Behind the Headlines With Karen Paff

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Journalists can see right through your mass emails – and they’ll ignore you if they suspect you aren’t tailoring your pitches.paff

Karen Paff, senior vice president at Ogilvy Public Relations, recommends doing your research and learning as much as you can about the journalists you target before you pitch them your story.

In this interview, Karen shares how thinking like a journalist will help your media relations strategy, why following up on pitches is so important and what to do before jumping into a career in public relations.

What are some key components of a successful media relations strategy?

Strategy is the key word in that question. We must be strategic in the outlets we target, in the way we target the outreach and in the timing of the outreach.

For example, is this a wire or a print story or both? Should there be a broadcast element to the strategy?

It is also important to know the difference between the best media angle for a launch versus the best media angle to sustain the momentum of that launch. Success hangs in the balance of the actual thinking behind the media relations plan.

How does your background in journalism give you an edge in managing media relations?

A journalist pitches numerous stories to their editor on a daily basis. That skillset gives them an advantage in the PR world as they know the facts needed to develop a pitch that is compelling and newsworthy.

In addition, they have been trained to write pieces that gain mass appeal. As a communication professional, you will be drafting media pitches, key messages and all sorts of copy. In a world where content is king, this is a key asset.

They have also been trained to dissect complex issues and pull the headline from large amounts of information. When a brand hands a former journalist large volumes of content, we have a good idea about what will resonate most with audiences.

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How does social media play into your media relations strategy?

The two are companions. Every media campaign should focus on a strategic mix of the two in order to drive influence, decisions and desired outcomes.

How can communication professionals increase the likelihood that a journalist will respond to their pitch? What are some of your top pitching tips?

Remember that journalists are people. Would you be offended if someone came to you asking for help at work but didn’t understand your job? Read what they are writing about and react to it.

Avoid selling your product in the first line. Ask yourself, “What’s at stake if the world doesn’t know about this brand or product?”

First, set up the issue with real facts. Second, establish credibility for the brand or product. Third, give them a reason to cover it immediately.

Lastly, pick up the phone. I rarely get a rude person on the other end.

What do you think are the biggest media relations mistakes communication professionals make?Journalist-Relationship

In my experience, the biggest mistake is a lack of follow-up. Not many are willing to pick up the phone or even circle back on an email.

What is one of the most important lessons about PR you’ve learned throughout your career?

I think the most important lesson that I have learned is that I am a brand. Everything that I say and do in front of my clients and colleagues gives them an impression of my brand. With that said, always represent yourself well.

Do you have any advice for those looking to begin a career in PR?


Yes, I would recommend thinking hard about the type of PR you might like before jumping into the application process.

For example, do you want to work in travel or financial services? Do you want to work at a PR agency — which means that you are likely going to be tasked with representing several brands — or are you someone who is interested in representing one brand?

If it’s the latter, an in-house PR role may be the best fit for you. Asking myself these types of questions has been a good way for me to approach the process.

Rapid Fire Round

1. My biggest pet peeve is…when the two-word phrase “a lot” is spelled “alot.”

2. My daily newspaper of choice is…the major dailies in the morning. I spend the rest of my day looking for news via Twitter

3. If I could have lunch with anyone, it would be with…my husband and children.

4. My hobbies outside of work include…reading and running. Sometimes, I like doing both at the same time thanks to audiobooks!

5. I laugh most at…work meetings. I think laughter spurs innovation.

6. The thing that gets me up in the morning is…the sound of one of my children waking up.


Images via Pixabay: 1, 2, 3

About Maria Materise

Maria Materise is a content marketing specialist for Cision. Formerly a copywriter, she enjoys creating content that excites and inspires audiences. She is an avid reader, movie trivia geek, Harry Potter fanatic and makeup junkie..

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