3 Things To Know While Pitching Journalists Before the Holidays

Welcome to December in the journalism world.

 

This little PR pro is pitching Santa to write about his client’s iPhone case; Photo by @MikeArney

 

Our sources are prepping their out-of-office replies, stories still have to be filed and we’re all just trying to hang on until the company holiday party (with a cash bar). It’s a special time of unrequited phone calls and frustration, with a pinch of lower standards at times.

With all this in mind, how can you successfully pitch journalists before — and during — the holiday lull?

We’re a little more accepting during the holidays

The stories we’re really chasing are likely about to go into a holding pattern, as government officials and CEOs get the luxury of taking long vacations around this time. Even the ones that stick around until a few days before Christmas Eve don’t really want to deal with the hassle of a journalist.

We’ve still got to post something to our websites and fill those column inches somehow. The closer we get to New Year’s Eve, the more we tire of hearing, “Hi, you’ve reached…” when we call someone.

This can be a great time to pitch stories that might be more on the fringe of our coverage base. If you’re responsive, can deliver your sources and have a relevant story wrapped up like a present … we’ll be more likely to put you on the nice list at this time.

Our readership is still hungry for content in December, so writers might be a little more flexible when you pitch.

With that said…

Don’t think we’re desperate

Just because our sources may be unavailable in December and we’re scrambling to get stuff posted, it doesn’t mean that you can dust off an old pitch, add a holiday keyword or two and expect us to publish.

If it’s something that we’re not going to be interested in at all in September, our feelings probably haven’t changed since then. While we acknowledge your plight — clients still want placement, no matter what — we know what our editor and readers will think if we submit something with only a flimsy connection to our beat or location.

As always, the more time you give us, the better. While we likely have more time to answer your email, DM or phone call, that also means we’re reading your pitch more closely. There are plenty of ways to refresh a story idea for the holidays, but it might take some digging and ingenuity.

You can look back at stories a website or publication has done around this time last year to get a better sense of what flies with the readership. A lot of the holiday content has been planned for weeks, if not months, so your best bet would be figuring out ways that your story could be complementary (or even unique) to what we’ve already got planned.

Get a jump on 2019

A bedrock of content around this time: predictions about the new year.

These are quick, easy and digestible pieces to which readers often respond well. If you’re scrambling to get your client one last placement before the ball drops, think about offering a listicle guest post or an interview where an expert from your client shines a light on the future of their industry.

This helps out in a few ways. It’s easy content to publish and it makes your client look innovative and forward-thinking. Some writers can even gain story ideas from these lists and want to follow up with your client’s CEO or expert at a future date.

December is a great time to pitch evergreen story ideas that we can work on now and post in early January.

You can also take this time to plant seeds for January and early spring. As we discussed before, the holidays can be a slow period for writers. If you were too late with pitching a holiday-related story, this could be a perfect opportunity to work together on something that helps us start the new year strong.  

By Justin Lafferty

3 Ways to Write PR Pitches Journalists Will Actually Like

Photo by rawpixel.com

I’ve written for publications as small as a suburban monthly newsletter to as big as newspapers and magazines with national reach.

I’m hardly an ink-stained wretch, but I’ve seen my fair share of lousy, off-target pitches from clueless PR reps. I want to help.

Over the years, I’ve deleted or ignored far more PR pitches than I’ve actually responded to. At one job, I actually had an email filter set up specifically to avoid wasting my time reading such messages.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve actually made friends with some of the better and more honest PR professionals I’ve encountered, leading to mutually beneficial working relationships.

So how can you develop trust with a journalist and avoid the spam filter? Take these 3 lessons to heart.

1) Give us the deets

At the most basic level, what a journalist really wants from an email or call from a PR representative is for the 5 W’s to be answered: Who, What, Where, When, Why?

If you’re trying to get placement for your client, to stand out from the hundreds of other emails in their inbox, you’ve got to make it clear and concise for them. Leaving out key information (such as how to contact you or someone from your client’s company) won’t always intrigue us to contact you for more information. You’d be surprised how often this happens.

Are you publicizing an event? Make sure you include time, date, place, as well as details not germane to the public, such as interview availability. Contact information is absolutely crucial, especially in a deadline situation. Before sending out the release or the email, ensure that yourself and/or the client contact has time to talk to a reporter. It’s quite frustrating to play phone tag, or wait until tomorrow for your company’s CEO to have time to talk on the record.

The most important W, though, is the Why. When writing to a reporter, the most valuable piece of information you can offer is why this matters to that writer’s readership. We both know why you’re writing the email, as your job is to get your client placed in my publication. If you have an understanding of who our readers are and what they want, we pick up on that. Journalists are perceptive enough to know the difference between a mass-produced scattershot email and one that is relevant to just the writer.

2) Get to know the writer

You want to know how the best partnerships with PR professionals start? An introductory email.

Hey Phil,

My name is Sarah, and I’m with Major PR Company. Some of my clients include Corporation 1, Startup 2 and Sports Team 3.

I’ve been reading some of your recent work, and I’d love to meet up with you for coffee when I’m in town for a conference next week. We’ve got some exciting news coming up, and I’d love to learn more about what stories are of interest to your readers.

Boom. That’s an email I’m responding to. The first ask isn’t for coverage that feels like thinly-veiled advertising, but to get to know what matters to my readers. If you introduce yourself first as a human, getting to know reporters as fellow humans, you’ll be surprised with how many doors (and future emails) will be opened.

Take a moment and check out the journalist’s LinkedIn page, Twitter account or Facebook profile. Try to find some kind of reasonable common ground, like an alumni connection or a mutual hometown.

We also know that your time is just as valuable, and that this may not always be feasible. But even just trading emails back and forth, getting a sense of what stories that writer’s readership wants to read will help you in two major ways:

—   You’ll be able to craft pitches that appeal to readership, leading to higher success rates

—   You’ll be top of mind when that writer has an idea your client can comment on

3) Pay attention

If you call me by a wrong name, refer to my competitor in your pitch or commit some other error, I’m not responding to your email. I’m forwarding it to my coworkers and laughing about it on Slack.

The most hilarious are the ones that start, “Hello (insert first name).” If you can’t put enough attention into your email, why should I?

If you and your company really want to appeal to a writer, it’s worth it to spend some time reading recent stories. We can absolutely see through it when you send one of us an email telling us how you have this incredible opportunity and how much you loved a story we wrote … five years ago.

Odds are, the journalist’s coverage and readership have changed over the years. Maybe the writer just wrote that one story because it had a tangential connection to her beat and it was a slow news day.

If your client makes widgets and the journalist covers the widget industry, “ACME Company releases new widgets” is a pitch that gets dumped. “ACME Company CEO Bob Jones offers predictions on how the widget industry will adapt,” is one that gets placement.

Look at the stuff your writer tweets about, as they’ll usually have their finger on the pulse of their beat. If you can craft your pitch to something the journalist is passionate about right now, your odds of getting placement rise substantially.

It all comes back to simply seeing the writer as a human, not just your next target.

Written by Justin Lafferty

Good Job, Media! The 4 Best Articles We Read This Week

It’s been a while since we’ve done a roundup of the best articles that we’ve been reading. It’s not because we haven’t been reading great articles – on the contrary, the more a certain president lambasts the media, the more the media rises to the occasion – it’s mostly due to a certain amount of media fatigue. But we’re back and without further ado, here are the 4 best articles that we read this week:

PHEW! Did you hear that collective sigh of relief this morning? We sure did.

Today’s New York Times recap of 45’s failed health care reform bill is classic Grey Lady: Concise distillation of a complex issue, no sparkly prose or flowery language needed – just the facts, ma’am, with a couple of underhanded digs thrown in for good measure. Love it.

 

The term “National treasure” sure does get thrown out there a lot, and oftentimes the recipient is undeserving. But we’ll be damned if Rebecca Solnit isn’t a bona fide candidate for National Treasure. We’re lucky enough to be in the same city that Solnit calls home, and our local alternative paper, the SF Weekly, was nice enough to feature Ms. National Treasure on their cover. Read the excellent feature and see if you agree with us. And if you’re in SF, stop by the wonderful Green Arcade bookstore, owned and operated by yet another national treasure – Patrick Marks. There we go again, throwing that term out there!

Bonus props since this was editor/writer Pete Kane‘s first issue as the new Editor-in-Chief. Congrats, Pete!

 

 

Jia Tolentino‘s superb takedown of the perils of the “gig economy” is a fantastically written piece on a fantastically depressing sentiment that our country seems to praise: that of working oneself to death. Calling to mind the hilarious old “In Living Color” sketches where having one job was the pinnacle of laziness, the idea of hard-working Americans stringing together gig after gig to barely make a living should be the poster children for why our economy needs fixing, and not why the gig economy is “working.” Read the article while you’re waiting for your Lyft ride. It’ll make you think twice.

 

 

 

While it’s not an article but an NPR interview, the Fresh Air segment with writer/author Jane Mayer on the Mercer family is eye-opening and more than a little frightening. Hold on to your latte when you hear the story about the scientist that the Mercers are funding, a man who thinks that nuclear wars benefit humanity (!). It’s chilling stuff. The Mercers want to stay out of the limelight and it’s journalists like Mayer who are shining a needed spotlight onto who these people are and more importantly, what their motives are. You can run but you can’t hide from good journalism.

Share your thoughts with us on Twitter and Facebook

 

 

How PR Pros Can Support Journalism In Trump Era

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In the new Trump era, it is more important than ever for PR professionals to support journalists and a free media.

As PR professionals, it’s in our self-interest to ensure that we have a free and democratic media. As U.S. citizens and members of this nation, it is in our self-interest to ensure that we have a free and democratic media.

Anti-media rhetoric is filling the mouths of talking heads – these so-called “surrogates,” many of whom are inexplicably and rather ironically paid by news outlets to spew rhetoric – and our very own president-elect. The public has grown increasingly hostile toward media. The media themselves don’t often help their cause. But don’t be fooled – the media is never more critical than during regimes like the president-elect’s.

Media absolutely must be held accountable when they make missteps and many of them treat ethics loose and fast. With a lack of training combined with the dangerously alarming speed that reporters must churn out non-fact checked articles, journalism itself has lost a lot of credibility. Despite that, it is not only unfair to malign all of media but detrimental to America’s health as a democracy to do so.

But this isn’t a post about the value of media – we don’t need to emphasize their importance. This is a call to arms to fellow PR professionals to ensure that we’re helping, not harming, the progress of this country. There are many things that PR professionals can do to contribute to a better media landscape, including:

Don’t work with dictators, liars, deceivers and corporations that do very bad things. It’s easy, just say no. You don’t need the business, it should be more important for you to sleep at night. Representing violators of human rights, dictators, oppressive government regimes and outright criminals is bad for business and bad for life. Just. Don’t. Do. It.

Educate your clients on why it’s important to be transparent and honest, and why it’s better business. The public values honesty. Brands that have made mistakes that they’ve owned up to have often been forgiven. It’s the brands that continue to lie and obfuscate who never regain the public’s trust.

Fact check your own statements and reports that clients provide to you. Yes, you work for your client, but you also have a set of ethics. If something doesn’t sound right, take the time to research something to make sure you’re not disseminating lies. 

Support journalists by not lying or deceiving them. Share positive articles and don’t normalize behavior like threatening to kick journalists out of news conferences because they’re doing their job.

Ensure that you’re promoting factual news and striking down propaganda and click-bait. Work to ensure that platforms like Facebook and Twitter not populate these fake news links, and debunk any false reports and articles that do arise. As PR pros, media monitoring is an integral part of our job. We see the news before many others, so make sure you’re not spreading unverified stories and let others be aware of ones that are.

Give back and provide pro bono resources for organizations. Like Meryl Streep implored, the Committee to Protect Journalists is one that deserves your support. The Center for Investigative Reporting has also been doing standout work. Pick your passion and go.

Above all, we need to work with journalists to make sure that all of our voices are heard – every citizen, not just those who pay the most money. As public relations professionals, our obligation is to the public, first and foremost. We have a civic duty to use our skills to disseminate stories that are honest, truthful and provide value to the public that we all serve as citizens of this great nation.

By Katy L.

Good Job, Media! 3 Best Articles We Read This Week

The media has never been more important than in today’s rapid-fire, corporate-owned news cycle where fact checking and veracity are mere annoyances to getting immediate clicks. We read many, many, (too) many articles and often bang our heads on our keyboards. But every so often, we read articles that give us that ecstatic face emoji. 

Here are the three best articles we read this week.

Screenshot from Bloomberg's Hampton Creek article
Screenshot from Bloomberg’s Hampton Creek article

Bloomberg’s report on Hampton Creek (written by Olivia Zaleski, Peter Waldman and Ellen Huet), another health/food startup besieged with negative scrutiny, hits hard and peeks beneath the layers of PR obfuscation that enables companies to go unchecked.

Bloomberg has frequently had Hampton Creek in its investigative crossfires – the startup was recently busted purchasing its own products to attract investors, in another excellent piece from Olivia Zaleski – and this series is reminiscent of the Wall Street Journal’s John Carreyrou’s fantastic exposés of Theranos. One hopes that instead of lamenting articles like this, Hampton Creek instead gets a wake up call and changes their practices, putting consumers before profit. Nah? Yeah, I guess we were being idealistic. Carry on, Bloomberg.

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Maintaining the focus on Silicon Valley, The Daily Beast exposed Oculus Rift founder, and Very Rich Dude, Palmer Luckey, as the benefactor behind an Internet hate group supporting Drumpf. The revelation comes on the heels of fellow Very Rich Dude Peter Thiel destroying media outlet Gawker, and shows how important it is to know where the money is coming from.

It also casts a potentially negative light to the company that Luckey founded, despite its sale to Facebook. Will conscientious consumers think twice before shelling over their hard-earned dollars for an Oculus Rift device?

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Screenshot from Tim Kawakami’s article on Mercury News

We’ve always been a big fan of Bay Area sports journalist Tim Kawakami. For one, he doesn’t act like other sports journalists. He’s never been a “homer” like a lot of embedded sports reporters are. Plus, he’s one of the few Asian-American sports journalists. While many sports reporters are frothing at the mouth to vilify Colin Kaepernick because the quarterback dares to care about the troubling spate of black Americans killed by police officers, Kawakami writes this thoughtful article. Thoughtfulness in sports journalism is the true miracle on ice, so thank you, Tim. And don’t block us on Twitter.

 

 

 

The Must List: 5 Best Articles We Read This Week

This is not how we read these articles. This is how we wish we read these articles.
This is not how we read these articles. This is how we wish we read these articles.

We read. A lot! Sometimes we feel like 95% of PR is reading (the other 5% is weeping in a corner of a room). A lot of the articles we read are depressing (mostly because they’re about Donald Drumpf), some of them are funny and an even smaller handful are compelling and useful. So we’ve gathered those small handfuls for you, so that you don’t have to suffer like we do. Here are the five best articles that we read this week. Warning: it was a pretty slow news week.

Just [email protected]$%king Do It. #EqualPlayEqualPay

It's Time.
It’s Time.

OK, this isn’t actually an article, but a video clip from The Daily Show. But we loved it so much that we decided to subvert our own rules and include it in our roundup (and like we said, it was a slow news week!). As big fans of sports, women’s sports and equality, it’s pretty appalling to us that the #1 women’s soccer team in the world is still paid significantly less than their male counterparts. Three World Cups and four Olympic gold medals have still kept the U.S. Women’s National Team from being paid what they deserve, let alone what the U.S. Men’s National Team (World Cups: 0. Olympic gold medals: 0) makes. Like the video says, Just [email protected]#$king Do It.

When Ridesharing Becomes Political

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Uber is no stranger to politics, but in their battle in Austin, Texas, they may have crossed the line. Buzzfeed’s Caroline O’Donovan reports that Uber and Lyft have been texting their customers to vote for a proposition that would repeal a local ordinance requiring drivers to be fingerprinted as part of their background check.

The move is annoying Twitter users, but remains to be seen if their ire translates to votes against the Uber/Lyft-supported proposition. The lesson for Uber/Lyft (and other apps like it) is to not abuse your access to your customers’ data.

Is Tech Media To Blame for The Rise of Theranos?

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Tech reporter Nick Bilton raises an interesting question with his article on Theranos and its secret culprit: tech media. Much like Glenn Greenwald’s criticism of fellow media inadvertently propelling Drumpf into the Republican presidential candidacy, Bilton wonders if tech media, who have often been criticized for being too cozy of bedfellows with the companies that they report on, helped push Theranos to great heights without questioning the science behind the technology.

SFWeekly Sheds Light on SFPD’s Sexaul Assault Case Failure

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The beleaguered San Francisco Police Department, who had an officer accused of covering up another officer’s rape allegation, has a serious backlog of sexual assault kits waiting to be tested. The SF Weekly sheds light on the severity of the situation, and the trauma that it inflicts on rape survivors awaiting justice. Beyond the backlog, the entire process is in need of serious overhaul. The SF Weekly, and its friend across the Bay, the East Bay Express, have continually written excellent investigative articles exposing flawed processes and injustices like this, highlighting the importance of alt-weeklies.

An Oldie But A Goodie

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Alright, we’re cheating by including this article from 2015, but hey, Hamilton recently received record-breaking Tony nominations and a Pulitzer, so we think it’s still relevant. We only recently discovered this pseudo-oral history of the genesis of Hamilton from The New York Times, and we loved it. Now if we could just get someone to hook us up with Hamilton tickets…(c’mon, someone? Anyone? Dad?).

 

 

 

The Must List: The 5 Best Articles We Read This Week

Remember when we went on and on about how writing is the most important skill in PR and then we continued to proselytize how you can get better at it by reading, and reading A LOT?

Here are the 5 best articles we read this week:

The cover story everyone's talking about
The cover story everyone’s talking about

The whole world’s talking about Caitlyn Jenner, and with good reason. There’s been so many articles about her – good, bad, annoying, provocative, thoughtful, and everything in between – so we decided to go with one that focuses on how she handled her announcement. Yes, we chose the PR angle. We’re shameless. Josef Adalian at the Vulture goes in-depth into her press strategy. h/t to Peter Himler for sharing the link.

 

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Mary Meeker, the OG Digital Prophet

 

Speaking of reading A LOT, do you have a couple of hours to spare to dig through Kleiner Perkins’ legendary Internet seer Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends report? It’s worth every second you’ll spend soaking up Meeker’s considerable expertise. If Meeker told us to wear white after Labor Day, we’d listen!

 

Lyft's search process isn't fooling Rupal Parekh
Lyft’s search process isn’t fooling Rupal Parekh

 

If, like us, you want to see the agency search process completely overhauled, you’ll find former AdAge editor Rupal Parekh’s criticism of Lyft’s “wildcard” agency RFP stunt of interest. Parekh brings up that underdog startup Lyft is courting tried-and-true big name advertising agencies instead of scrappy shops that might better fit their own image. This is the startup that plastered giant fuzzy pink mustaches on people’s cars and insisted on “fist bumping” as a greeting, after all. Yet their agency search process appears to be as boringly rote as everyone else’s, while under the guise of throwing a bone to the little guys. No fist bump for you, Lyft.

 

You'd be smiling too if you were Walt Mossberg or Kara Swisher
You’d be smiling too if you were Walt Mossberg or Kara Swisher

 

Last week’s news that highly respected tech media outlet re/code (founded by the two most powerful tech reporters Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher) was being acquired by Vox Media surprised many industry insiders. Business Insider’s Alyson Shontell convincingly lays out the reasons why re/code made their decision. In light of Gigaom’s shuttering, combined with the proliferation of good tech reporters leaving to become venture capitalists or start their own startup, what can tech media do to maintain eyeballs, quality reporting and their overhead?

 

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Finally, this last link isn’t an article but very worth checking out. Apparent “Entourage” hater, Wendy Molyneaux Drake, came up with a very clever, funny way to raise money for nonprofit CureSearch. Drake didn’t dump ice cold water but instead leveraged her amusing (and some might say, completely rational) hatred for the HBO brofest to shed spotlight on a very worthy cause – children’s cancer research. She raised a whopping $30k for CureSearch – amazing. Congratulations/Sorry, Wendy! h/t/ to our pal Pamela Ribon for sharing the link.

 

The Must List: The 5 Best Articles We Read This Week

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Every day, we learn something new, gain insight, question the status quo or have a nice chuckle, thanks to so many articles out there on the Interwebz and beyond. Here’s our 5 favorite, must-read articles of the week:

SearchEngineLand founder Danny Sullivan posted this thoughtful analysis of Gigaom’s unfortunate demise with little hand-wringing or absurd speculation (like in a recent horrid Forbes bylined article that we won’t click to, but that claimed Gigaom failed because it was too ethical).

Nitasha Tiku is one of the best writers on Silicon Valley happenings (and we miss her at Valleywag). Of course she’d have a great piece on the Ellen Pao/Kleiner Perkins sexual harassment trial that has everyone in Silicon Valley at attention.

Want to know how to piss off a bunch of rich, powerful men? Just be Kevin Roose and write a fascinating article on why venture capital firms investing in their own startups is unethical! Whether you agree with Roose or not, he raises interesting questions and fuels a conversation that the tech industry should be having.

How do you get someone to read your article or blog post? Inc’s Larry Kim has the ultimate guide to writing click-worthy titles.

And finally, how could we not include Advertising Age’s Tim Peterson’s article on the acquisition of our client, Threshold Interactive, by Zealot Networks? Sure, we’re biased but it’s a mighty fine article that showcases Zealot’s bold vision.

 

 

An Ode to Pop Candy

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Before Nerdist, before Watch What Happens Live, before geek was chic, there was Pop Candy and its creator, Whitney Matheson.

Yesterday, we learned that USA Today was slashing its newsroom, with several venerable editorial staff being left in its cost-cutting wake. We were surprised and disappointed to see Whitney Matheson’s name on that list, along with several other undeserving cuts.

Without getting into all of the many, many issues with today’s media, we’ll just focus on celebrating Pop Candy, one of our all-time favorite blogs.

I still remember handling PR for Yahoo!’s entertainment brands (which were totes ahead of its time, BTW!) and any time we’d get a mention on Pop Candy, my colleagues and I would squeal with a fervor typically seen only at One Direction concerts. Pop Candy was always our holy grail simply because we read and loved it.

The best part about PR is getting to see clients that you love covered by media that you deeply respect and often read yourself. A day didn’t go by when I didn’t read Pop Candy, and when I did skip a day, I felt like pop culture was passing me by and I was still wearing stonewashed jeans (“What do you mean Counting Crows aren’t cool anymore??”). Pop Candy was like my Facebook feed before it became Upworthy clickbait and annoying memes. I discovered things on it.

It had a refreshing voice. It was funny and sharp without being mean or sycophantic. It exposed all kinds of very cool artists that you wouldn’t have otherwise heard about. It was sweet, nurturing and gentle towards its readers and the artists they were fanatical about without being sentimental. It was oftentimes a neat little space for people who didn’t always fit into neat little spaces.

It’s a damn shame that Pop Candy is going away, and it’s a damn shame that we’re in this state in the media industry where writers like Matheson and her equally talented colleagues at USA Today can lose their jobs so unceremoniously.

Pop Candy’s not dead. Long live Pop Candy.

Written by Katy