Smart Solutions to Common Pitching Challenges

News gathering and the distribution of it has changed. Beat structures have been demolished; and citizen journalists are everywhere. Real-time news has led to a decrease in (and some would say lack of) fact checking. Despite this dreary news, if your job is to pitch the media, you can still successfully get your story pitched.

Michael Smart provides solutions to common pitching problems. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

Michael Smart provides solutions to common pitching problems. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

Michael Smart, principal of MichaelSMARTPR, shared solutions to the most common challenges.

Have you ever developed a reporter source only to go to pitch them and learn that they had left the station? (Or worse, been laid off?) Or what if you are pitching a topic that no longer has mainstream reporters covering it?

Smart says not to panic about the media fragmenting because in many ways it is providing more opportunities. Online publications often have circulations that rival – and exceed – traditional media.

The solution is to find new outlets that are already reaching your audiences.

With newsroom cutbacks, journalists and bloggers often are too busy to take calls, let alone meet with you. So how do you get their attention? Smart says you need to consume their content and then let them know you did. You can tweet about a story or comment online. You can send them an email about the story. Smart cautions, though, that this is not the time to pitch the reporter. He says you just want them to open the email so next time when you do pitch, they’ll be familiar with your name.

The solution is to read and react.

Smart also recommends scheduling 10 minutes a day to read and react to reporters’ stories.

Other solutions to help pitch reporters, include:

  1. Reframe pitches into the way journalists present their stories
  2. Create content for influencers to share
  3. Customization must be specific and sincere

Disruptive Ideas Through the Centuries

I don’t know about you, but I keep hearing the words “disrupt” or “disruption.” Most of the people using it act as if it is something new.

At the recent PRSA International conference in Washington, D.C., the talk centered on how the media industry is being totally disrupted. I don’t think any of us would disagree with that.

innovators-9781476708690But disruption is nothing new. Just ask Walter Isaacson, president and CEO Of the Aspen Institute and a noted author. He’s the guy who wrote “Steve Jobs.” His latest book is “The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution.”

In the book, he writes of Ida Lovelace, Lord Byron’s daughter, who pioneered computer programming in the 1840s, and then explores the fascinating personalities that created the current digital revolution.

Isaacson shared some of the lessons from his book during his talk.

The best uses of technology are when we bring people together. “The great thing about humans,” Isaacson said, “is that we always keep up morally with our technology.”

He added, “If we bind our humanity with technology, our technology will always be as good as we are.”

Creativity is a collaborative effort. Seldom is there a light bulb moment when an idea appears. “Real innovation happens together – on a team,” he says. “Innovation is a team sport.”

Vision without execution is just an illusion. He added that it’s important to pair a visionary with a team that can execute it. The flip side, also is true, Isaacson said, which means that “without a visionary, you lose some of the spark.”

Keep it simple. Use simple sentences, he said, “if you want to explain exactly what it is you are going to do.”

Understanding Source of Stress Helps in Handling of Crisis

When you are in the midst of a crisis (the car breaks down, your child is sick and you need to pick him up from day care but you have a big presentation to give), how do you react?

Now think about a crisis at work that you have to manage as a PR practitioner. When the crisis strikes, what are the executives worrying about?

“The more we understand some of their stress, the better we are able to help them cope,” said Joan Gladstone, APR, president and CEO of Gladstone International.

The two key areas that executives think about in a crisis are financial impacts and reputation impacts, she shared during a PRSA webinar.

If the crisis is sudden, executives often display heightened reactions, which can lead to slow decisions, hasty decisions or emotional decisions.

As the PR person you play a critical role in a crisis. “You have an extraordinarily important role,” Gladstone said. The role is more than helping with the media, though.

“You must take a lead role in guiding the immediate crisis response strategies that could impact your organization’s reputation for many years to come,” Gladstone said.

Your role is to stay calm and listen. You don’t want to jump to solutions, and you should ask questions to understand the facts and evaluate ideas. It’s also important to introduce news and social media results into the discussion. This also is not the time to be timid – offer your recommendations.

When you ask the right questions, you will gain a better understanding of what is really important about the current situation. You should also be sure you are messaging to your key audiences.

Finally, recognize that the media won’t necessarily call for a comment. Gladstone said reporters will visit the website looking for a posted statement. If one isn’t there, the reporter is likely to note that. That means you need to get your statement ready and posted quickly.

Finally, Gladstone said it’s okay to offer an apology. “It shows you have a heart,” she said. “You are not admitting fault.”

6 Places to Look for Blog Fodder

I did great this summer with my blog in terms of topics. I had tons of ideas. But now it’s fall, and I’ve got nothing. I’m not panicked, though, because a topic always appears.

As a former newspaper reporter, I had to turn in a story every day. That meant having a few evergreen stories in reserve for the days when there was no breaking news. As a reporter, I always became adept at finding the unique hook or angle to a subject and turning it into a story.

When I’m really stumped for blog fodder, here’s what I do:

Review posts from prior years. Anniversaries, events and other activities have dates associated with them. Often I’ll write a post on an annual event, but from a different perspective.

Surf the web, read a magazine. I find ideas from stories I am reading on the web or in magazines. Sometimes, one sentence can trigger an entire blog post.

Talk to people. I sometimes ask my colleagues for ideas.

Peruse my idea folder. I frequently tear out articles that could be an idea and put them in an old-fashioned file folder. Sometimes, I put a sticky note with a random idea. When I’m stuck, I open the folder and am frequently surprised at the fodder within.

Attend a meeting or lecture. Most newspapers publish a list of business events. Sometimes I’ll see one that interests me, and I’ll attend. I particularly like breakfast meetings because I can go before heading to the office. Invariably, I end up with a blog post.

Examine my content calendar. I keep a calendar with all the days I’m going to post for the year along with ideas. Sometimes I have written posts in anticipation of traveling. However, if I’m really stuck for an idea, I’ll publish the blog sooner and hope that inspiration strikes again.

And it always does.

 

You Can Tweet

I confess: I have had my Twitter account for five years with only an occasional tweet. I recently become more active, in part because I now help manage a Twitter account through work and also because more of my friends and colleagues are using the platform. You can follow me @PriceCynthia.

I figured a steep learning curve would await me so I signed up for an online class to learn more and quickly. If you are thinking of using Twitter or have an account – and like me – haven’t done much with it, here are a few things I’ve learned.

Twitter birdThe first thing you need to do is claim your Twitter handle. You can use your name, your company name or create something clever. Keep in mind that your handle is part of how you will brand yourself. Once you have done that, you should fill out your profile and upload an image. You should also create a Twitter background, which, if appropriate, should resemble the colors, format and logo from your personal or corporate website.

Like any communications platform, you shouldn’t use Twitter as a one-way megaphone. Instead, retweet (when you share another person’s tweet) and tweet relevant information with your followers. My friends were pleased when I shared “@Starbucks made #PSL available early.”

For those who are just learning, that line might not make sense. The @sign tags or identifies the handle of a person on Twitter. In this case, @Starbucks references the company based in Seattle. A pound sign is used to aggregate messages of a similar nature, and is known as a hashtag. My tweet with #PSL was about pumpkin spice latte. I already knew that the drink had a hashtag associated with it.

While there is a dictionary with some hashtags. You can make up your own, too. At a recent conference I attended we used the hashtag #NFPW14SC. Anyone attending the 2014 NFPW conference in South Carolina used this tag and anyone who wanted to know what was being said about the conference could search for this hashtag.

One word of caution about hashtags: Don’t overuse them as they can fragment the conversation.

Another tool to use on Twitter are lists, which are a great way to organize others into groups. You can make your lists private or public, and you can follow lists that others have already created. For example, I created a list for several publications whose content I fine useful. However, when I was following them, they were filling my Twitter feed and it was challenging to find content from others. I stopped following them and created a list. Now when I want to peruse the latest from these magazines, I check my magazine list and can find all the relevant stories.

Because tweets disappear quickly from a screen and because I don’t scroll through my feed frequently, lists are helpful for finding those who only tweet occasionally. I created a list that includes members of one of the professional groups with which I belong. This way, I don’t miss relevant posts.

I hope to see you on Twitter! If you are, feel free to post a comment with your Twitter handle.

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