In media relations, throw ’em an occasional curve; “fastball” pitches go nowhere fast

If you are looking to promote your company or cause, product or service, then here’s one thing you most certainly won’t want to do: throw one fastball after another at the same list of media outlets.

The baseball metaphor is timeless because one of the indispensable ingredients in the success of any hard-throwing hurler is his ability to mix up hitters with “off-speed” stuff. A curve ball here, a slider there and then — bam! — the fastball suddenly seems to have that extra zip on it. The 90 mph pitch seems like 100 mph and becomes virtually untouchable.

Fail to develop those reliable alternatives, though, and soon batters will be able to time the fastball and start knocking the ball all over the park.

In newsroom terms, that’s the equivalent of decision makers (reporters, editors, producers of one sort or another) knocking your news releases out of consideration.

More specifically, your predictable self-serving pitch gets relegated, often in the blink of an eye, to the trash bin. And believe me, based on my 20 years as a reporter, it doesn’t take long to cement a reputation as a strictly “fastball pitcher.” That’s when the media develops an especially itchy “DELETE” finger.

So mix things up — become less predictable and thereby more effective for your organization:

If you promote, say, dog food manufactured in one city, that doesn’t prevent you from submitting a colorful photo of a father-and-son flying a kite in a community in the next county to publications in and around that spot.

If you want a television station to pursue a profile on your environmental non-profit group’s 25th anniversary, you can still offer up a suggestion on the inspirational military veteran who lives two doors down from you.

Starting a unique high-tech business in January? That doesn’t preclude you from thinking about a great romantic story about the couple who are celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary right before Valentine’s Day.

For unimaginative, and unrealistic, PR types, each of these scenarios represents a “curveball.” In the past, when I have championed this approach in workshops and one-on-one interactions, a certain uncomprehending glaze washes over their faces. Even though some might murmur half-hearted agreement with this tack, they remain blind to the connection between selfless suggestions and lasting public relations and media relations success.

What this approach requires, of course, is the investment of time in activities that don’t hold the guarantee of immediate return on investment. It’s about doing the little things that, when added up, amount to much: figuring out the contact information for an editor you have never contacted before, navigating a website so you can upload a photo or two without any PR strings attached.

One piece of good news here is that we’re not talking about neglecting your usual PR and marketing efforts. But then there’s this bit of really great news: this approach is just time-consuming and seemingly unrewarding enough to be practiced by precious few.

As a result, you will face little competition. And over time, as you build deeper and stronger relationships with decision-makers whom you want to influence, you will reap even better results for your clients.

This column first appeared in a December 2013 edition of Bulldog Reporter.

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Be a person, not a bot: don’t cheapen your social media network with garbage-like invites

“Feel like a number
Feel like a stranger
A stranger in this land

I feel like a number
I’m not a number
I’m not a number

Dammit I’m a man
I said I’m a man.”
-Bob Seger

Those lyrics come at the end of “Feel Like A Number,” from the 1978 album, Stranger in Town. It chronicles the alienation that comes from being just another “spoke in the wheel” of some monolithic entity.

Don’t add garbage to someone’s in-box — it’s already overflowing with unwanted stuff

However, with disturbing frequency, it is the feeling that arises at least once a week when I receive a LinkedIn invitation from someone. The pattern isn’t slowing down, either, even though a growing number of people have had more time to adjust to this social media space and come to their senses.

It’s time, then, to issue another plea for common interpersonal sense. If you are prone to inviting people to link-in with you, based solely on words on a screen and not any real-life flesh-and-blood interaction, then this is especially intended for you: stop cheapening your social network by inviting every Tom, Dick and Harry who has some remote tie-in to you (such as the fact that you both reside on planet Earth.)

Each time you issue an impersonal, shot-in-the-dark LinkedIn invitation, you are contributing to the overflow of garbage in the world. You are also revealing some damaging details about yourself. It’s lazy, it’s presumptuous and it positions you as a LinkedIn lemming–a follower (of all the others committing this sloppiness) and not a leader.

When you meet someone, preferably in person but possibly otherwise, that’s the time when you should consider connecting on LinkedIn. As you do so, give context and briefly state how you see such a connection serving both parties. Consider writing a recommendation shortly later, to cement the relationship and add value.

If you find yourself with hundreds of connections, but hardly anyone for whom you could write a recommendation, then that’s a red flag.

Conversely, being able–and willing–to craft recommendations results in value that flows not only to the people you recommend, but yourself. After all, your connections’ networks are more apt to read the relatively tiny number of recommendations your common connections have received than wading through the long list of connections they have amassed.

So, a parting public relations and marketing tip for you as you consider your own version of You, Inc.: when you remember to treat people like individuals, not another spoke in some expanding wheel of superficial contacts, you build up the quality of your relationships.

And in a world where it doesn’t take much to have quantity on the surface, it’s the depth of your quality relationships that will serve you much more in the long run.

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