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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:

template suggestion

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 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

3 things to do if you *really* want to be an ally to women in tech

(EDITORIAL) Diversity is known to strengthen the overall performance of a company and its teams, and there are a number of ways you can be an ally to the talented women already on your workforce.

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More and more women are leaving their positions with tech companies, citing lack of opportunity for advancement, wage gaps and even hostile working conditions as some of the reasons why.

What’s better for the tech industry and its employees than cultivating inclusive and diverse departments? Diversity is known to strengthen the overall performance of a company and its teams, and there are a number of ways you can be an ally to the talented women already on your workforce. To name a few:

1. Be open to listening to different perspectives.

It can be awkward to hear so many reports of workplace politics stacking against women, especially if you’re not a woman!

Instead of getting uncomfortable or defensive – ask open ended questions and be interested in a perspective that isn’t yours and may be unfamiliar.

Don’t seek to rationalize or explain the experiences you’re hearing about, as that can come off as condescending. It’s common for women to be interrupted or spoken over in team gatherings. If you notice this happening, bring the conversation back to where the interruption began. Offering your ear and counting yourself as responsible for making space will improve the overall quality of communication in your company.

Listening to and validating what women have to say about the quality of their employment with a company is an important step in the right direction.

Expressing something as simple as “I was interested in what you had to say – could you elaborate on your thought?” can help.

2. Develop an Employee Resource Group (ERG) program.

An ERG is a volunteer-based, employee-led group that acts as a resource for a particular group of employees. An ERG can help to foster inclusiveness through discussion, team-building activities and events. It’s common for a department to have only one or two women on the roster.

This can mean that the day to day feels disconnected from concerns commonly shared by women. disjointed it might feel to be on a high performing team, without access to relatable conversations.

3. Be responsible for your company’s culture.

Chances are, your company already has some amazing cultural values in place. That said, how often are you checking your own performance and your co-workers performances against those high standards? Strong company culture and values sound great, but whether or not they’re adhered to can make or break the mood of a work environment.

Many women say they’ve experienced extremely damaging and toxic cultural environments, which lead to hostility, frustration, and even harassment. Take action when you see the new woman uncomfortable with being hit on at team drinks.

Call out those who make unfriendly and uncouth comments about how women perform, look, or behave.

Setting a personal threshold for these kinds of microaggressions can help you lead by example, and will help build a trustworthy allyship.

(This article was first published here in November, 2016.)

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Opinion Editorials

Serial procrastinator? Your issue isn’t time management

(EDITORIAL) Need a hack for your time management? Try focusing on your energy management.

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Your author has a confession to make; as a “type B” personality who has always struggled with procrastination, I am endlessly fascinated by the topic of productivity and “hacking your time.”

I’ve tried most of the tricks you’ve read about, with varying degrees of success.

Recently, publishers like BBC have begun to approach productivity from a different perspective; rather than packing days full of to-do items as a way to maximize time, the key is to maximize your mental energy through a different brand of time management.

So, why doesn’t time management work?

For starters, not all work time is quality time by nature. According to a study published at ScienceDirect, your average worker is interrupted 87 times a day on the job. For an 8-hour day, that’s almost 11 times per hour. No wonder it’s so hard to stay focused!

Second, time management implies a need to fill time in order to maximize it.

It’s the difference between “being busy” and “being productive.”

It also doesn’t impress your boss; a Boston University study concluded that “managers could not tell the difference between employees who actually worked 80 hours a week and those who just pretended to.” By contrast, managing your energy lets you maximize your time based on how it fits with your mental state.

Now, how do you manage your energy?

First, understand and protect the time that should actually go into deep, focused work. Studies continually show that just a few hours of focused worked yield the greatest results; try to put in longer hours behind that, and you’ll see diminishing returns. There’s a couple ways you can accomplish this.

You can block off time in your day dedicated to focused work, and guard the time as if it were a meeting. You could also physically retreat to a private space in order to work on a task.

Building in flexibility is another key to managing your energy. The BBC article references a 1980s study that divided students into two groups; one group planned out monthly goals, while the other group planned out daily goals and activities. The study found the monthly planners accomplished more of their goals, because the students focusing on detailed daily plans often found them foiled by the unexpected.

Moral of the story?

Don’t lock in your schedule too tightly; leave space for the unexpected.

Finally, you should consider making time for rest, a fact reiterated often by the BBC article. You’ve probably heard the advice before that taking 17 minute breaks for every 52 minutes worked is important, and studies continue to show that it is. However, rest also includes taking the time to turn your brain off of work mode entirely.

The BBC article quotes associated professor of psychiatry Srini Pillay as saying that, “[people] need to use both the focus ad unfocus circuits in the brain,” in order to be fully productive. High achievers like Serena Williams, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates build this into their mentality and their practice.

Embracing rest and unfocused thinking may be key to “embracing the slumps,” as the BBC article puts it.

In conclusion, by leaving some flexibility in your schedule and listening to your body and mind, you can better tailor your day to your mental state and match your brainpower to the appropriate task. As someone who is tempted to keep a busy to-do list myself, I am excited to reevaluate and improve my own approach. Maybe you should revisit your own systems as well.

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Opinion Editorials

How the Bullet Journal method has been hijacked and twisted

(EDITORIAL) I’m a big fan of the Bullet Journal method, but sticker-loving tweens have hijacked the movement. Worry not, I’m still using black and white bullet points with work tasks (not “pet cat,” or “smile more”).

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It’s taken me some time to come around to the Bullet Journal method, because it took me some time to fully understand it (I have a tendency to overthink simplicity). Now that I understand the use, I find it very beneficial for my life and my appreciation for pen-to-paper.

In short, it’s a quick and simple system for organization tasks and staying focused with everything you have going on. All you need to employ this method is a journal with graph or dotted paper, and a pen. Easy.

However, there seems to be this odd truth that: we find ways to simplify complicated things, and we find ways to complicate simple things. The latter is exactly what’s happened with the Bullet Journal method, thanks to creative people who show the rest of us up.

To understand what I’m talking about, open up Instagram (or Pinterest, or even Google) and just search “bullet journal.” You’ll soon find post after post of frilly, sticker-filled, calligraphy-laden journal pages.

The simple method of writing down bullets of tasks has been hijacked to become a competitive art form.

Don’t get me wrong, I like looking at this stuff because I dig the creativity. But, do I have time to do that myself? No! For honesty’s sake, I’ve tried just for fun and it takes too much damn time.

With this is mind, this new-found method of Bullet Journaling as an art is something that: a) defeats the purpose of accomplishing tasks quickly as you’re setting yourself back with the nifty art, and b) entrepreneurs, freelancers, executives, or anyone busy would not have time for.

Most of these people posting artistic Bullet Journal pages on Instagram are younger and have more time on their hands (and if you want to spend your time doing that, do you, man).

But, it goes against the simplistic method of Bullet Journaling. The intent of the method.

And, beneath the washi tape, stickers, and different colored pens, usually lies a list of: put away laundry, feed cat, post on Insta. So, this is being done more for the sake of art than for employing the method.

Again, I’m all for art and for people following their passions and creativities, but it stands to reason that this should be something separate from the concept of Bullet Journaling, as it has become a caricature of the original method.

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