Hate to break it to you, but media coverage is not public relations

If you’re a c-level exec, you’ve no doubt initiated this conversation at some point. If you’re a PR and marketing pro, you’ve no doubt been in the conversation. It goes like this: “Our new product will launch on such-and-such a date. We need media coverage. Make it happen.”

You set the wheels in motion to create messaging and content and a campaign to pitch to reporters and then you work the phones and emails and hope for the best. You dutifully report back the number of stories published about the news and “impressions” and see what the reaction is.

If the numbers are above expectations, everyone’s happy; if not, trouble. But the problem is media coverage isn’t PR. Too many executives conflate the two and so do many PR pros. Media coverage is a subset of effective public relations, and, in some ways, it’s becoming smaller by the day, as digital technologies enable us to find and engage with our audiences directly.

But media coverage is catnip to executives who, rightly so, look for measurable outcomes to determine whether they’re spending their marketing and PR dollars wisely. The number of media interviews, published stories and “impressions” serve that purpose. The problem is they’re nearly useless as accurate measurements of the effectiveness of your storytelling.

Interviews with reporters are great in that they help executives build long-term relationships, but they are no guarantee of coverage.

Published stories are great if they’re in a publication you know your target audience reads. But often (and PR pros may not want to admit this), PR will cast a wide net during the pitching process to ensure some percentage of the media will “bite” on the story. Sometimes this means a publication outside a company’s area of focus publishes a story. That’s a waste of everybody’s time because the story is in front of the wrong audience.

Lastly, metrics can be very misleading. Digital impressions are often used to show the reach of a given story or campaign, however those “impressions” are often simply representations on newswires or other digital content outlets that are broad and general in their audience reach. Anyone who views his or her news feed on that day can become your impression, even if that person is in another industry.

Remember the media are a vehicle for your stories, but the editors and reporters are not your target audience.

The point I’m trying to make here is that both executives and their PR and marketing pros need to think differently about the role media coverage plays in an overall public relations plan.

One or two media postings in a publication that your audience reads is much better than 20 pickups in various publications which your audience does not spend their time.  Quality not quantity is the direction to take when measuring media coverage.

Don’t get me wrong: Media coverage is an important but it’s part of the solution;

not the solution.

The solution starts with analyzing the audiences you need to influence, determining where they spend their information-gathering time and then creating stories that will reach them. This means media outlets, but it also can mean advertising, direct mailers, events participation, email campaigns, and more.

This approach can be complicated and time consuming to an organization; in fact, it can be completely foreign to a company whose public relations strategy has traditionally been media confined to media outreach. But the effort will reward you with not only a much better ROI but a much better sense of who your audience is, where they are and what stories influence them.


How to make your content goof-proof



The idea for this blog came to me after seeing the huge publishing boo-boo above. And, as I drafted it, this spectacular error (below) about the State of the Union, hit the news. In the spirit of this earlier post (“Publicity on slow days”), I’m news-jacking it!


The images above remind us that even professionals make errors. But at the end of the day, that’s no excuse. We market and communicate in a world that’s as fast-paced as ever, and this rush to produce more content quicker introduces more errors that ever.

Some think that minor errors are ok because we generally fix them quickly with an update to the web page and be done. But that’s inefficient on the back end and causes laziness on the front end of content creation.

What follows is a goof-proof way to bullet-proof your copy. And yeah, it’s old school, but often old-school was the best school.

Print two copies of whatever content you’ve created, whether it’s a web splash page, a blog, a whitepaper or technical article, or an email blast.  I can hear folks now – that’s a waste of paper. (Really? Burn it in the fire place or use the unprinted back as scrap paper).

Next step: Tap a colleague on the shoulder and invite her to come have coffee. Sit facing each other and hand her a copy of the content. Then have one of you read the copy aloud slowly, even saying out loud punctuation marks and paragraph transitions. While the copy is read aloud, you read the content with your eyes, making notes. Make any changes necessary and then switch roles and repeat the process. Sounds tedious, but if the person who edited the front page of the Cambridge News followed this process, well, we would not have a blog post now would we?

In this day and age of flexible offices, such as We-Work, it can also help in fostering a work community and opening the doors to networking.  Everyone needs proofreading at some point – not just us marketers.

Because I often work from the home office, finding a colleague to review with can be difficult. If you’re in a similar situation, I strongly suggest you read your copy aloud to yourself (slowly) as you proofread. Then read it aloud backwards.  I’ve caught many potential mistakes this way.

I suggest also reading an important email over aloud before sending.  You’ll find minor mistakes – forgetting the letter “a” or using “on” when you meant to write “of” … you get the picture.

Follow this practice and you’ll never become a laughingstock, someone’s meme or have to offer an apology like this:


What makes a story newsworthy?

There’s an endless argument between communicators and management and between communicators and journalists: What makes a newsworthy story?

Company executives often want to tell the world about some incremental improvement in a product or a service using a press release or a media interview to get the media to spread the word. To them, anything about the company makes a newsworthy story.

But often good communicators and marketers find themselves in the difficult position of (a) having to try to tell executives that their story isn’t newsworthy or, worse, (b) trying to pitch a non-newsworthy story to reporters. As the PR or marketing counsel, how many times have you encountered this situation? Probably more than you can count.

The challenge at hand

So what do you do when in this situation? We’ve complied some helpful ways to think about the challenge and some tools to help you make sure you and your team are investing time in the right newsworthy stories.

First, let’s start with definitions. What is a newsworthy story?

It has a number of definitions, but one of the best I use is a newsworthy story forces a targeted audience to pay attention to it. And paying attention means the story might lead them to:

  • Reconsider previous notions of a company’s momentum (branding)
  • Consider investing in the company
  • Decide to evaluate or purchase a new product or service based on the announcement.

Examples of what journalists consider newsworthy are:

  • Mergers and acquisitions
  • High-level executive changes
  • Funding/investment
  • Product/services announcements

Now you might think why would anyone write a story, a press release or a blog — put the time and effort into it — unless it had some of those elements. Many people do.

The sad reality is many companies and a lot of communicators put out communications simply to check off a box and make the client or bosses happy. This is a recipe for failure both short and long term. Remember: As the PR or marketing representative, you represent the company, and it is your reputation along with the company’s or client’s that is at stake.

Crying wolf syndrome

Communicators who pitch stories with no news value are like the boy who cried wolf, and when you’re trying to drive your company toward a business goal—an IPO, more venture investment, an acquisition—you simply can’t afford that.

Waste a reporter’s time and they won’t forget. Time is money to them. Remember, reporters have their own agenda, they want to get on the “front page” (physically or digitally) and those who get non-newsworthy pitches will make mental notes about you and your company that will linger for years. Trust me, reporters/journalist are human and some do hold grudges.

Good PR people don’t ping journalists without a quality story to pitch. And those who follow that path are usually rewarded with better relationships with editors and higher story-pitch success.

So, how can you arm yourself for success? Build a simple methodology to determine whether a story is newsworthy.

The story:

1. Has to be relevant to your target audience. Whom do you want to take notice of your news and why?

2. Has to (as mentioned above) have enough new data and information in it to compel that target audience to pay attention. A middle manager joining an industry board is not newsworthy because it doesn’t affect the company or the customers in any meaningful way, which is one of the tenets of a newsworthy story. But a company that has sold its millionth product is a newsworthy story; it’s a significant milestone and demonstrates consistency, reliability and the strength of the company and its product-development teams.

Effecting change

Now the difficult task at hand, how do you work with executives or clients who insist that you pitch a non-newsworthy story?

1. Remind them of the principles of what makes a good story and that weak story pitches will forever reflect on future (truly important) announcements the company wants to share.

2. Suggest they wait for a moment of more impact (a full-fledged product advancement or new family of products).

3. When there is nothing near-term on the product announcement calendar, work with them to conceive an industry-trends story that reporters will find appealing. While this doesn’t satisfy the short-term need of creating “momentum” around a small product enhancement, it will be a better story for reporters and help you build long-term credibility with the relationship.

Reporters look for both company-specific and industry-specific stories. Mix in some industry-trend pitches, and they’re much more likely to listen to your product story pitches.


Forget Summer Reading: Must-subscribe Podcasts for Marketers

It’s a golden age of content creation, without a doubt. And podcasts — that niche little medium we all thought was reserved for a few true content nerds— is coming into its own in a big way.

Part of this is thanks to entertainment podcasts that have been hugely successful in the past few years — Serial, Criminal and so on. But the information-sharing shows that have made up the vast majority of podcasts since the medium began are so much more sophisticated and useful now.

So, put down that summer read for now and pop in your earbuds.  Here are five podcasts I think every communicator and marketer should subscribe to.

Freakonomics Radio  

Stephen Dubner and Steve Levitt wrote a best-selling book, Freakonomics, that explored unexplored areas of economics and unintended consequences of great ideas. This podcast is an extension of that, and if you’re getting great inspiration from it, you’ll be incredibly entertained.


Much of marketing these days is content creation and content marketing, which are fancy ways of saying storytelling. Longform.org is site sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh’s writing program that highlights and explores great long-form writing. These are great interviews with amazing reporters and writers who talk about the craft of creating, reporting, editing and dealing with people. Marketing and communications folks can take away a lot of valuable tips to use in their work from this podcast.

TED Radio Hour

We all know the famous TED Talks and their inspirational, insightful (and sometimes just plain emotional) mini-lectures about… well about almost everything. This is the audio version, which grabs the best of the best and packages it up into useful topics (success, for instance).

PNR: This Old Marketing

I’m just getting into this. Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose from the Content Marketing Institute give regular insights on content creation, inspiration, and, maybe most important, what lessons we can learn from old-school marketing techniques in the digital age. Marketing changes fast in the digital age and this is a great way to stay on top of things.

HBR IdeaCast

The Harvard Business Review’s audio production is an amazing place to get insights and inspiration from entrepreneurs. It’s been invaluable in helping me learn about new markets and technologies and even rethink some of my own business approaches.

So spend some of your summer holiday or your commute to the office listening to some of these podcasts. The best part is that you can enjoy the experience while in the car or train – another multitasking activity for the marketer who is the master of multitasking.


Three Easy Ways To Get Your Creative Juices Flowing

There are days, and then there are days. You know what I’m talking about. On some days, everything clicks. You’re a step ahead of yourself; your mind fills with questions but the answers come a moment later; your boss (or client) wants three creative concepts for the next marketing campaign, and five flood into your mind—and you haven’t even had that second cup of coffee!

Then there are those other days, when you just can’t push the rock up the hill; nothing clicks; everything is out of phase.  You’re pulling your hair out wondering what has happened, when just yesterday you were on the ball.  The good news is that in the digital age, there are plenty of tools and prompts to help you through those “days.”

Earlier, I wrote about Word Hippo, which helps me find the right word when words are reluctant to come to my aid. Here, let’s talk about three other creation-sparking tools that are easy to use.

1. Theasaurus.com: You’re writing and you’re in the ballpark, but the word you know is out there (or a better word you know must be out there) eludes you. This is a free and simple tool for finding the right word you know is there. Type in the word you’re reluctantly using and take it from there. Within a few minutes, you’ll have a better word and be on your way.

2. Mind maps: If you know me, you know my mind runs as fast as a New York minute--inputs and thoughts just rushing in and out. Yeah, not always pretty! The challenge can be harnessing those thoughts into something useful. If the thoughts are there, you know they are pieces of a puzzle, but we’re often unsure how the pieces go together. This is where mind-mapping comes to the rescue! Take a run through any number of free mind-mappers (like Coggle, Mindmaple or WiseMapping) and start capturing those random but incredibly creative thoughts. Once you capture them in the tool, you can then begin to build and connect them in ways that will yield stories or project recommendations or marketing campaigns.

3.  Starbursting: This is a brainstorming technique rooted in traditional journalism: who, what, where, why, and how. Journalists are taught to ask and answer these questions in every story. But the questions are just as useful for our work in marketing and communications. Star bursting is about asking questions (and more questions) to help you and your team work through challenges like product naming/development, campaign creation, even press release creation. Take a core idea and build the four Ws and one H around it in a starburst (you can draw it on a sheet of paper with a good old-fashioned pen! What a concept!). Then start asking questions and writing them down. For more information (and to download a free template), check out this article. 



Why are we so stressed out?

Our PR marketing jobs are incredibly stressful--more stressful than being a cop, according to one study!

How is that even possible? The odds of us getting injured or killed on the job are far less than those of cops (well, there was that one really difficult client some years back…).

Public relations is the sixth-most-stressful occupation according to this article.  And events manager is ranked number 5, which is another thing we do here at Cayenne. So if you put those two high-stress jobs together, you could say we should be knocking on the door of the nuthouse! (No comments from those of you who have known me for a while).  We love our business, so we’ve learned to manage.

There’s good stress and bad stress. It’s important to manage and mitigate the bad stress. So how do we do it here at Cayenne? Like everything else, we do it with grace and passion.

1. Exercise. My boyfriend is an ass. I could end this paragraph right here with that one sentence, and for those of us who have significant others who like to exercise you know what I mean. He makes me exercise when I don’t want to, but you know what? I’ve come to enjoy the endorphins that rush into me after a good workout. I’ve learned to suppress the terror that comes with his last-second decision to turn right on a busy street during a bike ride when he has signaled left. But at the end of the day, once the cursing has died down, I feel exhausted, relaxed, and I sleep a lot better.

2. Put it all down. Every day.  We live in a digital age — always connected, always reachable. This is great in some respects, but unhealthy in others. Create boundaries for yourself and your clients and boss. Just because you CAN be reached all day and all night doesn’t mean it’s right. To properly recharge for each work day, your mind needs to create a separation, to think about other things (or nothing). If need be, create a daily out-of-office email response for late hours in the day. People will respect it. I’m not very good at this, frankly. My iPhone and I are attached at the hip (there’s even a picture of me somewhere sound asleep in bed clutching my iPhone!), but sometimes you need that separation.

3. Laugh. YouTube is a wondrous invention, and laughter, as they say, is the best medicine. Take 5 minutes a couple of times on a stressful day, search out your favorite comedian or reality video on YouTube and watch a few minutes of some bit. It’s a nice break that will remind you that one of the best things in life is laughter.

4. Meditate. A multi-billion-dollar industry has grown up around meditation and yoga. And, yeah, I wish I had that type of body! But let’s be honest: Time is money in our business. It’s hard to justify (much less settle down for a few minutes) closing your eyes and doing the ohmmmmmm thing, especially in the middle of a chaotic work day. But you can do something that’s just as effective and is effectively meditation. Do you like to knit? Sew? Take 10 minutes to knit or sew something. Or play yourself in a game of Jenga. You can’t NOT concentrate on the task at hand. These type of concentration and focus — a vacation for the mind — separates you from work for a few minutes and gives your mile-a-minute mind some much-needed rest from the work day.

5. Drink. Yeah, OK. It’s not politically correct. And if you do #1 hard core, there’s little reason to consider this option. But people are human. On the most frazzling days, it really doesn’t hurt to sit down and have a glass of wine (I do enjoy my wine time). Why? It may be impractical—especially if it’s been a long day and it’s now dark—to pull on the jogging shorts and go for a run at 11 p.m. (Especially if you’re a woman; sorry, politically incorrect but life). Have a drink and savor it and then meditate on its impact. Leave it at that. Don’t overdo it. Then go back and do numbers 2-4 for the rest of the evening.

These tips have helped ease my stress levels, and they’ll work for you too!

What's the word? Need something out of the norm? There is a solution!

Everyone who is in public relations or marketing has sat down to a blank screen and just stared at it.  After a while you get up, go to another room, visit someone’s cube, get some coffee, check the clock to see if it’s lunch time, come back and, yes, screen is still blank.  Some of us might even shed a tear in frustration… where to begin?

Then you get the courage to start; you nail down a sentence or two and stumble—you’re stuck on a word. It’s always easier to edit or add to a draft that someone else has started than type that first word on your own. 

Now, some of us who have the gift of writing may not struggle with this issue often. But for those of us who at times wrestle with finding the right words (yes, those who know me, no laughter here!), I have a found salvation in a word site. Who does not like a short cut from time to time!?

It’s called Word Hippo. If you’ve heard of it, you can move on to the next blog. But if you haven’t check it out. It’s ideal for helping you find the right word or -- better yet -- breaking your writing pattern and getting away from relying on the words you have grown to used to.

And no, I do not own stock in the app nor am I married to the site founder. I just want to spread something useful and positive to others who may struggle with the blank screen!

For me, it’s – what’s the word – “revealing?” No, “edifying?” No, oh… it’s “enlightening!”

Publicity On Slow Days

Let’s face it: Companies launch a few products or have just a few big announcements each year, if that.  How are they supposed to generate buzz and interest the rest of the time?

Here are four ideas you can leverage to keep the interest level for your company humming throughout the year.

1. Look at the calendar. Oftentimes, holidays are an excellent touch point to create and distribute content relevant to your products and technology. Big trade shows, such as Consumer Electronics Show (even if you’re not attending) can be opportunities to reach out to media beforehand to help them with their event previews.

2. Take advantage of breaking national news. Some call this “newsjacking” but I like to call it being in the right place at the right time. A big national story is covered by hundreds of outlets, but the media is always looking for differentiated stories. Did a storm knock out power to a million people? If you’ve got battery technology or back-up power products, you have a perfect opportunity to tell a timely story. Warning: Steer clear of major stories involving tragedy.

3. Be a useful and consistent source of information. The media (and readers in general) are always hungry for new information. If you come across any number of reports that are published on any given industry each year, share them. Bring them to reporters’ attention or blog about the on your site.

4. Go to the well. If you’re in the technology business, your company or clients have brilliant people working for them. Take time to get to know the domain experts and talk to them regularly about technology and product trends with an eye toward creating content or pitching stories to the media. These off-product-launch opportunities can be catnip to reporters. And if you’re blogging about for your own audience, it helps build the authenticity of your company’s voice as you share useful information.