Perfect Timing! 3 Ways to Add Urgency to Your Media Pitches

Flickr Creative Commons photo by  William Warby

Flickr Creative Commons photo by William Warby

Why now?

If you’re trying to get media coverage, you need to ask that simple question before you hit send on a news release or pick of the phone to pitch a reporter. 

And you better have a good answer. Of all the many considerations when you’re seeking media coverage, timeliness trumps them all. Journalists are news-driven. If what you’re pitching them isn’t timely, well, then it’s really not news. 

Adding to the challenge is that the news cycle continues to compress. Depending on the type of story you’re pitching, its shelf life might be only a day or two. Sometimes, it’s a matter of hours.

If you can infuse your pitch with urgency and timeliness, you have a much better shot at moving a reporter to action.

Here are three simple ways to make sure you’re pitches are well-timed. 

Look ahead: Finding a timely news hook is often pretty easy if you plan ahead. Announcing a new fundraising drive to support Little League in your community is clearly a great fit for Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season. Planning ahead can also help you weave a news angle into a less obvious pitch. So, for instance,  if you’re a locally-sourced market, announcing a new line of hot dogs and other meats might also get traction if you make a timely connection to baseball season. 

Prep the press: Yes, busy reporters don’t have spare time to talk about news that hasn’t happened yet…unless it’s a tasty story. If you think your timely pitch has enough appeal to get good coverage – and you’re not revealing confidential information – give a reporter a head’s up so they can do some homework and carve out time to write the story. You can also send an embargoed press release that gives reporters a chance to do some research and get the story framed up prior to publication. (Learn more about how to get the media to cover your event.)

Lead with urgency: Don’t bury the timeliness of your pitch in the third paragraph of a press release. Make sure it’s woven into the headline, or at least in the lead paragraph so a reporter will immediately see the timely hook. Another simple trick – in the subject line open with “Press alert” instead of “Press release.” Changing one word makes a big difference. 

So next time someone in your organization calls for a press release, ask ‘why now?’

If you have a good answer, it’s time to get to work. 

Should You Do An Op-Ed? Answer These Questions First

Flickr Creative Commons photo by  Jon S .

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Jon S.

Newspapers don’t have the same clout that they used to.

But, in some cases, newspaper placements still wield quite a bit of influence.

This is especially true for op-eds.

In the past, a printed op-ed had a limited reach. Today, a published op-ed can be quickly shared and distributed worldwide.

As a result, getting an op-ed placed in a national outlet — or even a small local paper — can bring a lot of value to organizations that are looking to advocate, raise awareness, or change public opinion.

'It’s no surprise, then, that many communicators still see the op-ed as a powerful tool, especially if thought leadership is a priority for their groups.

And they often devote a lot of time and effort to drafting and attempting to place op-eds on behalf of their organizations’ leaders.

But as someone who has ghostwritten more than my share of op-eds, I can tell you that this is not always an easy process. 

A sharp, well-written op-ed takes time. And there’s no guarantee that the hours (or, in many cases, days) you spend writing your op-ed will pay off with a placement.

So before you decide to try to pen an opinion piece for your top executive or hire an expert ghostwriter to do the job for you, take some time to assess whether an op-ed is the right choice for what you’re looking to accomplish.

There is no set rule for when you should choose to write one, but answering these three questions can help provide clarity:

  1. Is there widespread misunderstanding or lack of awareness about the issue you’re looking to address?

  2. Do you — or does someone in your organization — have a unique perspective or experience that can help make a compelling argument?

  3. Is there an urgent need to change minds or move people to action on your issue?

If the answer is yes to any or all of these, an op-ed is likely worth considering.

Before you take the next step, though,  check out our free e-book, The Op-Ed Option: 5 Simple Steps to Opinion Pieces That Change Minds and Inspire Action.

It’s full of great tips that will help make sure the time and money you invest in your next op-ed is well spent. 

3 Secrets to a Great CEO Letter

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With the fourth quarter in the books, corporate annual report season is now in full swing. Of course, the heart and soul of that report is the CEO letter to shareholders.

There’s a lot riding on this letter. It’s a once-a-year opportunity for a CEO to speak directly to key target audiences to share his or her insights on the achievements, performance and challenges of the previous year. It also offers a platform to lay out the strategic vision for the future, and how your organization aims to execute, grow, and make the most of new opportunities.

You don’t have to work at a public company—or even in the corporate world for that matter—to learn from a good CEO letter to shareholders. Many of the elements of a strong letter can be useful to leaders everywhere, whether they are running a non-profit, foundation, school, or government entity.

Here’s three keys to making a CEO letter sing:

Start with the end in mind: A good CEO letter can succeed—or fail—before a word is ever written. How? By not taking the time to think through what you are trying to achieve. More specifically, what do you want your audience to be thinking, feeling, and maybe even doing, after they have read the letter? Working backwards from there will keep you on track for what you're trying to accomplish. Thinking through the various ways you might leverage your annual report on an ongoing basis can help focus your thinking as well.

Find the right voice: Whether your CEO is partnering with a ghostwriter or crafting a first draft, make sure a tone is struck that authentically conveys who he or she really is. If the CEO has a folksy nature then let that shine through in the letter. On the other hand, if he or she is more button-down and straightforward, the writing should reflect that. It’s not only about tone, but also style. I worked with a CEO who was a natural and gifted storyteller so it made sense to weave some relevant personal anecdotes into his letter. Another CEO I worked with was a no-nonsense number cruncher so including a personal story would have seemed forced and disingenuous. Each of those CEOs had distinct approach and strengths that were effectively conveyed through the tone and style of letter.

Tell the story behind the numbers: There are plenty of financials and data that occupy page after page of an annual report. They certainly serve a valuable purpose. Yet your CEO doesn’t need to cram them all in the letter. A better approach is to turn to the old journalism maxim of 'show don’t tell.' Describe in concrete ways what some key numbers mean—and how they are making a difference. So if you’re a bank that experienced a 40% increase in commercial lending, focus on how that came to life in the form of a plant expansion that kept contractors hammering away for six months and 30 local people landing good-paying jobs.

Don’t sugar-coat: Authenticity and transparency. You might want to post those words somewhere you can readily see them. More than ever, they are the foundation to building strong connections and trust with your audience. Obviously, your core aim is to highlight your organization’s strengths, success and potential. And you absolutely should tell that story in the most effective way possible. Yet your credibility regarding your achievements is directly tied to your ability and willingness to acknowledge challenges—and, at times, admit mistakes. Take a problem-solver approach to addressing major challenges, and lay out your plan to deal with them moving forward. Your audience will recognize your candor and reward you for it.

A good CEO letter can build confidence and trust in your organization, position your CEO as a thought leader, and set the tone for a promising future. Make sure it’s not an opportunity lost.

5 Smart Moves to Start 2019 Off Right

How to hit the ground running in 2019.    Photo: Braden Cullum

How to hit the ground running in 2019. Photo: Braden Cullum

New year, new opportunity.

For communicators, a brand new year offers the chance to recharge and reset. Here’s are five ways to hit the ground running in January and keep the momentum going all year long.  

Get to know your audience even better:  Are the people in your audience still who you think they are? If you haven’t done an audience assessment recently, now is a great time to make sure you know who they are and what they’re looking for.  Consider doing some quick polls or surveys to uncover evolving interests or preferred channels and social media platforms. For a deeper dive, following our 6-step plan for creating audience personas can give you a real-time snapshot of your target audience so you can tailor messages that are sure to resonate with them. 

Set—and keep—a blogging schedule: Managing a blog can be a lot like having a gym membership – plenty of resolution-related activity early in the year that fades fast as the months tick by. And much like those resolution-inspired gym trips, you’re not going to see much of an impact unless you are writing consistently throughout the year. Frankly, a blog with a most-recent post that is eight months old is worse than no blog at all. Content has an increasingly dwindling shelf life, and if readers sense you’re not keeping up, they will click their way elsewhere.  Now is the time to create a blogging schedule that is consistent and achievable. One a month is better than a flurry and then going radio silent for months on end.

Build a better reporter relationship:  Now that the holiday rush is over, it’s likely that most journalists are not as swamped as they were at the end of the year. The new year presents a chance to reach out to reporters and start the conversation about your area of focus and ways you might be able to help them with ideas, expert sources, and real people who can help make their stories come to life. Check out our tips for stepping up your media outreachand then identify a reporter that is of high value to your organization and resolve to build a stronger relationship in 2019 — starting now.

Leverage the new year angle:  There’s really no other time of year in which people are more open to new ideas and ways they can better themselves, their communities and their careers. Use that to your advantage in your communications by encouraging greater interaction and involvement or floating some new initiatives or ideas that can spark greater engagement.

Try something new: The way people receive and process information continues to change at a breakneck pace. Don’t be afraid of embracing that change by exploring new trends, and new ways to communicate and connect with your key audiences. Maybe it’s using more video, or exploring guest blogging opportunities, or stepping up your SEO game to make sure you’re getting the most out of your content.

2019 is only a few days old. Make the most of it by putting these ideas into action.