Media pitching during COVID-19 – it’s not all doom and gloom

What a year this one has been. We’ve been on a constant news cycle of COVID-19 updates and information and 2020 Election coverage. When the national quarantine began in March, many PR folks, including myself, were reticent to reach out to media. I thought anything I would pitch would be considered trivial and insensitive when people were losing their lives.

On the flip side, I learned through media friends that they and their employers were getting their footing on the virus. Many broadcast and newspapers pulled their beat reporters to cover the pandemic at every angle and we were deluged with COVID-19 coverage. One TV reporter friend told me if I could somehow create my pitch to be related to COVID-19, the higher ups might consider it.  That was hard to do with a bank client, but easier with a nonprofit feel-good client for which we received local TV coverage (thanks, Vic!).

One area that wasn’t really too badly affected by sweeping pandemic only news were long-lead consumer and trade magazines. The home editors I typically work with at magazines like Real Simple, Better Homes & Gardens and Martha Stewart Living were still looking for tips and products related to their section. Moreover, because many of the magazines have lead times up to 6 months in some cases, they needed information that would have a longer shelf life. I was successfully able to pitch one client’s new pet care and pet grooming products, which led to coverage in Martha Stewart Living online and another client’s products on Popular Science’s website.

Later in the summer, when I felt the time was right, I pitched an op ed article for my banking client to one of the city’s business journals that wasn’t related to COVID-19 at all. It turned out to be a great article.

I guess the point I’m driving home is don’t throw in the towel for trying to earn media coverage right now and into 2021. If you try to wait it out for news cycles to die down or finish, you’ll always be waiting since new news cycles pop up constantly.  The key is to be relevant to the reporter and outlet you are going after.

Be deliberate and thoughtful in your pitch. Understand the outlet, it’s target audience and the reporter you’ll be reaching out to. This enables you to put a super targeted pitch together that will resonate with the recipient.

Speaking of the pitch itself, be concise and keep it short as best you can. Use links when possible rather than attaching news releases (some reporters can’t open external attachments). Also, there’s an art to getting a reporter to open your email in the first place – a succinct and direct subject line.  Maybe lead with the benefit of something you’re pitching. Play around with different subject lines if you are pitching multiple outlets and you can see which email reporters are opening.

Most of all, be patient and be diligent in your outreach. Sometimes it takes more than just one email or phone call to secure that media hit. Best of luck!

And here’s to a better 2021!

Are you really ready to hire an agency? 4 Questions to ask yourself.

You’re an entrepreneur or a small business that hasn’t had the funds up until now to hire outside marketing or PR services. Fortunately for you, business is looking good and you can now consider spending some marketing dollars.

Before you even narrow down your short list of possible agencies you’d like to work with, you need to ask yourself the following questions. If you can’t answer “yes” to all of these questions, you may want to consider holding off your decision until you can.

1) Am I ready to trust someone else with my business goals? Trust issues and entrepreneurism often go hand in hand. Your can-do spirit, hard work and laser vision have brought you where you are today, but realize that even the best leaders can’t do it all alone. You need to go into a new partnership with optimism and a certain level of trust.

2) Am I ready for a partnership, or do I just want an order taker? Agency-client relationships are doomed from the start if you are just looking for “yes” men. If you care about your business, isn’t it best to hear out and respect other points of view that could possibly lead to a great insight and subsequent break though for your business?

3) Can my ego take it if someone has better ideas than me? Yes, it’s great that you have landed where you are by working your fingers to the bone and making great business decisions for yourself and your company. Moving forward with marketing experts on board, can you be objective enough to hear them out if one of your ideas isn’t considered the best approach or will you take your marbles and run?

4) Am I patient enough to give a partnership time to grow and settle in? Or is your attitude, “what have you done for me today?” As with any type of relationship, business relationships work best when both parties are committed to shared goals and a common outcome. Sure there will be bumps along the way as you both get accustomed to each other, but only a partnership that’s in it for the long haul can achieve the results you want.

5 Ways to Make Your Internship Program a Win-win for You and Your Intern

You’ve hired your summer interns, but are you doing your best to ensure that they and your organization are getting the most out of the experience?

There is no doubt that internships should be a mutually beneficial experience for the employer and the intern. Too often, I hear about disappointing internships where an intern’s primary responsibilities were relegated solely to making copies, answering phones, organizing online files or making frequent coffee runs.

While students should embark onto an internship experience knowing there will be a fair amount of clerical (aka grunt) work, the point of an internship is that it provides a real educational opportunity for students to receive hands-on, real-life training in the field of their major. Many former interns will admit that their internship experience was far more valuable in their decision to pursue their career than anything they learned from textbooks and classroom lectures.

I understand that you are a busy executive and that you don’t have the time (and possibly the patience) to hover over an intern all day. I don’t think you should have to, but I do firmly believe that as well-established experts in our field, we have an obligation to guide our industry’s future leaders, just as our mentors did for us.

In order to prevent any daily hand-holding sessions, employers can adhere to a few tricks of the trade I’ve acquired over my years overseeing various agency internship programs.

What Employers Can Do

1. Make a job description and stick to it
Doing this lets the intern understand the required duties but also lets your team know the boundaries of what they can and can’t ask of an intern. Once you get to know your intern’s capabilities and skill set, you may be able to add some specific tasks to the job description.

2. Have a program/timeline in place
Interns need structure. Don’t expect your intern to wait enthusiastically each day for you to decide what projects to give him or her. Understanding that you can’t anticipate every scenario, at lease have some structure and consistency in the program/schedule (e.g., Every Thursday is a “Lunch and Learn” session where the intern(s) brown bag their lunch and listen to company experts talk about their job and provide career advice)

3. Make the internship an enriching experience.
It’s typically understood that interns will be given a fair amount of grunt work, but make sure you allow them to have access to real business experiences. A client conference call may not seem like an exciting activity for you, but it can be a great learning experience for an intern.

4. Be a mentor
I know you are a very busy person, but as I stated earlier, I believe we professionals owe it to those interested in our field to provide them with an accurate glimpse into the field they would like to enter and the skill set needed. Make it a weekly habit to monitor your intern and give them feedback – whether it’s positive or negative – since it’s part of the learning process that lectures and textbooks can’t teach. Lead by example.

5. Don’t’ burn bridges.
Let’s face it, we’ve all been burned by a bad intern experience. As much as you’re ready to boot them out the door or vow never to have another one again, remember that the interns are still very young and don’t have much finesse in professional settings. And, though it’s hard to imagine, you never know how your paths might meet again (your intern’s aunt might be the contact you’ve been wooing for new business for years).

Best wishes for a great internship partnership this summer. If you have any additional tips to how you make internships an all-around success, please feel free to share them.

A few grammar tips

Just some clarification on a few grammar errors I’ve been seeing lately, including one mistake made by a major U.S. newspaper.

immigrate vs. emigrate

One immigrates TO somewhere; one emigrates FROM somewhere

“My grandfather emigrated from Poland”

“My grandfather immigrated to the United States.”

 

should have, not should of

“I should have brought my umbrella with me”

or as a contraction: “I should’ve brought my umbrella with me.”

 

more than, not more then

“George is more than likely to show up early.”

 

4 Leadership Tips From Pope Francis

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Whether you’re a Catholic, a non-Catholic or an Atheist, we can all learn some great leadership tips from Pope Francis.

  • Speak plainly – Many of his predecessors were heavy on theological dogma and spoke in terms that often confused or bored their audiences. However, Pope Francis – though a theological scholar in his own right – understands the power of keeping it simple and speaking in plain language, which puts his audience more at ease and instills a sense of inclusion. Remember that a message can often be lost in flowery language, high-brow words, confusing graphs and overuse of industry acronyms.
  • Lead by Example – Pope Francis doesn’t sit in an ivory tower and dictate orders. He demonstrates leadership by practicing what he preaches. He chooses to ride around in a Fiat, not a Mercedes and insisted on paying his hotel bill in person after the Conclave. He doesn’t make rules that apply only to others and doesn’t ask those to do what he wouldn’t.   A successful business leader does the same.
  • Be authentic – The Pope stays true to himself. He chooses not to live in the Papal Palace but instead chose a small suite in the Vatican guest house because he feels more comfortable there and can interact more with people. No one respects him any less for that. Being genuine, being authentic and acknowledging who you really are, ultimately helps us interact more comfortably and in turn, more effectively with others.
  • Follow the Golden Rule – The Pope has talked about following the Golden Rule. Do you treat your colleagues, your customers, employees and vendors as you wish to be treated? Or do you lose your cool, pull rank, impose impossible deadlines and blame others? My words, not the Pope’s: “Don’t be a jerk.” You know who you are.

5 Positive Things a Cancer Survivor Learns

This week I received some sad news that a friend was just diagnosed with lymphoma.   Fortunately, they’ve caught it in the early stages and the prognosis is very positive. However, this news naturally has me revisiting some tough memories.

There’s no denying that cancer has forever changed me. Of course it has. But, upon further reflection, it’s not all for the worse as some might imagine.

I will never argue that cancer doesn’t bring you to your knees and shake you down to your core, but today I can honestly and truly appreciate some of the positive things that resulted from my battle and win over the Big “C.”

I thought I’d share them:

  1. I can do it. I’m equipped with a new mantra. Hurdles that tripped me up before seem more easily surmountable now. If I managed to get through the physical and emotional turmoil of battling cancer, I figure that I can easily get through that big presentation, new business pitch or job interview.
  2. Don’t sweat the small stuff.  Look, I’m still going to be marginally annoyed if the driver in front of me doesn’t use the turning lane or they forget the fried rice in my takeout order, but most of the things that seemed really important before just aren’t so now. Honestly.
  3. Know who you can count on. When the going gets tough, you can really see who you can lean on in bad times. I remember every card, word of encouragement, potluck, nice deed and supportive conversation that was bestowed upon me. It makes me feel good that I have a network I can fall back on and I treasure that.
  4. A greater empathy. I have always considered myself a sensitive person but going through an illness can really illuminate the pain and suffering of other people and how you react to them. I’m more thoughtful and less quick to judge when I see a person in a bad situation. I fully believe it’s true that you cannot understand someone’s burden unless you’ve walked in their shoes, or have come close.
  5. Appreciate what you have. This is not always easy when you are back in the full swing of life – morning commutes, useless meetings, kids’ tantrums, etc.  – but I am often able to acknowledge my gratitude and cherish the simplest moments as some of the most joyful ones. The cliché that “it could be worse” never holds more true than now.

Sending good vibes to my friend and to all of those brave souls battling life-threatening illnesses.

My Top 3 Picks for the Next GOP Debate Format

family fuedAs a PR practitioner, I’m looking forward to tonight’s debate. I always find it interesting and insightful to study candidates’ brand messaging and presentation skills. I’m also looking forward to the debate because it’s being held in Cleveland, my hometown.

However, the biggest reason I’m looking forward to the debate tonight is that – I have to admit – with Trump in the mix, I believe it’s actually going to be a lot more entertaining than the average presidential debate.  Entertainment, after all, is what presidential debates are missing.

Most TV viewers and folks in general are not debate watchers (I have no statistic to back this up with, but it seems pretty logical, right?). If viewers could choose between America’s Got Talent and a typical political debate, which one do you think they would choose to watch? Right.So, Shouldn’t we play at the people’s level?

It’s actually already happening – viewers are trying to make the debate more fun by devising drinking games for tonight’s match up. That sounds fun but I have to work tomorrow.

I say we marry the sobriety of the average presidential debate with the entertainment value of some sort of reality TV or game show.

My top picks:

1) Real World

2) Family-Feud

3) Jeopardy.

Are you in?

138045-realworld

10 Tips for a Hassle-Free European Vacation

European vacation - AustriaSummertime and a currently stronger dollar against the Euro make for a great reason to take a European vacation. As I embark upon another vacation overseas, I thought I’d pass along some of the tried and true tips I’ve acquired over a quarter century of traveling abroad. Most of them are pretty pragmatic and have saved me time, money and hassles in the past.

1. Don’t pack at the last minute. If you wait until the night before your trip, you don’t have time to actually think through your clothing choices and tend to throw in as much as you can fit. This leads to egregious over packing. I actually do a trial pack the week before my trip and keep eliminating clothing items and any duplicate toiletries each time. You’d be surprised how much you can streamline things. Plus, part of the fun of traveling, is the anticipation and planning involved so getting a head start on packing will put you in a happy travel mode.

11 days: 5 shirts, 2 dresses, 1 pants, 1 shorts, 1 nightgown, 9 underwear, 1 bathing suit, 1 blow dryer, 1 case of toiletries, 2 pairs shoes (in side compartment), 1 hat. (Wearing: shirt, pants, sweater, jacket, shoes, scarf)

11 days: 5 shirts, 2 dresses, 1 pants, 1 shorts, 1 nightgown, 9 underwear, 1 bathing suit, 1 blow dryer, 1 case of toiletries, 2 pairs shoes (in side compartment), 1 hat. (Wearing: shirt, pants, sweater, jacket, shoes, scarf, 1 carry-on bag, 1 small purse)

2. Travel light. I mean it. This seems pretty obvious but I’m always surprised when I see frustrated Americans lugging a heavy suitcase that they can actually fit into. Remember, if you’re taking a train or will be on a bus tour, you will have to load and unload your own suitcases. You can plan on getting 2 wears out of shirts and tops while a black dress, jeans,pants and shorts can be worn 2 times if not more. Mix and match tops and bottoms. Also, unless you have a formal event to attend, 2 pairs of shoes – two pairs of comfy walking shoes – will suffice. Toiletries account for most of the weight of my suitcase. There’s no need to bring full-sized products– buy some travel size items at the drug store – or fill your own shampoos and lotions in mini bottles. Trust me on this – save your back and keep it light. It also makes more room available for souvenirs!

3. Roll your clothes. Rolling your clothing items actually frees up a lot more room in your suitcase and also helps prevent wrinkles. I swear by this. Putting them in plastic bags (I prefer Ziploc bags) will also prevent them from further wrinkles and from getting dirty. I convinced my brother to try rolling and he loved how much room it saved.

4. Notify banks/credit cards in advance.   If you are not a frequent overseas travel, consider calling you bank and credit card companies to let them know where you’ll be and the time frames. This way you don’t have to worry about having your ATM or credit cards frozen due to suspected fraudulent activity. This happened to a friend of mine.

5. Consider buying travel insurance. Believe me, from experience, I insist that you do not want to end up in a foreign hospital. Check your current U.S. insurance coverage to see what services (Out of Network, obviously) may be covered in an emergency.  Purchasing travel insurance is a safeguard because you never know when the need will strike. At only 32, I once spent eight nights in a French hospital with pneumonia and pleurisy. I was glad I had bought travel insurance. You can go to https://www.insuremytrip.com to determine which carrier and plan will be best for you.

6. Make copies of important items (passport, credit card customer service #s) I always make a copy of my passport and credit cards as well as my credit card customer service numbers so that , in the event where my passport, or credit cards are lost or stolen, I can quickly and easily contact the necessary entities to report it. I also leave copies for my family or a friend back at home, in case they can help make those phone calls. There are also services like Final that you can purchase that will automatically notify each credit card company on your behalf. Check out https://getfinal.com/.

7. Be sure to purchase the correct adapters for countries/continents. The electrical volt systems across the world are different than the U.S. If you are bringing electrical items (flatiron, hair dryer, electrical razor) or those that will need to be cAdaptersharged (camera, laptop, iPhone, iPad), you will need to purchase (or borrow) an adapter to be able to use your device overseas. Continental Europe’s adapter will not work in the U.K. – the U.K. requires a different adapter for American electrical products. To determine what adapter you’ll need, visit: http://abt.cm/1Ie3HcH.

8. Write out postcard addresses on labels. It’s fun to sit in a café eating a croissant and drinking café au lait while you write a quick postcard to friends and family. However, this task becomes laborious if you have many cards to send and from different locales. To save some time during my vacation, I like to pre-write my postcard recipients’ names and addresses on plain white labels – I do this when I have a spare minute or am watching TV. This way, I just have to bring the label sheet with me and only write out the message while I enjoy the scenery.

9. Learn to say “please and thank you” in your destination’s language. You don’t have to necessarily take language lessons before your trip (unless you want to – it does make it more fun), but at least study some key phrases including please and thank you.   I frequently see many “ugly” Americans who still expect everyone in other countries to know English. Don’t assume this. You’d be surprised just how more receptive and friendlier taxi drivers, shop owners and waiters will be if you try to say a few phrases in their native tongue.

10.  Smile! You’re on vacation! This goes hand in hand with the previous tip. The universal language that everyone understands is a smile. You’d be surprised just how far this gets you when your thousands of miles from home. Smiling is especially useful if you’re in a market and need to haggle for a discounted price – or if say, you mistakenly forget to punch your TGV ticket (normally a $200 fine). It works!

If you have any additional tips, you’d like to share, please do so in the comments section.

Safe and happy travels!

Another Social Media Fail – Brought to you (Again) by Malaysia Airlines

It’s a given that 2014 has been a very bad year for Malaysia Airlines. Just about as bad as it can get in the airline industry. In two separate incidents – the crash of flight MH17 in Ukraine and the disappearance of flight MH370 – 510 passengers lost their lives.

In addition to the tragic human loss, the company is now riddled with financial losses that began even before the ML370 “crash” in March. Of course the two tragedies caused an even larger snowball effect as the company is currently faced with insurance payouts, lost planes and crews and a not surprisingly decline in bookings (in the 2nd quarter, average weekly bookings declined 33%).

But heck, thank God they have a marketing and social media team to take passengers’ minds off of things as well as to take the brand to new heights. Right?

Well…not so much.

Just last week, the social media team for Malaysia Airlines had to apologize after sending a very bizarre tweet that was an attempt to promote last-minute holiday travel deals. There’s no need for further set up – here’s the post:

“Want to go somewhere, but don’t know where? Our Year-End Specials might just help.”Malaysia Airline Tweet

Oh dear. Probably not the best slogan if only 8 months ago, you lost a plane that just disappeared without a trace.   Well, one could chalk it up to a possible loss in translation I suppose. But that certainly doesn’t explain another big faux pas that occurred just in September.

Brilliantly trying to devise ways to inspire and incentivize consumers, the marketing department created a dialogue and contest where it asked folks what types of things and destinations are on their “bucket list.”

Oh yes they did. Not as obviously offensive as the most recent Tweet, but this one is pretty inappropriate too.

I am going to take the high road and blame it on another poor translation. But if that is the case, I would strongly advise Malaysia Airlines, and all global brands, to ensure that they use only native speakers as community managers for their social media channels. I know doing so can be costly, but it can greatly help to reduce these types of incidents from happening.

However, this still wouldn’t necessarily get rid of careless and poorly thought out marketing strategies, would it?

What do you think?

 

 

 

When the Media Kept Presidential Secrets

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One of only a few photos of FDR in his wheelchair.

As I watched Ken Burns’ marvelous documentary, “The Roosevelts,” I couldn’t help but notice just how different the role of the national media was at the time. As a public relations practitioner, I am fascinated in particular by the fact that the media entered into and honored a gentlemen’s agreement with Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) and his staff to never publish a photograph of the president in his wheelchair or leg braces.

While most Americans at the time knew that FDR had been afflicted by polio at age 39, few actually realized that as a result he was left paralyzed. This was due in large part to the media not publishing those types of photos, but also to FDR’s dogged commitment to hiding his disability when campaigning.

FDR was worried that his disability would make him appear weak in the eyes of the American public. He was known to arrive so early at events and speeches, that crowds rarely ever saw him being lifted out of cars or ‘walking’ up to a microphone. Clearly, the lack of television and social media also helped keep FDR’s secret.

FDR managed to win four presidential campaigns and he led a weary America out of the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. His leadership played a critical role in the Allies’ victory in World War II while his New Deal legislation, according to many, helped build up the American middle class, establishing a baseline for the “American Dream.”

He was anything but weak. But could he have stayed in office to accomplish so much had his disability been exposed early on?

The White House press corps acted similarly during John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s presidency. Though it was common knowledge among the media that President Kennedy had many romantic dalliances, the American public didn’t come to know about them until decades later.

So when did things change? When did the media stop adhering to the concept that politicians had a public life and a private life, and that the latter was thought to be inconsequential to the former?

Today, it seems that the media can’t do enough to expose politicians, athletes, celebrities and business leaders at their most vulnerable and weakest times. This is not a criticism.

No one can escape the media’s magnifying glass, yet there are still plenty of folks who say that the media is not uncovering enough. I’d say Anthony Weiner, Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson would disagree.

So just how much do we need to know about today’s political leaders or about our favorite celebrities and athletes? Are we somehow expecting complete perfection? Where is the balance between knowing too much and not knowing enough; and what is the media’s role in delivering this?

These are questions that I’m not certain of the answer. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

P.S. One final thought: do you think today’s media would have ever have agreed to FDR’s request?