Lazy Hack Turns Lazy Flacks Into Story

Lazy Cat with Beer

The year ended with less of a whimper than expected in the public relations industry with everything from Uber and Sony missteps to smaller gems like GoGo Squeez and Play Doh.

In fact, this story from the New York Post almost went unnoticed. In his December 25th article, “A gift to all the p.r. people who were blown off in 2014,” business reporter John Crudele turns a dozen pitches into a story and outs the 12 folks that sent them his way.

Facebook comments ranged from the expected “he’s mean” and “these people are just trying to do their jobs” to the more snarky “bet they include this in their wrap reports” and a deeper comment noting the “mean generation of faceless relationship building” we’re forced to deal with these days.

Is the story, and Crudele’s approach, mean? I’ll leave that up to you to decide. But let’s remember two things before you weigh in.

1) Consider the Source: The New York Post notes it’s a “tabloid-format” newspaper. And we all know what tabloids tend to be really good at, picking a fight.

2) Target the Pitch: Based on his profile in Cision, you’d wonder why anyone of these folks are pitching Crudele in the first place.** He focuses on topics like stocks, finance issues and related topics. So why in the hell are pitches about beans and regifting being sent his way? Many of the pitches he singled out are clearly not related to his beat.

Do Your Homework

Let’s say your pitch does cross his topics of coverage. If I looked up a reporter and read that he has an aggressive writing style and thrives on issue-oriented controversy? I’m reading his last few articles, at a minimum, before deciding to send him something.

Crudele wrote the piece on Christmas Eve. And by wrote, I mean he phoned it in. So he was being lazy to be sure. But I’m not so sure he was being mean as he was simply being himself. And there are an endless number of ways these 12 pitches, and the people that sent them, could have avoided becoming the story.

Thanks to Traci Coulter for the NY Post link. She’s one of the good PR folks we like to highlight on this blog because they are most excellent professionals.

Kevin Dugan, @prblog

You Don’t Need Client Approval to Pitch the Media (Well)

If you’re in business to business communications, you can empathize with the bane of my career’s existence…client/customer approvals to tell their story, more commonly known as a case history. If you’re in business to consumer communications, there’s a lesson here for you also.

For those who don’t know, case histories are simple stories stating the problem, your client’s solution and the results it brought their customer. This informational overview is the oil that helps the btob media relations machine operate seamlessly. Consider that the story is told by the media, from the customer’s perspective. If your client’s customer is a known brand, case histories turn into earned media more often than not.

The biggest issue in mining this black gold is usually customer approvals. But before we give you some tips on how to get that approval, here’s an example of why you shouldn’t let customer approval stop you from telling the story.

Take No For An Answer
Years ago, my agency turned a client’s issue with getting customer approvals to discuss case studies into an ad campaign. They designed brief case studies to resemble classified documents like the one above.

With details like the customer’s brand and other particulars blacked out, it eliminated the need for customer approval, it attracted the reader and made the ad even shorter to read. The only way it could have been a better campaign would be if I could take credit for it.

Creativity is a Universal Opportunity
This need for creativity applies to the business to consumer segment as well. Consider what the adult video website, Pornhub, is doing for a pending ad campaign. It’s asking the ad community to submit designs for a national, safe for work (SFW) ad campaign touting the site.

We’ve received porn-related pitches before. One of them ranks (literally and figuratively) as one of our worst pitches EVER. But the initial success of Pornhub’s approach, regardless of how we feel about the topic, is a reminder that PR people can talk about anything.

Five Tips to Get the Story Told
So here are some tips to keep in mind about getting your client/customer story told.

1) You Don’t Know Unless You Ask: The one time you don’t ask to tell the story is inevitably going to be the one time you’d be allowed to do so. Never skip asking.

2) It’s How You Ask: I start by telling my client’s customer what a case history is NOT. It’s not an ad or a testimonial, it is an informational overview of the project. And they get to see and approve everything before we pitch the media.

3) Mutual Benefit: How is a Fortune 100 brand going to benefit from a story about how it’s new toilet paper dispensers saved them hundreds of thousands of dollars? It’s probably not. But the person most closely connected with the story, the person approving your request, will benefit. It can be used internally to remind management this person did a good thing, it can be used to remind this person’s team they did a good thing and it can help their personal brand. It doesn’t hurt to tell them this as part of the ask.

4) It’s Who Asks: Who owns the relationship with the client or customer approving your request? This person can help you assess if it’s better for them to ask (with your guidance) or for you to ask or someone else entirely. If the relationship owner is worried it’ll have a negative impact, they either don’t understand what you’re asking or they have other issues in play with the relationship.

5) Ask Once: If this single approval will launch a tide of thought leadership, uh, ships, make that clear. If you ask to pitch the media, then ask to submit it in an awards competition, then ask to put it on your website, right before you ask to use it in a speaker’s proposal….yeah, you wear out your welcome.

Much like baseball, if you average .300, you’ll be a pro — and you’ll probably have enough stories to reach your broader goals.

Kevin Dugan, @prblog

Why You Should Read Spin Sucks: a BOOK REPORT

Spin Sucks by Gini Dietrich

Spin Sucks, is a much-needed, pragmatic explanation of the changing communication landscape.

The book’s author, Gini Diterich, dives into this changing landscape and clearly articulates how its changed — without hyperbole, fifty cent words or, of course, spin. The book is practical, clearly written and helpful as a result.

It’s no surprise Dietrich hails from the Midwest…we’re known for this kind of counsel. The fact that Spin Sucks is written for clients should encourage, not discourage, practitioners from reading it. This ultimately helps the reader better articulate how communication has changed to their own clients.

 

Spin Sucks Basics
As you can imagine, social media, content marketing and search are all topics of discussion in Spin Sucks. Each chapter includes plenty of explanation, how-to instruction and great examples to support its assertions. It is a quick read with 10 chapters, organized into four sections, comprising the just under 150 page book. And it’s written in a way that you can read it in the old-school, linear fashion or get all millennial up in here and jump around based on your interest or needs.

A Point of Contention
The only thing I disagree with in Spin Sucks is Dietrich’s classification of social media as shared media — a fourth silo along with paid, owned and earned media.

Social media has disrupted our industry. Social sharing has become so critical to what we do, it’s becoming a seamless part of communication. And there are examples of paid, owned and earned on nearly any social platform today. This and the fact that technology convergence has been eliminating media silos for years, something I’ve promoted for some time, is the basis for why I do not carve out social media separately.

In her defense, Dietrich notes in Spin Sucks that consumers are distinguishing less and less between “the four types of media.” And that “the lines between communication, marketing, ads, sales, customer experience, product development and human resources will become blurred.”

The bottom line is I think the lines are already blurred and this assumption didn’t change the validity of anything Dietrich proposes in her book.

The Hybrid Skills Trend
One topic Spin Sucks touches on, a trend worthy of its own book, is how changing technology and consumer habits are pushing the need for more hybrid skill sets (inclusive of traditional and non-traditional communication skills).

“Today, public relations professionals have to be knowledgeable about web development, search engine optimization, mobile marketing, content marketing and more.”

Work culture is shifting to address this trend. But things are changing so rapidly the academic world still has some work to do. As the pace of change continues to accelerate, we must be willing to test, learn and iterate what we do more frequently and consistently than we have done in the past.

Dietrich speaks to this as well, noting “your culture must be about experimentation, and you must be willing to take some risk.” This is critical because more than ever as an individuals biggest skill may become the ability to “tolerate failure, quickly pivot and try again.”

It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
Dietrich’s mantra throughout this book is to “remember, it’s a marathon and not a sprint.” And our industry needs to be chanting this mantra.

The key is to be able to show clients why  it’s a marathon, and to ultimately follow up with the results this approach will yield.

Click here for a video about the book. And for more Spin Sucks in general, click here to dig into the community.

 

Kevin Dugan, @prblog