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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:

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 - she has 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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4 Comments

4 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

  3. Chris Johnson

    August 14, 2019 at 6:58 pm

    One thing you missed.

    The “poop joke” method. IF you can find a great poop joke, and lead with that, your pitch will seem like a breath of fresh air.

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Opinion Editorials

The actual reasons people choose to work at startups

(EDITORIAL) Startups have a lot going for them, environment, communication, visible growth. But why else would you work for one?

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Startups meeting led by Black woman.

Startups are perpetually viewed as the quintessential millennial paradise with all of the accompanying perks: Flexible hours, in-house table tennis, and long holidays. With this reputation so massively ingrained in the popular perception of startups, is it foolish to think that their employees actually care about the work that startup companies accomplish?

Well, yes and no.

The average startup has a few benefits that traditional business models can’t touch. These benefits often include things like open communication, a relaxed social hierarchy, and proximity to the startup’s mission. That last one is especially important: While larger businesses keep several degrees of separation between their employees and their end goals, startups put the stakes out in the open, allowing employees to find personal motivation to succeed.

When employees find themselves personally fulfilled by their work, that work reaps many of the benefits in the employee’s dedication, which in turn helps the startup propagate. Many aspiring startup employees know this and are eager to “find themselves” through their work.

Nevertheless, the allure of your average startup doesn’t always come from the opportunity to work on “something that matters.”

Tiffany Philippou touches on this concept by pointing out that “People come to work for you because they need money to live… [s]tartups actually offer pretty decent salaries these days.”

It’s true that many employees in their early to late twenties will likely take any available job, so assuming that your startup’s 25-and-under employee base is as committed to finding new uses for plastic as you are may be a bit naïve—indeed, this is a notion that holds true for any business, regardless of size or persuasion.

However, startup experience can color a young employee’s perception of their own self-worth. This allows them to pursue more personally tailored employment opportunities down the road—and that’s not a bad legacy to have.

Additionally, startups often offer—and even encourage—a level of personal connection and interactivity that employees simply won’t find in larger, more established workplaces. That isn’t symptomatic of startups being too laid-back or operating under loosely defined parameters. Instead, it’s a clue that work environments that facilitate personalities rather than rote productivity may stand to get more out of their employees.

Finally, your average startup has a limited number of spots, each of which has a clearly defined role and a possibility for massive growth. An employee of a startup doesn’t typically have to question their purpose in the company—it’s laid out for them; who are we to question their dedication to fulfilling it?

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Opinion Editorials

How Peloton has developed a cult-following

(OPINION EDITORIALS) How has Peloton gotten so popular? Turns out there are some clear takeaways from the bike company’s wildly successful model.

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Man riding Peloton bike with instructor pointing encouragingly during workout.

Peloton is certainly not the first company to gain a cult-like following–in the past we’ve talked about other brands with similar levels of devotion, like Crossfit and Yeti. Now, full disclosure: I’m not an exercise buff, so while I’d vaguely heard of Peloton–a company that sells stationary bikes–I had no idea it was such a big deal.

I mean, it’s not really surprising that an at-home bike that offers the option for cycling classes has grown so much during the pandemic era (a sales growth of 172% to be exact). But Peloton has been highly popular within its fanbase for years now. So, what gives? A few factors, actually.

Vertical Integration

If your company really wants to guarantee the vision and quality you’re aiming for, one of the best ways to enact it is through vertical integration, where a company owns or controls more than one part of its supply chain. Take Netflix, for example, which not only distributes media, but creates original media. Vertical integration lets companies bypass areas that are otherwise left to chance with third-party suppliers.

Peloton uses vertical integration–everything from the bike to its Wi-Fi connected tablet to the classes taught are created by Peloton. Although this may have made the bike more expensive than other at-home exercise bikes, it has also allowed Peloton to create higher quality products. And it’s worked. Many people who start on a Peloton bike comment on how the machine itself is well-built.

Takeaway: Are there any parts of your business process that you can improve in-house, rather than outsourcing?

Going Live

But with people also shelling out $40 a month for access to the training regimen Peloton provides, there’s more going on than simply high-quality craftsmanship.

Hey, plenty of cults have charismatic leaders, and Peloton is no exception. Okay, joking about the cult leader part, but really, people love their trainers. Just listen to this blogger chat about some of her favorites; people are connecting with this very human element of training. So much so that many people face blowback when suggesting they might like training without the trainers!

The trainers are only part of this puzzle though–attending live classes is a large draw. Well, as live as something can be when streamed into your house. Still, with classmate usernames and stats available while you ride, and teachers able to respond in real time to your “class,” this can simulate an in-person class without the struggle of a commute.

Takeaway: People want to see the human side of a business! Are there any ways your company could go live and provide that connection?

Getting Competitive

Pandemic aside, you can get a decent bike and workout class at an actual gym. But the folks at Peloton have one other major trick up their sleeve: Competition. Whether you’re attending a live session or catching up on a pre-recorded ride, you’re constantly competing against each other and your own records.

These leaderboards provide a constant stream of goals while you’re working out. Small accomplishments like these can help boost your dopamine, which can be the burst of good feeling you need while your legs are burning mid-workout. With this in mind, it’s no wonder why Peloton fans might be into it.

Takeaway: Is there a way to cater to your audience’s competitive side?

Conclusion

At the end of the day, of course, Peloton also has the advantage of taking a unique idea (live-streamed cycle classes built into your at-home bike) and doing it first. Plus, they just happened to be poised to succeed during a quarantine. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from what Peloton is doing right to build your own community of fanatics. There are plenty of people out there just waiting to get excited about a brand like yours!

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Opinion Editorials

How a simple period in your text message might be misinterpreted: Tips to improve your virtual communication

(OPINION/EDITORIAL) Text, email, and IM messages may be received differently depending on your communication style and who you’re communicating with. Here’s some ways to be more mindful.

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Black woman smiling in communication talking on phone and laptop in front of her.

Life is full of decisions, learning, hopefully some adventure, and “growth opportunities” through our careers and work. One that some of us may have never considered is how our text, email or IM communication comes across to the receiver – thus providing us a growth opportunity to take a look at our own personal communication styles.

It may have never occurred to us that others would take it a different way. After all, we know ourselves, we can hear our voices in our heads. We know when we are joking, being sarcastic, or simply making a statement. The way we communicate is built upon how we were raised, what our English teachers stressed, and even what we’ve been taught through our generational lens.

NPR put out an article recently, “Are Your Texts Passive-Aggressive? The Answer May Lie in Your Punctuation”. This article discussed what to consider in regards to your punctuation in text.

“But in text messaging — at least for younger adults — periods do more than just end a sentence: They also can set a tone.” Gretchen McCulloch, a linguist and author of the book Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, told NPR’s All Things Considered last year that when it comes to text messaging,”the period has lost its original purpose. Rather than needing a symbol to indicate the end of a sentence, you can simply hit send on your message.”

While it may seem silly that the receiver would think you are mad at them because you used a period, here are some things to consider in our virtual communication now that we are all much more digital:

  • There are no facial expressions in a text except for emojis (which, even then, could be left up to misinterpretation)
  • There’s no sound of voice or inflection to indicate tone
  • We are emailing, texting, and sending instant messages at an alarming rate now that we are not having as many in-person interactions with our colleagues

Gen Z (b. 1995 – 2015), who are the most recent generation to enter the workplace, grew up with much quicker forms of communication with their earlier access to tech. They’ve had a different speed of stimulation via YouTube videos, games, and apps. They may have never experienced the internet speed via a dial-up modem so they are used to instantaneous results.

They also have quickly adapted and evolved through their use of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and now TikTok. The last two platforms are designed for pretty brief attention spans, which indicates our adaptation to fast communication.

Generational shaming is out and uncomfortable but necessary conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion are in (which includes ageism). You can’t just chalk it up as “those kids” don’t understand you, or that they need to learn and “pay their dues”.

So if you are of an older generation and even a manager, here are some considerations that you can take regarding your virtual communications:

1. Consider having yourself and your team take a DiSC assessment.

“The DiSC® model provides a common language that people can use to better understand themselves and to adapt their behaviors with others — within a work team, a sales relationship, a leadership position, or other relationships.

DiSC profiles help you and your team:

  • Increase your self-knowledge: How you respond to conflict, what motivates you, what causes you stress, and how you solve problems
  • Improve working relationships by recognizing the communication needs of team members
  • Facilitate better teamwork and teach productive conflict
  • Develop stronger sales skills by identifying and responding to customer styles
  • Manage more effectively by understanding the dispositions and priorities of employees and team members

This quiz is designed to help you identify your main communication style. It helps you to be more conscious of how your style may come across to others. Does it builds relationships, or create silent conflicts? It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to change, but you can adapt your style to best fit your team.

2. Always ask your direct reports about their preferred method of communication (call, text, email, IM, meeting).

Retain this information and do your best to meet them where they are. It would also be helpful to share your preferred method with them and ask them to do their best to meet you where you are.

3. Consider putting composed emails in your drafts if you are fired up, frustrated, or down right angry with your team.

You may feel like you are being direct. But since tone will be lost virtually, your message may not come across the way you mean it, and it may be de-motivating to the receiver. Let it sit in drafts and come back to it a little bit later. Does your draft say all you need to say, or could it be edited to be a little less harsh? Would this be better as a meeting (whether video or phone) over a written communication? Now the receiver has a chance to see you and have a conversation rather than feeling put on blast.

And finally, be curious.

Check out Lindsey Pollak’s books or podcast on the best ways to work with a variety of generations in your organization. Lindsey is a Multigenerational Work Expert and she does a great job explaining her research to drive multigenerational workplace success. She gives ideas on what all employees, managers, and even corporations should consider as we experience so many generations and communication styles in the workplace at the same time.

You may laugh that your children or employees think you are mad at them when you use a period in a text. But there’s a lot more behind it to consider. It may take adaptation on all sides as communication styles and the “future of work” continue to evolve.

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