12 PR Tactics That Can Save You From Indescribable Horror

Scary PR TacticsWith Halloween 2013 behind us, there are still things out there haunting the PR halls.
Before you get tricked into thinking your PR tactics don’t need improvement, here are twelve simple things that can save you and the rest of us from the horrors of bad technique.


  1. Pick Up the Phone – As much as reporters are going to tell you to only connect with them via email, you still need to pick up the phone. It’s worth warning you that if you do decide to call, you better have a good reason. Note: Following up on an email you sent yesterday is not a good reason.
  2. Go Beyond Traditional Media Relations – With all of the social media tools out there, now’s your chance to get creative and have some fun with pitching.
  3. Review Your Entire Press Release Copy – It surprises me how many PR people do final read-throughs of their client’s press release and don’t read the entire thing. Yes, you need to read every single character on that page, from the contact information to the boilerplate. You never know what mistakes you will find.
  4. Check Your Links – If you are going to link to anything, whether it be in a press release, a pitch or a blog post, check your links. The last thing you want is to send an email to a client in the early afternoon and they get a glimpse into your lunch reading material.
  5. Use a Signature – You know what’s scary? When a client or reporter, or even your boss, has to dig through their inbox because you barely ever include your signature in emails. Use your signature. Every time.
  6. Don’t Wait Until the Witching Hour – Nowadays, the lead time for editorial calendar opportunities can be up to four or even five months in advance. If you wait until the month before you can kiss that opportunity goodbye.
  7. It’s Not All About You – PR professionals need to be their own PR people. If you call a reporter, stop by your colleague’s desk, or even just try a quick IM to a client, remember that they are busy too. Before you start into your one-sided conversation (at least for that first minute anyway), remember that they may be in the middle of something. Simply asking, “Do you have a quick minute to chat?” goes a long way.
  8. Take Your Expert Pitch All The Way – If you’re taking the time to put your client out there to media as an expert, do yourself a favor and tweet about it. I’ve landed numerous inbound media inquiries just by doing this one simple thing.
  9. Remember That Not Every Awesome Article Is Awesome – It took weeks to land that feature article on your client and it finally hits the web. When you send it over to your client the worst thing you can do is to rave about it. You just never know whether there is a line in there that they might absolutely cringe over, or perhaps there’s a factual error that you didn’t notice. Send over articles in a neutral tone and let the client praise you. Then you can share in their excitement. If you don’t, you risk looking like you have no idea what your own client wants.
  10. Use the Right Medium to Communicate – When you send out an IM, email, telephone call, Facebook message, smoke signal; whatever it is I want you to think: What is the purpose of this message? What is the outcome I am looking for? When do I need a response? You just might realize you’re using the wrong medium and not achieving your goals.
  11. Search Is Your Best Friend – Before asking a client about the details of the new product release, their CTO’s bio, or whatever other information you need, for the love of all that is holy, search for it first. Search your emails, your shared files, the internet – doing a quick search keeps you from asking repetitiously and looking like you don’t have your PR act together.
  12. The Most Important Desktop File You Will Ever Use – I can’t stress this enough. You need to have a client contact sheet on your desktop. This is a document of all of your clients’ contact information; this includes cell phone numbers, emails, proper titles and office addresses. I usually have the C-level management and other day-to-day contacts on this sheet. Most of the time when I need to use that sheet, it’s for an urgent matter.

Give these a try and let me know how they work out for you. If you would like to add something to the list, drop a note in the comments. Together we can save ourselves from the horrors of bad PR tactics. For that I will be truly thankful. Happy November.

PR Pitches Are Valuable Real Estate

In the spirit of effective pitching, I’m going to keep this post short and sweet. PR Knowledge

Communication is expressed in different forms. I get that. So why try the same communication approach across channels? Specifically, why do some pitches reaching journalists’ inboxes start something like, “Hi, XYZ. I hope your day is going well. I wanted to talk with you about …”

“I hope your day is going well.” – Let me tell you why that’s wrong.

The potential ROI of leaving that line in does not surpass the risk you take leaving it out.

Every word in a pitch is real estate, from the subject head to a signature. The value of that real estate is dependent on the order the journalist would read the pitch. Meaning, your email subject is the most important. It’s the first impression and what will get that person to delete or open.

The second most important copy is the first two sentences of your pitch. This is where the journalist decides whether they delete or keep reading. Chances are if you’ve got them to read that far, you might actually have a shot at closing the deal or at the least a response.

So why waste this valuable real estate on an insincere-looking greeting? Do you “really” care how this reporter’s day is going or do you care if this person will cover your client?

I asked my Twitter friends to chime in on this today and had some thoughtful feedback from a few journalists. Mitch Wagner, editor in chief of Internet Evolution, said “It’s a courtesy. It’s fine.” He followed up to clarify, “Pitches are entirely impersonal. I assume they’re generated by bulk email software. And I’m fine with that.”

While conceding that the greeting is a waste of real estate, Senior IT Reporter for Ars Technica, Jon Brodkin, followed up with “…the ‘hope you’re well’ doesn’t really bother me so much. There are tons of worse things.”


So the basic point here: While it’s not always considered a rookie mistake to include a warm greeting in your pitch, you’re wasting valuable real estate and potentially lowering the value of your pitch.

Want to Create Compelling Content? Then Ask the Right Starting Question

"UH Cheerleaders Cheering" by D Services

“UH Cheerleaders Cheering” by D Services

I hate the phrase “compelling content.”

I know that content marketers love it; they use it as shorthand for “hire me because I know how to turn your written junk into SEO gold!” But frankly, the phrase doesn’t say much. It just states the obvious: Write stuff that people want to read.

Oh great, thanks. It’s kind of like saying “if you want to be rich then make a lot of money.”

Such helpful advice.

The real problem isn’t that people don’t want to write compelling content, nor that they don’t know what compelling is, they do. It’s that their perspective keeps them from creating something that others want to read.

In short I believe there are three core perspectives to this:

  • Marketers: Most inbound marketing sites are run by marketers. Marketers, by training, have things they want to tell you, actions they want you to take and goals you can help them meet. Their opening question: “What do I need to tell my audience.”  During a presentation at PRNews Digital PR conference, Amy Africa provided some insight into how humans naturally utilize base reactions in ways that almost always supersede our conscious minds. Marketers live and die on these things. But it also means that for them, “compelling” means “elicits an action.” 
  • Journalists: This dying breed understands the concept of “compelling content” like no other, not because they tell better stories, but because they start with the question “what does my audience want to know?” It seems so basic, and it is, but while marketers are thinking “what do I want to tell you,” journalists ask themselves the opposite. They often run into problems when asked to serve a different master and convey a concept or idea that may need to be forced upon their audience. They take their credibility seriously, and they should. So while it makes them great content creators, it can make them lousy marketers. 
  • Public Relations Writers: Of course I’m biased on this since we produce a lot of content for our clients, and I like to believe it can be pretty compelling. Our goal is to straddle the roles of journalist and marketer. We balance the questions “what does our audience want to know” with “what does our client need to say?” It’s not easy, sometimes we can lean too far one way or another, but it’s what makes good PR people worth the time and investment. 

I can’t say that all of journalism truly understands the impact of “compelling content.” According to the Pew Research “The State of the News Media 2013” report, 40 percent of local TV news is now devoted to weather, sports and traffic. That’s what local TV news believes its audience wants and as a former TV newscast producer I can tell you, this is nothing new. Traditionally ratings always rose with the storm warnings.

But viewership has dropped, especially by those under 30, and while 2012 showed inflated ad numbers thanks to election-year spending, most ad spending is down by more than a third. Worse, the report points out, weather, traffic and sports are easily replaced by other sources. Show of hands, how many of you get your weather on your iPhone? Yeah, thought so.

So you can expect many more TV journalists to find themselves without jobs over the next few years. They’ll join the thousands already laid off, cuts that Pew Research notes has created a death-spiral of sorts for traditional media. Researchers found that most people stop reading a news outlet not because they suddenly found their iPhone, but because the publication no longer gives them the information they expected.

Nearly one-third—31%—of people say they have deserted a particular news outlet because it no longer provides the news and information they had grown accustomed to, according to the survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults in early 2013. And those most likely to have walked away are better educated, wealthier and older than those who did not—in other words, they are people who tend to be most prone to consume and pay for news.

So where do all these unemployed journalists go? PR of course!

In a piece on PandoDaily, Marco Greenberg pointed out how many journalists jump to the PR world but then flame out when asked to promote something that may not be up to snuff. Their critical nature makes the unsuited for the “rah-rah” culture of the PR firm. In writing about Dan Lyons, who recently jumped from the ashes of Newsweek to the reborn ReadWrite, only to jump again to HubSpot, Greenberg asked “What happens the first time Dan Lyons has to bite his tongue when a client wants him to promote a genuinely silly idea?”

Frankly, I often fall victim to the same problem, looking for holes in stories that clients tell so that we can find and fix them before others do.

This is a Liger, a lion and tiger. A hybrid that’s not a Toyota, but sponsored by them. Fun Fact: the Newton high school aged robotics team is the Ligerbots, for the Lions of Newton South and Tigers of Newton North.

This is also why PR plays such an important role in this world of owned, earned and paid media. Companies like BuzzFeed create branded content that blends “advertising” and “advertorial” with “sharable” content. Its paid media is meant to be shared just as its independent content is meant to be shared. At Social Media Weekend, Jonathan Perelman, editor at Buzzfeed, showed a great example of this with an article called “20 Coolest Hybrid Animals” sponsored by Toyota. It’s content Buzzfeed probably could have written regardless, but Toyota paid and got branding for its hybrid vehicles.

It’s high-level stuff, not the kind of action-oriented and lead-generation concepts that marketers often crave, but it works.

It’s just a matter of coming at the problem with the right perspective.

Veni, Vidi, Vici PR

jobhuntersWhen I heard my client say “I was appalled,” I knew we had a story. It invoked emotion and played up the urgency of the topic at hand, which is cleaning up your social profile for the job hunt.

But it’s not the whole story. As I reflected on the success, I thought of Bill Murray’s wonderful adaptation of Julius Caesar’s famous tripartite: “We came. We saw. We kicked it’s ass!” There were essentially three stages to getting into that piece: Getting on the reporter’s radar, getting in the story, and getting the lede of the story.

Last week, Fresh Grounder Ruth Bazinet wrote about the importance of relationships in PR, reminding us that, while story is important, relationships and tenacity are just as important.

In this case, the story would never had happened without relationships and trust. Relationships opened the door and made my phone ring. Tenacity (not so much with the reporter in this case, but with other folks who might be able to help the reporter out) got both me and my client in the article. The story my client was able to tell got her the lede.

"Belgium Pastries" by David Blaikie

“Belgium Pastries” by David Blaikie

It’s not rocket science. But it’s not a simple story vs. connections dynamic either.

They say that cooking is an art, but baking is a science. That makes the PR pitch more like making pastries: you need a little bit of both.