Monday, April 15, 2019

More on the Death of Retail

The economy may chugging along but the retail sector is falling behind.

Way behind. 

As of April, 2019 has seen more store closings (or announcements of store closings) than all of 2018. According to Coresight Research as reported in the New York Times, there have already been 5,994 store closings by April, exceeding the 5,854 stores that closed in all of 2018. The good news: we still have a ways to go to reach 2017's record of store closings of more than 8,000.

There is one bright spot: the number of discount or dollar stores is booming because they are less susceptible than other retailers to e-commerce. (On a recent college tour in upstate New York, one of our team members saw plenty of dollar stores in some of the more rural areas.) 

But total store openings are stalled. There have been 2,641 store openings announced compared with 3,239 openings last year.

As an agency, we don't handle retail clients -- although the head of the agency spent several years supporting a provider of retail technology -- so you may wonder why we're so focused on retail.

We think it's the canary of the economy. There's clearly a shift in how people shop and purchase, and often it's away from bricks-and-mortar stores even as once web-only retailers like Amazon or Warby Parker now open retail locations.

But the trend seems to be more store closings, which leads to shrinking local ad revenues (because shuttered retailers don't take out ads to promote sales), which hurts journalism. In rural area, there's been a decline in local news coverage, according to the Pew Research Center. That's a real problem because that kind of local coverage is unlikely to return.

Behind the somewhat self-interest in the state of journalism, shuttered retail locations means fewer people working, and a potentially emptying out of main street stores and nearby malls. You can see the negative impact even in places like Manhattan's SoHo district, and it makes a difference, not only affecting real estate but communities beyond. A Bloomberg Businessweek article a while back depicted the problems faced by some towns in the UK, where retailers had left, which meant residents had to travel twice as far to buy things. Which meant that new residents are less likely to move there.  And that could cause a further spiraling effect.

None of which is good.

We don't have a solution, and we're not suggesting drastic measures to curtail Amazon and others' market power.

We just think it's an important issue, and one we've been regularly mentioning in this blog for the past several years. We also discuss other topics that impact journalism and PR. 

Monday, April 1, 2019

John Oliver Validates Our Prediction about Robocalls

Back in Feb., we published a blog, 4 New Predictions + 17 Ongoing Trends for 2019 that identified robocalls as "an issue everyone can support. We all get too many robocalls, whether on our cell phones or land lines."

A month later, in March, John Oliver caught up with our prediction.

In fact, he described the situation this way:
"Everybody is annoyed by robocalls. Hatred of them might be the only thing that everyone in American agrees on now."
He then goes into greater detail about why robocalls have gotten more prevalent. And then leads to a hilarious partial least to get the FCC's attention to the matter so that the agency puts in place solutions to address the robocall problem.


Monday, March 25, 2019

7 Tips For An Effective Content Development Program

A new client on a short deadline, recently asked us: "How can we (the client) help you (the agency) to go as fast as possible?"

It's a great question, and this blog will address some best tips based on our years of experience.
  1. Make sure you have a clear idea of what you want. That's not always possible, especially when you're trying something new. Sometimes you have to see an initial draft before being able to realize what you like or don't like. But we've found that the clearer you can be about the goals, intent and the role this initiative is playing in your organization, the better the outcome. That's true even if your initial draft takes you down the wrong path. 
  2. Be decisive and clear when you provide feedback. Again, we know this can be difficult, especially when trying something new. But vague comments like, “I just don’t like it” aren’t helpful because it doesn’t provide enough input about what to correct and why. And second-guessing sends mixed signals and typically results in delays.
  3. Plan for convergence. It's important to develop a cross-channel strategy to reach audiences different ways but it sometimes gets overlooked. To reach different audiences across different channels requires planning at the start. Or else you end up with the next issue.
  4. Be aware of mission creep. This can occur during the edit phase when someone says, "You know what would be great? How about if we did …" Sometimes the additional ask is not a big deal, like can you come up with a caption for the photo we now want to accompany the content. But sometimes, an additional ask reflects a change in priorities, an additional element, and moving the goal posts, and that all adds up, delaying when the project will be ready. And that can require unallocated resources -- at the client and at the agency.
  5. Have a clear process to review/approval process. You need enough people to weigh but too many people offering feedback can lead to problems: such as version control (with executives working off of different versions of the document) or differing priorities. This almost always resulting in time lags, especially if someone has to adjudicate contrary feedback (where one exec loves the second paragraph but another hates it). 
  6. Make sure to involve everyone is involved who should be involved. We've seen projects where different functions are not in the same room, even though the project would benefit from their input. In one case, the social media team wasn't connected to a client's biggest announcement of the year; their posts on announcement day were about an upcoming webinar but nothing about the new product. Lesson learned: make sure to different functions are able to contribute and collaborate. These days, you might need to bring in both your CTO and CMO as well as some of your marketing vendors, who by collaborating, may generate better results. 
  7. Take your time but not too much. Once we hand something in, we're often inpatient for feedback. It's one thing if clients say they'll be able to review the document on Thursday. It can be a real problem if we have to spend our time tracking down approvals. (This is often the case if need to get approval from a third-party, who often has other priorities and may be doing our client a favor.) We can estimate the time it takes to research, write, edit and revise a document. But it's difficult to estimate how long and how much effort it takes to get content approved, which is why this can be an important element to address in advance.

We want to do our best work and to deliver something that meets your goals. Especially at the start of project requiring a quick turn-around, it is important at the start clearly define the goals, expectations, timelines, approval process and what to do if there's a problem.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Wall St. Journal Validates Our Ongoing Prediction that Retail is in Trouble

One of the trends we predicted for 2019 is that there will be increased scrutiny about the state of the U.S. economy, which has become the longest recovery in the country's history.

We don't want to jinx it but we've long looked at two industries going through downward spirals: retail and journalism. And the reason we follow both industries is the belief that they are canaries as being early indicators.

The latest bad news for retail was a report that Dec. 2018 holiday sales was the worst Dec. since 2009. According to the Wall St. Journal, a soft retail market raises new questions about the economy. We've also seen other articles reporting more chains are closing stores or shutting down completely. 

Retail is an important sector because it also effects real estate and other businesses because empty store fronts reduce foot traffic to the area, providing fewer reasons to shop at other stores on the block. This is true in the UK, where the demise of main street (known there as high street) stores in some towns means residents have to drive 30 minutes or more to find things they used to be able to get in town. (Bloomberg Businessweek did a story within the past year or so about the downward spiral affect this has had on the general economic health of smaller towns.) But we've seen this happen in big cities too. (The New York Times did a story last year or two about the decimation of high-end stores in SOHO.)

And since retail is an employee-intensive business, when stores shut down, people are out of jobs. And while unemployment is low, fewer stores means fewer employees who may not be able to land another retail job or transition to a job in another industry. 

Fewer local retail stores means fewer ads in local media. And that leads to the problem with journalism.

Keep in mind, journalism as a product is generally doing well. Americans are paying attention to the news, if only because they're getting hourly news notifications on their phones.

But the business of journalism is suffering. 

People are accessing news on the phones, often not paying for content. They're not subscribing -- paying -- for the news and digital ads generate less money than traditional print ads. So news organizations have to contend with demand for news but generally with fewer subscribers and fewer (and less expensive) ads.

Which is not sustainable. 

The result: "Media Industry Job Cuts Nearly Tripled Last Year," WWD recently reported, noting, "A study from an industry outplacement firm said 2018 was the worst year for media in a decade. This year isn’t shaping up so well already." The article provided some unpleasant facts:
Companies operating in news, broadcast news and publishing, television and film and music cut just under 15,500 jobs last year, an increase of 281 percent over 2017 when 4,060 jobs were cut, making it the worst year for jobs in the industry since 2009, according to a study from industry outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas Inc. In 2009, media companies cut about 22,350 jobs.
And this year may be worse. Already, in Q1 alone, according to WWD, "newspapers and digital media companies like Vice and Buzzfeed have revealed layoffs totaling more than 2,000. In January alone, announced job cuts were already up 49.6 percent compared to the beginning of 2018, according to Challenger Gray."

We've already discussed media layoffs this year.

But we feel that with traditional retail and traditional and digital news outlets suffering, the economy could be in trouble.

By the way, another threat to news organizations and media is that the push in digital advertising is to focus on consumer targeting. Big brands continue to spend a lot of money to reach audiences -- but an increasing share of the money is going to providers of digital tools and data in a shift away from media companies. In other words, ad spends may not be decreasing but the amount being spent directly to media companies is decreasing. The media will have to figure out how to charge and be more effective in reaching and cultivating big brands' customers. If they don't, we will see ad dollars decrease even more.

If you have see some silver linings, let us know.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Bloomberg Businessweek & Davos Validate Concerns About Extreme Weather

On Jan. 3, 2019, we posted something unusual for us: a blog post entitled, "9 Political Trends (Without Getting Political About Them)." Readers of this blog know we write a lot about trends but we're cautious about political implications.

We identified trends and issues such as 

  • The state of the economy -- which is getting a lot of attention. In mid-Feb., the Wall St. Journal has been raising questions about the economy based on a worse-than-expected holiday retail season -- the worst since 2009.
  • Brexit -- a topic that even late night talk shows address when talking to a British celebrity. Including Monty Python Eric Idle, who hasn't lived in the UK for years.
  • Climate control and extreme weather -- number 6 on our list (but in no real particular order), and has been validated by Bloomberg Businessweek in an article entitled "Climate and Cyber Risks Top Concerns Facing the World in 2019." We've also looked at Cybersecurity, and have, for years, identified it as a threat and a trend to be aware of. While we posted our list of ongoing trends late this year, you can see it's an issue we've identified the past several years (thus our designation of it as an ongoing trend).
The Bloomberg Businessweek article, which in the print edition was entitled, "What They're Worried About" referring to members of the World Economic Forum at Davos, also included: 
  • Water supply crisis.
  • Major natural catastrophes.
  • Failed climate change mitigation.
It also listed non-weather risks such as: 
  • Increasing national sentiment. 
  • Increasing polarization of society. 
  • Rising income/wealth disparity.
We did not list any of those last three in any of our various trends -- but we feel those last three are very real and need to be addressed, somehow. Unfortunately, we have no solutions for them or the climate trends.

Monday, March 4, 2019

6 Challenges Facing Local Newspapers

Last year, we talked about "Five Challenges Affecting Local TV News." And last month, we talked about the challenges facing digital media ("BuzzFeed, Gannett, HuffPo All (Unfortunately) Validate Our Prediction About Media Layoffs.") This  week, we will look at problems facing local newspapers.

Unfortunately, there's a lot to talk about.

Last week, a newspaper holding company with an unlikely name, Tronc, provided more evidence that local newspapers are facing tough times.

Tronc stands for Tribune Online Content, and it is the country's third-largest newspaper publisher (behind Gannett and McClatchy) and owns 11 daily newspapers including the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, and the Orlando Sentinel. (In June, Tronc sold off the LA Times for $500M.), And last week, Tronc fired 50 percent of the staff of the New York Daily News and staffers at its other papers due to what its CEO said were because "As a public company, we have a fiduciary obligation to balance the interests of all of our constituents: shareholders, employees, readers and community."

Death by a Thousand Cuts?
An Axios article on the topic quoted The Washington Post's Paul Farhi as noting "the NYDN employed 400 journalists in 1988. After a layoff last year, it will 'have a newsroom staff of just 45, according to people at the paper.'"

It's hard to imagine even the Daily News -- perennially described as "scrappy" -- being able to cover the city that never sleeps with just 45 reporters. Or how the Daily News can survive against the New York Post, its longtime tabloid rival.

A number of journalism experts say problems started before Tronc acquired the Daily News (for only $1 in 2017 -- basically the newsstand cost of a single copy of the paper in 2016 -- along with an assumption of liabilities and 49 percent stake in property where the Daily News' printing plant is located. But things got worse after Tronc's purchase, described as ownership without strategy and that Tronc made (and continues to do so) by "making the product worse while making the public pay more."

Problems Facing Local Newspapers
in Tronc's case, some blame incompetent owners who took on too much debt through acquisitions and consolidation. This is a real concern as media giants are merging (AT&T-Time Warner; Disney-Fox, and Sinclair-Tribune -- the former parent company of what became Tronc), with the possibility that the acquiring companies may be taking on too much debt.

Beyond possibly incompetent owners, the main threats to local newspapers include:
  1. Falling ad rates: The common saying is that publishers are replacing print dollars with digital dimes because online ads generate a fraction of the fees charged for print ads. So even if a newspaper retails the same number of advertisers who purchase the same number of ads, digital ad rates are much lower so newspaper revenue will drop. For example:
    • For example, according to the MinnPost, a nonprofit local news site, "In 2011, newspapers lost about $2.1 billion in print advertising. Meanwhile, their digital advertising grew by about $207 million. In other words, they lost $10 in print ads for every new dollar of digital ad money.
  2. Growing reliance on news aggregators and social media: Quality journalism remains expensive to produce but 67 percent of Americans get at least some of their news from social media, according to a Pew Research study. And growing numbers of us access news via Google News and Apple News, which provide free (or low-paying) access to news reported by a third-party. So even if online readership is up, some outlets are seeing revenue drop. Another problem: readers begin to rely on news aggregators instead of the news sources, making it harder for local newspapers to form strong relationships with their readers. 
  3. Readers of Print newspapers (instead of online news sites) are getting older. The population of readers who rely on the printed paper is getting older while younger generations are more comfortable accessing news online for free. Newspapers need to find a way to make themselves relevant enough so that younger readers will pay for access. While the New York Times and Washington Post have seen a surge in online advertising, those two papers are exceptions because of how they've been covering national political news.
  4. Smaller staffs means smaller papers and less ad space to sell. Do you see where this is going? Cutting back the size of the paper or the frequency of publishing a printed version of the paper means that publishers sell less advertising, so ad revenue continues to drop, which leads to more newsroom layoffs, and a worse product. This is a death cycle for local papers. 
  5. Declining credibility. Right now, the entire journalism sector faces a tough time as credibility of the news is being questioned. But newspapers with smaller staffs won't be able to adequately cover their markets. That means they will be publishing a product offering declining value. Under those conditions, circulation and ad rates generally fall.
  6. No strategy to sustainability. The long-term business model has shifted, and no one yet has found a replacement business model that will return local news to profitability. (The Daily News reportedly lost an average of $30M over the last three years, according to the New York Post, including due to circulation declines.) The one strategy that seems to be working for the Washington Post and the LA Times is to have billionaire owners who see the important of keeping newspapers running, and can afford to do so. But there are only so many billionaires who see the value of keeping local papers around. 
The real problem is that local newspapers serve as a check-and-balance of local government and we need local oversight of government.

Some cities are seeing the rise of nonprofit news sites (like MinnPost) and others. But some are very small operations; and you can't effectively cover a big city with just two reporters/bloggers. (In some cases, these bloggers are not much more than citizen journalists, without real journalism experience.) 

So what's the solution?

In an article entitled, "Who suffers when local news disappears," The Cumbia Journalism Review says, given declining resources, the quality of local papers will decline so much that:
At some point not terribly far in the future, even those of us who believe powerfully in the need for a vibrant local news landscape are going to be hard pressed to make a case that many of these outlets should be saved.
For much of this decade, no one has been able to develop a true workable solution. Readers' relationships with their local papers and with journalism in general has changed. And, as with the coal industry, there's no turning things back to how things used to be. 

Certainly newspapers -- as with all news operations -- need to figure a way to ensure they publish quality journalism, coverage that is credible and compelling, and available across different channels (print, online, text, video, social). But they also must find ways to charge for access. A number of top news sites provide access to a limited number of articles per month, so when readers hit the limit, they may be inclined to subscribe. Right now, readers seem to wait out until the next month.

Sustainable local newspapers is important for journalists and good government. But it's also important for marketers, who need credible vehicles through which to communicate their messages.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Bloomberg Businessweek Says To Reduce Loneliness And Anxiety, Throw A Party

Screen addiction is a real thing, and is something that leads to anxiety and loneliness, and is something we've been writing about for several years now.

We've talked about living in an age of anxiety, and that's not diminishing, unfortunately.

We've recommended that when appropriate, companies should consider emphasizing how they can help reduce stress. (Even B2B companies can consider talking about how they help reduce stress for decision makers.) 

We've also noted the rise of mindfulness and apps to help guide people -- last week, three different people urged us to download the same mindfulness app, and it seemed like a cult. (We tried it but had difficulty with it, and kept urging the narrator to speed things up, feeling like the 10-minute session was taking too long. Clearly we've got work to do.)

Meanwhile, Bloomberg Businessweek has a suggestion: "The World Depends on You Throwing a Party. More connected than ever, we are also lonelier than before. The case for being a host." Key quote from the article:
At the very least, let's agree: The more time we spend with our devices, the more time we need with actual human beings."
Interesting, the article notes, retailers and real estate developers are commissioning designs that turn places into gathering places. For retailers, that's an advantage over online retailers. For developers of commercial buildings, offering "lots of greenery, soft seating and even carefully chosen accents and music," are succeeding in "inviting tenants and guests to interact."

So Bloomberg Businessweek is validating our prediction. But in the interest in helping reduce our readers' stress, we're going to keep this blog short so that you can turn off your device, and start interacting with real humans.

Have fun!

Monday, February 25, 2019

5 Observations About The Importance of Chemistry In Client Relationships

In professional sports, you'll sometimes see a star athlete who was setting all kinds of records get traded or sign with another team -- and then flop.

Same athlete. Same sport. Different team, culture and fans.

And very different results. Star on one team, flop on another -- even if the athlete is healthy.

There are too many examples to cite but it happens every season, in every sport. And this is after scouting reports, tryouts, conversations with the athlete and their agent. And still, fairly often, there's a problem, and the player is traded away or waived.

Chemistry is an important part of why a player will succeed on one team, fail on another. 

Chemistry is also important in client and agency relationships, a lesson I learned early on in the agency business. 
  1. There must be chemistry on the agency team and with the client across the table. At Ketchum, when I was starting out, I asked then-CEO Dave Drobis what was a secret to winning new business. It comes down to chemistry, he told me: Chemistry on the agency side and chemistry across the table. The agency team needs to show that they can work together and they need to show they can work well with the client. Chemistry may even be more important than great ideas, he said, because you can have terrific ideas but be so unpleasant to work with that the client won't hire you. 
  2. Chemistry must be part of the agency culture. These days agencies often have some employees working remotely and others have people in the office but they're sitting at their desks with headphones on, barely interacting with their on-site colleagues. It's more important than ever that team members feel like they're part of something. So it's more important than ever that agencies figure out their culture, how to make working there and for various clients is rewarding, challenging and fun. They need to feel supported and that they have a voice and are valued. (That's true, too, for professional athletes, too.)
  3. Chemistry isn't always about liking someone. In my second PR job, I was hired with one real goal: the EVP at the agency hated getting calls at 4:30 every Friday from a particularly unhappy client. My job: stop the client from calling to complain on Friday afternoons. I came in, figured out how to work with the day-to-day client, and we got great results: a mention on "The Tonight Show," articles in Forbes, Fortune, Businessweek, CNN, Time, Newsweek and other top national media. The client was tough and intimidating, and may not have ever truly warmed to me, but we found a way to work together. After a couple of years, she left the company, and was replaced by a much nicer, easier-going person. The problem: he wasn't a good fit in the client organization, and we couldn't get the info we needed to pitch stories. Without compelling stories the original client was about to identify through her network inside the company, there was a big drop in our results. The day-to-day client contact was the only variable that changed but it was a critical factor in our success. So what we mean by chemistry is more than likability. It can be something more elusive.
  4. Clients who pick lowest price over chemistry may do themselves a disservice. We certainly understand cashflow pressures, and we hate spending client money when we don't have to. But we learned an important from one of our clients, a biotech manufacturer who has a rule to not take on clients whose main criteria is achieving the lowest cost possible. The reason: Saving money can get in the way of accomplishing the program's goal. (Our biotech client can point to situation after situation in which penny-wise-but-pound-foolish clients, asked to cut the wrong corners, which resulted in delays and additional costs.) If everyone's eyes are on the meter, you're always looking for short cuts. 
  5. Good chemistry helps when looking at the big picture. Again, when clients are focused on saving money, they keep different marketing functions operating separately. They think bringing in different vendors for regular meetings just costs money without paying off dividends. We had a client who kept the PR function separate from social media function. When it came time to make the most important product announcement for the next 24 months, we checked out the client's social media feeds only to see there was no mention of the major product upgrade. Turns out the social media team hadn't been briefed and hadn't prepared content about the new version of the company's flagship product. Reporters checking out the client's Twitter feed asked us why what we had called the company's most significant announcement wasn't even reaching their Twitter feed. Contrast that with another client who initially resisted having us talk with its webmaster but soon saw how letting us talk really benefited the client by allowing us to work together. 
We recently saw something that said there are three key variables: Good, Fast and Cheap but generally you can get achieve only two of those. You can have something good and fast but that's rarely cheap. You can have something cheap and fast but that's rarely good. Or cheap and good but rarely fast. 

Clients who prize cheap usually also want things done fast, and the result is the agency is unhappy -- because we always want to deliver something not just good but excellent -- and ultimately, so is the client. 

Please note: we truly understand the financial pressures of clients. We understand the need to keep budgets under control. Back in the dot-com era, working at a big PR agency, we had a couple of clients that spent crazy amounts of money, especially considering that one had no real product, no customers and no revenue. They had a PR budget of $30,000 a month, hoping that would generate eyeballs (the term of the day) but they ran out of money by the third month, owing the agency $90,000 never collected. 

That was a prime lesson for taking a different approach at Birnbach Communications to our clients -- they all had to real products, real customers and real revenue or funding. There's a balance between spending not enough money and spending too much. We're not trying to blame clients who need to be conservative with their budgets; we just have learned to walk away when clients ask us to reduce the hours and fees in our proposal, based on our experience of how much time a project will take -- because they often don't reduce their expectations. That affects and degrades the chemistry and trust.

So good chemistry is elusive. In some cases, chemistry is really a matter of trust across the table. There are steps we take to develop the chemistry and to build the trust and invest in the client relationship. When you have it, the agency team and client team can achieve success together. 

Which is what we all want.

Monday, February 18, 2019

The Need for Creativity in Media Relations: 9 Tips to Get The Media's Attention

In our previous blog, "5 Factors That Make It Harder to Break Into National Business Media," we discussed some of the challenges to getting ink in the national business media.
In this article, we will talk about three tips to successfully getting the media's attention.

  1. Understand the mission of the media outlet you're pitching. Forbes, Fortune and Bloomberg Businessweek may seem similar but they are very different. Forbes is interested in investing opportunities and providing contrarian perspectives. Fortune is interested in management (as opposed to investing though it does publish investing-specific issues) and Bloomberg Businessweek provides more of a news snapshot of the world as it affects business. Pitching a Bloomberg reporter on a company as an investment opportunity won't work -- just as you have to expect a Forbes reporter to ask about a company's valuation even if that's not directly relevant to the story.
  2. Study the sections and opportunities that each media outlet offers. Each newspaper, magazine and website has different sections and columns. And each section or column offers a different path into coverage. For example, the Wall St. Journal has sections for Chief Information Officers and another for Chief Marketing Officers. There could be a way to tell a client's story through the eyes of its CIO that might be very different from the CMO's. There's a Journal columnist who handles work-and-family issues, and your client may have a story there. Fast Company has a section in which executives can offer something -- an app, a book, etc. -- that they highly recommend. And various publications offer a look at an executive's interesting office. We look at all those sections for ways to get our clients considered.
  3. Get to know the reporters and how they approach their articles. Too often publicists, who are juggling many tasks, pitch based on media lists assembled by a database. These databases are helpful in tracking down contact info and background. But they are often not-quite-accurate. Reporters move around a lot these days, so we've seen a Washington Post reporter still listed as working for the Wall St. Journal -- six months after she joined the Post. We've seen reporters listed as covering one topic when they shifted beats. And sometimes the coverage details are broad enough to not be useful. It's important to learn what reporters cover and how they cover it. A reporter will cover news differently from a columnist. It's not enough to respond to a single story; too often it might be a one-off story that's not relevant to the reporter's regular coverage. We look at several weeks' worth of coverage and what they post on social media to get a sense of their approach and interest before we pitch. And then we look at the elements that are frequently included in their articles so that we can make sure to offer up those elements, too.
  4. Look for alternative ways in. For one client, we played up the CEO's racecar-driving hobby to secure local coverage, and we got a good response from a Forbes editor who shares racecar driving as a hobby (though that did not lead directly to coverage). That's something we ask of new client teams. For another client, we recommended the CEO post comments to articles published online by the company's key trade magazine as a way to engage with its community. In one case, the publication contacted him to ask if he would give permission to use his comment as a letter to the editor. Of he said yes, and we got a double hit in the print edition.
  5. Be creative get the reporter's attention. Look, this is from a while ago but a former colleague recently posted about this on LinkedIn, and it brought back memories. On behalf of RIM, we were trying to get attention of then BusinessWeek tech columnist, Stephen Wildstrom, to review a new product: The BlackBerry pager that offered email; one of the first portable email device available at the time. The question was: how to get Wildstrom's attention for a then-unknown startup launching a new product to compete against the Goliath of the day, Palm as it prepared to launch its Palm VII. My solution: I emailed WIldstrom several times during my commute home, always pointing out that I was emailing him while on the MBTA. After a couple of those commuting-time emails, WIldstrom requested review copies of the pager. The result: a terrific headline: "Close to Perfect Pocket E-Mail." For Stephanie Mehta, then a Journal reporter (who then went to Forbes and is now the editor at Fast Company) we pitched a story about the sector based on BlackBerry: "For Paging Industry, a Bet on Two-Way Gadgets."
    By the way, as a side note, back in those days, people on the T spent their commuting time either reading a newspaper, magazine or book. I was something in a pioneer -- taking the blame here -- for spending my commute time by staring at a device. These days, we look for other creative ways to get a reporter's attention. (We'd be happy to provide more recent case studies.)
  6. Make sure the pitch is relevant to the readers. This might seem obvious but sometimes agencies and their clients forget about this. They're excited to pitch good news about the client that they forget that the news may not, by itself, interest readers. A Fortune reporter once said, "That's good news for your client but for readers who don't follow your client or their sector, there's not much of a reason for them to stop and read my article about them." So we always look for how our clients' news fits in to what the reporter and his/her readers or viewers are interested in. What do the readers (or viewers) want or need to know? Another question we ask: why should the reporter or reader care about this story now (as opposed to six months from now)?
  7. Leverage interest in timely news via "newsjacking." Newsjacking is a term that means taking advantage of a current events or news to communicate your brand's message or your subject-matter expertise. Most news events are probably not appropriate so you have to look for a natural connection, and move quickly. For one adoption nonprofit, during the Ebola crisis we advised their PR consultant on pitching the media to help tell how the charity was helping to get children out of infected areas. Another way to newsjack goes back to the BlackBerry days: we contacted reporters we were sure to cover the Palm VII launch with a detailed fact sheet that compared the BlackBerry to the known features of the pre-launch Palm VII. More recently, we did something similar for a startup client's digital compression technology ahead of a soon-to-launched competitive solution from a much-larger company. In most cases, what you want to do is become a resource for reporters, to be someone who can provide reliable insight into a situation.
  8. Use social media to work with reporters. We want to be careful about suggesting alternative ways to contact reporters, like using social media. Once, a reporter contacted us via Twitter to conduct an interview, and that was fine, but the reporter contacted us. Another time, we were trying to figure out the reporter of an Economist article on artificial intelligence for a client of ours. The Economist does not use bylines so we could not tell who had written a particular article; by searching for the article on Twitter, we identified the reporter, and then contacted him by email. We did not want to try to insert ourselves into a conversation with that reporter or to contact him directly on Twitter without any introduction. Contacting him the regular way helped us secure an interview for the client and did not alienate the reporter by being too aggressive. (Keep in mind one the key rules of social media: don't be creepy.) 
  9. Think like a reporter. We look at clients and the stories they tell, and try to think like a reporter would, if encountering the client for the first time. It means taking an objective look at the organization, and asking, "Is this a story? Or is it a blog post?" Blog posts are valuable; they can help with SEO and drive traffic to your website to find out more about what you do. As a reporter, you're looking for something that will engage people outside the company, that tells a story readers didn't know, provides insight into something relevant to the consumers of that media outlet. That also means thinking through what a reporter will need to tell a compelling story -- what are the elements. For example, when pitching an NPR reporter, keep in mind they like natural sound so you need to give the reporter a sense if they can capture interesting/unusual sounds. Once you think like a reporter, you'll be better able to develop and pitch them a story that will work for them -- and you.
Let us know if you have any questions about these tips. Or let us know if we left out one of your favorite tips.