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PR Tip #10: Forget the Formula

March 12, 2014

 One of the worst traps a PR person can fall into is getting stuck using the same formula for PR campaigns. This is true for people just entering the field and for folks like me that have been at it for 20+ years. We develop habits, make assumptions based on past campaigns, get comfortable with a certain set of tactics, and believe that because something worked once (or a hundred times), it will work again. Sometimes it does, so the habit continues to become engrained.


The danger is that you become stale as a PR practitioner and fail to leverage new techniques, opportunities or tactics that can help you achieve more than you were able to before. A primary example is how press releases are written. Many press releases are still written in the inverted pyramid style, even when the news is too minor to be of interest to the media. The rise in social media and news aggregation sites makes this type of announcement more important though, and enhances your ability to talk directly to the end customer, partner, investor or anyone else that you are trying to influence. Because you know the media won’t care, you can free up the way the release is written, providing a more feature-like reading experience for anyone that reads it on Yahoo!,,, etc. Because you’re not relying on telling the story through the journalist, you can talk directly to the audience, tell a deeper story and put the news into the right context. It also allows you to tell more stories about a company’s development as it evolves, showcasing how each move or change fits into a master plan.


Events are another staple in the PR world and helping the sales team plan another customer event or plan a product launch party can be tedious when everyone else involved would rather be doing something else. It’s easy to do what has been done before, mostly because you know the potential roadblocks that might exist and can navigate them through to a successful completion. But this is an opportunity to bring a fresh perspective to an event that has become tired. Think about ways for the customers to interact with each other and your team in a new and exciting way, make customer gifts original and thought provoking, find a speaker that doesn’t fit the normal profile or host a dinner somewhere unexpected. The value with this approach is if you do it right, you create a special memory for the customer that is tied specifically to your company’s brand so that every time they remember it, they think fondly of your company.


The final area to cover, and I know there are hundreds more that could be explored, is pitching. The standard pitch process has become so mundane that many press don’t even read 1/3 of what comes into their e-mail inbox. That’s because the formula most often used is something like this:

Dear Reporter:


I hope this e-mail finds you well. I wanted to see if I could get time on your calendar for a conversation with XXX Company to talk about their new XXXX product. The product is designed to help customers achieve outstanding results with their internal management operations, saving them from now unneeded capital costs and reducing operational burn…


If you’d like to schedule a call, please let me know if Tuesday or Wednesday of next week work.



            PR Person

There is nothing inherently wrong with the pitch above, but I’m willing to bet that it looks a lot like hundreds of other pitches a reporter sees every day. So how can you break the formula? It can be as simple as a start that mentions a recent story the reporter wrote and why it made you think that the reporter would be interested in what your company or client wants to talk about. The pitch above is also positioned as a one-way conversation with the reporter in a passive listening voice, instead of inviting the journalists to a conversation about a topic that is driving  the market, a topic that they are clearly interested in based on the stories they’ve been writing.


I once pitched Doug Gross at CNN with a subject that read “So I see you’re writing about porn…” because I read on twitter that he was writing about how Twitter was looking to hide 6-second Vine sex tapes from unsuspecting users. The pitch got an almost immediate response from Doug, who called it the best pitch he’d gotten all year, and started a dialog about a client that most likely wouldn’t have happened if I’d used a formulaic pitch.


If you have ideas of other ways, or other areas, where PR folks could forget the formula and try something new and fresh, please post them in the comments section. 


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