Behind the Headlines With Matt Sutton
Matt Sutton, senior account executive at The Rosen Group, says you have to be willing to do something different and go outside of the box to stand out. In this interview, he shares the pitch that got him the most coverage, his strategies for building relationships with the media and why social media is so important.
What are you most looking forward to in your new role as senior account executive at The Rosen Group?
I am looking forward to more account management and business development opportunities. Given my background and our legislative successes, I feel like we are in a unique position to expand our public affairs practice.
Being in a more senior role gives me more of an ability to strengthen existing relationships and connect with other organizations that need our help communicating issues in a way that can affect policy change and improve the overall state of their industry or field.
What has been the proudest moment of your career?
There are so many amazing things that I have had the opportunity to be a part of during my career that I’m really proud of, but I would say the crowning achievement was following the horrific killing of Cecil the Lion.
We worked with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) to quickly engage the media, keep the story current and create an international dialogue on trophy hunting. Within three days, we garnered over 650 million media impressions for IFAW and positioned them as the go-to voice on the issue.
I would like to think that these efforts were partly responsible for the federal government shortly after listing African lions as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act, ensuring that such a tragedy would be prevented in the future.
You’ve worked with a number of public affairs organizations. Is there a difference in how you approach PR for these organizations versus for other brands?
My background and specialty has been in public affairs, and I love that work… it’s amazing to see your work translated into policy change that can help solve a pressing issue in society or improve the regulatory environment for an entire industry.
With brands, it’s similar in the fact that you always want to have a campaign you are working on – you don’t want to just be shooting in the air.
With public affairs, the end goal is policy change…with brands, the end goal is improved brand recognition/visibility or confidence, which leads to increased sales.
With brands, because the content isn’t always as newsworthy (unless you are Apple), you really have to be in the business of creating your own news, and that’s usually by doing stunts, engaging key influencers, positioning your client as a thought leader within the industry and relying more heavily on social media.
What are the best tactics for brands to get more media coverage?
Be fearless. Don’t be afraid to go outside the box, don’t be afraid to be extreme and don’t be afraid to be confrontational.
Reporters and producers I talk to tell me they receive an average of 250 pitches a day… so whenever I am preparing a media relations strategy or sending out a pitch, I think about how I am going to make mine stand out and be the one in 250 that gets their interest.
I ask myself:
- Would I care about this news?
- Is it shocking? Or eye opening?
- Am I providing something of value? …evidence to back my claims? …and characters for the story?
And to really increase the chances of getting through, I call up the reporter/producer. If you get them on the phone, you have a better chance of selling them or at least getting them to read the email you already sent.
What are some of the ways you’ve built relationships with the media?
Meeting them for coffee, sending them personalized notes, inviting them to interesting events where key people will be present and providing them with valuable information.
I do my best to not send the media something they aren’t going to want to see…why waste their time or ruin any chance I have of them taking me seriously?
If I continually send them stuff they are going to care about and that they can use, they are more likely to work with me…again and again. They are more likely to call me on a slow news day and ask me if I have anything for them (my favorite thing in the world).
And…calling someone. In this day and age, that can really take the relationship to a whole new level.
What constitutes a successful pitch?
Keeping it short and simple – What/who am I offering? Why is it – or why are they – important? What else can I provide?
If the body of the pitch is longer than 120 words, you might as well not even send it. And make the headline catchy, provocative and provide as much information as possible in the fewest possible words…if the subject line doesn’t catch their attention, there is a good chance they won’t even read the pitch.
My favorite headline that probably got the most attention was, “Summertime Sadness: Don’t fall victim to this hotel booking scam – like I almost did.” It mixed something catchy that is familiar to people with something shocking and the evidence being that I almost fell for it. Everyone loved it, and I have never had a pitch that resulted in more coverage.
How does social media play into your media relations strategy?
Social media is incredibly important. With so many people today getting their news from social media, it is the best way to reach people and get stories to go viral.
Over the last six months, I began working with Vinturi, the creator of the original wine aerator. Once the obvious leader in wine aeration, the brand had over time lost its relevance within the industry and faced a host of new competitors.
We started using Instagram as a main way of bringing life back to the product as we began its turnaround. In just a few short months, without any paid advertising, we have gained roughly 3,000 followers and average about 150-300 likes per post.
We hold contests, ask questions and try to continually provide entertaining content – while educating the fans on all the great products Vinturi has to offer. The feedback and energy we have received from it has really been overwhelming.
Rapid Fire Round
1. I laugh most at…myself.
2. My biggest pet peeve is…flaky people.
3. If I was stuck on a desert island, I’d…work on my tan.
4. My daily newspaper of choice is…The New York Times.
5. The thing that gets me up in the morning is…coffee.
6. My hobbies outside of work include…photography, Netflix binging and trying to amuse my dog.
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