Connecting with journalists – how to leverage social media

For PR pros, there’s no denying the effect that social media has on what we do as corporate communicators. Since my last blog post featured tips on effective media relations that I’ve developed as a PR pro and journalist, I was thinking about how social media plays a role when it comes to pitching journalists and building relationships with them.

A survey conducted last year by the U.K. office of Text 100, a global communications agency, reported how 72 full-time journalists use social media. Results showed that journalists look at 2.6 social media channels per story on average, with company blogs being the best channel. The survey also discovered that Twitter is the most popular site for journalists (86 per cent) with LinkedIn not far behind (76 per cent).

Survey results were compiled into this infographic. Credit: Text100-UK

Survey results were compiled into this infographic. Credit: Text100 – UK

Therefore, when it comes to media relations, social media is great for connecting and building relationships with journalists. Introduce yourself to them, connect with them via Twitter or LinkedIn and go from there. After all, that’s what I use social media for: connecting with fellow PR pros and journalists.

But, what about pitching? Can you — and should you — pitch a story via social media or rather, let’s say, a tweet? I think you can if you get to the story quickly and succinctly.  Zoe Fox (@zoebfox) wrote a piece published yesterday on Mashable on the dos and don’ts of pitching journalists on social media. “Generally speaking, Twitter can be a great place to pitch journalists who are often very engaged with Twitter,” Fox wrote. “That said, many journalists receive a ton of pitches on Twitter, so be mindful of your first approach.”

As a PR pro, I haven’t done much pitching through social media (I generally stick to email), but as a journalist, I’m open to it. I consider myself part of that 86 per cent. Not only am I active on Twitter, but I regularly check my news feed, even for story ideas. You never know where you’re going to find something newsworthy. In fact, I’ve used social media to find sources for stories.

And in my mind, a pitch is a pitch. If you can communicate a rather compelling story idea, that’s what matters. To me, it doesn’t matter where it comes from if it’s a tweet, LinkedIn message or email.

But if you are pitching via social media, Fox identifies some best practices. For instance, “if you just tweet ‘Hey reporter, I have something I think you’ll like — DM me,’ you’re leaving the journalist absolutely no reason to reply,” she says.  “Try to include a link to some news or @mention the brand or organization you’re representing. An even better approach is to build a relationship through personal or funny interactions leading up to your pitch.”

And it’s critical to note that journalists do have pitching preferences. Some may prefer the traditional approach of receiving a pitch via email over being tweeted.

In any case though (this is the last time I’ll say this), social media is certainly effective for connecting with journalists, knowing their beats and developing that relationship.

As for pitching, whether or not you go down the social or traditional road, the same rules apply: doing your research, having a newsworthy story idea, packaging it nicely and communicating it clearly.

PR pros and journalists: please weigh in with your thoughts. How do you feel about using social media for media relations?

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10 tips for effective media relations

As both a freelance journalist and public relations consultant, I’ve been on both sides when it comes to media relations. I’ve done my fair share of crafting press releases, developing media lists and pitching media. But I’ve also been on the receiving end of media pitches. For instance, I had received a pitch from a technology startup a few days ago.

Photo credit: Aramil Liadon

Photo credit: Aramil Liadon

Therefore, I thought I would share 10 tips for media relations, which I’ve developed from both my journalism and PR experiences.

1. Build relationships with key media contacts.

It isn’t just about pitching. Build relationships with journalists first – both online and offline. Connect with them via Twitter or praise them on a particular story. That way, when the time comes that you do pitch them, you’ll make yourself all the more memorable.

2.  When you do pitch, make sure you have a newsworthy story.

As I learned in both my educational and professional PR experiences, the relationship between a journalist and PR pro is – or should be – mutually beneficial. The PR pro seeks coverage for his or her organization, brand or client, and the journalist seeks newsworthy stories. The key word is newsworthy. Just because you think it’s a good story doesn’t necessarily mean the journalist will agree.

3. Do your research before pitching.

Make sure you know to whom you’re pitching, and that he or she is the appropriate editor.  Also, it’s imperative to do your research on the media outlet. Know what sort of content they run, who the audience and, most of all, brainstorm a suitable story angle that reflects the outlet. In other words, put yourself in their shoes. Before pitching, ask yourself if you think this particularly outlet will care about your story. Some outlets, especially magazines, have editorial calendars available as well. Overall, your media list should focus on the outlets you think would be interested in your news.

4. Generate a number of story angles.

It’s a good idea to generate a number of story angles for a media relations campaign.  For example, suppose you work for a startup that just launched an educational app. Clearly, there’s the technology angle in play of a startup launching an app, but another story angle may be the educational aspect of how students are using the app. It’s a good idea to think creatively and create several different angles to tell your story.

5. Personalize your pitches.

If you send out one mass email pitch to all those on your media list, you won’t get anywhere. Instead, take the time to craft personalized pitch letters for each of them. Tailor each pitch to the journalist’s background, interests and beat.

6. Keep your pitches simple and succinct.

Journalists don’t want to read long pitches. Instead, get to the point quickly. A quick sentence should sum up your story nicely, with just a few other key details to entice.

7. Know the journalist’s pitch preferences.

In 2011, PWR New Media in Chicago surveyed 200 journalists about their press release preferences and found that – not surprisingly – 87 per cent preferred to get media information via email. However, journalists may have their own individual preferences. But whatever you do, don’t call them when they’re on deadline.

8. Don’t ignore bloggers.

In this day and age, communicators are turning to bloggers to pitch their stories, events and products just as much as traditional journalists. As Amanda George wrote in a 2011 blog post for Marketwired, “depending on the blogger, he or she can leave either a positive or a negative impression about your pitch to his or her many faithful subscribers.”

9. Follow up.

Some journalists may respond to your pitch quickly, but unfortunately, most do not. If that happens, consider following up a week later to gauge their interest. Instead of simply asking if they’ve received your pitch (you have to assume they did), you can also use this opportunity to elaborate on your pitch.

10. Keep in mind that media relations is an art.

Journalists and influential bloggers receive dozens of pitches a day from PR pros. It takes skill, timing and even luck to successfully pitch and secure coverage for your organization, brand or client.

Whether you’re a journalist or PR pro, what are some of your tips for effective media relations? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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Five benefits of attending the National Stuttering Association’s 2013 conference

Photo credit: Daniele Rossi

Photo credit: Daniele Rossi

Last week marked the National Stuttering Association (NSA)’s 30th annual conference held at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Arizona. More than 600 folks – both people who stutter and people with an interest in stuttering (including family members, loved ones and speech-language pathologists) – from across the United States, and even from Australia, Israel and Canada, including myself, united for a week filled with workshops and uplifting stories about stuttering.

As the NSA notes, about one per cent of the global population stutters. But as I describe the conference to people, I tell them the conference brings an interesting reversal, as the majority of attendees stutter or supports someone who stutters. This year was my third consecutive conference. What has brought me back to the conference the last three years? In short, everything brings me back – the people, the workshops, the supportive environment. Everything. This four-day conference is about empowering those who stutter, building friendships with likeminded folks in a never-ending cycle of support and even celebrating stuttering in a sense.

However, in particular, here are five things I’ve gotten out of attending the NSA conference:

1)   The supportive environment – As I said, everyone who attends the conference does so either because they stutter, or they know and support someone who does. Either way, they understand what those who stutter go through.

Attendees -- coming from the United States, Canada, Australia and Israel -- gathered in the Kierland's ballroom for the opening ceremonies to kick off the conference. Photo credit: Daniele Rossi

Attendees — coming from the United States, Canada, Australia and Israel — gathered in the Kierland’s ballroom for the opening ceremonies to kick off the conference. Photo credit: Daniele Rossi

2)   Reuniting with old friends and making new ones – Having attended the conference three times now and participating regularly in Stutter Social, I’ve built amazing friendships with fellow people who stutter. However, there’s no denying the number of new friends you make as well. The conference marks an opportunity to meet so many other people who stutter, whether it’s in workshops, in between workshops, or over breakfast, lunch or dinner.

3)   Getting out of my comfort zone – During the first day of the conference, I was asked to share my experience at the first-timer’s orientation and might I add that it was 20 minutes before the orientation began. The experience allowed me to strengthen my ability to think on my feet and act quickly. This year’s conference also marked the first time I presented a workshop on my own, which was on the implications of social media for folks who stutter. There’s no better place to venture out of your comfort zone when you’re surrounded by 600 people who know first-hand how you feel.

4)   Sharing stories – Perhaps one of the best experiences of the conference is the opportunity to hear from so many people who stutter both during workshops and in between. For instance, at the open microphone workshops, folks can get up in front of a crowd and say anything they want to say, whether it’s simply introducing themselves or sharing a story.  Hearing other people’s stories, experiences and achievements helps us realize that we aren’t alone in our stuttering and reinforces the sense of camaraderie felt at the conference.

5)   Travelling – Every year, the conference is in a different state. This allows me to travel to places and take in views that I may not have had the opportunity to do otherwise. The day before the conference officially started, a group of us embarked on a one-day road trip to the breathtakingly beautiful Grand Canyon. Additionally, the opportunity to go on a road trip with great friends also strengthened the bonds between us. Camaraderie, remember?

Thanks to a friend's recommendation, we ventured off for our own scenic view of the Grand Canyon to ourselves.

A friend recommended that we venture away from the Grand Canyon’s look-out points and into the forest, where we came across breathtaking views.

In short, it’s an amazing experience to attend the conference. For those like me who stutter, it feels like we’re living in an alternate universe, albeit briefly, where stuttering is the norm. That’s why I would encourage anyone who stutters or knows someone who stutters to attend an upcoming NSA conference. I know I simply can’t wait until next year’s conference in Washington, D.C.!

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Stutter Social hosted Hangout on Air to raise awareness of stuttering

I promise this is my third and final post for National Stuttering Awareness Week. I’m going for the trifecta.

As the week draws to a close, Stutter Social broadcasted a Google+ Hangout on Air last night, featuring a panel of participants from across the international stuttering community, in an effort to raise awareness of stuttering.

The panel consisted of folks who stutter, including myself, from a range of regions such as Canada, the United States and India. We were even joined by someone who doesn’t stutter, who wanted to learn more about it.

We chatted about a range of topics, including what stuttering is, how it feels to stutter, maintaining eye contact while stuttering, and common myths and misconceptions about stuttering (which I blogged about yesterday).

The playback video is available is on YouTube and is embedded above. Please feel free to read my recap of the Hangout on Air for the Stutter Social blog as well.

And remember – anyone with an interest in stuttering can ask me questions at any time. Although the week is wrapping up, awareness is ongoing.

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Five common misconceptions about stuttering

As seen in The King’s Speech, when King George VI – before he became king – sought speech therapy (before seeing Lionel Logue), he was advised to fill his mouth with marbles and try to speak as a means to deal with his stuttering.

Despite the fact that stuttering is a common phenomenon among one per cent of the global population, as noted by the National Stuttering Association (NSA), much of it – including its causes and treatments – is still shrouded in mystery. “People have found stuttering confusing for centuries and, like so many mysteries, have tried to explain it with folklore,” notes information from the NSA. “For instance, some cultures used to believe that a child stuttered because his mother saw a snake during pregnancy, or because a toddler ate a grasshopper.”

Photo credit: Nina G, the world's only female stuttering stand-up comedian (or as she says, until she finds another). Check out her website at ninagcomedian.com.

Photo credit: Nina G, the world’s only female stuttering stand-up comedian (or as she says, until she finds another). Check out her website at ninagcomedian.com.

Therefore, to continue my series of blog posts dedicated to National Stuttering Awareness Week, as someone who stutters, I thought I’d share – and debunk – five common myths and misconceptions surrounding stuttering.

  1. Stuttering is a psychological disorder.

As far as we know, research has indicated that stuttering has neurological roots, according to the NSA. Don’t get me wrong though. Emotions can fuel one’s stutter, which leads me to the second myth.

  1. Stuttering is caused by stress.

Again, that is far from the truth, since stuttering isn’t a psychological issue. However, stress and emotions can exacerbate one’s stutter. For me personally, I find that my stutter is more severe than usual in stressful situations, such as job interviews or presentations.

  1. People who stutter are less intelligent or capable than others.

Wrong again!  I’ve met people who stutter who are lawyers, entrepreneurs, lecturers, writers, actors, you name it. Even the Vice-President of the United States stutters.

  1. Folks who stutter are shy.

Anyone can be shy.  I’ve met stutterers who are introverted, but I’ve also met others who are assertive and extremely outgoing. It’s the social punishment that can affect us. However, it’s a challenge that we overcome – it’s a far cry from being a shy, stressed out individual.

  1. Last but not least, people stutter because they’re struggling to think of what to say.

Allow me to clear the air on this one as well. Folks who stutter know exactly what they want to say. They simply often have trouble getting the words out of their mouth and, thus, they take a little longer to say them. However, they know what those words are.

Although The King’s Speech has opened the door to more awareness of stuttering, we need to maintain that momentum to increase understanding of what stuttering is and what it isn’t.

In order to spread awareness, Stutter Social is hosting a Google+ Hangout on Air, featuring a panel of participants from across the international stuttering community, tonight at 8:30PM EST. Anyone interested to learn more about stuttering is invited to watch the live feed on YouTube and post any questions they may have.

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Michigan man embarks on mission to spread awareness of stuttering

Cameron Francek is a man on a mission.

For the past 100 days, Francek, a 26-year-old man from Royal Oak, Michigan, has been introducing himself to strangers and disclosing his stuttering in an effort to both incite positive change in himself and spread stuttering awareness.

“I wasn’t feeling like myself at places like work, school and the gym, with more frequent avoidance,” he says. “I found myself in a challenging time and I felt like how I was handling my stuttering was at the core of these struggles. I remember feeling like my speech had started to take over and alter how I interacted with people and how I presented myself in public, I hated that. “

That’s why, in February, Francek embarked on what he calls 100stutterProject.

On day 27 of 100stutterProject, Cameron Francek advertised his stuttering in a job interview.

On day 27 of 100stutterProject, Cameron Francek advertised his stuttering in a job interview. Photo credit: Francek

“I wanted to transform into more of the person I see myself as, whether it was at work, school, with people, wherever,” he says. “I wanted 100stutterProject to be the anchor in my efforts to achieve all sorts of goals I have. I also wanted 100stutterProject to inspire change in my community.”

For those 100 days, Francek advertised his stuttering to “all kinds of people,” including cashiers, co-workers, acquaintances, baristas, teachers, classmates and servers.

“I set out to advertise my stuttering to a different person everyday,” he says. “I chose to approach this by advertising verbally due to some personal goals I have. For instance, I wanted to be more comfortable approaching people, I wanted to improve my eye contact, rate of speech and improve the frequency with which I implemented some tools.”

But, “it’s important for people to know that advertising can be over any medium,” he adds, citing text messages, emails, phone calls or social media as examples. “It’s more about opening that line of communication regarding our stuttering.”

And what better time to do this than National Stuttering Awareness Week? That’s right. The second week of May marks Stuttering Awareness Week in the U.S.

But stuttering really is a worldwide phenomenon. According to the National Stuttering Association (NSA) based in New York, about one per cent of the entire global population stutters – folks from all walks of life.  Despite this, “stuttering is widely misunderstood, with conflicting theories and unsubstantiated claims for treatment programs,” notes information from the NSA.

So, as someone who also stutters, stay tuned for more blog posts this week about stuttering, its myths and misconceptions. And if you have any questions about stuttering, feel free to ask me.

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The faces behind Richmond Hill’s Relay For Life 2013

As I’ve been blogging about recently, I’m one of the seven members of the organizing committee for this year’s Relay For Life in Richmond Hill. We thought a video may be a good idea to introduce the faces of the Richmond Hill Relay organizers and to enable us to share stories of why we’re involved – in other words, why we relay (note: under request, no names are mentioned).

Therefore, as the committee’s Marketing and Communications Chair, I had the honour of producing a video introducing the committee members and sharing why we relay. How did I do it? Simple. I recorded it with my iPhone and edited it with iMovie. Here are a few of the takeaways I learned from the process:

  • Plan ahead. If you’re interviewing someone, have questions handy or have an idea what you want them to talk about it. In this case, I told the committee members prior to shooting that I wanted them to share why they’re involved with Relay For Life
  • Anticipate any issues. Because I didn’t have an external microphone or any other equipment (only my trusted iPhone as I wanted to keep the process as simple as possible), I wanted to be close enough to the interview subjects so you can actually hear them. Plus, close-ups are better.
  • Ask yourself if this is what viewers want to watch. “Before you hit the record button, or even while recording, put yourself in your viewer’s shoes and ask yourself if you’d watch it,” says digital content creator Daniele Rossi in a blog post about creating spontaneous video. “Content needs to stay relevant to your viewers and also short if it’s being posted online.” Since the video is intended to introduce those organizing the Richmond Hill Relay, I thought audience members would want to know why they’re involved. After all, personal stories often make for the best content.

So, without further ado, I introduce the Richmond Hill Relay For Life 2013 committee.

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Relay For Life 2013 and why I’m involved

Adrian Sarracini, a 21-year-old York Region resident, was diagnosed with and treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma when he was 17 years old. Now, cancer-free for the last three years, he said his struggle with the disease has made him stronger.

“The entire process changed my life,” he said. “My life was put on hold and, to this day, I’m happy that I went through that terrible illness because the values and lessons I learned in that period stuck with me to this day and will be with me for my entire life.”

Cancer survivor Adrian Sarracini recounts his story at the March 7 kick-off for Richmond Hill’s Relay For Life at Lone Star Texas Grill.

Sarracini shared his story to crowds as he helped kick off the three York Region events for the Canadian Cancer Society’s (CCS) annual fundraiser, Relay For Life – one in Richmond Hill, one in Markham and one in Vaughan.

His story began in February 2009 with the discovery of four lumps under his arm. After an open biopsy a few months later, he was able to get a proper diagnosis.

“Once the healing process was over and the results were in, the surgeon called us into his office and explained what I had,” he recalled. “The surgeon said I have four nodes, all which ranged from the size of a golf ball to a tennis ball. They split each node into four pieces and sent them off to different labs and the results are unanimous, you have Hodgkin’s lymphoma.’”

“The pain I felt that day was like no other. Being 17 years old and being told you have cancer is like being sentenced to death.”

After six months of chemotherapy, Sarracini beat the disease. Now, four years later, he gets up on stage to share his story with countless others.

In addition to Sarracini, 500 Canadians are diagnosed with cancer every day, notes the CCS.

On a personal note, I have lost several family members to the disease, including my grandmother, which prompted me to get involved as the Marketing and Communications Chair (and participant) for Richmond Hill’s Relay For Life. From 7pm to 7am, teams of 10 to 15 cancer fighters take turns walking, running or strolling around a track. At dusk, a luminary ceremony takes place, where candles are lit around the track to honour those lost to and touched by cancer.

Last year, Relay For Life occurred in 596 communities across Canada. About 200,00 Canadians participated, raising about $51 million to ensure no one is facing cancer alone and to fund life-saving cancer research.

And there have been results. In the 1940s, only 25 per cent of those diagnosed with cancer survived, according to the CCS. Now, 62 per cent of them are surviving, including Sarracini.

“Generosity and kindness saved my life, and I know that it will save millions of other lives,” he said.

If you’re interested in joining a team, making a donation, buying a luminary or volunteering for Relay For Life in your own region, visit relayforlife.ca.

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I was interviewed on Rogers TV

As you may or may not know, I’m on the steering committee for this year’s Relay For Life for Richmond Hill in support of the Canadian Cancer Society. On Thursday evening, we had an exciting kick-off event to launch this year’s Relay. But that wasn’t the only exciting news.

On Wednesday afternoon, much to my surprise and delight, I was contacted by Jacqueline Betterton, the producer and one of the hosts of daytime York Region with Rogers TV. “JUST had a cancellation for our morning show tomorrow,” she told me in an email. “Would Relay For Life be interested in coming on our morning show to chat about the event tomorrow evening?”

As soon as I walk in, the Rogers folks direct me to the green room by the studio.

As soon as I walk in, the Rogers folks direct me to the green room by the studio.

The next morning, I was in the studio with Laura Parsons, Fundraising Coordinator for the Canadian Cancer Society’s South York Region Unit and my Relay colleague, getting ready to go on air at 10:20am.

Once we were on air (and live), any nerves I felt had ceased. Betterton and Jeff Moore, the other half of the daytime York Region duo, were great hosts. They put the story together very well. While they interviewed Parsons about the event itself (both the Relay and Thursday night’s kick-off event), they asked me about my own volunteer experiences, what drew me to get involved and how others can as well.

As I had told Betterton and Moore, I’m incredibly excited about being involved in such a great event and to be able to support so many families that have been touched by cancer, including my own. The opportunity to share my experiences on television was an unexpected perk. You can watch the interview here.

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Five reasons to attend PodCamp Toronto 2013

This weekend marks PodCamp Toronto 2013 (PCTO), one of Canada’s largest gatherings of digital media folks, held this year on February 23 and 24 at Ryerson University’s Rogers Communications Centre.

This will also be my second consecutive year of being a part of PCTO. Having served on the community management team last year, I decided to step up this year and become part of the organizing committee. Together with fellow co-organizer and former community management team member Dr. Vibe, we’re charged with managing volunteers.

Almost 1,000 digital media folks attended PodCamp Toronto in February 2012. Photo credit: HiMY SYeD

Almost 1,000 digital media folks gathered inside Ryerson University’s Rogers Communications Centre last February for PodCamp Toronto 2012. Photo credit: HiMY SYeD / photopia

What exactly is PCTO, you ask? For starters, it’s an unconference. In other words, participants drive the event rather than it being a conventional conference. Participants host and submit sessions, and, therefore, provide all the programming.

And the PCTO community consists of well, anyone, with an interest in digital media – this includes podcasters, marketers, public relations professionals, content creators, bloggers, web designers and developers.

Beyond the fact that I’m a content creator and PR pro, there are five things in particular that I get out both attending and organizing PCTO. Here are my top five reasons:

  • Learning: Above all, PCTO is a great place to learn something new when it comes to digital media, whether it’s during workshops or chatting with folks in between workshops. You really never know what you’re going to walk away with upon exiting the Rogers Communications Centre.
  • Networking: It’s also a great place to network. As I said, PCTO attracts pretty much anyone with an interest in social media from Toronto and across Canada. So don’t forget your business cards!
  • The friendships. Last year, I even had the opportunity to develop friendships with some of them I have met, including Daniele Rossi, Adam Weitner and Dr. Vibe (my former community management team members).
  • The sessions. I obviously can’t forget the flurry of sessions that participants take the time to prepare and present. This year, about 60 sessions have been submitted.
  • The community. And overall, it’s the opportunity to be part of a cool community of folks with a common interest in social media. We share experiences, knowledge and perspectives. It’s about hundreds of of digital media folks  coming together for an amazing weekend!

In addition, check out fellow co-organizer Karim Kanji‘s top 10 reasons for attending PCTO this weekend. Are you planning on attending? If so, what are you most looking forward to about it? If not, you can still join us virtually by following along with the #PCTO13 hashtag!

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