PR People: Stop Being Bad at Stuff and Read This
By Nick Balkin
A cornucopia of pitch practices certain to make you unforgettable to the media
Face it: You went into PR because you wanted to be a superstar. Unfortunately, sometimes you have to work hard to build your name and reputation before you score those VIP passes.
Lucky for you, I’ve learned some extremely helpful tips and tricks to navigate the murky waters of being totally awesome, and today only, I’m going to share them with you.
1. Express yourself
The look of your press release is very important. The first rule of e-mailing is that EVERY SUBJECT LINE YOU SEND SHOULD USE ALL CAPS AND END WITH AT LEAST FIVE EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!! THE MORE EXCLAMATION POINTS, THE BETTER!!!!!!! As for the content itself, black on white is played out. Jazz it up! Change your text and background colors to, say, pink on red, or teal on rainbow, yellow on orange. Anything attention-grabbing and bright will do. Also, use a fun font! Comic Sans looks very professional. For more ideas, visit any MySpace page belonging to a 14-year-old. PR GOLD!!!!!!!!
2. Play hard to get
Like Joyce’s Ulysses or any David Lynch film, a well-crafted pitch should be nearly impenetrable to mere mortals. Here’s a neat exercise: Take your “hook” or story idea and bury it under layers of lofty, abstract, dense prose. For good measure, spell things phonetically and use random, Faulknerian italics. Your target audience, after all, is composed of reporters—and we all know they have lots of time to read heavy things. It’s their job, not yours, to gauge the relevance of your information. And don’t forget, jargon is your friend—it not only spotlights your sophisticated, in-the-know, vocabulary, but it also says to the reporter: I respect your intelligence.
3. Wear them down
As soon as you’ve e-mailed your release to a reporter, wait 10-15 minutes, then send a follow-up email reminding him to read it. A few (2-3) minutes later, call the reporter and remind him to read both your e-mail and the original release. If he doesn’t pick up the phone, just go ahead and read him your entire press release, word for word, over a series of voicemails. With all the information journalists get, they’ll appreciate the transcription—it’s really cool! Repeat for five consecutive days. When you get a “No.” or a “Please stop.” or an “I’m a police reporter, I don’t care about the 10 best ways to wear a romper, I don’t even know what a romper is,” then you’re making an impression. Damn—give yourself a pat on the back!
4. Quantity trumps quality
In a perfect world, PR people would carefully tailor each pitch. But who has that kind of time or bandwidth these days? Thank goodness for mass emails (or “e-blasts”). Skip the “BCC:” function. The address of each and every recipient should be listed in the “To:” field so they can size up the competition. Don’t forget to always offer exclusives.
5. Know when to pitch
As in comedy, timing is everything. Friday, 5 p.m., before a holiday weekend: a publicist’s dream. At no other time will you find media types more focused and relaxed and therefore more open to your story ideas. So what are you waiting for? That wallpaper convention isn’t going to pitch itself—plus, it’s only four months away.
6. Lead time, schmead time
When it comes to deadlines, the media can be such drama queens, but a great story will always get coverage, right? Right? The be-all, end-all of your profession is (drum roll) your press release! Don’t rush it. It must be fully realized—bio’d, logo’d, and approved by all bosses, partners, and sponsors—before fit for distribution. Don’t compromise your art. Make sure everyone makes a note about a comma or a colon. It should take at least three weeks of rounds!
7. Those scary bloggers
Bloggers, like drug dealers, can be reluctant to talk until they know you’re “cool.” The fastest way to cozy up? Be an active commenter on their sites. Unfortunately, this means actually having to read their (sometimes very lengthy) posts. To get around this, I suggest making a list of “stock comments” that work in virtually any context. A few to get you started: “Excellent post! It’s high time we start thinking outside the box” or “Your thought leadership is inspiring!” “Bravo, sir/madame, bravo” or “Strategy-driven synergistic gold! Call me.” Post them liberally.
8. Social media mastery
PR pros, rejoice! The Twitter Revolution is upon us. Gosh isn’t it great—at 140 characters of nonsense we can have tons of fun. Begin each tweet with “For Immediate Release:” so people aren’t taken by surprise. As for Facebook, friend-request as many media contacts as possible and be the first to “like” their status updates; do this a lot. Take an active interest in their personal lives by commenting on all of their family photos, particularly the babies of friends they post. And always pitch to a reporter’s “wall”—this way, the whole community knows they’re welcome to get in on the fun.
9. A great photo can sell a story
It’s commonly known that there is only one way to send images over the Internet—via e-mail attachments. This can be a bummer, as print media folks always seem to want their images supersized. Sometimes they’ll say an image is “not hi-res enough,” and it’s really confusing because here you are looking at the exact same image and it’s huge—on your laptop monitor and on the Web page you stole it from. (I, like you, am sure it is a Mac/PC thing.) But the solution to this problem is easier than you’d think. Open the image in Photoshop, change the resolution to like 300 dpi. Don’t be alarmed if your picture now looks like a screen shot from Pong—that’s normal.
10. Stand up for your clients
When a reporter screws up—misquotes you, pans your client’s new edible line of Crocs, calls during your lunch hour, etc. —it’s your responsibility to make the reporter’s life (whatever he’s got going for him) a living hell. Ban them from your e-list. Unfollow them on Twitter. Make zany comments about them on your FriendFeed. Throw a zombie or sheep at them. Teach them a lesson. This is war.
Speaking of lessons, these are absolutely the only 10 tips you’ll need throughout your entire professional life. Remember, PR isn’t all smoke and mirrors, and name dropping, and hot parties, and lookin’ good while you sip your free martinis at the lowliest dive on the block. That’s only 95 percent of what we do. To make it in this business you’ll one day have to get your hands dirty. And that, I’m afraid, is the one really ugly truth.
This post originally ran on The Bad Pitch Blog.
Nick Balkin is an arts/education publicist based in Boston. He is tweeting away @nickbalkin.