Friday, January 18, 2008

Media Relationships 101: Publicity from the media's perspective

As a publicist here at P&P, it’s interesting to be on the other side of media relationships. Why? I used to be the one answering pitch calls. Let me explain.

When I was a journalist, I made it a point to answer the phone – you never knew when a hot tip may be calling in. However, the voice on the other end was usually not a story insider, but a publicist plugging a new product or local talent. It was interesting to hear the different tactics they used when “pitching” story ideas to me. Some would recite a mechanical “how are you today?” before cutting me off to launch into a “That’s great, but have you heard of this great new widget...? You should really be writing a story about it...”

Like many of my colleagues, if I sensed the person on the other end of the line was reading off a teleprompter of some sort, I’d reply with the customary “uh huh’s,” but I wasn’t hearing the words that were leaving their mouth – not really. My brain had already shut off, and at this point I was just being polite by not hanging up.

Not only were those calls obnoxious, but it’s likely the publicist on the other end of the line was dreading the inevitable “I’m not interested” or “email me more information” reply that I had mentally cued up the moment they ran out of breath.

Though the majority of calls I received from publicists sounded identical to telemarketers, I also built a handful of relationships with quality publicists more interested in helping me do my job than promoting a product. As a journalist, the best publicists were the ones I didn’t view as “publicists,” but friendly people who helped me get the info I needed. They didn’t call to “pitch” me, but rather to explore ways they could help me do my job.

Now that I am working as a publicist, I have the luxury of using my experience as a journalist to my advantage. Our founder, Leann Phenix, was no different. Having worked in the media before founding P&P back in 1994, she knew that to effectively promote books, you can’t “promote books,” but rather pitch ideas based on building relationships with media contacts. To this day we consider our media contacts our most important client base—and it’s our job as publicists is to keep them as happy as possible.

So, how can you go about building relationships with the media? Here are a few things that I focus on when working with top media contacts:

Phone pitching can be one of the most intimidating aspects of promoting a book. For those authors that do not have established media relationships, here are a few tips for successful phone pitching:

-Be nice and personable.
Leading straight into your pitch for the sake of brevity isn’t effective. Instead, ask if they are following the ___ story, and if so, you’ve got someone they might be interested in.

-Know when to call.
3:00pm – 5:00pm: Typical daily newspaper deadline
10:00am – 11:00am: TV morning show planning meetings

-Make non-pitch phone calls/emails.
Not every correspondence has to be a pitch. I loved it when people called me just to say they liked my last piece, and I remembered them, too. Plus, it pays off: Catherine Saillant at the LA Times says:

"Being friendly is a big part of building relationships with us. Just let us know that you’ve read a story recently. If I did a piece (which I did) on mobile home park conversion, then a good call would include your referencing the piece and saying, for example, that you represent an expert on law around that issue. If it’s a continuing story — which stories about legislations usually are — then I might be able to come back to the expert later."

-Always offer to follow up your phone call with an email.
Carrie Crow from Rare Magazine writes:

“Offer to email me a document with a recap of everything discussed, with elaboration on the full story pitch. Funny thing – half the time, I never even get the follow-up document…but, when I do, 9 times out of 10 I find a way to work it into the mag (since the person went to the effort.)

Crafting pitches / pitch lists is an artform for good publicists. The key to putting together pitch lists is effectively targeting specific contacts that are appropriate for a certain story idea. Assuming you are pitching members of the media that cover your topic, here are a few ways to improve your pitch:

-Always mention previous hits.
The media tends to take other media seriously. Stefanie Boe from KOLD-TV in Tucson (a CBS affiliate) writes, in reference to good guest ideas: “stars are always a hit.” If you or your author has been on Oprah, The Mancow Show, or even a local affiliate, highlight the media experience in your pitch.

-Don’t underestimate the power of contributed articles.
Even if you have to put in a lot of time writing or editing the piece, it’s worth it! In the best case scenario, an author can be quoted or used in a syndicated story, which is a great way to rack up national print exposure. OR a TV producer can read the piece, and call to invite an author to be on the program. Both have happened to our clients within the past few months. So for almost every client I work with, I require them to write me something that I can use down the road – it never, ever hurts, since you’re doing the journalist’s work for them.

-For breaking news, have contact information READY.
It’s likely a news source doesn’t want to formally “set up an interview” with a source on the day a huge story breaks – they just want to call them, now. Lidia Pringle from United Press International writes:

“Make sure the client you're writing about is available for interviews (and not out of the country or otherwise unreachable). Make sure your client is willing to talk to the press – with our without you formally setting up an interview, since a reporter may call/email directly. Work with your client, prepping him/her for using media-friendly language, or being ready to explain complex issues in reader-friendly fashion.”

-Know your “people.”
Do you pitch to lifestyle editors often? Again, a great way to build relationships is to call without a specific pitch for them. I sometimes call contacts to give kudos for a recent article or comment on a story I know they have been working on. I want certain beat reporters and editors / producers who ALWAYS write on /air similar topics to know me, since I’ll likely have clients in the future they can use. You want the same name recognition. Even if you are a publicist with an established brand behind you (be it a publishing house or PR firm), you still want them to know YOUR name.

Mailing packages / responding to requests is another important part of securing coverage for clients. What can you do to give your package the best chance at being opened?

-Add a personal touch.
Half the battle with huge media is getting them to open the package. Take a tour of your local newsroom for proof: there, you'll see unopened packages stacked high on journalists’ desks (especially book review editors). Still, with media outlets you really want to score a booking with, try something unique. Stefanie Boe at KOLD-TV says that she used to get packages from a guy who sent her candy with his pitches. “It wasn’t necessary at all, but a nice touch – and it helped me remember him. Each time I opened one, I’d say ‘oh yeah, the candy guy!’” I haven’t tried candy yet, but I do add a handwritten note to some of my packages – and have indeed scored bookings this way.

-Beware of “cold mailing.”
Media people often don’t know what to do with packages out of nowhere that arrive with no contextualizing information – even press materials don’t get the job done sometimes. So include a cover letter with big mail-outs, explaining who the author is, and why they’d make a good guest/contributor.

Media appreciates PR people/authors who feel like they are trying their hardest to help them. The best feeling is having a reporter or producer thank you for passing along a great guest, or getting them a desperately-needed source in the nick of time. Not only are you able to score a booking, but you will also be kept in mind for future guest ideas!

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Blogger Payton L. Inkletter said...

Tolly – congratulations for you promotion – you have just shared such a wonderfully thorough account of how to improve one’s (for example, as a writer) prospects of being noticed, remembered, welcomed, and even liked by the relevant media, and I must say it is all I now expect from Phenix & Phenix’s postings here. Much of what you have just shared has been obvious AFTER the fact, but I would not have thought to do it beforehand. You and your colleagues continue to provide priceless hindsight to the likes of moi.

You good folk are not afraid to give excellent free advice to all and sundry, gleaned from your collective hard earned experience. I do appreciate it, noting that every minute spent at Phenix & Phenix’s blog is time well spent.

Oh, and Tolly, I hope you're getting more sleep; but fire dancing? Confucius say: ‘She who pray with fire rikery get led law botty wotty’.

January 18, 2008 at 9:05 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I totally enjoyed this post. Thank you! I felt like I am doing some of those things right and still learned so much.
Great post.

February 4, 2009 at 1:53 AM  

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