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To Pitch or Not to Pitch? That is the Question (And Answer)

If you work in media relations, you’re probably tired of hearing all the examples of PR people out of control, sending journalists and bloggers information they don’t care about and will never write about. After all, this PR spam makes it harder for you to do your job. Journalists and bloggers spend less time and energy reviewing pitches, if they look at them at all – and it’s all because a few (or more) of us haven’t played by the rules.

Over the course of the past couple of years, we’ve heard countless examples of PR out of control, and the steps some creative bloggers are taking to fight back. Some of the more infamous examples (you know the ones) are Chris Anderson’s list of PR spammers, Gina Trapani’s wiki of “PR Companies Who Spam Bloggers“, and the more recent “Three Quarters of the PR email I Receive is Irrelevant. Why?” post by Josh Bernoff, in which he provides a thorough analysis of the email he receives from PR people in relation to the topics he blogs about and the information he finds useful.

What’s the problem? It’s simple, a lot of PR folks aren’t taking the time to thoroughly research and evaluate the outlets and contacts they pitch before clicking the “send” button. Many don’t read the content journalists and bloggers write, nor do they understand what type of information those contacts want to receive. Before you flood my comments with “I don’t spam journalists” responses, I realize you’re not ALL guilty of this. But as Bernoff points out in his post, a lot of the information sent to bloggers and journalists is useless. We’ve seen this as a recurring theme in the journalists we talk to – we haven’t found any exceptions.

Whether you’re just starting out in PR, or you’ve been pitching you’re heart out for longer than I’ve been alive, it’s really simple to stay off PR blacklists and to stop this type of response from fed-up journalists and bloggers – only send relevant information to them. [Read more…]

Why Journalistics is Using Skribit (And What Skribit Is)

If you’re on the Journalistics Blog right now, you’ll notice a nifty little widget over on the right column that says “Skribit Suggestions.” Skribit is an application (or widget) bloggers can install on their blog that enables their readers to suggest topics for them to write about. It’s a great tool for engaging your audience and learning more about your readers’ interests.

It’s also a great tool – as their tagline states – to help cure writer’s block. If you’ve ever struggled with trying to decide what you’ll blog about next, Skribit is for you. For example, Skribit suggests “Why are you using Skribit?” as the first suggestion by default when you signup for the service – which is what made me decide to write this post.

Where Did Skribit Come From?

In case you’re wondering, Skrbit launched in November 2007 at Atlanta Startup Weekend. The company’s founders – a bunch of smart Atlanta entrepreneurs – have recently started to dedicate a lot more time to building out the product, and you can expect to see even more features and functionality soon. If you blog on a regular basis, we’re sure you’ll love Skribit as much as we do.

Skribit is free and easy to install on most blogs (check out the Skribit FAQs to see if your blogging platform is supported – most of the major platforms like TypePad, WordPress and Blogger are). If you’re interested, visit the Skribit website today to learn more.

While you’re here, why not suggest a topic for us to blog about? Just type your suggestion in the Skrbit widget to the right and let others vote on your suggestion. Who knows, your suggestion just might be the topic of our next post.

What We Like About HARO – Help A Reporter Out

If you haven’t heard of HARO yet, you probably aren’t a journalist, blogger or public relations professional. HARO, an acronym for “Help A Reporter Out”, is a wildly successful and FREE service designed to help journalists request expert interview sources for the stories they produce. Approximately 9,000 or so journalists use HARO to request sources via an email blast that is distributed to more than 56,000 sources and PR professionals three times per day.

How HARO Works

Similar to PR Newswire’s ProfNet service, reporters can request suggestions for sources or ‘pitches’ from the PR community using the HARO service – but HARO service is free for everyone. Users of ProfNet have to pay an annual subscription fee to use the service. Though it’s fair to point out that ProfNet also enables sources to create expert profiles in a database that can be searched by journalists looking for sources.

In a little over a year, HARO has become the most popular service for connecting journalists with sources – quickly growing from 1,200 followers in a Facebook group, to the more than 56,000 email subscribers today. In comparison, PR Newswire claims to have 14,000 ProfNet users via its website.

I think the main reason we like HARO so much, beyond the highly-entertaining emails written by HARO creator Peter Shankman three times a day, is that it was built to literally help reporters out. Many journalists have complained about how frequently they receive off-topic pitches from PR folks – pitches that have nothing to do with their coverage area or the stories they write. Peter Shankman designed HARO with this reality in mind, requiring all users of his service to promise not to send off-topic pitches or “PR spam” to the journalists issuing queries. [Read more…]

Thoughts on the Pay-Per-Placement Model of PR

I was scanning some PR questions in LinkedIn Answers today and I came across a user looking for referrals to PR agencies or professionals that work on a pay-per-placement model. While there are firms out there that use this model I always hated this topic when I was running my agency. While it’s a seemingly fair request from the client’s point of view, it’s the wrong way to go about pricing and managing PR campaigns.

I thought it would be a good topic to through out there for discussion. First, my perspective on the topic – I’ll debate a couple different angles for you.

Why Pay-Per-Placement Makes Sense for Clients

PR can be expensive. While PR is about much more than clips or placements, a lot of clients don’t see it that way. Most of the time, they hire a PR firm to generate publicity for them. So why not expect that a firm would be willing to work on a contingency basis? Why should clients take all the risk, shouldn’t the agency put some skin in the game. If you hired a new sales manager, and the manager wanted to receive their entire salary, commission and bonus regardless of how many sales they closed, they would quickly be shown the door. Why should it be different for a PR agency? If the firm has extensive experience in media relations, with solid relationships in your industry, shouldn’t they be able to capitalize on this structure to earn more fees? Why are firms hesitant to adopt this model?

Why Pay-Per-Placement Doesn’t Work for Agencies

There is a lot of work that goes into developing and executing PR strategy for a client. An agency should be compensated for that work. Whether it’s research, strategy development, messaging and positioning, or the tactical work of pursuing and securing coverage, there’s a lot of legwork that goes into the process. It’s not just picking up the phone and getting somebody to write about the client’s news.

Secondly, it’s near impossible to develop a pricing structure based on the results generated. There are too many variables. What is a one sentence mention worth in TechCrunch, versus a product review in a trade magazine? Do you get paid more for quotes or mentions of a phone number or URL? What if a journalist does an interview, but doesn’t write a story? The client now has a valuable relationship they can leverage down the road, and isn’t that worth something? Even if the client and the agency can agree on compensation for specific types of coverage secured, there’s always going to be disagreement after the point – and agencies will be hard-pressed to collect those fees.

Finally, the PR reps have no control over what gets covered. This is where the real problem lies – many PR firms don’t do a good enough job at educating clients and setting expectations. Many clients don’t understand the ins and outs of PR, and what they should expect for results. If some clients truly understood the realistic amount of coverage that could be generated for them, based on the news value of the stories they give the PR firm to work with, many wouldn’t sign-up. PR firms are in active competition with each other, and projected results often get inflated during the proposal stage. If you don’t promise to deliver a certain level of results for the client, your competitor will – and they’ll get the business. Clients want to believe you can get them in BusinessWeek and The Wall Street Journal. If they believe you’re the firm to deliver, you’ll probably get the business… for a while at least. [Read more…]

Selling the Story – What PR Can Learn From Sales

I’ve been fortunate to work in both media relations and sales over the course of my career. I see a lot of similarities between the two. For starters, you’re selling a product to the journalists and bloggers you’re targeting… they are your prospects. Your pitch, your story, is the product. I’m not talking about used car sales here – think more complex, consultative or solution selling.

It’s your job as the sales rep (work with me here) to do your best job at communicating the features, benefits, differentiators, and value of your story to them – to get them to buy. If you fail to get them interested in a couple of seconds, you’re never going to get the sale. They are overwhelmed with other offers all day long.

So, what do the best sales people do that help them meet quotas consistently quarter after quarter? [Read more…]

Community Funded Journalism – The Spot.Us Model

I recently stumbled across the website for Spot.Us, an interesting model in news production. Spot.Us is a nonprofit project of the Center for Media Change. It’s goal is to pioneer “community funded reporting” – enabling the public to commission journalists to do investigations on important and perhaps overlooked stories.

It’s an interesting concept, but on the surface it seems flawed on several levels – at least based on my basic understanding of media ethics. I have never met a journalist that would write a story that somebody paid for. Okay, I take that back – there are plenty of outlets that ‘secretly’ operate on the pay-to-play model, but that’s a topic for another post. It’s not common – at least not that I know of – at the mainstream media level.

Here’s how it works (based on what I could gather from the Spot.Us website). Let’s say there’s a story I think needs to be told, and the media isn’t covering it. I can pitch the story and commit funds to sponsor the production of the story. In turn, reporters can commit to doing the story. Now if the news organization buys the rights to the story, my tax deductible donation is reimbursed. So that is an approach media organizations can use to get around the payment issue. [Read more…]

Journalists and Bloggers Are In Control… Don’t Piss Them Off

If you work in media relations, journalists and bloggers are your boss. I think a lot of media relations pros overlook this basic fact when working with the media. It’s easy to think the client is the boss, since they’re paying the bills each month. Throw best practices out the window and pitch the story – you need something for this week’s status report, right?

Really though, you can’t make a journalist or blogger write or talk about you. YOU ARE NOT IN CONTROL, they are. Why am I writing about this? Because I keep seeing complaint, after complaint, after complaint about how PR reps are pitching the media today. A lot of PR pros consider themselves equal. They make the mistake of believing it’s a two-way street. They think journalists and bloggers need them as much as they need them. They don’t. They keep telling you they don’t, but you don’t believe them. [Read more…]

A Conversation Between Journalists, Bloggers and PR Folks – #journchat

If you’re a Twitter user, chances are good you’ve come across #journchat, a weekly discussion between journalists, bloggers and PR folks that takes place each Monday night in the Twitterverse. It’s consistently one of the top trending topics on Twitter on Monday nights, right up there with presidential addresses and the latest talk about Heroes. #journchat was created by @PRsarahevans and is a brilliant idea and use of Twitter to discuss the most current topics related to journalism and media relations.

What’s most encouraging about this effort is the participation of journalists and bloggers. When I first swung by to check it out, I expected to see mostly PR pros handing out and pushing their agendas. I’m so jaded sometimes. What I found blew my socks off – there was some real insightful dialogue from both sides of the table about working together for the greater good.

Discussions follow an organized Q&A session, where participants can Tweet rapid-fire about their perspective on the issues. It’s an open discussion that’s often hard to keep up with, but will no doubt be the best investment of my time on a weekly basis moving forward. There’s also a weekly recap posted on the #journchat website following each week’s discussion, if you want to get an idea of what you can expect next week. [Read more…]

Can PR Spam Be Stopped?

Any journalist or blogger will admit to receiving a lot of off-topic pitches and press releases. Some would classify this information as “PR spam” – others would just complain that PR pros are lazy and don’t take the time to learn what they write about, or approach a pitch unprepared. They’re right. I haven’t met a journalist yet that didn’t have a couple of war stories about how bad the problem of PR spam is. Some areas are better than others – for example, financial reporters seem to receive more relevant information than technology journalists, perhaps due to the tighter restrictions around public information.

On the other side of the table, most PR professionals you talk to will tell you that they do their best to only pitch relevant information to journalists and that push-back they receive is the result of catching a journalist on a bad day. Many will admit to sending off-topic information or spam pitches at some point in their career – many have learned from these mistakes, many have not. You’ll always have a couple of bad eggs that resort to pitching journalists cold – playing the numbers game, in hopes that somebody will respond and want to write about the “news” they are pitching.

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about new solutions entering the market that will address the problem of PR spam head on. I’ll talk about some of those solutions in upcoming posts – and I recently wrote a post about MatchPoint’s new solution as one example of a new product trying to stop PR spam. Some bloggers have already taken this issue into their own hands, publishing lists of PR spammers – in an attempt to help other bloggers eliminate the problem with the email filter. You’d have to be living under a rock the past year or so to miss those examples, so no need to reference them all again in this post. [Read more…]

Using Twitter for Media Relations

There’s no question that Twitter is the new playground for media relations professionals looking to connect with busy journalists and bloggers. It’s a new frontier, that when managed professionally, can serve as a powerful platform for learning about journalists’ interests and preferences. It’s probably one of the best resources to come around that truly gives PR pros the insight they need to tailor pitches journalists will actually want to receive.

There are many articles and posts out there about using Twitter as a public relations tool. I recently stumbled across Bulldog Reporter’s Journalists Speak Out on PR newsletter and have found the content to be very interesting. A recent issue of the newsletter featured an article, “Bloggers Dish Twitter Tips for Building Relationships with Online Influencers,” by Editor Brian Pittman that shed some light on the topic. I couldn’t find a permalink for the story on the site, but wanted to paraphrase a couple of the tips here (you can subscribe to Journalists Speak Out on PR newsletter for free here):

  • Many journalists are open to being pitched through Twitter because it forces PR pros to get to the point quickly – in 140 characters or less
  • It’s easy for PR people to learn what a journalist is interested in writing about if they follow them – and pay attention
  • It’s a bad idea for your first interaction with a journalist to be a direct message (DM) pitch – especially if it’s off-topic
  • The best bet is to show appreciation and acknowledge that you’re following the journalist’s tweets

Of course, the key with any interaction with journalists through any medium is respect. Communicate in a professional manner and pay your dues before jumping in the tweetstream or pushing your agenda. You should always take the time to understand what a journalist is interested in, what type of information they are interested in receiving, and how they like to be contacted through this channel. [Read more…]