World-renowned Crisis Expert at Hirons

The Hirons’ team was lucky enough to have a 90-minute session with the man who wrote the proverbial book on crisis communications. To be more accurate, Vincent Covello, Ph.D. has written or edited more than 25 books and published 75 articles on risk assessment, management and communication. He is the founder and director of the Center for Risk Communication, a job that takes him all over the world. Covello said last year he earned the third most frequent flier miles in the nation, an impressive 4 million. He still works part time at the World Health Organization (WHO) which sent him onto the front lines of disaster some 30 years ago when he was working there while on sabbatical from academia. Since then, Covello has managed crises such as Ebola, nuclear power plant meltdowns and the threat of pandemic influenza. He has a lot of advice on how to deliver the best messages during the worst circumstances.

During his early years in the field, Covello said crisis communications were merely based on conventional wisdom, but now neuroscience has allowed researchers to “open up the black boxes” of our minds. For instance, they’ve found that one negative equals three positives or what Covello and his team now call “1N=3P.” He explained that since our brains tend to focus more on negative information, it takes at least three positive messages to undo the harm of only one bad one. You need at least four to pull ahead. After that, the economic law of diminishing returns goes into effect and positive messages become less mitigating.

The research has also found that in most high-stress situations, around 95 percent of the questions affected people ask can be predicted in advance. Covello said there are 120 frequently-asked questions about Ebola and a whopping 420 when it comes to radiological disasters. Nuclear power plants can’t even be licensed anymore without having what’s called a “dark website” ready to go live in the event of a leak that will answer some of those questions. Covello said it just reinforces how important crisis communications have become in the modern world, even for problems as old as time. For example, there are 50 questions that have been identified to give peace of mind to the terminally ill. Once again, the rule of three applies here as Covello said the best way to answer the question of “How long do I have to live?” is by giving worst, average and best case scenarios.

The power of the number three is also evident in the “27/9/3 Rule” shown on the Periodic Table for High Concern Communication that Covello helped developed. He credits media mogul Ted Turner for making this rule back in the early years of CNN. Turner told researchers that TV news would only use a nine second soundbite from most officials, no matter what the topic. So researchers recommend to whittle down your message to 27 words you can say in nine seconds that contains three points. During the recent spread of the mosquito-borne Chikungunya virus, for instance, WHO told the public to remove standing water around their homes to kill mosquito larvae, wear protective clothing to prevent bites and use insect repellent. Each point can be expounded upon with three sub points, if needed, in what’s called “Message Mapping.” At least 50 national agencies are training their spokespersons to use this method. Listen for it next time you’re watching a news conference to see who’s putting Covello’s expertise to good use.

Tips for Pitching Stories to the Media: Part Two

Here is the rest of my advice for how to play nice with the media and get them to pay attention to your event or announcement and maybe even cover it.

  1. Many times, the person who is writing the story back in the newsroom is not the person who covered your event. This is another reason why it’s helpful to put those names and titles of key players in writing. I advise you to write just enough on your media advisory that someone could write a short script about the event without being there. Sometimes the person who physically came to your event isn’t available to offer basic details or he or she has amnesia (Don’t even get me started on that.) This is also helpful when morning show producers are trying to preview the day’s news.
  2. Always include a PR person’s cell phone number so media folks can call if they need more information or clarification on something. It used to be if I got your desk phone and voice mail, I would just hang up. And then, depending on the story, just give up. I used to be that pressed for time or just that impatient.
  3. I used to wonder why PR people would waste their time adding quotes to news releases. As a TV reporter, I wanted to get my own. Pre-written quotes were only helpful if a story’s key player was unable (read: unwilling) to give a comment in person or by phone or email. But as time evolved and I started writing more web copy, I did start pulling some quotes from news releases. As a rule, most (good) reporters, TV or digital, should be getting their own quotes from sources and newsmakers. But sometimes time doesn’t allow, so include them but do so sparingly. To me, they still seem to be something PR people love but journalists can take or leave.
  4. Should you call the reporter or assignment editor to make sure they got your advisory or release? I really have mixed feelings about this one. All PR people call and say “I am just making sure you got the advisory.” So, for about an hour every morning, an assignment editor can get a steady stream of calls that all start the same way. It’s so monotonous. Chances are good your release got to the right place and news managers are deciding what to cover, as we speak, so I really can’t say if we’ll cover the event and even if I do say we’ll be there, due to the inherent nature of news, plans are likely to change between now and when your event happens… (deep breath)… so don’t expect promises from the news person on the other end of the phone or even a lot of enthusiasm. But, do call, I guess. It does happen from time to time that your release got misplaced. And sometimes if you’re a super nice PR person or entertaining to talk to, I would make sure someone came to cover your event to reward you for not being like the others. Just don’t think the more calls you make, the more likely you are to get coverage. It may backfire when you reach the level of Super Annoying PR Person.
  5. I think the optimal time for a news conference is 10:30am or 11am if it is really far away from a news station. This gives the crew just enough time to go the morning meeting and then get to your event. Then they still have the rest of the day to cover something else. Because news managers will definitely make them cover something else.

Bonus tip: Does it work to send an advisory with food or swag? Sometimes, yes. But this is dangerous from a PR angle, because you can end up spending a lot of money on feeding the entire newsroom and they still can’t cover your event due to staff shortages, breaking news or better stories. So, yes this gimmick does make your pitch stand out, but there are no guarantees of coverage and then clients will wonder why they doled out so much cash and got nothing in return. If money is no object, however, send food or swag when appropriate. Especially in smaller markets, many newsies can’t afford lunch or work so hard they don’t have time to take one so they will appreciate any food offerings.

Now that I work in PR, I almost always get lunch. Lunch is really great.

For fun, I asked some of my newsie friends what they think works and doesn’t when it comes to story pitching. Stay tuned for part three of this very special blog.

 

Tips for Pitching Stories to the Media: Part One

I was in TV news for a very long time. I don’t even want to say how long. In that unspeakable amount of time, trust me when I say I did pretty much every job in the newsroom, so I am well-versed on the challenges each position presents. I also know what it’s like to be completely overwhelmed by story pitches, how to tune out most of them and what used to make me stop and offer my coveted, albeit short-lived, attention.

  1. These days I work in PR, so I (kind of) now know the difference between media advisories and news releases. A media advisory is an invitation to an event and a news release is detailed information about an announcement. I guess I used to have a vague notion that these were different things, but they were kind of all the same to me. Plus, I didn’t care. So don’t sweat too much about what info should go where.
  2. Here is what I did care about: BREVITY. How much information can you pack into the fewest amount of sentences? Challenge yourself. I used to get hundreds of emails a day containing story pitches. I rarely read any of them in their entirety. I was just scanning for relevant bits.
  3. Because news people just glimpse most material, use bold to highlight the important parts. It works.
  4. My favorite media advisories put the relevant information in the following format somewhere on the page. It was usually the only information I was looking for, so I was pleased when I didn’t have to scavenge for it.

WHAT: An event.

WHERE: The address. (Even if you think everyone should know where something is, include an address or the nearest intersection. Many young photographers and reporters can’t go anywhere without a GPS. They’re usually not from here, so they really need a number and a street name. Not having those things gives them something else to argue with the assignment desk about. Those poor people already have it bad, so be their hero.)

WHEN: Date & time. (Chances are good at least one crew will be late, so plan to start 10-15 minutes later than whatever time is written here.)

  1. Beyond those elements, everything else is nonessential, but some extras are helpful. You can add what kind of visual elements can be expected at the event. The more eye candy, the better. Another nice touch is listing, in order, the names and titles of the speakers at your event.* That way, the reporter won’t have to ask for spellings or write them down. It also gives the crew an idea of how long they will be there. This is, again, where brevity is key. Many reporters and photographers (or the hybrid multi-media journalists, or MMJs) are turning several stories a day, so their time is really limited. Most rarely get lunch. In PR, I almost always get lunch. Lunch is really great.

I just realized I have so much to say on this topic that I can probably get to 10. But why give it all away now? (Plus, it reaffirms my point that no one will read anything if it’s too long.)

Stay tuned for more tips in my next blog.

*The editor of the blog, a veteran of the news business herself, would like to add the following: “OK, I know this is my thing, but how about a line asking that PR people fact check the spelling of the names and titles of the speakers? If so, many people are going to be relying on this information, it’s a real service that it is correct.”

Jared Fogle and Subway: Thoughts on Crisis Communication

By Shannon Samson, Media Relations Director

Oh, the power of celebrity.

TMZ has breathlessly reported Hollywood power couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie recently took their children to eat at a Subway restaurant in Glendale, California, prompting website Business Insider, Inc. to report, “The fact that the socially-conscious and wealthy couple took their children there sends the message that Subway is a family-friendly choice. With the Jared Fogle scandal looming, the brand needs this kind of exposure.”

With Brangelina being as big as it gets in the eyes of the world, site commenters have already speculated Subway paid them to take the kids on this highly-public family outing. Even if that were the case, would it be enough to free the sandwich chain from its fractured public image? Is there any hope this good PR would rub off on Fogle himself?

“What is happening is not spelling good things for his future; that’s for sure, no matter what the outcome,” Hirons COO Jim Parham told WTHR, “We all know the equation, perception becomes reality. There’s a lot of perception going on about this case and that may affect people’s reality and that can hurt the brand.”

The images were damning. FBI agents raided Jared Fogle’s Zionsville home and left with computer equipment, leaving everyone to guess it must have been in connection to the child pornography investigation of former Jared Foundation employee Russell Charles Taylor, Jr. We watched as Fogle walked silently and solemnly in the rain to his attorney’s car to get away from reporters camped outside his home.

“The only person Mr. Fogle should be speaking with right now is his attorney in order to have the cloak of the client-attorney privilege,” Hirons President and CEO Tom Hirons told host Rafael Sanchez on an RTV6 newcast. (Video here: https://www.youtube.com/embed/e8PhfqyC44s) Hirons said the two keys of crisis public relations are not to get ahead of the news and to get it right. “Once you know the facts, you want to move very quickly because that window will only be open a very short period of time and you want to get as much accurate information out as quickly as possible to control the situation.”

Subway released a statement the day of the raid, saying it was monitoring the situation closely. Later, a spokesperson said the company was terminating its relationship with the long-time spokesman. Fogle released a statement in May when Taylor was initially arrested, saying he was shocked by the allegations and severing ties with him. Since then, Fogle has been silent.

Hirons said that’s smart. “At this point, there is a lot of insinuation, but it’s really premature for him to make any statement or for anyone to be out in front of this issue.”

Since the raid, a former journalist in Florida has told reporters Fogle once made a suspicious remark to her about middle school girls which prompted the FBI investigation. Fogle’s attorneys, on the other hand, keep reminding everyone their client has not been charged with a crime. TMZ is reporting they’re even saying the raid was a complete bust.

If it does turn out that Fogle did nothing wrong, it is possible for him to rehabilitate his image. Parham cited the comeback stories of Michael Vick and Martha Stewart as examples. In those cases, however, juries had actually convicted those celebrities of crimes.

No doubt Fogle is hoping his name is cleared quickly. He’s lost his lucrative gig with Subway, charities have distanced themselves from him and media around the world are lumping his name in with the likes of Bill Cosby and Hulk Hogan. I am sure he much prefers Brangelina.

Press Events 101

By Blair Mulzer, Account Coordinator

Having organized a dozen or so business announcements, groundbreakings and ribbon-cuttings in the past few months, I find that a press event checklist is an absolute must. It keeps you from forgetting both the big and small details that are necessary for your press event to go off without a hitch and to finish strong. Below are 10 steps to ensure your next press event goes successfully.

Step 1. The minute your client tells you about an event, put it on your calendar, their calendar and the calendars of everyone who will be involved.
It’s not only good for you to be in the know, but your team members should be, too. This keeps them from scheduling other client meetings over this client’s event and having to miss one or the other.

Step 2. Begin crafting the press release and media advisory.
A lot of questions arise when you begin writing the release and advisory, and the answers you receive will also be helpful for event planning. Once you get all the details down including timing, location, speakers, attendees, etc., you can craft your media kit and…

Step 3. Schedule your photographer and audio production company.
You need both your photographer and audio controller at the event an hour early to set up and become familiar with the location. It’s also a good idea to have your photographer stay after the ceremony to get photos of residents, civic leaders and stakeholders.

Here is what you need as part of your audio production package:

  • Multi-audio input box – for videographers to plug the microphone into to eliminate the need for multiple microphones on the podium
  • Podium
  • Microphone
  • Two speakers
  • Audio-input chord – to plug your phone into the speakers to play music before and after the ceremony
  • Audio controller – someone to run the system for you

Step 4. Select speakers and send out invitations.
Once you select your speakers and design an invitation, both mail and email it to your speakers as well as to any civic leaders and elected officials you would like to attend. These might include the governor, mayor, town council and chamber of commerce members, and the state senator, representatives and city-county councilors who cover your district. Don’t forget to invite area business leaders.

You will reach the general public in other ways, see step 7.

Step 5. Write a speaking outline and talking points.
It’s a great idea to write out a speaking timeline and talking points so that speakers have a good idea of when they are to speak and what they should say. Give the timeline and talking points to the speakers as soon as possible so that they have time to prepare their remarks. Someone should act as the emcee, both opening and closing the ceremony and introducing each speaker. Here’s an example outline with simple talking points:

John Smith – title here, emcee

  • Thanks everyone for being there
  • Acknowledges key stakeholders/attendees
  • Makes a few opening comments
  • Introduces next speaker, Mr. Jones

Mr. Jones – title here

  • Affirms Smith’s announcement
  • Adds details unique to his perspective

John Smith

  • Thanks Mr. Jones
  • Introduces next speaker, Mr. Johnson

Mr. Johnson – title here

  • A few comments based on his perspective

John Smith

  • Thanks Mr. Johnson, thanks everyone for attending and invites distinguished guests to participate in groundbreaking or ribbon-cutting ceremony. 

Step 6. Scope out the location ahead of time and come up with a weather backup plan.
What if it’s raining the day of your outdoor celebration? Should you rent a tent just in case, or move the event indoors? These are questions you need to answer prior to your event, and preferably not the hour before. If there’s a solid chance of rain and plan B becomes plan A, remember to communicate that to your audio controller and photographer.

Step 7. Send out the media advisory and push event details on social media.
Send out the media advisory a week before the event, follow up via phone or email a few days before, and send a final reminder the morning of. In addition, post and tweet about the upcoming event on Facebook and Twitter a week prior, two days before and the morning of.

Step 8. Gather all materials necessary for the event.
The event is a few days away. Make sure you have everything you need. Ribbon and large scissors for a ribbon-cutting, enough shovels for a groundbreaking, beer toasts for a brewery opening … you get the drift. Also, make sure you have your client’s logo to attach to the front of the podium and copies of the speaker outline and scripts for each of your speakers.

Once the media materials are approved, print out your materials and assemble 10 media kits. Place any renderings you have, the press release and your business card in each folder. Also, carry an extra folder with multiple copies in case you run out.

Step 9. Coordinate the press event.
You have followed up with attendees and media and have prepared all materials necessary for the event. You show up at the event an hour early to help set things up, making sure the audio controller knows exactly where you want the speakers and podium set up and has appropriate music playing.

You make sure all speakers are accounted for, and that all town officials, civic leaders and elected officials in attendance will be recognized in the opening remarks and invited to participate in the groundbreaking or ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Five minutes prior, you gather the speakers and place them in order behind the podium and give the emcee the green light to begin. After the speeches conclude and distinguished guests are invited to participate in the ceremony, you make sure everyone has a shovel or is spread evenly behind the ribbon. You count down for a formal photo, then give the group the go-ahead to cut the ribbon or start digging.

After the ceremony has concluded you …

Step 10. Distribute the press release and spread the news online.
Send the press release out to media right after the ceremony concludes. Next, post the release and any project renderings and photos of the event on your client’s website, then share the URL on social media for the public to learn about the news.

Congratulations, you just ran a successful press announcement. Now, get ready for the next one!

6 Pieces of Advice for Aspiring PR Pros

By Kendall Bybee, Account Manager

I was recently approached by an old college peer of mine to answer some questions for one of her PR classes at my alma mater, Indiana University (GO IU!). The questions she asked were thought-provoking and ones that I often mulled over myself when I was in college (oh the good old days). As a fairly new PR pro trying to hack it in the business, I wanted to share my responses with those who are on the brink of graduation and might be looking for some answers and clarity about the industry.

So let’s dive right in…

1. What competencies are needed for a successful career in public relations?

First and foremost, you need to be a great writer. I honestly don’t think there is a more valuable skill to have in PR than being an above average writer – be able to write well, often and fast. Organization is another quality that I believe all employers look for. Especially at the agency level where you’re constantly juggling multiple different clients at a time and usually have to quickly jump from one account to the next throughout the day. Thinking strategically and knowing how to properly conduct research are also key competencies. Lastly, I think being a people person and a good communicator is vital – that is, of course, if you ever wanted to be trusted to be put in front of a client.

2. What criteria do you use to assess the abilities of a potential employee in public relations?

A potential PR employee must be well-rounded with a broad understanding of all aspects of communications. The world of PR is ever-changing and employers are constantly demanding new skills from their employees. Therefore, you must be flexible and able to adapt and grow with the needs of your clients. Also, potential employees should be passionate and curious with a strong desire to learn. You must be bold and creative, quick on your feet, and have a genuine interest in people and building relationships.

3. What PR competencies and skills do you typically miss when you encounter recent college graduates?

Generally speaking, I think the skills that college graduates usually lack are in the areas of strategic thinking and research. It’s honestly the foundation of everything we do and two skills that often get overlooked in college. You use these skills to solve problems, write communications plans, to develop successful campaigns and to monitor and measure those campaigns. Strategic as well as creative thinking is an absolute must when you’re trying to maximize your resources and implement the best possible campaigns and plans for your clients.

I also think media relations gets wildly overlooked in college. I believe it’s a huge part of PR and needs to be built into every college curriculum for majors including journalism, public relations, strategic communications, etc.

4. What should a college students focus on in their PR studies?

Focus on the above. And then focus on your weaknesses. There’s nothing better than a well-rounded graduate who is capable in all areas. Hirons is a full-service agency, meaning we offer services in all areas including public relations, advertising, marketing, media relations, media planning and buying, design and production. I didn’t solely focus on PR in college (although is was my specialty), I also took classes in graphic design, advertising, research, intensive writing and marketing. These additional skills not only helped me build a comprehensive and versatile portfolio but they also set me apart from other candidates gunning for the same position.

5. What should college students know about public relations before they graduate?

I know you’ve heard it a thousand times before, but you’ll never fully understand it until you step into your first PR job out of the college – this is a fast-paced industry we work in. There is no such thing as a “slow day” or “down time,” or at least rarely. For me, this is the kind of environment I thrive in and that’s why I chose to begin my career at an independent agency. I love having my hands on multiple different projects and being able to work with and learn from our media, creative and production teams in the agency. It’s a busy, hectic, stressful, crazy job – but it’s also extremely rewarding and SO much fun.

6. Do you have any other advice for PR students?

Start small and finish big. What I mean by that is choosing to work at an independent agency like Hirons verses a larger global firm in a bigger city was the best decision I could’ve made for myself. Not everyone will agree with me on this, but there is true value in starting out in a more intimate setting where you’re able to really learn the ins and the outs of the industry, where you’re trusted with more responsibility and really able to show people what you can do. Downside to working at an independent agency that has a lot of big clients? Long hours, late nights and early mornings. I’ve worked from 7am to 9pm before prepping for a big press conference that was expected to last a total of 20 minutes. Were the long hours worth it in the end? Absolutely. The skills I’m acquiring at Hirons right now is arming me for my future.

Expect the unexpected. Cliché, I know, but it also could not be more true. There is never a “normal” day at the office, which is one of the reasons why I love my job. I don’t thrive in a routine-kind-of environment – I love chaos and I love solving problems. If you’re looking for a job where you can walk through the door each day and know exactly what’s going to happen, PR is not for you. Have I received 11pm emails from clients who needed a press release by 6am the next day? Yes. One thing I didn’t realize when I came into this industry was that we are on the clock 24/7. We don’t live in an 8am-5pm world. Be prepared for that.

Love what you do. If you don’t love your work, there’s no way for you to ever fully reach your potential. Since starting at Hirons 8 months ago, I cannot tell you how far I’ve come as a young professional. I feel more confident, more experienced and more able then I ever have before and more sure that I’ve chosen the right career path.

Punctuation, period.

By Madeline Morgan, Senior Editor/Writer 

Punctuation, like underwear, serves an important function: It holds disparate elements together without drawing attention to itself. At least most of the time.

Punctuation should never get in the way of content. Take the period for example. It is used for complete sentences (with a noun and verb) and lets the reader take a breath. Perhaps the biggest problem I face as an editor is long run-on sentences. Here is a not-so-recent (and cleverly disguised) example that begs to be split in two:

Following the gift from Maurice and Madam Magician, the most beautiful gift in the prince’s kingdom and one of the most beautiful gifts ever to a royal kingdom in the Scottish Lands, Royal Prince Henry received an outpouring of beautiful gifts from merchant businesses such as Robert Down’s shop and Junior Robert Down’s shop, which provided a most precious gift, and from individual townspeople and Prince Henry’s own serf and slave production facilities.

My kingdom for another period!

In advertising, the period is often used to provide emphasis: Stop. Look. Listen. But like anything useful, it can be abused: “Doing It Right. Before Your Eyes.”

Commas, parentheses, dashes and semi-colons bring clarity and order to a sentence. In short, commas allow for a short pause in a series, and they can be used to separate two simple sentences. Semi-colons can be used to separate two sentences, but they are kind of prissy and, to me, they violate the “not drawing attention to itself” maxim. But they have to be used to separate series containing internal commas:

We deliver extensive information to stakeholders through letters, newsletters and social media; we print yard signs, mailers and fliers; and we seek out endorsements from state and federal officials.

Commas, dashes and parentheses can be used to set off nonessential phrases (information that might be useful but isn’t necessary). While parentheses act as an aside, and commas as a pause, dashes do it with a flourish: She was the love of my life – the source of all that was good – and an excellent mouser.

(Clearly, I’m partial to dashes.)

As for colons … if you’ve read this far, you’ve seen them in use. And exclamation points! In public relations and advertising, we use a lot of these!

Or course, this has been a very cursory look at punctuation. There are many, many more rules; they are tiresome but necessary and too complicated to address in a blog. I’ve neglected apostrophes, quotation marks and hyphens (because they service words) and question marks (which I hope are self-explanatory).

Instead, I’ve focused on how simple punctuation can enhance sentences. In sum:

  • Generally, use periods to break up complete sentences, but don’t abuse them.
  • Use commas to offer gentle breaks in the action.
  • Use parentheses to whisper to your neighbor.
  • Avoid semi-colons if at all possible – they don’t make you look smarter!
  • Embrace the dash as an airy way of setting off information.
  • And consider the exclamation point as a treat you deserve only rarely.

Word Power: Yes, it Still Exists

Word Power: Yes, it still exists

Let’s be frank. Today, writing well still counts in many ways. But, sadly, there’s a lack of sophistication and purpose to much of what we read. Why? It may be that we’re living in a world of 140 characters, Facebook likes and Snap Chat. Short was always good, but clarity and meaning used to matter more.

At Hirons, we place a great deal of emphasis on good writing. We churn out a lot of copy: radio and television spots, news releases, website copy, brochures and fliers. Luckily, we have developed a strong, diverse team of communicators who provide solid, effective copy to clients. Our goal is that, as this material hits the printed page, Web or airwaves, people will respond to it. Our business depends on this skill. If we don’t write well, we don’t get a second chance.

Read more of COO Jim Parham’s blog here: PR Chronicle

Follow the PR Chronicle for real world advice from Jim Parham, who has 30 years of experience in the world of public relations.

 

 

PR for Dummies: A Basic Guide to Handling Media

By Blair Mulzer, Account Coordinator

My first call to a TV-station went horribly wrong.

I called the station, asked for the news desk, and waited for my call to be transferred. But then, once connected, I unloaded my script, ahem news pitch, as if every second wasted would result in less coverage for my client. Producers, news directors, reporters – all were scary, practically celebrities and too important to listen or care about my news tip, right? And then the fear of being rejected – being told “no thank you, we aren’t interested”, or even worse the lack of a real response, “we can’t promise anything, thanks.” – was all quite disheartening.

After venting to my coworker about my lack of success, it became evident that I had been doing it all wrong when she said, “Did you ask them how they are doing?”

Being relational, my friends, is the first and far most important ingredient I have found to be successful in media relations.

You, me and the news desk assistant, reporter, news director and producer all have something in common – we are all plain human. Regardless of our positions, we each have friends and family, a history, hobbies and lives outside of work, strange right? Not at all.

Therefore, it’s very important that you pitch your news like a person, not a robot. Have a discussion, not a one-sided lecture. As a PR professional, you need to build your media contacts. And you’re not going to get anywhere with people if you are a monotone individual who calls on occasion to pew out a news tip then hang up.

Let your personality free! It’s okay, actually great, to bond over your love for Kentucky if your reporter mentions she studied there – this actually happened, and as a result, is someone I now work often with. It’s a win-win relationship, you have a good story to sell, and they need a good story to broadcast.

Oh, and when your new Kentucky-loving media contact doesn’t use your story one time, it’s okay. Respect their right to choose the best story – because sometimes it’s just not the right fit or time.

This brings me to my next point, target someone who your story might actually make sense to, and be smart about it.

As a former editor-in-chief, I received numerous pitches a day. The ones that stuck out were not the 300-word, detailed story ideas, they were the short, direct and personal ones – A targeted, personal phone call or email that aligns with that reporter’s beat or topic of interest will go a long way for you.

And once you understand how to tell your story like a relational being who has done their homework, it’s time to follow up. Many pitches get buried in a reporter’s inbox, so make sure your story is top of mind without being pushy or forceful. That means, don’t call repeatedly. Send a follow up email later in the day with the charge that you will give them a call the next day or so to check in.

In addition, make their job as EASY as possible. Reporters often run around like chickens with their heads chopped off.

A longtime Indianapolis reporter told what a typical day looks like for her and other reporters. Most mornings she has no idea what story she will be submitting to her station that day. So when she is scrolling through her emails in the morning, she looks for the story idea that is both relevant and engaging to her audience and makes her life a little easier. That is, it is a huge bonus if you can offer up pictures and/or b-roll, interviews with a variety of people – because all news stories need to be well-rounded – and if you have a track record of being easily reachable.

While there are many other tips to offer up, these are the absolute basics. Be relational and respectful, create personal and targeted pitches, follow up, but don’t harass, and make a reporter’s job easy by covering as many of their needs as possible.

Four (or really seven) Ways to Write Creatively

By Matthew Neylon, Associate Copywriter 

Steve Jobs said creativity is just connecting two things. So in the sense of writing, let’s dive into the ways to connect point A with point B, the beginning with the end, the ooh with the ahh.

So where do we start?

1. Start writing on paper
When your writing starts on the computer, your ideas jumble together faster than your rate of words per minute. Ideas just seem to flow from the head to the hand to the pen to the pad more cohesively. When you write by hand—especially in the drafting and initial stages—you have a better handle over your ideas.

2. Keep it simple (with a surprise).
Creativity is simplicity. It’s meant to be understood, not figured out. It should have a simple surprise that makes you say “ahh!” not “huh?” Keep it simple, for the sake of your writing and for the sake of the reader’s interest.

Part of simplicity is economy. Creativity shouldn’t be sought after in a long list of long paragraphs full of long sentences full of long clauses full of long words. Like Jobs said, creativity is connecting things. And the reader is the one doing the connecting. So omit the extraneous content so the reader can fill in the blanks and connect the dots for themselves.

3. Be an avid reader
When I was a scrawny young boy, I played a lot of soccer. One of my most influential coaches was a retired pro named Mike. During practice one day, Coach Mike wasn’t happy with my team’s scrappy playing. He told us to watch a professional game of soccer on TV when we get home. What he wanted us to do was learn from the best by watching them.

Part of learning how to do is by learning how the best do. Developing a voice in your writing can be tough. So learn from those that have already done so. Read some Hemingway or James Joyce. It will help you garner some techniques and acumen for the written word.

4. Do it
Mining the gold nugget that creativity is begins with the mining. Ideas don’t just think themselves up. Words don’t just write themselves down.

In a way, writing is a lot like riding a bike. A shiny, red bike that just shed its plastic training wheels. You have to get up and ride in order to go anywhere or get any better. And to keep going—to keep getting better and to keep moving forward—you need to keep pedaling.

Bonus:
Here are some additional rules and guidelines.

5. Break the rules and guidelines.
Don’t always blindly follow grammar and structure. Especially given the context of what you’re writing. If everyone always followed the rules, we wouldn’t have creativity.

6. Develop your own style.
Writing is written word (duh), not spoken word. So you need to create your own coherent voice for your words to be read beyond the two-dimensional page.

7. Have fun.
Writing should be fun. Creativity should always be fun.