PR for the Regular Joe

June 24, 2009

Save your pitch from the circular file

Filed under: Media outreach,Public Relations — Big Sky Public Relations @ 11:11 pm
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Recently, I spoke with a new account coordinator who was experiencing frustration pitching broadcast media and was having difficulty placing a story.  She asked me how I managed to consistently produce results in this sector while simultaneously enjoying the work.  I happen to know she works in a fantastic company with talented, accomplished professionals so I was left wondering why she did not understand the flaw in her approach.

In fact, her comments are a common complaint and a serious concern.  Why doesn’t this reporter take my calls or return my emails?  What do I have to do to be heard?  How do I produce the results my client deserves?  The answer is that a strong pitch is developed from listening, not speaking.

I learned this crucial, elemental truth in my first public relations internship.  I worked closely with an experienced professional who delivered me from the traditional coffee making duties, and gave me the opportunity to start pitching.  Before I ever touched a phone, she took time to show me the basics of researching writers before I handed them a story.  She helped me understand listening to the media translates to reading what they write; going beyond taking their title and beat off of Cision and understanding their interests.

With her guidance, I scoured magazines, newspapers and websites to gain an understanding of who was covering issues relevant to our client.  I developed background knowledge on stories written by editors I wanted to approach.   I did the homework and then I pitched my story.  Happy ending? Yes–as an intern, I secured placements with major media outlets including The Washington Post, Family Circle, Life & Style and many more.

For today’s PR newbees, the climate is even more difficult for pitching–the media does not have time for off-target pitches and is quick to share that fact.  Current editors and reporters are doing the job of three people and it is essential to respect their time and provide them useful resources.  If it is not a good approach for their beat, be creative and find a unique angle that fits into their focus or don’t waste your time and their patience.  Through your research, learn to recognize what is and is not newsworthy and work with your clients to develop material that will interest the media.  These strategies will assist you in building a solid foundation of contacts which will serve you throughout your career.

The great news about my friend is that she is resilient, talented and intelligent.   I believe with a little time and direction she will be scoring big hits with broadcast.  I applaud her resourcefulness and desire to try a more effective approach instead of giving up.   She is one of many new to the field and certainly not the first to have legitimate questions.  For all the public relations professionals with years of experience, take time to share a little wisdom with someone starting a career in our industry.  It will certainly make their work more enjoyable and help the public relations field build a stronger relationship with the world of media.

May 31, 2009

Grads: Freelancing, the way out of your parents’ basement

Filed under: Employment — Big Sky Public Relations @ 8:20 pm
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“Tough Times” is the prominent theme nationwide as Americans consume a constant diet of foreclosure and cut backs.  Watching the evening news is a depressing endeavor for all, but an avoidable task for the public relations professional.  For those seeking a new job, especially a first one, it may feel like the only available options are to work at the neighborhood fast food chain and hope for things to improve.

As the end of school strikes fear in the hearts of 2009 graduates, I would like to offer a little comforting news to our newest wave of public relations professionals. Cash flow is out there if you are willing to think outside the perimeters of the traditional entry level position

While large corporations and boutique agencies alike have had to reduce staff numbers to survive, many are still in need of assistance on overflow projects and smaller accounts.  I have found that many firms in my area can not afford the cost of a full time staff member (benefits, vacation, pay, etc.) but may still have some dollars in the budget for the occasional helping hand.  As a professional still relatively new to the field, freelancing not only pays the bills, it brings in more income than many full-time positions available to those with limited experience.

If you decide freelancing is for you, it will require the all the tenacity of a job hunt–permanently.  As a new graduate, you will not have the advantage of a network and it is the most crucial piece in a successful business model.  Attend any and every event you can in your area–I specifically recommend the local chapters of your PRSA and IABC branches.  While this may not yield immediate work opportunities, it will serve you long term and if you’ve chosen public relations, it will likely be an enjoyable part of the process.

In recent networking, I have gleaned some great information about what agencies are seeking in a freelancer.  The largest frustration expressed in these conversations is shortage of great writers in the freelance pool.  With this in mind, I encourage you to seek a mentor from your networking events and begin getting feedback on your writing and AP style.  If writing is not your strongest asset, dedicate the time and energy it takes to become a solid written communicator.  Poor language construction, spelling and grammar errors, and inattentiveness to the small details will be a deal-breaker.  As a freelancer, you must be able to deliver a product the agency feels confident will exceed the expectations of their client.  Build a reputation as a precise writer and you can count on excellent references when it comes time to land the next opportunity.

Another skill to hone is the craft of research.  You can do this by discovering what freelancers with your experience are charging, what firms are in your area and what fields they specialize in, and what the media from major outlets are covering.  The cliche is “Knowledge is Power” and it will never be more true to you than as a new professional.

Overall, freelancing may be unconventional compared to what you dreamed of as a college freshman, but it allows you the freedom to learn new things daily and to challenge yourself (not to mention working from home and a flexible schedule).  Good luck grads-remember, options are out there if you are willing to go after them!

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