. And you can do more to facilitate those eventual results than you probably realize.

What steps are you taking – in advance – so that when you land the placements you’re working so hard for, that your audiences can most easily take the steps you want them to take? To buy your product or donate to your charity or act in support of your cause?

That’s what Drew wanted to talk about when he picked me up at the Miami airport last month. He goes, “Hey, you wanna shoot a video?”

For 2018, he has embarked on an ambitious plan to post a new highly produced video – not just a talking head – every week about a marketing concept he invented called “The Loyalty Loop.”

Drew used to work for the Today show and Charles Kuralt and the Muppets before he built and sold a successful marketing agency, so he knows what he’s doing. But still – this is a lot of work for anybody.

So that’s why we drove, straight from the airport, to Miami’s fashion district. We went there to shoot an amazing transoceanic coincidence that shows up as the surprise ending for the video. And then the next day we headed out on his boat, where he set up the camera and started asking me questions.

There’s a reason this guy is sought after by marketing conferences around the world. He has some extra chip in his brain that sees marketing strategy more clearly than the rest of us. And he knows how to explain it in a fun way.

Check out the video here. (And no, we are not dressed the same on purpose 🙂

And if you like it, you can see the original Loyalty Loop episode at the bottom of this other page, and sign up to get the next episodes when they’re posted.

I’ve learned a lot from Drew over the years, and I’m excited for you to have the opportunity to do the same.

Seize control of the “WHAT”

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To earn the placements you really want, you must seize the authority to choose WHAT you pitch. You may need to be subtle about it, but you can do it.

Most PR pros get to build their own media lists (WHO they pitch) and determine the way to phrase the email (HOW they pitch). But too often they relinquish control of the WHAT.

I saw the importance of avoiding this highlighted in three different cases during this week’s “Ask Michael Anything” session.

The first PR pro I spoke with asked how to identify the best media influencers for her particular company. She recognizes her company’s products are essentially commodities. And that led her to ask who she should be targeting, if not the beat reporters who would typically cover that kind of product. I asked her:

What kind of story/placement are you envisioning that includes brand names and/or actual products?

Who writes/produces those kinds of stories? 

After thinking that through, she realized she needed to tap into a different category of story – something like a lifestyle piece about how people use products like hers, where she could plug in a spokesperson. So we spent the rest of our time talking about those kinds of angles. Key point here: once she stepped back and changed WHAT she was pitching, then it became obvious WHO she needs to reach.

The second pro had been tasked with earning top-tier coverage for a major donation to his non-profit. Thing is, neither of us were sure that the dollar size of the donation will be big enough to attract coverage, despite what his president thinks. So he is wisely tweaking WHAT he pitches to be interesting to the WHO that his bosses are dictating. He’s digging into the backstory of the donor, which has some promising novelty and connection to the region his media targets care about.

The third pro had already done the hard thinking – she’s pitching a start-up software company in a very competitive space. She knew she couldn’t sell the very technical distinctions between how their product works versus its more high-profile competitors. So she had already prepared an interesting founder angle about her CEO’s unique military background, and we tightened it up.

The takeaway is: never accept the premise that you have no control over WHAT you pitch.

 

P.S. The “Ask Michael Anything” session is open to all members of my Inner Circle program. Many members submit questions that I talk with them about, and the rest listen in to learn and offer their own suggestions via chat. You can learn more about this and other aspects of the Inner Circle here.

3 New York Times placements in 3 wks

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I had an inside viewpoint on three significant New York Times placements over the past three weeks.

They were landed by members of my Inner Circle program. Here are some details and thoughts for you:

These three PR pros represent a medium-sized internet company, a large trade association, and a large privately held company.  These are standalone stories – not quotes or mentions. They were all feature-ish, not breaking news. And in these cases, all three began with cold outreach – no previous relationships.

Here’s the kicker: the average time these three PR pros spent cultivating these specific placements was one year.

As one of them wrote me in exultation last week: “It’s indeed all about consistency – and never giving up along the way!”

Unless you have some crazy-hot breaking news, or unless you work for a large company or major political figure, it will likely take you a long time to break into the nation’s paper of record.

So when your bosses tell you they want to be in the NYT, you should tell them that unless they are willing to do something crazy-rebellious to garner attention, it will take a long time.

I’m not trying to dissuade you from setting your sights ambitiously high like this. I mean, the success of these members shows that it can happen, right?

Everything good that’s ever happened in my media relations career came from letting people stretch my vision. I’m just uniquely fortunate to work with so many savvy PR pros, so I can give you a realistic understanding of what it takes to pursue this type of success.

Landing this type of pinnacle placement certainly brings euphoria and supercharges your career. But even better, it means you have established the beginnings of a mutually beneficial relationship that makes the next NYT placement much, much easier to land.

Case in point – shortly after one of our members, Heather, landed her coveted hit, the same NYT staffer mentioned to her the type of source he was seeking for a different story, knowing it has nothing to do with her company. Heather then posted those details on our private Inner Circle forum. A fellow member across the country had the perfect person, and Heather then connected him with the NYT staffer.

So now Heather has not only shared a useful story idea with this staffer that resulted in a successful story for him, but she’s also uncovered a hard-to-find source for him. That’s the snowball effect that happens when you play at this level.

Heather and the other two members were once merely reading these weekly posts just like you. If you’d like to learn more about what it takes to win this type of coverage and build these kinds of relationships, apply for the Inner Circle yourself.

This is not a silver bullet

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You love silver bullets, and I don’t blame you. I do, too.

When somebody shows you an easy step that replaces mind-numbing effort you’re currently expending, who wouldn’t jump on that? And when the easier way improves your results, too? That’s nirvana!

It would be great to be able to offer you a silver bullet every week. I shared one during a speech last fall – the audience ate it up. And from the emails I received afterwards, it got great results for them.

The problem with silver bullets is that they usually don’t work for very long. Their novelty wears off, the marketplace adapts, and you’re back where you started.

Instead, right now, I’m going to give you an overarching principle that will have a greater long-term impact on your media pitching results than any silver bullet. But only if you’re bracingly honest with yourself. If your reaction is, “Well duh, I already knew that” then you owe it to yourself to then ask, “Well, how diligently am I applying it?”

Because if you’re like most PR pros, you’re only applying it superficially. If you dig deeper, you’ll see tons of opportunities to stretch yourself and get better results in the process.

Here’s the key principle:

Positive media placements increase in direct proportion to the consistent actions you take to improve the quality of who you pitch, what you pitch, and how you pitch.

Who you pitch = the relevance and receptiveness of your media list. (Both of these factors are within your capacity to influence.)

What you pitch = the angles and ideas you share.

How you pitch = the skill and professionalism with which you approach your targets.

What have you done this week to improve each of those three areas? There are tons of options – sometimes the hardest part is knowing which one to pursue next.

I’ve identified the most effective next steps to improve each of those three key areas, several layers deep, the proper order to implement them. I shared them with my Inner Circle members this week. They all fit onto one (oversized) PDF infographic called the “Double-Your-Placements Decision Tree.”

You can take one look at it, see which activities you’ve already mastered, and know immediately which next steps will get you the biggest results, fastest.

You get access to the Decision Tree immediately upon joining the Inner Circle.

Click here to learn how the Inner Circle benefits you – you won’t see the Decision Tree mentioned, because it’s brand spanking new. Once your application is approved and you join, the very first page you’ll see has the link to download the PDF right in the middle.

Most popular PR resolution

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Last week I invited you to choose from three weekly habits for one of your new year’s resolutions, and reply to let me know which one.

The winner by a two-to-one margin was:

Spend one hour per week reaching out to journalists and other influencers you’re targeting and let them know what you think of their work. (Not only right before you’re about to pitch them.)

Longtime Inner Circle member Judy Kalvin, already an accomplished PR vet, vowed to redouble her efforts on this activity.

“When I have done it, it’s only resulted in good things, including much better relationships, requests for sources on stories they are currently working on or just a nice, warm response,” she emailed.

And then an hour later she forwarded an enthusiastic response from one of her key media after she had reacted to a story posted over the holidays.

One thing that stood out to me among the replies from your fellow followers was the number who said they had blocked off time on their calendars to do this activity.

They are very wise to do that. Adding it to your calendar dramatically increases the likelihood that you’ll actually follow through on this activity, make it a habit, and reap the rewards.

If you merely put it on a to-do list, then other people will usurp your time and the undone item will just leave you feeling guilty.

Marilyn Paige, another longtime follower, replied and introduced me to the concept of “attendance goals” vs. performance goals. In short, the idea is that you set yourself an easy-to-achieve goal that’s entirely within your sole control. Like spending an hour a week contacting key media.

You’re more likely to be successful at that, and therefore build momentum, toward your more ambitious “performance goals,” which often rely on other people, such as “Land X placements in top-tier outlets.”

I love this time of year, with the sense of renewal and the annual view. Before your psychology shifts and you dip back into “daily survival mode,” open up that calendar and schedule a weekly appointment with your most important media targets.

That’s one PR resolution you can be sure to keep.

P.S. I have a short training program that teaches best practices for this kind of outreach. Including how to overcome that nagging worry that you feel “inauthentic.” It’s a weekly series of short videos that comes free with your new Inner Circle membership.

The resolution from 3 years ago . . .

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This is the 157th consecutive week that I’ve written about PR.

Not like I’m proud of myself or anything 😉

That New Year’s resolution in 2015 was hard at first, but fortunately I stuck with it. I was sold on the simple power of consistency.

And it turns out that consistency works. I won’t bore you with the details, but forcing myself to deliver value each week to you, my article reader, has been a rising tide. It’s lifted all aspects of my business, and therefore my ability to help PR people excel.

This first week of January, choose at least one resolution that relies on the power of consistency.

Create a new habit, something that you’ll still be doing 157 weeks from now that will make your life that week and that new year so much easier because you’ve invested in doing it regularly to that point.

There are three consistent habits that I see top media relations pros, the people I call Media Relations Masters, do that I don’t see from the other 99 percent of people in our business. These three behaviors account for most of the difference between big-time success and mediocrity.

Give your career a major boost and choose just one of these as a resolution for this year:

– Spend one hour per week reaching out to journalists and other influencers you’re targeting and let them know what you think of their work. (Not only right before you’re about to pitch them.)

– Spend one hour per week talking to people — phone or in person, no digital shortcuts — in your organization (or a client’s) about what they’re seeing and thinking. This is how you uncover the really good angles to share with media. Not waiting for someone to tell you what to pitch.

– Send your bosses an update each week about some win or progress or insight that you and/or your team gained. Not braggy, just keeping them in the loop. This is how you build the trust necessary to get the license to try new and riskier things.

Imagine what your life would be like after 52 weeks of doing just one of those activities. Visualize the relationships with media, the wealth of story ideas, or the sense of partnership with leadership, that you’ll have. Work would be a lot easier, right? So just do it!

It’s entirely in your control. It’s not an aspirational resolution, like, “This is the year I’ll land the New York Times.” I’m all for resolutions like that, for sure. But this consistent-habit-building one I’m pushing here is totally up to you. If you can react to social media posts, make phone calls, and send emails, then you can achieve this challenge.

And you can be reaping the rewards in January 2019 🙂

Send me an email, michael@michaelsmartpr.com, and let me know which one you’re pursuing and why – I’d love to help along the way.

Boss Michael vs. the 3-yr-old

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A funny conversation ensued when my assistant Camille opened up my Christmas card and showed it to her 3-yr-old daughter Annabelle. And it struck me that it’s a conversation we often have in our own heads that likely holds us back.

Annabelle refers to me in conversations with her mom as “Boss Michael.” Not like a title, but rather, she thinks that’s my actual name. It’s probably because Camille would say something like, “Hang on, I need to finish this email to my boss, Michael” and the little girl would just hear the “Boss Michael.”

But this is the same Camille who once set up my official nickname in the federal government’s vendor database as “Bossy McBossFace,” so you never know if that’s really how it started.

Anyway, here’s the conversation:

Annabelle: “Why doesn’t Boss Michael do the work himself?”

Camille: “He’s busy doing other things.”

Annabelle: “And also is he a little bit lazy?”

Camille: “No, it’s better for him to work hard at the other things.”

Annabelle: “But maybe he doesn’t know how to do it?”

Camille: “No, he could figure it out, but he doesn’t need to, because that’s my job.”

Annabelle’s unfiltered candor cracks me up. Keep questioning authority, girl!

At the same time, her insights make me wonder, “How often do we worry that the adults around us are snarkily asking those very same questions when we delegate or outsource work?”

If you manage a team, or even have the help of an admin staffer or even an intern, you can accomplish WAY more for your organization when you focus on the stuff that only you can do.

And if you’re thoughtful about it, your team can achieve a greater sense of accomplishment and meaning at work when you shift a lot of your typical burden to them.

Sounds right reading it here, doesn’t it? But the “work hard!” work ethic that permeates our culture nags at you with the same doubts Annabelle harbored:

You should just do it yourself.

People will think you’re lazy.

People will think you don’t even know how to do it.

On the contrary, you know what people think about the person who delegates or outsources a lot? “Wow, she keeps reeling in big win after big win – how does she do it?”

As technology continues to reduce the friction of so many everyday tasks, EVERYTHING seems easy enough just to do it yourself. But when you succumb to that philosophy, you have too much going on to succeed at the one or two or three things that really determine your success or failure.

So in the coming year, delegate more so you can focus better. (If you’re not at a stage in your career where you have anyone you can delegate to, then nail all your stuff and get to that stage).

More on this next week.

Happy New Year!

“I don’t suck!”

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I feel both haunted and empowered by vulnerable comments two successful pros shared with me recently. I believe their fears are representative of far more PR people than you realize, and that we have a lot to learn when it comes to comparing ourselves to others.

Our holiday tradition around here is that the post on the Thursday before gets deeper and more “real” about life beyond media relations.

One of those startling comments came from a coaching client. She’s got a career that’d be the envy of many: her own practice that specializes in a popular subject that would be her hobby if it wasn’t her job. She is absolutely exceptional at PR, and even more exceptional as a human being. But she doesn’t know it.

She was recounting some of her client work and threw in a mention of a big win. Then she paused for a second and said:

“Most of the time I just hurry through the weeks struggling and feeling like I’m coming up short, and it’s not until I just told you that I’m like, ‘Hey, I don’t suck!’”

Her confession reminded me of another one that came a few weeks ago. It was from a successful entrepreneur, always rubbing shoulders with the movers and shakers in his industry. I had done some work with him, he asked me if I’d shoot a short video testimonial for him, which I was happy to do. When I emailed him the file, his reply included this bracingly honest thank-you:

“I can’t even look at the screen listening to your words. I spent so many years thinking and believing that I was completely worthless. It still shocks me to hear what people think about me as a person, defects and all.”

If you met either of these two people in the hallway at a trade show, or in a conference room for a business meeting, you would never guess that they harbored these painful self-doubts. Their professional success should have swept away those negative thoughts by now, right?

Obviously not. And the more I dig deeper into understanding human performance, the more convinced I am that past a certain level of mastery, it’s got nothing at all to do with knowledge and results. Instead it’s all about making peace with painful emotional baggage – we’ve all got it.

Addictions, habits or vices that are inconsistent with your chosen values. Old fears you tell yourself that you’re over (but you’re not). Emotional wounds shoved deep inside and not acknowledged. Bitterness toward someone you can’t bring yourself to forgive.

In fact, my experience has shown that the more successful people become at their chosen craft, the closer these personal demons bubble to the surface. Because they’re the only thing remaining that’s holding you back!

My hope for you this holiday season is that you’ll:

– draw strength from realizing that those “secret” challenges you struggle with are actually universal

– have the courage and confidence to lean into them instead of shoving them further inside

– remember that improving your PR career is not your focus; that’s just a means to an end to get you closer to the freedom, autonomy and personal power that will allow you achieve your full potential.

Warmest wishes for the holidays and for 2018.

P.S. If you’re newer around here, here are some previous Christmas-week messages that touched on getting life’s priorities straight, not tolerating mistreatment of people, and your power to lift others when they’re down (I just re-read this last one and got boosted all over again – thanks Leon!).