In a recent conversation with a mate of mine who started as a junior in my business and now runs his own PR agency, we laughed about just how much PR has changed in 20 years. From franking machines for postage, printed press material, colour transparencies, envelopes stuffed with press releases to a world today where I can easily Tweet my news to a journalist with a link to a high-res image with the hope it might be published online and around the world, in a matter of hours.Thanks to the major upheaval that newspapers and publishing have gone through in the past decade, journalists are a different beast entirely today from the days of the ‘Fleet Street Hack’. They have Twitter and social media and all manner of other information streams to find unusual sources and stories. They have much less time and are on tighter deadlines than they ever have been. Today’s news needs to be published now, not in tomorrow’s edition. And for that reason, they are even less accommodating or tolerant of people who interrupt their daily business than they used to be.
Therein lies a problem for a PR man, because PR is fundamentally about interacting with journalists by interrupting them. It’s an outbound marketing activity: you’re interrupting a journalist and saying “Look at this—it’s important and you need to stop what you are doing and look at this now.”
So, if you’re enlisting someone within your company to do your PR—or you’re doing it yourself—consider that your number one goal from this point forward when it comes to dealing with journalists is simple: ‘don’t p*ss them off!’ Once they emotionally or literally “unsubscribe” you, it is immensely difficult to get them back. My PR business was founded on the principles of treating journalists like rock-stars:give them what they want, when they want it and make it personal!
The following list of rules elucidates how not to ruin your PR opportunity before you get started.
1. Know your journo!
Know what type of journalist you’re dealing with and target your message to them (see previous blog for more on this) read what they write and react to it.
2. What's your gameplan?
Be targeted in your approach so that you don’t waste anyone’s precious time. Don’t just throw stuff out into the ether hoping that people will pick it up, instead, identify who your targets are. Find out how many journalists are influential in your market, who is writing about your competitors, and find out who cares about what your competitors are doing.
3. Do the legwork
Don’t assume that money is changing hands. Most companies who aren’t getting the kind of coverage they want assume that their competitors are just paying off journalists. This is very rarely the case (unless that journalist is actually an analyst, which I’ll discuss below). Instead of being bitter, do the legwork and you’ll get coverage too, without paying anything to a journalist or editor.
4. Fine tune your marketing message
Find a half a dozen people that you’d like to influence in your marketplace. If you passionately tell them your message—assuming you’ve done the work discussed earlier in this blog about getting your message straight and concise—you will be able to establish a relationship with them. If you can get five or six, you can get 50, but those first handful of people are going to be the ones who recognise your email and aren’t going to instantly hit the ‘delete’ button.
5. Why is Twitter important?
Realise the power of Twitter. Journalists and Twitter are inextricably linked; it’s the proverbial water cooler of publishing, with the majority of industry players using the network obsessively. They are looking for story ideas on Twitter far more than in the press releases sent to their inboxes. Thus, you need to be there too. Follow journalists in your space on Twitter, and try and get them to follow you back. Tweet at journalists instead of emailing them cold; it’s less intrusive and uses less of their time. If they express interest, then you can email them.
6. Do your homework before picking up the phone
Use the phone, by all means, but don’t start with a non-starter. Don’t ever pick up the phone and say the following: “Just calling to see if you got my press release.” It’s far more effective to call a journalist and just simply say your pitch over the phone and argue it convincingly, while showing you have a purpose for calling. If you’ve done your homework, you’ll be able to give the impression that you’re genuinely surprised when the journalist responds saying they’re not interested. You’ll be able to name a story they wrote which is relevant or tangential to your pitch, proving you’ve thought this through. In short, use the phone, but only when you have a good reason to. Harassing journalists over the phone once you've sent a press release is a sure way to endanger a relationship.
7. Build a media list & segment
Create a full media list of everybody who might possibly be interested in your business. Split them up into an ‘A list’ and a ‘B list’. ‘A’ are the people who you want to target as being key influencers in your market and who you want to strike up a relationship with as their readers are key to your business. ‘A list’ media readers are your prospects. The ‘B list’ are those who you do not see as quite so key but you still would like them to be aware of you and in an ideal world, write a story about your product or service. Make sure your lists are a mixture of industry journalists and influential but independent bloggers, as both are important and influential on different tiers of the ‘new media’ pyramid.
8. A word of caution
Beware of what I call the “opinions for hire” of our industry, otherwise known as analysts. If you are launching a new product and you want to be seen to be “cool” and the next “must-buy product” an analyst endorsement is very valuable. The US markets view this as almost imperative for a successful launch. If you want that kind of coverage, go ahead and pay for it, but don’t bother pitching people valuable story ideas if they only want money in return.
Tip #23: Treat journalists like rock-stars: give them what they want, when they want it and make it personal!
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