Behind the Headlines With Chris Shigas
Today, there are a variety of ways to reach journalists, including email, social media, telephone and more. But if you’re pitching a mediocre story, you won’t find any success – no matter which medium you use.
Chris Shigas, director of media relations at ABB, says journalists like to receive pitches for stories they want to write about. If they’re not responding, your story may need some work.
In this interview, Chris discusses why building a relationship with journalists is so important, how social media plays into media relations and what you can do to mix up your strategy and avoiding falling into a rut.
What do you hope to accomplish in your new role as director of media relations at ABB?
In its own way, every business that sells a product or service makes the world a better place. As public relations professionals, we need to focus on the greater good. From local community events to global campaigns, we should use our communication skills to benefit not only our business, but also to improve the human condition.
ABB, a global power and automation company, has a great story to tell. We are witnessing profound changes in the way that we generate, transmit and use energy in our lives. ABB’s size, market share and R&D commitment puts the company in a unique position to innovate our world’s energy and automation infrastructure.
For example, ABB introduced Yumi, a robot that can work collaboratively with humans safely in an advanced factory. ABB also has a new flash charger for electric buses. Amazingly, it can charge an “e-bus” at a stop in 15 seconds. Think about it; charge a bus in 15 seconds with zero emissions! We truly can run the world without consuming the earth.
What are some of the biggest pitching mistakes brands make?
The biggest pitching mistake many brands make is to solely rely on email and not pick up the phone. You need to build relationships with journalists. You need to talk to people. If you become an email factory, you are not going to see sustained, long-term success.
The benefit of a personal relationship becomes apparent during a crisis. If you need to release a crisis statement and it’s critical to position the story correctly, you need a relationship with a journalist you can trust. You can’t build those types of relationships through email alone.
With so many brands pitching media professionals, how can a brand stand out?
Brands need to stop talking about themselves and start talking to the journalist’s audience. How does your news affect them? Look for the bigger story angle.
For example, your company lands a large sales order and you need to write a press release. What is happening in the market that caused such a large investment? Use your sales order as a proof point to the bigger market trend, not the other way around.
What role do you think social media should play in brands’ media relations strategies?
From a media relations standpoint, social media can play an important role in leveraging and enhancing our earned media hits. Social media is also a great way to research reporters in preparation for your pitch.
Ten years ago, many professionals thought social media would replace traditional marketing and public relations. Despite the strong presence of social media in our lives, we over-estimated its role. Algorithms are requiring brands to use paid-sponsor posts rather than enjoy pure, organic growth.
Still, social media has its seat at the marketing tactics table. It has encouraged brands to generate more self-content both written and in video. However, the original promise of social media for most brands has not been realized.
How has media relations evolved over the years? What are brands doing differently today that they didn’t do in the past? What has stayed the same?
Our communication tools have changed. We used to fax reporters. I started using email as a novel way to reach a reporter because they were getting too many faxes. Now, reporters are getting too many emails. Public relations professionals are trying to pitch using new tools such as social media with various degrees of success.
The one thing that stays the same is the telephone call. People may think reporters don’t like to be called, but the truth is they don’t like pitches that they are not going to write about. All reporters like useable story ideas.
How do you envision the future of media relations?
In the future, media relations professionals will interact more directly with the journalists’ audiences. As our communication tools advance, there will be more opportunity to communicate with a reader/viewer in real time as they consume a news story.
Right now, reading the news is a very private experience. When there is a forum, such as a comment section, it is rudimentary and not constructive for relationship building.
I think future social media tools will make digesting the news a shared experience with like-minded individuals. There will be more opportunity to engage and educate the public as a subject-matter expert while they read the news.
How can brands better connect with media professionals?
Don’t fall into the press release rut. Many brands put their press releases on a newswire and then blast it out to a giant email list…every release, every time. Mix it up.
Offer a tier one media outlet an exclusive. Turn your press release into an op/ed piece. Book a media tour or deskside briefing and visit the journalists personally. Your placement success will improve exponentially when you meet people face-to-face.
Rapid Fire Round
1. I always thought I’d be…an NFL football player. In my previous role at an agency, I managed public relations for several NFL players and conducted media tours every year in the Super Bowl media center!
2. My biggest pet peeve is…hearing “we can’t do that” as a first instinct.
3. The thing that gets me up in the morning is…my children jumping on the bed.
4. If I could have lunch with anyone, it would be…my wife.
5. My favorite social media platform is…Twitter. It is the fastest way to disseminate news in real time.
6. One thing most people don’t know about me is…I earned money through college at the University of Georgia touring the Southeast in a hard rock band.
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