There’s a fine line between aggressive and lying

Few things get a reporter or editor more upset than lying.

Lying in an interview.  Lying about the hook of a pitch.  Lying about who is available for an interview.  Lying is not good.

And sometimes being aggressive crosses the subtle line into lying.  It’s a line you HAVE to be mindful of.


Consider this real life example from my files a few months ago:

A PR rep contacts me with a story idea that’s a month out.  I clearly explain that we cannot book  the story until the week of  (it’s a feature-y piece) and suggest that we touch base at that time.  I’m very clear that nothing is definite.

This PR rep calls back a week early, gets a DIFFERENT reporter on the phone and says quite aggressively (I should know, I was sitting next to them when the call came in):

“Colby wanted to book this interview.  When can we set it up?”


Was I interested in the interview?  Yup.  Would we probably have covered it?  Yup?

But calling the newsroom and putting words in a reporter or editor’s mouth is not wise.

It may not seem like a big deal … after all, I did say we were interested …. but I also said I wasn’t sure we could fit it in …. consider this:

What if we were hit by a major breaking story or a massive exclusive that needed the full attention of the newsroom?  Now imagine that in the midst of this, our news director sees one of our reporters doing a fluffy interview “that I told him to get.”  Sure we can straighten things out, but not before a frustrating series of conversations with the ND and the reporter.

Also, keep in mind that reporters do not want to bungle a relationship with a PR rep.  If they believe someone else in the newsroom set up an interview, or wanted to set up the interview, they’re going to move forward.


Can you guess whether that story made air on our station?

A better alternative would have been:


“Hi, this is Trudy from Such and Such Firm.  Colby and I spoke a while back about this interview.  Time is coming up fast and our schedule is booking up fast.  What’s the best way to get in touch with him to check our calendars?”


Just like a REPORTER can kill a connection to a PR source by misprinting a single word (leaving out “allegedly” anyone?) it is imperative that the PR side can walk that fine line between aggressive . . . and OVERLY aggressive.


Do not be passive

Who here has felt intimidated calling a news room?  Show of hands.  OK, close to everyone.  And it makes sense.  Newsrooms are loud, fast-paced, pressure-filled, deadline-focused machines.  It’s easy to call with a pitch, only to reach a strung-out reporter facing a daunting deadline who just doesn’t have time to talk.


It can feel personal.  It can feel like you are wasting your time and theirs.


But it isn’t.  And you aren’t.
Fact is, if you have taken the time to meet with the client, craft a press release, edit that press release and are now directly calling newsrooms . . . the story HAS to be worthwhile.  (and if it isn’t, you should not have wasted all that time).


What’s unfortunate is that this process seems to make PR reps more and more passive as it goes.  This is an actual interaction (over several days) that I’ve had with a PR rep.


Step One:  Rep confidently calls, she’s familiar with the station but needs my help determining the best person to field her pitch.  She’s concise, on point, and energetic.


Step Two:  She sends the press release with a customized e-mail, but it’s more formal.  No discussion of when and how to follow-up.  Simply “Hi, we talked about this story, here’s the material.  K Bye.”


NOTE:  Remember, reporters get hundreds of pitches a day.  It behooves the PR Rep in this case to make a point of when and how to follow up.


Step Three:  Her follow up e-mail is VERY passive.  It uses phrases like “if you might consider covering.”  If YOU aren’t excited and passionate about the story, why should the reporter be?


Do not take the stance that the reporter is doing you some huge favor by covering your story.  You are offering the news room great content, right?  And you’re offering it up in a very turnkey manner which makes their life more easy, right?  Then be FIRM about it.  Stand your ground and keep swinging. You get three strikes at the plate before you’re out.  It may take the third swing before you knock it out of the park.  If you start half-swinging, a homerun may turn into a foul-out or a single (sorry, for the random baseball metaphor . . . .that was mostly for my dad).


No need to be a junk yard attack dog, but remember that CONFIDENCE is a key to getting through all those other crappy stories and getting yours on the air or in print.

Reporters know what telemarketing sounds like

Occasionally, PR people have to cold call on stories.  It’s part of the biz.  Pick up the phone, dial newsrooms and try to get through to the news “decision maker” for coverage.  It’s a tough gig.  Trust me, I’ve worked sales.  I know about cold calling.

But if there is one piece of advice I can offer it would be this:  before you pick up the phone, open your internet browser.

Which scenario do you think is more likely to land coverage?

(1)  “Hi, I’m Trudy from ABC Marketing.  Who there is in charge of booking stories?”


(2) “Hi, it’s Trudy from ABC Marketing.  I’ve got an expert that would make for a great interview with John and Joe next week.  Am I correct that Carly does the booking?  When would be the best time to catch her for two minutes so I can share the details?”

The unique thing about the PR-Media relationship is both sides take turns being the client.  Sometimes reporters need help from PR reps getting an interview.  Sometimes PR reps need the Media’s help getting a story on the air.  In this instant, the media is your potential client.

Almost every media outlet these days has a website with some info on their programming and staff.  Use that to your advantage. Take a couple minutes before picking up the phone and figure out if they have any shows / columns / spaces that look like they would be a good fit for your pitch.  Also, see if you can identify an editor or news manager.  That is the person you want to ask for first.

Follow-Up: You’re Doing It Right (Grady Britton Edition)

Wanted to give some kudos to the team at Grady Britton this morning.  Most specifically, Lindsay Yale.

When it comes to press coverage, I am constantly preaching the need to:

1. Stand out from the crowd

2. Be proactive

3. Be timely

(not exactly in that order)

Take yesterday.  I had more than 100 pitches in my inbox already and it was not even noon.  As a PR rep, your job is to help me sift through the fluff and figure out why I should cover your story and how I can do just that.

Enter Lindsay.

Yale and I have spoken in the past so rather than sending me a standard release, she shot me a two line e-mail asking when I had time to speak with her about a couple of story ideas.  (Note: this not only makes the reporter feel important, it also shows that you believe your story is important enough to warrant the extra attention).

When we got on the phone that afternoon, Yale is concise and to the point.  She’s confident in her delivery which tells me she believes the story is worth my time and important to our listeners (Note: wishy washy “if you think you might have time” pitches come across as weak.  BELIEVE in what you are selling).

She’s offering a medical pitch that ties into Colon Cancer Awareness Month.  She’s got multiple angles that we could pursue for the story and experts available to talk about each one.  She’s also flexible on timing.  Needless to say, we did the story.

(Author’s Note:  During the conversation, she also slips in a mention for another story in the works which she can follow up on later …. talk about forwarding one story into the next).

Lindsay clearly understands the needs of a reporter, how to get their attention and how to maximize coverage opportunities.

The question now becomes …. what practices do you see here that you are not currently using but COULD start using TODAY?

It’s like a handshake . . .

When I was growing up, one of the first lessons my dad taught me was very simple.  When you meet someone new … stick out your hand …. look them right in the baby blues …. and speak clearly.


The message, of course, is that first impressions matter and you want your first impression to be one of confidence, professionalism and manners.  People will not be as drawn to you or interested in working with you if you stare at the floor, mumble or offer a dead-fish handshake.


With that in mind, think of every press pitch you send as a handshake.  Sending press releases or making pitches by phone (or on social networking platforms, etc) is the first step in the business of getting news coverage.  (step two is securing the interview, step three conducting the interview, four getting it on the air, etc.)  Your job is to present that confident, professional demeanor that makes a news organization (be it a radio reporter, a print editor, a blogger) WANT to work with you.



Have confidence that your story is news worthy

Be concise and get to the point

Be knowledgeable and prepared to answer any initial questions

Choose your words carefully (overuse phrases like ALERT, URGENT, BREAKING NEWS and you could wind up in the spam filter)


Be passive (“If you have a few minutes I thought this is a story you might consider  . . . ”  It’s a good story!  Act like it!)

Worry about being a bother.  If you call at a bad time or an e-mail isn’t returned, don’t be afraid to ask for a better time to follow up.

Can’t say it enough: Creativity rules

One of my key talking points is creativity rules.  This goes for your media sharing (blog, You Tube), your story ideas and your STORY PITCHES.


Received this unique pitch from the fine folks at Goodwill.

It’s a Goodwill coffee mug with a few pieces of candy and wrapped up in the middle (like a scroll) is their release on an event this weekend. It took some elbow work (I wasn’t the only reporter to receive the package).  It took time (both assembling and delivering).  But it also stood out above any story pitch I got that day.

Now, Goodwill sends story ideas all year.  This is one of their big events and it deserves a bigger pitch.  Clearly you can’t send an eye-catcher like this for EVERY story.  But think about the one or two BIG stories you pitch every year.  What extra step could you take to make it stand out?