Jan 15

That’s What He Read – “Where Did January Go?” Edition

That's What He Read

That’s What He Read is a look back at five of my favorite articles from the past week. It covers all topics, but you’ll usually find the focus on writing, social media, and storytelling. I try to add some color to spice it up, but I usually fall flat on my face. Anyway, enjoy!

Brands Attempt To Cash In On The #BlizzardOf2015 (Digiday) – In case you’re wondering, my new favorite pastime is watching brands on Twitter try to be clever in the face of a momentous event like a record-setting blizzard. Leave it to a toothpaste brand to totally miss the point. I can’t wait to see who falls flat on their face during the Super Bowl.

The New Measles (The Atlantic) – I try to keep my opinions to myself. It’s part of the reason why I deleted Facebook. But I can’t sit and pretend that I think it’s okay for people to not vaccinate their kids. I don’t understand how, when so much information out there is against it, people think not vaccinating is the right decision. (Check Wendig, for his part, might be close to the answer.)

NFL Still Living In Fantasyland (Sports On Earth) – Will Leitch is right: “We all now live in the NFL Experience, Engineered by GMC. Pro football’s interactive theme park … it’s just America. Go ahead and fight it if you want: You’ll never win.”

AT&T Launching Scripted Series on Snapchat (AdWeek) – This is the future. In a week that saw SnapChat launch a new content platform for media companies called “Discover”, now AT&T is using YouTube stars with established audiences to create a scripted series that will run on SnapChat. I’m keen to see where this goes.

Why You Should Tell Your Children How Much You Make (New York Times) – My wife and I talk about money with our kids all the time, but they don’t have a firm sense of the value of it. However, my oldest daughter has a wallet with some of the money she’s gotten from the Tooth Fairy. If she wants to buy something, we make her use her own money, give it to the cashier, and collect her change. It’s not everything, but I think it’s a step in the right direction to get her to understand that value of money (and how quickly it disappears.)

What did you read this week? Anything amazing? Share it!

Jan 15

The Lost Art of Pitching a Story


My favorite part of working in public relations is (and probably always will be) pitching and landing a story for a client and seeing it run in print.

In an industry where success can, at times, feel like it’s governed more by relationships and politics than performance, the ability to successfully earn coverage is the one indisputable way that we can show our worth.

(And for you competitive types out there, if you close your eyes and pretend, you can trick yourself into thinking we’re all keeping score and he who places the most stories wins.)

After all, pitching stories is the platform on which this industry was founded. If we’re not picking up the phone and calling reporters and having human interaction, how do we differentiate ourselves from something artificial intelligence can do?

We’ve already seen the Associated Press use robots to write news stories. Who is to say they won’t one day replace us? It wouldn’t be that far of a stretch to assume software could be programmed to draft and send press releases to a pre-established media list.

To stay relevant and valuable, we have to deliver results.


At the risk of this becoming my Mitch Albom moment, I want to tell you a story of how things used to be in the public relations industry when I started in earnest, way back in 2005.

Back then, I used to spend hours on the phone pitching stories to journalists.

With sweaty palms and shaky knees, I would pick up the phone and go through my media list one-by-one, calling reporters I pitched on e-mail to see if they would be interested in writing a story about my client.

I was yelled at by a few and received more voicemail messages than one person should have to endure, but it was necessary. More often than not, the reporter had avoided my e-mail because of deadlines. So a polite phone call usually got a response, even if it was a “no”.

But it also led to a few saying yes, which usually led to a silent fist pump.

Over time, I honed my phone manner and got really good at pitching journalists. That first e-mail entry point was important, but so was learning when they were more likely to answer their phone, how to best start the conversation (usually a simple request for a few minutes of their time made all the difference) and how to respond if they shot you down immediately. (Don’t take no for an answer. If you know your client inside and out, sometimes you can land an interview that had nothing to do with your original pitch.)

The people entering the industry today, unfortunately, are being taught quantity is more important than quality, so they write the press release, push it out to their media list via e-mail, and then move on to the next release.

Calling a reporter on the phone to follow up an e-mail never crosses their mind because we’ve fallen in love with the inflated media impressions numbers. They say their announcement earned 150 million impressions when it was release, but did anyone read it?

Probably not.


We are only as good as the last piece of coverage we earned. And I’m not talking about a press release that was picked up by one of the hundreds of news aggregators on the web. Any moron can do that.

I’m talking about a real, honest-to-goodness article that includes insight from the reporter, a quote from your spokesperson, and third-party validation that ties everything together.

Something worthy of being framed and placed on a wall.

If you think you’re busy, try to put yourself in the shoes of a reporter. Newsrooms are shrinking. Responsibilities are being increased to cover for colleagues who were let go. Reporters have more demands on their time than ever. If you can mine their stories for a topic that would be of interest to them and offer it so that they don’t have to spend the time to find it themselves, then you make everyone’s job just a little bit easier.

Of course, if you’re happy just checking the box and putting a press release on a web site, that’s fine, too. Just don’t complain when our robot overlords make your job obsolete.

Jan 15

That’s What He Read – Writing, Wrestling, and Storytelling Edition

That's What He Read

That’s What He Read is a look back at five of my favorite articles from the past week. It covers all topics, but you’ll usually find the focus on writing, social media, and storytelling. I try to add some color to spice it up, but I usually fall flat on my face. Anyway, enjoy!

How agencies get employees to fill in their timesheets (Digiday) – Time is the bane of the PR industry’s existence. Account people hate to enter it and finance people hate when it’s not entered. But there has to be a way to encourage us to enter our time besides threats sent via e-mail, right? How about beer? Okay, that’s a start.

Writing Your Way to Happiness (New York Times) – This might sound strange, but as someone who loves to have written, I don’t particularly like the act of writing. But I’ve committed (privately, to myself) to write more in 2015 because I notice an emotional difference in me when I write on a regular basis. And it’s not just me. Researchers have determined that writing your personal story can lead to behavioral changes and improve happiness.

How To Write 4,000+ Words A Day (Ksenia Anske’s blog) – Remember that thing I just said about hating the writing part of writing? Well, Ksenia Anske is determine to make writing hell on budding writers by showing them how they can write 4,000 words every day. The way she spells it out doesn’t make it seem so daunting, but putting that many words to paper regularly takes superhuman effort and focus.

The Surprising Amount of Time Kids Spend Looking at Screens (The Atlantic) – I’ll be the first parent to admit that I let my kids play on our iPad for longer than is probably okay sometimes. But I also make sure to limit their time in front of the screen when I can. At school, they’re also using iPads, and I doubt the teachers are making sure their posture is correct. Schools are increasingly going high-tech. Will they attempt to reduce screen time to fall in line with the recommended daily dosage?

Inside WWE: An Exclusive Look At How A Pro Wrestling Story Comes To Life (Bleacher Report) – Let me just tell you up front that I’m a huge wrestling fan and I watch Monday Night Raw every Monday night. I have for as long as I can remember. It’s a nice escape from the rigors of daily life. And, yes, I know everything is scripted. But this article is an interesting look into how stories are shaped on the fly, and how leadership decides which way to take the wrestlers. Crowd interaction is factored in, too.

Did you read anything this week that you just have to share with everyone? If so, put it in the comments! Or, just leave a comment!

Jan 15

It’s Time To Kill The Media Impression


Media impressions.

As Thomas Armitage so eloquently stated on Twitter: “Impressions are literarily [sic] the worst metric on the face of the earth.”

I’ll excuse his spelling error (which he later corrected), as well as his hatred of Dave Matthews, because he hits on a point that needs to be addressed.

Besides artificially boosting numbers so you can brag to potential new business — “Our PR campaign around a new operating system drove one billion impressions! — the media impression sends a message that we are actually reaching a large audience when, in all likelihood, it’s much smaller.

Let me give you an example.

If we are to take impressions at face value, we subscribe to the notion that a story placed in the Detroit Free Press is read by each of the 175,000 people who subscribe to the print edition.

Then we multiply that number by 1.5 to come up with the “pass along rate.” This new number takes into account the belief that some of those readers will pass along the newspaper to a friend to read that article.

(When was the last time a friend or family member called you up and said they saved the hard copy of the newspaper because they want you to read an article? Go ahead and think. I’ll wait.)

The impressions now stand at 262,500. That’s 262,500 people who read the story in the newspaper about our client; 262,500 potential new customers who read about the client’s product or service and want to purchase from them.

I know, it’s a stretch. But impressions remain one of the most important ways we deliver “value” even though it’s sketchy math, at best.

No wonder PR people get a bad wrap sometimes.

So what’s the solution?

That’s a good question.

If I were in charge, I’d eliminate impressions altogether, or reduce by, say, 80 percent. So if we’re sticking with the Detroit Free Press example, we can say (with a bit more accuracy, I think) that 35,000 people read the story, as opposed to 175,000.

But even then we’re guessing, so maybe eliminating altogether is a better idea, then settling on the number of stories we place as the driver of success.

At least we know that’s accurate.

So, in my imaginary PR world, we can tell potential clients that we landed 100 original stories, instead of saying our campaign drove 316 million impressions. (That’s the number of people in the United States – do you really feel comfortable making that claim?)

If you were in charge, what would you do with the PR impression? Do you think it still has value?

Jan 15

That’s What He Read – It’s Like We Never Left Edition


That’s What He Read is a look back at five of my favorite articles from the past week. It covers all topics, but you’ll usually find the focus on writing, social media, and storytelling. I try to add some color to spice it up, but I usually fall flat on my face. Anyway, enjoy!

A Site That Knows Your Favorite Books Before You Do (Fast Co. Create) – As an avid reader, I’m always looking for new books to add to my list of books to read. So when I saw this article pop up in my feed, I thought I’d rate some books to see if the algorithm checks out. I rated ten of my favorite books to see which books they would suggest. Some were spot on, but then it threw in “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe” and “The Three Musketeers.” Unless the algorithm recognizes a deeply embedded connection between those books and “The Silence of the Lambs”, I’m not sure it’s going to uncover any gems.

Not Everyone’s Internal Internal Clock Is Set For The 9-to-5 (The Atlantic) – Wouldn’t it be great if we could work the hours we wanted to work, instead of being shackled to the working world norms that are imposed upon us? For the 400,000 Americans who suffer from delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS), they certainly do. Thankfully, the growth of a flexible workforce is helping these sufferers. But, sadly, not all of them can work when they’re most productive. While in a morning meeting their body might think it’s the middle of the night. As a result, many lose their jobs because they physically can’t wake up.

A Guide to Getting Past the Dez Bryant Catch (Grantland) – Have you been following the NFL playoffs? If so, you’ve probably noticed some outrage over the way the games have been officiated. When the fans are talking about the refs at the water cooler the next morning instead of the players, the league has a problem. I especially like this quote: “This sport exists to piss off everyone who pays attention.” The NFL has been pissing people off all year for the way they’ve handled certain situations, yet, we continue to flock in droves to games and television sets. You have to wonder: is the league bulletproof?

25 Writing Hacks From A Hack Writer (Terrible Minds) – Sometimes I think I enjoy reading about writing more than the actual act of writing. This post by Delilah S. Dawson reminds me of that fact. She is, essentially, telling you to simplify your life in order to start writing, but in a way that is way more entertaining. If you really, really desire to write, follower her hacks. And then remember she wrote her first novel while she nursed a baby. Surely you can write 500 words tonight with a beer in hand.

Three Steps To A Killer Pitch (Spin Sucks) – In public relations, we’re only as good as our ability to pitch a story to a reporter. After all, we’re paid to drive coverage, even if the current incarnation of the business makes it seem like we’re straying from that ideal. We’re not. Like I said in my comment, the kids entering the business today need to learn this skill. Lindsay Bell does a great job of laying out a few ways (three, to be exact) they can get better at it.

Did you read anything this week that blew your mind? Tell us about it!