Friends in High Places (Media)

By Mark Macias

Everyone wants to help a friend and members of the media are no different.

If you’re cozy with certain journalists, you might get a call returned faster or your story idea forwarded to the right person.

I spent over a decade working side-by-side with journalists at NBC and CBS, but you don’t need to be inside the media to curry favor. You can also develop relationships by seeking outside interests.

Look for Networking Opportunites

First off, you need to be genuine about what I’m going to say. Journalists are smart and can read through a fake quickly so if this is not something you’re interested in, don’t show up for the sake of meeting media people. However, if you do love these types of networking events, they can easily work to your advantage.

Affinity organizations like the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, National Association of Asian Journalists and the National Association of Black Journalists provide many personal opportunities to network with journalists.

Those summer conferences allow journalists to socialize and network together while their nighttime events are filled with booze and parties. You don’t need to hold a press card to attend one of these conferences. If you pay the fees, you are welcomed inside.

Many cities also have their own local media mixers.

When I worked for a TV station in Phoenix, I belonged to an organization called the Arizona Latino Media Association or ALMA. The group frequently held social events at bars and restaurants where Hispanic journalists and PR executives mingled. Mediabistro also hosts networking events where journalists hang out together.

Just don’t be fake with your agenda. If you are there to network with people – or even to sell your business – be transparent because no one wants to hang out with the guy who is holding a secret. And don’t forget, these professionals are paid to uncover secrets, so you won’t last very long if you take that approach.

Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC, Senior Producer with WCBS and Special Projects Producer with NBC. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR.

Buying Journalists Gifts?

By Mark Macias

It’s a written rule and code of ethics in journalism that you can’t accept gifts in exchange for stories, but that doesn’t stop publicists from trying to secure media coverage through freebies.

When I was with NBC and CBS in New York, I was always invited to “free” press screenings for shows and concerts. Restaurants, lounges and bars also sent me private VIP invitations to their openings. Even our Special Projects unit  received unsolicited gifts from publicists to try out their products.

But is this an effective approach?

Here’s the inside media scoop on gift giving to journalists.

Every newsroom has a table full of toys, makeup, books and other products that are sent to reporters and producers.

I am of the belief that it’s a waste of money to send free samples to reporters because it will inevitably end up in the hands of a person who has no influence on whether that story will run.

As an Executive Producer with WNBC – overseeing the consumer and medical units – I can’t even recall the number of times I went to my work mailbox and saw a package or box with my name on it. Most of the times, I had no use for the make-up or toy or other product that was shipped to me.

But this doesn’t mean you should completely ignore a version of this strategy. You can still offer up a sample for the news organization to try, but be selective with it and most important – make sure you offer it to the right news contact.

And most important, don’t ever project that you are expecting something in return because that is the quickest way to get your story killed.

Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC, Senior Producer with WCBS and Special Projects Producer with NBC. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR.

How to Pitch a Story like a Journalist

By Mark Macias

It’s the one question every person wants to know. How does the media decide which news stories are important? Here’s how to pitch your story like a journalist.

When I was an Executive Producer with NBC in New York, many of my friends quizzed me on whether there was a conspiracy in the media. After all, they would ask, how could it be possible that all of the news organizations would typically run the same stories?

There is no conspiracy and there is no magic formula, however there are ingredients that do make for a news story.

If you want to get your business on the news, you need to first identify what is different, new or unique about your product or service. News is based on the root “new,” which is why all news stories must be timely.

How to Pitch a Story like a Journalist

The more you can make your pitch sound timely, the better chances you have of getting your business on the news.

You can increase your chances for news coverage by answering these questions before you reach out to reporters:

* What is different about my business?

* How does my business help the public and why is that service unique?

* Is there something timely about my business or product?

* Is there a personal story to tell about my business, like maybe a grandfather is passing the 75-year-old family business onto his grandchildren in a public ceremony?

* Is there a new trend arising in my business field that will affect the pocket books of consumers?

* Have any trade organizations recognized my business as a leader in innovation that will help shape the future?

Finding a unique angle is not as difficult as it may sound. You just need to open your mind to timely events that impact and influence sales of your product or service.

The more you understand the definition and value of “newsworthy” the better chance you will have of getting the media to do a story on your business.

Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC and Senior Producer with WCBS. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR. The company also does financial PR – which you can read more at MarketYourFund.com.

Find Your PR Gimmick for Publicity

By Mark Macias

Everyone needs a gimmick when it comes to PR and it’s no different than living in New York City.

As any New Yorker will tell you, if you want to stand out at a cocktail party, you need material to push you above the crowd. Some call that personality; others call it charisma. I like to call it a gimmick.

It’s no different when branding a product, business, or service with the media. You need to discover what your gimmick is if you want the media to take notice.

Now before the critics start breaking down that statement with comments like, “That is shallow,” or “Execution beats style,” –  I agree with you.

But let’s take off that analytical cap for a sec and discuss this idea not in black and white terms, but in gray terms – which is where publicity lives.

Many entrepreneurs rightly assume that “gimmick” implies a form of forgery or scheme of deception. Think of it as a way to distinguish your business from the crowd.

There are hundreds of public relations firms in the U.S., so my PR firm, Macias PR, needs to stand out from the packed field.

What’s my gimmick?

I am a former journalist who understands intuitively and intimately how the media works. I’ve been inside (and run) those morning news meetings where stories are approved and killed.

I know what it takes to get a story on the news.

That is what separates me from other publicists.

It’s no different for your business. If you can’t identify your gimmick, then you are in trouble, because consumers have no reason to buy your product.

What was President Obama’s “gimmick” when he ran against Sen. John McCain? Barack Obama was the man with hope. I’m sure Mr. Obama believed it, but that was, in essence, a gimmick.

So if you are starting a business (and it doesn’t matter what you are selling), you’d better discover your gimmick before the doors are opened. If you need to brainstorm on a future gimmick, ask yourself what you can do to stand out from the crowd. Sure, it’s a simple question, but most lawyers, accountants, and medical doctors don’t acknowledge that question on day one.

Perhaps that is because they are choosing to use their left brain over their right brain.

Now that I think about it, these are probably the same people who are arguing that a “gimmick” is shallow and will never work.

Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC, Senior Producer with WCBS and Special Projects Producer with NBC. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR.

 

Negative Political Press

By Mark Macias

In the political press game, you’ve got to respond to bad press, quickly and loudly.

If you don’t defend yourself, people will assume you are guilty. It’s a form of public opinion that goes back to high school.

Remember when you used to hear rumors about someone in high school? You always assumed the gossip was true unless the person came out and denied it in a credible way. The laws of human behavior haven’t changed since then. If a source is credible, most people are going to believe the bad press has merit unless there is a strong denial involved by the accused.

It’s no different in politics.

If your candidate is accused of doing something that he or she didn’t do, make sure your denial is clear and crisp. There must be no reading between the lines. Don’t mince words when you tell the reporter or producer that the allegation is false. And if you talk on television, don’t give viewers an opportunity to draw their own conclusions. Make it easy for them to believe that the accusations are false.

Be clear in your denial.

President Bill Clinton was a master communicator and he articulated his denial to perfection when he told America in 1998 the allegations against him involving Monica Lewinsky were false: “I want to say one thing to the America people. I want you to listen to me. I’m going to say this again. I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”

The President sounded sincere, honest and straightforward in his denial, and many people, including myself, assumed he was the victim of dirty politics.

But What Happens when the Accusations are True?

I’m of the journalism school that subscribes it will almost always hurt you to decline an interview with the media, regardless of whether you are guilty or innocent. If you say no to an interview, you have virtually no chance of shaping the story’s coverage.

However, if you say yes to an interview and artfully prepare your statements you can at least maintain damage control.

There are several reasons why I say it will almost always hurt you to not talk to the media. The most important reason is you give a reporter full reign to pursue his or her story when you decline to speak on the record. You effectively remove a reporter’s checks and balances by refusing to respond to the allegations.

Mark Macias is author of the crisis communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. He has run crisis media campaigns for politicians and nonprofit organizations. You can read more at MaciasPR.com.

 

 

The Biggest PR Mistake

By Mark Macias

There are many mistakes you can make while running a public relations campaign. Fortunately, most of these mistakes can be overcome and corrected as long as you identify them early.

But, there is one PR mistake you can rarely fix and when it happens, an entire media placement is effectively worthless.

What is the biggest mistake: when a reporter misspells, or worse, doesn’t include the name of your business in the story.

This is why you need to always – repeat – always reinforce the name of your business with a reporter throughout the interview. In addition, you should also be continually dropping the name of your business throughout the reporter interview.

Why Name Dropping Your Business Matters

I helped get a friend on a local TV show in Phoenix and it was a great segment. He was positioned as an expert in his field, but the TV station never put his name or business name on the screen.

He could have avoided this error on live TV if he would have dropped the name of his business at the end of his live segment.

Remember, reporters and producers move at warp speed. Minutes matter in print. Seconds count in TV. Decrease the chances of your name getting lost by taking control of the interview and sprinkling the name of your business throughout the interview.

Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC, Senior Producer with WCBS and author of the book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. You can read more on his public relations agency at MaciasPR

 

 

 

Crisis Communications – The NRA

By: Mark Macias

(This story was originally published in 2013 following a school shooting. Here’s a shortened edited version of that article)

I don’t like the sight of guns. I don’t like the smell of guns. I don’t even like talking about guns, but the NRA is delivering a great crisis communications lesson for any business facing an image crisis.

Here’s what the NRA did wrong and right in their crisis following a 2013 school shooting.

The NRA let time pass

The NRA waited for time to pass. Frequently, I advise clients to get in front of the story or else the narrative will be written by your opponent, but this is a perfect crisis communications case study where that does not apply to ALL problems. The NRA would have been foolish to speak while children were being buried.

That is pretty much one of the few things I believe the NRA did right following that horrific school shooting. Here is a more detailed list of what they did wrong, along with why it was a poorly executed communications plan.

Don’t Cast Blame

Wayne LaPierre with the NRA blamed the media, video games and even crazy people for their PR problem. That’s a mistake. The NRA thinks Americans should have the right to carry assault rifles that were designed for war. They need to take responsibility for that position and not blame others. If you are in a crisis situation, don’t blame the victim or even the shooter. Turn the situation into your favor by presenting why your side has a positive view. The media won’t report the good side of your story unless you present it and it is your job to communicate why your service helps others.

Put a face on the problem

Right now the NRA is facing a tough public image problem. It’s guns vs. little children.

That’s challenging because most parents and adults have instincts to protect children from harm. It’s a difficult fight, but the NRA needs to put a new face on this problem. They need to move the conversation away from assault rifles and back to the image of a father and daughter hunting together. As long as the debate surrounds military assault rifles, the NRA loses.

Bring a solution

If you are facing a crisis communications situation, you always want to bring closure to the problem. It lets the public believe (and hopefully it is the truth) that the problem won’t happen again. The NRA tried to bring closure to this problem by saying armed guards in front of our schools would prevent violence. It won’t or as a Facebook friend more eloquently posted, it’s like bringing a “knife to a gun fight.”

It sums up why the NRA needs a better communications strategy if it is ever going to persuade the parents in America.

 “Hey Mr. NRA douchebag…our banks are protected by armed guards and they still get robbed, our president is guarded by armed secret service and still gets shot and even killed. One armed cop on each campus won’t stop crazy folks from going there. Your press conference was a joke, and you are a joke of a man. Blame the video games, movies and music…yet not offer a single solution to try to keep your precious lil gun out of crazy folks hands. You suck!! Oh yeah, said crazy person comes to school with multiple semi automatic guns…lone cop has a pistol…what’s the saying? Bring a knife to a gun fight? Then your answer will be we need cops with semi automatic rifles you douchetard. Way to bring nothing to the table today except more guns, you kind sir are a complete assbag!!”

Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC, Senior Producer with WCBS and Special Projects Producer with NBC. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR.

 

 

 

PR War vs. PR Battle – Crisis Communications

By Mark Macias

A General must sometimes lose a battle to win a war. That tactic can also be applied to crisis communications.

When a crisis situation hits your business, remember that war adage because sometimes, losing a small customer service battle will help you win the larger public relations war.

It’s an older example from my crisis communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media, but it is a situation that applies to any business today.

How the PR Battle Begins

In December 2007, a Las Vegas man sued his gym for gender discrimination. He filed a formal complaint with the state, alleging the health club was giving preferential treatment to women, which he claimed was discrimination.

This news story had larger ramifications across Nevada since it could potentially end all “Ladies Nights” at bars that offered free drinks to women.

Making matters worse for the gym, the angry customer was vocal with the media.

“Imagine a whites-only country club or whites-get-in-free deal or something like that,” the gym member said. “When things are based on race, we have kind of a knee-jerk reaction because we’ve had poor race relations in America for 400 years now. But when it comes to treating people the same based on sex, that’s much more recent in our memory.”

The gym manager refused to give the member a discount and the PR nightmare grew. The health club was now dealing with national negative publicity that could ruin the pricing structure for bars, nightclubs and casinos. The owner of that gym made many enemies with just one discount refusal. And to think it all would have gone away by appeasing one customer.

Stopping the PR Battle from Becoming a PR War

The health club could have diffused the negative story by saying they were trying a new marketing approach to get more women into their health club, or to even it out.

Management could have added they were reviewing the policy to see if it was fair for men and women. The club could have said they were researching similar discounts that appealed just to men.

But, the club didn’t take that approach. Instead, they went on the attack and the negative publicity got worse.

“Our men are very, very happy with how we conduct our business,” the vice president of the company said. “This particular person is the only one who has had a problem with it. There are legitimate discrimination issues out there, and I wish he’d spend his time addressing those that really need addressing.”

Never turn an angry customer into a victim. You don’t want to give the perception that the victim is really a victim. Don’t give the public a reason to root against you.

There will always be an angry customer. If you get an expressive angry customer, make sure you tread lightly in the battle or risk waging war with others.

Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC and Senior Producer with WCBS. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR.

 

 

Get my Story on the News

By Mark Macias

It was one of the most popular questions I heard when I was an Executive Producer with NBC.

“How can I get my business on the news?”

There is no magic formula to getting your service or product on the news, but there are guidelines that will increase your chances.

You can increase your chances for coverage by identifying what is different, new or unique about your business. It sounds simple but a lot of people forget that news is based on the root “new.”

If you don’t have that “new” component, your story is at a disadvantage. You might be able to find a new angle by asking pointed questions:

Is your business contributing to the local community in a unique way we might not expect?

Are you about to accomplish a feat where others have failed?

What is different between you and competitors?

Focus and Clarify your Pitch

The more you can clarify and focus your pitch, the better odds you have of getting your business on the news.

Finding a unique angle is not as difficult as it may sound. You just need to open your mind to timely events that impact and influence sales of your product or service. If you own a fashion or jewelry store, try to link your product to high-profile events like the Academy Awards or the Grammy Awards. If your business is geared towards a niche audience, like traveling business executives, scan the headlines for possible tie-ins to current events.

Biggest Mistakes Most Publicists Make

Not properly defining the story is one of the biggest mistakes most publicists make. Your success on pitching depends greatly on how well you define that story because in many cases, you may only get one shot at pitching your story idea. You can focus your story by understanding and applying the five W’s (Who, What, When, Where, Why and How).

Who is this story about?

What is this story about?

Where is this story taking place?

When does your story take place?

Why should anyone care about your story?

How is your story, business, service or product changing lives?

The more you learn and understand the definition of “newsworthy,” the better chance you have of getting your story on the news. And once you successfully make that placement, you are better able to shape the message with the media.

Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC and Senior Producer with WCBS. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR.

Publicity on a Limited Budget

By Mark Macias

It is possible to run an effective publicity campaign on a limited budget. The PR firms Edelman or Rubenstein might bring your company reassurance with their large staff and beautiful buildings, there are affordable alternatives that can deliver the same results.

Potential clients always ask me how much we charge for a PR campaign. I like to use the accountant example. You and I may use the same accountant but our costs are likely going to be different based on our needs. It’s the same with public relations.

Your needs actually influence the scope of the media campaign. Do you want a local or national publicity campaign? Is it B2B or B2C? Are you in a niche field or does your narrative have a broad appeal? All of these questions factor into the complexity and cost of a media campaign.

But if you’re a small start-up or nonprofit, you can run an effective PR campaign by narrowing down your targeted news outlets. My PR agency has been running a social media campaign for a small East Village restaurant for several years, which was much different than the state-wide US Senate campaign we ran for another client.

Every client wants national exposure, but if you want to run a cost-effective PR campaign on a limited budget, you need to prioritize. In the world of PR, time equals money.

So don’t assume just because you have a small budget that you don’t have a PR budget. If you can afford Facebook ads, you can probably afford a targeted publicity campaign that reaches reporters.

The global PR firms might shy away from your small budget, but if your expectations are in check, you can use the media to reach customers.

Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC and Senior Producer with WCBS. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR.