Author Archives | sradick

About sradick

I'm Vice President, Director of Public Relations at Brunner in Pittsburgh. Find out more about me here (http://steveradick.com/about/).

Why I Hate the Word “Pitching”

July 4, 2012

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I've grown increasingly frustrated when I hear my PR colleagues tell me they're going to "pitch the media." Maybe it's because my non-PR friends look at the term so pejoratively. Maybe it's because it implies a certain level of salesmanship. Maybe it's because it erodes my own idealistic view of the media as the fourth estate and that I hate seeing so much of it be controlled by pitchmen who take advantage of lazy journalists. Maybe it's all of the above. For me, it's almost as bad as our industry's most hated word – "spin." Then I read Amber Mac's excellent piece on Fast Company about how social media can help save the PR industry from bad pitches as well as Gini Dietrich's follow-up post on Spin Sucks, and I got all riled up again how PR people rely on blind pitching instead of focusing on the "relations" part of public relations.

When someone tells me that they're pitching something to the media, the default image in my head has sadly become this –

From spamming thousands of reporters and bloggers at a time in the hopes of getting 1% of them to cover your "news," to copying and pasting entire pitches and only changing the name, to using outdated information, PR people have become used car salesmen, interested more in making the sale than on building an honest relationship. At some point, it became acceptable to send an awful pitch out to 10,000 people and hope that 1% would cover it instead of crafting customized pitches that go to 200 people with the expectation that 50% would cover it. Wonderful. Glad to see that we're modeling our pitching approach after Nigerian email scams. Aren't we better than this? PR people have to stop trying to take the easy way out. Stop being lazy and start taking pride in each and every pitch you make. It is YOUR name after all that will be tied to that pitch. It's YOUR agency's name that may end up on a blog somewhere as an example of a bad pitch.  Act like every pitch you make is a reflection of you and your agency…because it is.

One of the things I've told my teams over the years is that the best media pitch is usually pretty simple. It's usually something along the lines of "hey man – just read your latest post and wanted to clue in on a client of mine who's got a cool new product that I think you'd like. Check it out and let me know what you think." While the "pitch" is surprisingly simple, the reason it works is because of all the work that's required to get to that point. For it to work, it assumes that you've established a relationship with this person, that they trust you, that you only share things like this that they are truly be interested in, that you've interacted with them before when you weren't pitching him on something, and that the link they click will give them everything they need to know – photos, videos, quotes, contact information, research, etc. In other words, there's no need to worry about crafting a perfect pitch if you've already laid the groundwork – at that point, it's just two people talking with one another.

Let's all work together to change the connotation of the word pitch and agree that we should aspire to be better than used car salesmen and spammers.  Let's make pitching less about trying to sell the media on something and focusing on providing them with what they need – good stories to tell that will be interesting to their readers. Let's pledge to:

  • Get to know the people covering our clients before we start pitching them
  • Read at least three different stories/articles/posts they've written before reaching out to them
  • Know if my contact prefers to be contacted via Twitter, email, Facebook, phone, or carrier pigeon
  • Avoid making our first contact with the blogger/reporter our pitch email – Retweet them, comment on a blog post, answer a question they have
  • Help the media do their job even if there's no direct benefit for me
  • Pitch fewer people but aim for a higher success rate
  • Stop blindly "trying to create more buzz" and instead be more of a PR consultant to my client
  • Write my pitches in actual English like I'm talking to a person instead of my client's key messages
  • Refrain from spamming dozens of reporters with the same email
  • Never ever send an email with any form of the words – "just checking to see if you got my email" (because they did, and then they deleted it)
  • Validate everything that I find out about a reporter/blogger from a PR database
  • Clearly identify the "what's in it for me?" for everyone I contact
  • Include my name, contact information, and links to more information
  • Stop overselling our pitches – when everything is ground-breaking, innovative, and the first-of-its-kind, nothing is
  • Coordinate our pitches with our clients so that they aren't surprised by questions from the media
  • Realize that no one likes to feel like they're being pitched, but they do enjoy hearing a good story
  • Read and proofread and read and proofread everything before I hit send

These are just off the top of my head – I'm sure there are plenty of others. If you're a PR pro, what other tips would you add here? If you're a reporter/blogger, what do you wish PR people would do better when pitching you? 

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From the Government to Big Brands, From the Left Brain to the Right Brain

June 24, 2012

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Three months ago, I made a huge change in my life. After eight years as a government consultant in DC, I picked up my family and moved to Chicago to work at Cramer-Krasselt. I went from DC to Chicago, from consulting to PR, from government clients to big brands, from the suburbs to the city, from leading virtual teams to being in the office with my entire team every day, from being at the tip of the spear of the #gov20 movement to being just another PR guy prattling on about social media – and for the last three months, I've been trying to adapt to this new life of mine.

As you can tell, a lot has changed, but a lot has remained the same too. I still spend way too much time in meetings. I'm still having varying levels of success managing office politics. And I'm still trying to change the status quo. I'm not ready to say that PR in the private sector is any better or worse than government consulting – it's just different. And for me, different is good. Instead of being the grizzled veteran who's been with the company longer than most people, I'm the new guy. Instead of being the guy everyone runs to for social media advice, everyone here at least knows the basics, with many knowing much much more than that. Every day, I feel challenged. Every day, I learn something new. Every day, I realize I'm in an entirely different world now. Even though I still do PR and communications, the clients and the environment are very different. So while there are some similarities, in many ways, it's like a whole new career.

This isn't to say that one is better or worse than the other – in fact, it's the dichotomy of the two that I'm enjoying. While I find myself learning more and more about branding and advertising every day, I'm also teaching my new colleagues a lot about staff forecasting, team management, performance reviews, and strategic planning too. If I've learned anything over these last three months, it's that the typical PR pro would be more effective if they thought more like a consultant, and that the typical government consultant sure could benefit from some more creativity and risk-taking.

If you've done PR in both the public and private sectors, what kinds of differences have you experienced?

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Seven REAL Ways You Can Use Social Media to Find Your Next Job

May 27, 2012

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I read this post yesterday that included an infographic from Online Colleges discussing some of the ways in which you can use social media to find your next job or internship. It even included five tips to help you "stand out from the crowd." Unfortunately, rather than highlighting some of ways in which people have used Pinterest to land their next job or created a resume using a QR code, or creating an interactive video resume, they instead recommend the exact opposite. Recommendations like "be your most professional you," and "treat your profile like your resume," make you blend in with, not stand apart from, the crowd.

The infographic is right about one thing though – social media does give you an opportunity to stand apart from the crowd. But you're not going to do that by treating your profile like your resume, being professional, and keeping your accounts updated. Stop looking at social media from a place of fear ("oh my god, my Facebook profile has pictures of me drinking a beer!!!  Ahhhhhhhhh!") and start looking at it from a place of opportunity ("other applicants may have more experience, but how many can actually showcase their entire philosophy and beliefs to the interviewer before ever actually stepping foot in the interview room?"). 

Social media opens up all kinds of doors for today's job-seekers – 

  • You don't have to rely on the formulaic resume and cover letter
  • You no longer have to post your resume and pray that someone sees it
  • You don't ever have to talk to that "to whom it may concern" guy again
  • The company's resumes@companyname.com email isn't your only point of entry

So if you're truly interested in using social media open these doors and land that next job or internship, try these seven tactics:

  1. Be present. If you send someone your resume, one of the first things they're going to do is Google you. Be aware of what they will find. Yes, like most people will tell you, having that local police blotter article about your DUI five years ago show up on the first page is bad, but so is not having ANYTHING show up. If you're allegedly a PR professional, and I can't find a single thing about you beyond your high school team softball photo, your resume better be damn impressive because that's all you're giving me to go on. 
  2. Make sure your online presence is reflective of the type of job you want. Are you trying to be an accountant? A designer? A PR specialist? A management consultant? As you might imagine, these positions require very different skills and personalities. I would expect that the online profile of someone trying to get hired by an advertising agency to be VERY different from the profile of someone trying to get hired by a government consulting firm. Blanket statements like "be your most professional you" are meaningless because they mean such different things to different people. "Professional" to a government consultant is probably going to come across as dry and boring to me.
  3. Be You. The best personal brand is the one that best reflects who you actually are, not some contrived image that you want people to think you are. It's going to be much better for the both of us if we're open and honest about who we are and what we're looking for. If I bring you in for an interview based in large part on your super creative Pinterest-based resume, I'm going to expect a super creative person in the interview, not to hear that you hired someone to create that resume for you and you don't actually know how to do that. 
  4. Talk about what you do and who you are. The easiest and most effective thing you can do. Are you a PR specialist? Then start a blog and talk about your approach to public relations. Get on Twitter and share your thoughts on the latest PR crisis. Share links to PR articles you're reading on Facebook. This isn't rocket science. If you're a graphic designer, talk about the latest trends in graphic design. Share your opinion on who's doing it right. Don't tell me that you do something, show me your thoughts and beliefs and what sets you apart from the hundreds of other people who claim to do that as well.
  5. Talk with people in the industry you're trying to get into. Want a job in government public affairs? Get on GovLoop and start commenting on people's blogs. Want a job in public relations? Participate in the PRSA LinkedIn group. Want a job in sports? Get the #sportsprchat on your calendar. Be a part of the conversation. 
  6. Talk to the person/organization you're trying to work for. The old advice was to research the company that you're applying to so that you know what work they do, who their clients are, etc. That advice still applies, but that's literally the bare minimum you can do. Be prepared to do more than some simple secondary research and instead look to see who from that company is on Twitter and start following them. Connect with them on LinkedIn. Comment on their blogs. And for the love of God, talk with them about something OTHER than the fact that you want a job. You wouldn't walk up to them in real life and hand them your resume before even introducing yourself would you? Then don't do it online either. Tell them how much you liked their last blog post. Answer a question they asked on Twitter. Give them your thoughts on that last link they shared on LinkedIn – just do something other than say "hey are you guys hiring? Check out my resume!"
  7. Start early. I don't want to see that you started your Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube channels all on the same day two weeks ago and now you're applying for a job with me. Start building up your online presence before you start looking for a job. I don't want to hire someone who is just going through the motions – I want to hire someone who understands that their use of social media is about a hell of a lot more than just finding a job. It's about becoming a better professional, demonstrating that you're a lifelong learner, and explaining who you are rather than just what you did.

What other tactics would you add? How have you used social media to get a job or internship? 

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The Future of Branding is About Making Friends, Not Ads

May 12, 2012

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Make friends, not ads.™

That's the message that greeted me when I first opened the Cramer-Krasselt homepage and again when I walked into the lobby for my first interview five months ago. Seemed especially fitting for me as I've railed against traditional advertising ("look at me!! come buy my stuff!! Now! Now! Now!") and traditional PR ("we're the world's leading provider of innovative solutions…") for what seems like forever. Five months after that first interview and six weeks after my first day, I realize that this is much more than a tagline – it's the future of branding. 

For years now, I've been telling my teams, my clients, and anyone else who will listen that they need to read the Cluetrain Manifesto, internalize it, and put it into action. In fact, stop reading this post and do yourself a favor and read the 95 theses included in that book. It has really changed the way I think about business, branding, public relations, and advertising. Now, maybe I'm just naive or I haven't been in the private sector long enough, but I'm seeing signs that this industry is finally starting to get it. Success isn't about creating that one really cool ad, but about creating lasting relationships with your employees, your customers, and the public. 

Here are a few of the recent articles that I've come across that seem to back this up – 

Consumers Are Most Likely to Forgive USAA, Hyatt, Chick-fil-A and Costco Because Of Their Customer-Service Records, According to New Research — But Much Less Likely To Forgive Chrysler, US Airways, Comcast and BofA

"Forgiveness is a valuable asset that you earn by consistently meeting customers' needs, but many companies don't have enough forgiveness stored up to recover from their miscues"

It's Time for Advertising to Take a Lesson (Gasp!) from Public Relations

"They're not your customers; they're your constituents. It's been said often, but it bears repeating: People don't buy brands. They join them. So modern brands must function like political parties, identifying issues, expressing a coherent world view, staging debates and structuring dialogues."

Social Media Is About Cultivating Community, Not Corralling Cattle

"The harder you try to sell, the more you scare — or simply bore — people away. This central truth is not difficult for brands to understand, but for some reason it is hard for them to internalize and act upon. What is first required is to embrace social relationship-building not as the latest marketing fad, or even as a new reality that has been forced upon you, but as a means to revaluate who you are, what you stand for and why you are in business in the first place."
"As agencies, we have to be honest with clients and help them figure out how big or small their footprint should be in an ever-expanding social universe. Are we crafting community strategies with the brands' objectives truly in mind? Marketers should take the time to step back, look at how many things their consumers have in common and build social presences around what their customers care about and why they are connecting."
To a PR guy like me, I'm reading these articles nodding my head saying "ummmm…no shit. I've been saying all of this for years, and Cluetain said it more than a decade ago." Unfortunately, to many, this is still revolutionary thinking in the advertising, marketing, and even PR industries. THIS is the future of branding – it's not about social or mobile or location aware apps or retargeting – it's about fundamentally rethinking what we learned about PR, advertising, creative, and digital in college. It's about making friends, and not Facebook friends or Twitter friends – it's about making real, honest-to-god friends. Friends who will forgive you when you mess up, who will accept a higher price because they understand and empathize with you, who will step up and defend you when you're being attacked, who will pay more because they share similar beliefs, and who will talk about you with their friends and family because they believe in you. 
 
Ads alone aren't going to win you many friends. The most successful brands have already realized this and are using all of the tools at their disposal – advertising, public relations, community relations, creative, CRM – to build real friendships based on mutual trust, integrity, and respect. So, take the advice I see every day when I walk into work and start focusing on making friends, not ads.  
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