In the spirit of effective pitching, I’m going to keep this post short and sweet.
Communication is expressed in different forms. I get that. So why try the same communication approach across channels? Specifically, why do some pitches reaching journalists’ inboxes start something like, “Hi, XYZ. I hope your day is going well. I wanted to talk with you about …”
“I hope your day is going well.”– Let me tell you why that’s wrong.
The potential ROI of leaving that line in does not surpass the risk you take leaving it out.
Every word in a pitch is real estate, from the subject head to a signature. The value of that real estate is dependent on the order the journalist would read the pitch. Meaning, your email subject is the most important. It’s the first impression and what will get that person to delete or open.
The second most important copy is the first two sentences of your pitch. This is where the journalist decides whether they delete or keep reading. Chances are if you’ve got them to read that far, you might actually have a shot at closing the deal or at the least a response.
So why waste this valuable real estate on an insincere-looking greeting? Do you “really” care how this reporter’s day is going or do you care if this person will cover your client?
I asked my Twitter friends to chime in on this today and had some thoughtful feedback from a few journalists. Mitch Wagner, editor in chief of Internet Evolution, said “It’s a courtesy. It’s fine.” He followed up to clarify, “Pitches are entirely impersonal. I assume they’re generated by bulk email software. And I’m fine with that.”
While conceding that the greeting is a waste of real estate, Senior IT Reporter for Ars Technica, Jon Brodkin, followed up with “…the ‘hope you’re well’ doesn’t really bother me so much. There are tons of worse things.”
So the basic point here: While it’s not always considered a rookie mistake to include a warm greeting in your pitch, you’re wasting valuable real estate and potentially lowering the value of your pitch.
The term “PR” is used too often as a catchall for problems that run much deeper. Words alone are about as good at fixing companies’ problems as they are at fixing the toilets on stranded cruise ships.
If PR and advertising get thrown together in most people’s minds, then lawyers officially have a better reputation than PR people. In fact, the only professions with a worst reputation than advertisers in a November Gallup poll are politicians and car salespeople.
The very profession dedicated almost exclusively to helping companies improve their reputations in fact suffers from one of the worst reputations of any profession.
What, then, gives PR professionals the right to dictate how companies might improve their reputations while their own sits in the crapper? If a political candidate or public office holder had an 11% approval rate (click on the chart on the right to see the full results, which include a couple other columns and more explanation), the press secretary’s head might be on the chopping block, but there would be plenty of heads ahead of his or hers before that happens.
The PR (and advertising) profession ought to get its own house in order if it hopes to move up on this list. Here are a few things that must be understood.
It’s Not a “PR” Problem, It’s a Management Problem
“/disapprove” by striatic
Lawyers (who, for the record, rank eight percentage points ahead of advertising professionals in Gallup’s survey, if you’re counting) will be the first to remind us that brand names must be defended or they risk falling into generic status–look at what happened to Kleenex, Hoover, Band-Aid, and even words like escalator, aspirin and linoleum. The words and phrases get tossed around a little too carelessly, and PR is no exception. One of the signs of generic status is the “verbification” of the word. In the U.K., you hoover your living room floor. Where does PR sit? Well, the usage is still colloquial, but around the world, you can, for example, “PR” your way out of a crisis. PR, dear readers, is certainly a process, but it’s not a verb.
“Greg Rewis Speaking at An Event Apart Minneapolis 2010″ by SuperPope
The PR profession is to blame for the quotes around “PR.” It has not adequately defended the true role and value of the public relations role, which is not to distribute press releases and call up media to pitch the good news and spin the bad. The true role of public relations is to advise companies on the impact that their business is having on the public, to offer suggestions on how future business developments may change perceptions, and to find not spin, but stories, that best communicate the intentions of the management team.
Fellow PR practitioners, we all must band together if we’re to fight the “genericization” of our profession. The next time someone calls a company or industry crisis a “PR problem,” correct them. Remind them of the strategic role that PR can and should play. I am not a corporate mouthpiece, nor am I a spin doctor. I cannot fix problems by emails, phone calls, tweets and blog posts. I can only fix problems if you bring me in at the earliest stages and give me, or the senior PR practitioner I offer my services to, a seat at the table and a voice that is heeded by the management team.
“I’ve been working with you for a couple of months, why am I not famous?”
A client once said that to me. Well, more than one client. The fact is, he wasn’t famous because these things take time.
Very often prospects come to us and say “we’re launching in two weeks and we want big media, can you do it?”
Our answer is always, “no, we can’t.” Getting attention takes time, not just for the initial launch, which is a good start, but for long-term growth. No one story or one blog post or one tweet will set the world on fire. You need a plan, a full program, aimed at an ultimate goal. Any PR program, whether it is focused on media or social, takes consistent, sustained effort to truly develop and grow.
While I’m writing about PR programs, this is also true of careers. In a great blog post on the Harvard Business Review, Daniel Gulati points out that fast-tracking your career isn’t always the best move. Whether it’s pop music stars or Amazon, time matters. Spending the time to build means long-term success, but rushing to get things done can lead to failure.
As an example, let’s take a look at two recent viral video examples, both of which took a lot of time to become “overnight sensations.” The first is the “47 Percent” video that is credited with helping paint Governor Mitt Romney as out of touch with the electorate.
According to a Buzzfeed timeline, the video first surfaced online on May 31. Then on June 10, Prouty worked to get some buzz on it. According to the Huffington Post, Prouty spent the next few months going into comments sections of various sites and writing about it, sending it to journalists and even sending it to the Romney campaign.
Finally he reached out to James Carter using tried and true media relations techniques: research and outreach. The Huffington Post started chasing the story in late August, but it wasn’t until early September that the story finally hit anything resembling a mainstream media target. The same day Mother Jones posted the video and it took off from there.
So from the moment the video was first posted online to the moment it began its true rise took about four months.
Now let’s look at a more recent video, one that graphically and clearly demonstrates wealth inequality in America. It’s a great video, I first saw it on Facebook and many of my (liberal) friends are sharing it.
The viewership stats for the Wealth Inequity in America video show a long time of inactivity before virality.
Now to be fair, three to six months isn’t a lot of time. But to many tech companies who expect results immediately, it can seem like an eternity.
However, hidden in both of these examples are the stories you didn’t see and the luck involved in creating viral success. What videos of politicians did we not see because the people posting weren’t as committed to getting the word out? What if Mashable just didn’t find the inequities video all that interesting? Or if they weren’t searching YouTube in the first place?
Also to consider: what defines “success” for these videos? In the first case it was about broad exposure, but for the second I’m not sure the producer ever had much of a goal in mind. For other videos, if the goal is to reach a small audience or explain something to a specific group, then the measurement is much different.
The bottom line is that true fame (and any fortune ensuing from that) takes time and effort. Overnight successes are rarely overnight successes, even in the fast-paced world of social media.
Knobby knees and all, Todd proudly shows off his Eagle Award. He hasn’t been very proud lately.
The Boy Scouts of America has postponed its decision on permitting gay boys and scout leaders into the ranks, undoubtedly bowing to pressure from the very conservative base of organizations that have traditionally sponsored scout troops across the country. No doubt looking to the Episcopal Church’s example, scouting leadership is terrified of splinter scouting organizations. While the Church of Latter Day Saints has kept mum on the subject, BSA leaders are fearful that splintering is inevitable if any policy change is made.
When I earned my Eagle Scout award in 1988, I was damn proud. I am no longer proud. Despite our local council’s rather liberal stance on the issue, I’ve distanced myself from Scouting since my college years. I believe that permitting homosexual Scouts and Scouters (the term for adult leaders) does not run contrary to the Scout Oath. I am certainly not alone — Eagle Scout award recipients have been handing in their badges in droves to protest the organizations stance. Yet the organization holds to its outdated principles. Why? Two simple reasons: money and hubris. Let’s tackle hubris first. Example number one? Apple.
Apple’s Roughshod Approach to PR
Apple has traditionally taken a “my way or the highway” approach to media relations. Major announcements were made at major events, to which only Apple loyalists were invited. Write a bad review? Misbehave at an event? You’re off the list — thank you, don’t come again. But Apple’s “command and control” approach to public relations has shown some kinks in the armor — even Apple couldn’t prevent an engineer from leaving an iPhone prototype behind at a bar.
Apple is continuously held up as the prototypical great marketer, and I wouldn’t disagree. But just because Apple’s a great marketer doesn’t mean it’s a great communicator. Don’t confuse the two. Apple is a great marketer in large part because it makes products that market themselves. To be blunt, you don’t need to be a genius to market Apple products. But maybe I need to change the tense a little, as even Apple seems to be realizing it needs to change how it thinks. As Patrick Coffee reports in PR Newser:
For a long time, it seemed like Steve Jobs and the team at Apple saw traditional PR approaches and tools like press releases as ancient relics. They were over it.
Things are different now, though. The Wall Street Journal tells us that, in the light of recent stock dips and disappointing sales numbers, Apple has decided to “subtly [increase] some of its PR—at least for now.”
What does that mean? Well, the team issued an honest-to-God press release to mark the all-but-meaningless evolution of its operating system from iOS 6 to iOS 6.1–and this was “the first time Apple has issued an official press release for a non-major mobile software” roll-out since way back in 2010.
It seems that the blinding light of poor stock performance has identified a few holes in Apple’s communications strategy. Can the blinding light of public opinion change Scouting?
Scouting’s “Come to Jesus” Moment
Todd’s Boy Scout C.V.
I shared my thoughts about the state of Scouting with my business partner Chuck Tanowitz, and he talked about his experience with Scouting growing up Jewish in New York. Finding a scout troop where a young Jewish boy can fit in isn’t easy, even in and around New York City. Chuck made a wonderful point during our discussion: that the Boy Scouts need to realize that they need boys (be they straight, white, gay, Jewish or Muslim) more than the boys need them. Chuck found alternatives, and so do many other boys.
Scouting is facing a true existential crisis, and while they definitely shouldn’t dive in head first without testing the waters (oh, speaking of testing the waters, plenty of religious institutions have come out in support of gays in Scouting, including the National Jewish Committee on Scouting), they need to completely re-think not only their core policies, but also their communication strategies if they are to remain relevant in the 21st Century.
Advice for the Boy Scouts, Lessons for Communicators
The Boy Scouts of America have come across as backwards, disorganized and reactive as they’ve struggled through these past few years. Gentlemen, you have until May, but if you need longer, say so now! Get your act together. Do not get hung up on politics, procedures and principles with no regard to serving your community or surviving. Put a crisis plan in place. Set deadlines and stick to them. Understand that this is a divisive issue, and be willing to accept the consequences, however dire. But equally, understand that inaction sends just as much of a message as acts of consequence do. As I learned in COM 100, you cannot not communicate, and right now, you’re speaking volumes.
Millions were spent on Super Bowl advertising and in reality, it all comes down to a Tweet. That’s how Kai Ryssdal portrayed the well-shared tweet from Oreo during the Super Bowl in which the cookie’s branding people jumped on the Superdome blackout, saying “you can dunk in the dark.”
But to call this simply a tweet misses the point. Around the same time, Audi tweeted that it was sending Mercedes Benz some LEDs, a reference to the battle of the lights between the two premium brands. Certainly both were good pieces of content on their own, but Oreo was retweeted nearly 16,000 times while Audi got about 9600. Then there is the follow-on publicity, in which Oreo came out the real winner.