Recently, Metis Co-Founder Cathy Caldeira was quoted in a Fox Business profile with fellow Co-Founder Courtney Hurst. “If your worst thing is that you’re too aggressive,” said Cathy, “then that’s not a bad thing.” As any entrepreneur working in a competitive industry can tell you, the sentiment is hard to argue.
In the nonstop world of public relations, each day is a battle for the attention of others: your target audience, the reporters on whom you rely to reach that audience, even at times your own team, who have plenty of other pressing issues about which to worry. Your goal is to spread word of your team’s accomplishments, but given the finite nature of attention, it’s a constant contest to engage others and relay your message as effectively as possible.
To that end, aggression becomes practically indispensable, particularly when you’re trying to reach a reporter whose phone hasn’t stopped ringing since 1998, or a journalist who receives hundreds of emails a day. If you’re not willing to be persistent, and yes, even aggressive when you know you have the right story at the right time, you stand a poor chance of having your voice heard among the din.
Of course, as with anything, moderation is essential. There’s an important distinction between persistence and harassment, for example, but ultimately it comes down to knowing your audience and being confident in your ability to balance determination with tact and courtesy. Cathy advises Fox Business readers to trust their guts. In public relations, aggression is confidence, believing enough in yourself and the story to know that when you do capture your target’s attention, he’ll want to listen.
Want to learn more about building your PR fundamentals? Check out these tips for PR success.
At the recent Publicity Club of New England event, Tech’s Hot Trends, a panel comprised of tech media shared thoughts on working with public relations specialists. When moderator Matthew Lloyd, director of communications at iRobot, asked about the relationships of public relations specialists and journalists, Eric Lundquist, vice president of editorial at InformationWeek, said that it should be called “public relationships rather than public relations.”
Reporters said not much has changed in their relationships with PR specialists other than they aren’t receiving faxes anymore. The consensus of the panel was that it is still challenging to find exciting ways to write about the mid-size company.
It seems the PR 101 tips that were true 10 years ago are still true in today’s environment. It’s a PR specialist’s job to reach out to the media and share company stories. The first step in doing that is building a relationship with the reporter. To learn more about the reporter, do your research. Look him up on LinkedIn, follow him on Twitter and read his most recent articles. After doing your research, you have the green light to pick up the phone and introduce yourself and your company. Ask the reporter if he has time to talk with you, and find out what he’s working on. Reference one of the reporter’s articles. Find a common interest to discuss. These are just some baby steps to take toward forming a relationship with a reporter.
Relationships grow over time. Once you get to know a reporter’s style, you’ll know what he or she expects. Reporters will remember you and your company if they had pleasant experiences working with you in the past. They don’t forget how you shaped your company story and handed it to them on a silver platter to make their job just a bit easier.
Lundquist said a challenging part of PR is knowing the influencers in the industry.
“We have deadlines, but we are curious. We like to hear from you when you have a good story,” said Lundquist.
Recently, a blog on Ragan.com got my attention. The 10 worst nightmares for a PR professional was written by Jennifer Nichols, the founder of the FlackList, a service that connects media and PR “flacks.” The service seems cool, and I want to check it out, so the blog worked from a sales perspective. What didn’t work was Nichols’ number-one nightmare for PR pros:
1. You mail merge a pitch to the wrong media list.
If you are working with a PR firm that mail merges anything, then you’re screwed.
Any PR firm that is mail merging a “pitch” doesn’t care about your business, your bottom line objectives or your vision. It cares about getting coverage hits and focusing on quantity over quality. This short-term approach usually shortchanges everyone.
If your PR firm is not carefully vetting and researching each and every target, then you aren’t getting your money’s worth. And chances are, the journalists with whom you are paying that firm to connect hate those flacks -- and your pitch.
Now, I’m all for automating processes. There are definitely times where sending out the same information to a number of reporters is fine, but this is usually when a client is announcing a product upgrade or a general news item or something as an FYI. And it should only happen if your PR team has already established a channel with these reporters.
In today’s social media world, where customer and industry voices are amplified, it’s so easy for PR teams to find new angles, research trends and give reporters want they want and need to be successful. Mass mailing generic pitches was never good PR practice. In this environment in particular, it’s toxic.
PR professionals and journalists have a love-hate relationship. We need each other, and yet, the ways in which we do our jobs can either ease or impede the relationships between us. So what can we, in the PR field, do to change this? I recently listened to George Donnelly, editor-in-chief of the Boston Business Journal, give his insight about how to best approach a journalist. Some of his tips include:
Do your homework
An editor may be able to point you to the right contact, but he is often not the person to pitch. Find out who is, and take the time to look at reporter’s past articles. You will gain credibility if you can demonstrate you know what the reporter covers and why she writes on those topics.
Don’t expect immediate results
If you have the right story at the right time, that’s great. But it’s also rare. PR professionals tend to expect coverage to appear immediately after a story is pitched, but that’s not always in line with a journalist’s timeline. Remember that forming long-term relationships is just as important.
Understand how journalists work
Sometimes the best PR professionals are those that have crossed over from a newsroom, only because they understand the environment and know what reporters are looking for in their stories. For the rest of us, keep in mind that journalists work on a deadline. Also, although reporters are often responsible for bringing story ideas to editors, the best reporters do not rely solely on PR pitches to craft stories.
Create a mutually beneficial relationship
PR professionals want journalists to cover their clients, but how do we benefit journalists? Remember that you are dealing with a person first, and try to reciprocate courtesies in some way. Ask the reporter what he plans to work on and see if you can offer help.
Imagine the quintessential first date: two people eager to get to know one another, hoping their personalities mesh well enough to form a dynamic bond. I witnessed hundreds of first dates when I worked in a restaurant. In every instance, both parties involved were hungry to find a common interest, something that tells them, “This relationship is a good idea.” The typical conversation goes something like this:
“I like red wine but not white.”
“Oh, same here. Merlot all the way!”
“I think Zach Galifianakis is beautiful.”
“Yes! He has the eyes of an angel!”
These “me too’s” confirm that successful relationships begin with and thrive on connection, and a bond can be created simply by respectfully acknowledging a person’s passion.
The first meeting with a potential client can be synonymous to a first date: nerve-racking with a desire to connect (but thankfully, no awkward handholding). The more you know about the client, the better chance you have at making a connection, but even a minute of casual conversation counts. A sentence like, “Schools must be closed out there with all that snow” to a Michigan client with kids can be enough to break the barrier.
The same applies when building relationships with the media. Staying current with a reporter’s recent work will tell you what he or she is currently interested in. A mention of this interest can help grab the reporter’s attention, differentiating your call from others and solidifying a bond. But remember to be honest. As a waitress, I served a table at which a man feigned interest in his date’s favorite TV show, only to draw a blank when asked his opinion on the latest season. Bad move. Liars always get busted.
Clients will trust you if you can demonstrate an understanding of their perspectives while also communicating yours. Reporters will give you information and listen to your opinion when they know you value their work. The cute guy sweating across from you at the dinner table will likely ask you on a second date if you’re honest with him, and with yourself. So put forth the effort to make a genuine connection. Sometimes in order to be professional, you must also be casual, especially in PR.
Have you noticed the increase in webinar invitations in your in-box lately? I receive several a day from various companies, my clients, their competitors and media groups. However, promoting webinars with the media and analyst communities is a little different than your traditional marketing efforts.
The initial purpose of a webinar might be to introduce a new partner integration, or launch a new product or service, or to educate the industry via a method that provides everyone with the same information at the same time. For news announcements, webinars save valuable time over individual briefings and help avoid the risk of a media outlet breaking a story before other publications. For example, FalconStor Software (our client) launched an automated disaster recovery solution, RecoverTrac, through an online event with a short product demo.
Webinars are also a great way to demonstrate market and thought leadership. Take Eze Castle Integration (our client); the company offers webinars frequently to educate its market about due diligence, cloud computing and how to launch a hedge fund, to name a few topics. The partners and experts that Eze Castle secures for the webinars are always top notch and full of insight for the audience.
In cases of product launches or industry education, the goal is to drive attendance. How can PR promote these events?
- Personalize your invitation to each reporter, editor or analyst. And don't invite them to every single webinar you have.
- Target only those who have a clear interest in the topic.
- Give plenty of notice. Send the invitation at least a week before the event.
- Build on a client’s reputation and leadership. Eze Castle, for example, has a track record of high-quality, informative webinars, and industry and vertical markets know it.
- Turn refusals to your advantage. If a target turns you down on a webinar invitation, offer a one-on-one briefing.
- Make the webinar work for you even after it ends. Post the presentation to the company website, YouTube and other social media sites.
- Follow up with those reporters who attended with a link to the recorded event as they may use it for background in future articles.
If your company were to have a webinar, how would you promote it? What are your methods for driving media and analyst attendance?
Have you ever fallen victim to stereotyping? It’s no fun. Most of us prefer to build, manage and maintain our own reputations. Effective PR professionals frequently must fight toxic and false preconceptions about their work.
Sigh. Thanks a lot, Lois. (You may remember when TechCrunch had a field day with a PR firm that spammed the blog with a canned PR pitch).
What differentiates good PR from “bad” PR? How can we combat the ugly labels some of them have rightfully earned?
- Be goals-based. This means helping clients identify what they want to achieve and what is possible to achieve based on their resources.
- Read. Know what is happening through constant news, blog and social media scans from the most influential sources in the industry. Take a first-mover approach with issues response, positioning the firm and clients as relevant to topical discussions.
- Have a purpose. Build relationships with reporters, bloggers and analysts. Be personal. Choose relevant targets. Know what they cover. Know why they want to know the clients. Act fast and give reporters what they want. Be thankful; and therefore, be thanked.
- Relay the value. Have you ever come across a PR status report that lists monthly activities by the hour? We have, and it made us laugh. It is impossible to see any sort of progress, success or value. Client contacts should look like superheroes when they share reports internally, because the PR firm should be just as interested in the influence, metrics and analytics as they are. Track followers, circulation, impressions, sentiment, and leads from the results to illustrate why PR is worth every cent.
Thoughtfulness is the common denominator. Successful PR firms move fast to accomplish goals, but they aren’t hasty.
My kids constantly bombard me with the question, “Where is my…?” And, of course, I am supposed to immediately locate the toy, book or other item. As a mom, I am much like an IT administrator who is expected to know where every bit of data is stored. But the pressure on the IT administrator might be even greater; he better be able to retrieve that data instantly, or he faces problems bigger than any child’s tantrum.
However, in today’s virtual world, locating that data is sometimes easier said than done. Previously, IT could physically point to a server or a location where the data might be located. Now, it’s out in cyber space. Without virtualization mapping, management and other solutions, IT plays a guessing game at where information is located within their network. Working with data center clients such as FalconStor, Embotics, VM6 Software and Correlsense, I have a solid grasp of the various technologies available to solve virtualization challenges. The increased adoption of server, storage and desktop virtualization technologies, management tools and transaction tracking solutions for mapping these environments are propelled by IT managers who want to make their work lives easier. I know a toy-tracking or mapping solution would make my home life easier!
By living and breathing the aspects of the virtual and data center worlds of my clients and within the realm of public relations, I have insight into how these solutions work together, how ideas build off of each other and how to find the right answer and the right contact for a journalist covering this space. With this versatility, knowledgebase and focus on the data center industry, I and the data center team at Metis provide a creative, innovative approach for each client.
Creativity is essential for both online media relations and motherhood. Turning simple household items such as bottle caps, paper towel rolls and fabric scraps into a rainy day craft project to building a pitch based on industry tidbit or turning an opportunity for one client into something for every client is key to PR success. Where others might see nothing in these items, moms see a great rainy day craft. Where other firms might see no “hook,” Metis sees opportunity, because our team is schooled in the building the narrative first.
As we wrap up 2010, the Metis team and I are discussing what lies ahead in 2011 for the virtual world – what new technologies and topics will be big and the creative ideas we can hatch from these trends. I don’t see an inventive solution coming out to help moms manage their home “data,” but IT administrators will be better off. It looks like 2011 will bring plenty of new virtual product offerings.
What are your thoughts on the next big trends in virtualization? What is important to your company in 2011?
Advice comes from all sources. Whether it’s from friends and family in our personal lives to coworkers, partner and the media in PR, all of it matters. It’s whether you take it and become successful is the true test. In fact, two journalists I follow closely recently posted tips on launching new products and companies. Many of their points echo the counsel we give our clients here at Metis.
Jean-Jacques Maleval, editor of Storage Newsletter, recently told PR pros in his Editor’s Message to Public Relations to keep it simple and avoid certain “ecstatic” words within press releases. His “all-new,” “comprehensive” list of these “premier” words, which we are all guilty of using sometimes, includes “cutting-edge,” “innovative” and “world-class.” Maleval suggests announcements be “rock solid,” “phenomenal” and “tightly integrated” with company messaging – and free of overused clichés – prior to release.
And Scott Kirsner, Boston Globe columnist, provided a list of suggestions within his Innovation Economy column: Generating Buzz for Your Venture: 43 Bits of Free Advice from Entrepreneurs, PR Peeps and Journos. He gives some good advice for launching your company or product or announcing funding. His tips, similar to many we espouse, can be boiled down into three words: trust, truth and relationships. You need to build trusting relationships with journalists, and the way to do that is by telling the truth and by delivering what you promise.
This is the core of Kirsner, Maleval and Metis’ advice: Words matter. Truth matters. Don't talk to journalists in a way that undermines your intelligence or theirs.