PR Pitches are like a Job Interview…and Sales

While exploring ScoopIt this morning I came across an article from Ragan’s PR Daily titled “A 14-Step Guide to Pitching ‘Big Fish’ Reporters”. It’s all about how to convince the reporter to want the story you’re writing; about selling your story…key word being selling here. The more I read the article the more I realized the steps are all steps we’re told to take in a job interview.

Do your homework–knowing to whom you’re pitching, reading what that person or company writes, their bio, their blogs, follow them on social media.

Stay in the genre–don’t pitch ideas to people which fall outside of their “norm”…a writing major who is terrible at math wouldn’t apply for a statistician’s job. Make sure your pitch is relevant to who you’re pitching it to

Remember their audience–companies value their customers–they’re what keep the company alive, so keep those customers in mind. For a hint look at their most popular products or popular characteristics of their company for clues as to what their customers value. It’ll come in handy during your pitch…and when you have to counter some negative feedback.

Show them you know them–this links back to the first step. Prove you did your research and ALWAYS include a compliment. Everyone loves knowing their hard work paid off or was, in at least some way, recognized.

Don’t give it all away…but make them want the rest–you don’t want to give every single ounce of information and possibilities to the “buyer” or “interviewer” but then the email or conversation ends up being so long it gets deleted or they tune out four sentences in. Be creative and concise.

Fulfill a need–people want to work with those they can trust, those that are knowledgeable, and those that can teach them while helping them. Position yourself as a valuable resource by being active in social media and content generation…it’ll help make you look like you know what you’re talking about and give you more creative ways to help them.

Don’t waste time–again goes back to don’t gie it all away. People are busy and have terribly short attention spans. Don’t waste their time. Use the subject line in emails to tell exactly what’s in your email. Don’t forget to include a subject or put an irrelevant one, it WILL get deleted.

Be professional–see my post on professional communication

Edit and Practice–whether it’s via email or phone or in person you only have one chance to make a first impression and it’s made very, very quickly. Always make sure you go through drafts of your writing, practice your conversation so you can be prepared for anything, and practice your handshake because limp-fish handshakes are the worst. Make sure you are putting your best foot forward even if it means a fashion show with your roommate or bribing them with doing the dishes to read your email.

Be persistent–some people don’t always search through their ‘boxes’ (email or voicemail) so if you don’t hear back in a few business days (weekends don’t count) resend it with a nice note. If they don’t respond after two emails…stop. Pick up the phone and call. Again know what you’re going to say, practice, and review all the other steps–know who you’re talking to. (again see my professional communication post for phone call tips).

Be nice–they don’t have to like or take your idea/services. You’re trying to form a professional relationship so treat it that way-always be the bigger person, always smile through everything and remember the adage “kill them with kindness” if/when they’re rude back.

Every single one of those steps has been told to me in my job interview preparation. I have been told to do research, to practice questions, responses and dress, to be concise, patient, kind but also follow-up and show interest. It’s the same with public relations pitches-and even service sales. You’re selling yourself or your product. Treating it like a job interview will add a whole new realm of nerves and a sense of needing to do well to the mix. That’s something that can be motivating and helpful in preparing for any possible thing.

And here I thought I’d interview, get the job, and be done interviewing….tee hee.

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Writing, Reading and Marketing…They’re Not Separate

Language-writing in particular-never ceases to amaze me. With it we can promote ourselves, make recommendations, induce feelings, build relationships and communicate anything from the fact we hate chocolate to the fact we don’t know how to iceskate to the undying love we have for our significant other…and everything in between.

As marketing (and public relations) move more and more towards online media-Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Blogs, ScoopIt etc-writing is becoming more and more of an asset to the business world. Being able to respond to customers on twitter (whether their contact be negative or positive), being able to write a blog about your industry, being able to create a Facebook or twitter post that people will read, like and potentially share are all examples of the necessity of writing skills. Somehow via online content we need to form an emotional connection with our audience…enter the power of writing.

Something I’ve been told throughout my life is that to be a good writer you need to read. It will expose you to different writing styles, techniques, methods etc. It will allow you to learn what you like and don’t like, what’s effective in your opinion, and will let you learn about any and everything. I firmly believe that reading will make you a better writer. ScoopIt is one of my new favorite websites because of this. I get to learn everyday about the things I love. I have 3 “topics” (kind of like boards on Pinterest almost): Public Relations, Social Media Marketing, and Writing. Everyday I read dozens of articles and post them (called “rescooping”) to my boards for others to read. I learn about trends, innovations, tips, tools and more…I cultivate content for my Twitter and my blog from that site. Reading the articles allows me to write about them-making me a better writer.

Someone had to write those articles, someone had to write the instructions for how to use the website, someone has to post tweets about them to get people to go to their site….almost all online promotion involves some form of writing whether it’s behind the scenes or up front and in your face. That’s why I truly believe that writing is more important to the business world than people admit. Plans, actions, communications all of it is in some way written. As a result of the HUGELY negative impact bad writing can have on a brand or an experience, writing should be a requirement of almost all public relations, social media and marketing positions.

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Writing Tips

Tutoring writing has been one of the most enriching and eye-opening experiences I have had in my college career. It has identified several common pitfalls, ways to overcome frequent hurdles and tips for being able to get it all out.

1). Just write-don’t think about it-just write however you’re thinking it

One thing I have found regardless of the subject I’m tutoring (from romanticism to science to freshman introductory writing to fictional writing and everything in between) is that most people can say their paper: they can look at me and have a conversation with me about it, telling me every idea, thought, source and conclusion…they just can’t write it out. Honestly, the best way to overcome this is to either say it out loud while you’re typing it (probably a good idea when you’re not in public, people tend to look at you a little funny when you talk to yourself) or to write it exactly how you’re thinking it without worrying about rules, format or sounding “good” or “professional”.

2). Read your paper out loud

This will help you figure out where things are confusing, when you start to get repetitive (either in point or in word choice) and where you’re missing information. Again, maybe not in public.

3). Use your voice…make it sound like you

I had a professor tell me “When I write my articles I pretend like I’m having a conversation with my sweetheart. I write it out exactly how I envision myself telling her about it. That way my reader will feel like I’m talking to them…and it doesn’t sound forced”. That’s one of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given, and one of the best ways to start a paper if you’re stuck…just talk about it (see number one)

4). Show and tell are two different things…showing is always better

Think of presentations you’ve had to sit through….a majority of them have some sort of visual along with the person talking, and more often than not the visual aid is more interesting than the speech. Add to that the quote “a picture is worth a thousand words” and visuals begin to become more and more important. Writing is unique in that it can create visuals without using a picture. Instead of telling your reader flat-out “it’s cold out” show them…describe it “it was the kind of chilly that made citizens long for a fireplace and a cozy blanket”. Descriptions are the most powerful and engaging tools in writing

5). Your sentence shouldn’t be longer than your attention span

Your reader pays about as much attention as you do-maybe even less. Having a sentence be a paragraph long will not only be confusing and cause the reader to re-read it several times, but it will likely make people want to quit reading. Don’t be afraid of using a period: it’s not an invisible wall that disconnects thoughts entirely and forces people to stop reading…they really will continue reading if there’s a period there.

6). Give examples and think of real life

I was tutoring a girl who was trying to describe a six-year-old girl and used the word imploringly…that word, in my mind, should never be associated with a child because they would have no idea what it means. Use words that relate to your subject: bubbley, innocently, excitedly, eagerly….descriptions like “smelled like bubblegum” or “stickily” or “she ran so fast she thought her legs would fall off”…not imploringly.

Examples will almost always clear up any confusion around the point you’re trying to make…you may not understand my rules, but the example might make sense to you. Try to use examples whenever possible: some people just need them to relate.


Whenever you write try to write how you would speak, and write something you would like to read…chances are it’ll come out much better than if you focus too hard on trying to be perfect or professional. You can always go back and edit it later, what matters is getting it on the paper.

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Why People who have Worked in Customer Service Make the Best Public Relations Staff

I have worked at Caribou Coffee for the past 3 1/2 years and up until recently I thought the only things it taught me were a severe coffee addiction and the difference between types of chocolate, types of coffee and how to work with people I’m not all that fond of. But, after reading a few public relations job postings, I realized I’d be perfect for them, thanks to my experience at “the Bou”, so much so that I wanted to write about it. So here are the reasons customer service molds great public relations staff members:

1). You learn how to handle negativity and pickiness by problem solving

I will forever be amazed at how people want their coffee: soy milk, 2/3 full with 1/2 of the other third being skim milk and the other 1/2 being whole milk with one scoop of chocolate, 1/2 caf, no foam, extra hot….it’s a never-ending list of pickiness. Regardless of my own opinion on their $6 cup of coffee, I smile and make it exactly how they like it…at the end of the day their purchase funds my job (in an indirect way). I have learned to accept it and try my best to meet whatever need any customer may have.

Working in customer service will forever test your strength. People are inherently condescending to wait staff and those taking their orders. I couldn’t count how many people ignore me to talk on their phone, refused to look at me while ordering, forget to say the words please and thank you, put their money on the counter even though I have my hand out; the people who have yelled at me, insulted me, complained that their coffee wasn’t perfect or spilled on me (yes spilled ON me).  But, working in customer service for so long has taught me to just smile through it, and utilize the feel felt found method…”I understand how you feel and I’m sorry for that, other customers have felt the same way about our prices getting raised, but they found that our delicious product was more than worth it, I hope you’ll feel the same”.

With that, comes the ability to problem solve. There is an endless list of complaints when it comes to people’s food and drinks. As a supervisor it is my job to fix whatever negative experience they are having and restore their faith in Caribou, or at least in our store. Because complaints are traditionally conveyed in real time-when the person is in the store and angrily thrusting their coffee at me or complaining about the food or people working, I have to make a decision then and there on how to make it up to them.

2). You learn to prioritize the customer

In the mornings our line is out the door full of people who aren’t quite awake or perky enough to make conversation. Nevertheless putting the customer first happens frequently; cleaning or organizing or stocking sometimes just have to wait

3). You learn to anticipate the needs of those you’re serving and remember those who frequent your business

We have several regulars that come in daily-some even come in several times a day. As a result almost every staff member at our store knows their drink, their name, their family’s names, what kind of car they drive, what kind of dog they have, the cars they drive, what they do for a living etc. The ones who walk to our store have their drink made before they walk in because we see them coming.

In addition to regulars, you learn to read body language. The mom trying to rally her three children probably wants a drink tray and a bag for her things, the woman with a walker most likely needs help opening the door, the elderly gentleman who struggles to the counter would probably appreciate it if you carried his things out for him. The people who drool over the bakery case (exaggeration…but still) might buy something if you suggest it. Learning to read body language is almost like learning to cater to the unspoken needs of the clients

4). You see what it’s like to be a customer and the one serving them

The most productive day I have ever had at Caribou, I wasn’t even working. My old manager had a meeting where we all met at our store in plain clothes-we were supposed to dress how we would any day. We all piled into his minivan and drove to a Caribou outside of our district and pretended to be customers (we secret shopped them). It amazed me at the things we noticed from the customer perspective that we don’t from working: the rags on the counter, the crumbs in the case, the baseball hat the barista was wearing, the inability to hold a conversation that made the experience unpleasant and several other things. It teaches you to really focus on the customer and not only the product but the environment you’re serving them in. It has also taught me to be as nice as possible to customer service people because they deal with their fair share of complaints. see number one.

5). It teaches you to just let some things go

When I first started at Caribou I used to get sooooooooooo beyond stressed at the line to the door: people weren’t going to want to wait in that so we had to go faster and faster and faster and I wanted to be perfect at the same time. I also used to take every complaint to heart. After a few months of that I realized sometimes you just have to let it go. People know if they come in the mornings it’s going to be busy, so they can wait. I would personally rather wait a little longer and get my drink made correctly than hurry and get something I don’t want. And some people just can’t be satisfied and are going to be picky no matter what…those people you just smile at and keep your thoughts to yourself.

Caribou has prepared me for a lifetime of working with people and being successful in the field of public relations without even knowing it.

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Creative Marketing Can Enhance and Reinforce Public Relations

I find myself increasingly interested in what companies are doing to stand out and be creative without straying from the image they want the public to associate them with-other than those obnoxious ads on search engines like Yahoo that suddenly take over the entire page and hide the close button.

Throughout my research (both academic and recreational) I have become more and more convinced that the marketing communication channels aren’t separate entities but build upon,  reinforce and/or strengthen one another: especially marketing and public relations. Recently I came across an article on Inc. titled “12 Memorable Event Marketing Campaigns”. As I skimmed through the images, I couldn’t help but think they all had a little bit of a public relations element to them.

1/4 of a million bouncy balls were released throughout San Francisco in a promotional stunt by Bravia to promote their new line of televisions. It took 6 days to clean up.

Bravia, using the event described above, was able to convey an image of creativity (or at the very least uniqueness because no other company has thought to release that many bouncy balls in that…random of a fashion). They were also able to hint at the social responsibility of the company by picking up the balls afterwards (even though it’s expected).

The Minneapolis based Mono Agency promoted Meyer by creating a fountain into a larger-than-life “washbin” with balloons representing the soap. The balloons each contained samples that were grabbed by onlookers.

Meyer was able to not only promote their product and distribute samples but also convey ingenuity and creativity. However, they took Bravia’s process a step further and were able to inform viewers and sample grabbers that each sample was donating $2 to charity. This helps reinforce and strengthen the public perception that Meyer is a responsible, worthwhile company to patronize.

Another article on Multy Shades titled “30 Truly Creative Marketing Campaigns” showcases a few others that I wanted to touch on to demonstrate the link between marketing and public relations.

3M placed money sandwiched between pieces of its security glass and gave passer-by the opportunity to dry and destroy it.

Not only did this work from a marketing standpoint as far as generating awareness and sales of the product through demonstrating it works in a unique way, it also added to the public image that 3M is innovative, creative, and ultimately cares about its products: enough that they would let thousands of people try to destroy it. They put enough effort into their products to ensure they work how they’re supposed to-like security glass being used to protect money.

Businesses have become increasingly creative with everything from bags, to business cards, to advertisements…try searching “creative business cards” or “creative marketing campaigns” or look at either of the websites I mentioned as proof. I think that because creativity is becoming so much more a part of marketing, and the campaigns now have the ability to go viral and promote word of mouth, the reputation and perception of the company is inserted into every single interaction the public has with it. Add into the mix that shoppers are becoming more curious and demanding of their retailers and you get a public that wants full disclosure, wants unique products, and wants to know companies as people: not just organizations; they want to know who they’re dealing with.

Gone are the days where public relations should be called upon in times of crisis or focused on solely at the beginning of a business, and when marketing meant those people in the mall who hound you about voting or new perfumes. This is the day of public marketing relations: when companies make themselves stand out in obvious ways while enhancing and/or promoting their image in subliminal ones.


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Professional Communication Rules People Often Forget

My double major in Marketing and Professional writing has exposed me to two very different worlds that adhere to the same misconception: people who are good at writing aren’t good at business and vice versa. It’s something that has plagued my education for the last four years, and is something I whole heartedly disagree with. Regardless, I have come across several things that people in both worlds-writing and marketing-commonly forget to do…even though they seem like common sense.

1). Phone call Etiquette

  • In a world where texting, blogging, emails and tweets have become commonplace, many people are growing increasingly uncomfortable with telephone conversation-the actual verbal interaction. As a result some people overcompensate and try to sound perky or excited, which in all reality can be a little overwhelming. All that’s necessary is a smile throughout the conversation or while leaving a voicemail, it makes you sound more pleasant and is less overbearing.
  • Multitasking (thanks technology) has become an almost addictive behavior (one I admit to participating in). It is seen in lecture halls, meetings, hallways and dinner conversations. However, it’s extremely noticeable on the phone. Don’t multitask during a phone-based conversation, it’s noticeable, rude and implies that what’s being discussed isn’t important to you.
  • The mute button is invisible to some people. Although on many conference calls the administrator mutes the call, some don’t, in which case every chip-eating-crunch, every text typed, every sniffle and every keyboard click is audible. Mute your phone during conference calls-it can always be taken off if you want to contribute.

2). Email Basics

  • Fill in the subject line. Not only does it prepare the recipient for what he or she is about to read, but it ensures that your email is read. If you’re skimming your inbox for important emails, is “No Subject” going to seem that important? Probably not.
  • When someone has been CC’d or there are multiple people included in the thread, hit “reply to all” not just “reply”. This minimizes confusion and maximizes participation.
  • Writing has the disadvantage of not being able to incorporate tone of voice and body language. As a result some innocent things can come off harsh/blunt/cold. Include manner-oriented words like please, thank you; you’re welcome etc. to help not only create a polite message but come off in a friendly manner
  • As cute as they are when they come from a significant other or a friend, smiley faces and other emotion icons are not professional and shouldn’t be included in a business-based email.

3). General Communication

  • Before contacting someone, or after the initial contact, see if that person has a way they prefer to be contacted. Personally I would rather text and email than talk on the phone, but my almost-60-year-old Dad would be offended if I did anything but call or come over in person.
  • Let people finish their sentence, it’s just common courtesy.
  • If you need to interrupt say something like “Please allow me to stop you there”, or my professor’s personal favorite “So if I hear you correctly what you’re saying is…” or “Can I repeat that back to you to make sure I understand you correctly…”
  • Actually follow up when you say you will. It’s not only annoying to the other person when you don’t, all it does is reflect badly upon you if you don’t.
  • Before initiating a conversation see if it is a good time. Dropping into someone’s office could interrupt a project, could catch them at a bad time, and has the potential to be interrupted by something else (like a ringing phone or an appointment). Just ask, they won’t bite.
  • Lastly, and this is my biggest pet peeve, when you’re in a meeting or a group or even when being spoken to directly in a one-on-one dynamic don’t check your phone…it’s not disguisable, it’s offensive and there is nothing that can’t wait an extra five minutes or an hour. If it’s an emergency, say so, otherwise just wait.

All it comes down to is be respectful and commit your attention to one thing at a time, especially if that thing is a person and can tell when you’re not. Effective communication is what will help you deliver your message, create a favorable reputation and make your day a lot less frustrating.

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