By Melissa A Vitale
As a publicist, some of the greatest people I know are journalists and editors, and I frame it like that because media is a rare industry where focusing on your social life can be a valuable part of business. Most of the editors and journalists I work with regularly have become close friends and we have both become vital sources for each other: a publicist provides new products, events, expert sources and stories that audiences will be interested in, and often, the journalists will respond with a great story that thrills a client. Many times, Journalists come to Publicists when sourcing experts or products for an article because one publicist can have many sources under each topic.
Building strong professional relationships are just like building strong personal relationships; they take time, dedication, and personal and often emotional investment. This is why they so often bleed from business to casual which adds to passion of project of media relations (imagine regularly getting to work with your best friend!!). Today, some of my closest friends are the first journalists that I worked with when I started MAVPR and the result, beyond an empowered friendship, is also a number of stories we worked on side-by-side.
Media professionals who collaborate together often have the benefit of being able to help the other out when needed.
With my proximity to the sex, cannabis and business industries, even if someone in my client base is not a fit for journalist's specific desired source or product, there's a pretty high chance that I will know someone in the realm who can speak to that. If I am the lynchpin between a need and a solution, the reformed Girl Scout in me will always help out.
A handful of my non-media friends, without having ever paid for my services, have had their names in top tier outlets as a result of my network of press needing commentary my clients couldn't provide. This happens every-so-often and is a great way to network my services by turning incoming press-requests that I wouldn't normally be able to help with into opportunities for my friends to share examples of my work. For that added reason, it's always beneficial to connect a journalist and a non-client source at the journalist's request.
When the opportunity is reversed however, it could be devastating to a business.
Often times, I'm asked by a friend to pass along a media contact. Depending on the need and reason (and person asking) I may have no problem doing so, but those are very special circumstances. Even rarer, I even offer to connect someone because I think there will be synergy between the two.
Other times I'm asked to connect people for hopes (and potential) of a full feature, with absolutely no benefit or compensation for me. For my business, this means that someone benefits from the years of relationships I built without having to do any of the work or pay any fee. To my company, its energy spent without compensation. For the person asking for the connection, along with free ad value averaging over $7,000, feature coverage from my relationships could lead to brand recognition, massive investor opportunities or increasing incoming sales or appointments. I did all the work, while someone else gets all the reward.
Many times, journalists want to keep working with the publicist, so I'm looped into the story, resulting in hours of unpaid work.
If done too often, this is not only bringing the value of my services down, but also ruining my credibility in media: giving away contact information to anyone without permission is a major no-no in today's digital world, and can be a costly mistake for publicists.
Just like you wouldn't give your friend's personal information out to a stranger not knowing what they could do with it, I can't give out the personal contact information just because you asked for it. I can't tell if you're the person who will spam their email 16 times a day, drop my name even though I don't recommend or work with the brand, or who else you will give it to. If I were to give out emails in high frequency--which is how often I'm asked for them-- I could potentially gain a reputation as the publicist who gives away emails. And publicists don't have the best reputation in the media industry as it is. In a worst-case-scenario, the contacts who feel violated remove me from their email lists or fail to inform me of updated contact info. Giving away information can burn a publicists relationship with a journalist and that could be detrimental for business. Asking for one contact may seem like nothing, but if one contact is the source of many secured placements overtime, doing anything to offend them (like sharing their personal contact info) can be a violation of trust, friendship and working relationship.
Not only that, because I work with smaller brands only seeking limited engagement, there can be seasons of heavy turnover. Seeing non-clients reaping the benefits of my hard-earned relationships while I'm working double-time is more discouraging to my business than the "friends" making the request will ever know.
I'm not always looking at my bottom line, but I do live in one of the most expensive cities in the world, something that adds to my value thanks to my proximity to so many media hubs. With high turnover and even higher rent, at some point, I need to cut out money-wasting practices and that can be connecting people because they want my help but do not want to invest in my services.
Those interested in putting their names in front of the wonderful journalists and editors I work with daily can submit a request form to initiate a proposal and on-boarding process or schedule a consultation session.
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
Can I pay-per-placement?
By Melissa A Vitale
Seeking efficiency in marketing budget, a common question that passes my desk is about a "Pay-per-placement" model of Public relations.
Before you get your hopes up, this is not something I offer.
MAVPR focuses on storytelling, media relations and executive thought leadership and visibility in top tier articles. This can be a combination of Full Features - a story centered entirely on you, and often the hardest to come by unless you're Elon Musk, commentary in industry and trend stories, and inclusions in round ups of category-listed articles. The strategy to securing these types of featured placements in the Forbes, Marie Claire's and Rolling Stones' of the world involves pitches that will capture an editor's attention, my strong relationships, and a deep understanding of the media environment.
Every single editor, journalist, editorial director, digital site manager, and outlet itself have their own editorial schedule. Just because a client wants to be featured in outlets, doesn't mean that the writers who want to feature you will have time or will get commissioned for those stories, especially if there is nothing time-sensitive anchoring a journalist's interest. This is why PR plans typically cannot be less than three months, because there needs to be time for the press to align their interest in a client with their editorial schedule.
With strong relationships, sometimes features come before the contract is signed, other times, there could be two months passing before traction starts to build.
Securing press interest involves writing, editing, emailing, calling, face-to-face meetings and even events to present a client to a journalist in the way that will be most receptive. After all that, you may get a feedback along the lines of "I love this! I'm swamped right now but catch up with me after this month and I'll revisit the topic!" That feedback usually leads to a story or inclusion, as long as that journalist is reminded.
Due to the media landscape, press efforts can often be a game of Russian roulette, where sometimes round after round of pitches yields very little, and then BAM, three features right after another. Its for this reason you work with a skilled publicist who can navigate the murky waters of media relations and still make sure your name has an established presence.
I explain all that to paint a quick picture of all that is required to secure a story. The reason that pay-per-placement firms are very rare (to this day, I know of only one that operated in 2016 but whose cofounders have hence moved on to more lucrative marketing services) is because they could involve intense amounts of work for little reward.
When you ask a publicist if you could pay per placement, you are asking if they could bear the costs of your media efforts, while you will pay when you deem their work has produced the result you desire, and not paying for the work they did to achieve those results.
In a competitive marketplace where a NYC-based freelance publicist is in high-demand for brands, the choice to work for clients who will pay for all the work instead of the result isn't difficult to make.
If I were to charge a pay-per-placement model, it could mean charging the equivalent of up to three full retainers to encompass all the unpaid work, and at that point, you may as well look into sponsored post options, something that MAVPR does not specialize in.
To learn more about what we do specialize in, please visit: https://www.melissaavitale.com/about.html
Why suggesting off-strategy websites and media outlets can be deadly for a PR plan
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
Melissa A Vitale Public Relations
A public relations agency specializing in brands and startups in artificial intelligence, sexual wellness and legal cannabis.