The New PR 101: Don’t Confuse Influencers With Journalists

The New PR 101: Don’t Confuse Influencers With Journalists

How scammers are taking advantage of the changing media landscape to blur the lines of journalistic integrity

One of my favorite things about human nature is our ability to adapt and evolve. In the PR industry, our evolution has been predicated mostly by the changing media landscape starting with the switch from print to digital that began almost two decades ago (and a little bit by Google Analytics). The latter topic I’ll save for another article because what I really want to focus on in this piece is how we, as Media Relations professionals, have adapted to the era of the Influencer.

While often owned by social media and/or PR teams, the influencer isn’t necessarily a blogger or a writer or even a professional photographer. Often this person has developed and grown a successful brand for themselves on a social platform. As a crazy pug person, I’ll offer up Doug the Pug as an example of this.

Sometimes, it seems like the era of the social media influencer, similarly to the era of the blogger circa 2007, has become a Wild West free-for-all while lawmakers and key players in the space struggle to catch up. What standards and responsibilities fall to Joe Smith with a large Instagram following when he shares a picture of his favorite beer brand? He may have been paid by the brand or he may just be sharing his happy hour beverage of choice.

Is it common practice for PR and social media representatives to pay an influencer to post about a brand? Yes. Many of our clients have budgets for these folks. Does the lady responsible for Doug the Pug get paid by Netflix to produce videos promoting its original series Stranger Things? Probably. And that’s fine. What’s not fine is when the lines become blurred between Influencers and Traditional Journalists.

One of the inspirations for this post came this past holiday season when my team responded to a HARO query from a Buzzfeed Contributor. The Contributor was looking for best-in-show products for his 2017 Holiday Gift Guide roundup. One of my PR Coordinators responded to his query and was excited when she received the news that yes, Buzzfeed would feature our client in the gift guide pending a product sample. Done and done. When the article went live, it was indeed on Buzzfeed and was the longest Gift Guide I had ever seen. The Contributor listed about 250 products grouped by category; to find our client I had to scroll continuously for five minutes. I didn’t even want to share this piece of junk coverage with our client and wasn’t surprised two days later when the Gift Guide was wiped from the Buzzfeed site altogether.

Something felt fishy so I decided to investigate this Contributor a little. That’s when I came across a Cracked.com article written by the would-be Buzzfeed Contributor titled “How I Used Fake Reviews For Tons Of Free Crap”. In it, he described in detail how he successfully scammed companies – from those on the Fortune 500 list to entrepreneurs crowdfunding their first product. And the even crazier thing is that he didn’t just scam the PR people representing these companies, he scammed legitimate media outlets into giving him a platform. Explains Brian Penny:

“I was given the latest phones, laptops, speakers, IoT tech, headphones, the finest whiskies, wines, and rums, music instruments, baby gear, jewelry, vape pens, cameras, appliances, collectibles, home furnishings, camping gear, drones, clothes, even food. Overall, I was able to sell over $3,000 worth of merchandise on eBay, and made another $2,000 on Craigslist.”

“I continued pushing the boundaries and skipped the “review” process entirely, simply collecting products into “gift guides” and other listicles. HuffPost loves listicles, and the PR people couldn’t have cared less how they were featured, as long as they got that anchor link.”

It wasn’t just products for posts either, Brian Penny also found that eager brand representatives would pay him to simply post pre-written articles on his HuffPost contributor platform without lifting a finger or changing a word.

“I responded to a handful of offers explaining that I would happily post an article on HuffPost, but it had to be written for me, and I wouldn’t do it for less than $150.”

To my surprise, one very eager SEO consultant responded with several articles written and ready to post. I ran with it and put out feelers for more, gradually increasing my asking price each time to $200, $250, $300. By the end of one month, I was making $500 a pop to post articles I had nothing to do with. I did about a dozen of these articles in total, and made about $4,000 in 90 days. The articles were well-written, so the interns on the {HuffPost) blog team had no reason to question why a guy who’d previously blogged about whistleblowing was writing articles about Blake Shelton’s Pepsi concert series, artificial grass, or VOIP phone services.”

It turns out that Brian Penny isn’t the only imposter, he’s just loud and proud. The Outline published a full investigation describing how brands secretly buy their way into Forbes, Fast Company and HuffPost. Author Jon Christian writes:

“People involved with the payoffs are extremely reluctant to discuss them, but four contributing writers to prominent publications including Mashable, Inc, Business Insider, and Entrepreneur told me they have personally accepted payments in exchange for weaving promotional references to brands into their work on those sites.”

This practice is not only misleading and illegal but it discredits distinguished publications that employ award-winning journalists. It also further threatens the entire media landscape in the era of ‘fake news’. These top tier publications don’t hesitate to take swift action against people on their staff who are caught accepting payment for coverage. Jason Feifer, editor in chief of Entrepreneur, was quoted in an email to The Outline stating:

“We have a zero-tolerance policy for this kind of thing, our writer’s guidelines strictly prohibit it, and we take swift action. In the past, when alerted to people selling access on our site, I’ve even gone the extra step of alerting editors at other publications where that person writes, so that these bad actors have nowhere else to go. We value our readers’ trust above all, and will always work to ensure that they’re getting unbiased information from people who have their best interests in mind.”

As PR professionals we too, should hold ourselves to the same standards as our editorial contacts are held. If someone at a reputable publication requests payment for posts, we should report that person. It’s also our job to know the difference between a self-employed influencer who can accept payment and a writer who is bound by his or her journalistic integrity to report objectively to the public.

Lastly, we’re human and we’re extremely busy. We tend to trust queries distributed through HARO ( the e-newsletter service owned by leading PR software platform Cison) and we also trust that a writer for Buzzfeed or Fast Company has been vetted by the editor at said publication. My goal in writing this is to bring some awareness to an opaque practice that is bad for business and encourage readers to put in some due diligence (at the very least a quick Google search never hurts). After all, our clients’ are trusting us to be the stewards of their brands. At the end of the day, I’m a huge proponent of the PR industry adapting and embracing new mediums for targeted, effective brand exposure but hopefully not at the expense of the credibility of traditional journalism.

 

Anyone can successfully pitch a guest for a broadcast segment! Learn how…

One of the highlights of our job is working with experts from all walks of life. Experts in retail, experts on the art of building an app without knowing how to code, experts on predicting the future, the list marches on.

One of our experts is a life coach who deals in the art of personal transformation. Dr.Karin Luise helps her clients dig themselves out of those ruts we tend to find ourselves in once in awhile over the course of life’s adventures. And she is goooood. As someone with her own regional talk show, our team knew we had to showcase her strengths and get her on-air as much as possible. We decided to build her PR campaign around a regional morning show broadcast tour in a variety of networks in cities spanning the country.

So far we’ve built guest segments for our expert on over 10 shows including: Great Day Washington, NBC Roanoake, Talk of Alabama, Hallmark’s Home and Family, Houston Life, Let’s Talk Live in DC, Fox 4 Dallas, AZ Family and more in Georgia, Ohio, New York, Myrtle Beach.

Great, but how did we do it? Here’s five quick, easy and effective tips when building a campaign around guest segments:

  • When reaching out with your pitch, after explaining why your guest would be a great fit for their audience, offer to work with the producer or host to build out the segment. This allows you to have creative control on behalf of your client and helps out a busy producer by taking the work off their plate.
  • Broadcast pitching is often timely. We recently took the angle of ‘spring cleaning your self-care routine’ when pitching our potential guest. Right away it helps us build a theme from the idea of spring cleaning that is timely and relevant.
  • Include clips of your client doing previous on-air interviews or speaking at a conference; send broll if you have it. If you or your client have never done a morning show before, provide clips of a Facebook Live talk or a highly engaging Instagram video. Producers want to get a feel of how potential guests will appear on the screen.
  • Beware network rivalries. Don’t pitch the Today Show by sending a clip of your client on Good Morning America. In the same token, if you are pitching ABC’s regional morning show in Dallas, don’t send a clip of your client on Fox Dallas because they are directly competing for audience share. You can however send ABC Dallas a clip of your client as a guest on Fox in another region.
  • One trick of the trade when pitching a national guest segment, the whale of all broadcast opps: do send clips of regional affiliates when pitching national morning shows. For example when pitching Today, do send your clips of your client or yourself on regional NBC morning shows. This strategy works wonders!

Shift Happens: Remark Client Speaks to Celebrity Divorce & Her Transformation

Leading up to her divorce Karin Luise felt like she was in a Lifetime Movie. She was married to Atlanta Braves superstar Chipper Jones and despite public appearances had never felt more isolated and alone in her life. Because behind closed doors, masking the fame, glitz and glamour, Chipper revealed his extra martial affairs had resulted in not only betrayal but pregnancies (yes, plural).
But this isn’t a story about the death of a marriage, it’s a story about Karin’s rebirth. By sharing her pivotal transformation with others, she hopes to inspire women who are experiencing the same feelings of despair and hopelessness, to use their divorce to make a pivotal life change; a rebirth. Today Dr. Karin Luise is a transformational life coach, host of the Dr. Karin Show and co-author of the book The Fatherless Daughter Project

She starts with her story: “I was truly on my knees at rock bottom TWICE when the Universe said, “BAM – do you want to be this miserable forever or do you want to transform?” Then I raised my hand and the shift happened.” And then goes through how her divorce was the best thing to have happened in her life.

Read more in Karin’s hometown paper, Atlanta Journal-Constitution: http://www.myajc.com/lifestyles/life-after-chipper-jones-and-divorce/i7z9POmnoiuYMJQaGEVaHK/

A Love Affair With Forbes

Valentine’s Day is looming on the horizon and as such we started thinking about love. Our team has enjoyed so much incredible media love for clients this past year but one particular outlet went the extra  mile and showered us with much deserved attention. From January 2017 to January 2018 Remark clients had a love affair with Forbes.

Below, we reminisce:

2018 28 Retail Marketing Predictions To Watch in 2018: https://www.forbes.com/sites/rganatra/2018/01/18/e-commerce-marketing-predictions-for-2018/#3747de8849b6

2018 How A Social Enterprise Rebranded to Sell More Products And Help More Women: https://www.forbes.com/sites/robindschatz/2018/01/08/how-a-social-enterprise-rebranded-to-sell-more-products-and-help-more-women/#63d19f6f7763

2017 How One Venture Has Impact Coming And Going: ow.ly/MXz830b4gJ1

2017 Cinemizer OLED: A Personal Video Player For Your Eyes Only: https://www.forbes.com/sites/scottkramer/2017/03/02/cinemizer-oled-a-personal-video-player-for-your-eyes-only/#39dc5a4b1a85

2017 Helping Young Moms Work Their Way Out Of Poverty: https://www.forbes.com/sites/meimeifox/2017/01/31/helping-young-moms-work-their-way-out-of-poverty/#729badae5998

2017 Loves Wins In 2017: Here Are 25+ Valentine’s Day Gifts That Give Back: https://www.forbes.com/sites/vanessamcgrady/2017/02/04/valentines2017/#391c1c486321

2017 Hiring Women Other Businesses Won’t Has Made All The Difference: https://www.forbes.com/sites/devinthorpe/2017/01/04/this-business-only-hires-women-you-wouldnt-and-that-has-made-all-the-difference/#6e94c0134316

The difference between a Publicist and a PR Professional

I had a call the other day with a leader in an emerging industry, one set to legalize in a few months 🙂 and she asked me an excellent question as we went over the ins and outs of building her thought leadership campaign: what is the difference between a PR Professional and a Publicist?

Perhaps, surprisingly we don’t get this question very often. Usually it’s more along the lines of “what is PR?” “How is it different from advertising?” “Why is this not newsworthy?” My response to her was brief: a publicist works with someone who already has a achieved some notoriety whether it’s Doug the Pug or a celebrity. Unlike PR Pros representing brands or thought leaders, a publicist isn’t normally tasked with stalking media to make their pitch, they are more in the business of shielding their famous client from being stalked by very interested media. They are in the business of killing stories; giving their clients the heads up if a negative story is set to break or if someone from their past is writing a tell-all book. Potentially, if the celebrity happens to be outspoken, opinionated, intoxicated (you get the picture) Publicists get to do a lot of media training and crisis management as well.
While I’ve never actually worked as a publicist in my prestigious and storied career, I have worked alongside them on behalf of brands; even more so now with the rise of the influencer. One of my first opportunities to work with a publicist occurred back in 2008. I had a client whom manufactured longboards and made a stick to ‘land paddle’ with (think SUP but on pavement). They wanted a super fit celebrity to basically validate the new sport category they created. So, I called Matthew Mcconaughey’s publicist. Just googled her and called her right up. I explained a little about the the sport – it helped that SUP was really starting to take off – and she casually said “yeah, sure, send it over to me and I’ll make sure he gets it.” Fast forward a couple days and sure enough there was Matthew Mcconaughey on TMZ land paddling shirtless. Then all the celebrity focused weeklies and online blogs followed suit! I still feel pure love for that publicist.
In the future I wouldn’t be surprised if the lines between the two professions didn’t blur as our Instagram Famous society makes celebrities out of cats with eyebrows and the adorable little Evan from EvanTube (um, 3 billion channels views?! – I bet this kid not only has a publicist but is also hit up by PR Pros daily)

Social Enterprise Public Relations: How To Get Noticed By Busy Media & Measure ROI

I had the privilege of writing the following post for REDFworkshop:

Building PR momentum in a way that is both effective and manageable should be at the top of every social enterprise’s sales and marketing agenda. Not only is editorial coverage free, it also lends unmatched credibility to a brand’s cause while activating its target audience(s).

Keep in mind top tier media and national bloggers get thousands of emails a day (not an exaggeration!) They often have tight deadlines and don’t respond to the first pitch. The good news is that reporters are always looking for a great story to share; one which will resonate with their audience and editors alike. Read below for tips on how to stand out from your competitors and maximize earned media with a small team and budget.

Pitch writing and a ‘call to action

When it comes to “pitching” reporters, your story is your biggest asset. Given your combined social/consumer mission, you are already way more interesting than a typical product. When introducing your social enterprise to a reporter via email, start with a couple sentences describing what the enterprise does and who it serves. Consider the introduction your 15 second elevator pitch. Expand in the second paragraph with examples of problems you solve and highlight the quality of product/service which makes up your business model. If applicable, bullet a few data points/statistics which highlight the growth trends of your enterprise, program successes and number of people served. Wrap up your pitch with a call to action. This is the most important part, don’t be afraid to ask for a profile, quick call or a product review. That is, after all, why you’re reaching out. Remember – attention spans are short and reporters are usually on deadline, so keep it short, snappy, and compelling.

Know who to pitch

While our firm uses an extensive (and expensive) media database called Cision, your team can easily build a media list for free. Start by determining the 25 – 50 or so outlets you think best reach your target audience, and then go to each site and find the writer that seems to be the best fit for your product/service. If you can’t find his/her email, connect with the writer on LinkedIn or tweet @ their handle.

It’s also becoming more common mainstream media outlets to have dedicated social good columns with multiple writers: Forbes has several columnists focused in the social impact space including Devin Thorpe, MeiMei Fox and Vanessa McGrady. Same goes for Mashable, Fast Company Co.Exist, New York Times’ Prototype column and countless others. This approach takes more time but also allows you to read and reference some of the articles each contact is turning out.

Eventually, your marketing team may want to expand their media searches in a more time effective manner. I’ve rounded up a few inexpensive media databases which allow you to access the contact information for journalists interested in covering stories like the ones about your business.

  • Journalisted: a non-profit run by the Media Standards Trust, a registered charity set up to foster high standards in news on behalf of the public, and funded by donations from charitable foundations.
  • WooPitch: allows you to identify media, build and export media list and search contact details using a scaled pricing model ranging from free to $299/month.
  • ANewsTip: allows you to search for relevant media contacts by what they have written or tweeted. Pricing ranges from free to $149/month

Have a plan

Every PR firm will develop a strategy for their clients which details who they are planning to pitch and when. The firm will take into considerations time of year, holidays, client news, milestones or new product launches and break down week-to-week action items the team will execute against. Your team should do the same thing then share the plan with other facets of the business such as the social media manager and sales team.

When fleshing out your PR plan, take into consideration media timelines and editorial calendars. For example, if you manufacture consumer products and one of your goals is to be included in as many gift guides as possible, you’ll want to be aware that national print magazines work at least 6-9 months out so you’ll want to first contact the outlets’ gift guide editor in May or June. Then your team should plan to target online outlets starting October for digital gift guide inclusions.

More tricks of the trade

  • Include searchable keywords within your email pitch: often writers file story ideas while tackling their current deadlines. Many times they may not remember the name of the company but will instead search their inboxes by using keywords such as “social entrepreneur” or “LGBTQ youth”.
  • Monitor those unconventional holidays. There are national Bean day, national Mutt day and a slew of other holidays you can use to brainstorm a newsworthy initiative.
  • HARO: an acronym for Help A Reporter Out, HARO is a tool all PR firms use to receive thrice daily newsletters full of reporters and writers looking for products and sources for their articles.
  • Offer samples when possible. Many journalists require a sample to review before endorsing a product to their readers. If you offer a service, be able to put the journalist in touch with a customer or source who uses your service.
  • Assets: before sending your pitch, be sure to have the following on hand to help streamline the process:
    • High and low resolution images (product on a white background and lifestyle images)
    • High and low resolution logo
    • one-pager which includes mission, background, quick program stats
    • CEO bio and high resolution head shot
    • if budget allows have a 30 second and 60 second video as an option to include in a post or as b-roll for a segment opportunity
  • Don just blast a press release to everyone. There’s a time and a place for a press release (which could itself be another article). As mentioned before, you’re dealing with people who receive thousands of emails per day and don’t have time to read a whole press release. They want a concise, targeted pitch which immediately shows its appeal to their readership.

Measuring ROI

First and foremost, make sure you have a Google Analytics account. Google Analytics shows who’s coming to your website and what they’re doing once they get there. The potential to use Google Analytics to measure goal conversions should be a cornerstone of any business with an online presence. When building out your Google Analytics account, you should be defining all of your goals: product sales, clicks on the About us page, donations, etc… A goal conversion assesses the impact each site visitor makes on those high-value actions. PR pros looks for the traffic spikes on days our client’s articles go live as well as at the source of the traffic. Sometimes it’s interesting to note that a smaller blogger with a highly engaged audience drives more traffic and sales than an outlet with millions of monthly readers. It’s also interesting to use Google Analytics to note which pages on your site are most popular and which aren’t’t adding value. We encourage our clients to tell us which links to their site they see value in sharing with media. For example, in a product review it makes sense to share the shop now page rather than the homepage. I could write 10 more articles on ways data can streamline and strengthen the PR process but this should suffice as a jumping off point. For more on PR ROI check out these additional creative and simple tips.

Lastly, for those of you looking to hire a PR firm or an in-house media relations specialist, start by checking out these intuitive questions put to us by the Marketing team at New Moms/Bright Endeavors. These questions should not only help you understand the process, but they can be used as a navigational tool when deciding which firm is best for your social enterprise.

Happy pitching!

Cheers to Our Q2 Coverage Recap!

It’s always nice to stop mid-year – as we are simultaneously embroiled in summer pitching and long-lead holiday gift guide outreach; product launches and trade show scheduling – and reflect on the excellent client coverage we’ve garnered the past quarter. Per usual our team has managed to secure earned media in some of the most recognized, respected and widely circulated outlets in the world from Mashable to Fast Company to Christian Science Monitor to Forbes.

We look forward to a successful second half! Prost!

Baby Gourmet: The Baby Spot; Emmits ABCs

Bright Endeavors: Christian Science Monitor; Newsday; Unite 4: Good Magazine; Earth911Celebrate Women Today; Michelle For Good; Beauty Brite; Conscious & Chic; Let’s Be Fair

Go Gourmet: Grocery Headquarters Magazine; Macaroni Kid ChicagoMommy on the MoundMagnolia Mamas; Bike Dads; Today’s Grocer Magazine 

New Avenues INK/dfrntpigeon: MashableFast Company; Hello Giggles; Yahoo NewsThe Portland Mercury; Oregon Live; Oregon Live; Portland Tribune; Special Events Magazine; Portland Monthly Magazine

PilotsFriend: City Parent Magazine; City Palate Magazine; Eating is the Hard Part

RecycleForce: TriplePunditForbes.com; American Recycler Magazine; Conscious Company Magazine; Waste360

Total 3D Solutions: Extreme Tech; Chip Chick; Air Vuz; Rotor Drone Magazine’s May issue

Women’s Bean Project: Weight Watchers Magazine, April issue

Questions Every Social Enterprise Should Ask When Embarking On A PR Campaign

 

My team has had the pleasure of working with Chicago based social enterprise Bright Endeavors for several months as part of a larger partnership with REDF, a San Francisco based non-profit dedicated to investing in double bottomline enterprises. Bright Endeavors employs at-risk young moms in candle production and aims to break the cycle of poverty through job training.

Over the months, I’m proud to say we’ve successfully garnered a fantastic media mix of product reviews (Earth911Inc.comBusiness News Daily, ) and social good company profiles (Christian Science Monitor, Forbes, Unite:4Good) resulting in increased site traffic and sales. Because REDF has many non-profits which could benefit from Public Relations, our campaigns must wrap after several months’ time to spread the opportunity throughout the portfolio. Recently I received the following list of questions from Bright Endeavors’ Sales & Marketing Coordinate, Allie Sundet on how to best continue to leverage the momentum created by Remark. I’m sharing these here as I believe these are questions all social enterprises should be considering when looking towards towards a building or maintaining a PR campaign that is both effective and manageable.

  1. How does Remark determine the appropriate news outlet/type (blogger, influencer, online magazine, gift guides, etc.) to reach out to? About how many/week?
  2. How do you divide your time between reaching out to the various outlets, is more time spent on bloggers than another source, for example?

  3. What are some tips for building a media database?

  4. What tends to be an initial ‘pitch’ or ask? Do you have any tips for creating an engaging story that will hook the influencer/publication?

  5. How many times do you typically follow up after the initial pitch? Are product samples necessary for each outlet?

  6. What are some tips for creating a successful PR strategy?

  7. How do you measure success of this strategy?

  8. How much lead time do outlets typically need to ensure timely publication? For example, when is a good time to start pushing stories for the holidays?

      9. What are some strategy ideas around promoting our candle rental service in the spring/summer        months?

Q1 is for Coverage

It’s hard to believe it’s almost tax time for 2017 as I type this. Where has the quarter gone? Our team’s been busy securing phenomenal coverage for our amazing clients and it’s always fun to pause for a minute, reflect and share.

Baby Gourmet: Latin Moms Tips, Emmet’s ABC, Clean, Green & Sprouted

Bright Endeavors: ForbesBeautyNewsNYC, Hippie and Heart, Caravan Style StudioSimply Annie, Chic Metro Magazine, Across the Avenue, Posh Beauty Blog, Daily Mom, Sugarly, My Style Spot, Shabby Chic Boho, Beauty Style Watch

Cinemizer: Forbes, Oscar Liang, A Luxury Travel blog

Go Gourmet: Runner’s World Magazine, Everything Changes, SnackDot’s Youtube, Hula Hooping Mom, New and Natural Mom, OC Register Family, Montgomery County Moms 

Lindy & Co: Pet Age Magazine, Fido Friendly

Micro Drone 3.0: HuffPost, The Gear Junkie

Mile High Workshop: Forbes.com

PilotsFriend: City Palate Magazine, Skies Magazine, Plenty Magazine, Le Spark, Her Modern Canvas, almostfamous, Carlivh.com, eating is the hard part

RecycleForce: Your Mark on the World

Women’s Bean Project: Weight Watchers Magazine (March print issue), Spry Living Magazine (Feb print issue), Eco18.com, Parade.com, Chicago Tribune