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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 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

If Reddit goes IPO, will it have to shed its soul?

(EDITORIAL) Reddit is known as a firebrand, a bastion of free speech, but if they go public, will they be able to remain as they are now?

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Reddit, the eighth-most popular website on the Internet, is reportedly considering an IPO. As a site valued at over 1.8 billion dollars, this is great news for the company itself – but how much of Reddit will remain if the IPO goes through?

Reddit’s history is steeped in controversy, from minor incidents such as invasion of privacy and a few creepily quirky community members to allegations of child pornography and egregious hate speech. While Reddit’s policy has allowed it to tighten posting restrictions regarding the latter two, the fact remains that Reddit – for all its usefulness – is viewed by many as a ticking time bomb.

An IPO would certainly lend back to Reddit a degree of credibility not seen since its inception, but the problem is that Reddit itself (the haven of free speech and original content that made it so popular in the first place) might not survive the offering. Given the platform’s controversial past, many believe it likely that stakeholders would move to tighten further the restrictions on the platform, ultimately ending a significant era in Reddit’s history.

Admittedly, Reddit has come a long way since its early days of supporting user-created content regardless of persuasion: this past year saw entire subreddits shut down for violating the terms of use regarding hate speech, and the platform certainly has cracked down on illegal and abusive content. Unfortunately, the history might be too much to shake off going forward, which is why we think that Reddit’s branding won’t be a part of the final IPO.

The platform’s developers’ dedication to free speech and truth-seeking is what makes Reddit so fantastic, and that’s not liable to change – it’s the most marketable aspect of the site, after all – but perhaps the rationale behind going public lies in a sense of duty rather than routine. 2017 has seen some of the most reprehensible instances of false reporting and deliberate misguidance in recent history; maybe Reddit’s team feels that they can provide a stable news platform at the cost of some personality.

At any rate, the IPO itself isn’t set in stone, and is unlikely to take place for quite some time. As the situation develops, it will be interesting to see if Reddit embraces its past, or sheds it altogether.

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Opinion Editorials

‘Follow your passion and the money will follow’ is bulls**t advice

(EDITORIAL) Following your passion can create success, though it may not be financial. So should you really just “do what you love” and hope for the best?

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If you asked anyone who knows me, they would tell you that I’m a strong advocate for people following their passion. However, when I encourage people to pursue their dreams, this comes with a big asterisk.

I recently heard someone use a phrase along the lines of, “if you do what you love, the money will follow.” Um… no.

While it’s great that you’ve found something you’re passionate about, that’s only a trillionth of the battle. You need to be willing to work your ass off and be willing to sacrifice everything in order to make that enthusiasm into a success.

Most people that have started their own business will tell you that it took a while into the process to begin paying themselves. Again, if it truly is your passion, this is all worth it in the end. But if you like food and shelter, it might not be.

Say, for example, your passion is acting and your goal in life is to become a famous movie star. Now, you can’t pull a Tobias Funke and simply say, “I’m an actor” and then expect everything to miraculously fall into place.

Like any other passion, you need to invest in yourself. You’ll need to get headshots, take acting classes, and find a flexible day job that allows you to go on auditions. Cutting corners on any of this in order to expedite the process or save a few bucks will end up hurting you in the long run.

For the sake of this article, let’s define “passion” as loving something so much you couldn’t imagine doing anything else… you would even do it for free. And, as there is no correlation between having passion for something and money, you just might.

While doing what you love is admirable, be aware that it may take an incredibly long time to see results in the form of numbers. Because of this, it’s wise to always have a back up plan to support yourself financially and pursue passion with a strong business plan in tact.

It is never wrong to want to follow your passion. I personally think that everyone should give it at least something of a shot during the course of their career so that you never ask “what if?” But following passion because you read a cliche statement can lead to major financial and emotional losses, so put on your business hat before blindly chasing dreams.

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Opinion Editorials

Tech CEO tweet ruins years of a young designer’s hard work

(EDITORIAL) With a tweet here and there, thoughtless questions have potentially bullied a young Asian woman in tech out of her career.

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naomi wu tweet

It’s hard enough for women, particularly women of color, to make it in the world of tech, without rude jerks questioning if you literally exist.

Sadly, that’s what happened to Naomi Wu, also known as “SexyCyborg,” a 23-year old cyberpunk superstar from Shenzhen, China who has amassed a huge following for her 3D printing experiments and other techie pursuits. Wu has 140,000 followers and millions of views for her YouTube channel, where she shows off her experiments and provides educational tutorials.

Unfortunately, some rude dudes from America can’t seem to imagine that a young Asian woman is capable of the feats that Wu has accomplished.

Dale Dougherty, CEO of the DIY magazine Maker (and an official schmuck), has cyberbullied Wu so badly that it is said to have damaged her career. He tweeted, “I am questioning who she really is. Naomi is a persona, not a real person. She is several or many people.”

This despite the fact that Wu says that she has actually spoken to Dougherty, and that he knows she is real. “For Westerners who don’t understand the important of reputation in China it seems like a very minor thing,” says Wu, “it is everything here and there’s no repairing this.”

Wu has even lost a sponsorship deal from a 3D printer company over the accusations that she isn’t who she says she is.

Dougherty eventually apologized, but Wu says that “the damage had been done” at that point, and that Dougherty knew the accusations would be “devastating” to her “reputation and professional prospects.”

Wu says that the attack is motivated by white male entitlement to tech spaces.

She says that she can’t imagine Dougherty attacking “a white lady from San Francisco.” Wu has been an advocate for diversity in tech and maker spaces. “I kept pushing for more inclusion – not just me, other underrepresented people,” she says. “They didn’t like being pushed. This is payback.”

We stand behind Wu as she continues to push the edge in tech spaces, and say shame on you to bullies who won’t make space for women and racial minorities. Sorry you’re not as cool as SexyCyborg, but that’s on you and you need to get over it.

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