How to Create the Perfect PR Pitch

1 12 2008

One of the biggest complaints you will hear from the blogging community, especially the A-list bloggers, is how often they are pitched by companies and how bad the pitches are.  Many bloggers don’t mind being pitched, if they are pitched correctly.

To help remedy this issue, Jim Kukral has created a free teleseminar which will take place this Wednesday, December 3rd at 1p EST.  I will be joining Jim on the panel along with Lisa Picarille, the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Revenue Magazine.

yps-teleseminarI really hope that you’ll be able to join us on Wednesday as I think it will be a great discussion for all who join whether you want to learn how to pitch better or you’re a blogger who gets pitched often.

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An Interview with an Internet Strategy Expert on PR

28 10 2008

Today I had the opportunity to interview co-founder and CMO of Newsforce, Dana Todd.  Dana is also the Chairman of SEMPO, the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, which is the largest independent trade organization serving the search marketing industry.  Dana earned her stripes in the internet marketing industry running a boutique interactive agency called SiteLab, which is known for its search marketing expertise and creative web development capabilities.  She has since turned her sights now to the general communications industry, which includes PR, to evangelize the incredible possibilities of the internet in communication strategy.  Dana says that she is going to “shake things up around here and evangelize some sexy new ideas and tactics for the fairly rigid world of corporate communications and public relations.”

Newsforce currently offers two services to their customers. Can you please briefly describe each of these services?

Newsforce has two main product lines right now. Most people know us for our SEO tool, but we’re totally excited about something we’ve just launched. Our new product is our “big story” that will ultimately change the way companies manage their online communications. It’s called the Newsforce Network, and it’s an always-on communication platform to give companies and agencies total control over their stories, their placement and their engagement strategy.

Newsforce is the first company to build a network to put ultimate power in the hands of communicators. We can take any kind of fresh, interesting content – whether it’s a press release, a mat release, a blog entry or a feature article – and place it directly onto prominent positions in premium news. We buy only the best positions on the page, typically a large ad unit above the fold on an article or a section index (we’ve even run on the home page of Newsweek!), and we replace the usual banners with much-more-interesting featured news slugs from our customers. When a reader clicks a Newsforce headline, they go to a beautiful and clean landing page that has multimedia and social media built in. We measure the engagement rates and actions on the article, and feed the data back to our customers so they can tweak their story to appeal more broadly to the viewing public. It’s evergreen, so it’s a living document companies can control as their story evolves.

We sell this service similar to how advertising is sold, on cost-per-thousand impressions (which translates to “views by actual people”. We throw in the social media news release template for free, and as a value-add you won’t lose its derivative SEO properties because we’ll keep hosting it even after we stop featuring it in our headline unit. We’re sort of mashing up PR, advertising, social media and SEO into one streamlined channel.

For people who are struggling with the SEO part of their PR strategy, we also sell an inexpensive tool for SEO, starting at just $20 per use. Our automatic press release optimization suite is an online service made just for PR people, to help them focus more on their writing skills than their technical skills. We have a version of it integrated into Business Wire’s EON offering, plus we sell it on our site http://www.newsforce.com.

How is the Premium News Network different than distribution channels such as PRWeb, PRLeap, and other similar sites?

We’re digital-only, for one thing. They’re paid inclusion, we’re paid placement – verified and guaranteed positions, turn coverage on and off at will. I think of standard wire and feed services as being parallel to how people use SEO in the marketing side of the world: it’s a great thing to do for casting a broad net and hoping your story is interesting enough for a quality pickup or a high-volume return. It’s low cost, typically, and it is great for “organic” distribution. What’s been missing, though, is a serious level of control for communicators in either the online or the offline space. In the online space, we finally have some options we never had before.

In the print and broadcast world, the journalists are the gatekeepers to the limited real estate they have – measured in pages or minutes. In the online space the engagement is 24/7, and the real estate is based on traffic of people, not time of day or numbers of pages. It’s unlimited and unending. So why are we still designing our communication strategies in “episodic” mode, moving from campaign to campaign or release to release? There is a steady stream of news readers hitting news channels online or on their phones, over 600 million page views worldwide every day! And it’s just getting bigger! In 5 years, most people in the developed world will access their news either on a computer or a handheld device. And just as the dayparts shifted for other types of media, it’s shifting for PR people too.

We think what we’re doing is evolutionary, but some people have called us revolutionary. I’ll take either compliment.

Where do you see the future of internet press releases heading?

If we have our way, it’s going to be less about “press releases” and more about “story telling” and ongoing optimization of your stories for maximum reader interest and support of your corporate goals over the long haul. I’d like to see a return to the value of a professional communication team as keepers of the corporate stories, using their creative powers in new channels to influence the public directly, in addition to continuing with evolving media relations.

Maybe that’s too radical (or just too much work)? If you’re still uncomfortable with the idea of being an always-on writer/story teller, you can still think on a release by release basis, but you’re going to probably want to write three different versions: one for journalists, one for the mass public, and one for search engines. Oh yeah, and a mobile version too! So that should keep PR people employed for a very long time, because someone’s got to figure out how to best use these different channels to meet communication goals.

I am a reformed journalist-turned-marketer. Why did I change? Because I feel that ultimately the greatest opportunity to change people’s opinions, one person at a time, is through a multi-channel communication strategy. The power to create *action* is actually closer to the realm of marketing and PR than in traditional journalism, in many cases. While I loved writing news and working as a journalist, I truly found my calling when I wrote my first “advertorial” and realized how powerful a biased voice can be. That sounds like heresy, doesn’t it? And yet, if you think about it – as humans, we assume a certain amount of bias in any media we consume. Humans pride ourselves on being our own “filters” and making our own decisions, and we consume all types of information in context, whether it was produced by a journalist or an ad agency, in order to inform our decisions. So the biggest winners in communications are often the ones who are willing to take the most risk in terms of disclosure (transparency in your motivation) and creativity.

Do you think that all companies should be using internet press releases? Why or why not?

I guess it depends on the goals of your campaign, and what is an appropriate mix of channels to help you accomplish them. Bottom line: I think that all companies should tell great stories on the internet. If it happens to take the form of a news release, then yes, of course. People do actually read press releases – we have piles of cool research showing that they read press releases just like regular editorial news. But I think that if you’re writing a press release for internet distribution you should strongly consider the omigod-this-is-so-boring potential of corporate messaging to a broad reading public. If you wouldn’t click it yourself, then you should probably give the story angle a little more thought. The potential of the internet is that it gets you directly to the public. That’s both a good and a scary thing. Since we can now track reader engagement (or lack thereof) in real time, I predict it will ultimately teach us all to be better communicators.

What is your best recommendation for companies who want to start using internet press releases but not sure where to start?

We actually have a pretty great set of articles on the Newsforce site written by one of our founders, Greg Jarboe.  Greg didn’t invent the internet like Al Gore did, but he is often credited for “inventing” the advanced search optimization strategies for press releases and popularizing the tactics among internet marketing types. If you want to get some broad exposure to search marketing, the SEMPO Learning Center has piles of research, articles, glossaries and free webinars.

I always encourage people to keep a “keyword calendar” to go along with their editorial calendars for the year. If it’s part of your core strategy to have frequent pops in news search engines (so that you’re showing up in the fresh news results regularly), you will want to map a baseline of core keywords to target on a regular basis, plus a seasonal and/or opportunity set of keywords that you target based on the editorial “seasons” of your industry. Think of them as mini-topics to cover.

I guess with that in mind, one of the best skills a PR person can develop first is the art of keyword research. Internet outreach is just like any other communication strategy: it’s listening and responding. That is, “listening” to the keyword demand data and your social media buzz metrics, and then responding to threats and opportunities with various communication channels. The fact that we can literally see the words that people are using to describe all sorts of things, and the frequency and popularity of the terminology, is such a gift of insight. I’m honestly surprised that most PR people aren’t as freakishly obsessed with the information as search marketers are – maybe it’s because they haven’t learned to have fun with it yet. It’s very eye-opening!

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Why You’ll Never Get on Oprah…and Why That’s OK

16 09 2008

A lot of businesses focus on “making it big” in the media. While it’s great to be interviewed in Entrepreneur Magazine or be a guest on Oprah, the average business owner will not have this success.  And you know what? That’s okay.

Take a look at the diagram above. Say you have a press release and you have two options. You can send it to the Oprah show and pray every day that they choose you to be on the show OR you can distribute your search engine optimized press release using a distribution service, knowing it will definitely reach a wide variety of channels online, including Yahoo!, Google, RSS feeds, blogs, journalists and others who may want to interview you further or write about your release on their websites.

Now, each of those channels has anywhere from dozens to thousands of readers who will see your press release. Many will click on the link to your website to see what you’re all about. Some of those will even buy from you.

So rather than putting all your eggs in one basket with the Oprah show (or major media channel of your choice), you do better to diversify and let larger numbers of people in smaller, under served niches find you.

As David Meerman Scott says in his book The New Rules of Marketing & PR, the market for press release is changing:

  • Marketers must shift their thinking from mainstream marketing to the masses to a strategy of reaching vast numbers of under served audiences via the Web.

  • PR is not about your boss seeing your company on TV. It’s about your buyers seeing your company on the Web.

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A Rant About Interruption Marketing

8 09 2008

As I’m sitting at the Inbound Marketing Summit anxiously awaiting the conference to begin, I’m reminded about interruption marketing. Both of the keynote speakers today, David Meerman Scott and Seth Godin, have both written extensively on their blogs and in their books about interruption versus permission-based marketing.

On a daily basis we receive various forms of interruption marketing. While not wanted, I have grown accustomed to many of these forms of marketing and thus simply tune out when confronted with them. However, on Labor Day it was a different situation…one which I couldn’t tune out.

<rant>
I had traveled down to Watch Hill, Rhode Island with my fiancee, her family and we brought along our dog for her first adventure in the ocean. There I was, a perfect day to be at the ocean….approximately 85 degrees, slight breeze, no humidity and not a cloud in sight. “What a great day to relax and enjoy some time away from my hyperconnected life” I thought to myself. I had been doing some reading as waves crashed into the shoreline with my dog thoroughly confused at why the water kept “attacking” her as she tried to lay in the sand. Just when it seemed that all was perfect I begin to hear the roar of a small airplane. I looked up in the sky and guess what I saw? A small airplane trailing a long banner for Cox cable service. At first I didn’t think anything of it because we’ve all had similar experiences when relaxing on the beach. But, throughout the course of the afternoon I saw a plane probably another 3-4 times, each time with a new banner. Since there aren’t big billboards in the ocean or along the beach, companies turn to banners flown by plane as a way to interrupt people relaxing with their friends and family. I mean, really, do you think I’m going to run out to my local dealership to purchase the car you have a special on this weekend or a great deal on local cable service because of a banner that I had to stare up into the sun and squint to try to read….which is of course after I had to put down my book and have the nice silence I was enjoying disturbed?!?!
</rant> 

While my rant is only one example of many different forms of interruption marketing, I think it is one that highlights why inbound marketing is so important. The potential customer is giving you permission to tell them about your services instead of interrupting them when they’re trying to concentrate at work, spend time with their family, etc.

For those not able to attend the Inbound Marketing Summit, it is being streamed live.  

You can also keep up with all the chatter on Twitter about the Inbound Marketing Summit.

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Introducing PitchEngine: A New Take on Social Media PR

5 09 2008

Today I interviewed Jason Kintzler, founder of PitchEngine.  Jason has been a journalist, television anchor, PR guy and is now the founder of his first web startup.  PitchEngine was created out of Jason’s passion for media and a desire to close the technology gap between media, PR pros and business in general.  PitchEngine is something that I’m very excited about and think that anyone who is involved in PR should give serious consideration to using.

Why do you think PR and social media fit together so well?

One of the biggest pieces of social media (that often gets over looked) is the technology aspect. Social media isn’t just about the conversation, it’s about sharing content like videos, photos, comments and more. That part alone is a natural for PR pros who are interested in delivering media PR assets. It replaces the need for a printed press kit and saves them time and money on image CDs, folders, etc.,

I also think from a business marketing perspective that PR people are critical to engaging consumers. Marketers tend to “push” brand content out to consumers, where (good) PR pros are more likely to engage with them and develop relationships with consumers – similar to that of media.  Either way social media certainly blurs the lines of marketing and PR – something everyone is very excited about.

How would you describe a social media release to someone who has never heard of it before?

That’s easy, it happens all the time!  Traditional press releases are limited in functionality and flexibility – A rigid Word document with type. Maybe an embedded, low-resolution image or a few links are included.  PR pros must find ways of providing high-res images, video, logos and other content to media contacts and then figure out how to deliver it – email attachment, press kit by mail, image CDs, etc., Sounds pretty frustrating doesn’t it? Add to the fact that no one does it consistently, which makes media crazy.

The social media release is like a micro-website that allows PR pros to include all of the assets in one nice little package. It can be tracked, archived and is living – since it’s comment enabled media can add comments and questions at any time, while PR pros can make changes whenever they want- unlike a printed and circulated traditional press release.

Why should a business who has always distributed traditional print press releases consider creating and distributing a social media release?

It’s no secret that I don’t believe the current methods of PR distribution are flawed. You take rigid Word docs and pay to send them out to as much media as possible. Seems like all those flyers you get in your mailbox at the Post Office, doesn’t it? With an SMR like PitchEngine’s, users not only learn how to engage in social media, they also become better PR people delivering more concise pitches in a clean, web-enabled format. I do think the transition will be gradual, so the two formats can certainly live together for the time being.

How is PitchEngine different from other internet PR services that are available?

The big PR services out there all involve distribution via wire services. There are a couple services that provide ways to include web-enabled content for distribution through those services.  Unlike those services, PitchEngine wasn’t designed to accommodate traditional distribution services, it was designed as a tool for PR and media, that’s a big difference. It’s far more social, and hands-down the easiest of all those services to use- that’s not coming from me, it’s coming from the great feedback we’ve been receiving since our alpha launch last month.

What does the future hold for PitchEngine?

Well, I have to hold some stuff in reserve, but I can tell you it’s incredibly exciting. Getting off the ground is the first step, and making sure the users are getting everything they want is key. We’re working on partnerships with other innovative social media applications and finding more ways to change the game entirely. PitchEngine lends itself very well to an international user base – I think you’ll be seeing some rapid growth there very soon.

I’m not afraid to challenge tradition. I don’t answer to board members, share holders or web “experts” and I believe that will allow PitchEngine to remain innovative.  Users will ultimately decide the future, and from the response so far, they’re hungry for it. It’s wide open, and that’s very exciting.

PitchEngine makes it possible for PR pros, brands, and agencies to build and share digital, social media releases (SMRs) with their contacts for free. The SMR takes the press release to the next level, eliminating the need for antiquated email attachments, word documents, image CDs, and more. PitchEngine SMRs can then be delivered by email or via integrated social apps like Twitter or FriendFeed. Users and media recipients can also post them to Facebook, Digg and other bookmarking/news sites.  PR pros can upgrade to a customized Newsroom for their brand or client where we’ll host and archive all of their SMRs. The media side of PitchEngine (coming soon) will offer media the ability to filter press content and even approve or deny pitches from PR pros.

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An Interview on PR 2.0 with Deirdre Breakenridge

2 09 2008

After a few days off to enjoy the holiday with my family, I’m back with a new and exciting interview.  I recently had the opportunity to interview PR 2.0 expert Deirdre Breakenridge.  Deirdre is President and Director of Communications at PFS Marketwyse as well as an accomplished author with her 4th book due on bookshelves in early 2009.  Deirdre’s 3rd book, published in April 2008, titled, PR 2.0: New Media, New Tools, New Audiences, helps communications professionals to understand the exciting changes that are occurring in the PR industry, and how using social media tools we can build better relationships.

Your most recent book is titled PR 2.0: New Media, New Tools, New Audiences.  What are some of the key differences between PR 1.0 and PR 2.0?

There are so many key differences between PR 1.0 and PR 2.0.  To start, PR 1.0 was a time of web functionality.  PR professionals were able to use the Internet to produce better research, build stronger relationships with third party endorsers including the media and use the Web to get their news releases distributed more efficiently and in a timely manner.  During that time, new and improved services were born so that professionals could access incredible information and market research that helped them produce targeted communications and PR campaigns with greater coverage.  The functionality of the PR 1.0 made PR professionals feel comfortable and successful in their communications.

However, today, through Web 2.0 applications and social media tools, we have a new PR approach labeled PR 2.0.  PR 2.0 is an exciting time for PR people.  Yet, it poses many challenges.  Suddenly, PR people are feeling a little less comfortable with social media tools, which allow companies to speak directly to markets.  They can reach out to their customers, engage in conversations and even hear what their customers are saying to each other.  In many instances, PR people and their brands no longer have to go through traditional third party influencers such as the media.  Instead there are new influencers including bloggers and customers themselves who are sharing information in web communities.  For so long, communications professionals controlled the brand message and in PR 2.0, you can no longer control what’s being said and by whom.  The best part about PR 2.0 is that it allows companies to listen carefully and engage in meaningful conversations with stakeholders.  Although very different, I believe that the convergence of PR 1.0 and PR 2.0 will lead to the best communication and stronger relationships for brands.

How do PR agencies have to change their strategies and methods of execution to be successful in this PR 2.0 world?

It’s a whole new manner of thinking for PR people.  Of course, we know that there are traditional PR practices to reach media and analysts that will still be a part of how we roll out with our product launches and campaigns.  However, we have to open up our frame of reference to learn a new process of relationship building.  When it comes to PR 2.0, communications professionals can’t really think about messages, audiences and the “pitch” anymore.  That’s not the way to reach people in web communities.  Everyone is different, and they all want to gather, organize and share information in a meaningful way.  First and foremost, when you interact through social media you take off your marketing hat, whether it’s communications with A-List bloggers, customers or citizen journalists.  You are peers who are engaging in dialog to share valuable information.  The strategy is no longer the broadcast message, but really tailored information to help someone make an informed decision.

The process has even changed from how we observe communities to the new rules of breaking news.  This new process includes how you have to be respectful of interactions with bloggers.  Now, you have to think about blogger relations, similar to how you handled media relations of the past.  There are so many different considerations in the PR 2.0 realm, from the way you form relationships to the social media tools that you select to reach people.  In PR 2.0 you are not marketing to them or speaking at them, rather you are talking with them and sharing the information that they need.

Part of PR 2.0 is utilizing social media/internet press releases.  What do you see as being the benefits of using social media press releases as compared to traditional press releases?

The Social Media Release (SMR) is a valuable tool that allows journalists and bloggers to build their stories quickly and with more resources.   However, the SRM is also a direct to consumer tool that helps people who are interested in your product or services to make informed decision or purchase.  The SMR is very interactive and depending on the template allows companies to really tell their story in a meaningful and compelling way through video, podcasts, outside links and resources, bookmarking, etc.  They are free from the BS, hype, jargon and canned quotes of traditional news releases.  I think that the information in the SMR is better organized to provide more interactive material and resources than a traditional release.  The SMR is a great tool and the templates will continue to improve to provide a company’s stakeholders with valuable information more quickly and efficiently, much more than the traditional news release of the past.

You are someone who is active on various social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. There have been plenty of articles written about the zap on productivity that is caused by social networks.  However, a lot of people I talk to in PR can’t say enough about the benefits of these networks.  What benefit would you say these networks have for a company or business professional that isn’t actively using them?

There are tremendous benefits to using social networks.  I would never look at Facebook, Twitter, MyRagan, PitchEngine or any other one of my social networks as something that zaps productivity.  On the contrary, if anything, these networks lead to incredible first hand research, excellent conversations that allow you to make decisions personally and professionally, business opportunities including leads, real world networking (where you actually meet your followers or friends offline) and connections to like-minded people who you would never have the opportunity to speak with before.

Businesses especially can benefit from the market research that is available on social networks, so that they can place the feedback whether positive or negative back into product development.  The ability to be a part of the conversation and to interact first hand is tremendously important. After all markets are conversations and in order to truly know what customers are saying, you have to participate or at least observe those conversations.

You are currently writing a new book.  Can you provide some information about it including title, release date and what it’ll be about?

I’m very excited about the new book.  Although I can’t release the title quite yet, it’s going to dig deeper into the area of PR 2.0 and social media.  Communications professionals will benefit from this book as they learn that web communities are small societies in and of themselves, based on culture and rules of engagement. Suddenly PR people need to be more understanding and focused on the social sciences.  The book also discusses many changes in PR and the customer service processes, including how to handle the socialization of communication and service.   There are so many exciting topics, including how to best use micromedia and what’s the approach for breaking news when you’re dealing with bloggers.  There are also many challenges brought to the surface with discussion and examples to provide PR people with information allowing them to become PR champions for their companies.  I believe that my book highlights topics that will ultimately advance the PR industry, so that, once again, it is recognized as a valuable resource within any organization.

Deirdre Breakenridge has been involved in marketing in public relations for 20 years.  Deirdre is currently President and Director of Communications at PFS Marketwyse, a traditional and new media marketing and public relations firm located in Totowa, New Jersey.  Besides her responsibilities at PFS, Deirdre is an adjunct professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, New Jersey.  She is an instructor for the University’s GBM program and  she focuses on teaching undergraduate students the latest real world business strategies in PR and interactive marketing.

Deirdre has also been an author for Pearson Education since 1999.  During that time she has published three books and is currently working on a fourth title, which is due out in early 2009.  When not busy at PFS, teaching or writing, Deirdre also spends a great deal of time speaking to different groups on the topic of PR, PR 2.0, social media, branding and interactive marketing.

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Want Press? Check Your Inbox

27 08 2008

Are you an expert at something?  We all are, right?  Have you ever wondered how you could be that expert that’s featured in various news stories across the country?  Some choose to start a blog to showcase this expertise.  But, what if you could have a list of queries from reporters emailed to you every day which you could skim though and pick ones that are in your expertise to respond to?  Sound too good to be true?  Well, it’s real and available to you for free!

The service I’m talking about is called Help A Reporter Out which is the creation of Peter Shankman, founder and CEO of The Geek Factory, Inc., a marketing and PR agency in New York City.  The service is free and only takes a few seconds to sign up for.  After signing up and confirming your email address you will begin to receive up to three emails per day with a list of stories which reporters are seeking help on.  The only rule of the service is that you only respond to the journalist query if and only if you think that you can really help that reporter out.

About a month ago I had read about the service from Tiffany Monhollon.  I found it interesting but quickly forgot about it with a rush of pressing tasks that needed to get done.  A few days ago I remembered that I wanted to check it out and decided to sign up.  A couple hours later I received my first email query.  I anxiously scrolled through to see what this was going to be like.  Guess what?  I found a story to respond to!  I emailed the reporter, set up a time to talk the following day and viola….she is going to use some of that conversation in her article. 🙂

Everyone won’t have the same initial experience that I did of course but I encourage you to sign up.  This is a great way to help you gain some traditional media exposure and further develop yourself as an expert in your field!

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