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4A’s PR Forum: 8 Tips for Pitching Reporters

The 4A’s, the leading trade association for ad agencies, held its second 4A’s Public Relations Forum, this year at J. Walter Thompson’s beautiful NYC offices on May 14, and the event drew a packed house.

Dubbed “24/7 Always On Communications,” the event brought together business journalists and hundreds of communications professionals from PR agencies and ad agencies to discuss changes in news gathering and media relations practices.

Top reporters from outlets including Fast Company, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Ad Age, Adweek and USA Today, as well as PR practitioners from agencies including, CP+B, FCB and Mullen lent their expertise on topics concerning reputation management and crisis communications. Additionally, executives from Twitter and Facebook discussed how social media engagement and real-time communications continues to change the world of earned media.

Still, media relations is the bread and butter of the PR practice, and journalist speakers talked about how technology and emerging media channels continue to impact their profession.

Below are eight insights that PR practitioners should keep in mind when engaging with the media in this 24/7 “Always On” world.

  1. Technology works. Almost all reporter panelists said that if you sent an email, “we got your pitch, and there’s no need to follow up four or five times to check.”  That said, if you want to follow up once, Laura Petrecca  from USA Today suggests writing “FOLLOW UP” in your subject line to make your point clear.
  2. Relationships are key. Reporters are much more apt to take your call if they know you. The takeaway?  Build those connections now; they will pay off for years to come.
  3. Sometimes it’s just about luck: Ever wonder why the pitch you spent hours writing got no response but the one that took ten minutes got an immediate reply?  The truth is, there isn’t a real answer other than timing. As Fast Company’s Editor Bob Safian pointed out, “It’s like getting a parking spot in the mall at Christmas time – it could take one minute, it could take 20. It depends what’s happening on that specific day and time — don’t take it personally.”
  4. The “aha” moment. Reporters and editors are looking for something new and surprising for their readers. If your pitched doesn’t elicit an “a-ha” moment it will be deleted.
  5. Remember the “why.”  When pitching a story, it is essential to include the “why.” While this may seem like a given, the Wall Street Journal’s Suzanne Vranica said it was surprising how many pitches she reads that bury the “why.” Remember to include the business challenge or impetus for your storyline.
  6. Social media is critical. Reporters use social media to inform their stories and gauge hot topics of the day, so PR professionals should align pitches with topics reporters seem to have on their radars. As Twitter’s Melissa Barnes reminded the audience, “Not only are stories being discussed on the platform, sometimes they are breaking on Twitter.” With social comes more competition than ever for reporters, so it’s imperative to stay close to the real-time conversation and how it’s informing journalism.
  7. Deadlines don’t exist. They have become almost irrelevant.  Everything is so real-time that reporters don’t always have time to respond to your pitch.
  8. Be concise. Suzanne Vranica says that actually, a one-sentence pitch via phone is more effective than a three-paragraph email. Take that to heart.

 

Digital Denizens: Reporting from the Future

“Digital Denizens: Reporting from the Future” panel. From left to right: Michael Learmonth, Ad Age; Todd Wasserman of Mashable; Brian Braiker Digiday reporter; moderator is Jill Kelly, Chief Communications Officer of Digitas.

London Town in Review: From Advertising Week to Lessons in PR Best Practices

Having enjoyed everything from Big Ben to the Tower Bridge, it’s crazy to believe that my unforgettable trip to London has now come to a close. The week flew by in the blink of an eye and brought me plenty of insights along the way to share with the team at home.

In addition to attending Advertising Week Europe and learning how a leader’s body language can make or break a career, I had the chance to participate in engaging brainstorms and daily “paper” meetings (discussing daily news) with the Eulogy! team. I also learned the inside scoop on the agency’s approach to working with reporters and packaging case studies for its clients in a unique and visually appealing video format.

Check out this video to see what else I took away from this memorable week –

All in all, the week satisfied a life-long dream to briefly work abroad and immerse myself in another country’s culture. I look forward to seeing what next year’s DGCer will take away from the trip and hope that they will love it as much as I did.

Ten Seconds Or Less

SnapChat is like The Little Engine That Could. Its rivals pulled out all of the stops to buy it, duplicate it, replace it and eradicate it – yet the network is still popular.

What’s interesting about SnapChat is its perception, which, for lack of a better term, snaps back and forth in terms of good and bad press.  The early days of SnapChat led many to believe it’s purely an app for all kids to “sext.” And every few weeks, there’s some sort of SnapChat privacy story – various articles on how safe those snaps are (or aren’t,) an actual data breach, or how legal the content of snaps may be.  In a post-Snowden world, these types of privacy breaches would be a kiss of death. Yet the network continues to persevere for its users.

Last week, SnapChat’s founders were on the cover of Forbes’ 30 under 30 – among other things, sharing how Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg essentially bullied the founders to sell to him or face extinction through Facebook’s version of the app Poke. As we now know, Poke fizzled and SnapChat thrives.

Now the startup, like many other networks in the space, is looking to monetize through advertising.  Yet the network needs to find a genuine way to make these ads happen, with content that people actually want to see.  HBO, always one of the boundary pushers in new avenues for social advertising, launched a SnapChat account tied to its popular show “Girls.” The extension is perfect for the show, as one can easily imagine the characters attempting to decipher what their potential suitors are implying by snapping emojis of pandas and guns.

While many critics, professional and amateur, are quick to remind everyone that SnapChat’s founders each passed on more than $750 million in Zuckerberg’s buyout offer, the network’s popularity among users is as great as it’s even been.  It goes to show that a brand can overcome bad press and a potentially bad reputation by sticking to the company’s brand and messaging. Yet so far, SnapChat may need to work on its sincerity when accepting its flaws, and there have been more than a few instances recently.  One could chalk up this up to the brashness of Silicon Valley hotheads – call it growing pains. Finding your voice and credibility is not easily done in today’s hyper reactive world – particularly when there can be so much on the line – and minor stories can explode into “national scandals.” That’s not to say every brand can survive bad press; it requires buzz, a dedicated following and a little bit of luck – but it is indeed possible.

We’re looking forward to following SnapChat’s business evolution in the coming weeks and months.

Big Apple to Britain: A Jersey Girl’s Journey into London PR

After a dozen days in the UK, I’m back in NYC and trying to avoid jet lag by making up for lost time with a much missed Starbucks. Though I did enjoy my tea and biscuits while in London—so much so I brought some back for the DGC team—it’s good to be home and with an absurdly large cup of iced coffee in hand. My time in London was definitely well spent, a perfect mix of work and play (something we value here at DGC). The Eulogy! team did a great job of making sure I met everyone, especially those from various divisions: social media (aka Onlinefire), marketing services, professional services, in addition to the B2B and consumer PR teams.

The Eulogy! team was also careful to make sure I didn’t work TOO hard, so they sent me up on the London Eye (on a thankfully sunny night)…

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…and hosted a lovely pizza party on my last day. One thing that is consistent across countries and cultures is the effect that copious free pizza has on an office: it’s mayhem, wherever you are.

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Overall, it was an amazing trip and I’m so grateful to both DGC & Eulogy! for making it happen. I hope my first “real” trip to London isn’t my last.

As they say, Cheers! xx Meg

Talking the Talk: How to Speak PR in the UK

ImageEver chased a journalist? How many sell ins have you done this week? Chances are, the answers are yes and many, but that’s not how you would say it. A “sell in” is a pitch, and to “chase” means to follow up. While the general approaches and goals of PR are the same on both sides of the pond, the terminology is quite different. When scheduling a “sit down” (meeting) with someone, be sure to check your “diary” (calendar) first. What we call “hits” or “clips” are the more formal “pieces of coverage” in the Queen’s English, and a byline is known as a “comment piece.” A company’s revenue is referred to as “turnover” and where we’d call financials simply “numbers,” here they are “figures.” Though these phrases aren’t what I’m used to hearing, they’re all pretty logical terms (unlike when I learned that a “plaster” is actually a Band-Aid…) and it’s helpful to be able to talk to the talk across various countries—even other English speaking ones!

Beyond the vocab, there are a few other differences when it comes to PR and media relations in the UK and the US. England has a large variety of national papers (approximately 13) where the US of A has mainly regional papers, with a few national exceptions that are particularly competitive. It’s more of result of geography than anything else: compared to the UK, the United States is absolutely massive and there aren’t many national outlets, but there are loads of regional ones. To put it in perspective, the entire UK (including all of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) is roughly the size of the state of Oregon. The number of outlets aside, there is also some variation in what the media is interested in. There aren’t as many talk shows in Britain as there are in the US, and they are less likely to cover something purely consumer-facing with no strong news angle. While a hard news hook helps with securing coverage no matter where you are, it’s even more important to get in with the UK media. For this reason, surveys and research are used regularly—with some clients as often as 2 or 3 times a week.

Of course, everyone at Eulogy! has been very helpful in explaining all this to me and has been kind enough to not laugh directly at me when I ask what a particular word means. For the record, “jelly” refers to jell-o, a “biscuit” is actually a cookie, “chips” in the UK are French fries, and I still can’t figure out why Band-Aids are “plasters.”

Rising Star Report: How Eulogy! Uses Video

Welcome to London, where the traffic is on the left, the subway is called the “tube” and the outlets—and the outlets—are different. Referring to both the pubs and plugs, aside from a few glaring cultural differences (tea is preferred to coffee, and Starbucks is slightly frowned upon) life at Eulogy!, an independent PR agency in London, isn’t too different from being at home at DGC. The office has a similar look and feel, and is filled with a bright team of Brits trying to get the best possible coverage for both B2B and consumer clients.

A few years ago, Eulogy! teamed up with Onlinefire to enhance their social media and digital offerings. One excellent feature of the partnership is the use of video, which Eulogy! employs frequently to tell their story and get messages across concisely and creatively. Check out Eulogy’s Dave Macnamara, Senior Creative Account Executive, above with more on using video.

You Need to Lean In or Think About Getting Out (of PR)

sheryl-sandberg-lean-in-book-cover-240xaWe have been following all the attention paid to Marissa Mayer’s “no-more-work-from-home” policy and Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In pronouncements.  These topics hit particularly close to home for us because the team culture here is perhaps the most vital aspect of life at DiGennaro Communications — it’s fun, collegial and collaborative.

It’s no secret that practicing public relations, and in particular practicing the craft within a PR agency, is stressful.  In fact, PR is routinely ranked among the most stressful vocations around.  So, here at DGC it’s important we cultivate an environment that provides a supportive atmosphere for our team.

It’s also smart business: A major value-add for our clients is our routine delivery of experiences, media contacts, pitch ideas and other critical support that emanates from across our entire team.  We like to say that our clients work with a dedicated account team, but in truth, they actually are assigned a 35-member account team.  Unfortunately, delivering on that promise is quite rare in this industry.

But back to Ms. Mayer and Ms. Sandberg.  One could debate (and many, many are) the merits of a work-from-home policy.  We’re actually testing one ourselves at the moment.  But it’s Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In platform that we identify with even more closely.  As Drake Baer so aptly reported in his Fast Company piece yesterday, Why Everyone—Not Just Women—Needs to Lean In, we don’t apply it exclusively to women.

An essential part of the earned media business is earning trust and building strong and mutually respectful relationships with journalists, clients and colleagues and this just isn’t achieved by “leaning out.”

Living and breathing a Lean In quality – showing a passion for your job, exhibiting a genuine interest in your clients and their companies, putting forward your opinions, raising your hand, finding ways to deliver the unexpected. It’s not a quality we hope employees bring to the table; it’s a prerequisite.  We’d argue it’s a requirement for anyone who wants to succeed in PR.

Super Bowl: A Game of HORSE and the Pre-Game Debate

Twenty years ago, as a young PR buck, I was tasked with creating a strategy to help McDonald’s leverage its Super Bowl XXVII “Nothing But Net” spot.  I knew we had PR gold in our hands when the storyboards included Michael Jordan and Larry Bird in a game of HORSE. Slam dunk!

What wasn’t a slam dunk at the time was my idea: invite select media on-set (Entertainment Tonight, ESPN, a few others) to capture interviews with Jordan, Bird, director Joe Pytka and behind-the-scenes footage for segments that would air BEFORE the game to build anticipation and consumer engagement.

The heated debates at the Golden Arches over a concept that seemed heretical at the time were unforgettable. But, we hit pay dirt that year with phenomenal pre-game PR and a USA Today Ad Meter victory. It arguably kick-started what today is considered the first page of the Super Bowl Commercial PR Playbook.  In fact, now NOT finding ways to gain exposure for a brand’s Super Bowl spot before the game is considered heretical.

Stuart Elliott did a deep dive on the subject in The New York Times this week that’s worth reading…

Can Lance Armstrong ‘EmergeStrong?’

Lance Armstrong’s confession, though not in the least bit surprising, was one of the hottest news topics this week. In addition to how this affects him as an athlete and a celebrity, it also opened a can of worms as to how this affects his brand, his image, his reputation and perhaps most importantly, his foundation, Livestrong.

Though it may not seem like an obvious business story, Nick Balletta, CEO of TalkPoint, took a look at the situation from a business perspective and weighed in for a CNBC.com blog post. This is a great example of hijacking current events and pairing them with executive’s passion points. Nick is an athlete as well as a businessman, and he had a very strong point of view on the Lance-debacle, as you can read below. Do you think Lance will “Emerge-strong?”

Balletta: After All the Lies Can Lance Armstrong ‘EmergeStrong?’

CNBC.com | Friday, 18 Jan 2013

It wasn’t spousal abuse. It wasn’t animal abuse, it wasn’t murder. It certainly wasn’t child abuse or a subsequent child abuse cover up. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, they all sound familiar and are all too common when it comes to American celebrities, and in particular, professional athletes.

It was a lie, and for that, Lance Armstrong must pay and pay dearly he will. His titles, his awards, his medals and his legacy, are at best damaged, but in reality, mostly gone. Not even the secular confessional of Oprah can bring them back. Lance is done.

That’s Lance the athlete, but what about Lance the humanitarian and philanthropist? The cancer survivor and founder of Livestrong?

If you speak with anyone whose family member was treated for cancer at the University of Pennsylvania or the parent of a child who was treated at Cook’s Medical Center, you will definitely get a different perspective. How about the children whose parents fought cancer and they received counseling from Wonders and Worries or all of the Katrina survivors that received financial aid? How about the thousands of families over the last 15 years that have benefited from the support of Livestrong? They don’t care about the “lie,” they are living the truth.

In business terms, it’s time for “Philanthropist Lance” to go through a restructure. A Chapter 11 restructure is not the end for a company; it is a new beginning. It only works, however, if underlying assets have true value.

Conversely, the media pundits will tell you that “Athlete Lance” is finished. For “Athlete Lance,” they will say it’s not restructure time, but liquidation time; a Chapter 7 in business terms. In Chapter 7, you shut it down, unwind it, sell off the assets, go into the abyss and quietly into the night.

The parents, the survivors, the fighters, the families and the medical professionals don’t care about “Athlete Lance.” They believe in “Philanthropist Lance” and the value of the underlying assets. They are living proof of the good he has done and the value he has brought and can continue to bring. They will help him restructure. The brand may be damaged now, but that does not mean it can’t be salvaged or saved. Remember Chrysler, Macy’s and most of the airlines? Some of the largest brands in the world have been through the restructure process. These companies shed the baggage, recapitalized, kept the good assets and went on to fight another day. It’s time for Lance to regroup with the people that will reinvest and support him so he can emerge from the bankruptcy.

I have completed a few triathlons (although I don’t consider myself a triathlete) and can really appreciate the achievements of “Athlete Lance.” PEDs notwithstanding, anyone who competes in the Tour de France is in many ways superhuman.

More people have been touched by cancer than cycle or complete triathlons. Anyone who battles cancer or supports one who does needs to put out an effort that is herculean. There are exponentially more people who understand that. None of them know what it takes to ride a bike up a mountain, nor do they care. Lance needs to focus his efforts on that constituency and get them to reinvest in his “restructure.”

Emergestrong!

Apology accepted, Lance. Now let’s get back to the real work.

Nick Balletta is CEO of TalkPoint, an industry leader in global communications technology.

© 2013 CNBC.com

 

Mad Men – The Thrill of Victory

Finally, after several long weeks (and at least seven episodes) the SCDP team has won the Heinz account. After several failed pitches, attempts to partner them with the Rolling Stones, not even slimy Pete Campbell could coddle them to sign on. Until Megan comes up an idea that seems simple yet brilliant – that beans, like spaghetti, will never change. It will always be a staple of family life.

Megan was fortunate enough that Raymond’s wife spilled the beans on their upcoming firing so they could pre-empt Heinz’s move. The execution and teamwork between Megan and Don was flawless. Their marriage provides a soft loving exterior for their direct, hard-nosed business motives. Afterwards in the office, the mood is jovial as everyone is celebrating their first big win since Lucky Strike.

Winning new business does not happen overnight. It takes several weeks, if not months, for things to come through. Several people have to work on the push. There’s a suspense, drama and rush that you won’t be able to find anywhere else in business. To pull from sports saying, there is a thrill of victory, but there also is the agony of defeat. At the end of the day, only one company can win, while everyone else goes home empty handed.

When attempting to seal the deal, there’s a need to be ready for anything and everything, and pre-empt spelled right?  a suspected or hinted loss with a counter-strike to appease. That’s how Megan and Don were able to seize an opportunity.

For her part, Peggy is a role model when it comes to her strong support of Megan. She recognized and saluted Megan’s success even though her own creative ideas had failed with the client. Instead of being jealous, she “took one for the team” and did what was best:  support the company as a whole.

At the end of the day, it’s a true team effort; from the start of the new business chase, through the successful win, and the (hopeful) flourishing partnership between both sides. It cannot be done by just a few people. It takes everyone from an agency to succeed, so appreciate the team you have around you.

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