Last week I talked about how to make a pitch to the press. It's easier than you probably think. But here's a fundamental principle that will dramatically increase anything you do in media and PR. It's the golden rule of PR communications (and it's equally as effective in sales). Are you ready? Here it is: Speak to your audience's listening.
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This is an expression from personal growth training but it applies especially well to PR. The human brain runs nonstop. Researchers peg the pace of the human brain at 70,000 thoughts per day and 35-48 thoughts every minute, particularly as it receives an incoming message. As you're speaking, the recipient is thinking, "Will this matter? Will it matter to me? Does this category matter? If it does, would this be the company I'd bank on to win?" You need to anticipate and speak to the things that are sure to be racing through your listener's brain.
In a nutshell, this is a reminder to focus much less on the story you want to tell and much more on the aspect of your story that is interesting and relevant to your listener. So, for example, the fact that you have the first true Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution for customer relationship management (CRM) may mean a whole lot to you, but to customers or readers, it doesn't matter at all (or at least not until they've established a context for this cool information that matters to them). Maybe you solve a pernicious problem in a new or better way, or perhaps you resolve an issue readers yet didn't realize was a problem at all. Now you have an interesting story to tell.
Would it be easy to implement? How did it work out for others? Forget the testimonials and think about customer stories that give a real perspective on what it's like to migrate from one solution to another. What are the keys to making it go smoothly? How soon (really) might you expect to achieve return on investment?
Remember, Reporters Are Customers, TooThe golden rule of "speak to their listening" applies to pitching reporters as well. The questions running through the reporter's mind are similar to a customer's thoughts but with an additional dimension: "Does this fit my beat? Does it fit my audience? How much research and fact checking would be required to make this a passable story? Are there any visual elements available to me or would I need to find or create those as well?"
Now you know what to do. Bring the answers with you and you'll be a welcome resource to whoever is ready to meet the reporter's needs (as opposed to being a desperate pitch engine spewing your news like a hose). When you are on such a tear, you forget to breathe and the reporter can't get a word in edgewise, so you lose.
As a columnist, I have pages of notes from sources who didn't pause for air while flooding me with their inspirational stories and have, thus, made me late for other appointments without a way to escape. The notes sit for months waiting for me to determine (if and when I can find the time and if I can remember) whether or not I can somehow find a meaningful story topic within the floodgate of words. If you can learn to make the reporters' jobs easier and their results more effective, then you are on a track to succeed.
No, You Can't Control the PressHowever, it is possible to take the principle of helping a reporter too far. I learned the hard way early in my writing career about why it is that reporters seldom show a story in advance to a source. It's not that the writer is lazy or doesn't care about accuracy; it's because too many sources, upon seeing the draft, believe it is theirs to rewrite or control. In one case, a source sent back my article draft entirely rewritten and replaced by a piece of copy that read like the organization's brochure.
"Go ahead, take it, you can have the byline and be a hero," he said. "Now it's correct." Of course, that didn't fly.
In another case, the PR source who had pitched the story responded indignantly that the interviewee (a notable press figure on a national TV show) "was very busy" and would not have the time to review the article for at least "a week or two" and that the draft was to go no further until her full approval was given. Needless to say, I will never respond to a pitch to interview that person again.
In a similar vein, here's the feedback my friend Dan Kusnetzky, an IT and virtualization specialist who heads The Kusnetzky Group, shared in response to my last column: "I would advise vendors and PR folks to actually read the bio writers provide," he said. "This tidbit of information is likely to indicate the writer's interests, areas of research or coverage, and what is likely to allow the PR person to make a connection with them."
"That connection is vital," Kusnetzky continued. "I can't tell you how many email messages I get from folks who clearly haven't got a clue what I do or what my interests are. Their messages are gently escorted into the trash."
As Kusnetzky notes, people who persist can get themselves blacklisted. "I've become totally convinced these folks are being paid by the number of briefings they set," he said. He's even had people lie to arrange a call.
"Once I was on the line, and when I learned what the call really was about, I was forced to end it," he said. Clearly, this is not a good way to forge a positive relationship with the press.
Get the Press That Matters MostHere's another piece of evidence that shows why speaking to your customers' listening really pays off. Today it is possible to see how many social media shares a story has received in most online publications and, in some cases, to see how many people have viewed or read it as well. When a story resonates, readers rush to the table. They read, they comment, and they share. But when a self-serving story manages to make it to print, its low value is obvious. The vendor may be taking bows for getting past gatekeepers with self-congratulatory messages, links, callouts, and promotion, but the traction a piece like this will garner is fairly nil.
So remember the golden rule of PR: Put your audience or listener first and your media results will get significantly better. Why not give it a try?