Archive for PR Firm St Louis

Top Four Ways to Kill a Pitch

In an unofficial survey of local editors, I found they deleted, on average, a total of 60 emails each day without reading them. Most of them with a headline such as this:

MEDIA ALERT: RDC 10 to Replace Rival GTR 7 Lift Kits in Area Locations.

The Next Google Changes the Internet

Local Company Gives Money to a Charity (photo included by the way it is giant check with a grip-and-grin that we believe should run at full size on the cover)

They are pitches. Or attempts at pitches. I have been on both sides of this equation. After spending six years as an editor, I now pitch editors on behalf of clients and as a freelance reporter.

Pitching media is not for the faint of heart. It is essentially a sales job – though few like that analogy. And it is often one of the most misunderstood practices in the media/public relations world.
Wonka
The idea is this: The people responsible for filling pages, air or digital space with content are always on the lookout for good stories – ones that their audience will care about. A pitch is an attempt to grab their attention and place a story in their chosen medium.

It seems simple enough. But the most common questions I would get when an editor and ones that I field from clients often involve pitching. What does the media care about? Why are my competitors featured, but I am not? Should I attach a press release? Do you know someone or know someone who knows someone at that magazine? Should I send a fax? (I really got that one)

There are not many easy answers. However, to make sure your pitch does not end up in the unread trash file, you can start with what not to do.

Have nothing to say.

There is a correlation between overeating at meals and obesity, you say? Your company has redesigned its website to make it better for users? Essentially there is no news here. What you have to say needs to be unique and have some reason that people should care. I composed a blog previously regarding how the media does not care about your story. In short: your pitch needs to answer: What is in this for the media audience? It needs to have depth and serve that audience first – before it serves just you. The media does not serve you. Media serves readers/listeners/followers.

Attempt to grease the gears.

This is perhaps the most insulting thing you can do. A pitch should have merit on its own. And while relationships matter, relationships do not get placement of news or features. There has to be something of value for listeners, followers or readers. Attempts to recall friendship or advertising relationships cheapen the pitch. Would you be more likely to listen to someone you know over a stranger? Of course. But if the merit of the pitch is not the center of the discussion, then editors will want to take a shower after talking to you. For the most part, media people are highly ethical, and this approach is offensive.

Apologize profusely

“I hope you don’t mind me emailing this to you, but…”, “I know I called you about this but I just…”, and other sentences do not instill confidence in the editor. Don’t be clever or self-effacing. If it is a worthwhile idea, which it should be, then just out the idea. Give them what they need: “I have a story that I believe would be interesting to your listeners. Here it is.” Give them the why followed by how, what and whom. That is it. The wording will vary, but the idea here is that nothing will happen if you don’t believe in it.

Attach a bunch of stuff

They will not read the press release. You can attach it, but they won’t read it. The most important thing you can communicate is the why. Do it in a quick paragraph and send background if they want it. That is it. The press release you made into a pdf and those high resolution photos will at best go unviewed and at worst become an annoyance. Send them if the media would need them later and let them know more information and photos are available. Just don’t lead with them.
By the way, if you would like more information for your background use, just click here and you can get this entire blog post sent to you via PDF attachment. Don’t worry. It is ginormous. And it will slow down the most robust of email server.

Rousing Passions & Talents Leads to Five Years of Success

Working for a dog-friendly company definitely has its advantages. I mean how many people can say they get to bring their dogs to work daily. (Luckily I do). But another joy to working in an environment surrounded by dogs, is sharing that joy with people who are equally as caring and passionate about their livelihood and also want to make a difference in the community.

Not only am I an art director at KolbeCo, but I’ve also been a foster parent/volunteer with Stray Rescue of St. Louis since 2006. Stray Rescue takes in the abandoned and stray dogs of St. Louis, gets them healthy, and rehomed. I have fostered and adopted out over 30 dogs for the organization, and spend time working as a volunteer inside the Pine Street facility.

Since coming to KolbeCo, I have found joy in introducing other staff members to this organization, where they too find satisfaction – acting as foster parents, and becoming highly involved in the shelter’s hiking program. Frills

But I had ambition to take it a step further. I had dreamt for years of starting a successful donation program. I wanted to provide a way to help the shelter fulfill depleting supplies, and financial donations to help cover rising medical expenses for the many sick and injured dogs being rescued. And what I discovered is when you put a talented group of creative dog lovers together you can do big things…and Frills Fur Furbabies was born.

The mission is to make a difference in the life of a homeless animal. And working as a team, KolbeCo has been able to raise the bar each year, successfully gaining more community support and additional donations in order to serve our visions, which are to:

  • Provide a method for all people of all financial backgrounds a way to give back to Stray Rescue of St. Louis.
  • Provide a unique opportunity for team building – and show off what KolbeCo can do collectively as an organization.
  • Save lives by raising much needed funds and replenishing much-needed supplies.

By pooling our creative talents in public relations, marketing, design, by fulfilling on our company mission to be a catalyst for confidence and shine, we have been able to also fulfill Frills’ mission of making a difference in the life of a homeless animal…5 years strong and still picking up speed.

To learn more about the Frills drive, and other programs, visit www.frillsforfurbabies.com!

Now get out there and tackle something you dreamt of!

5 Things to Never Say to a Reporter

In the rating of the least respected jobs, journalists generally come in right behind lawyer and actor. Reporters who have spent more than one month trying to cover stories will be acutely aware of this. Not because they look at Forbes magazine job ratings, but because they are used to encountering ire, resentment, frustration and ignorance. If you can avoid these phrases the next time you get a request for an interview, you will stand out from the crowd and increase your odds of becoming a go-to expert.

 
“When can I review the story?” It may seem like a service for you or your business, but news and feature stories are not produced for you. The reporter is there to serve readers. If they were to show you a story before it is published, they also put themselves in danger of showing bias. Their job is to pull back the curtain on a topic. They want to get it right and will work hard to do so. Let them do their job.

 
“The same talking point 4x” Media training can be a great asset. But, if you don’t practice it and own what you are saying, you sound like a person reading a script. Well. Because you are. Repeating the same information without further explaining yourself will make you sound uninformed. Practice those talking points. It is what you paid your PR firm to produce. Then you can sound like a human when you speak. You don’t want to sound like Allen Iverson:

 

 

“Ugh. Let me just give you the 101.” You are a content expert. A reporter is a storyteller. They should not know as much or more than you about the topic than you. If they did, they would not ask you. Essentially, don’t be a jerk. If a reporter seems uninformed about a topic, have patience. It is a great opportunity. Being condescending will not help you sound smarter. It makes you sound like an ass.

 
“No comment.” A few things are wrong with this. Mostly, it makes you look like a defensive adolescent. You likely have a comment. If you truly do not have much to say that directly answers the question, then reiterate what you do know or use it as an opportunity to shed some light on another topic. No-commenters are rarely characterized favorably in stories.

 
“This is off the record.” Ask yourself why you are going to say something that should be off the record. If you don’t want it printed or reproduced, don’t say it. If there is a recording device started or a pen in hand, then it is on the record. It is reportable. Also, saying “This is off the record” puts the reporter in an awkward position. He has to remember that you did not want that as part of the story. Also, because he is human, there are two possibilities: 1. He can forget that you did not want that information as part of the story. 2. He can’t unlearn what you told him. It will color what is produced.

 
What happens when you think your comments are off the record (this video has swears):

Here are a few other questions and the way in which reporters would answer them for you if they had no concern for being diplomatic:
Did you read my press release? No. I am talking to you. Tell me why I should care.
What is your deadline? Now. I am calling you because I need it. Now.
Didn’t you already ask that question? Yes. I did. So are you going to answer it this time?
Did you read my book? No. I didn’t. Tell me what it is about.

 
There are some no-brainers that I feel I need to include. I wish I didn’t have to, but since I still work as a journalist, I know I need to: racial slurs, remarks of a sexual nature, gossip that you really can’t substantiate, political rants* and bullying comments (toward the reporter or others).

 
*If you are being interviewed about politics, this is appropriate. But if it is about gift ideas for the office, then the fact that you believe the president is the antichrist is not appropriate. (This actually happened to me.)

How Little Brands Can Make a Bigger Impact than Large Brands

Big brands have a lot of money and marketing horsepower behind them – which they use to make an impact through large advertising campaigns and high-profile sponsorships. Think of brands that buy full-page ads in multiple daily national papers, run intense nationwide TV campaigns, and have their names on stadiums, golf tournaments or bowl games.

 
So how do companies that are smaller make a large impact without multi-million dollar advertising budgets? It is simple. They take actions that really connect with their customer.

 

Scott Kolbe riding at the MS150 in Columbia, MO.

Scott Kolbe riding at the MS150 in Columbia, MO.

Kaldi’s Coffee is a St. Louis-based boutique coffee company that has 12 total stores. The company has done numerous events and festivals throughout St. Louis sharing its products while also aligning its events with the company core values.

 

 
One example is Team Kaldi’s, the MS150 bike team sponsored for the last decade. Team Kaldi’s was born after a few customers, who previously rode on the TWA team, shared their story and desire to find a new team to ride with. Kaldi’s owners, who had been a small sponsor of the MS 150 in the past, embraced the idea and said “Let’s make it bigger.”

 
10 years later, Team Kaldi’s has 150 riders and has raised $1 million towards MS research – the first Missouri team to do so. There are two very remarkable things about this.

 

First, several large, corporate brands have teams in Missouri’s MS 150 (think Monsanto and Express Scripts). Yet it’s a small coffee company out of St. Louis that reached the $1 million mark first. Second, out of Team Kaldi’s 150 riders, only one is an employee. Yes, that means 149 of the 150 riders on the team are customers. Fully engaged, loyal customers.

 

I ride for this team. Why? Because I like what Kaldi’s stands for. Kaldi’s received media attention for its involvement, but ultimately, the company is heavily involved in the event because it matches its core values. It also benefits from having 100’s of cyclists riding around St. Louis with the Kaldi’s logo on their backs.

 
The leadership of Kaldi’s has fully embraced being a big part of this community. But did it in a way that supported others. They supply jerseys and help feed the riders. But really they are having a profound effect on the research aspect of MS and have many loyal customers.

 
So what difference can you make with your brand. Remember the checkbook is always appreciated when making a difference in the community. But what other changes can you make without it?

Creating Culture: It’s Not All About Holding Hands and Playing Foosball

Earlier this year, St. Louis Small Business Monthly featured an in-depth article on KolbeCo and the culture we’ve created here. What’s interesting is that when you start talking to people about culture, one of two things come to mind:

 

KolbeCo

  1. It’s all about having a bar, dart boards and foosball tables in the office where the team can have fun; or
  2. We’re an overly sensitive bunch who holds hands and sings Kumbaya in a circle to kick off each day

 

I’m here to tell you that culture is not about either of those things. Do we have fun? Yes. Lots of it. Do we care about each other, our goals, and perspectives? Absolutely. But building culture is about creating a very specific type of environment where purpose and values are at the forefront of everything we do. It’s about dedicating ourselves to being vulnerable and uncomfortable at times by practicing open, honest and straightforward communication – with yourself and with others.

 

Those conversations aren’t always pretty, but they do lead to better collaboration and more meaningful working relationships because nothing is standing in the way. This is true for our own team, and for how we work with our clients.

 

What do we at KolbeCo believe? It first begins with our mission: to be a catalyst for confidence and shine.

 

This leads to our values:

 

    • Be Cause Oriented … in every moment and every interaction
    • Build “Shine” in Yourself and Others … through embracing individual strengths, personal responsibility and leadership
    • Create Excitement through Celebrating Success … in the experience and final outcome
    • Be an Explorer … seek out new ideas with a can-do attitude, embracing each experience as a learning opportunity
    • Be Willing to Ask for and Receive Support … inviting teamwork and leveraging the strengths of the team
    • Accept and Celebrate Yourself and Others … fully, with no judgment or punishment for mistakes
    • Place Purpose and Values Above What It Looks Like to Others … because we’re so aligned with our mission and values it doesn’t matter if others don’t get it. We get it.

 

While this all sounds great and fluffy, living and working in this manner takes a lot of hard work, and a lot of hard conversations. We do extensive education and mentoring on our values. Every opportunity, challenge and conversation maps back to the values. And when we’re not living to our values, we talk about it so they don’t slide or get forgotten.

 

The bottom line: creating our culture and living to our values produces results. We know what we stand for, and we know what we’re trying to cause. What do you stand for? What are you trying to cause? Be clear, honest, and specific, and let the answers be your guide.

The Unlikeliest Source of Wisdom on Employee Engagement

By all accounts, the guy had made it. The company he had started from nothing was now raking in millions. His office was lined with awards and grip-and-grin photos. From the obligatory desk pictures, he was outfitted with a beautiful wife and children. I had sat in many offices like it. The assignment was to write something like: How this Company’s CEO Grew from Nothing to Something.

So I asked: Um, what are your keys to success? He said something like this:

“A commitment to employees and client service. Not just any service, but service that goes above and beyond. And we love our employees. We really are a family. My door is always open.”

Studies show nearly 75 percent of the workforce is disengaged or actively disengaged.

Studies show nearly 75 percent of the workforce is disengaged or actively disengaged.

I really don’t remember if this is what he said exactly. It doesn’t matter. It is what everyone says.

Later we went down to his production floor. He walked up beside someone and gave him a pat on the shoulder. ‘Bob’ was on the employee’s name badge. The look on Bob’s face was the look someone may give the IRS when they come to your door.

“Bob,” said the CEO. “How’s it going?”

In the recesses of Bob’s mind, a small man was searching through a complex set of files to find the right answer. “Fine,” he said. Bob was, however, far from fine. If he had ever seen this CEO before, it was because he was about to receive discipline for too many bathroom breaks.

“Open door policy could be true,” I thought. “As long as he’s referring to the exit door.”

The sad thing is the CEO was not lying to me. His answer was based on a common delusion. Most leaders want to believe that they have engaged employees, are approachable and provide great service. That is a nice thought that helps us sleep. But reality is another thing.

Here’s reality: Nearly one-third of all employees are fully disengaged . That means they have a negative commitment to the workplace. They gossip, avoid responsibility and work against the fabric of the organization. So if most everyone believes they have a great culture, yet 75 percent of the workforce is disengaged or actively disengaged, then what is going on?

The process of focusing on and improving culture is a fact-finding and fact-facing process. I wrote about KolbeCo’s journey in Small Business Monthly before I started working here. There are a plethora of resources that make the case for increasing employee engagement and several libraries of knowledge that outline how to change it for the better.

The Doederlein Effect

But, my contribution to the idea of a more engaged workplace comes in an unlikely form – the father of one of my closest friends. Dr. Arthur Doederlein, a professor at Northern Illinois University, was one of the most unique individuals I’ve ever known, and the world lost him about a year ago.

I met him when I was 15 years old, and one of our first discussions revolved around the business of mowing his spacious yard. I recall he was particular about it needing to be push mowed, and he required certain grass patterns. I took it on as a somewhat regular gig.

I don’t remember much about the yard mowing or the work or how much it paid. What I remember well are the conversations that he and I would often have just outside his back door. Standing there and sweating with soda in hand, we would tackle French existentialism, conservative politics, religion and daytime television. He had an opinion on everything and was the most formidable of adversaries when it came to debate.

But something more sublime sunk in on the back porch, and I believe it to be relevant to the discussion of how to actively engage and recognize others. Since this is a blog post, I shall do my best to narrow it down to three.

Diplomacy is not kindness. Most of the other adult figures in my life at the time (besides my parents) tended to focus on building my ego. With the best of intentions, they wanted to encourage me and make me feel good about myself. I realize now that some of that is a polite form of lying. No one benefits from a frothy emotional building up. Instead, a direct approach based on turth and mutual respect yields better results. Some who knew Dr. Doederlein thought he was argumentative. I certainly thought that as an adolescent. But I now understand that his tendency to debate ideas was a form of kindness. What he was really saying was that I was worthy of debate and that he wanted to challenge my ideas, not my humanity. He was saying that I was enough as is.

Seek out hidden values. The second week that I mowed his grass, Dr. Doederlein handed me a used copy of Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Nausea.” I was 16. I had never thought of myself as a person who would understand or want to understand that level of literature. Most of my reading that summer had been Rolling Stone and…pictures in Rolling Stone. What he taught me was to look beyond what was obvious about people. He trusted his intuition enough to see something in me that maybe only a select few had seen. He unlocked a passion I did not know I had. That gives permission for me to do that same for others.

Walk in your own shoes. Dr. Doederlein was not a perfect man. He had many shortcomings. At times, he was indeed argumentative and, to describe him as stubborn, would be like saying Lindsay Lohan has a slight drinking problem. I never heard him apologize for his weaknesses. You could accept him for who he was or get lost. He was unabashedly human, and his example of living bravely inspired me to start doing the same.

This is not sage advice that Dr. Doederlein would give on creating a more connected workplace. But I believe I get along with other earthly travelers in more meaningful ways because I had the fortune to meet this one while he was still here.

Half the Words Will Do

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was a freshman in college, sitting in one of my first writing classes. The professor had given us our assignment, and I was eager to leave class and get started. I had my topic, did the research, and submitted my paper at the next class – only to have the professor hand it right back to me and say “now write the same paper using only half the words.”

While I was very frustrated at the time, what I learned that day is a lesson I always carry with me. That professor taught us the importance of getting your point across in a way that is simple, eliminates the fluff, and gets straight to the point. This is a great skill for writing in general, but it’s especially important in marketing, PR, and social media.
How can you make do with half the words? Here are some things I look for when I put my editing hat on:

  • Unnecessary words – chances are, there are many words in your piece that, if removed, would not be missed. These tend to be extra descriptors (very, just, etc.), or words like “that” used in phrases such as “a lesson that I always carry with me”.
  • Repetition – in many cases, I find a piece contains the same thought expressed in multiple places. Say it once, and say it in a way that has impact.
  • Use of a long phrase when one word will do – is there one word to describe the thought? In most cases, the answer is yes.
  • Beating around the bush – if you have something to say, be direct. Just say it!


So next time you’re writing, try this exercise. See if you can tell the same story in half the words.

Stand Out … Unless You’re OK with Being Just Another Face in the Crowd

“We want to stand out from the competition. We’re really different, so be as creative as you can so we can stand out.” This, in a nutshell, was what a client told us once. We had done the discovery, thought we had really honed in on who they were, and what their story was. They weren’t shy about telling us how different they were, and that was exciting for us! We really got our creative juices going, and came up with some great concepts that differentiated them from others in their industry.

Then came time to present. The client looked at our messaging and proposed campaigns with dismay. At one point during our presentation, they said “yeah, we know this is what we told you, but what we really want is to look just like the 500 pound gorilla in town.”

In the end, while the client really didn’t end up standing out from the competition at all, we realized that the process was useful to them in some way. It helped them realize they didn’t want to be too risky, and felt more confident with a conservative approach. They were OK being one of the pack.

Many business owners and leaders, however, want to do everything they can to stand out. They tend to follow a marketing and PR plan that includes things like:

  1. Taking risks: They’re not afraid to be contrarian in their industries, or go head to head with the 500 pound gorilla. We once had to talk a client (with no fear of risk taking) out of getting himself arrested for his “cause”. We applauded the dedication, and in the end, developed an alternate tactic that allowed him to stand out, get attention, and keep his rap sheet clean.
  2. Forging a new path: Is your industry already crowded? Don’t want to compete with the big guy? Create your own path. Be the company known for providing goods or services to a niche market. Develop a new way to provide that service. We have a client who bucked all conventional wisdom in his industry and began offering a service in a way, and for a price, that no one had been able to do before. Because he stands out, he has gained not only direct customers, but also a great deal of referral business from others in his industry.
  3. Being creative: This isn’t just about your ads, or trying to come up with what you hope will be a viral video. Being creative involves allowing yourself the intellectual freedom, and introspective strength, to shape your story in a way that’s truly you – and to live that story every day. We do a whacky Christmas card for a financial firm each year. Does this diminish their credibility or expertise? No! It means they’re telling their own story and showing they’re real, approachable, and relatable people.

While these are things that frightened one client, they’re things that many businesses striving to identify and live their brand each day embrace with passion. Which path is for you?

No respect: Why the media does not care about your story

There was no “Hi” or “Hello” when I picked up the phone – just, “So what’s your damn excuse?”

I am used to coming up with excuses. The trouble was that I was not even sure who it was. “I sent you an email about our 20th anniversary party, and you didn’t show up. You didn’t even reply.”

At the time, I was working as editor at the St. Louis Small Business Monthly, so email announcements about anniversaries had become as common as spam messages about male enhancement. And, as far as my inbox rules were concerned, they were treated in much the same way. Rodney

As a disclaimer: I do think that anniversaries are significant. Running a business is hard. There are so many ways to fail and, at times, a great deal of luck is involved in keeping the doors open.

But here’s the question: How much does the media care about your anniversary or opening or company retreat or new book or new customer? The answer: Not at all. This leaves many business owners feeling like Rodney Dangerfield when they are on the phone with editors, news desks or bloggers. Calls go unanswered and emails unreturned. The media seems to lack any respect for the dedication and commitment it takes to successfully run a business.

But, back to that phone call.

Seeing as how I was not interested in his anniversary, but I do, at times, suffer a “decent human being seizure,” I asked him to tell me more about his company. What has helped him to be successful for so many years? Does he have wisdom to share?

What he said was this:

“We do engineering – all kinds. And we are great at customer service. Our customers love us.”

What I heard with this.

“I have no story. I have no story. I have no story.”

I heard that because great customer service is not remarkable. Almost every company claims to have it and rarely is it actually true when you interview customers. Also – anniversaries happen to lots of businesses every day. And simply doing well enough to stay open is not a compelling story.

What I wanted to hear was something greater truth. I was in the business of creating something remarkable with depth for readers. Something that was not this: “You will likely stay open longer if you have this thing called ‘great customer service.’”

In my years there as an editor, I had heard stories about business failure such as the one Eliot Frick at bigwidesky told me about killing his company. I had heard stories about overcoming what most think is a disability such as Nathan Stooke at Wisper ISP who was born with dyslexia. I spent a whole day with Attilio D’Agostino to witness the power of singular focus on your passion.

This phone call, though, was not one of those stories. At least, I will never know because he couldn’t tell me.

Here are some truths about media relations that most PR folk are probably too nice to tell you (and I am a new enough convert, so I don’t know any better):

Your story isn’t that special. At least, the way that you tell it isn’t. Most people (PR folk included) do not know what makes their story compelling. Chances are you have a great story. But, it is most likely not what you think it is.

Media folks (editors, bloggers, and social media wizards) are customers – not promotional devices. You need to serve them with that supposed great customer service. That means you will have to get to know what it is they want. And that is going to take some commitment and time from you. You need to read their publication or listen to the show or watch the video blog.

You are going to suck at media relations. This is not because you are not intelligent or capable. It’s because you need an advocate. You need an objective party that can craft something for you and can make the introductions you need.

You won’t be able to get the respect you deserve until you respect yourself enough to learn your story. Stand up for yourself. Be heard.

 

 

 

The Proof is in the Proofing

Today’s lesson is: proofing. It’s a fast-paced world and people are always on the move – and wanting things, well, yesterday. We St. Louis agency folks are always striving to do our best to provide a product that is awesome, gives you confidence, and is done in a timely fashion. But I cannot stress the importance of PROOFING. Everyone! Staffers, clients—I’m talking to YOU! PR St. Louis

While I pride myself on quality work, I am only human. Spell-check is not fool-proof (there, their, they’re), and I don’t always know that you wanted to use the 1-800 number as opposed to your local one. Projects are ultimately a team effort between the client, and the agency staff working on the project. It is important when receiving a proof to SLOW DOWN, and really take the necessary time to read through it carefully. Resist the urge to just look at it and say: “Wow this looks cool.”  (Although I’m happy you think so.)

Often times, parties are in a rush or working on something else so they simply glance at it and say: “Ok, it looks good.” As time passes, they then realize after looking at it a second time (4 hours later, or the next day even) that there is something missing.  By this time, I have possibly already sent this “approved” art to the printer, thus costing you time and money.

Scenario #2 is: “Okay I have one edit, and then we are good.” Fast forward two hours later: “I have another change.” The next day: “I don’t like paragraph 3.” While I’m happy to fulfill your editing wishes, you may have cost yourself valuable time and money by not simply taking the appropriate time to sit down with your proof and read through it thoroughly.

Proofing is time and money – for both the agency and the client. For a St. Louis marketing firm, it is losing money on the time used making countless edits beyond the scope of the project. And for the client, it could mean an additional charge on their bill depending on what kind of billing agreement was in place.

 

So save time, save money, save sanity and… proof it!