Rosemary O’Neill

How a Two Sentence Email Became a Top News Story

By: Rosemary O’Neill | May 28, 2013 | 
47

Top News StoryIt all started with the best Monday staff meeting ever.

My husband/CEO and I decided over the weekend to offer unlimited paid time off to every one of our staff, no strings attached.

In our minds, it was a matter of respecting our colleagues as adults and teammates.

We would set the goals and milestones, and let them decide how to get there.

When we made the announcement on January 25, 2010, you could’ve heard a pin drop, and then smiles spread all around the room.

We felt proud, elated, and rebellious all at the same time.

What Makes A News Story?

I was so excited I thought it would be fun to share this news. After all, how many companies have the cojones to do something like this? We knew it wouldn’t become a top news story, but perhaps we could get a little blip in the paper!

(Here’s where I note I had been studiously sending out old-school, boring press releases for about 10 years with little or no effect. Facepalm. I’m a business owner, not a PR professional, folks.)

Read Content from the Outlets and Journalists You’re Targeting

At the time, I was a big fan of the Seattle Times, which was led by journalist/blogger Monica Guzman. I read it consistently, but only interacted a couple of times. Based on reading her content over a long period of time, I knew that this was the type of story she might like.

I sent her a quick dashed off email. All of two sentences, including something like, “Hey, just thought you might like to know that we’ve just announced a policy of unlimited paid leave for all of our employees, no strings attached.”

In preparing this Spin Sucks story, I asked Monica what she thought when she saw my original email.

“I do remember your email making me stop and go, “Hmmm…”It was a bold step, and I was curious how common the practice was, or was becoming. It seemed ripe for conversation, and I appreciated the short, to the point email that didn’t try to dress up the topic.”

The next day, she wrote a brief story on the Seattle Times blog. We were psyched.

Be Ready for Success When it Comes

The day after that, the phone was ringing off the hook…local news was first, vying to get the interview. I gave a TV interview on the sidewalk outside my son’s basketball game. Yeah, that was surreal.

The snowball kept rolling, and we ultimately got coverage on CNN Headline news, Fox & Friends, the Wall Street Journal, multiple radio shows, the BBC, HR Executive, and more. There have been followups during the last three years as well, including a detailed interview on All Things Considered on NPR.

Business Lessons and Takeaways from the “Kerfluffle”

Don’t keep doing something if it’s not getting the results you want. If you are churning out traditional news releases and not getting anywhere, evaluate your strategy. Or hire a pro (hey, I know some people…).

Find the media outlets and journalists who write in your niche, and read their content consistently. Get intimately familiar with their topics, likes, dislikes, and style. Be genuinely interested in their material.

  • Be brief and to-the-point. Always. Everywhere.
  • Be flexible. If the news outlet needs to bump you, move your time slot, or hold the interview on the sidewalk, roll with it.
  • Be ready. Almost every interviewer ended with “is there anything else we should know?” Have your 30 second answer to that question ready and down cold.
  • Be camera-ready. If you’re lobbing out a news item you hope will get coverage, go get your hair color touched up, buy a camera-friendly suit, and be ready for your closeup.

Journalists pay attention to each other. Once I sent out the initial email, I did nothing to keep the ball rolling. Every bit of coverage after that was the result of journalists picking up the story (some without even talking with us). I didn’t know we were featured on CNN until my parents called me.

I had sweaty palms when I clicked “send” on that random email. But I did it anyway. Follow your gut instincts and don’t be afraid to take a leap.

What are your best tips for making that initial publicity spark?

About Rosemary O’Neill


Rosemary O’Neill is Co-Founder/President of Social Strata, which makes the Hoop.la online community platform. For the last 14 years, she has been evangelizing the social conversation. You can find her online via Twitter, on her small business blog, and on Google+. She also makes a mean blueberry pie.

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47 Comments on "How a Two Sentence Email Became a Top News Story"

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RobBiesenbach
3 years 1 day ago
That’s a great story, Rosemary. For me, the most important tip that comes out of this was not listed, but implied: have real news. Too often, PR people are sent out to pitch stuff that isn’t newsworthy. And regarding the policy, very cool. I worked for a company — I forget which — that gave us x days leave a year and said, in essence, “Use it how you want. It can be vacation, sick leave, whatever. You’re adults and we trust you.” I thought that was a bold step, but you took that 10 times further. Imagine: trusting people to… Read more »
rosemaryoneill
3 years 1 day ago

Thank you Rob! I agree, news is in the eye of the beholder 🙂 and I always love hearing about other companies who “get it!”

photo chris
photo chris
2 years 10 months ago

rosemaryoneill I would love to hear more about companies who “get it.” I feel like half of our staff here is/was flexible but that it’s becoming harder and harder to maintain…and suddenly we’re talking about 30 minute increments of time for pete’s sake.

rosemaryoneill
2 years 10 months ago

photo chris rosemaryoneill I’d be happy to chat offline if you want to email. Just connect with me on Twitter and I can DM you my address. I think that unless you’re having to account for your increments for a govt contract or something, that’s counterproductive.

belllindsay
3 years 1 day ago

RobBiesenbach Rob, get back to work!

RobBiesenbach
3 years 1 day ago

belllindsay Hey, I was taking a Personal Hour!

belllindsay
3 years 20 hours ago

RobBiesenbach Oh, that’s what the kids are calling it these days, eh? 😉

RobBiesenbach
3 years 14 hours ago

belllindsay <rimshot>

belllindsay
3 years 13 hours ago

RobBiesenbach Yeah, not in top form today. Sorry. 😉

belllindsay
3 years 13 hours ago

RobBiesenbach Or, *nothing but net*!

Word Ninja
3 years 15 hours ago
RobBiesenbach rosemaryoneill Ah, “real news.” Great point.  I, like others here, have been on both the PR and journalism sides, so even though it takes more time, I will look for the quote or photo of the local student from our college, because that is what the local paper is going to care about, not the junior basketball star from Michigan. No offense. But the bigger challenge becomes managing the expectations of people in your company or organization who think everything is news. They don’t understand why you don’t write a release about IT. They don’t understand why their “big event” only… Read more »
rosemaryoneill
3 years 14 hours ago

Word Ninja RobBiesenbach rosemaryoneill ginidietrich I’d love to read your post when it’s up!  Also, good insight about helping to explain what’s a good “fit” for a news piece vs online content. I envision that there are journalists out there wallpapering their houses with press releases about how ABC company was selected to do work by XYZ company.

Word Ninja
3 years 14 hours ago

rosemaryoneill Word Ninja RobBiesenbach ginidietrich I’m sure that’s true. I’ve found a great photo and enough information to make a meaty caption gets picked up way more often…at least by our local papers (printed and online). Thanks again for the post!

voxpop
voxpop
3 years 1 day ago

Of course, it might also be to your advantage to know where particular items, such as Seattle’s Big Blog, actually appear. In this case, it’s seattlepi.com, not The Seattle Times.

rosemaryoneill
3 years 1 day ago

Argh. Fail. Apologies to the P-I for that. I’m turning in my blogging license right now.

belllindsay
3 years 1 day ago

voxpop I’m the content director for Spin Sucks and Arment Dietrich. Mistakes sometimes happen. It’s been corrected and linked.  rosemaryoneill  Rosemary, consider yourself reinstated. And thanks for a fantastic article! 😉

TaraGeissinger
3 years 1 day ago

I love this! You knew what you had was newsworthy, you knew exactly what publication was likely to publish news like yours and you kept the email simple and to-the-point. I think your advice to “be ready” is probably the best I’ve heard in a while. It is so true — and we all need to be ready whether we’re fielding questions from the press or not. You never know who is going to ask you about your business or who THEY might know.

rosemaryoneill
3 years 1 day ago

Thanks Tara! Every biz owner should be like the Boy Scouts, prepared, right?

AmyVernon
3 years 1 day ago

If I’d been the reporter, I would have had the same reaction. Would have been amazing to get such a short, succinct and to the point news item. I was a journalist for 20 years and virtually never got a press release worth reading (unless it was one I was already expecting and needed for the specific details the folks didn’t want to have to repeat 8,000 times). Kudos!

rosemaryoneill
3 years 1 day ago

I have to give props to Monica for being so completely awesome too!

JoeCardillo
3 years 1 day ago

What a great story Rosemary, it’s a nice illustration of what we should all be doing all the time: knowing what matters, and saying it. 
Personally I’m a little colloquial, I wouldn’t recommend stealing my favorite phrase…. “DUDE. You would totally find this interesting” unless you know your audience, but, it speaks to your idea: know what matters to the people you are communicating with.

belllindsay
3 years 20 hours ago

JoeCardillo Dude, I would totally respond to you if you reached out to me thusly.

JoeCardillo
3 years 18 hours ago

belllindsay JoeCardillo Ha! As would I =)

belllindsay
3 years 13 hours ago

JoeCardillo WAIT! Where’s the facial hair gone….???

JoeCardillo
3 years 12 hours ago

belllindsay JoeCardillo Ha. Y’know, cause I look so old and I need to appear hip

rosemaryoneill
3 years 12 hours ago

JoeCardillo belllindsay but hipsters are required to have handlebar moustaches these days, right?

JoeCardillo
3 years 11 hours ago

rosemaryoneill JoeCardillo belllindsay Oh gawsh. Yes. Wait, are you calling me a hipster?

rosemaryoneill
2 years 11 months ago

JoeCardillo rosemaryoneill belllindsay Sorry, forgot the difference between wanting to “appear hip” and “being a hipster.” Haven’t watched enough Portlandia episodes yet….

rosemaryoneill
3 years 17 hours ago

This makes me laugh because my kids say dude all the time…they picked it up from SOMEone…lol

JoeCardillo
2 years 11 months ago

rosemaryoneill Wasn’t me. I *have* noticed the 9-12 age group loves the word though. I kind of miss that about teaching, hopping into a class and students saying “hey dude! uhh….I mean, Mr. C”

Frank_Strong
3 years 1 day ago

“Journalists pay attention to each other.” That is so true, Rosemary.  Nobody watches the media like the media.

belllindsay
3 years 20 hours ago

Frank_Strong Truth.

rosemaryoneill
3 years 17 hours ago

It was so surprising to me how they all piled on! Of course it cuts both ways, right? You just have to hope it’s a good story and not a bad one.

allenmireles
3 years 1 day ago

Loved this story and the encouragement to follow your gut instincts. Also thought your tips were really good.

rosemaryoneill
3 years 17 hours ago

Thanks you Allen!

ginidietrich
3 years 19 hours ago

You already know we’ve taken the unlimited PTO idea and incorporated it this year. So far it’s working! But the point of your blog post is even bigger. This is exactly what I pound home all the time. It’s not about mass distribution of a news release. It’s about a perfectly timed email or phone call that reaches a journalist or blogger when they most need you. I’m using this story…I’ll give you credit when I tell it!

rosemaryoneill
3 years 17 hours ago

It’s so cool that you’re doing the unlimited thing Gini! Thanks for the chance to tell my crazy story. And I’d be honored if you want to share it any time. Hopefully it will help other biz owners like me!

rdopping
rdopping
3 years 3 hours ago

Trying to comment using my crap mobile device and finally got whose to the mobile theme. Its ok. I’ll be alright. I made it this far in life.
So, I have to ask. No restrictions at all? How has productivity improved or has it? Is this an attract and retain thing? Very curious ovah heah.

rdopping
rdopping
3 years 3 hours ago

Clearly I can’t spell either…..meant to say I finally got wise to the mobile theme. Sigh.

JoeCardillo
2 years 11 months ago

rdopping I can’t speak to productivity, but it’s attractive…I think if you’re hiring smart, capable people who want to help build your organization or brand, it’s a great incentive. 
It also communicates that what you care most about is becoming better, not some arbitrary number of vacation days.

rosemaryoneill
2 years 11 months ago

rdopping No restrictions at all, except that we make people take at least two weeks (so they don’t try to prove how macho they are by not taking any time off). Productivity is better than ever. For me it really is a respect thing. It forces us to really hire and keep people who are grownups and are self-motivated. (And no, we aren’t hiring at the moment…)

rdopping
rdopping
2 years 11 months ago

rosemaryoneill rdopping Haha…quite happy where I am, thanks. I was more wondering about those who may take advantage but you really answered that by saying “grownups” and “self-motivated”. You do know that that the NA workforce takes the least amount of vacation of the “first world”. Why does the European model seem so attractive?

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[…] #5 – Unlimited paid time off!? Sign me up! Oh wait. We’re already signed up. Anyhow, let’s celebrate the half-way mark with an inspirational story about approaching PR a little differently. Would you consider sending a casual, two line email out if you had a story to promote? Rosemary O’Neill did, and her company’s initiative ended up being headline news. Today’s headline news? Rosemary grabs the number five spot with her May 28th post: How a Two Sentence Email Became a Top News Story. […]

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[…] people, in particular, should be developing relationships with journalists on Twitter, and spreading client news across their social media channels as a best […]

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[…] to the radio. In the evening, I watched several newscasts on TV. I was passionate about media, enjoyed chatting with reporters, and was always excited to see coverage come to […]

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[…] or public relations to have an online voice and an audience. PR people, in particular, should be developing relationships with journalists on Twitter, and spreading client news across their social media channels as a best […]

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[…] your pitch. I love the story Rosemary O’Neill tells of how she pitched her company’s new unlimited paid time off policy in a two sentence email…and it became a top news story. She knew the blogger would love the story because she reads […]

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