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#InnovateNow With Michael Smart: Keys to Impactful Pitches

The proliferation of owned media. The democratization of voice through social. Media’s evolving landscape. New ways to accurately measure and track PR’s value.

The PR and social media landscapes have changed so much in such a short period of time. While some may see that as daunting, many have relished the new opportunities it presents and innovated methods for connecting with target audiences.

Michael Smart - InnovateNow - Media RelationsTo celebrate the launch of two innovative products Cision Social Edition and Cision PR Edition, we have scheduled a series of Q&As featuring some of the finest innovators in our field. Up next is Michael Smart.

Michael is the media pitching coach PR pros turn to when they want to boost their positive media placements. He’s trained more than 6,000 communicators from agencies large and small, from Fortune 50 companies to regional nonprofits. He shares lots of tricks, including suggestions for subject lines that get your emails opened, with those who sign up for his weekly media pitching tips emails.

Without further ado, here are Michael’s answers to how public relations has changed and how he has innovated in this space:

How has PR changed over the last five years?

What hasn’t changed? You’ve had plenty of smart people in this series already discuss the advent of social and the shift to mobile, so I’ll zero in on the huge impact those changes have had on media relations.

The biggest difference I see now is that journalists and bloggers are conceding they can’t keep up with their in-boxes. They used to insist they read every email and if they didn’t get back to you that meant they didn’t like your idea. Now the candid ones will admit there is no humanly possible way to stay on top of the overwhelming amount of info coming at them every day.

This means two things – 1) It’s harder than ever to break through and grab the attention of a key influencer 2) Once you do, though, you have a much higher chance of consistent success with that influencer because you become one of the few trusted resources they rely on.

What are the biggest trends in the industry today? How do they help you innovate?

A big trend in media relations that is leaving many unknowing PR pros behind is using social media to connect with influencers BEFORE you pitch.

They generally still prefer to be pitched via email, but they’re way more likely to open your email if they recognize you as smart and knowledgeable in their space from your conversations on social. Like the TV reporter who replied to a pitch from one of my clients by saying, “I liked that when I got your email I recognized your name from Twitter.”

A counter-intuitive approach that isn’t used enough to become a trend – but should – is the concept of “the least crowded inbox.” What’s the avenue to your target’s attention that faces the least competition? Might be some new social channel that they are early adopters of – but it could also be their old-fashioned snail-mail box.

Can you tell us about the most innovative PR project you’ve worked on?

I didn’t “work on” any of these, but I’ll praise my clients all day for the innovation they showed in turning otherwise boring material into newsworthy stories that captivated media attention:

  • Aflac, for turning an annual donation to cancer research into a contest for young cancer patients to design a NASCAR racer. The winner was featured on CBS Evening News, SportsCenter and HLN.

  • Instructure, for using their own software to create an online college course about The Walking Dead. That announcement earned more than 1 billion impressions in the first week, thanks to smart pitching from their agency, Method Communications.

  • The U.S. Department of Labor, for creating their “Books that Shaped Work in America” program that landed in the NY Times, Washington Post, and more.

What are some lessons or best practices PR pros can take away from your most innovative campaign?

Don’t settle for “what the client gives you.” Whether you are in-house or at an agency, don’t let people treat you like a stenographer who just copies down what they say and then regurgitates it to the media.

From the start, let them know you’ll ask detailed questions to determine all the relevant facts and players involved and make sure you understand the strategy and messaging. Then you go off and apply your creativity and storytelling magic to come up with angles that will earn coverage from trusted third parties and also drive shares via social media.

Not only will you re-connect with why you got into this biz in the first place, you’ll earn better results for them anyway!

Want to see our other innovators? Click here!

About Brian Conlin

Brian Conlin is a content marketing manager for Cision. A former journalist, he enjoys researching and developing accessible content. When not writing, you will find him watching baseball and college basketball, sampling craft beer and enjoying Baltimore. Find him on Twitter @BrianConlin13.

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