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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Don't Touch Me There!

Years ago there used to be a TV show on late night called SpaceGhost Coast to Coast.  It was a strange little cartoon who's viewers were comprised mostly of "The Tick" fans and folks who used to rush home early on weekend nights to watch Liquid Television on MTV.  (How's THAT for a blast from the past?)

I bring this odd little show up because when I heard of the new TSA patdown policy I remembered a song from the show that I felt was appropriate.  It was sung by one of the show's secondary characters called "Brack" and it was called, "Don't Touch Me." It was a pretty basic song.  Basically it was just Brack singing "Don't Touch Me!" over and over again.

I amused myself the other day imagining thousands upon thousands of holiday travelers singing that song as TSA officers groped and fondled their way through prospective terrorists.  In the end, though, what REALLY amused me was the public relations fallout from the new pat-down policy and the concept that someone in government though that this would just go by the average citizen unnoticed.

Well, clearly it didn't.  And, as this USA Today article points out, the PR disaster didn't catch TSA officials completely off-guard.

TSA chief: Public outcry over pat-downs weighed vs. risk

By Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAY
The nation's transportation security chief says he decided to launch controversial new airport pat-down searches without first warning travelers, against the advice of his public relations aides.
Transportation Security Administration head John Pistole said in a wide-ranging interview Tuesday that he rejected the advice for fear of highlighting screening weaknesses terrorists could exploit.
TSA's more intensive pat-downs of private body parts under clothing set off what he called a "media frenzy" leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday travel week.
Q&A: Pistole talks about threats, how far searches will go
FREQUENT TRAVELERS: Oppose new TSA security screenings
POLL: Most fliers bothered or angered by TSA pat-downs
"What it came down to was I wanted to make sure people are not subjected to additional risk of planes being blown out of the sky," Pistole told USA TODAY's editorial board. "I was gravely concerned that we needed to do something with a sense of urgency and professionalism that did not signal to terrorists that we had a vulnerability."
Pistole says he wishes there was an "easier answer" to the balance between keeping the public informed and ensuring flights are safe.
This article tells me two things:
1.  TSA has competent PR consultants
2.  TSA officials are terrible at damage control

It was reassuring to hear that at least SOMEONE at the TSA was aware of the potential PR disaster that awaited after announcing the new policy.  As a PR professional, I was left wondering how an official government agency could believe that there wouldn't be some kind of negative reaction to the pat-downs.  However, upon reading this article, I was comforted to know that there are some folks who could foresee the shitstorm that was to follow the implementation of the policy.

What is NOT comforting, however, is the response to the controversy.  If the agency knew there was going to be a backlash one would figure they would craft the kind of response that would negate at least SOME of the anger and frustration felt by travelers.  But no.  What we got was more of the fear-based, shallow platitudes that we have been fed for several years now.

Right Moves, Wrong Message:

Let's look at the TSA strategy in response to the problem.  They set up editorial board meetings and went out on a full-fledged media blitz to explain the new policy.  This was exactly the right move, at least on macro scale.

But what was the message that they passed on in all of those interviews and meetings?  Essentially, it was, "If we didn't do this, you would die!"  Using phrases like, "blown out of the sky," and "signal to terrorists that we had a vulnerability..." does little more that reinforce the fact that the TSA isn't really doing their job.  It instills fear, rather than confidence.

The fact that this message was approved by the PR folks is disturbing.  Why not instead move forward with a message that focuses on reinforcing current strengths instead of highlighting weaknesses?  A message such as, "While our current policies are working effectively, we feel the new policy will make our screening processes even stronger in the face of new threats."

Of course, there's no way that any message was going to completely satisfy everyone.  But the message that was relayed through the media came across as arrogant fear-mongering.  It told the public that we were helpless to stop future attacks without the new policy.  Plus, it even blames the media for creating a "frenzy".  It wasn't the media that created the problem, the public reacted to a new, surprise policy and the media covered it.

What This Means To You:

As a small business owner or non-profit, you will, from time to time, be forced to change your policies or prices.  Whenever you make a change, you take the risk of alienating long time customers and driving away new potential customers if you don't handle it right.

In most cases, you can make the change easier by simply communicating better.  In the TSA case, they sprung the pat-down change on the public with little to no warning.  For small businesses and non-profits, you can minimize the anger and frustration of changes by announcing the change on your social media platforms.  Simple posts on Facebook, your blog and through Tweets can let your customers and potential customers know your new policies.

More importantly, solid community outreach can go a long way towards minimizing the fallout from future changes in your business policies.  Think about how much goodwill the TSA might have garnered if they had put representatives in major airports to explain the new policy and simply be there to allow travelers to vent their frustrations?  Sometimes community outreach and PR is about listening to complaints.

Just by having someone there to listen to the venting, the TSA would have shown a willingness to acknowledge that there is an issue, and an understanding of travelers' frustrations.  People know they won't be able to change the policy, but by allowing them to express their frustration, they let travelers know that they understand and that they care.  That's really all that people want in situations such as these.

As a small business or non-profit, you can open a forum online, or have someone physically in place to listen to customer complaints after the changes have been implemented.  You might still lose a few customers, but most will appreciate that you took the time to listen to their complaints.

Change can be difficult, we all know that.  Your customers frequent your organization because they like how you run your operation.  When change happens, it makes them angry, frustrated and scared.  It is up to you to listen to them, to communicate with them, let them know WHY you are making the change so they can see your side of things.  People are forgiving if they know the whole story and if you take the extra steps to show them that you understand and care. 

So don't make the same mistake that the TSA did.  Communicate beforehand, make sure you are prepared to listen to complaints and make sure your message doesn't condescend to them or blame someone else for any fallout that might occur from the changes.  Put yourself in their shoes and use your social media platforms and a solid PR plan to get your message out before the change creates the kind of problems that you can't control.  If you do this, you'll be able to make your changes without losing business or money.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Forest For The Trees

One of the biggest problems small business owner and non-profit directors have when handling their own PR and social media efforts is that they are too close to their own organization.  I know this sounds strange to say, but sometimes being TOO familiar with your business or non-profit can actually hinder your ability to speak to the masses, gain friends and followers and garner you some much needed earned media coverage.

Case in point:

On Thursday morning, I received this email from a friend who works as news producer at a local television station:
On Nov 11, 2010, at 11:56 AM, Shaw, Duncan J Shaw wrote
You know I *love* sending you stuff…

Nowhere in this e-mail or attached press release is there an explanation of *what* “Wage Theft” is (they provide a link to a video in the e-mail, and I think there are links in the attachment), but you would think you’d at least give a one or two line explanation…
This "release" is one of the myriad of "Bad press releases" that newsrooms receive every day.  Fortunately, I have the pleasure of reading a few of them from time to time without having to sift through the piles of garbage that producers, reporters and editors have to deal with.

Before we go any further, let's take a look at the aforementioned "release":
(NOTE - I have removed the name of individual who sent the release)
Sent: Thursday, November 11, 2010 11:53 AM
Subject: Press Advisory for Wage Theft Action in Denver, 11-18-10

Greetings.

Attached is a press advisory about a Wage Theft Day of Action and Awareness that will take place a week from today in 30 cities around the country (including Denver) on Thursday, Nov. 18th at 11:00am.

Here is a YouTube link about the problem of wage theft:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hn6nr2PviIU&feature=player_embedded

For general inquires ahead of time about the Day of Action in Denver or concerning the informal partnership that has developed in Denver between Interfaith Worker Justice of Colorado, the Department of Labor, OSHA, and the El Centro Day Laborer Center, please contact me (Rev. Daniel Klawitter) at: 303-477-6111 ext. 36.

For inquires about what wage theft specifically looks like in Metro Denver and/or to get personal human interest stories from workers who have had their wages stolen by their employer, please contact the Director of El Centro Humanitario, Eddie Soto, at: 303.292.4115, esoto@centrohumanitario.org

WHAT: Educational event/Press Conference on Wage Theft
WHO: Religious Leaders, Day Laborers, Worker Advocates and representatives from OSHA, the Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division and Colorado Dept. of Labor and Employment.
WHEN: Thursday, Nov. 18th at 11:00am.
WHERE: El Centro Humanitario, 2260 California St. Denver, CO 80205.

Speakers will include Dusti Gurule, the regional representative for U.S. Department of Labor Secretary, Hilda Solis.

Sincerely,
XXXXXX
There was the obligatory follow-up contact information at the end, which was perhaps the best part of the release.

Now let's take a look at WHY this release is such a poor example of a press advisory.  Look back at Duncan's note in his email to me.

1. There is no explanation of what "Wage Theft" is
2. The video link is just that, a link, no embedded video

These two items alone make this a very ineffective press release.  Of course there are some reasons as to why these mistakes happened.  First, the sender assumed that journalists know what wage theft is.  Second, they may not have taken the time, or knew how, to embed video into an email.

While both mistakes are understandable, they aren't excusable.  As we've covered in this space many times before, journalists are two things; busy and lazy.  Yes, it sounds like a contradiction, but it's not.  Reporters, editors and producers already have a ton of work to do.  They either won't want to, or don't have time to open up external links or attached files.  If you want a journalist to look at your video, read your release or peruse your article, then you have to put it directly into the body of your email.

You really have to make it as simple as possible for them to get and digest the information quickly.  One stop shopping is the way to go.  Don't make them go to YouTube, or take tha chance that whatever file you've attached doesn't come with a virus.  Yes, it's only one extra click, but that extra click can be the difference between getting news coverage and ending up in the ignore pile.

Speak The Language:

Now about the other miscue, assuming that journalists were already aware of "wage theft", well, that's an entirely different beast.

As a small business owner or non-profit director, you deal with your particular cause, service or product on a daily basis.  You know all aspects about what your organization does, from top to bottom and from all angles.  No one knows as much as you do when it comes to your business or non-profit.  On one hand, this makes you the perfect person to go forth and spread your message.  On the other hand, this intimate knowledge can be a real handicap as well.

For instance, the individual who sent the above press release is most likely so involved with the issue of wage theft that it is almost inconceivable to him that very few people actually know what wage theft is.

This has been an issue with many of the clients I work with as well.  Whether it's a restaurant, a storage company or any number of non-profits, each of them simply assume that everyone is already aware of their business or cause.

This assumption negatively impacts how you present your information.  Because we all know that brevity works when dealing with the public, corners are cut and vital information is often left out.  This is the kind of information that, while well known to those close to the business or cause, isn't readily known outside of those circles.  Thus, you end up sending a release that focuses on your upcoming event, without actually describing what your business or cause is all about.

More than that, BECAUSE you are so well versed in your cause or business, you ultimately end up using language that is either confusing or is a turn-off to the public at large.

When dealing with one of my current clients, we have gone round and round over the type of words used to describe pets without homes.  To the public at large, homeless pets are feral.  But within the circles of animal rescue and care, feral has a very specific meaning.  That means we have to use both "homeless" AND "feral" in all of our releases.  It might seem like a little thing, but it's extra words that can ultimately confuse readers.

Another instance involves the upcoming holiday season.  When it was proposed to promote proper care for new pets given as presents, the client had a problem because so many pets will likely come from breeders, something the client is opposed to.  The problem is, the public doesn't care, thousands of new pets WILL come from breeders this holiday season.  Simply by talking about holiday pets won't increase the number of pets purchased from breeders.  But by avoiding the topic altogether, the client would have missed an opportunity to talk about spaying and neutering for all these new pets and wouldn't have had a platform to discuss spaying and neutering in general.

This problem can be seen in every walk of life.  Engineers, chefs, computer programmers, non-profits of every stripe.  When putting together your press releases, when posting items on your various social media platforms, keep in mind that the public at large isn't familiar with your acronyms, your technical speak, your specific definitions.

Combating The Problem:

It's not easy to step back and see the bigger picture.  In most cases, you don't have that luxury.  You're so busy handling the daily details of your organization, you are essentially immersed in every aspect of your organization.  So when it comes to putting together your release or posting on Facebook or Tweeting, here are some ways you can make sure your knowledge doesn't get in the way of your success:
1.  An extra set of eyes - Get someone you trust to go over your releases before sending them out.  Make sure this is someone who isn't as familiar with your organization as you are.  By getting someone to represent the public at large, you can make sure your message isn't lost, hindered or obfuscated by technical language or terms that only you will understand.


2.  Dont' get caught up in the minutae - Yes, to you, the minutae matters, it has to in order to be successful.  But too much minutae will turn away followers.  They don't care about the difference between "homeless" and "feral" or between "hoagie" and "grinder".  You also don't have to explain every little thing, just the overview.  Make sure your basic message is received in the simplest and most understandable manner possible.

3.  Don't forget the bottom line - In the end, you want others to understand, appreciate and support your business or non-profit.  The public wants value and you have to show them why your organization gives them that value.  Don't worry about every little thing, focus on explaining, briefly what you do or what you're about, and what you can do for them.  If you can adhere to these two basic elements, you're releases and your postings will be successful.
You have a passion about your organization, that makes sense.  But if you don't step back and simplify and clarify your message, your efforts will result in failure.  Just keep in mind that you have to explain in short simple terms what your business, product, service or cause is all about and then explain why you bring value to the public.  It's not hard to do, unless, of course, you're just too close to the subject matter to see the forest for the trees.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A view from the other side:

One of the most important things anyone dealing with the media needs to learn is the thought process of producers, reporters and editors.  Sometimes, it's not as easy as it sounds.  Listen, it's not rocket science, but, like a lot of other professions, one can't REALLY understand someone's thought processes until they "walk a mile in their shoes," so to speak.

Of course, it's impossible for everyone to spend time working in a newsroom (although I, and many others think it SHOULD be requirement for PR professionals, but that's another issue).  Heck, most people wouldn't want to work in news.  It can be boring at times, terrifying at others, there is tedium, long hours and to make up for it all, few people are getting rich working in local news.


One of my goals when starting this blog was to help small business owners and non-profits understand a little better HOW newsrooms operate, what kind of pressures they work under and the thoughts and decision processes used by most journalists.

To that end, I offer this article.  It comes from Shoptalk, a popular media website and email newsletter that comes out every day.  The article is written by Doug Drew and I think it gives some incredible insight into how producers book guests for their shows. 
Keys to Booking Guests

Guests are often trying to promote something other than your primary objective.
The producer of the Howard Stern show, Gary Dell'Abate, recently appeared on David Letterman's The Late Show, telling Dave that if Stern was a good guy on the radio "we would have no where to work." It was a great interview with lots of insight into Howard Stern and his shock radio show. It was about an 8 minute interview, lengthy by late night talk show standards, and not until the very end did Letterman let Dell'Abate plug the real reason he was on the show, to promote his new book They Call Me Baba Booey.


The plug goes at the end of the segment
I am sure Dell'Abate's agent or publisher pitched The Late Show to book Dell' Abate as a guest. In fact, most guests who appear on television are booked through a PR agency who sent a press release to the station. Television stations are inundated with people trying to get on TV to promote their product, their book, their movie, their concert, their community event, their restaurant, etc. Some of these make great guests, but just remember whose show it is. Accomplish your goals first, and get them to hold their plug for the end of the interview.

It's easy to book a guest who comes in the door through an agency or a press release. You simply call the contact person on the release, and select a date for the appearance.

Guests are given valuable airtime
But too often that is where the planning stops, and it can't be that way. Too many producers simply pick up the press release, call the contact person, agree on a date, and viola, the segment is booked! But it's not just about filling time. You are giving these people incredible amounts of airtime. It's time they very likely couldn't afford to buy if they were going through the sales department. So, they should be willing to do whatever it is you want, within reason.

Dan Aykroyd is making the local TV circuit, his agent offering him as a guest to pitch his new Vodka. Aykroyd is a great guest, but if not planned properly he will simply come in and do a commercial. Instead, think why you would want to have him as a guest. You'd want to talk to him about his movie career, and about the new Ghostbusters movie that is in the works. You have to make it clear to the contact, that you'd love to have Aykroyd as a guest, but that you will start off talking about his movies, and at the end, he can talk about his new Vodka. It's a win-win for everyone.


Charities must follow the same rule
If the Cancer Society wants to come in and talk about it's upcoming fundraiser, that's fine, but you don't want the Executive Director on as a guest. You want a cancer survivor on to talk about what it's like to deal with the devastating disease. Remember, what you want are real people with interesting stories to tell, while the charities are trying to promote an event. It's your show, demand a real person and promise you will promote the event at the end.

Make the PR agency do all the work
Put the people who write the press releases and the PR agencies who are pitching guests to work. Tell them that their clients can come on the show, but only if they do it your way. If they don't want to play, then they don't get on. Believe me, most will agree to your requests. Have the agency do all the work. If they are pitching new toys for kids, tell them that they have to have all the toys on set, plus they need 5 kids to test the toys and are willing to talk to your hosts about what they like or don't like about the toys. Make the PR agency come up with all the props and children.

Bottom line
Make the guests and their agencies do the heavy lifting. They do the work, and you get a great segment. These guests don't get on your show unless they do it they way you want. It's a win-win for everyone.
Take a moment and re-read that "Bottom line" paragraph.  I think it sums up fairly well what works when trying to get yourself booked with a news program.  I've mentioned it before, but I think it's worth going over again. 

Producers, editors and reporters are busy folks working under tight, tight deadlines.  The more you do to help them, the better your chances of being booked as a guest.  More importantly, if you get booked once, and you prove that you can speak their language, understand their time constraints and deliver with a quality, interesting guest, they won't hesitate to book you again.

In essence, what this article is telling journalists is that they basically hold all the cards.  Having been on the PR side for several years now, I'd like to dispute that point, but I really can't.  They ARE offering you a chance to appear on television or in print and get valuable airtime to spread your message or promote your event, product or services.

Certainly you are offering something of value to the newsrooms as well.  But it's a very rare and fortunate few that can call their own shots when trying to be booked as a guest on any television program. 

Two very important things to remember:

If you take nothing else from this article, you should remember two very important points made about the purpose and kinds of guests being booked. 
1.  The purpose of the guest is NOT to give a commercial, but to provide entertainment or valuable information to the audience.


2.  Always look for the more compelling guest.  In other words, don't take the PR spokesman or the executive director, when a more compelling interview subject is there for the taking.
This holds particularly true for non-profits, as mentioned in the article.  If you run a non-profit dedicated to improving schools in low-income areas, then it's much more interesting to hear from a student or a teacher discuss the challenges and difficulties and victories of everyday life at the school, than to listen to the non-profit director extoll the virtues of the program.  People want real, they want gritty, they want emotion.  They want stories, told by the people who are living those stories.  They DON'T want to hear from spokesperson who isn't on the front lines of the problem and recanting stories second-hand.

This is the kind of information you have to put into your releases and pitch paragraphs.  Let the journalists know immediately what the story is, then follow up by letting them know who the interview subject will be.  The more compelling the interview subject, the better your chances of getting booked.

What this means:

This means you have to prepare, you have to train, you have to practice.  In other words, if you're trying to book your business or non-profit as an interview subject either on a local TV news show or in your local paper, you might have to offer up someone other than yourself to actually be interviewed. 

This can be tricky, because, frankly, who knows more about your messages, your business, your organization and its overall goals than you do?  Whoever you offer up has to be well-versed in your messages.  They have to be comfortable being interviewed, both on camera and off.  They have to know what to say, how to say it and when to say it. 

You will want to spend time going over all of these things before letting them loose in a newsroom.  They will have to make sure they get your messages across without having it sound like a commercial, they will have to be able to tell their story in a concise and compelling manner and they will have to remember to make sure to plug whatever service, event or product your pitching at the end of the segment.

To that end, you will want to remind the journalists why your guest is there.  You can do this simply by sending an email thanking them for allowing you to appear on the show to promote your subject matter.  During this email you will want to make sure you include your address, the time and location of the event, the correct spelling of the product and of course, the correct spelling of your organization and the person being interviewed.  You might also want to provide any photos or video you have, plus put together any lists you have that is associated with the interview that could be used as full cover graphics. 

If you couch this in the spirit of trying to be helpful and providing information, the journalist won't be offended.  You're simply trying to make sure there are no mistakes and that both parties walk away from the interview satisfied.

One of the biggest issues I hear about is a business or non-profit complaining about how the news misspelled a name or didn't get something right during the interview.  When I ask them if they had followed up with the newsroom BEFORE the interview, 99-percent of the time, the answer is no. 

Journalists KNOW you want to get exposure, and they're okay with that as long as they get a quality interview segment out of it as well.  They won't take offense and they will appreciate any ideas or extras you throw their way to make the segment more interesting both informationally and visually.

So, in the future, if in doubt, take a moment and re-read this article if you have any questions about what kind of guests a newsroom might be looking for.  Then go out and make sure you are able to provide a journalist with everything they might need for a good segment.  If you can't, rethink making your pitch, or rework it from the ground up.  If you can offer them what they want, then go forward and begin pitching.  If you can do this, journalists will love you and you'll find yourself being called upon again in the future for more interviews.  And that's never a bad thing.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Feel the Passion!

Recently I spent a day going around to local newsrooms to introduce a friend to reporters, assignment editors and producers.  Whenever possible, this is a great way to begin to build relationships with local journalists and get a feel for how to pitch your stories to the separate newsrooms.  Some newsrooms are more open to "feature" type stories, while others are really only looking for hard news stories.  By meeting the journalists in their respective newsrooms, you can get a feel for how to pitch your stories. 

But one of the biggest reasons to spend time at your local newsrooms is that you get to actually have conversations with the reporters, producers and editors that will be receiving your pitches.  I always tell clients that when they have a chance to meet journalists, do more listening than talking.

The importance of this bit of advice came to the forefront last week during my little "mini-tour".  We were chatting with the producer of the number one morning talk show in Denver and we began discussing media pitches.  It was a discussion that brought to light one of the biggest mistakes PR professionals make all the time.

Hi, let me tell you about a great story you might be interested in!

First, a bit of insight:

We've covered this in-depth in this space before, but it's worth mentioning again.  Newsrooms are flooded with press releases every day.  They get hundreds upon hundreds of pitches, releases and alerts on a daily basis.  This isn't even counting the number of stories they glean from listening to the local scanners, or the ones pitched individually by journalists who might have been alerted to a story through more "unofficial" channels.  In other words, they are constantly swamped with potential stories.

And it's not just emails coming across their desk.  When I worked in newsrooms, we still received a ton of faxes, and even today, the number of faxed releases might surprise you.  But one of the most time-consuming and annoying pitches they get are the phone calls.  Most of the time, these are first-time pitches; cold calls from a large PR firm halfway across the country where some first year PR account manager is simply calling every newsroom on their list making their pitch.

Here's the problem with this approach:
1.  Generally, these calls are ill-timed, catching journalists when they're at their busiest
2.  Journalists like to look at information rather than have it told to them over the phone
3.  Most of the time, these pitches are scripted out
4.  The PR person is often surprised when they actually talk to a live person and they      aren't prepared to make a live pitch.
Here are some interesting comments from the producer we spoke to, Nathan Lynn, producer of 850 KOA's "Good Morning Colorado" program. 

"They always ask to speak to Nathan, and when I tell them they've reached him, they panic a little.  Then they go right into their script.  I can tell when they're reading directly from a script and it doesn't inspire me to want to book them as a guest."

Take that in for a second.  Imagine you're a business and you've hired a large PR firm to manage your account and get you some quality earned media coverage.  You would expect this large, experienced firm to make quality pitches on your behalf.  You would hope they would craft your message, release and pitch, target appropriate media outlets and individuals in those outlets and bring some passion to the effort.

Instead, what normally happens is the firm sends out a media blast to every conceivable newsroom, puts together a pitch script, hands a list of newsrooms to call to the account manager and hopes for the best.  This is a bit like throwing a bunch of stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks.  It may generate some results, you might even get a couple of hits, but the money spent for the results will likely end in disappointment.

Advantage, small business:

This is where small businesses and non-profits often have an advantage over the larger firms, particularly if you're handling your own PR.  In a word, you bring passion to the table, and that passion can often be the difference between a successful pitch and a failed one.

Granted, you probably don't have as much time to devote to your PR efforts as a large firm who has either an in-house staff or can afford to hire a firm to focus on pitching.  But let's face it, you don't need a large firm.  You're not necessarily looking for national media exposure.  For most small businesses and non-profits, you're going to get much more of a bounce from your local media than an article in USA Today or the CBS Evening News. 

Outside of the fact that national news outlets are losing viewers and readers at an alarming rate, your potential customers are tuning into local newscasts to find out what is happening in their immediate area.  That's not to say that a mention on a national news outlet or magazine wouldn't be nice, but given the time you'll spend to get that mention, you're better served focusing on your local outlets instead.

This brings us back to why your PR efforts can often be more successful than those of a large firm.  You know the area, you know the audience, you know the trends of the local newsrooms.  Heck, you might even know a few of the local journalists.  You can often do a better job at targeting local newsrooms, editors, reporters and producers than the larger firms.  But the one thing that you offer that the larger firms usually don't is passion. 

You know your product, service or business better than anyone.  It is what you do, it is your lifeblood it is why you get up in the morning.  Who better to make your pitch, then, than you.

Tips for the phone call:

With that said, there are some things you can do to increase success when it comes to making your phone call pitch.  Keep this in mind, it is very rare to make a cold call phone pitch and have a newsroom pick up your story.  In almost every instance, it is always a better idea to send an email release and pitch letter beforehand.  Then you make your follow up phone calls to try and close the deal.  When making that phone call, remember these tips:
1.  Be natural - It's okay to write out a script if you really need it.  But it's usually better to simply list the important points of your pitch.  Reading from a script can drain the passion you naturally have for your story.
2.  Practice - For most, making a pitch is not something that comes easily or naturally.  You have to practice your pitch to make it sound natural.  Record yourself and play it back.  Do it over and over in front of a mirror until you feel comfortable with it.  Then make the pitch to a friend or colleague and get their feedback.
3.  Be prepared - If you're lucky, the journalist will be interested in your pitch.  If this happens, you have to be prepared for them to ask you questions.  You might get through your pitch just fine, but if you falter when they ask you questions, you're going to ruin your chances. 
4.  Be conversational - Anyone who has taken a public speaking course has heard this a million times, but it matters.  You don't want to be stiff or awkward.  Yes, you're going to be nervous, that's okay.  But you still have to be able to talk about your story in a way that interests them.  I still get nervous when I make my phone call pitches, and I've been doing this for years.  I simply remind myself that I'm pitching a good story and that journalists always want to hear a good story.  That puts me at ease.  Instead of thinking that I'm being a pest, I approach it as if I'm providing a service, actually being of help, to a newsroom.
5.  Be confident - Don't apologize for taking up their time and don't apologize for calling them to pitch your story.  Be confident in your pitch.  You've already sent them information, so in most cases, they'll already be familiar with your story.  You simply have to remind them of the email you sent and then explain why your story would be good for their audience to see or hear. 
6.  Get to the point - As we've said before, journalists don't have a lot of time to spend listening to phone pitches.  When you make your phone call, let them know who you are and why you're calling.  In some cases they'll remember your email.  If they do, simply ask them if they're interested in the story and would like to schedule and interview.  If they don't remember the email, they'll ask you to refresh them on the pitch.  If this happens do this:
     a. Tell them what the business is
     b. Tell them immediately about the event or story
     c. Mention the newspeg, let them know why this is a timely/important story
     d. Explain why it's a good story for their newsroom and audience.

You can do all of this within two or three sentences, literally 30-seconds.  If you're lucky, you'll get two minutes to talk to the journalist, you have to make the most of every second.
7.  Don't pester - Let's assume that the journalist has either read your email, or has listened to your pitch and responds with a "not interested".  Now you have to do a little tightrope walking.  You don't want to simply give up, but you also don't want to pester them.  If this happens, reiterate why it fits with a current newspeg or how it will be of interest to their audience.  You might even ask why they're not interested in the story.  Make sure they know that you're asking for future reference so you can make better pitches to them down the road.  Most of the time the journalist will tell you.  Finally, you can ask if there might be another treatment of the story that they'd be interested in.  In other words, you're pitching a package piece or feture story.  They might not be interested in devoting so much time and space to your story, but they might be interested in a shorter VO or a reader or a calendar listing.  You're simply trying to get the outlet to run something on your story, so if you don't get the bigger treatment, then try for something smaller.  After that, thank them for their time and let them go.  Most reporters will sit through two, maybe three follow up questions from you, but not much more.  Again, remember that their time is valuable.
8.  Be passionate - This doesn't mean yelling or jumping up and down as you pitch your story.  What it means is that you feel your story is important and that it is valuable to the newsroom.  Trust me, journalists can hear if you really care about your story.  If you are hesitant or blase about your story, how can you expect them to get excited over it?  
A short story:

Here's an example of how being passionate and persistent can really pay off during a follow-up phone call pitch.

I was pitching a story for Chase Bank in 2006.  They were releasing their "Blink" card nationally and Denver was one of the first markets to get the card.  Chase had already rolled out the card in Chicago, New York, Atlanta and Dallas before they ever got to Denver.  Being fifth on the list put us behind the eight ball a bit since the story had already been covered nationally, and had been picked up at least once in both local newspapers.

We initially sent out an email release announcing the release of the card locally.  This made it a local story, instead of a national afterthought.  It was a chance for local journalists to dive deeper into how the card works and personally ask questions of Chase Executives.

Every time I made the follow up phone call, I was asked why they should spend time on a story that had already been covered several times on the national level.  My simple response was this:

"Over 500-thousand Colorado residents will be receiving this card and this is the first time you'll be able to talk personally with Chase executives to localize the story."

In almost every case, this was enough to convince them to schedule an interview.  However, I ran into a major roadblock when I started calling media outlets on the other side of the state.  Editors and reporters of these smaller outlets flatly refused to cover the story.  At first I was taken by surprise at the myriad of denials.  after four refusals, I started to wonder why these smaller outlets weren't interested.  I had tried the new technology aspect and even wondered if it was just a matter of limited time on the broadcasts or space in the newspapers. 

During my sixth call, while talking to the editor of the Idaho Springs paper, I asked him why he wasn't interested.  He answered that Chase had no banks in his area and therefore the story had no impact with his readers.  I immediately kicked myself for not thinking of this earlier and then addressed his concern.

I mentioned that Chase DID have branches on the Western Slope of Colorado, only they weren't called Chase, they had a different names such as Wachovia, National and Western, all of which I knew WERE located on the Western Slope as well as Idaho Springs.  I mentioned that thousands of residents in his area would be receiving the card in the initial statewide rollout.  More than that, several other banks would be rolling out similar cards in the upcoming year, meaning many more of his readers would be impacted by the "Blink" card or cards just like it.

After a short pause, the editor asked if I knew exactly how many Western Slope residents would be getting the card.  I told him I'd get that information within an hour and get right back to him.  After hanging up, I found out that nearly 60-thousand residents would be getting the card and called him right back.  Within minutes I had booked an interview, and started calling back the newsrooms that had refused the story earlier.  Armed with my new information and knowing that it was good story, I managed to book all of those previous denials and went on to book several more outlets on the Western Slope.

Lesson Learned:

This pitch was very successful because I was passionate about the story.  I KNEW it was a good story and that it had a place in newscasts and newspapers across the state.  I also did not just give up when I was given a denial.  I asked a simple question and received a simple answer to which and could respond. We also did not simply blast out our press release.  We targeted key media outlets and key individuals in those outlets.  This saved us time from having to call every single outlet in the state and we didn't waste our time trying to explain the pitch to a journalist who simply wouldn't care about the story.

As a small business owner or non-profit, you have the ability to bring that kind of passion and planning to your pitch.  You don't have to get every media outlet in the state to cover your story.  You can target the top outlets and make your pitch with them.  The fact that you truly care about your pitch is also an advantage.  Again, producers, reporters and editors can hear when you care.

If you practice your pitch, be confident, to the point and prepared, your phone call pitch will always have a better chance to succeed than a larger firm that is, usually, only going through the motions.  This isn't a case of David vs. Goliath, it's really more a matter of passion.  You have it, they don't.  Use that to your advantage and you'll find yourself doing a lot more media interveiws in the near future.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Call To Action!

So you have a social media campaign.  You're online every day, updating your Facebook posts, Tweeting regularly, blogging every other day.  You're doing everything you should be, but for some reason, your network isn't growing, hits to your website or blog remain low, your business isn't picking up like you think it should.

On the other side of the coin, you've been pitching stories to your local media outlets, you haven't been getting much attention from the newsrooms, and when you do, the response hasn't been nearly as big as you'd hoped it would be.

And now you're asking yourself, "What am I doing wrong?"  There might be a few culprits, but chances are, your biggest mistake could be something so simple, you'll kick yourself when you find out what the answer is.

Different Kinds of Campaigns:

Before we go forward, let's take a moment to go over a couple of things.  First, take a look at your message.  Is it clear?  Is it concise?  Is it memorable?  Second, and this is important, ask yourself what kind of goals are you communicating to your readers, viewers, friends and followers?

There are really two kinds of  social media and PR campaigns:

1.  An Awareness Campaign
2.  A Call To Action Campaign

If you own a small business or non-profit, one of the most important decision you'll make as you create and plan your efforts is to decide what kind of campaign you want to run.  Do you want to simply raise awareness of your organization or of a your cause?  Or do you want to motivate potential customers or donors to frequent your business or donate to your charity?

Depending on what your goals are, you'll end up running completely different types of campaigns.  If you want to motivate people, then running an awareness campaign is going to net you very disappointing results.  Let's take a look at how the two efforts differ.

Raising Awareness:

If you're simply running an awareness campaign, then your work is relatively simple.  Like a call to action effort, one of the first things you want to do with an awareness campaign is to get your platforms up and begin linking to as many groups, friends and followers as possible.  By doing this, you immediately have the ability to expose your organization to hundreds, thousands, potentially tens of thousands of new sets of eyes.

Once you've done this, your biggest goal is to continually grow your network as much as possible.  In order to do this, you have to provide content that is both interesting and shareable.  Your links, your posts, your photos and videos must be appealing to the audience you're trying to reach.  If they are, your links will be shared and, hopefully, your efforts will begin to draw attention from others that have received a shared link from one of your followers.

If you're trying to raise awareness, much of your content will contain information that is crucial to your efforts.  We'll get into some of the best ways to run an awareness campaign in our next post, but if all you want to do is raise awareness of your organization or cause, then most of your work will deal with constantly posting information that is both entertaining and informative.  Kind of like news.  You want sets of eyes to see your material and log into your platforms.  In order to do this you have to focus on the content.  Do this, and your awareness effort will have a great chance to succeed.

This is why non-profits do so well in the social media realm.  If your major goal is to simply get folks to see you, to become aware of a cause, then all you really need to do is put something online and then work to distribute your content to as many sets of eyes as possible.  You're trying to educate.  Your biggest hurdle is getting it in front of folks and then making the content as interesting as possible so they take the time to read what you posted.  If you can get others involved in your cause you can build your network, and your non-profit awareness campaign will take off.  But what if you need to actually get others to DO something other than just read your material?  Then what you need is something a little extra.  

Motivate, Motivate, Motivate:

But let's assume for a moment that you don't just want to let people know that you exist, or tell folks about a particular cause you're interested, but you really, truly want or NEED to motivate the public to begin buying your wares, using your service or donating to your cause.  What kind of campaign do you need to run then?  Simply put, you need a "Call To Action" campaign.  And while there are some similarities to an awareness campaign, there is one primary difference; and that difference is right in the name.

A "call to action" campaign implies exactly what it say, you give people a REASON for actually getting out of their house and down to your doorstep.  But in order to do this, you have to offer more than cute phrases, interesting information, funny videos or catchy slogans.

Whether you're involved in a social media campaign or a PR effort, you have to make people want to participate in your venture, whether it's a small business or a non-profit.  One of the most common questions I get is "how do I motivate people online?"  Surprisingly, there's a pretty common answer.

If you own a small business, think about how you normally motivate customers and potential customers to frequent your business.  You run specials, you offer sales, you organize contests.  No matter how much technology changes how we do business, the fact is, people want to feel like they're getting a bargain.  This has been true since folks began trading beads for food millennia ago, and it holds true today.

Why change what works?  The biggest difference in social media and PR isn't what you're offering, it's the method of communication that has changed.  Before mass media, you would depend on word of mouth.  As times changed, businesses began using newspapers and billboards and eventually moved to radio and TV ads.

As you know, advertising can be expensive, and often small businesses and non-profits can't afford to buy quality advertising to raise awareness or motivate the public.  This is why social media and PR has been such a boon for small businesses and non-profits.  It allows you to spread the word, raise awareness and motivate without having to spend thousands of dollars on advertising.

But even though the venue might have changed, the basic tactics of motivating the public remains, essentially, the same.

Give 'Em A Reason:

It doesn't matter if it's a Faceook post or a TV interview, if you're running a call to action campaign, one of your primary messages needs to be that by going to your store, they're getting something special.  Here are a few tips to appeal to potential customers or donors:
1.  Offer a bargain - This could be a sale, a two-for-one deal, a discount offer.  Something that will make them feel like they are getting a deal they can't find anywhere else.


2.  Make them feel special - One of the most effective techniques to motivating others is to make them feel like they are getting something totally unique to your business, something they can't find at other stores.

3.  Make it time sensitive - Let's face it, if you know you can go to Wall-Mart at any time to buy that cheap video game, then you're less likely to get up off your couch to run down and get that game.  But if that game is only for sale for three days, then you know you HAVE to run down and buy it while it's on sale.  Consumers need to know that if they wait too long, they'll miss out on a great deal.  Only then will they be motivated enough to actually beat down your door.

4.  Be transparent - This is primarily for non-profits.  When folks donate to a cause, they want to know exactly what their money is going for.  Is most of it being eaten up by adminstrative costs?  By telling folks what their money goes to, the public will feel better about donating.

5.  Tell a story - Again, this is primarily for non-profits.  Tell a story that pertains to the cause the pulls on the heartstrings and really clarifies the need of those involved with the cause.  Those late night commercials featuring suffering African children is a great example.  There is a sense of urgency that kids are dying while you wait, and it lets you know exactly what your money is going to do to help.
Not A Commercial:

Oddly, one of the things that really irritates a lot of folks is being sold online.  In other words, you don't want your Facebook, Twitter or Blog postings to be simple advertisements.  You still want to post interesting and informative content.  But at the same time, you want to let them know that you're having a sale and that the sale is for a limited time only.

How to do this without turning people off?  It can be tricky, for sure. But without a call to action, your posts will simply become informative and, essentially, an extension of an awareness campaign. 

Here are some examples of some great call to action posts as part of a social media campaign:
"Wouldn't your wife love a night of passion?  Why wait until Valentines Day to give her flowers.  Say 'I love you' just because.  Gerry's Flowers is offering half off on all rose bouquets and arrangements this weekend only!"

"Protect your family this winter.  Make sure your car is ready for that first snowfall.  All month long Frank's Auto is offering $30 winterizing for you car..."
Do you see a pattern?  You're giving people a reason to get down to your business.  And it's not just because of the sale or special, you're appealing to something more personal, something that impacts their daily lives.  Simply posting something on Facebook that says, "Half off all bouquets" won't be as effective as letting them know WHY they need to buy that half-off bouquet.

Just like an awareness campaign, you still need to grow your network and raise awareness of your organization.  But in order to motivate your friends or followers, you'll need that extra call to action aspect that will actually get feet in the door.

The PR side of a call to action campaign is a little trickier, primarily because newsrooms don't want to be seen as advertisers for a particular business.  Non-profits have more success in this arena since generally your call to action is getting folks to donate, attend an event or become involved in a cause.  You're not selling anything, so your call to action during an interview can be much more effective, yet you still need to create urgency, tell a story and let folks know that their money is going to be impactful for a good cause.

In the end, if your efforts aren't as successful as you'd hoped they'd be, chances are you're not running the right kind of campaign for the goals you have set.  Go back and take a look at the kinds of posts your putting up on Facebook or Twitter or in your blog.

If you don't have a call to action, you're not motivating.  If you're not motivating, you're not going to grow your business or network.  And that is always going to be frustrating and disappointing to any small business or non-profit.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Give 'Em A Break...

It's that time of year again.  The leaves are falling, the weather takes on a slight chill, footballs are flying and every pitch in baseball takes on major importance.  In Colorado, snow-making machines are working overtime in the rush to get skiers on the slopes as soon as possible.  Yep, it's election time again and that means only one thing...stressed-out journalists.


I spent fifteen years working as a journalist and I can tell you, this is never a fun time of year.  Reporters, producers and editors have been spending months, literally, preparing for one night in early November.  By preparing, I'm talking about hours upon hours of reading bills and proposals and municipal codes, not to mention candidate resumes, speeches, background checks and press releases from a multitude of political groups across the spectrum.

I haven't even touched on the hours spent designing graphics, setting up logistics for coverage, such as who will be at the different headquarters, arranging live shoots, creating a schedule, building rundowns and...well, you get the idea.  A LOT of work goes into election night coverage...a lot.

Never mind the pressure to get all the facts right on election night as the results being flowing in, and pressure from management to get the big scoop, nail down the big interviews and do it all in such a way that doesn't go overbudget, over-time and in an entertaining fashion that will attract the most viewers.

As you can guess, all that work and no play makes journalists cranky.  The last thing they need is someone constantly bugging them with a story that, while interesting, simply has no place in their already crowded rundowns.

Practice Patience:

We've discussed timing in this space before, and this is one of those times where the more you are aware of what is going on around you, the better off you will be when pitching your story.  Perhaps the most important thing I've pitched with clients during election season is to practice patience when dealing with newsrooms and reign in their coverage expectations.

The fact is, if your story doesn't have some kind of political slant, it's unlikely you're going to get much, if any, coverage on your local newscast or in your daily papers.  This doesn't mean you should take a month off and simply throw up your hands in frustration during October and early November.  There ARE some things you can do to increase your chances of garnering earned news coverage, but remember, you have to plan it right, time it right, write it right, and have a little luck as well.
1.  Be Relevant - If you're pitching a story, try and find an angle that is political in nature, especially if there is a bill or proposal or particularly heated race.  Your best bet is to find a story involving your organization that relates in some way to the big political races.  This will offer journalists a different angle to a story they're probably already bored covering.

2.  Pitch Early - As election day grows closer, rundowns begin to fill up with fewer and fewer feature stories due to election coverage.  If you have a story you'd like to wedge in during October, make your pitch in late September or early October.  If you wait until the last week of October, you're chances decrease significantly.

3.  Be Personal - This is the time of year when personal relationship can be a real help.  It won't guarantee that you'll get coverage, but at least you'll have someone carrying the flag for your story during the daily newsmeetings.  Even in newsrooms where you don't really have strong personal relationships, you can improve your chances by personally addressing your release to individuals reporters, producers and editors.  One final note: instead of emailing your release, personally hand-deliver your release to each newsroom if possible.  Again, this won't guarantee coverage, but trust me, these journalists are being indundated, overwhelmed in some cases, by emails pitching stories, both political and non-political.  If they have something solid, in their hands, that they can peruse on their desk, it's harder to simply overlook.  Your release may sit on their desk for a bit, but it will be there, reminding them of a story that might be news-worthy later on.  
Other Tips:

Another thing to keep in mind is scheduling.  One of the biggest mistakes organizations make is scheduling events in the middle of October and early November.  Every other year, this is generally fine.  However during election years, it means you'll be fighting an uphill battle for coverage. 

This leads me to time-sensitive stories.  Your best bet when pitching a story so close to an election is to try and make it as least time-sensitive as possible.  If you pitch a story that absolutely has to be covered within a small window of time, you are severely limiting your chances.  If a newsroom can't find time or resources to cover your story in that time-span, your story will simply be tossed away with no chance to get coverage after the fact.  However, if your story has some relevance before the elections, and will still be relevant or interesting AFTER the elections, you set yourself up for being part of an election follow-up story, or be part of the first wave of post-election stories.

But let's assume you either HAVE to pitch a story, or simply feel like you have a great story and don't want to wait a few weeks.  In this case, follow the above tips to get your release into the hands of key newsroom players.  Then, be tactful and smart when it comes to the follow-up.  What you do AFTER you get the release to the newsroom will be the difference between getting your story on the air or in print and being completely ignored.
1.  Let's assume you walked your release into the newsroom.  Your next step is to wait a day or two and follow with an email.  Make it short and to the point.  Remind them who you are, what your story is and make your request for coverage.  Let them know that you are flexible and available.


2.  If you still haven't heard back from them, wait another day or two and give them a phone call.  Chances are, you won't reach the individual and will instead get their voice mail.  If you DO get their voicemail, again, keep it short, and follow the same instructions as above.  If you happen to get a live person, do the same thing as above with a couple of important changes:  A) If they politely decline covering your story, don't argue with them. You can point out how your story applies to the current political coverage (if it's relevant) and if they still aren't interested, thank them for their time, remind them that your story will still be relevant AFTER elections and that you'd love to talk about the story after the election dust has settled.


3.  Follow up with an email a few days later.  After you've left a message on their voicemail or chatted with them directly, send an email, thanking them for taking time to consider your story.  Again, keep it short and remind them that your story will still be relevant and interesting after the elections.  Thank them for the work they are doing as part of their election coverage and let them know that you understand the pressures they are under.  Keep it professional and flattering.  They will like the fact that you aren't pestering them too much and respect the fact that you understand the situation.  You STILL may not get any coverage, even after the elections are done, but they will remember you the next time you pitch and this, my friends, is how you begin to build relationships with journalists.
Patience, Grasshopper:

In the end, while you don't have to lower your expectations, you may have to adjust them, at least temporarily, while newsrooms focus on the elections.  It's perfectly okay to pitch your stories, it's NOT okay to make demands on journalists, despite how good your story may be.  Journalists are like elephants...they remember everything.  If you pester and cajole and argue, you will become persona-non-grata.  Yes, we know that journalists are supposed to be subjective, but they are human, and if you make their lives miserable when they're already overworked, they will make you pay for it later.

Find Opportunity:

This time of year is also a great way to go the other direction and try to make their lives easier.  If you are a massage therapist, or dry-cleaning service, restaurant, bar, whatever you do, if you can provide a service to your local newsroom, by all means, offer it.  Some journalists will take you up on a round of free drinks for local journalists, some won't. 

If you don't want to deal with that hassle, simply order pizzas and have them delivered to the newsroom in your name.  You can do the same thing with breakfast burritos, beer, donuts, anything that will make their lives a little easier while they are slaving away preparing for and covering the elections.

Like always, there's no guarantee this will garner you coverage, but at the very least, they will remember you.  Even though you might not get much, if any, response to your pitch this time of year, you can still use the elections as an opportunity to build relationships with local journalists.  And that is the kind of campaigning that can really pay off for you in the future.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Five Reasons Why Your Social Media Campaign Didn't Work

Not long ago I posted an entry that received a great deal of interest.  If you missed it, it was, "Five Reasons Why Your PR Campaign Didn't Work."

Well, keeping in the spirit of that entry, I've decided to post a follow-up, only this time, focused on Social Media.  I know a lot of you are in the process of creating your own social media campaigns, or perhaps you've already done so and are maintaining it daily in hopes that it will drive customers to your door.


But you might not be seeing the bounce you were hoping for.  Maybe you're not seeing any results at all.  There are a number of reasons for this, some of it requires a simple tweak on your part.  However, some issues will require you to completely overhaul either your approach or your expectations.

Let's take a look at the five most obvious reasons your social media campaign simply doesn't seem to be working.
1.  You're talking AT your audience, not TO them: 
First and foremost, social media works best when it's a conversation.  Sure, platforms like Twitter work well when simply trying to exchange links and let people know what you're up to, but for real results, conversations work best.  There are a number of ways to initiate a conversation, such as asking questions, or starting a thread about a particular subject of interest.  You can also use social media to monitor what others are saying about your organization and respond.  If youre just using your platforms to give information and not using to listen as well, you're likely not going to get as much interest from your friends or followers.

2.  You aren't expanding your network:  
This is a toughie for most folks since it's hard to grow a network online without actually knowing anyone.  But the online communities and social media platforms allow for all kinds of connection with folks you've never met before.  For instance, when you initially signed up for Twitter, you were prompted about your interests or type of business you are.  Most folks skip right past this part of the sign in process, but you should go back and check it out again.  It will connect you to individuals and organizations that are interested in the same things you are.  Facebook has groups you can join that target your specific audience, as does LinkedIn.  Blogs require a little more effort, but you can start linking to other blogs of interest and expand your blog network very easily.  Sending a quick note to other blogs letting them know you're linking to them and asking them to link to you takes little time and can help you reach thousands upon thousands of new sets of eyes.

3.  You don't have a call to action: 
Putting information out on your Facebook and Twitter and blog pages is great.  But what do you want readers to do with this information?  This is key, because if all you want to do is raise awareness, then you can get away with this.  But more likely you want to get people to do something specific like, go to your store, or buy a product or give money for a cause.  This means you have to tell them to do it.  Simply telling them that you exist isn't enough.  You have to tell them to get out or get online and check out a website or drive to your store.  People need to be prompted. Sometimes this means offering a special promotion, but at the very least you HAVE to tell them to do something specific in order to start seeing results.

4.  You're being impatient:  
Again, this is typical of most social media campaigns that don't succeed.  While there are some viral campaigns that become internet superstars overnight, they are rare.  A more likely scenario is that you'll establish your identity on your platforms and watch as your friends and followers grow at a steady pace.  Think of it as a plant that needs to be watered and cared for in order to grow.  It takes a minimum of three months online to even begin to reap visible results from a solid social media campaign.  If you put up your platforms and expect customers to suddenly be beating down your door, you have to adjust your expectations.  It's okay to make adjustments as you go along, but you have to be patient and give it time to really work for you.  Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither will your social media success.

5.  You're operating in a vacuum: 
This is important, so listen up; Social media works best when used in combination with other marketing and public relations tools.  You can build a small network by only staying on your platforms.  But in order to really get the bounce you want, you have to add your pages to all of your marketing materials, you have to do some public relations to get your name out in front of the public at large and drive them to your blog or your website or your Facebook and Twitter.  Every time you do a community outreach appearance, you have to let people know where to find you online.  I know this sounds like simple stuff, but you might be shocked at how many organizations simply believe that by putting up a Facebook page, they'll suddenly get hoards of new customers.  It just doesn't work that way.  You have to combine it with an organized and targeted PR effort as well as making sure your information is viewable on every bit of marketing collateral and every time you're out in public.
One final note:  There are two things that you should attempt to implement into every social media campaign you do if you want to see steady growth and long term results.
1.  A call to action - I mentioned this above, but this is so very important.  You have to tell people what you want them to do, otherwise, it's just interesting facts that they'll read and move on from.


2.  A promotion - Folks like deals.  They like bargains.  They LOVE it when they feel as if they know something not everyone else knows.  You can offer promotions for your social media followers and believe me, those followers will tell their followers and your network will grow.  Plus, a promotion is a great way to institute a call to action, i.e., "Get your FREE appetizer, only good till Friday, so come on by!"
If you've been diligent in your efforts with your social media campaign, but you just aren't seeing the results you expected, take a look at the list above and ask yourself if you're guilty of committing one of those mistakes.  Also realize that none of those mistakes is fatal if acted upon quickly enough.  The beauty of social media is that it's ever-changing and you have the ability to make fast changes on the fly to try a new idea or correct a miscue that may be costing you potential customers. 

The good news is that you're already online and interacting with others in the social media environment.  And that, my friends is half the battle.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Confusion About PR

I had an intersting discussion on Thursay that I had to pass along today.  It's a conversation that I've been involved in a million times and one that I think could be the reason why so many small businesses and non-profits struggle when it comes to defining exactly what they want to do when it comes to PR.

The young lady I was talking with happens to be in marketing.  Marketing is one of those things that has always seemed a bit like a black hole to me.  I certainly engage in marketing through my social media efforts, and I believe marketing is a valuable asset to any organization.  However, marketers don't always see social media and PR as viable tools in their arsenal and therefore there has always been a disconnect between PR, social media and marketing.

Case in point:  The woman asked me at one point in our conversation, "What do you do?" to which I replied, "I do PR and social media for small businesses and non-profits."  The blank stare I received told me everything I needed to know.  She really had no idea what I did for a living.  Her follow-up question was nearly as classic, "Sooooo...." she hesitated, "You send out press releases and stuff?  How do you make a living at that?" 

Listen, I'm used to this.  My entire life I've held jobs that simply didn't register for most folks.  When I told people I was a producer in radio and television, many thought, "Wow, that sounds like a cool job!"  And it was.  Invariably, though, they would always follow up with, "What exactly does that mean?  What do you DO?"

I thought when I moved into PR and social media, that question would be self-explanatory.  I was sadly mistaken.  The fact is, most people really don't know for sure what PR means.  As I thought about this conversation more and more, it dawned on me that this could be the reason why so many small business and non-profit PR efforts fail; they really don't know what PR is.

Obviously, that was one of the reasons why I started this blog.  It's important to know what PR is before you can begin to successfully create and implement a PR campaign.  And yet, it still amazes me that for so many, PR is simply about sending out press releases.  For you loyal readers, you have seen that it's much more than that.  However, it's important to know that PR actually encompasses a few different areas, each one as important as the other for small businesses and non-profits.

Media Relations:

When most people think about PR, this is actually what they're familiar with.  The image of a PR pro is that of a person who spends their time trying to garner earned media coverage for their client.  And while this is important, this is only a part of what a true public relations professional does.

This aspect of PR is actually media relations and it can often be the hardest of the three tasks involved in good PR.  Most of what I have written about in this space has dealt with media relations since this is the aspect that most small businesses and non-profits desire from their PR efforts. 

Unlike the other three areas of PR, this one requires the most experience and the most patience.  This area not only involves putting together press releases, but understanding newsroom dynamics, timing, awareness of current events and a strong ability to be a good storyteller. 

There's a reason why the most successful media relations pro's are former journalists.  They have spent time in the trenches and understand instinctively how newsrooms operate and how best to pitch a story.  If you're simply looking for someone to come in and help you get some news coverage for an upcoming event or promotion, then you should really be looking for a qualified media relations individual rather than a fully equipped PR pro.

However, if you're wanting something more, something along the lines of a fully functioning and interactive PR campaign, make sure that you find someone who does more than just promise extensive news coverage.  You want them to talk to you about community outreach, civic outreach, partnerships and public interaction (including online interaction).  This is the person that will give you a well-rounded campaign and not one that makes a quick media splash before disappearing.

The Audience:

Before we move on to the other areas of PR, we need to look at the audiences you're campaign is going after.  Ultimately, you want the biggest audience you can get.  This is why media relations is so appealing.  You can reach tens of thousands of potential customers all at once if you get a feature story in the local paper or leading 10pm newscast.  But those stories are here and gone in a day or so.  Unless you become a regular news darling, you're likely going to only get a single spike in your activity before thing return to normal.

In PR, we're usually dividing up the audience.  There's the media audience, the reporters, producers and editors we're pitching our stories to.  Then there's the public audience, the ones who, ultimately you want the story to reach, and then there's the wildcard audiece.  This audience can be government officials, other businesses or a specifically consumer audience. 

Reaching each of these different audiences is best done through different venues.  A good media relations person knows how to best reach the media audience.  They know how to speak their language and convince them that your story is worth reporting on.  And of course, they're using the media to get your story and your message out to the second audience, the public at large.  They can even utilize specialty media to reach your wildcard or targeted audience.  But a good PR pro realizes that even the best placed news story only give so much bounce.  There are other methods that need to be used in order to really make your PR campaign successful.

Community Outreach:

This is an area of PR that often gets overlooked, but it's so vitally important, that without it, your campaign is doomed to failure.  What is community outreach?  It's very simple, it's getting out into the community and doing something visible, something impactful, something people will remember.  This could be as simple as setting up a booth at a local fair, or as complicated as setting up a travelling show that goes from neighborhood to neighborhood to tell folks what you're all about.

In the end, though, the purpose of community outreach is simply to get out in front of the public, potential customers or "stakeholders" as they're often called in PR circles.  Whatever you do, you need to make sure you are out in the community and visible.  This not only reinforces whatever media coverage you've received, but it also puts a human face on your organization. 

As with the media relations aspect, community outreach also has a media component to it.  Whereas media relations uses the media to get your message out to the public at large, an effective community outreach program can carry your message to the media.  If you want to raise awareness of famine in Africa and you use a powerful community outreach program to visually get your message across, you can stage your event on the steps of the capitol and find yourself surrounded by a handful of television cameras and reporter microphones.

Partnerships:

We've spent some time talking about partnerships before, but this is a third, very important aspect of quality PR.  A good PR pro is always looking for ways to leverage your strengths and shore up your weaknesses.  This area often falls on the shoulders of the organization's willingness to join forces.  I've worked with clients who were dead set against partnering with any other organizations.  This was a mistake in my opinion, but the decision was theirs, not mine, to make.

Partnerships certainly have some cons involved, most obvious is the fact that you suddenly have more chefs in the kitchen and you do lose a little of the autonomy that comes with handling your campaign completely by yourself.  But I believe the pro's outweigh the con's in most instances.

First, a good partnership opens up your organization to an entirely new audience.  You suddenly aren't just talking to folks who might already be aware of you, but you're talking to an audience that might not have ever heard of you.  More importantly, you're reaching these new potential customers through a source that these new folks already trust.  It's a bit like reading about a new restaurant from a newspaper critic who you don't know, or having a longtime friend tell you about a new restaurant.  The critic may love the place, but your longtime friend may have gone there and hated it.  Who do you think you'll listen to?  That's right, the person you know, the friend who's word you value more than some third party who you don't know.

Partnerships also build your public persona as a whole.  In other words, you get the recognition from your own efforts, but then you also get recognition from the efforts of your partner.  In essence, you double the impact of your campaign.  Of course, you partner is doing the same. 

Partnerships can also help shore up any weaknesses your campaign or organization might have in terms of media relations or community outreach.  Let's say your organization is great at getting media coverage, but lacks the kind of community outreach impact you'd really like.  Your best bet is to find a partner that is killer when it comes to community outreach, but might not have the same media relations reach that you do.  This kind of partnership can help shore up the weaknesses of both organizations.

Of course, a quality PR pro goes about finding the right kind of partner for your organization.  They do the research, they find potential partners, either in business or government circles that not only have similar goals, but also have the right cultural fit as well.  Then they work with both organizations to increase the reach of your message and media relations and community outreach efforts.

Final Note:

In the end, a PR pro wears a lot of different hats.  What you get out of your PR campaign really has more to do with what your goals are than what kind of PR pro you bring in.  For most small businesses and non-profits, you can't afford to bring in an agency to handle your campaigns.  You MIGHT, however, be able to afford to bring on a consultant to help with the efforts that you have probably already began.

If you do this, be sure you have your goals well defined.  Do you want more media relations?  Do you want to focus on community outreach?  Ideally, organizations would be able to handle their community outreach efforts and then only need to bring in a consultant to handle their media relations.  However, be aware that all aspects of PR work in concert with each other.  Whatever you do, you have to make sure that your media relations, your community outreach and your partnership efforts are all working towards the same goal with the same message.  If each one is working separately, it doesn't matter how well you execute your plan, it will still be doomed to fail.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

How Social Media Impacted a Local Disaster

On Labor Day, 2010, many of us spent the day barbecuing, enjoying the great outdoors, or simply recovering from the long holiday weekend.  However for thousands living in and around Boulder, Colorado, Labor Day meant something very different.


As a fire ripped through Four Mile Canyon above Boulder, fear was the predominant emotion as families ran for their lives from a  forest fire that destroyed homes and changed lives forever. 

We've all seen how social media has emerged as a player in regional and national disasters.  Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and other platforms have been able to deliver information, photos, video and  details in the aftermath of earthquakes, tsunami's and mudslides across the world. 

But as the fire continued to grow and rampage on Monday and into Tuesday, social media became more than just a way for those living in an around the impacted area to report on what they were seeing or feeling.  It also became an invaluable tool for officials to help keep the media and the public informed, coordinate services and save lives in the process.

An illustration of this can be seen from a recent post on the lostremote website:
When the Boulder Sheriff’s emergency alert system failed, its emergency operations center asked that residents use Twitter and Facebook to help spread the word of mandatory evacuations, reports the Boulder Channel 1 Blog. The hashtag #boulderfire has become a lifeline of sorts for many looking for the latest information on the fire, as well as people and businesses offering to help evacuees.
Twitter played a huge role in this effort, as did Facebook and other social media platforms.  As the fire grew in intensity and size throughout Monday, thousands who lived in the area begain taking photos and reporting on what they were seeing and feeling.  Information was coming in from folks who were literally facing devastation as the fire crept towards their homes, from people who lived in Boulder and could see and feel the impact of the fire.  Friends and family of those directly impacted by the fire constantly updated their Twitter and Facebook feeds as they received information from loved ones.

I shot this photo from my mother's house about eight miles outside of Boulder.
 

Information was everywhere.  Newsrooms were using tweets and updates from those in the path of the fire to get up to the minute eye witness reports.  Emergency responders were updating the situation as they tried to hold back the flames and public officials used social media to coordinate services as you can see from these shots from a Boulder Emergency Services website and from the KCNC news website.





In total, social media came through it all with flying colors, proving once again, that it not only serves as a depository of fun and entertainment, but also as a valuable resource when it really matters.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

5 Reasons Why Your Press Release Didn't Work

I've spent a lot of time in this space talking about all of the little things that can make the difference between a successful PR push and one that ends in miserable failure.  Hopefully you have been following along and have learned some valuable lessons without actually having to, you know, go out and make the kinds of mistakes that rookie PR pro's make every day.

We've discussed building relationships, crafting your story, making the follow up phone call, writing your release and timing your efforts.  We've covered just about everything from A to Z.  There are still a ton of tricks to be revealed and insight that will help you succeed in getting your story covered by a local news outlet.  But in the end, good PR comes down to some very simple techniques that, if followed, increase your chances of earning news coverage. 

I don't do this very often, but I want to share with you an article written by an actual reporter working in an actual newsroom that discusses some of the major mistakes all PR pro's make when pitching a news story.  The article comes from the website, "Localnewser.com" and I think it is one of the best written articles about why some stories get covered and others don't. 

In a rare move, I'm going to paste the entire article here, because I think it's that valuable.  I'll have some analysis after the article and some insight into why these five issues matter so much.  In the meantime, read this article, take it in, and then re-read it just so it's ingrained in your mind. 

Five Reasons Why Your Release Failed:
So you spent all that time crafting the perfect news release and—full of confidence and high hopes of massive news coverage and a satisfied client—you sent out your releases.
And zippo.  Something went wrong.  Systems failed.  The news trolls (like me) somehow missed the chance to make you happy.
But why? Why would a reporter read a solidly written news release with a beefy story to back it up and not jump at the chance to do a story--a minute and a half on the local news or a few inches of copy in the local paper?
Here are five common reasons why:

1.  You Didn’t Make Me Feel Special
We just got off on the wrong foot, that’s all.  I’m an overworked reporter and my feelings are very, very easily hurt.  I was interested when I saw that you’d sent me a possible story (you thought of me!) and then, quickly, I realized you hadn’t truly thought of me at all.  I was just a number to you.
The “Dear Mark” on your cover letter proceeds to suggest that a story I might do—and remember, I’m a television reporter—would be of interest to my “readers.”  My what? I don’t have readers.  This isn’t a personal letter—it’s a mass mailing.  My feelings just got hurt and for better or worse, you’ve started to lose my interest.  Now I’m not looking for a way to do the story, I’m thinking of how many other reporters have the same release in their hands.  It feels far less special.  It feels like wire copy to me now.
Recently, I got an email early on a weekday, tipping me to a potential story.  It was fantastic, because I was about to walk into the morning editorial meeting, where reporters are called upon to have story ideas.  I hate not having story ideas.  So your email was perfectly timed.  I felt good.  I felt good about you thinking of me.  And I was ready to pitch your story.
Then I got into the meeting and another reporter pitched your story.  In fact, everybody had gotten your email.  I didn’t feel so good about you after that.  And for that matter, I was even tempted to bust on the story when the other reporter brought it up.  Instead of making me feel special, you made me feel ordinary and I decided to work against your story, instead of for it.  Yeah, she's been shopping that thing around to everybody...
2.  I Was Ready, but You Weren’t
Okay, so you got me.  I read the release and I thought it would make a good story.  And my producers (or editors, at a paper) agreed with me.  If I’m a television reporter, I may even have been assigned to a newscast immediately—they wrote your story on the newsroom's assignments board in dry erase marker, which is as good as it gets! Pending breaking news, you’re a lock!
And so I called you.  I said we wanted to get interviews and shoot some video and do a live report at noon—basically, we needed to go directly from the television station to you, so that we could have a story ready to air in less than three hours.
And you said “today?
Yes.  Today.  In fact, now.  In broadcast and print, when that release goes out, you better be ready to jump.  If you mention an executive who has news, he’d better be ready to do interviews immediately.  If you mention a new cattle-combing machine, it’d better be in town, up and running, and ready for cameras.
If you say, “let me make some calls,” I have to go to the producer of the noon newscast and throw cold water on my own story.  “Hey, looks like it’s not as much of a go as I thought.  Sorry.  This might not happen for noon after all.”
Now the noon newscast producer doesn’t like me anymore, and the executive producer wants to know why the story didn’t make the show.  When something falls through, news producers don’t think, “okay, cool, we’ll do it tomorrow.”  They think, “okay, it’s dead.  What else do we have?
3.  You Buried the Lead
Look.  I’m in a newsroom that’s about three-quarters the size it was just two years ago.  Some of my friends lost their jobs and nobody’s been hired and I have to work a lot harder than I used to.  I’m not quite as happy with my job as I used to be, and I’m a bit cranky about that.  Short tempered.  Irritable.  I’m also forced to work fast and I don’t have a lot of time to chat or read.
So your news release—the one your client finally approved—well, it was just too long and too boring for me.  It had all the stuff the client wanted in there, all that corporate stuff, but I just read the first two paragraphs and didn’t see a story.  It didn't jump off the page and scream why are you sitting there?  You're missing a great story!
There was all this stuff at the top about the company and how it was responding to global this and that and how a green initiative something or other resulted in… I don’t know.  I couldn’t figure out what the story was.
That’s not to say there wasn’t a story in there.  But it didn’t read as a story the way I report stories.  It read like a news release.
Put yourself in my shoes.  Would you go on the news at six o’clock and have the first thing out of your mouth be the first line in your news release?  Would it make any sense at all?  Or would it sound like corporate blather?  If the top of your news release reads corporate, and not NEWS, you stand an excellent chance of losing me.  Because I’m just too damn overworked, tired, and coffee-deprived to do the work for you, sifting down to the fifth paragraph and then thinking of how to translate what you wrote into the language I use to tell stories.  So I move on.
4.  It’s Like… You Don’t Get Me
I read the release and I liked it.  I saw a story in there.  I thought it could even be a good story.  I told my bosses and they agreed with me.  I probably told them all about your story in my language, describing how I’d make it into a kickass television story (or newspaper story).
So I called you.  And we weren’t getting each other.  It was trouble from the start.  You see, as a television reporter I’m always thinking about who I’m going to interview and what I’m going to show.  If I can't think of a way to tell that story with images, I'm probably going to think that's a story that's never getting onto the air at my television station.
Maybe it's better as a newspaper story.  But newspapers like pictures (and, increasingly, video), too.
At any rate, I called you and said I wanted to do the story and you suggested that I interview your company’s PR guy in the company conference room at headquarters.
That sounded horrible to me and I almost gave up right there.  But I said, well, the story’s about your new aircraft baggage loading device that you say will cut airline costs.  So let’s meet at the baggage area, you show me the device in operation, we’ll get some great video and interview a few of the crew members who will be working on the machine—baggage handlers (you know, regular people, not spokespeople).
And you freaked.  Baggage area?  That’s going to be tough, you know, with regulations and stuff.  And we’d really rather you didn’t speak with any employees.
And my story started drying up before my eyes.  Because a PR guy in a fancy conference room—even with your company’s super nifty logo on the wall in chrome—bores me and gets me in trouble with my boss.
Watch my newscast and see who we interview.  Do you see a lot of conference room talking heads?  If you don't, then you know a story with spokespeople and handout pictures (no matter how nice your press kit is) just won't be cutting it.
Don’t you get me at all?
5.  My Day Changed…and You Got All Offended
So we agreed we had a good story here and I called and you were happy and your client was happy and we both decided to do the interviews with regular people (I know you prepped them—and that’s cool with me as long as they don’t sound like they’re reading lines) and we were going to get a look inside the factory with some great video opportunities.  And then—to top it off—you said the magic words:  “and we’re only giving this to you.”
Heaven.
And then an elementary school caught on fire.  That dry erase board with all the cool stories listed?  They grab the eraser sometimes when schools catch fire, or planes miss runways, or mayors turn up in handcuffs.  Suddenly everybody in the newsroom’s working the same story.
And our cool factory exclusive gets scrubbed.
I call—really sorry, but we’ve got breaking news… and I’m hoping we can maybe do the story later in the week.  (Odds are we’ll be doing a full day of follow-up coverage on the school fire tomorrow)
And you are irritated.  You’ve made calls, put things in motion, you know?  The company’s switching things up to accommodate the news crew and they roped off a parking place for our live truck and they've moved fast to give them everything a news crew could ask for (even bottled water, for heaven’s sake!) and now… you feel like you’re going to look bad.
So you say fine and hang up and you want to forget you ever pitched me the story.
But here’s the thing.  I totally still like the story.  I even feel bad and will argue with my bosses that we need to do the story.
But you took the hit with the client (don’t they know that reporters cancel all the time?) and you did damage control and pushed the story somewhere else.  But the TV story never happend, and nobody ever parked the big shiny TV truck outside the factory, which would've made everybody so happy.  But why?
I thought we had something special.
What This Means To You:

I hope you read this in its entirety and that you took every single reason to heart.  In essence this is a short recap of everything this space has tried to convey over the past year.  Most of these examples are easily fixed, and yet they are the kinds of things that paid PR professionals do every day!  It's understandable that you might make some of these mistakes.  I mean, hey, let's face it, these faux-pas are being made by folks who are supposedly experienced PR pro's.  That's their job and yet they manage to screw it up on nearly a daily basis.

You have a business or a non-profit to run.  How can you be expected to get everything right?  The answer is, you don't.  You're allowed to make mistakes, you WILL make mistakes, it's a given.  Don't stress too much over the mistakes you make, they will happen.  The key is to minimize the damage that those mistakes make.

That's why I liked this article so much, I just HAD to post the entire thing in this space.  If you follow the advice this space has given in terms of creating your story, putting together your press kit, building relationships, timing your release right and making sure your follow-up is solid, you can overcome a number of superficial mistakes.  But the five reasons listed above aren't just superficial oversights.  They constitute some major reasons why stories aren't covered by a local news outlet.

Let's start with #1.

Like actors, I've always said that reporter have huge egos.  One of the best ways to ingratiate yourself with a reporter is to play to that ego.  Producers and editors don't have the kind of egos you'll find with on-air talent.  You have to woo them with facts and a good story, but if you make a reporter feel special, you'll have a good chance of having them carry your story into the news meeting, which is vital to the survival of a pitched story.

Here is my one quibble with this point:  Unless you're pitcing a story to a reporter that you already have a relationship built with, pitching several individuals in a newsroom is actually a good strategy.  I have a few individuals in the Denver media that I have very close relationships with.  For instance, if I pitch the local CBS affiliate, I pitch to one person.  This is a person that I have worked with for years, a person I have the utmost respect for and a person that I often run stories by to get his opinion of the pitch.  When I send a pitch to that station, I send one pitch to him, so he gets it first.  I give him the first shot at the story.  If he doesn't want it, there are no hard feelings and I simply ask that he forward it to the desk or to others in the newsroom that might be interested in the story. 

However, there are a few newsrooms in the city that I don't have personal relationships established.  In those newsrooms, I send my releases to three, sometimes four individuals.  I send it to reporters, the desk, a producer and an executive producer.  This covers my bases.  If one person doesn't like the story, I have three others that might like it enough to take it into the newsmeeting. 

Point #2:

There is no excuse for this.  I have covered this more than once in the past few months.  Sending out your release is really just the beginning of your work.  If you send out a release, you HAVE to be ready to step up if a reporter actually decides to cover your story.

Remember, you only get one chance with a local newsroom.  If you pitch a good story, and they accept it, but you're not prepared to actually follow through with a quality interview, then you're shooting yourself in the foot.  Reporters and producers remember when an interview doesn't come through.  And the next time you pitch a story, they'll remember that you failed them once and they'll be less likely to schedule you for another chance.  If you send out a pitch, you had better make sure your schedule is cleared and you're ready to do what it takes to make sure the interview comes through.

Point #3:

This is a mortal sin when it comes to pitching a story.  When I taught PR to college students, one of the biggest challenges I had was breaking them of their 12 year habit of writing thesis statements and english papers.  Your first sentence had better be compelling and it had better tell the story immediately.  Imagine your first line as the first line of TV story or as a headline of a newspaper atricle.  Once you write your first sentence or two of your release, take a moment, then go back and read it out loud.  If it sounds like something that a TV story would lead with, then go with it.  If it sounds like an english paper, scrap it and start over.

You have to grab them with the first sentence, period.  Most journalists won't read past the first paragraph, hell most won't read past the first two sentences.  If you haven't captured their attention in that time, your pitch is doomed. 

I recently pitched a story involving homeless cats and the financial impact it has had on local taxpayers.  I didn't wait until sentence number three or four to get my point across.  I stated loudly and unequivocably in the first sentence: "Homeless cats in Denver are costing taxpayers over one-million annually in housing, adoption and euthanization."  That's the story and that's the kind of lead that a tv producer can lead with, or a newspaper can make a headline out of.

Point #4:

This point might seem tricky, but it's really not that complicated.  This is an aspect that needs to be considered long before you ever send your pitch out to a newsroom.  As you're writing your release, you have to consider what kind of visuals are available for your story.

In fact, you should even mention the available visuals in your pitch letter.  Letting journalists know what kind of visuals they have to work with can mean the difference between being covered, and being relegated to the dead list. 

Plus, and this is important, newsrooms don't take a story and decide to cover it hoping it will work out.  They expect you to come through.  The best line in the entire article was this:  
When something falls through, news producers don’t think, “okay, cool, we’ll do it tomorrow.”  They think, “okay, it’s dead.  What else do we have?
I know this was written as part of point number 1, but it applies to point number 4 as well.  If you don't have the kind of visuals a journalist is looking for, they may scrap the story and move on to another story.  And this doesn't just apply to television anymore.  Newspapers, radios and even magazines are using video more and more.  Even if they aren't looking for great video, they'll at least want good photos.  If you promise quality visuals, and you should, then you have to come through.  Otherwise you'll be labelled as a person who doesn't come through and that will make any future pitches that much harder to sell.

Point #5:


Finally we get to the last point.  This requires that you have patience and understanding.  One of the best things you can do is be amenable to change.  By understanding the stress and deadlines and pressure that reporters and producers and editors are under, you'll quickly endear yourself to local journalists. 

Be aware that breaking news, especially on the local level, supercedes everything.  If you're scheduled to be interviewed and they have to cancel, don't get upset.  If you throw a fit, you don't get anything.  Trust me, journalists feel bad if they have to cancel a story.  They'll do everything they can to reschedule and get the story on at a future date.  But if you get angry and throw a fit, they'll let your story just die. 

By understanding their situation, you'll build relationships and grow a rapport with journalists you'll want to work with again in the future.  We've covered this in several posts here, and being respectufl of a journalists time and limits will go a long way to getting more stories covered in the future, even if it means sacrificing a story today.

As a small business owner or non-profit, understanding and embracing these five tips will go a long way to making sure your story pitch succeeds.  And in the end, that's what it's all about.  Certainly you have work to do long before you make your first pitch, and the follow up is equally as important.  But by keeping these tips in mind, you can definitely increase your chances of a pitch success.  And really, in a world and an industry where there are no guarantees, that's the best you can hope for.