Name Your Media

In class this week, we were talking about where we’d send a PSA and media kit as part of a campaign to increase voter registration in our local community (Eugene, Oregon). It was a pretty casual discussion, but it brought up an important topic:

Regardless of your “market,” you must be an avid media consumer. You must know and understand how the media work. You must consume local media, the key national media and relevant trade and consumer media. You must be able to name, off the top of your head, the media that matter to you and your work.

There are two points I’d like to make about this.

The first is that even if you don’t enjoy reading the local paper or catching the evening news or (gasp!) listening to NPR – it’s your job in PR to know that the media’s agenda is and how your client or organization fits. This is a vague requirement, but an important one. You may have heard recently that Ms. Palin has been ridiculed for not being able to name a single media outlet from which she gets information. While you’re not likely to have the opportunity to fumble an interview with Katie Couric, it should be just as embarrassing for you if you can’t answer this basic question.

The second point is more directly related to your future work in PR and specifically, media relations. I would estimate in those campaigns that I’ve worked on with a media relations component, the top tier list of media was no more than about 10 or 15 outlets. These were the media that we focused on as being the most important strategically.

You must know these media inside and out, backwards and forwards. Pitching your top tier media takes research (and more research!) and preparation and you should be working to build long term relationships. This means that you really get to know these outlets and yes, even be able to name them off the top of your head.

Test yourself with an easy question: Can you name every local media outlet in your city?

15 Ways To Tell the Backyard Chicken Story

Last week at our faculty retreat, Jill Davis, the deputy editor for Portland Monthly magazine talked about an exercise that the publication does with their interns to help them reframe and rethink a story for pitching as a freelance writer.

She said they often get “tips” from Portlanders revealing the shocking phenomenon of people who have chickens in their backyard. In Portland! In the CITY! It’s so often that Jill said they call it the “backyard chicken story.” Interns must think of 15 ways to tell this story.

What if you were pitching …

  • A business editor or publication
  • An entree/food section at a major daily paper or a food-focused outlet
  • The features editor at a major daily paper
  • “Front of Book” sections (typically news briefs or “what’s hot”)
  • The health and wellness section or publication
  • With a home & garden focus (think: Sunset Magazine)
  • A technology publication (this might be a stretch… maybe there’s some fancy social network start-up for urban chickens)

I would love it if my readers would pick one of these and leave a comment with their story idea. Let’s hear it! How would you pitch the backyard chicken? Be creative!

Guest Post: PR People in U.S.’s Biggest Industry Not Doing Their Job

My former student, Missy, works for a publisher in NYC. She’s the online media manager for Harris Publications. She sent me this email yesterday – and with her permission I post it here. I would like to casually note the “At least not the way you taught me” line in paragraph 3. 🙂

I think this is a nice summary of the major gripes about PR people. These are basic concepts, kids. Be a resource and build relationships.

From Missy (4/7/08):

I’ll make this short. I’m kind of pissed off right now and here’s why:


I don’t get it? This is the biggest industry in the U.S…. bigger than porn, car manufacturing, telecomm, any of that crap. It’s the goddamn DEFENSE INDUSTRY. And the people in PR do NOT do their jobs. At least not the way you taught me. Here’s why:

1) I have to BEG for press releases & hi-res photos every day.

2) Not only do I have to beg for product information, the stupid a-holes send me PAPER. Nobody uses paper anymore! I’M IN DIGITAL PUBLISHING (and trust me, I tell them to send me digital FILES… but they don’t)

3) I ‘ve had to ask to be added to media lists several times. AND THEY NEVER ADD ME. So they don’t get editorial. My publishing company has been in this market/industry for nearly 40 years!!! It’s not like they don’t know us!!! And then they ask why they never get ink in print OR online…

4) They take us OFF media lists and “forget” to add us to the new ones. How is that possible? I mean, I understand human error and all, but it’s a damn media list!!! Your campaign kind of revolves around the concept, doesn’t it?

5) Most people don’t have a dateline on their releases… so I don’t know when, in their online press room, a specific release about a product was sent out… which means I don’t know which products are new or old. WOW does that make an online press room ab-so-lute-ly worthless!

6) I just got off the phone with the PR company for SMITH & WESSON and guess what? Brace yourself: They don’t have voicemail. ARE YOU FRIGGING KIDDING ME?! One of the largest gun companies in the world, with one of the most coveted brands that even music artists mention in some of their songs uses a PR company that doesn’t have voicemail?

7) It’s become a very “do it yourself” industry for journalists. What I mean by this, is because so many people are using online press rooms and company web sites, a lot of PR professionals will just email a news release, but will tell you to refer back to their web site for hi-res photos and additional information. Which is great SOMETIMES, but for us online folk…. we don’t need hi-res photos. We have to minimize them for web usage anyway, so I don’t understand why a PR person doesn’t just send the damn lo-res photo along with the release! And for print? Well, send the PRODUCT so we can take better looking feature images for our spreads!

National Tie Your Story to a Trend or Event Day

September is Hispanic Heritage Month. September 8 is International Literacy Day. And the 19th, International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

So what?

National and international observance are a great way to help tell your organization’s story. It’s just a little hook on which you can hang your pitch or press release.

As with all pitches, make it relevant and make it interesting. Just because the 22nd of September is Elephant Appreciation Day, doesn’t mean you have something valuable to add to the community conversation.

Need some ideas?
International Observances from Wikipedia
National Health Observances
Holiday Insights

PR Taking it in the Teeth

The wide, wide world of social media is great. It’s a great way to build relationships, to have a conversation and to make new connections. However, it’s also uncharted territory for public relations and, well, some of us aren’t doing such a great job.

There has been a lot of buzz in the blogosphere lately about the crap that PR people send to bloggers. You can read about it here, here and here (in the posts and in the comments). In fact, Kevin Dugan and Richard Laermer have a whole blog dedicated to PR crap.

In most cases, the heavy lamenting about PR is well-deserved, although not well-targeted.

The problem is, that there are a lot of good PR people and they are doing really good work. But it’s the crap that seems to be dominating the conversation and creating and overall shift in attitude. You can find lots of great media relations tips all over the blog-universe.

At a recent conference, SES: San Jose, speakers Rebecca Lieb and Brad Berens, with the incoming Global Content Director of SES, Kevin Ryan moderating provided these tips. It’s a nice summary, (thanks RB Digital Rodeo), and encapsulates what I’m reading elsewhere.

I’ve taken my favorites and rephrased in the form of advice, but go to RB’s post for the full list.

  1. Don’t PR Spam. No one appreciates when releases are sent without any real understanding of the aims of the firm that they’re pitching to.
  2. Don’t take the “Bazooka approach to his masthead” – This is when multiple people from the same PR firm contact multiple people in the organization to which they’re pitching, and having the same meetings with these different people.
  3. Set Up a Briefing – PR firms tend not to do this, but it would allow them to understand the audience.
  4. Make sure that your CEO can engage in a real conversation and drop the sales pitch.
  5. Pick up the phone, don’t just assume that an email will get the story read.
  6. Your CEO sneezing is not a news story. A real news story is something that actually makes a change within your organization.
  7. Know your customers, and who they read. If you don’t know, ask them. That’s who you should be pitching your stories to.
  8. Make executives and PR people available for comment, don’t expect a story to be published if the release is the only source material.
  9. Subject lines such as “Please post this to your site”, don’t get a story written.
  10. Don’t always focus all efforts on one editor, people aren’t always at work, you may lose a story if the one person you have a good relationship with is out.
  11. Look for the right person to pitch to, don’t just pitch to the top person treating them as a receptionist / traffic cop.
  12. If you pass on stories about other firms rather than just pitch about your company, you’re going to be viewed as more of a trusted resource.
  13. Don’t hide from the news people. Understand that journalists will look at both sides of a story.
  14. A rumor is not a news item.
  15. Understand who the industry experts are.

What would you add?

Nice Overview of Media Strategy for Social Justice

Marie Clarke Brill of recently conducted a workshop on media relations with the Oregon Peace Institute and social activists with the Portland Genocide Awareness Coalition in May 2006.

For “non PR” or entry-level PR or students of PR… or even veterans who may need a media relations refresher that’s specific for social justice issues, I thought this was clear and pretty interesting.

The video is 45 minutes long, so hang tight.

How Many Pitches Does It Take to Get to the Story?

According to the Bad Pitch Blog (love them!), the answer is between and three and five pitches. And sometimes it can take up to a year to work a good story in a key media outlet.

Based on Kevin Dugan’s anecdotal evidence, this post does a great job of giving you solid guidelines for managing client expectations for a media relations campaign. I suggest you save it, bookmark it, print it, tattoo it somewhere, print it, whatever.

I have certainly had clients that, despite my best efforts to manage expectations, never understood why the ratio wasn’t 1:1 (pitches:stories). I love Kevin and the Bad Pitch Blog for laying this out so simply.

The Bad Pitch Blog: The Math Behind Good Pitches

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