Posts Tagged ‘branding’

The Media Prefers To Be Your First

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

A marketing coordinator pitched me a story about a doctor who had appeared on Good Morning America (GMA) and other popular TV programs. (I assume the “other popular TV programs” were news broadcasts, not reality TV or primetime sitcoms.) I had heard of Good Morning America. That’s a national broadcast. That’s pretty cool. I get it.

The marketer put his client’s past appearances in the very first line of his pitch. So I also assume he thought a Good Morning America mention was his strongest selling point to immediately grab my attention and persuade me to read more. Actually, it’s not uncommon for PR pros to try to impress reporters with a resume of appearances. But information such as this never really impressed me. It made me hesitate and ask myself a question: Do I want to air a story that’s already been aired?

When you pitch clients, I figure you’ve already ensured they won’t put viewers to sleep or talk in a language forcing us to consult our dictionary app. It’s not important to me the client already passed that litmus test with Good Morning America. It’s not important to me GMA considered the client’s story newsworthy. What I do know is when TV producers and managers hear the story already aired elsewhere, they often make a face as if tasting bad medicine. Sometimes they’re willing to swallow it. Sometimes not. But when I looked down a conference table of cynical journalists, I didn’t want to hear “Yes. I saw that story on [fill in the blank.]

Maybe a GMA appearance deserves a mention somewhere in the pitch but not the first line. And maybe not at all. I’ve lost count of the number of times marketers or clients themselves tried to seal the deal with me by name dropping previous appearances. Instead they sealed their fate.

The pitch for the client with the GMA appearance under his TV belt actually was successful with me. But that’s because the issue was new and fresh, not because I was wowed at the very chance of being in the presence of someone who appeared on a national stage. Choose carefully when deciding when to name drop. Most journalists understand they’re probably not your first. But they like to think they are. And often the last thing they wish to hear is you shouting out someone else’s name.

Tell us what you think. Do you name drop? How well does it work?

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To Seduce the Media, Shorter is Better

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

When Keith pitches a story idea in a morning news meeting, it’s as if he’s staring into a countdown timer with big red numbers and everyone around the table is slowly drifting into their own worlds. If he doesn’t grab their cynical attention spans within the first few words and seconds, he will quickly lose his audience and hear himself cut off by the next great idea.

This is what marketing and media have in common. We all have a brief window to pitch our ideas and pitch them well. But Keith recently received an email pitch 7 paragraphs, 456 words long. The next one was 17 paragraphs, 718 words long. This is not a high school English class in which you don’t know the material well but hope to sound smart and interesting by being longwinded. This is not a debate in which you hope to win your argument by wearing down your opponent with a speech that builds its case over time.

Reporters are not asking the PR world to do anything they don’t do themselves. In fact, reporters might face a tougher assignment. They typically present their ideas verbally amid distractions without the advantage of relying on a carefully crafted email that can hide the fact they’re having a bad morning.

Practice your pitches in three lines. Consider it a headline, not an essay. Reporters and producers more likely will read it. (Opening an email to see 17 paragraphs is immediately tiring on the eyes.) Twitter is great practice. Twitter forces Keith and me to make our point, seriously or in jest, in 140 characters. So consider your pitches sophisticated Tweets. If you’re good at it, a reporter will always want to know more.

Here’s another way to look at it when trying to pitch a sexy story:  Show them just enough leg to grab their attention and get them wanting more. And in this art of seduction, shorter is better.

We want to hear from you. What are some of the best and worse pitches you’ve seen?

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PR Is Like A Magic Show

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

A communications firm emails a reporter a story pitch. The reporter pitches the idea to managers and producers at a morning news meeting. One of the producers expresses interest, but it’s unclear if her interest will lead to a story airing.

Fast forward two and a half weeks. A story in the news now makes that idea from weeks earlier timely. During the morning news meeting, the same producer tells the reporter she wants to shoot the story. She wants to shoot that day. She wants to shoot it at 2:30 in the afternoon.

The reporter calls and emails the communications firm. Several phone calls are exchanged, but the client at first can’t be reached. Then the client is not available to shoot the story especially on such short notice. Trying to pull off this story idea under these circumstances might seem to PR pros like trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat. But this is how the news game is played. The producer expected that story at 2:30 that afternoon. She didn’t think an act of magic was in order. If anything, she thought she might be working with another communicator who didn’t understand the TV news business and how deadlines aren’t scheduled days or weeks in advance.

I’ve listened to reporters who are assigned a story in the morning, call a series of people in public relations and are baffled when they call back at four in the afternoon to make arrangements. As my hip friends like to say, don’t hate the player. Hate the game. To win the game, make clear to clients to prepare at a moment’s notice for the media’s call. Most often, you don’t schedule the media for next week between meetings. The client obviously wants to be on TV or in print. Clients need to understand when opportunity knocks, they better open that door. What’s news today is old news tomorrow. Everyone should essentially be on-call. If this plan of action is impossible, communicate that early to the reporter. Don’t build a reputation of pitching stories and then not pulling the rabbit out of the hat.

In this example, the communications firm got a second chance. The client was available the next day and the producer was still interested. But typically, you don’t get a second act to put on your magic show and you lose an audience of thousands.

Have you had clients who have pulled disappearing acts on the media? How have you counseled them? We’d love to hear your stories.

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Making Employees Feel Part of the Team

Saturday, May 7th, 2011

I was walking with a co-worker when she acknowledged she should be back at her desk meeting a fast approaching deadline. She asked me why she didn’t care. I knew why.

Shareholders and highly compensated executives whose holidays include potential bonuses are obvious stakeholders in a company’s success. But employees standing further down the corporate ladder don’t necessarily assume the company’s success automatically translates into personal success. Some of these workers survived the recession but suffered substantial pay cuts. They read corporations are financially bouncing back but are told big raises are not on the horizon. The salary that was lost will not be won back anytime soon.

Some employees are happy just to have a job. Others are too close to retirement to raise a ruckus. And some feel trapped without options. But top performers will eventually exit when the evidence shows hard work only pays off for those at the tippy top. A team can continue to compete even if one or two stars move on. But as sports often display, those teams start to fade, and before a boss begins to know it, rebuilding is in order. Competing for a championship was yesterday’s news. Unlike in sports, some businesses don’t get a chance to rebuild.

If you can’t offer top employees the raise they feel they deserve, explain why without the BS. (No matter how cleverly you spin it, your words won’t cover the stink of a raise that doesn’t even keep up with inflation.) Include those employees in key meetings and ask them for feedback in key decisions. Clue them in to future changes and exciting ideas. Pull them off to the side casually and bounce ideas off them. Make these employees feel their opinions help direct a division or company. Make them feel they truly are part of the success and should continue to invest their time.

If you don’t reward someone with a raise plus don’t give them decision-making power … plus don’t make their opinion wanted on key aspects, top performers typically aren’t going to play puppet while you pull the strings. The ambitious ones need more to push their passion.

That co-worker I walked with felt the company didn’t show her the value. (They already weren’t showing her the money.) I could see even a “you’re important to this company” would have lifted her spirits. The economic recovery is developing slowly. But overall, the news is more good than bad. Now more than ever, keep your team, your lineup intact.

Remember this. When teams are forced to rebuild after falling apart, often the coach is the first to go.

We want to hear from you. What are some innovative ways your company has made employees feel part of the team? How are employees included in key decisions? What kinds of reward programs are in place at your company?

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Don’t Do The Lingo

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

I call it The Flip Side because I offer both external and internal communications. My writing typically spotlights one or the other. But here’s an opportunity to kill two blogs with one subject.

Keith and I were exchanging emails with someone about the possibility of refinancing. We’ve known her for years. She is very nice. Most importantly, we trust her. And she responds to questions on Saturdays! So she sent an email detailing our options. Her email included the following phrases:

•               MTA fasttrack

•               streamline program

•               stated documentation

•               LTVs

•               MI

In addition to those terms, other sentences required me to be someone who spends at least part of my time hanging out in a loan office. After reading the email, I spent time Googling these terms and exchanging emails, defining each phrase one by one. It was as if we were speaking different languages.

Don’t do The Lingo. If a member of the media is scheduled to interview your client, cleanse that client of all the jargon (or “jargonese” as I like to call it in this blog on the topic) he or she is comfortable with in the corner office. If you don’t, those sound bites will, well, never become sound bites, and the reporter will forever categorize your client as the business geek that can’t relate to the rest of the world.

Losing The Lingo is just as important in internal communications. When sending your employees important information, the last thing they need is to download a translation app just to figure out what the heck you’re saying about the lastest 401(k) or healthcare policy changes. And corporate or industry insider language simply reinforces a glass wall some employees already feel stands between the boss and his staff.

Sometimes, there is no way to get around using some of your industry terms. If you must use them, define them clearly. I’m amazed at the number of companies with websites busting at the seams with jargon. They assume they have one type of audience. They are possibly turning away media inquiries or potential customers without even knowing it! For internal communications purposes, consider creating a company or industry glossary of terms. Post it on your intranet. It’s a great resource for new employees, too. Create hyperlinks to words in the glossary whenever you use key words in e-communications.

Don’t do The Lingo. If you do, you’re forcing people to dance around your words. Communicating clearly (and like a human being) is important for business both externally and internally.

What kind of lingo do you see as an employee and as a consumer? Do you have good examples to share? What works to combat jargon? We’d love to hear from you!


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Savvy or Selfish PR? You Decide.

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

A reporter overhears a co-worker say he faced a savvy PR person. Now this is news. Ears perk up. Most hard-nosed journalists prefer to complain about peeps in the PR world rather than give them credit. So this conversation sparks discussion.

An employee got in trouble and the reporter wanted an on-camera interview with the employer. A spokesperson said she was available but there was a catch. First some history:  When trouble strikes a school or company, reporters learn what time class lets out or when there’s a shift change. At the appropriate moment, they stand just off private property, wave down parents or workers as they leave and gather quick sound bites. This is how reporters try to get real life reactions from real people, not the well-trained PR guru who knows what to say word for word while limiting damage to an employer’s image. (Real life people aren’t always good at staying on message.) Well, schools and companies have seen this scene enough to know it’s coming. Some people complain reporters are risking a traffic accident by stopping drivers. Others claim the whole process is a “distraction.”

Now back to the savvy woman of PR. She says she is available for an interview as long as the reporter doesn’t try to talk with those real people as they leave. Ms. PR asks to conduct the interview about the same time when those real folks in question are leaving. The reporter says there’s no real agreement between the two. And certainly no one signed a contract. But the reporter obviously feels he agreed to something and will be accused of breaking his word if he attempts to interview the spokeswoman and then dash to interview people leaving the employer’s building.

At least publicly, few reporters wish to agree to any interview with strings attached. Some news managers will insist it’s a no-no as they look down from high moral ground. But that’s not reality. We’ve heard about media paying for pictures, interviews and other stuff. Sometimes deals are struck behind the scenes. What is a reporter to do? What if other media grab interviews of the century with those real life employees? What if the reporter tells savvy PR woman to screw off and she grants interviews to all the other TV stations?

Do you think the PR pro in this case was truly savvy? Did she try to unfairly micromanage the reporter’s story for selfish reasons? Have you brokered similar deals with the media? If so, did they work or backfire? Tell us what you think.

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PR On The Right Track

Friday, April 15th, 2011

The discussion of assembling high speed rail lines across Arizona’s desert is not new. But the state recently passed a new plan of action and a group called Arizona PIRG wanted the media to hear more about the possibility of fast tracks. Two forces were moving against this effort:  The media has heard much of this before. And if bullet trains one day zip by snakes and saguaros, that day is probably decades down the line.

Arizona PIRG invited the media to a news conference. The speakers’ podium wasn’t centered inside a sleek room at some company headquarters in a dull building. The group set the podium smack in the middle of a street that dead ends at the Phoenix old Union Station where Amtrak once made its horn heard. While waiting for the show to start, TV news photographers shot video of the old station, quickly adding visuals to a story about something deep into the future no one had yet built. The station also inspired questions about the area’s locomotive past.

The group pushing high speed rail also brought an important passenger along:  a small business owner named Jade Meskill who owns Gangplank. This small business owner often drives between Phoenix and Tucson and spoke excitedly of a day in which he could get work done while transportation took him from one location to the next. The owner allowed a TV crew to stop by his Chandler business, adding more visuals plus a personal face. Better yet, that small business is near other train tracks, where the photographer shot a reporter’s stand-up plus more b-roll.

Arizona PIRG took simple steps to help transform into a longer TV story what otherwise may have been a brief mention. But too often, people in marketing and communications bypass these steps and derail their own efforts. There was one bump in the ride. That old train station behind the news conference was under a flight path. A few sound bites got swallowed up by jet noise above. But let’s not be too critical. Who knew a news conference about trains needed to worry about planes?


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Targeting Your Pitch: Location, Location, Location!

Monday, March 21st, 2011

My husband Keith, a PHOENIX TV reporter, received a mass email pitch about a FLORIDA home for sale. Or maybe the angle was about the real estate firm now using social media? Either way, the email was off on many levels:

  • There was nothing personal about it. The pitch could just have been a junk email sent to my mom. No salutation, not directed at Keith. Wrong reporter period.
  • We live in the desert. Across the country. Why would anyone here care? Besides, Floridians seem to be migrating to the Valley of the Sun to escape hurricanes and the high cost of home insurance.
  • The real estate firm is now using social media! Woo-hoo! That’s good news. For them.

So, what could this real estate firm have done differently?

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A Business Viewfinder: Show & Tell With The Media

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

Do you ever think about the way you pitch your clients’ stories to the media as an extension of their brands? I like to think of what a brand is in a sensual way. (Don’t get the wrong idea – stay with me here.) Think of a brand as a tactile experience. It’s everything you see, hear, touch, smell and sometimes taste about a product, service or company. So think about applying that thought to the way you pitch. What kind of sensual experience are you offering to get reporters to bite?

Don’t let your client be just another talking head in a media interview. It’s show and tell time, baby! My TV reporter husband Keith Yaskin likes to call it that, anyway. In your media pitch, it’s always a good idea to highlight the visual elements of your story idea. Think about what “shiny objects” you can use to dazzle reporters. Let’s go to my husband Keith for a reporter’s spin on visual ways to sell and tell your story.

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Getting your clients “proper respect” from the media

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Have you ever had to face an upset client because their product or company was not mentioned in a news story in which they were interviewed? Did you have an understanding with the reporter that there would be some type of verbal or visual recognition for your client? Do you have a standard way of handling this with reporters? Let’s go to my husband Keith for his take on what works best when ensuring your client gets their “proper respect.”

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