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Opinion Editorials

Bad advice for people hoping to get free press from journalists

(Editorial) Journalists are some of the busiest people on the planet – reaching them can be hard, but there’s a right and wrong way to do it. Make sure you’re not annoying without meaning to be.

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Want to get free press? There’s a right and wrong way to do it.

A young blogger recently penned a well-meaning editorial on how to better connect with journalists when reaching out to them in an effort to earn your way into their hearts so they’ll write about you. He urges people to go find a journalist and compliment them without mentioning their brand. So far, not bad advice.

Here’s the formula he suggests:

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He then recommends you CC their boss to flag them as to how great the journalist is, insists that you keep it all about the journalist and 0% about you, and let your email signature speak for itself. He concludes, “Journalists are people too. Give praise, make a friend and develop a relationship over time. The coverage you seek is closer than you think.”

Maybe “bad” is harsh. The advice sounds good but is misguided.

What’s right about this advice

First, let me explain that I operate a sizable news room. When it comes to pitches, I am the front line, and not a single story is published without my involvement. I’m the point of contact for hundreds of PR firms and thousands of companies. In my capacity, I receive hundreds of emails a day from brands hoping we’ll give them the time of day. Hundreds. I’m not exaggerating.

So, where the advice is not misguided is in the fact that journalists are people, and enjoying praise is inherently human nature. Reaching out to a journalist to develop a rapport is never a bad idea unless done poorly.

Here’s what’s wrong about this advice

Treating journalists well is the only advice given above that will get you ahead. If that email shows up in my inbox, I can’t guarantee a favorable response outside of a simple “thanks” as I trash it, not because I’m rude (I’m not), but because it’s just one more thing you’re putting on a journalist’s plate (“read this template compliment that is a misguided attempt to touch your heart, then craft a meaningful response, look into my company because you’re so impressed, then write about me so I can be the next Zuckerberg”).

Further, I get a similar template emailed to me all the time. Anything that says “I’m a big fan of yours” and cites an article I’ve written feels forced and is a red flag to me, because if you were such a big fan, we would have had more organic interactions by this point (like you commenting on the article or tweeting me without selling me or my staff). If you reference one specific article, that usually means you had no idea who I was five minutes ago, but you’ve spent just enough seconds to find a link and paste it as proof that you’re a fan.

The template email is kind and generous, and a new journalist would get a kick out of it, but reaching a busy news room when everything is absolutely on fire (and inadvertently demanding attention for what is clearly an attempt to gain favor and attention, not a compliment without strings), will land you in the trash just as fast as blindly sending a press release. It’s too obvious, it will generate eye rolls, we get these emails all the time, and it’s often some SEO person in India that wants to be hired, or a startup that is trying (poorly) to do their own PR. What you don’t realize is that this email template is actually pushy, and you didn’t even mean to be pushy!

Here’s the real advice, the real insight from a news room

First and foremost, connect with the appropriate person. Find stories about your competitors or stories similar to what you’re pitching to know who’s covering that beat. The fastest way to land in a trash bin is by going to the wrong inbox. Find individual writers who specialized in your area – don’t just email the Editor-in-Chief.

Now that you’re with the right journalist, if you really want attention, there are three ways to do it:

  1. Hire a legitimate PR firm. Chances are, they have well groomed connections at all of the news outlets your template email might otherwise annoy. They will put together a legitimate strategy and execute it more quickly and effectively than someone who just wants to sell their widget ever could.
  2. No budget? Just get to the point. Send your press release, but at the top, don’t act like you’re a journalist’s friggin’ best friend from college, or biggest fan (they already know who their biggest fans are, trust me), just remember that your email gets five seconds before a decision is made as to what happens with the email (read, respond, or trash). In two bullet points, say what’s in the attached press release and save the journalist time. There’s no slimy feeling, it’s just business, and if it’s a fit, I don’t care if we’re friends or not, we’ll write about your widget.
  3. Organically connect with journalists over time. Through social networks, networking events in person, or over email, just as you would establish a relationship with anyone, it starts with a simple like, a retweet, jumping into a natural conversation, then another conversation, and another. Nothing is forced here, and if they ignore you, move on. Getting to know a journalist’s needs without selling them, and getting to know them personally (where they prefer to connect), is time consuming, but worthwhile if trying to do your own PR.

The truth is that no one wants to be sold. Be sincere, get to the point, and always save someone time – news rooms are super hectic, and injecting yourself had better be mutually beneficial. If you can offer a journalist what they need right off the bat without kissing ass, you’re already miles ahead of the competition.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius and sister news outlet, The Real Daily, and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Danny

    February 6, 2015 at 11:51 pm

    Hi Lani,

    I must say I’m impressed at how thoroughly you went through my blog post and weighed its pros and cons. I appreciate your opinion because you made me think through my argument in different ways. So thank you.

    I suppose I should have made clear a one-time “compliment” email to a journalist will not create a lasting relationship. Yes, it takes other modes of communication like comments in articles and even an in-person meeting. And I like the additional outreach you suggested (like to hire a real PR firm).

    I do believe an email like the template I propose is ONE way to kickstart a relationship. I have a hard time believing every reporter out there is inundated on a daily basis with kind notes about his/her work. Most readers don’t take the time. And most journalists don’t hear from the public unless it’s to complain or leave a nasty comment.

    I would hope even the most hardened reporter can distinguish a genuine message from one that’s inauthentic. And I would never tell my readers to be phony to get ahead.

    That being said, I think I will amend my piece to clarify my argument. And for that, I thank you.

  2. Pingback: Best Seo Blogger Templates

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Opinion Editorials

Disrupting the idea that tech is the disrupter of modern business

(OPINION EDITORIAL) In a world of streaming, apps and have-it-now, it is easy to think of technology as a disrupter. But is that the issue or the symptom of a bigger issue?

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Customers matter

Amazon didn’t kill the retail industry, they did it to themselves with bad customer service. Netflix did not kill Blockbuster, they did it to themselves with ridiculous late fees. Uber did not kill the taxi business, they did it to themselves by limiting the number of taxis and with fare control. Apple did not kill the music industry, they did it to themselves by forcing people to buy full-length albums. AirBNB did not kill the hotel industry, they did it to themselves by limited availability and pricing options. Technology by itself is not the real disrupter.

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Being non-customer-centric is the biggest threat to any business. Not my words, they’re rad. That’s Davis Masten, making an elegant and effective argument for the disruption business model. Let’s get less concise.

User experience

Mr. Masten absolutely isn’t wrong. Every success story he lists got its customers based on a smooth, convenient user experience, and I’ll wager everybody reading this has a hilarious horror story about at least one of the failures.

He does undersell tech a bit. The music industry didn’t force people to buy full albums. You could buy all the singles you wanted. They were just a pain in the posterior to sort and store. Then, iTunes. If AirBNB is killing hotels it’s doing it darn slowly (which I guess might be worse?) and Netflix coexisted with Blockbuster until the former went streaming.

But that’s a quibble. Even in cases where the new model didn’t disrupt the old one until certain tech was in place, that tech was invariably in the service of a convenient, cost-effective user experience. That’s Mr. Masten’s point. Whoever wins at that, wins. Truth.

The question I really want to address: what then?

What then?

That’s a question the disruption business model has a bad habit of not answering. Well, I mean, there’s the Uber answer, the Uber answer being “behave contemptibly for years on end until your own shareholders kick you out despite you making them money.” Never give the Uber answer.

It is not a good answer.

For folks looking to be Travis Kalanick in 2013 without being Travis Kalanick in 2017, a level of responsibility is called for. As Mr. Masten points out, “disruption” usually means a smoother, simpler user experience beating the tar out of an older, clunkier one. That’s great!

It also comes with collateral damage.

Terms of employment

The ride-sharing model – and this is everybody, I’m not just picking on Uber – depends on drivers being legally self-employed. AirBNB depends on hosts not having to meet hotel regulations, and guests not expecting them. Put differently, if Uber and Lyft had to pay a living wage and offer benefits, or AirBNB hosts had to meet hotel cleanliness standards out of pocket, those services would keel over and die in a week.

That cash-in-hand approach absolutely makes things simpler for the company and the customer.

To be especially callous, it may also encourage a better user experience because workers are broke and terrified of losing their jobs, unlike, for instance, unionized cab drivers.

It’s also precarious in the extreme, and not just for employees. The Uber/Netflix model is a confluence of easy user experience and the technology that empowers it. That being the case, there will be a new “disruption” every time the tech gets measurably better. Conservatively, we’re ten years out from self-driving cars. Executives at Uber, Lyft, Amazon, Grubhub and every other “disrupter” that uses vehicles – so, all of them – would probably like that to be five years. Their drivers probably feel otherwise.

That’s the Uber error (I have now resumed picking on Uber).

They missed that “customer-centric” means more than “convenient.”

It also means “up to the customer’s standards of good business.” They couldn’t manage that even when it came to their own internal culture, and they paid for it with a public scandal, a non-negligible market segment who refuse to use their brand on principle, and “Uber, but for…” becoming a punchline.

Sustainability of disruption

The disruption model, which was synonymous with fast profits from streamlined processes, is rapidly becoming synonymous with fast failure, toxic corporate culture and horror stories of low pay and poor treatment of customers and employees alike. For those of us ancient enough to remember it recalls the change in public perception of the term “dot-com,” and seriously, short of literal Internet access, anything affiliating your business with the dot-com bubble is not your friend.

That’s still reversible, and Mr. Masten provides a superb starting point.

“Disruptive” companies generally do their disrupting by streamlining user interaction, and whether you’re writing an app or running a bank, user interaction is the most important thing.

Customer-centric

But user interaction isn’t limited to purchasing your service, and Econ 101 notwithstanding, customers buy based on more than who offers most for cheapest. In the frighteningly transparent 21st century, being customer-centric means addressing human values along with economic ones, guaranteeing that when you profit, so do your customers and employees. If your standards don’t stand up to the people who buy what you’re selling, you will not be selling it long.

That’s what “customer-centric” means. You can’t disrupt forever. Eventually, you have to build.

#Disrupters

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Opinion Editorials

How to impress people by being stupid (and when not to)

(EDITORIAL) Did you know that admitting you don’t know something can be a respectable business move? But in other situations, you better avoid it.

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You want to impress people, right?

My first job was at my aunt and uncle’s children’s bookstore, long before it was legal for me to work. My aunt drilled into me the best customer service tips I’ve received in my life. By age 13, I could answer the phone like a pro, help an aimless mother compile a bevy of meaningful gifts based on her child’s age, I could operate a register, and knew when to be patient, when to rush, when to jump, and when to sit still.

If I didn’t know the answer to any of her questions or the questions of a customer, “I don’t know” was never an acceptable response. “I don’t know, but I will find out for you right now” sufficed, but “I don’t know” was deemed ignorant, rude, and in some cases, disrespectful.

42Floors.com Founder, Jason Freedman has waxed poetic about the power of the phrase “I don’t know,” noting that when you use the phrase, even if you think you look stupid, it validates everything else you’ve said as honest rather than salesy bullshit, and rather than your just nodding your head in agreement with everything, even when you’re lost. Go read it so the rest of this editorial makes sense…

Contrasting my experience with the phrase with Freedman’s has had my mind in some knots today as I’ve sorted out why I agree with both my aunt and Freedman.

I realized that there is context in which using the phrase is actually appropriate, and advantageous, because looking stupid can actually lend credence to your words, but at some times, it is a lazy response to a request.

So which is better?

So, which is it? Use the phrase liberally, add “but I’ll find out,” or strike it from your vocabulary?

When speaking to a boss or someone that is requesting something from you, take my aunt’s advice and admit that you don’t know but that you will immediately learn the answer. If you are pitching to investors or talking to potential hires or partners, use it liberally to strengthen your other answers. You get the picture.

Freedman is right – there is value in using the phrase, but in some situations, there is value in adding the followup that you’ll find out immediately what the answer is. Both scenarios may make you feel stupid, but they both have a tremendous amount of value and are instant trust builders.

This editorial was originally published in 2014.

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Opinion Editorials

Don’t settle for mediocrity, make a killer first impression

(OPINION EDITORIAL) You don’t get second chances on a first impression so you might as well make your first impression a positive, memorable one.

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Your book cover

It’s been said you only get one chance to make a first impression. This can set the tone for your entire relationship, so it’s important to make a positive impression.

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Whether you’re going for your first job interview or a seasoned veteran in the workforce, it can be daunting to meet someone new who may have your future in their hands. Let’s talk about things you can do to be remembered well.

1. Smile

Smiling puts people at ease. A first meeting can be extremely stressful, but when you smile it decreases your anxiety. Just make sure your smile is authentic. You don’t want to look cheesy or nervous.

2. A strong handshake

Don’t squeeze the other person’s hand too tight, but don’t hold it too limp. You should have a handshake that is somewhere between. There’s an art to a good handshake. Keep your right hand free so you don’t look like you’re fumbling. Stand up to shake someone’s hand. Make eye contact with the other person and smile. Shake from your elbow, not your wrist.

3. Speak clearly and warmly

When you meet someone, break the ice by telling them how nice it is to meet them. Speak with authority. Use a calm and steady voice.

4. Make eye contact

When you look someone in the eyes, it not only conveys confidence, it also demonstrates interest in what they have to say. Be careful it doesn’t come off as staring. Make sure to change your glance occasionally.

5. Watch your body language

Sit up straight. Don’t yawn. Sit still without fidgeting. Give the other person your attention. In fact, it’s a good idea to mirror their body language. It’s a subconscious way of building trust. Don’t draw attention to your flaws.

6. Present yourself well

You may not have an Armani suit, but you can make sure your clothes are clean and pressed. Clean your shoes. Make sure your fingernails are well manicured.

7. Have confidence in yourself

You might be judged on things you cannot change, such as your gender, age or attractiveness. If someone is that shallow, you probably don’t want to work for or be in business with them.

Probably the one best thing you can do when you meet someone is to just be confident in your abilities and talents.

#ImpressionPositive

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