Photo credit: Pete O’Shea
One of our clients shared a new and exciting technology development with us the other day. Following some brainstorming and strategy discussion with my internal agency account team, I was eagerly ready to hit the ground running and pitch our target media.
“I just need to pick up the phone, call this editor, and he will love it right off the bat. No problem,” I thought to myself. My internal, impatient dialogue with myself dictated that a phone pitch would be best. In this digital world, everyone always talks about the art of picking up the phone to connect. Yes, definitely.
I had to slow myself down and carefully reconsider. Most PR industry best practices dictate that media most often prefer pitches and press releases via email. Unless one has an enormously huge and exclusive bit of news (nota bene: major industry titan filing for bankruptcy, doctor finds cure for cancer, the President of the United States is delivering the State of the Union), have an established form of communication over the phone with a specific journalist, or a writer has explicitly asked you to call them, I personally usually go the route of the email to start with.
Despite my excitement to just take this current bit of client news right to the media as fast as possible via phone, I knew it would be best to organize my thoughts and this client news into written format in an email.
- You have to be organized: Email pitches offer you the opportunity to organize your thoughts and ideas. You can clearly delineate the ‘who, what, why, where and how’ when you can review and edit as much as needed, which is particularly important in our complex world of health IT and B2B.
- You can get creative: You can get creative with email pitching. You can tell a story. A well written, creative pitch read aloud can come off as too “sales-y” when spoken. When read in an email, it translates more naturally. It’s obvious that you have taken the time to craft a good pitch and it makes sense in email form.
- You must be prepared: Email also grants you confidence. We’ve all had that pitch that flusters us once we have the ear of a journalist. Perhaps it’s a confusing bit of medical technology, or there are a lot of last names involved that can be easily mispronounced. Email gives you the platform to get straight to the point, no flustering or embarrassment needed if you accidentally misspeak (remember, we are human and it does happen, and it seems we’re always “on the record”).
- Be of help to the media: Well written email pitches enable media to digest the news or idea and understand. Then they can ask questions and be ready to further discuss via a phone call.
My point in all of this is that the written word and the skill of effectively communicating via writing will never go out of style in the practice of public relations. We are first and foremost communicators, and skillful writing is an undeniable necessity for us to be successful in landing our clients in the media. Don’t get me wrong, verbal communication skills are paramount as well, but written skills will forever reign supreme as a basic foundation skill that will help you your entire career in this business.
Interviewing is not easy, and the job hunt landscape can be tough to maneuver. Below are a few tips to help you best capitalize on the limited time you have as a candidate to convince someone to hire you.
- Lack of passion/definitiveness for career choice doesn’t look good. Even if you don’t have your heart 110% set on a certain realm of PR or subject matter, don’t be so forthcoming about it. I know it sounds deceptive, but with an eloquent and well thought-out answer to the question “why PR?” you cannot (and shouldn’t) be faulted for not screaming from the mountaintop: “I will only work in healthcare PR! I love it so much!” PR offers a wide variety of opportunities and subject matters. No one can fault you for diving into fashion PR and then realizing it’s not a good fit for you. Get experience and find out what fits you best. That takes time. But while figuring out that passion, craft a solid response for when you are asked about your career choice and goals.
- Assuming you got the job. This personally just rubs me the wrong way. I received a thank you email from a candidate once saying “I look forward to working with you.” Hold the phone. Did you mean “I look forward to the opportunity to work together?” No matter how well you think the job interview went, you didn’t land it until an offer letter is in-hand.
- Lack of eye contact and confidence. PR success tends to favor those with confidence. If you don’t have what it takes to be forthright and confident in your delivery during an interview, what would lead me to believe you would be in the position?
- Ask questions. I love it when candidates ask prepared questions peppered with spontaneous ones related to the conversations during the interview. Asking both types of questions shows you’re prepared and able to think on the fly.
- Be organized with your work samples. I interviewed a candidate that produced his writing and media placement samples in a haphazard and messy fashion sprawled out on the conference table. I didn’t know where to look. I bluntly asked the candidate about his organizational skills as I was skeptical. Get a nice folder for you resume and samples. Clip papers in a binder if that’s necessary to keep you organized when sharing your work.
As always, I’d love to hear your best practices and tips for a great interview. There’s always more to learn. Hope these tips are helpful! Thanks to my colleagues Sourav, Kate and Brittny for their input on these tips as well.
I was a bit taken aback by David Spark’s post on PR Daily today, titled ‘Why faux friendliness gets emails deleted.’ David suggests cutting the sugarcoating out of your email correspondence. No “I hope the week is going well.” No generic “love your blog and all of the great social media marketing tools that you share.”
I find David’s suggestions in general a bit curt. I have no issues with starting an email with “I hope this finds you well.” That is in no way me trying to be your best buddy. Rather, I’m trying to extend common courtesy.
What we should learn from David’s post is the skill of personalizing and targeting individual email outreach.
- If you actually read (which you should always do) and liked one of the reporter’s latest articles, say it. What harm does it do if you specify why you liked it, and how your pitch fits because of what you liked? We all know the best practice of reading the work of who we’re pitching. Who doesn’t like hearing that the pitcher also happened to like it for legitimate reasons and why that fits our reasoning for being in touch?
- PR is about relationship building. While it’s important to get to the point and be as succinct as possible, I’m a fan of warmth and friendly inflection. More often I find myself referring to and connecting most often with those I know have a pleasant personality. Robotic communication just leaves something to be desired in my opinion (and I’m not saying David suggests such a thing).
- For the love of all the PR gods – do not mass email!
- An apology is fine, but you should mean it. I honestly am sorry to pester people, and I say so when I send a follow-up email. I don’t like to be pestered, but sometimes need a reminder or a poke here and there. Just don’t use it ad nauseam, especially where there’s really no need.
David ends with calling faux engagement a hideous, obnoxious trend. He also calls any of us who send what he deems “faux,” a-holes. David has a lot of cordiality and empathy, doesn’t he? My two cents: The definition of faux is in the eye of the beholder. Be polite, courteous, considerate, genuine and targeted in all correspondence. It shouldn’t take a post like David’s or mine to teach you that.
I started my public relations career at an agency. I did all of my college internships at agencies, except for one. I’m currently working – guess where – at an agency. Perhaps I could call myself a glutton for punishment. What do you think? :)
I can’t speak otherwise because I have yet to garner in-house/corporate experience, so please do take everything in this post with that understanding.
As I’m acclimating to my new position with KNB Communications specializing in healthcare technology, I’m looking back on the variety of experience that I’ve gained through all of my previous positions, and how I can apply that experience here. One question that keeps popping up in my head, and probably always will, begs: Is it better to work for a multitude of different clientele in different industries, or is it better to focus on a single subject matter in the agency world?
I asked this on Twitter and got responses from some friends:
After giving it some thought, I can definitively say for myself, one is not better than the other. Rich said it well: “Both have benefits.” Just as some work cultures are a better fit for some, the same goes for a varied client base vs. focused industry specialty.
Here are a few pros and cons I came up with if you just so happen to be grappling with this same topic. Would love your thoughts as well!
Variety of clients
- Almost always busy, day flies by
- You can delve into a number of different subject matters creating connections across many media and potential client/new business platforms
- If one client subject matter doesn’t thrill you, you can always take a break with it and switch to another client for a fresh topic
- Multitasking is a required art form in PR. Doing it between a variety of client subjects is a skill that very few actually possess
- It’s rare to have the opportunity to work with the same reporters on a regular basis to develop valuable relationships
- Most likely, your colleagues are also “Jacks of all trades,” leaving the team without a point person on the management level that is knowledgeable about every facet of the client’s business – especially if it’s a difficult subject matter such as investor relations, finance, real estate, etc.
Focused Specialty Clients
- You have the ability to learn everything about the client and the industry from A-to-Z, becoming a bit of a subject matter expert
- In becoming a subject matter expert, on-boarding with clients can be streamlined. There’s less of a learning curve
- You can dedicate your time with media outreach to building lasting relationships as you are in touch with these contacts on a daily/weekly basis
- The subject matter can fry your brain. Not only are you just covering one industry or subject, you’re doing it over and over again for different clients.
- If you or a client burns any bridges with target industry media, it’s not fun. If a client backed out of an interview last minute, or you misdirected an email about a reporter to the reporter that says less-than-glowing things, you’re in big trouble (don’t put that kind of thing in an email to begin with…goes without saying)
- Fatigue. I’ll admit that this one has gotten me previously. Similar to one single subject matter frying your brain, you can start to get hungry for variety if you’ve had it previously. Does the saying “the grass is always greener” have a place here? I think so.
Of course, all of the above can be a case-by-case basis. These are simply my experiences to-date. If you were to ask me which I prefer, I honestly couldn’t give an answer. What I can say is that I’m grateful and fortunate to have gathered as much experience as I have at different agencies both that focus on a single subject matter and that have a variety of clientele.