The Pre-PR Checklist
Everything a brand should have before approaching a publicist
By Melissa A Vitale
As a publicist who has built a reputation for representing equally reputable brands, I've had success in launching brands with little more than a website and some product renderings when the vision and market for the start-up was so significant, journalists couldn't wait to write about it.
It's true; many brands can get press before their idea has become an actual physical product.
However, since becoming a publicist, I've seen just how many people put the cart before the horse when it comes to PR for an idea or forthcoming product. It seems like whenever someone in my life (friends from high school, relatives, old boyfriends etc) has an idea, I'm one of the first five people to know about it. Why? Because they want to see if it's something that can get press. The answer is typically: yes, as long as they're a product to promote.
Along with a physical product, there's also a number of things a publicist needs to be able to represent a brand to their press contacts through the many ways we place our clients in the line-of-sight of press.
As a publicist, I have set methods of putting brands in front of press. It's not just through in-person meetings and events, but also through phone calls, emails and even, yes, tweets & social media. In order to do that, a publicist needs a number of items in addition to a physical product.
Below is a definitive checklist of everything a brand should have before going to a publicist. Like I said, I can launch brands with less, but the more marketing materials a brand has, the easier it will be to convey brand message to press. Not only do publicists use these marketing assets, but images and product descriptions are essential for
Digital & Physical Assets Essential for Public Relations:
For those brands ready to explore public relations, be sure to check out MAVPR's suite of services:
Corona & Vice: How COVID-19 is impacting legal cannabis and sexual wellness brands
A Vice Publicist’s Perspective
By Melissa A Vitale
The Corona-craze has taken over airwaves, broadcast, social media, statured meme-culture and curated a new set of social norms in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a publicist who has worked in wellness, hospitality, transportation, luxury, fashion and beauty, I would think of all the industries that exist, Vice communications would be the least disrupted by the Coronavirus buzz.
Every business is being impacted as the number of infected multiples by the hour; physical retail, hospitality, dining & event spaces are seeing red at the end of each day; Consumer packaged goods brands are struggling to keep their supplies as imports are delayed through customs checks; and for specifically social and intimate categories like sex wellness and legal cannabis, eyes are on the budding industries’ response to the pandemic.
While it’ll be weeks or even months before we can fully discern exactly the impact of the coronavirus on all areas of industry, there have been noticeable trends in the past week since the craze broke.
The media industry is ripe of unexpected effects as a result of the corona virus. With cancelled itinerary and travel, writers and editors have had more time for story ideas outside of industry events. There has been a higher volume of stories coming through media both with a focus on the virus and to curate evergreen stories that audiences want to see between CDC reports. In the past week, response rates to pitches has increased, and with a higher volume of stories written, the need for more sources has skyrocketed. Unsurprisingly, press have been seeking lifestyle stories focused around the virus, such as Tips for Working from Home and How to Stay Active In Your Apartment. I personally have been pitching CBD as a solution to chapped hands from over-washing and staying at home to masturbate and pamper as a solution to corona-based social-anxiety. There has yet to be any slowdown in sample requests and press events for later in the month are still receiving RSVPs. Meetings so far have yet to be cancelled unless someone has been sick though more people are double-confirming wellness before meeting.
Sex Wellness Brands & Professionals
Like anyone who relies on physical interaction to do their jobs, Independent sex coaches and experts, sex workers and other industry professionals are worried about long term stability if the pandemic rages on for months. Already consumer pleasure product brands are facing delays in product imports from overseas. While some hold-ups are quickly remedied resulting in little more than increased product demand, many brands are shifting their business model to exclude models that take longer to reach the US than others.
Vice Category Brands
Cannabis dining and consumption events have been cancelled across the board. Cannabis Brands were expected to hit SXSW this year in a massive recognition of the budding industry; SXSW’s cancellation was a huge blow to those of us who were so thrilled to see such a legitimate milestone in cannabis’ consumer history. Just like consumer pleasure brands, Cannabis brands are facing delays in product imports from overseas with many brands shifting their business model to exclude models that take longer to reach the US.
As I predicted when I first drafted this article four days ago, sex toy sales have increased. But so have legal cannabis sales. It seems that everyone is stocking up not just on cold-medicine and toilet paper, but also vibrators and vape pens.
Events & Social Spaces
As their Publicist and Communications Director, it’s no secret that I am actively involved with The New Society for Wellness (NSFW), a private members club for the adventurous. Something that was unexpected in the wake of the pandemic was the number of media outlets requesting comment on what NSFW was doing to combat concerns. I mean, I get it: “Coronavirus” & “Sex Club” in a headline will draw in clicks in for sure. In some cases, we were asked questions that only CDC officials could answer. Walking through my grocery store, I’ve been seeing consumers touching their mouths and then touching products before moving on. Though we appreciate that everyone has heightened concerns during the outbreak, I’m shocked to the standard an events space has been held to compared to public spaces that sick people are more likely to pass through.
Events during the immediate next two weeks across all industries have been cancelled either due to fear of virus or low attendance from self-quarantining. Events later in the season are still receiving RSVPs though more questions about potential cancellations has arisen. Almost all events are cancelled through early April with those remaining on the calendar expected to be cancelled in the coming weeks.
With its social nature, consumer cannabis use has seen the biggest shift in this pandemic. Many people are opting to bring their own and declining to share. I was recently interviewed as a regular cannabis user about my concerns surrounding smoking weed during corona. Specifically, I was asked if I’m worried about all the people who handle my bud before it reaches me. While I wish I had the luxury of more controlled (aka legal) channels of obtaining my plant medicine, to think about everyone who comes in contact with my cannabis would be to think about everyone who touched the ATM before me, or used the MTA turnstile since it was last cleaned, or everyone who almost bought that apple I’m about to buy. Frankly, I consume too much cannabis for those details and instead, opt to not touch my face and wash my hands obsessively.
Dating & Relationships
I haven’t seen cumulative numbers across all brands, but I would predict that sex toy sales have increased–though with many brands wholesaling from Asia where import delays are the highest, this may lead to more trouble for brands. Many people are staying in; parties and spaces are closing so many dates consist of Netflix & Chill. Those without regular partners have been getting better acquainted with their vibrator collections in favor of trekking to a bar for a tinder date or taking a subway to a dick appointment. Cuffing season has always been a big pitch topic for publicists because people usually tend to stay in more this time of year anyways, though coronavirus has catapulted that trend to universality.
I'll be frank: it's a scary time for a legal cannabis and sex positive brand. Every industry and business is facing delays, loss of revenue and potential added costs of missed work; Sex and Cannabis brands don't have the same protections as say, a restaurant or a retail center. I've already had some brands who've told me that Corona could be the end of their run. Vice brands are barely scraping by as it is. Corona-craze could cripple them.
But those same brands who worry that this may be the hurdle to shutter their doors, are also looking positive. We hope one day, a decade from now, we look back and laugh about the time Corona almost killed sex and cannabis.
Again, it’ll be some time before we can fully gauge the socio-cultural impact of COVID-19 but already, the craze has infiltrated the vice market in a matter of weeks. In short, the Coronavirus will definitely have a chapter in my memoir of working in a time when Sex & Drugs were illegal.
Right now, we're only just beginning to grasp the overall severity of the coronavirus. There will be economic repercussions for months, potentially years, to come. Something we have to remember is that any resulting financial fall outs are worth the risk for the safety of the world population. The goal is that in months to come we look back at all the precautions and empty bottles of lysol satisfied with a contained spread of a still very unknown virus.
Seriously, wishing everyone safety through the stress and alarm and energy and hustle through the isolation.
By Melissa A Vitale
Ten years ago, if you asked a journalist or publicist about SEO, we probably would’ve asked if you meant SEC or CEO; fast forward and search engine optimization plays a major role in shaping the media landscape today.
For today’s publicists and journalists alike, SEO is now a staple phrase in our strategy, planning and everyday vocabulary.
Search engine optimization can often be the difference between an epic sales month and staying in the red for a brand. I’ve even heard a horror story that when google changed their algorithms, the resulting loss of business from trailing their first-page placement was so daunting, the owner ended up losing his business. For those who aren’t fully aware of the impact, when you google say, “CBD Eye Cream” the brands who pop up the first in the search page will often have the highest sales. Brands compete for that coveted spot at number one through back-linking, press hits and driving traffic to their website.
It was a monumental day for me when my website was the first result on google when you search “Melissa Vitale.” It took two years and over twenty press placements, but now, wherever you are in the world, if you google Melissa Vitale, you’ll see my website first. Seeing that there are 10+ Melissa Vitale’s in New York alone, that’s a huge achievement for brand positioning.
The goal of being listed first drives much of brand strategy and messaging in PR. SEO increases when the name of product containing the link coincides with the URL name. Going back to the CBD Eye Cream – a mention in Forbes of a “CBD Eye Cream” will preform better than “CBD-Infused Eye Cream” in getting that product to the top search of google because the listing doesn’t have Infused in it. All this is to say, Publicists need to be sharper with positioning product titles to match that of the listing on the website as it drives SEO.
Something that’s also become more relevant is the connection between SEO and Affiliate Marketing. Many media outlets are encouraged to use affiliate links (typically to retailers like Saks.com & Amazon) where they receive a portion of every purchase from the recommendation. Some media editors can only feature products that are associated with an affiliate platform. Many times, while coverage will feature a brand, it will drive the sales to Amazon, losing the SEO traction for the brand. SEO traction is how brands stay relevant to curious consumers. Many brands often put more thought into their sourcing than retailers like Amazon, so first-time purchasers through google are being pushed to Amazon, not a brand that can help them make an informed buying decision.
It’s not surprising that brands and publicists are interested in SEO: all brands are always searching for ways to boost traffic and sales.
What is surprising about SEO is the way it has dictated the media landscape in a bursting media bubble.
It’s no secret media is a tough industry right now. Every quarter we expect waves of layoffs, subscriber rates have plummeted, and people expect their news free and accessible through social media. Media houses have had to get creative to drive traffic to their websites to appease advertisers, keeping the lights on another day.
Publishers have gotten smart. They’re taking advantage of all of those late-night google searches that usually lead readers down a rabbit hole. “Why does my breath smell bad,” “How to regrow my hair,” “What do I do if I’m attracted to someone other than my wife”. Many media outlets have SEO teams that run reports on the most searched questions. They hand those reports over to editors who assign writers to answer those questions with an article. Instead of those millions of searches going to forums and blogs, reputable news outlets are sweeping up that traffic. Once users end up on a website, they can stay for hours on the suggested articles of the site.
While this may seem sinister – using consumer curiosity for website traffic – it’s actually created a consumer-first environment in media. First, media outlets have to uphold un-biased ethics and credential-based reporting. Journalists can’t just make up facts and figures like anyone with a blog. For every fact, there needs to be a source, one with expertise or recognition in the field. What we call “Airtight.” Now when consumers turn to google for the answer to their personal questions, there will be articles with sources and resources for further investigation.
By placing SEO searches at the front of their editorial strategy, media houses are catering to what interests consumers, not advertisers. Advertisers want to see website traffic in the volumes to drive sales. When there are more readers, there are more potential customers. Consumers have become ad-adverse – we can spot an ad a mile away and we want no part of it. Advertisers understand the benefit and opportunity cost to having more content that drives consumers and higher traffic than brand-centric pieces.
While SEO has added another level to media relations, the natural evolution of the digital media landscape allows for more organic media coverage of brands and topics that excited audiences, not just brands who can afford advertising packages.
For brands looking to explore cost effective public relations packages, learn more about MAVPR at: melissaavitale.com/services.html
A public relations agency specializing in brands and startups across plant and intimate wellness