Six Ways to Get Media Coverage

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As the editor of an outdoor sports monthly magazine – The Outpost – I receive dozens of pitches for media coverage each week. Whether they concern new products, new hunting or fishing shows or (much more commonly) “the most interesting hunting experience anyone has ever had” pitches, I can count on several pitches to be waiting in my email in-box every day.

I am also a content developer and communications specialist for Prejean Creative. This means I have the opportunity to execute content-based marketing programs for our clients which include pitching media outlets for earned media to help leverage this content.

As you can see, in my job (s) I jump from one side of the media desk to the other. When I put on my editor’s hat, I’m deciding whether a story is worth our reader’s time. But when I have on my communications advisor/content developer hat (it’s a little black beret, by the way), I focus on getting our client’s story everywhere their customers might be – including the 10 p.m. TV newscast.

media_coverage_02I’ve been doing this kind of work since I went to work for my little hometown radio station. Okay, I was in high school and we didn’t get a lot of real news there, but I still thought of myself as “the media!” So, I’ve been either pitching or deflecting media pitches forever!

In spite of all the new media tools available to reach your audience – social networks, blogs, video blogs, digital newsletters and magazines – generating traditional media such as newspaper and television coverage for your business or that of your client is still an important part of engaging with existing or potential customers. The marketing theory at work here is: if you engage them, they might actually buy something from you.

Six Ways to Garner Media Coverage
In the years I have been in this line of work, I’ve noticed that there is a right way and a wrong way to do this. (See, your mama was right!) In fact, if you have been tasked with managing your company’s public relations, content development, media relations or anything approaching this dark art, there are at least six things that you should keep in mind.

media_coverage_03If you’re mindful of these six things, you will still not get that story about the kitten who came into your store, hopped up on the cash register and rang up a sale on the front page of the daily newspaper. You will, however, have a better shot of getting real news about your company in front of potential customers, and, if you plan it correctly, they might even start following your company on social networks and sign up for your newsletter. In other words, a good content plan, which is based on good stories and good writing, will help you engage customers.

Make Sure It’s News
This brings us to the first law of media solicitation. Make sure your story is actually news. Every editor believes she’s over-worked and under-compensated and in most cases, she is. The last thing an editor wants to see or hear, first thing in the morning, is an unsolicited story pitch that’s silly, cute or so self-serving it’s nauseating. Don’t be that person.

Editors don’t care about helping you promote your business. They expect you to pay money to their ad sales people for that. Minor changes in staff size or adding a new product to your offerings may not be newsworthy unless they impact your business substantially.

On the other hand, if your CEO has won an award for her philanthropic efforts or your company has won a multi-million dollar defense contract which will allow it to double in size in the coming year, these are real news stories and you should get your facts straight and consider the next step.

Get the Story Angle Correct
Nothing is more infuriating for an editor than getting a pitch from someone who has obviously never read the publication or seen/heard the news program they are pitching. If you’re pitching a magazine, read it before you send the email query. Who are their readers? How old are these readers? Is it gender specific? Do they even cover hard news? Do they run product reviews? Is the subject matter of your story appropriate for them? Why?

media_coverage_04If you get the answers to these questions, it will inform your story’s angle. You will then be prepared when after you email the editor, you follow up with your phone pitch and he asks the inevitable, impatient question: “OK. What d’ya got?” 

Know the Deadlines 
This is the most violated of all media pitching laws. The story may be a monster – full of intrigue, compelling facts and riveting conclusions – but the pitch came after the editor’s deadline and can’t be used. Of course, this drives the editor and the content developer/publicist nuts!

They only stop the presses in movies. The earlier you can get a query in front of a potential media gate-keeper the better. If you’re waiting for some important fact or quote to come in before sending the release, contact the editor, tell him everything you can and ask if it would be acceptable for you to get him the crucial fact as soon as you get it. In most cases, if the story is good, the editor will put together his piece and plug in your last-minute facts.

Every medium has a different deadline. It’s the job of a professional communications specialist to know them all.

Avoid the Tchotchkes – Focus on the Story
Let the story sell itself. Most editors who are worth their salt don’t respond to gimmicks and company paraphernalia. When I receive gifts with a press release, I am immediately suspect of the story.

media_coverage_05The best way to get a story covered is to write a press release or advisory with a compelling, but not bombastic lede paragraph, add 3 to 5 supporting facts and give a brief background on the company. Include a simple email query to the appropriate editor, noting the 2 or 3 reasons why this story should warrant her attention and ask if she would rather you call, text or email for a follow-up.

Get to Know the Editors
If it is possible, arrange for a time when you can have a cup of coffee with the news directors or assignments editors for the media you are hoping to interest in stories about your company. It doesn’t have to take more than an hour and it doesn’t have to be at a fancy restaurant. You should also avoid any direct pitch during this first meeting.

Coffee and conversation about your company and what they are looking for in stories should be the only objectives of this meeting. If it’s not possible to get a face-to-face meeting, try using Skype or the old fashioned phone call to get to know these editors and what their objectives are.

Integrate Your Content over All Media
If you’re still using a press release as your only tool for generating media coverage, you’ve been watching too many episodes of Mad Men. There have been many changes in the way content marketing is used in an integrated communications strategy and you should be using them to build customer engagement. In fact the very term “content marketing” is misunderstood by many marketing/public relations practitioners.

Compelling, knowledgeable content, which is packed with facts, quotes and video, when properly deployed, can yield impressive results for customer engagement. It can also lead to additional media coverage. Here’s an example. A highly specialized medical practice hired me to write a series of blogs which are posted every week and tied to a topic that is trending on the popular search engines. My task (and it’s not a simple one) is to tie the trending topic to the search engine keywords and services of the medical practice.

By using appropriate links and tags and by scrupulously choosing a highly trending topic, this “smart content” blog has resulted in a substantial increase in traffic to the practice’s website. We have also aggressively posted links to this blog on their social media which has resulted in even more readership.

Interestingly, it has also resulted in the coverage by the local media in this Top 10 U.S. market. In several cases, the blog post was used as a tool to solicit local and regional television, radio and daily newspaper coverage. Plus, when this story appeared in other media, we produced follow-up blogs which featured the video/audio/print clips from this coverage. Now, the medical editors of the traditional media in this city get RSS feeds of every blog we post.

And Finally…
Make it easy on the poor editors. They know you have a job to do, which is to promote the company you work for, but they have one, too. If you consistently give them real news, written in a professional and concise manner, you will become a valuable resource for them. If you give them hyperbole with no news value, you won’t.

The best advice is to really think it through before the pitch queries start flying out of your laptop. Know their audience and your objectives. With a good pitch and some luck, you might even get that kitten at the cash register story covered.

If you have questions about content marketing or public relations, give us a shout.

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How Economic Theory Can Affect Your Next Campaign

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Consumers tend to make up their minds about products and services based on the last thing they heard about them. If you think this is too simplistic or you’re dubious, please take a minute and Google “Daniel Kahneman” or just click on this link. This search will likely lead you to his theory of “availability heuristic” and this might encourage you rethink what you are absolutely certain is true.

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Aside from being a tongue-twister, availability heuristic can be broadly defined as making a decision or leaping to a conclusion based upon the most immediately recalled memory related to that idea. Dr. Kahneman, who won the Nobel Prize for Economic Science in 2002 and wrote his bestselling book Thinking Fast and Slow  in 2011, is the world’s leading expert on the psychology of judgment. His concept of availability heuristic is one of several cognitive ways we humans make mistakes based on bias.

How about an example of this pesky but all-too-human tendency? Someone might say people who drive red cars get more tickets because the person making the statement has a buddy who has a red car and gets lots of tickets. There is no data supporting this theory of red cars = more tickets and the reality is the buddy likes to drive fast and therefore gets tickets because of this. A conclusion was leapt, and unfortunately, this type of leaping happens every day at the grocery story, the car dealership, the voter’s booth and every other venue where human judgment is tested for accuracy.

Why Should You Care?
If you’re someone who’s involved in marketing, advertising, promotion or public relations, the fact that consumers are making up their minds on products, services and even elected officials based on whatever rises to the top of their consciousness – whether it’s true or not – should give you pause. At the very least, those of us who are in the business of telling compelling stories about our products should be thinking long and hard about the way in which we’re telling these stories.

If the concept of the available heuristic is valid (and it seems to be), how do we ensure our message stays top of mind? Our jobs as designers, copywriters, web developers, bloggers, marketing executives and every other link in the marketing food chain must be to apply the best possible strategic thinking and tactics towards shifting a consumer’s memory and helping him/her avoid an inaccurate judgmental bias.

economic_theory_quotes2This requires us to make our ideas, and those of our clients, come alive. Boring facts delivered by a talking head – especially a talking head which is screaming about the latest discount offer for a commodity – will not rise to the level necessary to overcome most of the biases of the vast majority of consumers. Real stories, told in an elegant manner will trigger emotional responses which, over time, will become memorable and lead to a better return on investment in advertising and design.

Another important factor in overcoming the availability heuristic involves having a way to measure the acceptability of the product or service in the minds of potential customers and to ascertain when our message is (or is not) moving the sales needle. Many of us who are involved in the creative process chafe at what we feel is the unending process of comparing metrics – before and after our brilliant campaigns have been launched. However, with no pre- and post-marketing analysis we are just hoping our words and pictures are making an impression on the customer’s attitude. So, even if we’re successful, we don’t know why.

What’s It Going to Take?
Decision-making is a fascinating aspect of economic theory. We can’t always overcome the availability heuristic and other human biases. However, we can be conscious of their existence and develop honest, compelling stories which take them into consideration.

This demands that we create smart messaging – great stories – within a magnetic, consistent design and that we have a way to honestly measure its effectiveness. Without it, predicting the consumer’s decision nothing more than a crap-shoot.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Wonders of Facebook

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Facebook users may think their newsfeeds contain nothing more than teens posting selfies, music fans posting cliché lyrics, students ranting about school, or an array of complaints about how horrible Louisiana drivers are. However, a recent personal experience has convinced me this is wrong.

Oh, sure, there was a time when teens and young adults ruled Facebook, but like every great trend, moms, dads and grandmas decided to hop on the Facebook bandwagon. Businesses and marketers soon realized that Facebook is an efficient social networking device. So many target markets and audiences are present and soaking up every minute and every word posted on their newsfeeds.

Marketers and businesses are faced with a tougher task than personal posters when it comes to Facebook posts. They must be sure that every word contributes to the message of what they wish to convey to their audience. They aren’t just posting about what they ate for breakfast. Also, they must be sure to proofread. Businesses with Facebook profiles have turned something so common and routine (i.e. personal profiles) into something that can potentially gain or lose customers.

My Experience
I was able to get a glimpse of the magic of reaching target audiences through Facebook when I was assigned the task of gaining recognition for the Southern Garden Festival. I thought to myself, Facebook posts? No problem; I post at least three a week on my own personal Facebook. However, I did not realize the weight that each word has when you are an administrator for a page and you are not actually posting personally.

Unlike blog posts and personal Facebook posts, copy posted on businesses or organizations’ pages must be short and sweet. It is important that the audience is able to understand the message being conveyed in a short amount of time.

1461627_10152278424631702_3264342206373508477_nThe Southern Garden Festival is an event produced every year in the gardens of Harold and Sarah Schoeffler. The festival benefits a local non-profit organization, Family Promise of Acadiana.

The target audience for this event, horticulture aficionados and art lovers with giving hearts, took to Facebook fairly quickly with fervor.

The posts on the Family Promise Facebook page covered the musicians, the artists and exhibitors, and also the events of the Southern Garden Festival. There were several posts included on the Family Promise Facebook page each week.

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As posts grew more prominent and were posted more regularly, Family Promise views and likes increased substantially. In the end, page likes increase by about 30 percent. The audience became more engaged with the Family Promise page, sharing and commenting on posts.

Covering all the bases of the Southern Garden Festival and giving little teasers beforehand helped get the audience invested in the event and the cause.

What have I learned?
From my experience with the Family Promise Facebook posts, I have learned that it is important to gain interest of the target audience by relating the posts to them. High quality photos that go along with the post also help do the trick. One is never too old for picture books.988435_10152278390681702_8638517945918688120_n

I had the opportunity to attend the Friday night event of the Southern Garden Festival, an Evening Under the Stars, and I was greatly surprised by the large number of people in attendance. It crossed my mind that perhaps our Facebook posts had something to do with this.

Facebook was an important part of the tactics used to increase recognition for the Southern Garden Festival. Alongside social media; newspaper advertisements, email campaigns, PSAs and event calendars also aided in reaching the audience.

970703_10152278396021702_5412790697746644380_nI’m not sure if it was solely social media that brought the guests in attendance to the gardens of the Southern Garden Festival, but I do know that Facebook has made an impact on the people who visit the Family Promise Facebook page. They have become invested in the Family Promise cause.

 

 

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons Sean MacEntee

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Getting a Handle on Habits

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Finally! The resolutionaries have retreated back to their couch-potato, carbohydrate-consuming and slovenly ways. It usually happens on or before the Ides of March or at the very latest, April Fool’s Day, every year. They wake up one day and mumble something like: “What the heck was I thinking? I can’t keep doing this! This is crazy!”

You probably know a resolutionary or two. For that matter, you might be one.

They are those well-meaning people who while basking in the glow of that last glass of champagne early on New Year’s Day RESOLVE to change any number of their deleterious ways. They really, really mean to try and do better in the coming year, but somehow they never do.

Automatic Behavior
This predictable turn of events informs a subject which has perplexed mankind and kind women for centuries. The subject is, of course, habits. How do they get started? If it is a bad habit, how does one stop it? If it’s a good habit, how does one start more of them?

In his fascinating book, “The Power of Habit,” business writer Charles Duhigg, explains this phenomenon. As is the usual case with the human condition, it all starts in the brain.

power of habitNeuroscientists trace our habit-making behavior to a part of the brain called the “basal ganglia,” which also plays a key role in the development of emotions, memories and pattern recognition. The much more proactive behavior – making a decision – is made in a completely different part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex.

Here’s a key point. As soon as a behavior becomes automatic – lighting up another cigarette, pounding down a six-pack and a bag of potato chips or any of thousands of other habits – the decision-making part of the brain goes into a sleep mode. It’s on autopilot and the plane is going wherever it wants to go.

Looping the Loop
Duhigg notes that every habit starts with a psychological pattern called a “habit loop” which is a three-part process. First, there’s a trigger which tells the brain to go into automatic mode and allow the behavior to go crazy. Then there’s the routine which is the behavior itself. The third step is the reward. This is something your brain likes and helps it remember the habit loop in the future.

habits_quotes1Do you have any bad habits? No. Me neither. However, for that “friend” who might have a few, you might want to encourage him/her to take a vacation.

Habits thrive in the same old routine, taking place in the same old environment. However, when the routine is removed – such as when one is on a vacation – all of the old triggers and rewards are not there. If you want to stop smoking, try starting this process while on a vacation.

Marketing Habits
Choosing which brand of toothpaste or laundry soap is pretty much habitual. Certainly, this brand loyalty must be earned at the beginning of the consumer/brand relationship. However, after this has been completed, the power of the habit loop works its magic. In many cases, a consumer can’t even articulate what pleasurable experience is being derived from his or her purchasing habits.

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According to Duhigg, the marketing gurus of consumer product behemoth Proctor & Gamble used the power of the habit to turn fabric odor eliminator Febreze into a successful product. When this product was first introduced, it came in only one scent and the company’s advertising pitched it as a way to get rid of bad smells. As it turned out, this was the wrong way to start a buying habit.

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After those first (dismal) sales figures came back to the company, P&G pivoted. That’s when it reformulated Febreze to include different scents.

Duhigg notes, “As soon as they did that, people started using it at the end of their cleaning habits to make things smell as nice as they looked,” he says. “And what they figured out is that people crave a nice smell when everything looks pretty. Now, no consumer would have said that, but companies can figure this out, and that’s how they can make products work.”

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The book also notes how chain stores such as Target zero in on pregnant women because their old habits are dramatically changed by the new little bundle of joy in their lives. All of the routines are jettisoned and “suddenly a marketer can come in and sell you new things.” The analysts at Target regularly amass terabytes of data, often collected at the check-out counter, of individual buying habits. This is cross-referenced with credit cards and this is used to start marketing campaigns.

As a sidebar, the privacy breach of Target customers’ credit cards during last Christmas shopping season suggests a little “tweaking” of their data-gathering might be in order. Perhaps the big data collectors at this retailer should spend as much time and resources on monitoring the security of this information as they do in building shopping histories.

Getting a note from the bank saying that one’s credit and debit cards have been compromised by cyber-thieves is one very effective way to break the habit loop of choosing the same old place for shopping. Target now has the challenge of rebuilding the trust lost by the privacy debacle and taking steps to reconstruct the old shopping habit loops. The science behind habits suggests this will not be easy.

So, what’s the most difficult habit you’ve ever overcome? Post below and make us feel better about ourselves.

 

 

 

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Agency pro bono work pays off, just in a different way.

fpa_01Like all ad agencies, we at Prejean Creative often have the opportunity to apply our skills to any number of pro bono projects. While these efforts don’t bring cash to our bottom line, they give us something that in many ways is much more valuable — a tremendous amount of satisfaction in knowing that our work is having a positive impact in our community. We’ve adopted one particular nonprofit agency on which to focus our pro bono work, Family Promise of Acadiana. Personally, I’ve been a volunteer for the program since my church became a host congregation, and I am now serving as the local organization’s board president. Seeing the need firsthand made the choice to offer our agency services free of charge was an easy one.

Part of a national network, Family Promise of Acadiana is a shelter program that helps homeless families regain and sustain long-term independence. It is the only area shelter program that accepts entire families, including men and teen boys.

1972552_10152278449986702_8752295384948965536_nThis weekend, Family Promise of Acadiana hosts its primary fundraiser, the annual Southern Garden Festival. It’s a weekend full of wide-ranging activities including  an elegant alfresco dinner during Evening Under the Stars, garden tours and expert gardening advice, boat tours along the Vermilion Bayou, eco and conservation information, artist exhibits, live music in the gazebo, and more — whew! — all on four beautiful bayou-side acres at the home of Sarah and Harold Schoeffler.

The fact that the Schoefflers open their home and property to this public event is testament to their lifetime of community service. Talk about pro bono work. What we do as an agency to promote the event pales in comparison.

Like us, though, the Schoefflers do this because they believe in the cause it supports.  Statistics, nationally and locally, may surprise you. Since its beginning in 2004, Family Promise of Acadiana has served 86 area families, including 178 children. The majority of our guests are children, and nearly half of the families were unable to enter another shelter because the family included either an adult or teen male. Other shelters require men and teen boys to be sheltered separately from moms, wives and sisters. So that means a single mother with a teen son, a married couple or a single dad with young children face the choice of being separated or staying together with no place to sleep.

This quote in a thank you letter from a single father who graduated from the program says it better than I can: “There is not a whole lot support for a homeless male with children. When I was stranded while visiting Lafayette, away from my spouse with two of my sons, the barriers to shelter were impassable. Many seemed surprised to find a man in my situation. The best advice I got was to place my kids with friends or family and go to the men’s shelter. A family shelter is a blessing, but Family Promise in its mission to teach us to fish, is divine.”

Many of these families have adults who are employed, but simply cannot find affordable housing. While the local housing market is strong, there is a real lack of housing for people making minimum wage or slightly higher. Divorce is often a factor that puts once-stable families into being homeless. Not only do we put a roof over their heads, but provide social service resources to help them beat the cycle of homelessness and achieve long-term independence.

Through the work of our wonderfully dedicated executive director, Renee Menard,  our board, our network of local church congregations from various denominations, and more than 400 volunteers, Family Promise of Acadiana has helped 86 percent of our guest families graduate into permanent housing, with a 92 percent employment rate. These percentages are significantly above the national average for homeless assistance programs.

All reasons why I give my personal time and our agency devotes its pro bono efforts to this organization. I invite you to find out more by visiting the organization’s website and Facebook page. And, plan a visit to Southern Garden Festival this weekend if you can. It’s a fun event and your support will help keep a homeless family together when their world is falling apart.

 

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