Arment Dietrich

Seven Steps to Better Media Relations

By: Arment Dietrich | February 8, 2012 | 

Today’s guest post is written by Lisa Gerber.

It’s been awhile, but recently, I’ve been reacquainted with a long lost love.

Yes, media relations.

That long lost love? Media relations.

As the chief content officer for Spin Sucks and Spin Sucks Pro, I have been mostly on the receiving end of pitches, not on the pitching side.

It’s been very entertaining to say the least.

This isn’t another post about bad pitches.

Trust me, I’m shocked at the number of atrocious pitches I get.

My name is not Spin Sucks, it’s not Spin, and pitching me on the broad topics of social media and marketing doesn’t fly. That just doesn’t tell me a thing.

Because the mission of Spin Sucks is to change the perception of PR, there is a huge opportunity for growth by addressing better practices in media relations.

Eliminate Media Relations Douchebaggery In Seven Easy Steps

  1. Manage client expectations. We blame PR agencies for bad pitching and rightly so. But often, it’s because they lack the spine to educate the client. The client expectation is the media list will be huge and the agency will blast out a news release which will get picked up by every gracious journalist in the country. They will get their me-too start-up mentioned in the Chicago Tribune and every daily paper in every major metropolitan city because they believe their news is groundbreaking. The reality is, media relations is a one-on-one practice that involves a lot of time, painstaking research, and one-on-one communication.
  2. Pass the message through the “Who Cares?” filter. No one is going to take pity on you and cover your story because you’re nice or just because you have a relationship. If there isn’t an interesting angle to the story, you’ll end up a victim of the delete button. And please, if you are going to attempt to tie into a news or trend piece, do it in a way that makes sense. I recently saw a pitch about SOPA and how social media makes it easier to monitor the weather. Huh? Which leads me to…know who you are pitching. These people aren’t idiots. Stop acting like one yourself.
  3. Build an Excel spreadsheet and keep notes on your research. Using a media database is helpful, but it’s merely a start. This is not a task for the intern. It takes a lot of hours and research, using tools such as Technorati, Google blogs, and simple Google searches. Vet each person on the list for relevancy to your message and know their writing.
  4. Find a way to introduce yourself. It’s time to go to the cocktail party. Find a common connection, a thoughtful comment on one of their recent articles, or something in their bio. Make a human connection.
  5. Follow them on Twitter. Create a list for this particular client or product and add them. Keep an eye on it every day throughout the day and find a reason to retweet them, answer a question, or help them with an article. Stop short of being a stalker.
  6. Subscribe to their RSS feed. Create a file in your Reader and follow their writing projects. Comment on their articles and share them, within reason.
  7. Send a note, not a pitch. Pitches are like snowflakes. No two should be the same. Each recipient deserves their own note, addressed to them personally, not “Dear Blogger.” Include that introduction and customized paragraph and find out if they are interested in hearing more about your client.

It’s media relations. Enjoy it. First of all, you get to meet new people and get to know them. Then, there is that little rush when you make a connection between a blogger/writer/journalist and a story idea, solving two different problems – one for your client and one for your writer.

Thank you to Stupid Expressions for the bad pitch image. 

  • Well, you had a picture of my beloved Phillies, so I had to comment. Great list. Basically coming down to managing expectations and doing your research. Both so important. Clients have expectations, and they hire you to fulfill them, but because their expectations are often a bit lofty, you have to bring them down, hence @ginidietrich ‘s post on viral content yesterday. I, too, have had clients who say, “Let’s create a viral video” and have had to say, “No! Let’s create a good video and see what we can do with it”. That’s what they hire us for, and hopefully they’ll listen.

    • @KenMueller@ginidietrich It’s funny, there’s a fine line between client service and good counsel. We want to give our clients what they want, but we also have to know when to manage them. And of course, I had to scroll back up when you mentioned the Phillies. I thought, “I did?” sigh.

      • @Lisa Gerber @ginidietrich yeah, that’s Jimmy Rollins. Baseball season is almost here….and you’ll hate me more than you already do!

  • terence.stephens

    “Trust me, I’m shocked at the number of atrocious pitches I get.”

    Spin Sucks should do a list of the Top-10 Worst Pitches Received. It would be entertaining for us all.

    • @terence.stephens This is a good idea. I’ll have to contemplate this one. 🙂

  • Excellent use of “douchebaggery” Lisa. Oh, and great tips too! 🙂

    • @adamsherk It’s always a good day when you can use douchebaggery in context!

  • TheRedDogInn

    @ginidietrich @lisagerber With a tease that includes the word “douchebaggery” how can one resist checking it out!?

    • lisagerber

      @thereddoginn Excellent! then my work is done here. 🙂 @ginidietrich

    • ginidietrich

      @TheRedDogInn OK. This made me LOL

      • TheRedDogInn

        @ginidietrich Thanks, Gini!! It’s a rescue dear to me. I got my Baby Sofie from Daphneyland then took over Social Media to learn more.

        • ginidietrich

          @TheRedDogInn Love it! Jack Bauer is a rescue, too. And a complete momma’s boy

  • Hi Lisa, thanks for sharing such a great post. I now know what ‘douchebag’ means (I’ve been too embarrassed to ask these last couple of months). The one point I’d add about client expectations is their belief that PR pros have all these contacts who will magically cover our client’s stories just because we ask. My response is always: “Yes, we have good contacts. But that isn’t enough to get you media coverage. We also know how to develop a story idea that will engage media.”

    • @Shelley Pringle Really? douchebag is one of our favorite words!! Never feel embarrassed to ask questions here, Shelley. LOL. We’re happy to share expertise, and explain what a douchebag is too. 🙂

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  • nikki_little

    @lisagerber Thank you for using the word “douchebaggery” in a blog post headline. 🙂

    • lisagerber

      @nikki_little I always like to work that word in! So glad it is appreciated!

  • belllindsay

    @lisagerber @ginidietrich Have it saved to read later!! Currently in #taxshock recovery. 😉

    • lisagerber

      @belllindsay Oh no. That doesn’t sound good.

      • belllindsay

        @lisagerber You have *no* idea. 🙁

  • Zella17

    @CisionNavigator @SpinSucks love the tip on the “who cares” filter. Can’t tell you how crucial that one is!

    • SpinSucks

      @zella17 @CisionNavigator Thanks you guys.

  • Yesterday I received a pitch to write about a study that supposedly my readers would be interested in. They didn’t spend much time at all trying to demonstrate why my readers or I would care.

    It felt like I was just part of the batch. I probably would have shrugged my shoulders and moved on except I saw that their client was sponsoring giveaways that dealt specifically with this study. Said giveaways were conducted on three blogs by “competitors” in my space.

    It doesn’t help them build a rapport with me. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t do this for the free crap that brands send out but I do wonder about what they were thinking on this one.

    • @TheJackB That’s the thing – they don’t take the time to vet the list. They just blanket pitch everyone. It’s awful. It doesnt’ yield results. ever. and you know what happens? The agency gets blamed for not delivering results. And then people think PR doesn’t work.

      • @Lisa Gerber I see this as a training issue. Someone at the agency should be teaching the junior staff the importance of vetting the list and making sure that they aren’t making fools of themselves.

  • SpinSucks

    @katskrieger I did laugh when I found the picture. 🙂

  • SpinSucks

    @fultonad You are so welcome, and thanks for sharing it.

  • And this is exactly why clients hire you. 🙂

    • @DannyBrown We were JUST talking about that today, weren’t we?

  • Yes! Yes! Yes! #1 is a killer – as you know. I’ve been working for 3 months now with a make-up client who has this inane ability to forget that I told her it takes TIME to build relationships and that we have to deliver a pitch that is timely (on the journalists or editorial calendar timeline- which means months in advance, not the week of Valentine’s Day) and relevant to their beat or what the journalist covers. I thought I had her on my page until I got the most memorable email just this week: “Hey, can you get me on The Doctors? I know it’s a lot of hard work, but I’d love to try!”

    Gotta love it.

    • jennwhinnem

      @EricaAllison Yeah. That’s all I have to say. I am nodding. It seems like no matter what, they are like “please get me in the Wall St Journal.” Erica maybe we write a joint blog post about the craziest requests we’ve gotten from our clients.

      • @jennwhinnem @EricaAllison Oh, you must! Please, oh pretty please! I would read that. 🙂

        • @lauraclick @jennwhinnem@EricaAllison HAHAHAH! Actually, who has done something similar…. oh! marijean ! She wrote a post about the craziest things we’ve done for our clients. But the craziest requests would be a really good one too. We could crowdsource it.

        • @Lisa Gerber @jennwhinnem @EricaAllison marijean Oh man, do I have a good one for the crazy client project request post from when I was an AAE right out of college. Gotta love the things you get to do when you’re the low man on the totem pole!

        • @lauraclick @jennwhinnem @EricaAllison marijean What did you have to do? tell!!!

        • jennwhinnem

          @Lisa Gerber @lauraclick @EricaAllison marijean I went to a Communications Network conference and someone there had to get a very particular type of Iced Tea for Drew Barrymore or else she wouldn’t read a book to a group of kids with cancer.

        • @jennwhinnem @lauraclick @EricaAllisonmarijean What?!?!?!? That is over the top. I just decided I dislike her.

        • jennwhinnem

          @Lisa Gerber @lauraclick @EricaAllison marijean I just tried to find the video about it but I don’t think it’s online. At any rate – YES! Let’s crowdsource it! How do we get this started??

        • @jennwhinnem @lauraclick @EricaAllisonmarijean Do you guys want to do it on Spin Sucks? We could use our Facebook page to get it going! I’d even use G+.

        • @Lisa Gerber @jennwhinnem @EricaAllisonmarijean One of our contacts for our largest client was obsessed with the lead character on JAG, the TV show. So, I had to Photoshop pictures of the client on top of the female character’s body to create a “memory book” of sorts that pretended the client was hanging out with the lead male character. The challenging part was, to put it delicately, the woman was not the same size as the lead actress.

          I think someone at the client company requested we do this for her as gift. Not my favorite project by far!

        • jennwhinnem

          @Lisa Gerber @lauraclick @EricaAllison marijean G+ or Facebook, I am so there.

  • Yes to all the above. I’d add to (or elaborate on) #3 – I’ve found that after building the initial spreadsheet, exporting it to Google Docs and then keeping that spreadsheet updated is a huge help and time-saver. You can share it with other team members so that everyone can plug their updates in without having to email the file back and forth (or even update a file and re-upload it to a server). And it’s a great way to keep clients informed of the progress as well. Gotta love Google Docs.

    • @Shonali Google Docs is a good idea! we use Dropbox, which isn’t quite the same – as you mention, it’s just stored on a server. 🙂

  • jennwhinnem

    Lisa, is #1 so hard (admit it, it is very hard) because there are PR firms out there who are dishonest and set client expectations so high? As in “Oh sure I can get you in the NYT! Any agency that can’t is not worth their salt!” ??

    • @jennwhinnem #1 is very hard. But as @DannyBrown mentioned below, it’s why they hire us. So we need to stand our ground, or at least deliver realistic expectations. If we don’t think the story is worthy of New York Times, we need to say so.

      And the big problem is, some agencies WILL be dishonest about it and win the business. Then the client will become disillusioned. About PR and PR firms in general. douchebags!!

  • ShannonKSteffen

    A brilliant good day to you! > @shonali @raffel @nancyquinn @sppresents @kimgarst @bryanwempen @mvpsusi @brettrelander @dave_carpenter

    • MVPSusi

      @ShannonKSteffen Right back at you! Hope it’s a blast!

  • Love, love, love this, Lisa!

    When I was at a PR firm years ago, I always hated when I was forced to pitch something that wasn’t a story. It’s really hard to gain credibility when you’re sending reporters junk. That’s why setting expectations is so very important. And the “who cares?” filter is a must.

    The other thing, like most PR and marketing efforts, is that this takes time. It’s very rare that you’re going to get a big hit over night. If they want someone to just blast out a press release, fine. I’m sure there are firms that will do that. But, the ones that are worth their salt will take the time to do it right and pitch each reporter individually.

    • @lauraclick I sort of glossed over the “gracious reporter” comment in my post to keep it quick, but that’s exactly what I was getting at. We don’t have a database of people waiting, and watching their inboxes for the corporate press release so they can jump on it and start covering the breaking news. 🙂

      • @Lisa Gerber You don’t?!? Just kidding. 😉 It’s so funny how clients assume reporters are breathlessly waiting to receive that press release.

  • lisagerber

    @narciso17 @johnjustic Hi! and thanks you two.

  • Marijean

    @lisagerber Hey Lisa Gerber. You’re awesome.

  • lisagerber

    @martinwaxman Hi Martin. 🙂 Thanks.

  • ElissaFreeman

    As a client, and I like to think a ‘good’ client, I look for my agencies to ‘push back’ or give me an alternate way to do business. Even for those of us who’ve been in the business a long time, sometimes we can’t see the forest from the trees.

    • @ElissaFreeman I think that’s great feedback, Elissa. A lot of agencies don’t want to risk the relationship or appear to be uncooperative. I know I’ve been guilty of that. There’s a fine line between good strategic counsel and bad client service.

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  • belllindsay

    Sorry I’m late to the party – great piece @lisagerber – can’t believe what some people are asked to do by clients. Trust me, being a TV producer is no walk in the park either – host wants Oprah on the show, you better get Oprah on the show! Um, what..!? Let me waste *more* time out of my day chasing that one for you. LOL!! And kudos for the douchebag reference. 🙂

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