I Survived Michael Smart’s 30-day Detox

I’ve never been good at following instructions. I often don’t think the rules apply to me. Sometimes, I make the rules up (just ask my sister about playing Monopoly with me as a child!).

So I confess that while completing a 30-day digital detox under the guidance of Michael Smart, I may not have followed all of the rules exactly. However, in some instances, I was actually ahead in terms of my detox.

One rule I broke was not deleting my social media apps from my phone. I had a perfect excuse (as I’m sure many others did). Mine was that I use them for work. I’m often at events where I post using my phone and not a laptop. I didn’t want the extra step of logging in via a browser. I expect my devices to work for me.

The point of deleting the app was to keep me from looking at the sites throughout the day. Fortunately, I don’t do that. And through the detox I’ve been even more focused on not checking. My personal phone now stays in my handbag, and I check it at lunch only.

My work phone is off to the side and I only check it when I receive a text message or phone call as only a few people have the number. The rest of my day is focused on my priorities, which ultimately is the point Michael was making.

One tip that greatly benefited me was “ruthlessly unsubscribe from every mass email that doesn’t bring you massive value.” This has been a game changer for me. I subscribed to some emails thinking I would glean nuggets of information. Instead all I did was hit delete. Before long, I had about 20 such emails, and while a nano second to delete doesn’t seem like much. It was adding up. I unsubscribed and my mailbox is not nearly so cumbersome.

Despite working in a profession in which I have to be 24/7 accessible to handle a crisis, I am not tethered to my mobile. Yes, it’s with me. But I don’t check it constantly. I’ve told everyone that if I am needed to respond, I should be called. That prevents me from looking at my phone and checking emails all weekend. The problem with checking is that it becomes too easy to respond to emails.

So when Michael proposed that we create a digital “sabbath” one day of the weekend, I realized that for the most part I was doing it. What would help, though, is his suggestion of setting an auto responder. By setting an auto responder asking people to phone me if they need me during the weekend, I reinforce my message about calling me if I am needed.

He had many other great tips, and I’m working to incorporate them into my habits. It’s not easy to do but I’m making a good start. Would you share in the comments field one of your tips for managing your digital presence?

Invest in Yourself

Are you getting a tax refund this year? If so, how do you plan to spend it?

A vacation? A shopping spree?

Why not invest in yourself?


Be bold! Color outside the lines and invest in yourself. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

Identify what your goals are and then spend part of your refund (I’m hoping you received one!) on you. Maybe you have been wanting to join a professional group. Or perhaps there is a class you want to take or a conference you want to attend.

I’ve been fortunate in my career that my employer has supported me with one conference a year. However, I’m at work on a book (with two more in the wings) and my employer is not going to pay for me to join a mystery writers’ group or attend a conference focused on authors.

That’s on me.

And because it’s important to me, I save the funds so that I can participate in the group and attend the conference.

I also pay to be part of a group of communicators who hear monthly from Michael Smart about best PR practices. Sure, I’ve been at this business a long time, but I don’t always have time to identify the next great place to pitch (hint: it’s not The New York Times). Sometimes the calls reinforce for me that I am doing the right things and that I should stay the course.

I like what Michael shared in an email about the success of two individuals who continued to learn:

“The desire for continuous learning and improvement likely contributed the MOST to those people’s success,” he shared.

If you want to keep learning and growing and succeeding, investing in yourself may be the best investment you make.



Do ‘The Hustle’ to Succeed at Pitching

Ever since I was in D.C. the other week, I can’t stop humming The Hustle, and it has nothing to do with the upcoming election, and everything to do with Michael Smart’s presentation on pitching the media.

Michael is an independent communications trainer who helps PR pros improve their pitching success rate and enhance their PR writing. He is regularly among the highest-rated speakers at the industry’s largest conferences. Last month he gave an outstanding presentation and then later, I spoke with him in further detail about some of his points, including how important it is for media and PR practitioners to hustle. “You have to know your boundaries and constraints within which you are going to go all out,” he said.Michael Smart

It’s important to not settle. That means don’t just send an email to the faculty expert you are trying to connect with a reporter. If you don’t hear back, call the person, go by their office, check with the department chair. If the story is that important, you want to connect your expert with the reporter and that means going the extra mile “for a journalist who is of a certain caliber.”

Part of being successful at The Hustle is setting boundaries. Those boundaries enable you to have room for the high-caliber journalists. Michael recommended PR pros spend 80 percent of their time pitching the top 20 percent of their media list.

He said it also is important to develop a service mindset that is useful to reporters. “Don’t send reporters things that won’t help them,” Michael said.

No matter how good you are at The Hustle, it may not be good enough for your boss. Michael stressed that a boss has their institution’s best interest in mind. “Respect their judgment and authority,” he said. “Don’t let it affect your professionalism.”

Sometimes you have to switch up your moves. Today, Michael says, PR practitioners can use online metrics as assets when they pitch. If an online story already has 50,000 views overnight or has been shared thousands of times on Facebook, a digital journalist may be interested in the story. It’s also a great way to convince administrators that digital placement is as valuable as print.

He also noted that traditional news hooks no longer work. “It’s important to brainstorm compelling angles beyond what you are given to work with,” Michael said. In other words, “creativity always trumps budget.”

However, some steps never go out of style. Many PR people thought that when Twitter became so popular it would be the way to pitch a story. Many of the reporters speaking at the College Media Conference where Michael spoke said they still prefer good pitches by email.

“Don’t just chase the new, shiny technological tool,” Michael said. “Don’t wholesale abandon something that is working.”

If you want to learn more tips from Michael you can sign up for his weekly email tips. Visit michaelsmartpr.com/articles and you can see the recent tips and opt-in to receive them by email.

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

4 Tips to Rethink How to Pitch Media

Today’s media landscape has greatly changed. Some of the changes include:

  • Reporters using social media for finding stories and fact checking. Ben Sharbaugh, associate director for digital strategy at Harvard University shared at a conference that 50 percent of people hear about news on social media before it’s published anywhere official.
  • Reporters covering unfamiliar beats.
  • Success measured in page views.
  • Copy editing is not a priority at many outlets.

If it’s your job to pitch the media, how do you adapt to these changes? According to Michael Smart, an independent communications trainer, you need to

  • Reframe the traditional stories that you pitch. It’s not enough to pitch the story angle. In addition, include sources, photos and video to create a package for the reporter.
  • Expand the types of stories you pitch. This involves finding unique or creative angles. For example, tweeting out what experts are available, especially if you tie it to a big story, can lead to success.
  • Widen the scope of outlets to which you pitch. Have you ever pitched Vox? You might want to. On its website, Vox says it, “Explains everything you need to know in two minutes.”
  • Refine the way you write your pitches. Smart recommends focusing on a few outlets and then mass sending to others.