Want more media coverage? Of course, you do, but where the heck to start? Here are 5 steps to get you on your way

1. Find your People

First things first, ask yourself, “who cares?” It may seem harsh, but it’s a necessary first step. On the path to getting more coverage on your awesome person, place or thing, you first need to determine who’s interested. If you haven’t clearly defined your potential audience, nothing else matters. Create a profile that describes them to a sharp point and hone that story idea into something they want to see, hear or read about.

With that out of the way, you’re ready to start the next crucial step of focusing on the media that reaches your audience. When searching, go deeper than just “art magazines” or “journalists who cover sports.” Chances are you already have a choice list of sites and writers you regularly visit to stay abreast of your industry, so start with there. In turn, check out who they read and follow on social media. Set up Google Alerts with keywords to let you know whenever your subject matter is in the news. If it’s in the budget, use a service offered by companies such as Cision, Agility PR, and Meltwater who offer media database access. These databases allow you to specifically search and have contact information for journalists, outlets, publications, and influencers who cover your beat. Remember, though, just like us, journalists don’t always stay on the same path. Check-in regularly to make sure they’re still part of your group. Twitter has become a truly excellent resource to follow and connect with journalists, editors, thought-leaders and more.

2. Customize your outreach

Now that you’ve determined your audience and have a killer listing of who’s talking to them already, it’s time to plan how you’ll get in touch. First, you’ll want to do another once-over on that list. Identify your “stars”; the ones who cover your area often and well. Custom pitches are time-consuming, so you’ll want to spend most of your efforts crafting outreach for this group because they’re worth it. Read the last few articles/posts they’ve done. Identify the trend or sentiment and include that trend as part of the reason you’re reaching out to them individually. Next, you’re selling them on why they are uniquely suited to cover your topic for a particular publication. Get to the point, their time is precious and in short supply, but give enough info to make it compelling.

This could be the start of a great relationship, so treat it that way. Be respectful of their time, mindful of their workload, say please and thanks, and stay in touch. Lastly, the journalist/site/publication needs content, and lots of it every day. You have a source of content. So rather than approach like a beggar, approach like the business partner you are.

3. Follow-up

There’s no cute pun here. Seriously, just follow-up. Journalists and editors get so very many pitches every day. Many are ill-fitting, poorly written, or worse. They do a lot of skimming, ignoring, and deleting, it’s a survival tool. Therefore, when you know you have something worth a second look, don’t be afraid to follow-up. Ask what they thought of the pitch/idea and if they’re interested. Suggest an alternate angle and whether a later date might work better. Even if they’re not currently into it, they could be interested later, so use the opportunity for feedback. If you get interaction, keep or add them to that exclusive list. Start to get to know them better through their writing, and try them again when you have another great idea. If they cover you, be sure to send a thank-you.

4. Stay informed

You can make an educated guess as to whether a journalist might be interested in your story – by staying current. Stay abreast of what’s trending in the news and the world at large, especially within your industry. What are you seeing a lot of articles about? What seems to be the hot topic of the moment? The more in-tune your pitches are with what is currently happening, the more likely your story idea fits into the editorial plan and seen as a valuable source.

5. Analyze the results

Once you’ve gone through a complete cycle, do an analysis. Assess what worked, what didn’t, the feedback you’ve received, and how many responses and subsequent hits you got. Keep track of all results. Google Analytics can help with hard stats about how media coverage is helping to drive traffic for you. The next time, it’ll be more comfortable and more successful, because you’ll have a tried-and-tested blueprint.

To Press Release or Not: That Ain’t The Question

Among communicators, a quiet war bubbles under the surface. Ok, that’s dramatic, but there is much ado surrounding the presumed death or deliverance of the press release. Does the press release, one of the original and oldest media relations instruments, have a place in this noisy, ever-changing, multi-platform world?

If you’re a PR or Communications professional, you may have a love-hate relationship with the once-revered document. If you’re on the business or organization side, you may just be confused. I mean, if the folks you trust to tell you whether it’s necessary to issue a release have varying opinions, where does that leave you? I will say this, the press release has definitely changed in format, purpose, and effectiveness. Beyond a few free services like PRLog and Wire Service Media, sending a release via wire is still pretty steep – especially when the ROI is difficult to pin down.

What’s an attention-seeker to do? Fret not, pet. Many alternate and arguably more effective methods exist to get the word out. Here are a few tips you can use to get the notoriety you seek.

Send a personal pitch

This is still the go-to. First, make sure your information is newsworthy (of interest to a particular audience). Do the research on what publications and journalists cover the subject-matter. Get to know the format and proper fit, read/watch at least the last few stories they’ve done, and then spend the time to craft an angle that makes sense for them. Reaching out with a tailored ask, married with timeliness, will get your toe in the door. If it’s in the budget, use a service such as Meltwater, Agility PR, or Muck Rack to help you streamline finding the right journalists, their contact info, and preferences. You’re far more likely to receive a response and coverage when you’ve done your homework and taken the time to personalize your outreach.

Change your perspective

The press release was a staple tactic to peek media interest and secure coverage. The release went out; you grab a snack and wait for the journalists to come to you. It’s fair to say across the board, that seldom works anymore. If you view a release as a companion to a newsworthy hook, it’s still a useful document. Think of it as the full bio after the one-liner gets someone to take a second look. It should offer more in-depth information. Add interactive and visual elements such as pictures and video, infographics and social media links. Whatever expanded information an already interested party may need to find out more, and subsequently use it to craft a piece.

Use your own(ed) media

PSA: You’re a publisher too! You have a website, social platforms, a blog–each of these are publishing platforms and media distribution channels. Guess what? You can publish whatever you like, including a press release. For instance, if you have a media section on your site or a business LinkedIn page, post it there for anyone looking for more information à la point 4. Participate in ongoing social conversations and ‘listen’ for key influencers and journalists doing the same. It makes total sense to reach out directly via social media.

Send one out, but selectively

After all, if you do craft a release, consider sending it to a select media list instead of through a wire service. We’ve talked about the necessary skepticism and inherent busyness of journalists, and why that can make it hard to get their attention. Getting a blanket, random release via a wire/distribution service is easy to ignore, and often is. Instead, pull out that list of media contacts you’ve had some success with or just connected with before, and repeat the steps in point 1. Once you’ve created that list, go ahead and send them the release. I still recommend opening your email with a personal pitch and sending the press release in the body of the email – because attachments sent without permission suck. You may also send it as a follow-up to an initial outreach.

To answer the original question – it depends. If it makes sense for your brand, product, event, launch or otherwise to use a press release to help get the message out to your audiences, use it. If a press release continues to work for you, use it. If it’s falling on deaf ears, costing you more than you gain, or simply isn’t resonating with those you share it with, change it up and try something new.

What combination of methods works for you?

If You Build [A Content Calendar], They Will Come

I know, I know. You get daily reminders from every industry expert, newsletter, and your 14-year-old niece that a critical component of business success these days is a killer social media presence. There’s an enormous opportunity to give your expertise legs by developing relevant content and sharing it strategically. It’s not that you aren’t aware right? It’s that the starting point resembles the gate to Hades.

Here’s the thing, I promise that if you take the time to develop a content plan that includes a calendar, you’ll remove some daily work from your plate and some pressure. It can prompt soon-to-be new clients and customers to find you instead of you always hunting for them. A sound strategy gives you audience or customer insight to transform you into the best virtual friend ever–which will often develop into a great relationship IRL. It will highlight you as the engaged and resource-rich industry aficionado you are–while you’re busy doing what makes that real. Follow these 5 steps to get you started:

1. Set your intentions

Namaste. Kidding! Well, not about setting intentions. I mean goals Y’all. Decide your desired outcomes. Sales? Thought-leadership? Brand awareness? Leads? Set S.M.A.R.T. social goals that align with your business objectives. These will inform your strategy, provide a way to measure outcomes, and adjust as needed for success.

2. Do the research

Perform the exercise of a social media platform audit any employee of the C.R.A. would be proud of. Explore each place you live online. Focus on the platforms that make sense for your business. Do they need an update or makeover? Perhaps you’re not on a platform you should be, or another has run its course. You’ll share and cross-promote your content through these channels, so you want to make sure they represent you well. Your identity and personality should be consistent and clear across the lot. While you’re at it, spend time on competitor properties to see what they do well and what needs work, and some accounts you plain admire for inspiration. Then, get to know your audience. Check out the analytics to determine where most of your followers are, interact with you most, and what type of content resonates.

3. Develop your content strategy

This step takes time and contemplation, so give yourself the space to do so. Think of the content strategy as your map. It will outline how to get your useful and relevant content out to your audience. Look beyond your prominent core offerings. You’ll get traffic from folks looking for what you offer, but creating a community where you are a useful resource every day, will mean you’ll stay top of mind when that time comes. You may also stand-out as the obvious choice. For instance, if you offer accounting services, your content could span from tips on doing your own bookkeeping to building a budget. Write about teaching kids to manage money, or what the newest dip in the stock market means in layman’s terms. Think of your own social and digital properties as the middle of a wheel, and the spokes are how you get that info out to the world. Find some templates you like to start.

4. Carve out your editorial plan

Take those core subjects/areas of expertise and marry them with relevant calendar dates such as holidays, seasons and significant times in your industry. Then decide what you’ll talk about and write about when. Plug these into a weekly editorial calendar. Keep in mind to leave room for real-life happenings. Using the accounting example again, if a surprise announcement is made that affects finances. That week you planned to talk about teen spending, be ready to make a shift. Remember, relevance and usefulness is the core of every activity, and each should serve your goals. These are overarching themes that you’ll share in various ways across your networks – and all roads lead back to you.

5. Build the calendar

Now it’s plug-in time. You’ll outline per platform, the what and when for each day and week. This includes links and visuals. Doing these a year in advance is the holy grail, but if you can master 2 or 3 months to start – you’re doing great. HootSuite and CoSchedule provide user-friendly and free calendar templates. The calendar should be detailed enough to post quickly, in bulk if available, or just hand to someone else (lucky you!), and they understand what to do.

How do you tackle the massive web that is content planning? Share your tips and struggles!

Do You Even Need PR? (Hint: yassssss)

Public Relations usually gets its whispered mentions in conversations about marketing, communications, advertising, crisis management and the like. While most folks would agree that much of that list is a necessary and even essential part of business function, sometimes PR seems more like a play-cousin. Nice to have, but not essential.

But what about in your particular case? What’s in it for your [insert just about any type of business here]? Do you even need PR, or is it reserved for the Fortunate 500, celebrities, or clients of Pope & Associates?

At its core, Public Relations is simply (as penned by my wise professor Sheldon Rose) “Doing good things and telling others about it.”

Here are a few PR basics and how it can indeed be of use to you (yes, you!):

1. PR will help you communicate better with your audience(s)

Allow me to wax academic for a second. The Canadian Public Relations Society defines Public Relations as (paraphrased):

“The strategic management of relationships between an organization and its diverse publics through communication, achieving mutual understanding, realizing organizational goals and serving the public interest.”

In short, PR helps you identify your peeps and speak to them appropriately. Whether you offer a service or product or run a charity, incorporating public relations ensures your business reputation is built on a solid foundation of core values. PR folks can help you make sense of your goals and express them in a way that captures your core values in your unique voice, craft them into an outcome-driven plan, and then share them so that each one of your audiences not only understands but is drawn to.

2. PR will help you avoid becoming the next negative hashtag

Just about every week, another brand finds itself in the news for all the wrong reasons. For the most part, the problem seems to be a lack of diversity in the decision-making process. People are missing from the table. It’s PR’s business to make sure you identify each of your stakeholders (see point 1 y’all) and uncover those you may have missed or may have been ignoring. Paying attention to everyone with a stake in what you do will ensure you stay on the pulse, and the right track.

3. PR will help you evangelize your Big Idea

Above, we mentioned communications, marketing, and advertising plans. By now, you’re getting that PR should absolutely be part of that mix. The key is that PR is a path to marrying each of these areas’ focus into a smooth succinct flow across multiple platforms. That means through media, social, digital, traditional and everything in between. Identify the core value you have to offer, and use PR to share that with the world – clearly and consistently – while feeding your bottom line.

4. PR will help you keep your integrity

To point back to point 2 (yeah, I know, I do that a lot), the way many businesses and brands end up in trouble is through oversight. Sometimes it’s glaring, but many times it’s subtle and has happened over time. You’ve moved away from your core messaging and purpose or initial convictions. Perhaps you can’t quite remember the original goal, the pure and straightforward reason you started your business. Well, this falls into the PR wheelhouse too. Ethics is an enormous piece of public relations pie. Despite lingering negative stereotypes, it’s the job of competent PR practitioners to ensure that every action, strategy, and tactic under their umbrella is done with integrity and with ethics at its core. Having someone with this focus on your team can help keep all of those moving pieces on the up and up, and it’ll be handy to have a voice like that in the war room.

5. This isn’t really 5.

Instead, it’s a handy list of what PR is not so that when (that’s right, no ‘ifs’ up in here), you add PR to the mix, you’ll be BFFs with your PR pro by lunch.

4 Crisis Communications Tips – From Paw Patrol

Yes, that Paw Patrol, the hit kids’ show that chronicles a quiet seaside locale’s humorous stories of disaster. The town is headed by a neurotic (and useless) mayor, pet chicken Chikaleta forever at her side. She depends on a pre-teen and his band of humanly talented puppies to save the town citizens’ every calamity. Kids everywhere, including my own, eat this show up like a dog on a bone (insert groan here). Trust me on this, it’s actually pretty entertaining. Just ask anyone who’s suffered through even a single segment of The Power Rangers.

During an episode where the town was overrun by popcorn (very serious), it dawned on me – the Paw Patrol really knows how to handle crisis communications! Things go wrong, it’s an inevitable part of life and business. It’s how those wrongs, mistakes, accidents and oversights are handled, and subsequently resolved, that separate the stars from the dumpster fires.

So, from the mouths of cartoon dogs and babes to you, here are 4 real-life tips for crisis communications.

1. Own It

The town’s mayor might be useless, but she isn’t shy about accepting ownership for the day’s mess (and then calling on children to help). Taking full ownership of a problem will change the way it is perceived, how long it lives on in the memories of your audience, and the abyss of the internet. The faster you own it and move to the next steps, the less negative impact it will have in the long run. Take responsibility and then…

2. Apologize

Sometimes it’s the problem-perpetrator, sometimes it’s the canine rescuers themselves after a failed plan, but someone always apologizes. Think of the last crisis you heard about in the news. How differently did you perceive a company if they blamed others and/or refused to apologize, sometimes until outed, versus one that straight-up took responsibility and said ‘we’re sorry’? Just as in real life, an empathetic and sincere apology goes a long way. Calculate the entire scope of the problem to understand the full impact and all that are affected. Make sure the apology is issued on the multiple platforms your audience frequents to ensure it is seen. Repercussions are understood – especially concerning any action that needs to be taken.

3. Lay out the plan to do better – and then actually do it

Once you’ve taken responsibility and apologized, it’s time to make things right. On the show, each pup has an area of expertise, and they are called on when their special skills are the best fit for the situation. During a crisis, bring in your experts. Seek and listen to the advice of those best suited to remedy the situation and make a plan. You’re asking the question – how do we stop the flow and change course? Be fully transparent – this is key. Pull the post, inform the public of the danger, get your CEO out with answers or the plan to get them, whatever action it takes. This isn’t a window into how not to get caught next time – it’s an opportunity to do and be better.

4. Analyze

Truthfully, a crisis plan should be put into place before a, well, crisis. Figuring out what to do during a red-alert situation can help you avoid one altogether. At the very least, you’ll be prepared. The exercise forces you to think of worst-case scenarios and to put preventative systems in place. It reinforces your company’s code and reminds everyone to always keep it top of mind. The result is a plan that anticipates or avoids errors and a blueprint for quickly mobilizing when something goes awry. If you don’t have the luxury of drafting a plan in advance after a crisis takes the opportunity to analyze what happened and how it was handled. Pick up and take stock of valuable feedback from all relevant parties. Most importantly, use all of that intel to design a clearly defined, well-thought-out plan.

Who knew an animated boy and his talking dogs could teach us all a thing or two about managing high-pressure situations, huh? What are your experiences with crisis communications?

Writing for Others? 5 Ways to Avoid Being a Sucker for Words

If words are your bread and butter, you gotta learn how to cook. What I mean is if you write for money, anything from writing as part of your daily job function to freelancing, pinpointing the scope is paramount.

If you aren’t adept at asking the right questions to make sure at the outset you and your intended client are on the same page–there will be blood. Dramatic? Perhaps, but it’s easier to plan for a worst-case scenario upfront, or skip it altogether. That or find yourself rocking in a corner seething and crying neck-deep in a regrettable project (oh, that’s just me?). As I have, you’ll collect valuable lessons from your mistakes and be a better writer-for-hire for it. But… if some are avoidable–why not?

Ask the write questions

That’s no typo. To write well for another person, you first need to understand what and why. Whether a commentary, a blog post, a white paper, a media release, or marketing copy, you need a full understanding of what outcomes the client hopes to achieve. Collect available supplementary materials. This includes bios, earlier pieces of work, a full rundown of the event, key messages, etc. Understand the power of an actual conversation. Sometimes a quick call with the person will fill in the unspoken blanks that can trip you up later. Set up a line of communication where you can reach out for clarification as you go. No question is dumb. It’s better to understand upfront, and as you go than to receive an edit-riddled draft that requires you to burn what you’ve already done. To write in someone else’s style and voice, you need to understand them. Asking key questions will save you time, gray roots, and much-needed sodium (see above crying reference).

Set mutual expectations

Your client needs to trust you, and you need to trust them, and then you need to trust yourself. Agreeing on the outcome of a piece is the key to a successful partnership. It’ll allow you to manage expectations and produce a piece that makes everyone happy. There have been a few instances where I’ve received feedback and/or edits that turned a delightful creation into a sad sack of potatoes. You’re on the project because the client likes the way you write. If you have counter-suggestions to keep the person from appearing dull or saddled with words that won’t resonate–tell them so. Explain why you’ve made the edits or changes. It may shock you to find that once explained, the client is not only accepting but grateful that you’re looking out for their best interest.

Set a timeframe

Set a realistic timeline that accounts for feedback, edits, and rewrites. If you need more time, make a case for what you need. Be sure to track your time. Consistent tracking improves your ability to estimate project parameters. Either use your phone timer or tracking apps to help. Toggl is one of my favourites.

Determine your value–then ask for it

Come close and lend your ear (ok, I get you’re reading this, but you get the point). You are worth it. Worth what you’re charging–and likely more. Good writing translates into real value. Understand that others know the value too–but they may not always want to pay for it. It can seem gauche or downright scary to ask for more money but to succeed, you have to be unafraid to ask for what you’re worth. Remember, you’re trying to make a living, and you have a valuable skill. Many stellar resources exist to guide you through calculating what to charge and how to negotiate. It gets easier, promise.

Let go

Take your joy from writing for your own endeavours. On your personal blog, site, social channels, journalistic articles, and that novel, here, your own voice sings. Those spaces are where you get to highlight what’s uniquely you. When writing for others, best to keep it ‘church and state.’ This is what will allow you to write in many voices, genres, and forms. You’ll meet clients who aren’t sure what they want–or who have such strong opinions you’ll wonder why they didn’t just write for themselves! Exhale. You do your best to produce great work representing your client well, making them happy and returning for more. On the flip side, you’ll also learn what you’re not willing to sacrifice, such as your ethics. Become ok with letting go, and you just may find a bit of that joy finds its way in.

Write Like It’s Your Job

When’s the last time you read something that spoke to you? Everybody Writes by Ann Hadley, is the latest to do that for me. The book has become a hybrid bible-self-help wonder. I clutch the hardcover, revisiting dog-eared pages, using it for reference and guidance. I suspect I’ll read it, either in its entirety or in chunks, repeatedly. Obviously, I recommend it, not only for those who consider themselves writers, but wanna-be and have-to-be writers too. No matter what you write, and I’m talking from emails to web copy, you could be better at it. More effective writing will lead to less L’s.

The main lesson I took from Everybody Writes is the simplicity of consistency. No magic formula. No waiting for a touch from the Fairy of Creativity. No anointed tribe exists, and no need for your own Yoko Ono. You’re good at what you do, and you will get better with practice. Just because every word you scribe isn’t a diamond, doesn’t mean it’s a lump of coal either. I’ve often sat in front of a laptop or notebook, only to freeze with feelings of inadequacy. Why start when it isn’t worth a damn? For goodness sake, even my trusty friend Grammarly mocks me. The last stats email included this gem: “Did you know? Scottish author Muriel Spark completed her best-known work, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, in about four weeks.” I didn’t know that, thank you, and please excuse me while I burn my outline. I’ve scrolled through many half-done, kinda-started, and cryptic lists of ideas lost in ‘one-day’ abyss.

Applying consistency to creativity isn’t a new concept. Steven King has been frank on mastering the art of routine. He approaches every day in the same way and aims to write 6 pages by its end, no matter what. He writes like it’s his job, even before it was. Schedule, sit, write, regardless of what comes out on the other side. This practice isn’t also exclusive to writing. Malcolm Gladwell outlines the 10, 000 hours rule in his brilliant work, Outliers. Watch Rapture on Netflix, a series chronicling the journey of select up-and-coming and established hip-hop superstars. A commonality presents itself. Talent is essential, but the ones who refuse to give up are the ones who made it. They outworked everyone by showing up day after day, tremendous or bloody terrible.

Ann’s style will resonate with you. The book is an easy read and perfect for skipping to the section you need right now. Listen, it’s one thing to read about a concept and quite another to implement, right? If you can start where she coaxes you to get started, dispelling the tiny myths that keep you from jumping into the ring. Think of her as that friend who’s brutally honest but encouraging at the same time. Each following chapter is a bounty of precise advice for every writing, content, and publication scenario. Seriously, you feel like Keanu after the red pill.

Sometimes the subject isn’t sexy or is more function than fun. White papers, reviews, term papers, and press releases come to mind. Sometimes it’s the weight. A speech, a crisis communication response, a reply to a child’s teacher that doesn’t make you sound like a bitch but needs to clarify you can be. Approach each the same way, and you’ve won half the battle.

Personally, the process starts with sitting at my desk, mood-ready playlist, a timer, muted cell, and a promise to ignore the email notifications that beckon from the top right of my screen. I build in reward breaks. If I’ve been writing for 45 minutes (and sometimes less if it’s one of those days), I reward myself with a game of Solitaire or a Twitter scroll. Maybe I grab a snack or a quick walk. Morning, twilight, in the basement, or a coffee spot-the formula doesn’t matter, as long as it’s yours. You’ll become strong enough that even when the set-up isn’t ideal, or you’re on the hot seat, you still punch that card.

Here’s to the visible future where you’re a versatile and even more fantastic writer. Show up and do the damn thang.