6 pitfalls of email pitching

6 Pitfalls of Email Pitching

Clients often wonder how a PR agency can get reporters to read email pitches. It’s basically a combination of art, science, and alchemy – definitely not for the faint of heart.

When I was the healthcare reporter for the Boston Business journal, I got an average of 300-400 emails per day. In the run up to a major conference, such as JP Morgan or HIMSS, that number could easily reach 500 emails per day. I couldn’t possibly read them all. I deleted more than half, and immediately read about a quarter of them. The rest I saved to read later. Maybe.

4 ways to lose a reporter in 70 characters

The biggest mistake you can make is failing to take advantage of the subject line to quickly convey the value of the company, product, CEO, or scientific advance. Here are a few common types of subject lines that won’t get reporters to read pitches:

  1. Heads up, big news from Health Inc.” –  A lot of companies waste valuable space in a subject line with phrases designed to get reporters’ attention. “Heads up” is really useful only if you are a TV cameraman reviewing video and the President walks into the room. Simply state the news, in the format, “Who is doing what and why.”
  1. Introducing CEO Bob Smith”- A lot of companies write to offer the expertise of their thought leaders, and that’s great. But this doesn’t give me any information about Smith’s areas of expertise, or whether he’ll be a candid, interesting or thought-provoking interview. Give the reporter some insight into your expert’s point of view and, if possible, his or her personality.
  1. Health Inc. tops sales projections for the third year running” – This kind of blatant promotion will immediately be deleted by most reporters. First of all, where’s the story there? Secondly, whose projections are we talking about, the company’s? Reporters need independent numbers.
  1. Health Inc. to revolutionize health care”- Subject lines that are intentionally vague or seek to tease the reporter and pique their interest can backfire. This particular one is too broad and strains credulity. I would probably give it a pass. It may be necessary to keep the news under wraps until, for instance, a reporter agrees to an embargo. But try to give as much detail as possible, so he or she can make an informed decision.

2 ways to lose a reporter once they are on the hook

OK, so you’ve survived the subject line gauntlet, and the reporter has clicked on your email. The next challenge is to get him or her to read the whole pitch, or most of it, and call for an interview. Here are a few Don’ts:

  1. Don’t overload the reporter with background – Keep it simple. A two- to three-line pitch explaining what the news is and why it’s important is best.
  2. Don’t abuse embargoes -Embargoes may be necessary for a variety of reasons – for instance, the news is tied to a JAMA article that has not yet been published. But putting an embargo on news to try to inflate its value may backfire. Reporters are willing to abide by embargoes as long as everyone is on the same playing field with the same rules.

If you can avoid these six pitfalls you will be well on your way to hearing the sweet sound of your phone ringing with reporter interest.

Have you ever fallen prey to one of these pitfalls? Do they ring true? What other pitching best practices have you discovered?

Thought Starters: How A Little Creative Thinking Helped 2 Companies Achieve A Win

Thought Starters: How A Little Creative Thinking Helped 2 Companies Achieve A Win

Creative thinking is the foundation of every good public relations and marketing campaign. When faced with a tough challenge—whether it’s a tired brand that has lost relevance, or a client with limited budget confronting cash-flush competitors—PR pros earn their keep whiteboarding creative, cost-effective solutions.

Sometimes the solution is as obvious as publicizing new, tantalizing research. Other times, some down-and-dirty guerilla marketing is required to hijack a competitor’s campaign. The tactics have to fit the situation. Above all, they must deliver results, or back to the drawing board we go.

In this post, I take a look two smart, creative solutions to common problems in marketing.  These examples don’t come from healthcare. But the winning strategies they used are applicable to any industry.

When in need of inspiration, be ready to borrow good ideas wherever you find them.

A Fresh Look at an Old Problem

The first example is of a company that needed help regaining a foothold in the IT security industry. In 2014, Juniper Networks was losing business to newer entrants in the market, at a time when most businesses felt IT security was just another box to check. Juniper and their PR advisors launched a campaign to regain their foothold in the sector.

Called “Introducing Hackonomics,” the campaign hinged on a report conducted by RAND (sponsored by Juniper) about the hidden economy of the hacker universe.  Juniper wanted to take a fresh look at hackers to reveal the motivations and operations of the hacking community. The result was a first-of-its kind economic analysis of the cyber black market and the impact it had on targeted businesses.

Juniper built an integrated campaign that leveraged PR, marketing, government relations, sales and digital and social media.  Tactics included webinars, a new website dedicated to the campaign, online ads and social media initiatives. Juniper briefed policymakers, made the report freely available in 10 languages, and distributed it across RAND’s customer base.

Here are two of the most creative elements of the campaign:

  • Juniper illustrated the complexity of the hacker market by drawing the comparison to a thriving metropolis, highlighting its interconnectedness. An interactive presentation enabled viewers to see the hierarchical job functions, businesses, schools and even law enforcement roles held by active members of the cyber black market.
  • An interactive timeline highlighting notable milestones and hacks over the years was shared with the cybersecurity community ahead of the report’s release to encourage conversation. Brilliantly, Juniper intentionally left key milestones off the timeline, which encouraged community members to contribute their own milestones and share the history of security hacks more broadly among their contacts.

According to Juniper, the campaign nearly doubled its share of voice over a three-month period thanks to 17,000 blog views, 1,250 executive summary downloads, and over 300 global articles, including feature placements in newswires, as well as the Financial Times, Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal and The Daily Telegraph (UK).

Hijacking the Super Bowl

The second cool PR campaign is one of the most creative and effective uses of a limited budget that I’ve seen. In 2015, Volvo was preparing to launch a new, updated version of its XC car amid slumping sales and stiff competition from larger, more popular brands like Mercedes Benz, BMW and Lexus.

Looking for ways to tap into an affluent, millennial audience, Volvo hit on the upcoming Super Bowl, whose audience fit the mold. But the carmaker’s budget for the product launch was enough for only about one-third of one second of Super Bowl airtime.

Their solution is a textbook example of hijacking – the “Volvo Interception” campaign.

While their competitors lined up to buy multi-million dollar ads for the big game, Volvo began using its social channels, other ad buys, and traditional media relations to spread the word about its campaign.

The idea was simple: Every time a competitor’s ad was broadcast during the Super Bowl, viewers using the hashtag #VolvoContest on Twitter could nominate someone to win a one of 5 new Volvo XC60s.

It worked brilliantly. The Interception campaign drove 70 percent year-over-year sales increase for the XC60. That was the highest February boost in the car’s history. The hashtag was tweeted over 55,000 times, more than any other auto-related hashtag.

The Interception campaign achieved great results by capitalizing on other brands, effectively stealing their attention and breaking through the noisiest media day of the year.

Creativity Trumps Relationships

You’ve heard it before: PR is all about relationships.  It’s a tired phrase but still true. Success hinges on having a solid working relationship with key journalists, analysts and influencers.

But even more important than relationships is the ability to craft a creative pitch or campaign from a hodgepodge of information about your client – their market position and history, competitive differentiators, target audience, audience influencers, budget, and a million other factors.

As the Juniper and Volvo examples show, creativity trumps relationships, and in many cases can even overcome extremely limited budgets.

The examples also illustrate the power of integrated campaigns.  Combining social media, traditional media relations, marketing and advertising can exponentially magnify the impact of a good idea.

What great ideas in marketing or PR have you seen?

Five Big Changes in Media Relations and How HIT Organizations Can Adapt

Five Big Changes in Media Relations and How HIT Organizations Can Adapt

A recent webinar sponsored by Cision explored several changes in media relations over the last few years and offered tips on steps healthcare IT (HIT) organizations should take to prosper in this new reality.

The webinar was led by Michael Smart, a PR pro who says he has trained more than 7,000 communicators in his career, and is based on a white paper he wrote. Smart notes that, in his own observations, he’s seen far too many organizations chase the “Holy Grail” of coverage in the New York Times or Wall Street Journal to the detriment of smaller, lesser-known publications that in some cases could deliver even more value to clients.

Refreshingly, Smart also offered among the sharpest denunciations I’ve come across of the corporate scourge known as multi-tasking, stating, “I hate multitasking. It’s this thing we were all excited about 10 years ago until we realized it’s awful, much like kale. I seriously think it destroys potential and it’s killing a lot of PR pros, and so I’m on a mission to defeat it.”

Amen, though I will admit to enjoying kale in the proper context. To Smart’s comments, I’d like to add my own sarcastic slogan for multitasking, to be emblazoned across inspirational posters hung above the busy cubicles of America: “Multitasking: Why do one thing well when you can simultaneously do 10 things poorly?”

While many of the changes in media relations that Smart describes will be familiar to PR veterans, a refresher never hurts. In that spirit, I attended the hour-long webinar and condensed the five key points down into this quick, bite-sized summary.

  • Expand your definition of the “media” in “media relations” to include any third-party trusted by your audiences: In other words, explore nontraditional outlets that may be easier to work with and have similar reach and credibility to the old guard. This can include well-known and widely read sites like Vox that have only been around for a few years, or even corporate blogs. The key is simply whether the site has earned your desired audience’s trust. How do you know which of these sites are worth pursuing? Start by using SimilarWeb to research site traffic and use Moz to examine domain authority.
  • Journalists’ incentives have changed. They must increasingly focus on web traffic: Again, no shocker here for anyone who’s been paying attention. But this new reality opens up new possibilities for HIT organizations. Smart suggests that journalists will be more receptive to your pitches if you can show you’ll be able to distribute their content to a wider audience yourself, ideally by leveraging a social account with a lot of followers or an email newsletter, for example.
  • Get noticed before you pitch: All experienced marketers know that journalists will be more receptive to their pitches if they’ve been able to previously establish solid working relationships with those journalists. But Smart offers good advice for establishing those relationships, which are especially important given that there are four PR pros for every professional journalist in the U.S. and U.K., according to statistics he cited during the webinar. He suggests developing a key list of 10 influencers, and then devoting 10 minutes per day to reading content they’ve produced, and when appropriate, reacting to the content with a compliment or a few kind words. He touts this as a simple daily task to “dramatically” increase your response rate. A private Twitter list is a great way to keep up-to-date with content from your top influencers.
  • Faux customization often fails: Specific and sincere customization can help you stand out. Smart warns to avoid beginning pitches with broad, non-personalized statements. As supporting evidence for journalists’ frustration with this approach, Smart cites data from Cision’s 2017 State of the Media Report. When asked to improve the situation, journalists’ two most frequently cited pieces of advice were, first, to research and understand the media outlets they’re pitching, and second, to tailor their pitches to suit those outlets.
  • Journalists don’t have time to do the legwork anymore: Reporters are always on deadline. They don’t have as much time as they once did to research sources or story ideas and they have an “insatiable need for visuals,” which can often be hard to acquire, according to Smart. The big change here is how much of this unglamorous legwork journalists will let HIT organizations do for them once they’ve proven to be trustworthy and credible, Smart says.

No doubt the practice of media relations will continue to change just as quickly as the media ecosystem itself does. But HIT organizations looking to keep pace with this evolution would do well to try implementing some of Smart’s advice. Smarter, more targeted pitching could help free us of our quality-killing, attention-sapping multitasking obsession.