Shhhh! Here’s the Real Reason That Reporter Won’t Answer Your Phone Call

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By Sarah Larson, Furia Rubel Communications

Like most public relations agencies, Furia Rubel subscribes to media database services, and we have tried a handful of them over the years. Most are laughably outdated, in an industry that changes rapidly, or inexplicably incorrect, a point that was driven home to me on two recent occasions.

The first time I realized just how out of date most databases are was when a media contact list for a particular pitch for a health and science client included – drum roll please – myself, in my previous role as editor of a digital news organization. The second occasion occurred when I noticed that the database listing for a former colleague, who is a sportswriter in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, said that he covers pigeon racing. Um…not so much. (Note to self: what reporter does cover pigeon racing as a regular beat?)

Media databases do have some value, particularly for researching regional or international media outlets. However, they should be a communications professional’s first, not the only, stop in their media pitching research, because contact information alone will not get you past the first gauntlet: actually getting in touch with that journalist.
Nearly every listing for every journalist in these third-party media databases includes the journalist’s “preferred” method of contact, as reported to the database company. And there’s a reason that nearly every journalist claims to prefer to be reached by email.
Why is that?

Because she doesn’t like you.

More accurately, she probably sees most PR people as annoyances. If they’re being honest, most reporters will tell you that they’ve had dozens or hundreds of negative encounters over the years with PR people who have no idea how the news is actually reported. If you are a random PR person calling a reporter to whom you have never spoken, 9 out of 10 times, that phone call will kick over to voicemail. Why? That reporter doesn’t know you, she doesn’t know why you’re calling, and she’s busy. She doesn’t want to spend three minutes on the phone listening to a pointless pitch when she can scan and disregard an irrelevant email in a matter of seconds.

That is because journalists today are not just busy. They are overworked, in an industry that is frustrating and struggling and so very important, all at the same time, an industry where journalists are expected to do more and more with less and less with each passing month and with each subsequent layoff, buyout, and acquisition.

In this environment, triage kicks in. You answer only the calls that you know for certain will not waste your time. You cover only the stories in which a clear and direct contact to your beat, your coverage area, and your organization’s mission is immediately obvious.
So what does this mean for PR professionals and the clients we represent? Should we not even bother to try to pitch story ideas to journalists? Should we meekly email every story pitch one time, as directed, and slink away?

No, of course not. It just means PR pros have to be better.

You must get to know the reporters that cover the industry or geographic area in which your clients operate. One way to glean great insight is to follow them on social media, read their posts, review their writing style and get a sense of their schedules and deadlines.

Just this week, a Philadelphia social scene reporter publicly chastised a PR person for emailing him four times in two weeks asking if he would post her client’s event on his blog. He said, and I paraphrase, if she would have looked at my blog, she would have seen that I’ve been so busy that I haven’t posted to it in weeks. And if she looked at my Facebook feed, she would have seen that I’ve been busy covering events just about every night. Now’s, she’s blacklisted.

To be effective, a PR pro must research the journalist and outlet as they operate now, not according to what a database says they do. You need to be sensitive to their schedules. If they are in the middle of a months-long investigation or on a three-week stint of working night events or meetings, your feature story pitch likely will be more successful if you wait another week. To make those judgment calls, you must know what an individual journalist covers and what they don’t, and understand why they make those decisions. That way, you can anticipate their objections and address them head-on by demonstrating your story’s clear value to the journalist immediately.

That means you must fine-tune the actual pitches to be brief and attention-getting. A story pitch should include enough information to demonstrate the clear connection to that reporter’s beat or the outlet’s coverage area and focus, but should be short enough for a busy journalist to digest on the fly.

It also definitely should not include all the information that you have to share about the topic. Journalists are curious beasts; they want to learn and they want to discover information. The purpose of the pitch is to get them interested enough in the story idea to want to learn more. Then you can get them on the phone or set up an in-person meeting to discuss the story further. That approach is far more likely to lead to a published or produced story that is relevant and interesting to all parties – the PR pro, the client, the journalist, and the audience.

Once you’ve demonstrated to a journalist that you understand what kind of stories they are interested in, they are far more likely to take a phone call from you the next time. Because now, she knows you and she knows that you wouldn’t call her and waste her precious time. And that is a relationship you won’t find in any database.

Note: PPRA is composed of many distinct organizations and individuals, each with different perspectives and specializations in diverse areas of public relations. Many of these members’ websites feature blogs with valuable insights and advice, and we would like to make this content available to you. Periodically, we will repost content from member blogs. If you would like to see your company’s blog considered, email Stephen Krasowski at skrasowski@rmahq.org.

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Use Personnel News to Showcase Your Organization

By SPRYTE Communications

When it comes to telling your story, one of the most overlooked – or under-appreciated – opportunities is the classic personnel announcement.

Many times, personnel announcements end up falling into the “we’ll get around to it” category of priorities. After all, healthcare organizations often expend a great deal of time and energy (as well as expense) in attracting and landing top-flight professional staff to help them move forward.

Why not take the opportunity to tell the world (or at least your key clients and industry colleagues) about the exciting new developments taking place and the new people that are joining your healthcare organization?

Points of Distinction
What is the story you’re looking to tell? Is it solely about a new hire, or is there something more to say that can help brandish the image of your organization and distinguish it from your competition? At the very least, that’s a point you should consider whenever such opportunities arise.

Recently, SPRYTE reunited for a special project with a client that we’ve worked with off and on for the past 20 or so years. The opportunity brought back a lot of warm memories about past campaigns and projects, so we were thrilled to get the call to help Home Care Associates (HCA), a prominent Philadelphia based agency providing in-home respite and senior care to clients throughout the city and region. One of the things that makes HCA unique is that it is a women-owned business and worker-owned cooperative that has received national recognition as a welfare to workforce model. (In fact, more than 60 percent of HCA’s employees formerly received public assistance.) In addition, it is certified as a socially-conscious B Corp.

Back to the Future
The new project involved the announcement of a new CEO. The retiring CEO was well-known throughout the Philadelphia region as community-involved, politically-connected and every effective leader. HCA wanted to make sure they were hiring the right person. So a national search was conducted.

After several months of searching, it became apparent that the best candidate for the job had been there all along.

Tatia Cooper had begun at HCA in 1994 as a job coach. She’d held numerous positions at HCA in a steady rise up the organization’s ladder and was considered for the CEO role even as the national search began.

The Company You Keep
HCA leaders readily understood the message that Ms. Cooper’s appointment would send. Even after a national search, the qualified and capable candidate turned out to be an individual who had steadily worked her way through the organization, learning the various aspects of the company and earning her promotion to the top job.

In fact, Ms. Cooper personally developed a number of professional tools and approaches that directly impact HCA workers’ success, including supportive approaches to housing, health, transportation and child care challenges.

For a company that prides itself on being a woman-owned, worker-owned model, it would be hard to imagine a better example to reflect the values and the commitment of the organization as it moves forward.

Rollout and Response
Regional business, newspapers and other media outlets were quick to pick up the story, highlighting Ms. Cooper in an assortment of “Personnel News” and business announcement columns.

As part of the follow-up, we concentrated on Ms. Cooper’s personal story – in particular the fact that her family story of community commitment is one that goes back generations. Her grandmother, for example, was a well-known and highly-respected advocate for economic and social justice who served many years in the Pennsylvania Department of Education looking out for the interests of students.

Her mother, meanwhile, is a widely-respected community activist in her own right, was one of the original staff members and later became Executive Director of the Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center for Women.

In addition, her aunt is President of the Uptown Entertainment and Development Corporation in Philadelphia and has been working for years to restore and renovate this famous North Broad Street community venue.

All in all, it’s an impressive story about a very impressive family of community leaders.
The angle has led to one local radio interview appearance, with other opportunities in the works.

For healthcare communicators, the moral of the story is to think creatively. It may sometimes seem that personnel announcements are a necessary chore that simply need to be disseminated in a timely fashion.

It often pays to look deeper. Is there a more meaningful and relatable story that can be told that will advance the interests or the image of your organization? At the same time you’re sending a message internally, that a promotion or new hire is in fact newsworthy.
You might have to dig a little deeper, but very often the extra work will be worth the effort.

Note: PPRA is composed of many distinct organizations and individuals, each with different perspectives and specializations in diverse areas of public relations. Many of these members’ websites feature blogs with valuable insights and advice, and we would like to make this content available to you. Periodically, we will repost content from member blogs. If you would like to see your company’s blog considered, email Stephen Krasowski at skrasowski@rmahq.org.

Communicating the Merger

By Kirk Dorn, Ceisler Media & Issue Advocacy

When two companies merge, or one is acquired by another, the immediate reaction from many stakeholders is trepidation.

Employees may fear for their jobs or benefits. Stockholders worry about profits. Customers wonder about the quality of the product.

At Ceisler Media & Issue Advocacy, we’ve worked hand-in-hand with business owners as they’ve gone through the process of merger and acquisition. Our job is to help them get the proper message out to all concerned parties.

And, in doing so, we are always guided by one word: Reassurance.

Clearly, transactions like this are not always good news for all sides. After all, the point of a merger is efficiency and that often translates to fewer employees. When two organizations become one, they don’t need two chief financial officers or, perhaps, as many workers at the plant.

But the goal, of course, is the greater good. We aim to reassure everyone involved that the changes will ultimately be beneficial for the future of the company, its investors, its workers and its customers.

Recently, we worked with a large educational services company that was acquired by a much smaller company. It was that rare case of a minnow swallowing a whale. Concern rippled through the staff of the company being taken over. We needed to let them know they were in no current danger of losing their jobs. Reassurance.

In another case, we represented a high-end restaurant group that was bought out by a larger restaurant company. It’s fair to say that the purchasing group’s chain of restaurants were more basic, in both price and menu. We moved to let all concerned parties – including patrons – know that the fancy eateries’ quality would not be compromised. Reassurance.

The first order of business in both cases was to help the companies’ leaders prepare their message breaking the news to high-ranking managers. Those managers, in turn, explained the changes to groups of employees.

In-person meetings are always best in these cases because impactful news deserves personal attention. Something might get lost in translation, even in well-written memos. Ceisler Media experts helped the managers prepare scripts they could read or use as cheat sheets. We also equipped them with likely questions and appropriate answers.

If an in-person meeting is not possible with every employee, we recommend video as an option. In these cases, the spoken word is almost always more effective than the written word.

Then there are the customers. In the case of our educational services company, we needed to reassure affected school districts that, even after taking on a large debt service, the newly created firm could still deliver the excellent service they were used to receiving. So Ceisler’s team helped company executives script phone calls to every school district.

For that restaurant acquisition, a main objective was to tell customers of the fancy establishments that food quality would be as good as ever. So we told frontline staffers to refer any customer questions to management. In these deals, worker bees are usually the least affected – you still need cooks and servers and busboys. The savings come in the back office – accountants, IT staff, HR people. Once those frontline employees understand their jobs are secure, they are happy to support the company and turnover inquiries to managers.

Keep in mind that any written materials for employees could make their way to news media.

Remember that if you are preparing an email blast or letter.

Ah yes, the media. Once employees have been informed, it’s time to broadcast the news – if there is a reason to do so. Sometimes the mergers or acquisitions aren’t all that interesting to media or there is no benefit to coverage. That’s a determination a Ceisler Media communications expert can help make. We have had cases where one company bought another to bail it out. It was not in either’s interest to publicize the deal.

If, however, there is a benefit to publicly sharing the news – or if it somehow gets out inadvertently – you’ve got to prepare your messaging. Come up with as many questions and strategic answers as you can for media interviews. Conduct mock interviews with the CEO. Know that when you go to the media you are talking to all of your audiences, as well as employees who already know the news.

Even as you prepare the message, realize ahead that you may not be able to answer all questions. False information may get out there. Sometimes you have to stay silent because you cannot validate – or dispel – a rumor.

One final point: The mergers and acquisitions we typically hear about in media are the huge ones. The rules change in those mega-cases because they receive so much scrutiny. But for the average case, following a systematic plan of reassurance for all audiences will produce the best results.

Note: PPRA is composed of many distinct organizations and individuals, each with different perspectives and specializations in diverse areas of public relations. Many of these members’ websites feature blogs with valuable insights and advice, and we would like to make this content available to you. Periodically, we will repost content from member blogs. If you would like to see your company’s blog considered, email Stephen Krasowski at skrasowski@rmahq.org.

Event Recap: “Get Social: How to Approach Online Influencers Now”

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By Brianna Rooney

On Tuesday, October 30, PPRA invited six panelists to discuss the fast-changing field of working with social influencers. Some panelists work with influencers daily, while others are influencers themselves who shed light on best practices. Participants included:

• Alex Bodgen, Visit Philadelphia
• Emma Fried-Cassorla, Philly Love Notes
• HughE Dillon, Philly Chit Chat
• Paige Knapp, Devine + Partners
• Kevin Chemidlin, PhillyWho Podcast
• Ja-mel Vereen, Cuba Libre Digital Media Producer and co-founder, Wooderice.com
• Moderated by Michelle Conron, Cashman & Associates

The panel kicked off with participants talking about why social media influencers are important and all were able to reinforce the same point – you’re showing content through the eyes of someone your audience trusts, someone they’re already following and creates an authentic conversation. With a lively conversation, audient members scribbled down notes on three key points: how to work with influencers, how to engage influencers and how to measure campaign outcomes.

In order to make sure PR pros set them up for success while reaching out to influencers, panelists broke down the best way to work with influencers:

• Build and invest in personal relationships.
• Understand their work and how a project can fit what they’re already doing.
• Keep an open mind – consider the influencers opinions as well and make it a collaborative effort.
• Offer them an exclusive.
• Compensate them for their time – respect their time and create an appropriate business relationship.

The audience was highly engaged and backed up a little – asking how to find these influencers before engaging them. Panels broke down a few easy ways:

• Look at top photos from Instagram locations.
• See who other influencers follow.
• Post a call to action – looking for photographers? Post about it!
• Look into business trade associations to see who members are.

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Finally, once you’re able to successful engage influencers, evaluation and measurement is important. Below are some tips for showcasing success:

• What content did you get? Can you re-use this on your website, social media and more?
• Qualitative measurement is as important as quantitative – look at the engagement and comments, highlights would include commentary such as “Wow, this is a cool event, where can I get more information”
• Make sure to get analytics from the influencers to see number of followers gained, Instagram Story views, etc. This will be part of your initial business contract and important in showing the value of the partnership

Do you work with influencers and have best practices? Tweet us @PPRA to share!

Tips to Help Team Members Grow

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By Maven Communications

There comes a point in everyone’s career when they are charged with managing an intern or a team member. This is more than your job, it’s a responsibility that can greatly affect the future of your team members. Interns look for positions to gain job experience and junior level staff look to learn and grow from their senior peers and managers. Providing feedback is a key part in mentoring a team member to produce the kind of work that you, your company, and clients expect.

Here are a few tips for managers to consider when providing feedback/mentorship to interns and junior level staff.

1. Create the right mix of honesty and encouragement: Provide truthful feedback that helps them learn what they can do better, while also providing positive affirmation by pointing out what they’ve done well.

2. Set expectations: From the first day, let your team members know the types of projects they will be working on, the importance of each part of the work, and the standards expected. Explaining the full picture of the projects helps them realize the important role even simple research can play, thus making them want to do even the mundane work well.

3. Provide examples: It always works best to provide samples to similar project work. This allows the intern/team member to evaluate what kind of outcome is expected.
Create a continuous learning experience: The review process is part of the learning experience, so set feedback check-ins to review parts of the project throughout the process. This will allow the team member to continue to improve while ensuring that they also understand. Once they have a grasp on the work, these check-ins can become less frequent.

4. Share the process that works for you: Sharing tips about what works for you can be useful to help them develop good work habits. This can range from telling them how you approach a project to walking away from something they’ve written for a few hours and coming back to it to proof with fresh eyes.

5. Share your experiences: We have all been in their shoes and have a few of our own war stories. Be relateable to them by sharing some of your experiences, especially the times where you faced hardships/struggled.

Using these tips can help create an effective team and gives interns and team members a positive experience that can have a lasting impact on their career. It often will lead to you being considered a trusted mentor.

Note: PPRA is composed of many distinct organizations and individuals, each with different perspectives and specializations in diverse areas of public relations. Many of these members’ websites feature blogs with valuable insights and advice, and we would like to make this content available to you. Periodically, we will repost content from member blogs. If you would like to see your company’s blog considered, email Stephen Krasowski at skrasowski@rmahq.org.