I think it’s safe to say the most challenging part of my job is explaining how the industry works to my clients. Before I take on any client, I do my best to explain what I do, how I do it, and what the expected outcomes are – the good, bad, and the ugly.
Basically, I do my best to under promise and over deliver due to the nature of the business.
What’s the nature of the business? Well, let me break it down like this: Public relations can do wonders for your business. It can make your brand more credible and visible which leads to more business growth. But, it’s not what you want, when you want it.
You’re not ready for a Public Relations retainer fee if…
1. You don’t have a story to tell.
This is what’s going to earn you media coverage. Storytelling. It’s not how amazing your brand is or how much money you generate. It’s about the educational, entertaining, and emotional story you can share that will shed a light on your brand.
Now, this light isn’t always a huge spotlight. Sometimes it’s a little flashlight that turns on for a split second, but it’s something.
I once worked with a client and I explained to him,
Me: “Everyone thinks their business is the greatest ever and should be featured in most media outlets. That’s not how journalists see things.”Client: “But Christina, our business really is the greatest ever.”
That = unrealistic expectations… with a mindset that you don’t need a great story to earn coverage.
2. You mistake marketing for sales.
I hate it when people say “sales and marketing” like they are the same thing. They’re not. In fact, they are very different.
I don’t work in sales… not directly. Instead, I get someone to want to make the next step to sales.
If you’re a local restaurant and I earn you a cooking segment on the local NBC station, I did my job. I earned you a three-minute segment on TV in your market in front of millions (depending on the market) of potential customers.
The part that comes after that is the sales part.
I lead the horse to water. You make the horse drink it.
3. You want instant media coverage. Like tomorrow.
If you want to earn media, you need to be patient. If you don’t want to be patient, then you can spend more money on an advertisement and get it right away.
Convincing someone your brand has a great story takes time. It takes time to build a relationship with a journalist. It takes time to pitch journalists INDIVIDUALLY.
Speaking of time, TIMING is one of the biggest factors when it comes to a journalist answering the question, “Why should I cover this right now?” Just because something isn’t a good fit now, doesn’t mean it won’t be in a month, three months, or even a year.
I could go on about this, but instead, I’ll share this response from a journalist at a popular, national magazine after he was asked, “Why not?” in response to a pitch he turned down:
“Because I get 200 pitches a week and can’t and don’t want to read them all. My job is not to sit on my derrière waiting for pitches. I create my own pipeline of stories and it is full for months ahead of time.”
4. You don’t want to be involved in the process.
Yes, a publicist will handle most of the work, but I need you to help me help you.
When the media comes knocking, you need to drop everything. Like, right now.
When I was in TV news, I was given an assignment at 9:30 am and I had to have it done by 4:45pm. Many times after I was pitched, I would call the number at the bottom of the email and the conversation would go like this:
Me: “Okay, we’re ready to talk to about this. Can we come by in 30 minutes?”Publicist/Person who wants media exposure: “Oh no. We’re not ready!”Me: “Well, you just sent me this information and my assignement editor would like for me to cover this for the 5pm newscast.”Publicist/Person who wants media exposure: “Okay, well can you just give us the questions now and call back next week?”
Do you see what’s wrong with this? When was the last time you watched the 5 o’clock news and saw something that was not relevant today, but instead looked like it was a week old? Yea… never.
When a journalist wants something, nine times out of 10 they will go with whoever got them the information they needed the quickest. Journalists work on tight deadlines. If you want to earn media exposure, you need to work that way too.
“But Christina, you told us in #3 is takes time.”
Yes, it does, but when that time passes and an opportunity knocks, you run to the freaking door!
5. You’re a control freak.
When it comes to earning media, you have no control over the final product.
Again, if you want that, spend all your marketing budget on an advertisement.
It’s a journalist’s job to tell a story that will educate and entertain their audience. If all 10 of your quotes are boring, then a journalist may use three out of the 10… and they may not be your favorite three. It happens.
Your goal is to earn media that looks like a “free commercial.” That is NOT the goal of the journalist. Remember that.
When people think of public relations, they think of hiring someone to help them get on TV, write blog posts, or plan an event. Yes, all of that is great, but do you know what’s even better? Customer service.
Good Customer Service
Think about the way you react when you experience great customer service. You tell everyone about it, right? Word of mouth and referrals are what grow businesses. This is why it’s so important to treat every, single customer like he or she could make or break your business… because I believe one customer has the power to do that.
Take a look at this example. A small fish and chips restaurant made international headlines without paying a dime. Instead, the owner of the restaurant gave one customer above and beyond customer service. In return, he posted one thing to his Facebook page, and now we all know about Whitbie’s Fish and Chips in Canada. Not to mention, within two days of this post, the owner of Whitbie’s saw about 1,000 customers.
While I love seeing stories like this one, you usually see more of the negative ones. Thanks to social media today, it’s so easy to hop online and complain about anything and everything. Sometimes a business will reply and try to make things right. Other times, it won’t.
Bad Customer Service
Let me give you a personal example of bad customer service… and the inspiration for this post. After I bought a laptop from Costco, it started running slowly – so slow, I stopped using it for months. Then, I remembered I was under a warranty with Costco, so I should try to get it taken care of. (Duh!) In the span of one month, I spent hours talking to people in Fort Myers who work with Costco Concierge Services in tech support. When I say hours, I mean I spoke with about 60 different people – Aaron, Justin, Mary, Aleah, Bret, Anthony… you get my drift. While they were all very nice (well, all of the except Bret), they couldn’t help me. In fact, they made my problem even worse.
I wanted a faster laptop. Instead, videos I created for clients were deleted. Still, I was denied a return. Then, tech support wanted to keep “troubleshooting.” Well, that troubleshooting led to me losing even more – my video editing software (which costs twice as much as the laptop) and Microsoft Office… which was supposed to come installed on the laptop. Yes, I lost that too!
You’d think after all of this, costing me time and money, they would apologize and let me return the laptop. A $500 HP Pavilion… to a huge company… like Costco.
Guess what? They want to keep “troubleshooting.” (They like that word at Costco Concierge Services.) As you can imagine, after dozens of hours and thousands of dollars lost, I just didn’t have it in me.
The Result of Bad Customer Service
Earlier this month, in the midst of all this troubleshooting, I got a $10 Costco gift card for referring my sister to become an executive member. It was the day after Dori in the Pompano Beach store took time out of her day to fight for good customer service. On the phone, I heard her say, “Can you please authorize a return to keep this member happy? You guys lost her data trying to fix something and it didn’t work. Can we just give her good customer service?”
Now, because of my experience with Costco, the concierge service, tech support, and the people in service dispatch, I will not refer people to Costco.
Costco doesn’t care one bit. Why would they? I’m one of 85 million members. That’s a pretty small fish in a gigantic ocean. The company does about 100 billion dollars in sales every year. Do you think they care about me losing something that pays my bills? No way… but with that kind of income, you kind wonder why they wouldn’t just let a woman in PR, with a big mouth, return her $500 laptop?!
UPDATE: Two days after this post was originally published, a local store manager called and asked, “When can you come in and return your laptop?”
Hence, why you should treat every customer like they have a big mouth.
Not to get too far into another bad customer service story, but LG refused to help me with a mold problem in my front load washer. The company insisted on blaming me taking poor care of it and using too much detergent, despite numerous class action lawsuits against makers of front load washers for this exact problem. But, as soon as a representative was contacted by one of my colleagues in the media to produce a follow-up story to a previous investigation, my washer was fixed in days.
So, the result of bad customer service cannot only end with the loss of a customer, but with many people knowing the details of why that customer is a former customer.
The Moral of the Story
If you are a small business owner, or you work with small business owners, practice good customer service. I’m not saying the customer is always right. I know there are some real pains in the you know what trying to wheel and deal business owners. I know no matter what you do, you can’t make everyone happy. But, at the end of the day, people do business with people they know, like, and trust.
When I was a reporter, I hated getting phone calls. In fact, I was very proactive about calling people who wanted or needed to hear from me, just so they wouldn’t call me. The reason I didn’t like receiving phone calls as a reporter is the same reason I don’t like calling reporters. But now, since I joined “the dark side,” (reporter to publicist) it’s my job to call reporters.
A nameless reporter from the Washington Post ripped me a new one recently when I called her to follow up on a pitch. I knew exactly who she was, what she has written about, followed her on Twitter, and why she’d be interested in what I had to tell her. Clearly, this wasn’t a random call. Still, she was extremely rude, showed no common courtesy, or phone etiquette… which is shocking from someone in the communications industry.
This experience led me to start a discussion with other PR professionals and reporters from across the country. While some say, “Don’t call a reporter. They hate that! Just send an e-mail,” others say, “I’ve built great relationships with reporters over the phone that have turned into great coverage for my client.” So, this isn’t a black or white/right or wrong issue… which makes my job even harder.
Why I didn’t like receiving phone calls as a reporter is exactly why I don’t like calling reporters
Phone calls can rarely be timed right.
I could be in the middle of an interview, in the groove writing my script, or about to go live when my phone rings. It’s not a good time to talk. Now, while this is of no fault to the person on the other line trying to reach me, it’s a risk you take when you call a reporter – catching him or her at a bad time. As a reporter, your schedule is different every day and it’s always changing, so even scheduling a call can be tough.
Phone calls can be unproductive.
If you’re calling about something that doesn’t interest the other person, you wasted your time and theirs. Then, if you’re calling about something that does interest the other person, they may want to write down some details… and things like that would be better over an e-mail.
Still, some things are easier to explain over a phone call. You don’t only get to hear someone’s voice, but you can talk through any confusion and cut the back and forth down to a minimum with a phone call. It’s hard to show emotion or emphasis in text, but not over the phone. While some phone calls are unproductive, some may work… depending.
Phone calls are time consuming.
In this business, we all have different styles on the phone, different styles in storytelling, and different styles in how we pitch. Plus, we are all busy. Most of us are over worked and under paid. Unfortunately, that’s just the way it is today.
For this reason, I cut the small talk and get straight to the point. First, I’ll say “Hi, how are you…” and lead in with something that tells me the person on the other line has a minute to talk. If not, there’s nothing wrong with saying, “Now isn’t a good time. Could you call me back later or just send me an e-mail?”
If I didn’t have time for a phone call, I wouldn’t take one. If I did, and the phone call was going too long, I’d say that… politely. But in my experience working with people in PR when I was a reporter, a few wanted to go on and on and on about their client (and the free commercial they wanted you to give them) until I said “yes.” It was almost impossible to get off the phone!
It can all be put in an e-mail.
I mentioned my focus group of 18,000+ in the media industry regarding this phone call I made and the negative response I got. Well, most people kept going back to e-mail… and I totally understand why.
When I was a reporter, I loved emails. I could read one whenever I wanted. I could respond to one whenever I wanted. It’s the most convenient form of communication – perfect for almost anyone in any industry!
I was on the receiving end of a lot of media pitches. Some I read, some I didn’t. (Yes, I judged by the subject line.) For this reason, it’s so easy to miss something in an e-mail. Our inboxes are jam packed, so skipping over something important is totally understandable.
But on the flip side, if I did see it and I liked it, I would’ve responded. If I didn’t respond, it’s because I didn’t like it. That’s the way a reporter thinks.
But a publicists thinks, “That person never responded. Maybe they missed it. If they didn’t like the story, all they had to do was tell me “no” and I’d stop following up.” Now, this is new to me. I didn’t get it before as a reporter. As a publicist, I like to pitch until I hear a “no.”
Why? Because someone is paying me to pitch their brand to the media.
The conversation may go like this:
Me: “I sent a lot of e-mails, but didn’t get many responses.”
Client: “Did you follow up?”
Me: “Yes, I followed up with an e-mail, but that was ignored too.”
Client: “Did you call?”
Me: “Oh no, I can’t call. Reporters hate that!”
How terrible is that?! You can’t tell a client that. That is why phone calls are necessary, even if nine times out of 10, you know the person on the other line doesn’t want to talk to you… and may be downright mean and call you names.
It’s okay, when I was a reporter, people were rude and called me names too. Now, instead of getting it from alleged criminals with a microphone I’m sticking in their face, I’m getting it from reporters… my former self. (Note: I was never rude to publicists when they called me. It’s just not necessary. Not then, not now.)
To reiterate, we are all busy. We all have things to do. Talking on the phone can be an inconvenience at times, but it’s something we need to do on both sides to do our job successfully. We also need to work together. After all, we are working towards the same goal – to tell a great story that educates and entertains our audience. Sometimes, that can start over e-mail and sometimes it can start over the phone.
There are a lot of pains and a lot of gains in the public relations industry. Some things are understood, while others things are not… by both the clients and the media. The business is changing and so are the rules.
I operate my business very transparently. I’m not going to sugar coat things or send false promises your way, so if you want to know some things, sit back… here are eight things you didn’t know about the public relations industry.
It’s not about sending emails. It’s about building relationships. My contacts in the media don’t owe me anything, so I need to maintain good working relationships with them in order to do my job successfully. Luckily, I worked on that side of things for 10 years and have great relationships with people in the industry. True story: I have seen stories turned down because of the less than likability factor of the publicist handling the client, even though the client was a great fit for a story. Also, I have earned many clients publicity after sending a Facebook message to a friend.
Media relations take time. If you want to see results fast, buy an advertisement. If you want to see more meaningful results over time, hire a publicist. Timing is everything when it comes to earned media. Just because it’s not in print today, doesn’t mean it won’t be in three months. Be patient.
We can only lead a horse to water. If you want publicity, that’s on me as a PR professional. But if you are not doing your part as a business owner to get that horse to the drink the water I led them to, there is only so much I can do at that point. For example, if your website needs help, I will refer you to one of the website developers I work with. What you choose to do after that is out of my control. I once had a client who wanted me to promote her business, but her website wasn’t completed yet. If your online store isn’t open for business, what’s the point of media coverage?
Our work never stops. News is a never ending cycle. It’s just about impossible to take a day off. It could mean a missed opportunity. (That’s why when we reach out to you with a question or request for a certain picture, we need it ASAP.)
There is a level of skill and expertise to what we do. I am providing a service that has taken me years to learn through a variety of different experiences. Just because you have a Facebook page or Instagram account does not mean you know how to strategically promote a business via social media. If I had a dollar every time someone told me they didn’t need social media help because their nephew was doing it for them in their spare time…
What you pay for may not be what it seems. Don’t be fooled by the big, beautiful office and fancy website of a well known firm. Many times, the people running the firm won’t even send an email on your behalf. After you pay your retainer, your campaign is given to a low level staffer to do all the work. Make sure you know who is really working on your account.What is published or aired is usually out of our control. Remember, we don’t write the articles or direct the live TV interviews. Instead, we make you look good so other people want to tell the story we’re pitching them. Sometimes, you may not like the way something is written or the way a question is asked. That’s public relations – how someone in the public is perceiving you, your brand, or your business. I once represented a baby product and around National Reading Month. During that time, I used the product to promote reading to infants and included the benefits of doing so. Well, one writer I pitched happened to have a child who was deaf. She did not believe reading to infants was beneficial at all. Needless to say, she didn’t write an amazing review. Sometimes, these things happen.
No one wants to give you a free commercial. It’s your business and it’s your product, so of course you think it’s the best thing since sliced bread and makes a great story… but so does every other entrepreneur. It needs to be more than that to earn media coverage. For this reason, let your publicist guide the process of developing the newsworthy content for the media.
Interested in learning more about public relations? Well, you’re in the right place. Not only do I fill this blog with tons of PR information, but you may love my new online course, Master your PR. It teaches you exactly what to do to earn your brand media exposure without spending big bucks on public relations.
Because of my decade of experience working on-air, then in public relations – I know what works and what doesn’t… and I’m going to share it all with you! I’ve gotten clients featured on the Today Show, the Rachael Ray Show, in the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Men’s Fitness, Food & Wine, Entrepreneur, and much more.
I attribute my success to two things:
Maintaining great relations with colleagues in the media industry
Telling great, newsworthy stories
While, I can’t give you my relationships with media professionals, I can tell you how to start them, build them, and keep them. I can also direct you, so you’re able to find your brand’s story, craft it, and pitch it to the media.
I’ll teach you all of this, step-by-step. By the end of Master your PR, you will know:
How to find your brands story
How to find the correct media, then pitch them effectively
How to talk to the media so you and your brand shine
How to become a regular on TV as a panelist
How to earn yourself publicity as an expert in your industry, and much more
To be honest, I never cared too much about National Small Business Week. I didn’t even know there was such a thing. But now I’m a small business owner, so FYI, it’s the first week of May.
I’m a big fan of small business news and WalletHub has just released the best small cities to start a business… and one is just a hop, skip, and a jump from where I started my public relations firm in Coral Springs. WalletHubs data set ranges from “average growth in number of small businesses” and “prevalence of investors” to “office-space affordability” and “corporate taxes.”
So, the top 10 best small cities to start a business are:
10. Deerfield Beach, FL (right by me!)
9. Cheyenne, WY
8. Dothan, AL
7. Clearfield, UT
6. Inver Grove, UT
5. La Vergne, TN
4. Jefferson City, MO
3. Brighton, NY
2. North Chicago, IL
1. Holland, MI
Another fun fact: I’m also very close to Miami Beach, that has the highest number of startups per 100,000 residents, 246. That is seven times higher than in Salisbury, Md., the city with the lowest, 35.
I think any business owner, brand, or marketer would love to have a great publicist in their corner. The problem? It’s costly and many businesses just do not have the budget. So, what do you do when you can’t afford PR? You do it yourself, right? Well, there’s another problem.
How can you master your PR if you don’t really know what to do? Sure, you know a thing or two. It can’t be too hard to make some phone calls or send an email here or there in-between other daily work tasks. Actually, there is a lot to it… good thing I’m here to help!
When I’m not acting as a publicist, I’m teaching business owners, brands, and marketers how to do their own PR. Now, I’m sharing my decade+ of experience in the media industry with all of you… well, everyone online at least. Check out Master your PR. This is an online course that covers everything! Want to try a bit for free first? Send me an email at Christina@MediaMavenAndMore.com.
And I mean ev-er-y-thing. I get into how to find your brands story, who to pitch it to, how to handle a crisis situation, how to get a ROI by using social media, and I even tell you personal stories about how I’ve earned brands major media exposure. With that, comes some videos, worksheets, and checklists to help you along.