Susan Shelby, FSMPS, CPSM President & CEO Rhino PR
SMPS Boot Camp Panel Gives the Scoop on What Reporters Want from PR Pros
Like any other discipline, there are best practices and nuances in working with the media. Members of SMPS Boston who attended the Marketing Boot Camp on April 12th had the chance to learn directly from a panel of journalists about how to create targeted, strategic press coverage that can produce results. The “Meet the Press” panel featured former NECN Business Editor and Boston Globe Business and Technology Reporter Peter Howe, Boston Business Journal (BBJ) Real Estate Editor Catherine Carlock, and Design New England Editor Gail Ravgiala. They shared their insights on the best way to work with the press to secure coverage of A/E/C projects, products and/or services.
Know Your Deadlines
In the new world of social media, deadlines are becoming more fluid, while traditional media remains constant. Catherine Carlock of the BBJ is responsible for four stories a day, with her first social media deadline at 10 a.m. She is also responsible for six or seven feature stories a year in the print edition, as well as daily spots with NECN.
Peter Howe said that The Boston Globe’s website also has rolling deadlines, at 9 a.m., from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 3 to 3:30 p.m. – almost like going back to the days of the afternoon newspaper. On the other hand, Gail Ravgiala works on a much longer timeframe. As of the date of the press panel, Design New England was in production for the May/June issue, and the rest of the 2016 issues are fairly buttoned up. She does, however, consider later submissions for the front sections of the magazine.
Exclusives, Breaking News and Scooping the Competition
It’s important to understand the competitive landscape when pitching a publication. Often, editors want an exclusive story, and PR practitioners need to understand what that means to each editor. For example, you don’t pitch exclusives to Architectural Record and Metropolis at the same time, as they are competitors.
Catherine Carlock said she views the Boston Globe, Real Estate Reporter, and New England Real Estate Journal as her competitors for real estate news. She added that a full news cycle is 24 hours. “For me, exclusive means I have at least a day’s heads-up,” she said. And again, social media has completely changed the way news breaks. The BBJ used to have breaking stories only in print, but now often breaks news on Twitter, which is also used as a reporting tool. “If I see something in the Globe and see a press release on it at 10 a.m. that day, I want to know something different about that story,” she added. “If you call me and say ‘I know the story was in the Globe, but I can offer you, for example, an architectural rendering the Globe doesn’t have’….I am always looking for more information. I have to know why it matters – size, scope, scale. If I have rock solid information, including images, that just helps me do my job.”
Gail Ravgiala said she views Boston Home Quarterly, the Boston Globe, Architectural Digest and Traditional Home as competitors. One of her main concerns is that all of the project players need to be on the same page. If the architect pitches her a story, the builder shouldn’t contact a competitor publication “to cover all bases.” “The right hand has to know what the left is doing,” she said. Another sticking point: “Architects shouldn’t get all the credit.”
How and What to Pitch?
In addition to knowing when to send a pitch, the best PR professionals find out how a journalist wants to be approached and what to (and what not to) put into a pitch. Peter Howe noted that many PR people never bother to look at the stories he has done. “If all you did was look at headlines for the last 20 stories I did, that’s more than most PR practitioners do,” he said. “Some of the best people I’ve worked with, I would hear from only once or twice a year, but because they did their homework they gave me a rock-solid pitch – they know what gets airtime and column inches.”
Likewise, Gail Ravgiala wants to work with people who know her publication. She’s looking for mostly high-end residential projects that are close to completion, and in addition, her “Places” section features museums, theaters, public parks, and preservation projects that don’t fit other niches. Interior shots, even taken with an iPhone, are useful, as is a synopsis of the project and a complete list of who is involved. Also important: is the homeowner amenable to having their house in a major publication? Design New England does most of its own photography, and while the publication only uses high-resolution professional photography, it’s best to send a low-resolution photo on the first pitch.
In a bit of media inside info, Peter Howe commented that NECN is in the process of being turned into an NBC affiliate, with a soft-launch on September 1 and the official launch in January. He said the old NECN was a hard place to break news “unless it was something super huge,” and like most TV stations, the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald are the guide to news of the day. Five days’ notice for a pitch is plenty, and on the best way to approach him, he said, “I’m the opposite of Catherine. Do not call me on the phone. Do send me an e-mail.”
Catherine Carlock said pitches can never be too early, renderings are useful, and if it comes down between a complete and incomplete pitch, she said, the complete one will win every time. When asked about her best interaction with a PR person, she pointed to a cover story for which Elena Lelchuk from Commodore Builders put together a tour of Waltham and arranged interviews with 20 different people. “It really was four months in the making, but I only had to do one day of interviewing,” she said. In other words, the more you can share the wealth, the more reporters get a complete story.