A recent Tuesday:
Taking Molly the dog to a park for her morning walk
Watching Molly interact with another dog whose owner does not believe the leash rule applies to her
Hoping Molly doesn’t lash out at the unleashed dog
Trying to conduct business on a smart phone while untangling Molly from her leash in her latest Houdini impression
Trying unsuccessfully to persuade Molly to drink from a water fountain specifically for dogs
Wondering if the other dogs distracted Molly from using the bathroom at the park and if this means the house will later serve as a toilet
Trying to drive safely while leaving a long voice mail for someone who wants to know how to grab the public’s attention about an issue
Stopping by the dermatologist’s office
Wondering if standing barefoot in the dermatologist’s office is healthy
Enjoying a microwave lunch
Leaving a voice mail for a national magazine editor, curious why I haven’t heard from her in a couple of days
Helping my mom on the phone navigate Facebook so she can tell me if my mobile post actually appeared
Learning a potential client has postponed a possible project for later in the year
Rescheduling a dinner appointment
Back at the park in the afternoon, watching the phone’s battery go bye bye with no outlet in sight
I was picking up the cleaners when a TV on the business’ wall showed my former colleague and arch nemesis Fox10 weatherman Cory McCloskey wearing a hairnet. Cory often took any opportunity he had to poke fun of me during his weather segments on the air. He once enlarged a picture of my head and had people fire tomatoes at it on a farm. (It was all in good fun.) On this morning, Cory wore a hairnet while giving us a live tour of a factory that makes tortilla chips. If anyone can wear a hairnet and have it fit in with his shtick, Cory can.
After Cory’s live shot, my other old friend anchorman Ron Hoon delivered a report from the newsroom. But a big, white plastic bag on a desk behind him grabbed my attention. The bag reminded me of one of those you pick up after shopping at the grocery store. A lot of similar plastic bags are stuffed in our kitchen closet. We save them as a backup plan to pick up after our dog Molly. You can see now how one stupid item in the background of your shot can get someone daydreaming. It would disappoint me when I aired what I considered to be an interesting interview and colleagues in the newsroom focused more on the person’s hair, clothes or the fact he or she was not even wearing a shirt. People notice crazy stuff.
I mentioned that paper bag to someone in the newsroom and he texted me back saying, “Keith … those are the homespun touches that make the Hooner so endearing. You know that.”
Not everyone is so endearing. When appearing on camera, clear your background of distractions. Don’t give viewers a reason not to hear your words. I have no idea what Ron Hoon was saying. But I’m sure it was important.
The following points refer to an email someone sent me about covering an immigration event helping young people who are undocumented. At the time, I was a television reporter.
She sent the pitch the same day as the event. In fact, she sent it two hours and 15 minutes before the event began.
Both the email’s subject and a sub headline in the email stated “for immediate release.” Isn’t that obvious?
The email began with “Media Advisory” in big bold letters. When sending pitches to reporters, why is it necessary to include “media advisory”? Isn’t that obvious considering you are sending information to reporters?
The pitch’s first paragraph explains a school board member, a house representative and a councilman will attend the event. Sharing a compelling story in the pitch about a young person who is undocumented would have been a more persuasive way to attract my attention. Also, the email should have explained I would be able to interview that person on camera. School board members and politicians were often the last people I sought to interview at events.
The email buries in the second and third paragraphs how two controversial decisions sparked this event. The email refers to the event as a workshop that will include demonstrations. The media like controversy and TV reporters especially like visuals such as demonstrations. I would have included this information higher in the pitch.
The email includes a PDF attachment that repeats word for word the email itself. I’m not sure of the PDF’s purpose unless the sender believed some reporters prefer information within PDFs rather than emails. However, I’ve never heard of this preference.
I support including visuals in pitches, but this one includes a picture of a meeting. The meeting apparently depicts leaders who made a controversial decision leading to these demonstrations. However, a picture of people who look very bored in a meeting does not add much to the pitch. I would prefer to see a picture of a young passionate demonstrator who I might get to interview.
Ramble on and on and on without taking a breath.
Use lots of industry acronyms.
Top your acronyms with some lingo.
Give reporters, without them requesting it, a pile of paperwork because you can’t explain the issue yourself in a few sentences.
Insist how horrible something is when you haven’t even explained in simple terms what the heck you are talking about.
Mix together rumors and facts.
Overdramatize the impact of an issue to such an extent that you lose credibility.
Include statistics without a source to back them up.
Explain yourself in such complicated terms that reporters feel like they’re trying to unravel Watergate.
Do a lot of “blah, blah, blah” while actually saying very little.
Insisting the issue is hurting consumers without having a consumer for anyone to interview.
A Los Angeles media relations vice president sent me a pitch that includes 20 paragraphs, one of several pitches I continue to receive one year and 11 months after I left my TV reporting job.
The email begins with two paragraphs addressed to me followed by an 18-paragraph report.
As a reporter, if I were interested in additional information, I would have requested from the media relations VP a report after her initial two-paragraph email seduced me. There is a reason people should not, during a first date, talk about themselves too much or give up too much of themselves after dinner. First, you do not want the person on the other side of the table to feel overwhelmed by your words. Second, if you give it up on a first date, you increase the chances someone might not come back for more. In fact, in this situation, when time permitted, I may have taken some tidbits of this release and tried to develop my own story locally without ever contacting the person who sent the pitch. Media relations often is similar to showing a little leg. Give them just enough to tantalize them and to want to call you back.
But this first date went sour for many more reasons. The 18-paragraph report is under the words “for immediate release.” I reported on television for 17 years and do not recall any times the words “for immediate release” played any practical role in the newsroom. I have raised this point more than once before, sparking a contentious debate among public relations professionals. If someone sent me a news release, I assumed it was for immediate release and continue to not understand why including those words is necessary. I conclude that including the words “for immediate release” is an old-school practice that, in my experience, serves no practical purpose for my former colleagues or me. As always, I am open to other points of view. However none of the previous debates I have sparked has given me reasons to change my opinion.
The first two paragraphs do not explain why this story would specifically romance a Phoenix audience. The paragraphs also do not include the names of a local person or business to court for the story.
The pitch says the author of the included report is available to talk, but the release does not explain why I should interview him instead of someone local. In fact, I actually interviewed local experts on similar topics more than two years ago.
The 20 paragraphs include a slew of statistics and percentages and I find myself willing only to skim all the information. Considering the number of emails some reporters and producers receive each day, most of them probably would not get past the first or second paragraph after seeing the length of the pitch.
Journalists willing to wade through the thicket of information might actually find ideas for interesting stories. This is especially true for trade media. Unfortunately, if the media relations vice president is hoping to attract the attention of a larger audience outside the industry, her pitch will likely often miss its target because how she dressed it. It reads more like a research report than something meant to woo journalists in a timely fashion.
There will not be a second date.
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