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So, You Want Client Coverage?

pitching-300x210International Data Group (IDG) is the world’s leading technology media, events and research company. IDG’s brand reaches an audience of more than 280 million technology buyers in 97 countries. So when IDG’s managing news editor, Nancy Weil, offered insight into connecting with their influencers, you bet our ears perked up.

Read below for Nancy Weil’s tips on building relationships with reporters, writing strong pitches, subject lines, and press releases.

PITCHING

Pitching is not what it used to be. There are so many ways to contact and build relationships with journalists via the Internet, email and social media — it can get complicated. Nancy suggests…

  • Keep it Light: Initial email pitch doesn’t need to be so heavy in technology details. Be direct and as brief as possible.
  • No Stalking: Send your pitch and maybe one follow up email. Many reporters are overwhelmed by what their inboxes look like everyday. If they are interested, they usually get back within one day. It’s okay to pick up the phone and give a call to make sure they received it. However, typically, they do check out their spam filters at least once a day. If they are interested, they will contact you.
  • Bring Something ‘Valuable’ to the Table: Our journalists are less interested in talking to a CEO. Generally, they don’t want to know the business side, they want to know the technology side.  IDG is more inclined to speak with the CTOs or CIOs, or even product managers—someone who can answer technology-driven questions.
  • Lean is Mean: Keep subject lines lean and to the point. Don’t put “urgent” or “important” tags unless it is actually major breaking news that you know is a top priority story. The more concise, the better. Nancy shared, “I think that the subject lines on emails coming from PR people I know, I tend to always open. Give a headline of the news in a succinct kind of way. Write the subject like you would a news headline.”
  • Try ‘Twitching’ (Twitter Pitching):  Pitching via Twitter is actually socially acceptable. Nancy explains, “Almost all reporters are on twitter now. Some also use Facebook as a vehicle for finding news stories and connecting with PR professionals, as well.” All beat reporters have their contact information, including social media usernames, listed at the bottom of their articles. Many will use Facebook to be pitched and track information, later to be used in upcoming stories.
  • Utilize LinkedIn:  Using LinkedIn as a way to connect with journalist is also acceptable. According to Nancy, “Most of us actually prefer LinkedIn as the means to be contacted.”
  • Steer Away from Multimedia:  IDG doesn’t usually run multimedia content, other than photos.  Every now and again, a reporter might ask for a video if someone has it, but generally are less inclined to use multimedia content.  Photographs are definitely welcomed. IDG also won’t publish info-graphics, apart from their own, created by staff designers.
  • Forgo the Embargo: If you usually send out embargo press releases, think again before sending to IDG. They have a policy in which they will not read the release, unless you have “agreed to terms” prior to sending to the reporter.
  • Urgent Times Call for Urgent Measures: Can’t get a hold of anyone and you know your story is a top priority? Nancy suggests calling the managing editor, and she will be able to provide direction. Generally they are happy to direct you to the right reporter for your story, if they agree it is newsworthy.

MEDIA RELATIONS

Some things should never change, and this includes getting quality face time with reporters and editors whom you want to build a positive relationship with.

  • Say ‘Hi’: Nancy suggests introducing yourself via email, even if you don’t have any news for the reporter yet. Let them know that you would like to pass along potential story ideas in the future, but would like to get acquainted. Reporters will more likely respond and remember you when you have something for them in the near future.
  • Meet Up and Discuss: Nancy also shared that it is completely acceptable to meet with reporters for lunch, dinner, or even a beer after work! She states,  “We like to build up those relationships for future possibilities. For the most part we do read what we get and keep track of possible news for future stories.”

Keep these tips in mind when connecting with IDG or any other reporters. Happy pitching!

Natalie Wolfrom can be reached at nwolfrom@sterlingpr.com. Follow her on Twitter @nwolfrom415.

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Beyond the Five Ws

QsMy career in the newspaper business began like that of any other cub reporter, with the requisite no-nonsense editor who drilled into me the importance of the facts –just the facts – derived from a simple but powerful set of questions known as the five Ws. You’re familiar with them, I’m sure, but like my old boss, I’ll err on the side of repetition and spell them out: Who? What? When? Where? And, finally, Why?

Answering these five questions brought me to the heart of a story when I couldn’t find where to pick up the thread. They guided the way through rough thickets of conflicting detail that threatened to obscure my article entirely. They gave me the material to write compelling ledes and the perspective to cut lard from my bloated paragraphs. But in the end, they trapped me.

What I hadn’t realized, while I was busy gathering these Ws and trying to piece them into easily digestible reports, was that a lot of people around me had already begun to do my job. What’s more, most of these people were not professional reporters. They were people with day jobs: citizen journalists, community activists, local gadflies, all without press credentials, but still reporting the news. I must admit that it was disheartening to return from chasing down leads to see that someone had already posted or tweeted or updated the material that I worked so hard to scrounge up. Before my story came out, everyone knew who did what where – and knew it practically when it happened.

However, there still remained one of these magic Ws that was rarely answered in a status update: Why? What made this story important? Why was it relevant? And how did it stand out from the flood of information that poured in through the growing multitude of channels every day? I realized that telling someone why had become my most important function. More than ever, there was a need for someone to sort through the mounds of data and come up with a compelling story to explain why some facts are more relevant than others, and why we should pay attention to this instead of that.

This is the very task that a good PR professional must confront on a daily basis. When pitching a story, writing a blog post, or composing a press release, the facts are a given. However, we need to provide the relevance, the reason, and the sense of motivation behind the report. The question of why is always at the heart of the story, and without an answer you’re left with little more than a shapeless stack of information, which is becoming cheaper by the minute.

I will remember the five Ws as I transition to a career in PR, but today I do not see them as equals. We face a deluge of data, and gathering information is like holding a bucket to a waterfall. I reserve the utmost respect for those people who hunt down and publish the facts (though their “truthiness” can sometimes be subject to debate), but it’s not a story until you provide context and consequence. So give me your who, what, where and when. Let me tell you why.

Ben Marrone can be reached at bmarrone@sterlingpr.com. Follow him on Twitter @Maronay.

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How Sorority Life Prepared Me for PR

CrestHaha, super funny. Now that you’ve got those underwear-around-the-ankles jokes out of the way, can we move on?

Great.

It never occurred to me how much being in a sorority actually prepared me for a career in public relations until we did an  internal professional development session around new-business pitches. I found that I already had a bunch of the skills and important knowledge under my belt because it was kind of like recruitment. Where did I learn it all? Alpha Gamma Delta.

The point of recruitment in sororities  is just that: Recruit women you think will be assets to the chapter who share the values of the organization. It is a mutual selection process; you pick them as much as they pick you.

You follow a similar process in a new-business pitch. Yes, you are there to try to win the client, but it’s also just as important that those clients are compatible with your agency. In order to have a successful team (or sisterhood), you have to get along with each other and share similar ethics. Recruitment taught me the questions that help identify who someone really is, which helps quickly find people that will mesh well with existing teams.

The second lesson recruitment taught me is to never badmouth (or even mention, for that matter) the competition. The time each potential new member spends with the chapter is precious. Don’t waste the time by talking about other houses, thereby basically doing free advertising for them. And in the same vein never speak badly of another chapter. It’s not classy, doesn’t represent the chapter well and they may question whether people in the chapter would speak of them in such a way. Translating this to a new business pitch: Don’t do free advertising for your competition by mentioning them and don’t speak badly of past clients because the company you are pitching may very well become a former client. Who’s going to sign with an agency that may go around talking smack about them?

The third thing recruitment taught me was how to be comfortable introducing myself to complete strangers and striking up a conversation with them. During recruitment you can meet 30 women or more in a single night and with a tight schedule there’s no time for “ums” and “uhs.” You have five minutes to learn as much about the women in front of you as possible and make a positive impression. You can’t afford to waste a single second of that time being shy or introverted; even if you don’t feel it, you have to exude confidence. Plus, people like and are attracted to confidence. This skill easily lends itself to a new business pitch. You get one shot in that room to impress potential clients, not only with your ideas, but also with your team. Don’t blow your opportunity by being too shy to seize it!

So you’ve won the business or the potential new member. Now what? After recruitment, new members get to spend a couple of Squirrelmonths being in the chapter before they decide whether they’d like to initiate, almost like a trial period. You need to check in with the new member often to make sure she feels like she is integrating and becoming a part of the chapter. This is where the Bis Sisters come into play. Each new member gets a Big Sister, who is the day-to-day contact for the new member, much like an account supervisor is for an account. It is your job as a “big” to find out how your “little’s” experience is going. Is she feeling anxious or unsure if she fits? It’s your job to assure her that she was selected (or selected you) for a reason. You manage client expectations and relationships in a similar way.

That segues perfectly to the next skills I learned: relationship building and team work. When you’re in a group of 130-plus women, there’s bound to be a lot of diversity, even in a group that shares similar values. You have to learn not only how to get along with them but also work in teams with people from completely different backgrounds. It will make your time with the chapter super awkward if you can’t learn to get along with everyone. I may not have been best friends with everyone, but I knew enough about each and every one of my sisters to say something nice and meaningful about them. Throughout your career in public relations, you are going to meet a lot of different people. Having the skills to adapt to any kind of working style and even *gasp* knowing the background of different cultures will serve you well in building and maintaining client relationships.

Then there’s the obvious dressing for the part. I’d like to thank Alpha Gamma Delta for having biweekly formal meetings. It’s where 75 percent of my business atire came from. It made it super easy to dress for interviews and then for work because I knew exactly what business casual is. Of course an internship doesn’t hurt for that either but it’s just not as fun.

I consider my time in Alpha Gamma Delta to be extremely valuable; it was an incredibly fun and rewarding way to learn some important life skills while making friends and connections that will last a lifetime. I hope you learned some tips to bring in with you to your next pitch.

Oh, and please remember to smile, ladies!

Monika Hathaway can be reached at mhathaway@sterlingpr.com. Follow her on Twitter @Jazzpatron

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People – The Forgotten Element of Technology

“People are the forgotten element of technology.” – Ina Fried

At Tuesday’s PRSA In The Newsroom: AllThingsD event hosted at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, mobile reporter Ina Fried reminded us PR folk in the audience that people are still the most important, and overlooked, aspect of the technological bubble that surrounds us.

My colleague Jordan and I at PRSA’s In the Newsroom: AllThingsD event

As professionals in a tech-focused public relations agency, we are constantly surrounded by news about all things digital — from the behemoths of Silicon Valley to the start-ups hoping to get an inch in, to apps, websites, and products all competing for a bit of recognition from the most influential journalists in the media. We must always keep ourselves up to date on trends in the industry, so we Tweet, blog, post on Facebook, create infographics and more, but we forget that the most important aspect bringing all of these new tools together is a simple, yet complex one: people.

Without people, we wouldn’t have a reason to be pitching stories. Without people, we wouldn’t have the products to pitch stories about in the first place.

The members of the AllThingsD team presented this simple fact: stories without people aren’t good stories. In fact, according to Liz Gannes, the worst type of story is one in which the only person made happy is the PR person who pitched it.

So what makes a good story? How do we look for ways to engage the people around us? What kinds of stories should we pitch?

In short, a good story has these key storytelling elements:

  • It is more complex than can be summed up in a tweet.

Though we appreciate the microblogging platform that Twitter affords us and its ability to keep news short, sweet, and to the point, the truth of the matter is that few stories can be summed up well in under 140 characters. If it can, then it’s probably not a good story. We like Twitter for its demanding nature of attention-grabbing headlines and creative copy. It’s a fast, real-time provider of trends and news reaching over 500 million people daily. Tweets with snarky, witty comments are shown to get the most traction. Link to your story, and you’ve got a winner. But if your story — from start to finish — can fit into that 140-character box, it’s probably nothing worth pitching, and most definitely not something a good journalist will think worth writing.

  • It has a progression.

A good story flows well and keeps a reader involved from start to finish. If I can learn everything about an article within the first paragraph, I’m not going to read past the fold. Keep me wondering and want me to get to the end of that story. Give me the answer to my, “So what?

  • It has details, details, details about people.

The AllThingsD journalists stressed the fact that people and details about people are what make a story good. A personal touch can easily turn a blah story into a story a reporter wants to write. It’s the small details about the developer who once burnt his toast and was inspired to make an app by it, or how he found his graphic designer at the 24-hour diner down the street. Those little details draw writers and readers in and color stories with little facts that make another app article a little more relatable.

  • It includes something interesting that makes you think and learn.

A good story — a story that a reporter wants to write — contains a fact that makes you think, “Huh!” when you’re reading it. It makes you want to tweet it out to your followers and share it with your friends. Ultimately, reporters are inherently curious. Spark their curiosity and give them something to talk about. You, your client, and the reporters, will be glad you did.

In the end, journalists are people too, and a relationship with a reporter is just like a relationship with any other person. Even among all the new tools, apps, and social media platforms that consume our lives, don’t forget about the people in the process. They are why we do what we do.

Kallie Bullock can be reached at kbullock@sterlingpr.com. Follow her on Twitter @kallieswaggg.

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How to Build Lasting Relationships with the Media

While social media is a great tool for disseminating information quickly to a lot of people, it also fuels our gotta have everything and gotta have it now attitude. Remember back when Web pages took a minute or more to load? Now if it takes more than a few seconds we grow impatient and abandon that site in favor of a faster one. But what does this mean for the media, the land where everything needs to be done yesterday? Well, members of the media and PR representatives need to have accountable relationships so both parties can get what they want. Here are some tips on how to build lasting and meaningful relationships with reporters.

1. Know what the journalist covers. If you are pitching a story outside the journalist’s area of interest you are wasting their time and yours. This is not helpful in building a relationship because the next time you have something relevant to pitch they may just delete it thinking it is junk. Pitching relevant stories builds your credibility and the journalist will appreciate you not wasting their time. If you consistently provide quality stories they may come to you looking for something to write about.

2. Know the publication. Know the scope and also look at the editorial calendars when provided to know the topics planned so you can correctly time your pitches.

3. Know what the journalist has written about previously. Read the titles of past articles so you don’t pitch a story that was recently covered. It only takes a few extra minutes but it can generate years of value.

4. Explain the value of your pitch. Ask yourself, “why is this story important?” If you can’t answer the question the reporter won’t be able to either. Remember the criteria for news are: timely, significant, proximity, prominence, human interest.

5. Provide relevant materials when appropriate. Members of the media work on deadline and if they have to spend hours looking for supplemental material or checking facts, they are likely going to pass on your story in favor of one they have more information for. Backup materials also garner credibility for your story.

6. Be available. If they call with questions or need additional information make sure you return the call promptly or they may go to other sources for a story and you lose your coverage altogether. Even delaying a few hours could mean a missed deadline for them and a missed opportunity for you.

7. Don’t flood their inbox with “fluff”. Journalists receive hundreds of emails a day. Don’t waste their time pitching stories that have little to no value to them. It is always better to pitch a few really good stories than a bunch of not so great stories. This helps build your credibility.

8. Always be honest. Never lie to a reporter or you will destroy your relationship and your credibility. If they can’t believe what you say or they have to spend extra time fact checking because they can’t trust you, they will not bother with your story.

Following these steps does not guarantee coverage, but it will make you more valuable to the reporter and ultimately lead to mutually beneficial relationships.

Monika Hathaway can be reached at mhathaway@sterlingpr.com. Follow her on Twitter @Jazzpatron.

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Pitching in the 21st Century

The days of hammering the phones to book meetings with reporters may not be long gone just yet, but they are dwindling. While the Internet and email have made our lives easier, they have also given us more ways to approach the media. Pitching reporters through email is nothing new, and today, most journalists and PR practitioners prefer this method of contact. However, most recently there has been a new way of pitching, that some reporters are starting to lean toward: social media.

Social media has quickly evolved from a personal activity to a great business tool, and people are using it to promote companies and to contact others. Reporters are hopping on that bandwagon as well. Some are starting to use Twitter as a way of connecting with others to source their articles and most use it as a place to post their stories, giving them a wider distribution. Pitching reporters on Twitter is a lot quicker, since you only have 140 characters to work with (this also helps you to be concise!). However, to do so you usually need to have a working relationship with them. Other social media outlets such as Facebook have been off limits to pitching, for the most part; mostly because many reporters save them for personal use.

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