Marketing, public relations and marketing are so varied and interconnected that the title “publicist” doesn’t encompass one specific set of job roles. Some publicists are aces in turning drab social media paces into platforms ripe with revenue turning content while other publicists stay far away from social media management. Other publicists aren’t trained in crisis PR where some publicists live for corporate internal panic.
The type of public relations this post is going to break down is media relations and strategy that lead to organic, earned media placements, or getting placed in top tier outlets like Forbes, Glamour and Tech Crunch without having to pay advertising costs.
Earned media typically comes in three different forms: round-ups, thought-leadership commentary, and full feature profiles. Round-ups are popular ways to feature companies or products in a grouped article that pairs a common theme. Popular round-ups are Gift Guides, Lists of essentials for travel or holidays and seasonal must-haves. For a sex toy brand, a round-up like “Top ten accessories for the perfect date night” in Allure would be ideal to be included in. Thought leadership and commentary from brand executives are another vehicle for earned media. Journalists who cover specific industry topics are always looking for expert insight to prove a claim their making in an article. For a tech startup, having their CEO quoted in International Business Times’ “Top tech trends of 2020” could put their brand’s message in the forefront of industry conversation. Finally, in the crème-de-la-crème of earned media placements is full feature profiles. This is an entire article dedicate to a single company or co-founder, or executive.
So how do publicists go about getting these types of placements for our clients?
Leveraging our relationship combined with innovative strategy.
A publicist’s job is to know what publications, editors and journalists are working on specific stories that may be a fit for their client’s products or perspective. We do this by maintaining strong relationships with journalists everyday through events, pitches, emails, calls, desksides, market appointments, and the ever-favorite: press entertaining,
A large portion of a publicist’s job is to take lunch, dinners, and go out and stay connected with journalists so they always have a read on what journalists are doing. For clients, this means that when you hire a publicist, you have someone sitting down with writers at New York Post and MarketWatch and editors of Rolling Stone and SELF on behalf of your brand.
To keep conversations relevant (and our clients in editors inboxes) publicists are consistently coming up with fresh pitches with catchy product roundup categories, insightful industry commentary and unique inside perspective to whet a journalist's interest. These regular pitches are just a small portion of the media relations process.
Before hiring a publicist, a brand’s best hope of having media features is being discovered by journalists buying the product for themselves, researching for a story or perusing on social media. With a publicist, brands are being represented in the conversations that move industries.
Many of the industry trend stories that my clients have been in came as a result of discussing the ins-and-outs of the industry over drinks and a joint, and that conversation sticking with the reporter when a certain topic is assigned.
All earned media is contingent on a number of factors including an editorial calendar which is governed by an Editor-in-Chief, or an Online Editorial Director, advertising schedule and reader demographics and habits. When it comes down to why certain brands cannot be covered by all outlets is all a matter of man-hours and time that can be spent: for every story there are photo assistants, editorial assistants, researchers, fact-checkers, editors and writers who need to put together a single piece. Some months, there is simply no more time planned and no budget for additional writers that even if an editor loves what a brand is doing, their hands are tied, and they must revisit the topic another time. You could have the best or most expensive publicist but if there isn’t opening for a story, the only thing you could do is potentially risk the relationship with an editor with aggressiveness.
Media relations for earned media are a combination of outbound pitches and inbound requests. Pitches from publicists suggesting story ideas that may be compelling to readers offer journalists access to companies and insight that they might not normally have to tell a certain story. While journalists always have a steady stream of assigned stories that require experts. When they need experts, rather than going to one individual source, they go to their trusted publicists who will always connect them to expert, trusted, reliable insight.
This is why publicist focus on relationships. Reminding the editor months down the line when they’re looking for brand stories to fill their editorial calendar can be the difference between a full feature and just lukewarm interest. A strong relationship can also lead to dozens in inbound requests that turn to client features from without having to send a single pitch. The longer you work with a publicist, the more placements you get because the brand slowly aligns with more editorial calendars and openings.
A publicist is like a duck, on the surface, you may see them doing just one thing: getting drinks, or out at an event, but under the surface, like a duck’s rapidly moving webbed-feet, there are thousands of conversations, hundreds of story ideas, and dozens of documents ready for press on specific experts, brands, products etc all underneath the surface.
MAVPR has built a reputation as a trusted source for editors and press that commentary from our clients is relevant to the reader, on-message for the client, thought-provoking in the industry and always delivered to the journalist on time, respectful of their deadline and other sources, making us a popular choice for expert commentary requests from outlets like Forbes, Bustle, Refinery29, Benzinga and more.
To learn more about becoming a MAVPR client and our services, please visit: melissaavitale.com/services.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 won't 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
Melissa A Vitale Public Relations
A public relations agency specializing in brands and startups in crytocurrency, artificial intelligence, sexual wellness and legal cannabis.