Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Future Of The Press Release

Check out this post, and the associated links.

It's YOUR future, people. Pay attention. ;)

Fire In The Belly

Got this in my inbox the other day.

A Response from a Newbie:

I was reading your good pitch blog this morning and the below excerpt got me thinking.


Maybe it's because PR people are people, too. Maybe they don't "feel important" in a role that, on bad days, feels like a telemarketing gig? I wonder: do some PR pitch pros aspire to management roles as much to shield their egos from further damage, as for any other reason?


As I’d still be coined a newbie, I started questioning why I aspire to a management position. Is it to be finished with much of the tactical tasks that fill my role? In part. But what you asked was, is it to shield our egos from further damage?


It made me wonder if anyone can be truly successful in PR with an ego. You spend your days pitching a million different clients, stroking the egos of big-headed editors and writing in-depth, creative articles—with someone else’s name on it. To me, PR is certainly an industry where you need to check your ego at the door.


I think, as a newbie who wants nothing more than to rise through the ranks and one day sit on the other side of the desk, it’s not an ego question. It’s about taking what ever crap reporters give me, and using that to put a little fire in my belly. That’s why I think the true stars aspire for management. To be the best.


Sure, some people may want to achieve management status to shield their egos. But are these the people we want running our agencies?


Anyway, just thought I would share my thoughts because it really made me question why I want to rise through the ranks so badly. I wondered if the editors I speak to are taking a toll on my ego, and then I realized, all they do is make me what to prove them wrong that much more.

"Kids" like this give me hope for our industry's future.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Super Bowl PitchDay

Agency: Pavone

Significance: One of the efforts that worked well for communications consultancy Pavone during Super Bowl season was to work with newspaper entertainment guides and drive time radio to promote an online poll about SuperBowl Sunday commercials. It's a fun story, so Pavone’s people even went as far as to modify their titles in their email signature!

Pitch:

Subject: 5 Ways to Turn Your SuperBowl Party Into a Commercial-Watching Celebration

Hi (Editor),

Thought your weekend guide readers might be interested in a fun angle devoted to something we spend most of our TV-viewing time trying to avoid!

When it comes to the Super Bowl, parties that revolve around the game are OUT. Parties that celebrate the big-budget commercials, however, are IN. After all, as many as 50 percent of the 130 million people who watch the Super Bowl say they tune in just for the commercials. The tip sheet below offers a few pointers for ad fans who might want to throw their own advertising extravaganza on February 5. (We're also hosting a) commercial poll, SPOTBOWL (www.spotbowl.com). Either the tips or our press release might make a fun addition to an upcoming story about the Super Bowl.

Let me know if you need more information (photos, logos, graphics) or a media kit packed with Super Bowl commercial facts and figures. Since we're also an advertising agency, if you'd like to get some inside perspectives on Super Bowl advertising and what to expect from this year's ad competition, we've got some people who would be more than happy to talk to you about which ads to watch for (and which ones to avoid).

Let the (real) games begin!

TIP SHEET

5 WAYS TO TURN YOUR SUPER BOWL PARTY INTO A COMMERCIAL-WATCHING CELEBRATION

According to some estimates, as many as 50 percent of the 130 million viewers of this year’s Super Bowl will be tuning in simply for the ads, and they’re not afraid to admit their love of big-budget commercialism.

In an increasingly popular spin-off of the traditional Super Bowl party, ad fans have begun planning their own get-togethers — paying no attention to touchdowns and heroic quarterbacks and cheering instead for catch phrases and celebrity spokespersons. For those planning their own commercial celebrations, the creators of the Super Bowl ad poll offer these tips:

1. The Guest List – The more, the merrier, but make sure you’ve got enough room, chairs, and food for everyone. And, since this is an ode to the ads, remind your football-loving friends that the commercials come first and the game a distant second.

2. Setting the Mood – A few well-placed decorations will help create the proper party atmosphere, but instead of footballs and team colors, consider displaying the logos of popular Super Bowl advertisers.

3. Food and Drink – With all those commercials for snack foods and soda, your guests are bound to get hungry. Have fun with the menu, and consider stocking the snack table with products that have bought airtime in recent Super Bowls.

4. Sound Off! – Go to WEBSITE.com and print out ballots to help your friends keep track of their favorite commercials. After the game, or during half time, they can visit the website to enter their votes and see how they stacked up against the rest of the nation.

5. Fun and Games – During the game, gather your guests and play a variety of commercial-related games. Suggestions include or “Commercial Charades” or “Commercial Trivia” (see WEBSITE.com for a few questions to get you started).

What's To Like About The Pitch: I hesitated for a second on this one, since it is kind of long for my taste and is not as customized as I'd normally like to see. But there are some gems here. It's a neat idea, first of all. Even the hardcore football fans I know kinda dig the ads - and this might make the day more fun for less-enthused family members. So, I buy the concept, especially because Pavone's people give me some relevant statistics that a journalist would use to sell the idea upstream. Also, this pitch is meant to be "dropped in" - and to drive traffic to the online poll: no one's seeking an interview here, though Pavone is ready for that. Lastly, the 5 tips are generic - and significantly lengthen the pitch - but most media loooove this sidebar fodder. (Which reminds me: watch for a post on "CHARTICLES" in future days.)

Basically, a reporter who is hoping to take off early to watch the game could cut-n-paste most of this pitch into a Super Bowl themed puff piece that will satisfy the editor. ;)

Friday, February 24, 2006

"Make Me Feel Important"

A-lister Tom Foremski over at SiliconValleyWatcher (with whom I've disagreed from time to time) was kind - and clever - enough to paste my own pitch for this site, word for word, in his blog.

Hopefully ya'll agree that it's at least a half-way decent pitch in its own right! We got some ink, eh?

Anyway, Tom raised some interesting points in his commentary:
Todd, good luck but I wonder how useful this will be... A good pitch is not something that can be written down and read out of context because the best pitch is tailored to the individual and the publication. That's the secret to a good pitch :-)

Sshsh, don't tell anyone, especially all those agencies that use their most junior people to pitch journalists--their most important interface (more important than client because of churn.) But those are the clueless ones. And the clueless ones won't understand this anyway, and continue (and defend) business as usual.

I won't get into Tom's issues with "clueless" PR firms, since this site is supposed to be a cheerleading section for the PR industry. But, it's worth addressing his other thoughts: namely, the need to CUSTOMIZE each pitch, and, the (overly) fundamental role that "newbies" play in PR outreach.

For the record, as you'll see in what I sent off to Tom, there was a bit of customization in my pitch. Tom and I have had a teensy bit of correspondence in 2006, partly via email and partly via my comments on his blog. He might remember that I've disagreed with him (even uber-blogger Steve Rubel took note of that, god bless him - thanks for the traffic spike, Steve!), and I wanted to acknowledge that small patch of dialogue.

Customization does not have to take a long time or a lot of effort. It's ABOUT the effort. Journalists are people. Every person on the planet, including journalists, wears an invisible sign around their neck that reads, "Make me feel important." Nobody feels important when they are 1 of 100 people on the receiving end (via BCC) of a form letter.

Every email must be sent individually. Every email must have a snippet of personal relevance. Anything less is anonymous crud; anything less is PR spam.

... Which leads us to PR newbies who make these kind of rookie mistakes. They should be trained by their agency management how-to not piss off the media, but most of 'em at some point or another learn the hard way.

Tom makes a good point that media relationships trump client relationships: employees and accounts come and go but the agency's reputation with journalists can ensure success (or failure) for all future employees and clients. So why do agencies put newbies out front like that?

Maybe it's because PR people are people, too. Maybe they don't "feel important" in a role that, on bad days, feels like a telemarketing gig? I wonder: do some PR pitch pros aspire to management roles as much to shield their egos from further damage, as for any other reason?

In other news: some good pitches comin' out next week. Now, where is YOUR good pitch?

Send it in!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Safe Zone

One of the questions I recently received about this blog has been, "Why won't you allow comments?" I may allow it in the future, but, frankly, I'd like this to be a SAFE ZONE for agency pitch pros.

Who is going to want to submit their best work, knowing that some jerk might cut it to ribbons in the Comments section?

I actually have received some negative, but thoughtful and well-reasoned, feedback to some of the pitches already posted here. I respect those comments and welcome them, but I would also hate for the folks who submitted their work to waste cycles defending their approach to their peers, when they ought to be hitting the phones for their clients! Certainly, even if they succesfully defended their pitch, the time and angst involved would likely deter them from submitting ever again!

When I do receive challenges to these selections that are truly worth discussing publicly, I will figure out a way to post about the "lessons learned" from that feedback. That's what this blog is about, right? Learning from our peers.

CALL TO ACTION: If you've visited this blog, if you believe in its purpose, send me ONE good pitch. It doesn't have to be spectacular. Just pretty good!

"Paging Dr. Goodpitch"

Team/Agency: Withheld by request.

Significance: After scouring ProfNet queries, the agency team identified an opportunity for CLIENT with BIZPRESS OUTLET. They quickly crafted and sent a pitch that effectively positioned CLIENT as an innovator at the forefront of an industry trend. The reporter liked the pitch so much that he literally cut and pasted it word for word directly into his story!

The Pitch:

Hi (Editor),

I wanted to offer you a source in response to your ProfNet request.

CLIENT helps connect doctors' offices with health insurers. The Company sells its Web transaction platform to major healthcare insurers, who in turn require the physicians they work with to use the CLIENT's network to process claims and other basic transactions.

One of the best parts for the docs is that they get to use the system for FREE. That is a huge hot button in the industry now - many health plans are now "sponsoring" a technology, spurring physicians into the PC and Internet era, where they might not otherwise have gone by themselves.

I'd like to offer you an interview with CLIENT and/or one of the many doctor's offices they work with to speak about this network for your piece. One customer that comes to mind is XYZ.

XYZ (with 35,000 patients) uses CLIENT to connect with one of its health plans to execute processes such as billing, referrals, claim investigation, eligibility and benefits verification and recredentialing. Before CLIENT, the practice often didn’t have the time for claim investigation. Now, they investigate every claim, every time — resulting in an annual increase of $120,000 in revenue and collections for claim investigation alone.

I have several other case studies - would be happy to find one that best fits your article's needs.

Would you be interested in speaking with CLIENT and one of their customers? It sounds as if you're on a tight deadline, so do let me know how I can help. My contact info is below.

What's To Like About The Pitch: It's a tad long but this pitch hits all the high notes. First, the pitch artist lets the reporter know "I'm here to help" by mentioning the ProfNet inquiry, i.e., this is not a blind pitch on a random topic. Next, they mention an interesting trend (docs being pulled into the 21st century by automation-minded HMOs), and, best of all, offer up compelling statistics from a reference-ready customer.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Mac Attack!

Agency: Horn Group

Significance:
Whenever there is a new virus to hit the Windows world, every anti-virus vendor floods the media with offers for commentary. The Macintosh world has been blessedly untouched by computer viruses, until just recently.

The Pitch:

Subject: CLIENT Discovers First Ever Virus for Mac OS X

Experts at CLIENT Labs, CLIENT's global network of security research and analysis centers, have discovered the first virus for the Apple Mac OS X platform. Named Leap-A (also known as Oompa-A), the virus spreads via the iChat instant messaging system, forwarding itself as a file called latestpics.tgz to contacts on the infected users' buddy list.

When the latestpics.tgz file is opened on a computer it disguises itself with a JPEG graphic icon in an attempt to fool people into thinking it is harmless. The worm uses the text "oompa" as an infection marker in the resource forks of infected programs to prevent it from re-infecting the same files.

"Some owners of Mac computers have held the belief that Mac OS X is incapable of harboring computer viruses, but Leap-A will leave them shell-shocked, as it shows that the malware threat on Mac OS X is real," said NAME, senior technology consultant for CLIENT. "Mac users shouldn't think it's okay to lie back and not worry about viruses."

Experts at CLIENT are continuing to examine Leap-A and will issue further information shortly. CLIENT's customers have been automatically protected against the worm since 12:25 GMT.

"This is the first real virus for the Mac OS X platform," continued NAME. "Apple Mac users need to be just as careful running unknown or unsolicited code on their computers as their friends and colleagues running Windows."

More information about this virus can be found at: http://www.CLIENTNAME.com...

Meanwhile, NAME is available for comment at XXX-XXX-XXXX. Can we arrange a time to chat?

What's To Like About The Pitch: This one has a number of key elements. The subjectline is brief and to the point, it is very timely (issued within hours of the detection), and is a genuine and interesting "first." The pitch is written to both pique interest and provide "drop in" convenience quotes for pubs/portals with few staff - and, the quotes are pretty juicy, i.e., the client contact will clearly not be a boring interview. Lastly, more in-depth info was provided at the URL, for reporters who needed more background before committing to an interview.

According to the folks at Horn Group, this pitch went out, one-to-one, on Thursday last week. Their client has since been a key resource in nearly 100 stories thus far, and the news has sparked heated debate within the Mac community. Great job, guys!

Kind Words

I have received more support than I expected, both privately and publicly, about this "Good Pitch" effort. Site traffic has been surprisingly robust, too. Thanks, all!

I have even received a smattering of good pitches - but to sustain the effort, we'll need MORE.

There must be a zillion pitches flooding the journosphere each day. If you wrote a good one today, folks, hey, just "bcc" me before you hit SEND. I promise not to "reply all!"

I hope you will also take a minute to scour your SENT folder for those great pitches that led to big ink. Although it's not a primary objective, I will happily point out specifics of how successful your pitch was in gaining media attention.

One more point: strangely, everyone who has submitted so far has requested anonymity. I did not realize PR pros were so shy! No worries, if you want to be anonymous that is cool with me.

Thanks again to all Good Pitch Blog supporters. Now, what're ya waiting for? Just send me ONE GOOD PITCH. Everlasting fame & glory await!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Inaugural "Good Pitch"

To get the ball rolling, I'll present an example of a good pitch from our agency. It's from 2005.

Please note the format, because it's what I'll be looking for in your own submissions.

Ideally you'll name yourself and your team-mates, and/or your agency, give us a sense of the background and context of your pitch, followed by the pitch itself. Unless I hear a lot of requests for it, I will not include data on the success of the pitches (although this one fared well). This is the "Good Pitch Blog" not the "PR Results Blog."

Team/Agency: SHIFT Communications

Significance: After learning that Paris Hilton’s racy new ad for Carl’s Jr. crashed the fast food company's dedicated Web site due to traffic overload, SHIFT recommended a rapid-response pitch offering CLIENT'S CTO as an expert to discuss the importance of strategic planning to handle this kind of site traffic, and how network outsourcing is the key to avoiding such outages.

The pitch:

Subject: That’s Hot! Paris Hilton Brings Down Carl’s Jr.

Hi (Editor's name),

If you follow pop culture at all, you’re probably aware of Paris Hilton’s racy commercial for hamburger chain Carl’s Jr. The ad launched yesterday on a dedicated site — www.spicyparis.com — and was immediately overwhelmed with users dying to get a glimpse of Paris in a bathing suit. Not surprisingly, the site crashed and was down for 4 hours.

Carl’s Jr. did everything right until the launch. Hot spokeswoman? Check. Media buzz? Check. Dedicated website with a sexy name? Check.

An effective plan for the site to handle an unprecedented amount of traffic? Nope.

It’s a common mistake, but one that is too costly to make twice. The CTO of CLIENT is available to discuss with you the strategic planning necessary to handle this volume of site traffic. He can also address how companies whose sites draw large numbers of visitors, whether constantly or seasonally, develop strategies to outsource network capacity to guarantee an “always-on” experience for users.

When might you be available to speak with CLIENT?

What's To Like About The Pitch: At the time, this pitch was very timely; the Paris Hilton/Carl's Jr. outage was in the news and reporters in the tech media were happy to be able to put a techie spin on a "hot" pop culture event. Also, the pitch was relatively short, the language was casual. A sense of humor was evident, too.

The Good Pitch Blog - Mission & Guidelines

Welcome to the Good Pitch Blog.

This blog was inspired by the work of Richard Laermer and Kevin Dugan, at the Bad Pitch Blog. You are free to suggest that the idea was "ripped off" from those guys, but if things go as I intend, our paths will diverge soon enough. Anyway, this is a true case of "imitation being the sincerest form of flattery" because I applaud what's going on at the Bad Pitch Blog, and hope that Richard and Kevin see this as an homage to their efforts.

I'll tell ya right now: the Bad Pitch Blog will always be more interesting and entertaining than the Good Pitch Blog, just as a car crash is always more interesting than a smooth flow of traffic.

This site is dedicated to PR that WORKS, specifically, good pitches. Here are some guidelines:
  1. If you are a PR pro or agency principal: feel free to email me your best pitches. Hit me up as often and as many times as you like, regardless of whether the pitch "got ink." If I agree that it's a mighty-fine example of "what works," I will post it.
  2. I will not disclose your clients' names, even if you ask me to: this blog won't be about getting more link traffic for your clients. (Having said that, I am not going to go out of my way to disguise their identity beyond X'ing out the name.)
  3. I will disclose your name, and your agency affiliation, unless you ask me NOT to do so: I think great PR people deserve a l'il credit. Maybe someday you'll be able to put "Published in the Good Pitch Blog" on your resume? Or maybe a prospective employer will recognize your talent, and try to recruit you?
  4. If you are a journalist: please, give your favorite PR pros some love. Contributions from journalists and pro bloggers will receive special attention.
  5. Please read a few blog entries before submitting. Ideally your submission will be something I can cut&paste into a new post, if it makes the grade. I'll post a few examples soon, to give you an idea of what I am looking for in a quality submission. (I am kinda busy with work and, well, more work, so if you can make management of this blog easier for me, I'll appreciate it!)
There is no shortage of negativity about the PR game. Some influential journo-bloggers have even questioned our long-term viability. But I don't buy it. I see bright, creative, thoughtful people hard at work at our shop each day. I am sure that the same is true in all quality PR firms. So my gut tells me that our brightest era lies ahead.

There are greenhorns and bad apples in every profession. The mistakes of PR newbies get more attention because their errors are made in front of an audience with the tools and influence to call them out in a very public way.

Ideally, if this blog picks up some momentum, we can view it as an industry resource for best practices. Like the Bad Pitch Blog, we can be part of the solution.

Stay tuned

Watch this space.