By Melissa A Vitale
Those new to the media experience, either growing tired of waiting for updates between slow newscycles or from general discovery, send along articles they stumble across that they want to be seen it. This typically falls to the realm of niche industry outlets, tier 1 and 2 outlets.
How its measured varies by PR firm, but for MAVPR: Tier one outlets are national, digital or print publications with audiences over 1M (Think Forbes, Fortune, Marie Claire, Rolling Stone and Time Magazine), while tier two outlets are digital and print publications that have between 50,000 - 999,0000 readers, subscribers or visitors per month to their website. Everything else are micro-publications.
Some weeks I'll get a fat email from a client with a spreadsheet of websites they found, or a long list of topic ideas individually linked to an article they came across, but it's very common that clients are making sure they are doing everything than can to ensure their PR plan is the best it can be, after all, they're paying for it. They want to have success from it.
Because I'm only one person, I regularly encourage this behavior and tell my clients to show me articles they think they should be in, in case I may have missed the writer on our target list. Even though many don't think so, I am actually a human, so sometimes I too miss something.
If there is an article at a premiere national, regional, or industry outlet than is on-brand with the brand's message and audience, then this can sometimes lead to a great feature for clients. Sometimes its just reassurance because the author is already on my list of journalists to pitch.
However, not every website falls into the realm of public relations, or it doesn't fall into the realm of public relations services MAVPR specializes in.
When that happens, it can be deadly to a media strategy.
Each client's account only has limited outbound pitching hours to it (more information on that here!) and websites with non-traditional editorial departments can be like a wild goose chase that eat into valuable pitching time. In the time span of 3-4 hours I can write a pitch and send that pitch from anywhere from 20-70 relevant journalists and editors depending on the brand or feature. The result? Inclusion and features on top tier and industry outlets. This can mean major logos to include in an investor deck, thought leadership that makes a brand's executives stand out or feature profiles that captivate wide audiences.
While smaller outlets and websites can add valuable messaging and coverage to a brand's PR campaign bottom line, they often don't carry the same potential for sales, name-brand recognition or ad-value. Ad value is a main measurement in public relations, and is the estimated amount that a brand would have to pay for the same amount of coverage through advertising or partnerships. Ad-value for one product in seasonal round-up (15 best lipsticks for fall) usually has between $4,500-$12,500 ad value depending on the outlet and editor. Because Public Relations does not always lead to sales, MAVPR works tireless that each account maintains steady ROI throughout its lifetime. Overall aim is to provide more free-advertising than double to triple the retainer, but it varies heavily month-to-month based on news-cycle.
Similarly, crafting a specific pitch and finding the contact information for a contributor of a much smaller outlet or content-writer for an organization or brand's blog can similarly take three hours depending on outlet. Some micro-outlets don't list contributor's names, and some contributors of smaller publications don't have public social media profiles or enough of an online presence for me to contact them. There are some of these blogs whose main contributor is a woman in Wyoming with no digital footprint except her title. The only way I would be able to connect with her is if I were to fly to her town and hunt her down. Obviously not worth it. I have a vast network of top tier press that even without a listed email address or phone number in any communication database or publicly online, I can still find a top-tier connection within a few hours. My network is not the same amongst blogs and smaller micro-websites therefore, it can take a few hours just to discover that the contact I'm targeting is essentially unreachable.
Those are hours that take away from MAVPR's specialty of top tier outlets. Even if I was able to find their contact info, lets talk about the potential result: I've seen bloggers copy-and-paste the same pitch so they can report to the PR that they wrote something (to continue getting free product from said PR person) without having to write an article. This practice can damage a brand's SEO with repeat links and placements. Securing a blog placement these days can take as much time as top tier feature except the ad value most blogs carry is around $500-$800 a pitch.
With one placement in a top tier outlet, a brand already double, tripled, quadrupled their ROI. Five blog placements can lead to just one month's worth of investment, but can often take months before each post is live.
Also eating into a media campaign? Being presented with off-target, off-brand websites. I've said it a few times and I'll repeat it again, just because something is on the internet, doesn't mean that it is media relations, often times there's other forms of brand relations at work. For instance, brand profiles on an online-web-shop are usually of the brands featured in the shop. Some blog posts and articles are written from entrepreneurs and professionals promoting their own services.
MAVPR does not specialize in:
- Curating partnerships with stores and online boutiques
- Finding doctor and health professionals spokespeople
- Pay-per-post blog posts
What MAVPR does specialize in
- Top tier coverage in outlets that make a brand stand out against their competitors
- Thoughtful storytelling
Presenting potential coverage options outside of MAVPR's specialty expands the scope of work that was discussed at the time of the initial account agreement. Clients wanting to broaden scope without adjusting retainer will loose traction on the on-target outlets already presented as viable options for brand coverage.
Some off-target media publications can be a bad choice for a brand not based on their audience size but based on the interest of their audiences. At the surface, an article may look like a right fit for a brand, but a skilled publicist can determine if it was a sponsored post, if its a contributor post from a medical professional or entrepreneur promoting their own brand, or if there was another reason why the brand was featured. For instance a beauty company can be featured on a vegan magazine, not because it's a great product but because it's a great vegan product, therefore, nothing non-vegan would be a fit. But taking the time to figure out if the outlet is a fit can also take up valuable pitching resources.
On a busy day, explaining to a client why a website is not a fit for the media plan can derail the day's pitching for that brand. Rather than pitching 22 editors about a product, I could spend an hour researching an extra outlet suggested by a client only to find that it is not a fit and then take 30 minutes to respond. If I have to do that more than once during a busy season, that can come out of outbound pitching hours. Unfortunately its not fair to my other clients if it doesn't.
MAVPR has experience and expertise almost-exclusively with top tier outlets and hot-cultural publications because this the the area I was trained in by my mentor Jim down, that I excel with, and that I notice that coverage in name brand outlets are the most thrilling for my clients. And you know what? I like excited clients! I want my clients to look forward to media relations!
But just because something is on the internet doesn't mean its public relations. To be able to deliver the best services to my clients at a budget they can afford, I need to "Opportunity cost" which outlets would be best for the brand, easiest to attain and would carry the best ROI. But I also want to listen to my clients.
If my clients suggest being in more blogs, then my attention is fixated on those blogs. However, at the end of the month, they feel very differently both about the monthly retainer that resulted in 1/2 the value they paid, or when looking back at their proposal that is littered with top tier outlets known to have grow emerging brands.
Every week I pitch my clients the roughly the same amount. Those clients that leave me the most time to enact my strategy are usually the ones who see the best results. I hate to say it, but historically, every brand who has tried to supplement a slow newscycle by detracting my attention with smaller outlets are not only less satisfied with their PR campaigns, but their PR campaigns often tend to fail. The reason? The outlets being suggested are not a fit and I have to take more time to either explain every request, or find and shoot an email off to someone who wasn't on my target, taking time away from curating the stories and outlets I was originally brought on to secure.
Obviously I'm not perfect so its not unheard of for me to miss one journalist (versus 500+ that each campaign usually gets presented in front of) but typically there's a reason why something isn't on my radar to target as a viable relationship to build with a brand.
So what can a brand do if their publicist isn't working fast enough for their vision?
- Expand your retainer: any clients who like the work but want to see more frequency can always add more outbound pitching hours to their account.
- Move to a larger PR firm: bigger PR firms can offer both niche website placement, brand partnerships, finding spokespeople and placements among top tier audiences.
If you're an existing MAVPR client, don't let this post turn you off. Please ask if an article or website is a fit for the media strategy if you stumble upon it.
Media relations is murky and every second counts to be able to drive ROI for a brand and often times the ins and outs of media relations are hard to understand. We at MAVPR are here to translate that for you.
If you're wondering how to tell if an outlet is right for your brand:
- Have they featured your competitor? Follow up, Do you have the same qualifications as them? (IE, if it was in a magazine about Entrepreneurs of Color, do you have the same merit to be featured?)
- Is the outlet based in the US?
- Can you easily locate a general email address for newstips and general ideas?
- Does the outlet have staff-writers or regular freelance contributors? Or is it only contributed submissions? Follow up, would you be willing to be that contributor? (content writing goes under outbound pitching times or if its outside the media strategy is charged separately)
- Do they have coverage restrictions (interviews with female-cofounders, only working with brands with recycled materials etc)
If you answered favorably to all those, please send the outlet our way! Let's make sure we didn't miss it.
Thinking about a tier-one media campaign? Let's get in touch! https://www.melissaavitale.com/contact.html
By Melissa A Vitale
With MAVPR, public relations efforts lead to a variety of on-target placements in top tier outlets. Secured coverage can manifest in the form of featured quotes, inclusion in a roundup of relevant products and brands and, the Mac daddy of all media relations, full feature coverage with standalone articles in a number of top tier outlets.
To give you an idea of caliber that receive full features contingent on their timeline: Time Magazine published a cover story on Barbie on Feb. 8, 2016 about how the brand launched their entirely new creation. The brand was doing a multi-million dollar brand overhaul, an year-plus marketing and PR campaign and was transforming an iconic figure in culture, and for more on this, I cannot recommend enough taking an evening to dive into Hulu doc, Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie.
Any brand doing a similar brand overhaul with a comparable high caliber of name recognition can say “when” and they’ll get that full feature whenever you want.
Anything else requires a combination of carefully laid pr messaging, strong relationships and journalist interest at the time of being pitched. Which can change heavily depending on the journalist and news cycle.
Anyone with less brand-name recognition than Elon Musk or Kim Kardashian, asking for a full profile is often a ball game of media interest. There may be the perfect journalist that would make the most beautiful feature coverage. There may also be someone who can tell the best story of an individual brand of executive but that person may be swamped with storylines in the coming weeks or even months. It’s not unusual for someone to come back to a pitch six months later. Actually it’s very common which is why carefully laid media plans have better long term success than not.
Typically, with MAVPR, full features come in within the 2-3 month mark. For a publicist, these are the best moments in our career: a full feature. Our clients are happiest then so for us, it’s the main goal too.
But let’s manage some expectations.
Writers have to serve national and global audiences with diverse interest base. Not everything an individual does has the ability to capture an audiences attention in a full feature and press are constantly worried about their engagement numbers.
Along with that when there’s a busy newscycle in the industry, evergreen (a PR term for non-time sensitive) get pushed aside to save man hours - those full features are written by humans who have their own schedule I cannot control. A national event can bring every editor and writer on deck to get the news out.
Now, just because someone is interesting or is doing something innovative, doesn’t mean it will automatically get a full feature. Press often require full and exclusive access to their subjects. If there’s something that can’t be shared, one can argue that’s the most interesting aspect to readers. Not including the juicy details means their readers aren’t getting an incredible story: they’re reading PR wishwash which you can read in any press release if that’s what you want as a reader.
Events that don’t always achieve a full top-tier feature (but can get a niche industry publication if indicative of a bigger trend):
- Hiring announcements
- Profiles of Individuals
- Re-branding (unless you’re Barbie or another household name brand)
- Standalone brand event post-coverage
The topics of the above often don’t garner enough attention at a top tier.
Another great example is that Elon Musk was recently on the cover of Wired Magazine; the reporting for the 6+ page feature was done over 18 months in advance.
When you hire a bigger PR firm, they compensate by having junior staff focus on blog, regional and niche placements that fill end-of-month-reports but often have no tangible ROI in the long-run of the campaign, while senior staff go after the top tier, longer leads that clients actually want. The result: using a big PR firm, you will not only get large placements, but you get many placements frequently.
But every big PR firm I’ve seen has about the same rate with top tier features. I typically don’t focus on niche outlets for profiles because my clients have come back to me disappointed: “we want you focusing on top tier.” Clients of global firms may have their names mentioned immediately in press, but rarely a full feature until a few months in.
A standalone story often takes planning, multiple interviews and lots of image assets. For this reason some of the longest full-features I’ve worked on have taken 6 months.
Full features do not happen over night. I truly wish they did. I would have so, so much less stress day-to-day if that were the case.
Unfortunately that is not how the media environment works, especially with freelance publicists. Larger $15K a mo PR firms are quicker with repeat full features because they have multiple people with multiple contact threads. Those interested in regular full-features at that caliber should select a PR firm that advertises to meet those expectations.
At MAVPR, Placements per month per client varies heavily based on newscycle, account strategy, deliverables and editorial timeline. Typically, clients start with a full feature in a top tier outlet within the first two months of engagement as well as other press opportunities including inclusions in roundups and commentary in feature articles within the first month months of press strategy. As the brand is introduced to more media, and their editorial calendars align with the brand’s expertise, it usually ramps up to between 2-8 inclusions or features a month, over 6 months, either full features, commentary or inclusion in roundups.
Managing expectations of media industry is a regular part of my job. I hope I didn’t sell myself short by saying a full-feature doesn’t come everyday at MAVPR; because top tier coverage is still a regular occurrence for clients, sometimes its brand-inclusion or trend commentary or industry predictions, other times its turnaround feature stories, but part of my brand has always been transparency to clients and this goes to that regard.
Current clients of MAVPR are encouraged to seek updates to see the standing of potential full-features with the brand.
To learn more about what we specialize in, please visit: https://www.melissaavitale.com/about.html
When a brand doesn't have the budget for the public relations package they want
By Melissa A Vitale
I have had an alarming amount of people ask me if I could offer them top tier public relation services at no cost to them. I've been asked to execute full media plans and strategy for zero compensation. Absolutely free.
They hope that I can invest in their vision and their ability to grow. What I hear is, "I want the benefit of your services, but I'd like you to pay for my benefit out of your own pocket." Basically, I would be the only one investing my time, money and energy in their media efforts so they can reap the rewards of having a press campaign (exposure, increased sales, name recognition and executive visibility).
The short answer is 'no'.
The people asking for no-fee PR services want me to invest in their vision, but won't do the same for mine. The Perfect PR plan: no risk, just reward; all the benefits of a fully-functioning PR plan but no loss of money! Who wouldn't want that!? Let's make this clear: this is not my volunteer job.
Above all else, I run a business. MAVPR is not my side hustle. It's not a gig. It is the reason why I can live in one of the biggest media hubs in the world. MAVPR is my full time job, and the income I make is the reason my cat can have regular vet checkups, and it is responsible for the clothes on my back, the food in my fridge, and my over-priced health insurance. Unlike many young millennials, I don't have any relation or relationship who is my financial beneficiary. Like Ms. Grande so eloquently phrased it: "I Want It I Buy It." That goes for everything from my lifestyle to my business, and as I'm sure you know, the costs of running a business can add up in a single day based on the shifting needs of a diverse client base.
Along with running a business, I do so in one of the most expensive cities in the world, something that adds to my value thanks to my proximity to so many media outlets. My landlord does not accept "your vision" as a form of payment. Similarly, the expensive industry services that make up majority of my overall business costs won't waive their fee because I've got a great client.
Just because I am independent of a large firm, doesn't mean I work for free; I have worked long enough in the PR industry and received enough accolades that I no longer need to consider pro-bono work for exposure or to build my portfolio. I'm not a publicist looking for a brand to join on board with like Cheryl Sandberg did with Google (though her compensation was NOT free lets make that clear), I actively seek innovative brands who want to invest efficiently in their public relations campaign.
Not that I'm always looking at my bottom line... I hope one day I will have a big enough firm to be able to offer pro-bono services to companies that typically have a PR budget like non-profit organizations or to individuals being weaponized in the press for another agenda. But I also want to go to law school in the next decade (and literally the most expensive one at that). So right now, I need to avoid practices that take away my energy without the value my business needs to not just survive, but thrive in order to sustain all the goals I have for it.
I used the word alarming in the first paragraph because I personally don't ask for services for free. I will ask the cost of something and weigh whether I can or cannot afford it and am upfront immediately if its not in the budget. If someone offers their services for free, that's one thing (and typically, I thank them generously). Work, expertise and craftsmanship is valuable, and giving it away from free makes those creatives have to work harder to grow their business. If you want something, you should buy it!
I have offered to help brands and organizations that I full-heartedly believed in, but at my time and schedule, with an understanding there would be weeks or months where my paying clients would dominate priority. Those pro-bono services are limited and extremely rare because I still run a business, and I would not be able to operate without incoming revenue. If I took on extra clients without extra payment, I would be working twice as hard while someone else benefits from my hard work, while my benefits are only potential and far off.
When I am unable to afford something that I want, rather than going to the store and asking for it for free, I either save my money until it is within budget, or I walk away from it because typically, stores don't accept "well I'll make money one day and you'll benefit then too".
Before you ask, I already answered whether or not I accept equity for public relations.
If all business could sustainably offer free goods and services in exchange for hope of later equity or reimbursement, I would be able to entertain the offer to invest in your vision, and I would also have a lot more Chanel bags in my closet.
MAVPR has a number of budget friendly packages for those looking to dip their toe into public relations.
Curious about whether you or your brand are ready for public relations? Schedule a consultation!
To learn more about what we specialize in, please visit: https://www.melissaavitale.com/about.html
Will my publicist accept equity?
By Melissa A Vitale
I have been running my public relations agency for a little more than two years, and for a few years before that I worked at a public relations firm led by my mentor, Jim Dowd, a veteran of more than 20 years in media. Like Jim’s agency, mine specializes in helping startups garner top- tier media coverage. Also like Jim’s, my firm offers lower prices than most major public relations firms because I have lower overhead. I learned how to run my business from Jim and, in turn, I have built a successful agency that has received accolades from journalists, editors, clients, and colleagues.
Also, like Jim’s agency, I do not accept equity in place of monthly retainers, the answer to a question that entrepreneurs often ask me. I still write proposals for those people, wanting to treat everyone equitably, but I know they likely cannot afford my services. I see the request for what it is: startups seeking a free campaign in the hope that their company will succeed and eventually make more than enough money to repay me for my hard work.
A proper PR campaign can often launch in less than three weeks, but it could take years for a startup to match that momentum. I could only accept equity if I knew I could depend on near-immediate Return of Investment, but, as I’ve seen, most startups can take years to reach that point. I have a proven track record, which is why many startups want to work with me, but if I were to accept equity, rather than cash, basically I would be paying vendors and my employees with promises. I could work four to five months without pay, and a startup would have free access to a New York agency. If the startup were to fail, how would I recoup that lost revenue? If I could afford to work gratis, I would gladly volunteer at a charitable nonprofit.
Many of these same founders would never accept such a lopsided business proposal: professional services in exchange for an IOU. Since starting my business, I have had about 20 startups ask if I would take equity instead of cash. Of those, I thought of accepting the offer from only one, and only after receiving regular monthly retainers for nearly two years, after which I knew it was a viable startup, making an equity swap a safe option.
Many business owners and independent contractors have heard the story of the washed-up Shark Tank competitor who couldn't get an investment in his new company, because when he was back in law school, he was offered equity on a company to which he turned down. The company went on to become Under Armor. I've been given this example from startups to encourage me to accept equity. The first thing I point out: The project that Under Armor offered equity for was short term, not a full-scale involvement that would last 5-12 months and over 100 hours of sweat equity.
If there's a short term project of under 6 weeks--not committing my company to investing months of unpaid labor-- and if you can show me the documentation that your brand will be the next Under Armor, maybe we can talk. But most PR services that I provide are a minimum of 5 months time.
Unfortunately for those startups hoping that I take nothing but equity, I cannot work for free. If you can show me a good return within 18 months, then maybe we can discuss that alternative, but if not, my business, like most every other business, runs on capital.
If you are looking for a publicist who accepts equity, I suggest hiring a university student who does not yet have business vendors with monthly fees or contractors to pay. If you need a successful sniper publicist, please peruse our site and schedule a consultation.
To learn more about what we do, visit: https://www.melissaavitale.com/about.html
Melissa A Vitale Public Relations
A public relations agency specializing in brands and startups in crytocurrency, artificial intelligence, sexual wellness and legal cannabis.