Nov 18 2010

Joanne Taylor PR: Solid public relations pros think like journalists


 George Packer, The New Yorker

I just read “George Packer’s 5 Tips for Reporting on Anything,” from Steve Myers at Poynter. George Packer is a reporter for The New Yorker—a favorite weekly read at boise-based Joanne Taylor PR. Meyers asked Packer how he enters unfamiliar territory to report on complex subjects. I couldn’t help but liken this to the approach public relations pros take when preparing to launch a new product or service.

I’ve long thought that former journalists, or those who have trained themselves to think like journalists, are the best PR people. This article helps demonstrates why. We are familiar with Packer’s methodology, and we use it when we take on a new client, company, product or service.

I listed Packer’s five tips below and added to each one a similar practice that PR pros use on a regular basis. See if you agree with my analogies. If not, or if you have something to add, please leave a comment.

Don’t go in cold
We research the companies we plan to represent, as well as its products and/or services, its business objectives and sales goals, the competitive landscape, industry landscape, industry trends, related news and anything else that is relevant.

Find a guide to show you around
We ask product managers and sales guys to give us their pitch. We ask about target markets and the messages used for each one. We look at demos of the product and/or service, and ask questions. If there’s a manufacturing or shipping facility, we ask to see it. We also ask to be introduced to the people who work there. We talk to them and ask questions. Guides give us story angles.

Go in with a guiding question
What is it about this company, product or service that sets it apart from its competitors? Is it the first? The best? Is there something different/trendy about the way the company does business or the product is made? Who are the employees? What are their stories? Any of these can serve as guiding questions. We use them all the time, and often the answers provide news hooks.

Capitalize on your outsider status
As outsiders, we see fresh what insiders have been studying for weeks or months. We’re not tainted by company politics or hierarchy, emotional idea attachment or any of the other things that can sometimes turn a good communications plan to bad. We get paid to tell company executives what we think, so we do.

Capture those fleeting thoughts
Like journalists, we carry a notebook—a practice that is good for much more than capturing fleeting thoughts.

May 14 2010

For PR Pros, Digital Media Does Not Change Rules of Engagement


I’ve been gearing up for a somewhat unusual product launch the past couple of months. The product——is sort of like reverse eBay. People post the car they want, and dealers and sellers compete for their business. If successful, Autopitch could change the way people search for and buy cars online.

The launch plan called for direct outreach to auto, tech and mommy bloggers, print media, and industry influentials. Communication vehicles included email, twitter and Facebook, chat rooms, community forums and discussion boards.

How different this scenario is from something typical of 3 or 4 years ago. The product, and the communication methods being used to introduce it, would have been completely foreign to most in the PR profession.

The approach, however, is the same. We researched the automotive industry, our targets, their news outlets, and their readers. We became part of the auto industry’s most popular social media circles. We developed a couple strong news hooks, and identified several outlets beyond the obvious where the story got some play. Simply put, we did the groundwork. At launch (May 3), we were prepared.

For the most part, journalists want to talk to PR pros who can offer story ideas and resources. But they expect you to know the rules of engagement. They want you to know when their deadlines are, and they assume you will respect them. They appreciate a brief conversation that has more than just a bit to do with the topics they cover. They expect you to spell and/or pronounce their names right. The only way to ensure you get these things right is by doing your research.

Before you send a single text or direct message, post a tweet, or comment on a blog post, you must do research. There are no exceptions to this rule. If you aren’t knowledgeable about the product, service, trend or topic you are pitching, it will be noticed. If you aren’t familiar with your target and his or her audience, you’ll be mocked in the newsroom or, worse yet, exposed online. (See related TechCrunch article here).

Steve Casimiro, editor at Adventure Life ( and former West Coast bureau chief at National Geographic Adventure, backs this up.  “Social media, twitter, texting, email all support your message but the most powerful tool is still going to be your relationship with the press,” he said. “Direct, informed contact is always best.”

Pitching profiles posted on the likes of Media Atlas are also telling. BusinessWeek’s “Technology and You” Columnist Steve Wildstrom writes, “The best PR pros read my stuff so they can pitch me on the sorts of things I write about. Don’t send unsolicited products. Don’t call to find out if I got your email. If I don’t respond it’s either because I’m really busy and will get to it later or I’m not interested and don’t have time to respond saying so. The key,” he says, “is understanding how a product or service you are pitching fits into the themes I write about.”

Also remember that despite the brevity that digital communication begs and current generations accept, writing skills are still important. Jill Kuraitis, an editor at, says, “Grammar and punctuation absolutely still matter. The format of your pitch, not so much.”

“Remember,” says Casimiro, “PR people are valuable to the press because they help us do our jobs by providing information we can’t get or can’t get easily elsewhere.”

This was true before the digital age and remains so today.

Feb 10 2010

A little help from my friends


Last week, I asked journalists and communications experts to weigh in on one of my favorite topics–media relations. I’m teaching a media relations course this semester at BSU and wanted the students to get a variety of tips from a variety of people in varying roles, so they could see that while tactics and styles may differ, basic principles apply.

I received several comments, a sampling of which I’ve posted below. If you’re new to PR, this will be helpful. If you’re not new to PR, it’s a good refresher. Sometimes we forget that even the smallest gestures are important. Enjoy!


Dani Grigg, Reporter, Idaho Business Review: Give me a solid news hook–something that happened or some milestone that makes the story timely, not just “ABC Co. is awesome.” Also, develop a relationship with me outside the story pitches–meet me for coffee, interact w/ me on Twitter, etc.

Jill Kuraitis, Editor, Don’t hesitate to propose what may seem like a wacky story. A good editor may help you think it through, so be open to modifying your original idea.  Also, perfect grammar and punctuation absolutely matter. Format of your pitch, not so much.

Melissa McGrath, journalist turned PR pro: Always call back – even if you don’t have an answer. Let them know you’re trying. That’s my #1 tip.

Niki Forbing-Orr, Editor/Local News, Idaho Statesman: Know who you’re pitching stories to. Be relevant. Most successful pitches I get tell me quickly why and how I might use the info. But don’t waste my time by telling me it’s a great story — tell me what the story is and what’s the impact might be

David N. Compton, Principal, Compton Communications: Condense your thoughts. Don’t waste their time wit too much explanation. Keep your thoughts to about three short points and make sure one of them is a nugget think about. Journalists are like raccoons, you don’t want to give them too many shiny things to play with.

Wendy Knorr, Communications Guru, Reno, NV:  Be honest. Gaining their respect as a truthful professional can make all the difference.

Syd Sallabanks, Principal, Gallatin Public Affairs: I agree with Jill: Be creative and flexible and a great story may develop. Know the news agency’s interests and don’t call during deadline.

Steve Stuebner, Writer, PR Pro, Outdoor Enthusiast: Know the media outlets that you’re pitching; make sure you have a solid story to pitch; and write a good pitch; TV is kind of a different animal in that they have a super short attention span (because of the pace), and you need to make followup calls to ensure that they read your email or paid attention to the event details.

Julie Fanselow, Journalist, Freelance Writer: We’re all media now. Will you use your superpowers for good or evil?