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13 Media Relations Tips From Michael Smart: Your Questions Answered!

Wow – what a huge response to the Vocus webinar I did this week on how to cut through the noise and land media and blog placements in this rapidly transforming media landscape. I especially love how participants noticed my little lamentation that I couldn’t feed off body language like I do in a live presentation – people were tapping out quick little messages like “nod, nod” and “lots of agreeing here, people taking notes.” Thanks!

Michael’s webinar is now available for you to view on demand: click here for the  Seven Secrets of New Media Relations Stars!

I had readily agreed when the Vocus folks asked if I’d write a follow up blog post to answer any questions that we didn’t get to. And then it turned out there were 142 questions! (Not counting the “body language” and kudos for my rapping skillz). Because we wanted to get this post out soon after the webinar, I hope you don’t mind that I’ve chosen 13 that best represent the most commonly asked questions from the batch.

I hope to get to many of the others eventually via Twitter (@michaelsmartpr) and my free email list – register at and get my free tip sheet on writing better email pitch subject lines.

1) What are your thoughts on using Twitter and social media to pitch?

Michael scores coverage even while he's presenting webinars. During our webinar, his Mathletes to Athletes pitch landed spots on both CBS and Huffington Post.

I tried to hit this during my segment on “Read and React,” but I must have run out of time because this was a common question. Social media is great for getting on the radar screen of journalists and bloggers – getting them familiar with your name. Some tell me they are less likely to do stories pitched via Twitter because it’s therefore already semi-public. But many others welcome Twit pitches.The pattern that has yielded the best results for me and my coaching clients is to “Read and React,” then send a pitch by email rather than Twitter. But if you can’t find an email address, or you have successfully engaged a target in a Twitter conversation, don’t hesitate to squeeze your pitch in via Twitter. Use it as a teaser for them to either click a link to more info or ask you to email them more. As for Facebook, be very wary of “friending” reporters and bloggers. Although some welcome it, many view that as intrusive. Wait for them to friend you, to be sure. Or you can simply “subscribe” to them if they push content out that way. If you’re in tech, many tech journalists and bloggers are early adopters of Google+, and the circles functionality means they can keep in touch with you professionally without disclosing personal stuff if they don’t want to.

2) Reacting to an influencer — commenting on blog posts/stories, Twitter exchanges — is it better to do this in your personal/PR voice or via the client you’re trying to pitch?

This is a question that social media experts are still struggling with. In social media, “real” is always best. So in a perfect world, yes, best to do this in your personal voice. But for efficiency’s sake, or because you may prefer a clear distinction when you are representing yourself online and your client/employer, you may choose not to. In that case, a hybrid of the two is best. Use some combination of your name and your company/client, like “@julieDevPro.”

3) How can I leverage one placement into others? Should I send copies to national outlets?

As a general rule, broadcast outlets don’t seem to mind following print/online outlets. But the opposite is less common – pitching a newspaper a story by sending a link to it in a competing daily is often viewed as offensive. But sending a link to a story in a newspaper to at broadcaster is usually not.

4) Journalists don’t seem to be as seasoned and when they talk to clients they aren’t prepared – what is your approach to that problem?

Five years ago I told people NOT to do this, but now it has become acceptable – before an interview, send the journalist some background. Just explain that you’ve already talked to this person and jotted down some bullet points about what they said – you know the journalist will ask whatever he/she wants, but thought these bullet points might be helpful. Before they were so overworked, journalists would have been turned off by this – but now, they increasingly welcome it. I did this with a veteran reporter at the L.A. Times and he was really grateful because he was squeezing in the interview right before deadline.

5) Do you think there will be a time when respectable newspapers and web sites will accept ready-made content released by hospitals (or corporations) if the material is written like an article not a press release?

That time has come – has moved strongly in this direction. Short of that, we have seen major media outlets such as and refer readers directly to our own “ready-made content” with a short blog post of their own.

6) What do you think of using hyperlinks in email pitches?

I love it, saves lots of space. Journalists and bloggers love it, too.

7) When should you mention who you are and what you do in the pitch?

Got this question a lot in many forms, and I think it means some are uncomfortable with the approach I advocated during the webinar. Remember, you are doing these folks a favor by getting right to the point. The first 10 seconds of your phone or email pitch must be limited to referencing their earlier work, and telling how your pitch relates. They don’t care about your title or what your company is a leading provider of at that point. Use your email signature to introduce yourself. If you’re on the phone, grab their attention with your opening line, then say something simple like, “This is Michael Smart with Acme Products.”

8) How did you identify which reporters to target?

Remember, the first thing you say or write to them will reference their earlier work. So you gotta be familiar with their earlier work. Go to your target outlets and search the archives for topics similar to yours. See whose byline comes up the most. Plug that byline back into the archives and double-check their most recent work.

9) Even with businesses like Vocus, I find it incredibly difficult to find names and contact info for television shows like GMA, Today, Early Show. What do you recommend?

Okay, you’ve highlighted the black hole of media relations. I’ve asked dozens of top media relations pros this question, and three morning show producers, and we’ve all agreed that network morning show contact info is the most closely guarded secret in our biz. I’ve actually been spending this week pitching morning shows (good initial reactions, send me some of your good karma please!) and had to call in favors from my network of colleagues to identify appropriate producers. My richest resource has been former producers who have left the business. Find these folks by staying active in PR circles and being helpful to those you befriend. Only ask for connections for your best stories and don’t use your friends’ names during pitches without permission. One Today producer told me the best time to pitch them is during the beginning of each college semester (January, May, and September) because that’s when they have new interns who have not yet learned not to transfer PR calls J!

10) How frequently do you use images in a release?

As often as I can. I like to include a link to photos in every pitch, if possible. Even if you’re just identifying a stock photo (worst case scenario), that will save a journalist or blogger time if they want a visual to accompany their pice.

11) What is your opinion about pitching multiple journalists from the same publication on the same story? Especially if you don’t have a relationship with any of them.

I used to advise clients not to do this, because journalists told me it annoyed them. Maybe it still does, but when I’ve made justified exceptions, I’ve noticed better responses. Limit it to 2 or 3, and do it via one email where all are addressed. Even list all their names in your greeting, like this: “Hi Brian, Maria, and John, . . .” The thinking here is that this increases your chances of catching at least one of them and it motivates them to respond because they are somewhat accountable to their colleagues. Webinar participant Clay Zeigler, who recently left a newsroom himself, emailed me because he’s noticed this change, too, and wrote a blog post about it.

12) For TV Pitches, do you utilize the same formula as to referencing a segment they produced or was on the network and how this new segment idea may interest you…..

Yes, and it’s extra-important to be familiar with the show and use the names of their various segments and the proper names of their on-air talent! For example, Good Morning America has a segment called “Play of the Day.” If your idea fits there, you stand out and are more credible when you use the name.

13) How would you approach a HARO pitch, where the journalist is asking for something specific?

I’ve asked journalists and bloggers what they’re looking for in responses to their HARO queries. Two themes emerged: 1) Respond FAST – many times they get 25 responses in the first couple hours. If you’re after that, they just won’t see it. 2) Most sources they get pitched have adequate bios and qualifications, so you can stand out by revealing what your source will SAY. Have your source take a stand on the issue and include that in your initial pitch.

ViewMichael’s webinar on demand now: click here for the  Seven Secrets of New Media Relations Stars!

For the complete media relations solution – including detailed reporter profiles with Twitter handles and recent articles – check out Vocus PR software here.


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