Blog Archives

Pitching tip: talk up the talent

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how to talk to a journalist

Still a publicist's best friend. FYI kids it is a telephone.

We held a public Media Savvy 101 workshop in Melbourne this week. On the agenda was a pitching session. “Pitching” is the term given to the act of telephoning a journalist to convince them to consider your story. Each of our eight participants bravely trialled a pitch for review.

how to talk to a journalist

Pitching is a moment of truth.

One piece of feedback equally relevant to all was this: talk up the talent. By “talent” we mean prospective interviewees. Whoever might speak or appear is referred to as “talent”. It’s a silly term but that’s showbiz for ya.  

As part of any pitch you will have to describe the talent. Too often this means little more than providing a name and title but that’s not enough. Journalists want to be convinced that your talent is interesting. Make it so.

Consider how you might describe a potential blind date to your single-but-picky housemate. 

Surely you’d provide more details than name, job title and age of the prospective date. You’d do your best to persuade your housemate that this date is special – funny, caring, smart, good with kids, generous and so on. You might tell a revealing story of how the date overcame a poor start in life to build the second largest muffler and tyre balancing franchise in south east Queensland or somesuch heroic tale. You might say something along the lines of: “Don’t tell her I told you this but…” and reveal some breathtaking nugget that makes them irresistible.

Well that’s how it should be when you are describing your CEO / program manager / chair / contented client etc. Talk them up. Get to know your talent so you can pitch them with confidence. 

Remember you are not making an apointment for your boss – you are persuading a busy journalist to consider your story among hundreds of others. You’ll need to sound like you truly know why this is a story worthy of coverage.

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The pen(cil) is mightier than the fraud

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Journalism is still – even in this era – a glamour profession. Journalists are proud to be journalists – they have a professional ego and are slow to concede the full truth about why some stories are run while others are ignored.

Journalists love to tell you that stories get run on their merit and that they are always looking for a new angle and substantive issue. Some are, some of the time but most are trying against the odds and the clock to fill the space they have to fill.

They never reveal how malleable they are, pretending that they are quality controllers, tough nuts and cynical dudes able to see through our flimsy PR ploys. Yet day after day we see their stores – graduation day at the Police canine college (Squiggle loves that one) the unveiling of the Christmas windows, the rush of bargain-hunters at the Boxing Day sales et al. These are picture-driven stories which fill a lot of space, and make a lot of publicists happy. 

No matter how unvisual your story make it more visual before you pitch the idea to media. Create a crowd of supporters for your launch, hold it in front of a symbolic location, release some balloons, cut a giant cake, offer video of last year’s 24 hour dance-a-thon, letters of thanks or desperation* from a parent you assisted, archival photographs from the days of institutions for the people you now help in the community. You get our drift. Think visual, no matter what the story. 

Like feeding the chooks. But with pencils. And journalists.

This bollocks on the left was run for no other reason but the visuals. It’s the suave head of pencil maker Faber Castell Count Anton Wolfgang von Faber-Castell recreating a PR stunt one of his forefathers created. The Count is throwing to the ground 500 of his pencils from the tower of his own castle (yes, his own) to demonstrate their strength. None do and the media eat it up. The fawning stories this created were numerous and non-threatening. Among the many hits were articles on two of the world top 11 news websites: CNN and MailOnline. 

pr training

There. Up in the sky. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No just a photo opp.

We guarantee that few journalists would acknowledge that such a transparent, pointless, angle-less, fraudulent, self-promotional idea could get past their editorial gatekeeping. Publicists: 15. Media: Love.  

Learn how to get more media coverage at Media Savvy 101.

*Yes, of course with permission. Duh. 


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Old story, well timed, equals media bonanza

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Here’s a great truth for those seeking media coverage – the media needs you. Without publicists just like you, journalists wouldn’t be able to fill the space left between advertisements, promos, banners, songs and theme tunes. 

Truthier still; sometimes that space is harder to fill than at other times. Early morning radio bulletins are always hard to fill with fresh, timely content – just imagine getting an interview for your 6am radio news at 5.40am.

Monday is harder across the board as less happens on weekends and contacts are harder to reach. Public holidays – especially a four day weekend such as Easter – are harder than most. Little is happening, yet media outlets have weekday programming / papers to fill. Awkward.

PR training Australia

Bingo! Add in radio and TV coverage and you have a superb result.

That’s one of the reasons why Alzheimer’s Australia was able to score such huge coverage of its report into the aged care sector and its treatment of people with dementia. (See Google results left.)


With no parliament to cover, stockmarket to report on nor corporate news, the opportunities for a story on aged care rises exponentially. Incoming calls from publicists to media dropped 90% on Friday, meaning less competition. Kudos to the PR folk at Alzheimer’s Australia (AA) for knowing this.

Really smart tips to take advantage of this whole time-space continuum thing: 

Look ahead at the calendar – when is the next sleepy public holiday / long weekend? Can you create a story angle that relates to the holiday? (If not; don’t fret, AA wasn’t able to connect to Easter and it didn’t hurt them.)

You will have to do / release something on a certain day to tie your story to a certain date. That date is often entirely arbitrary and selected to maximise coverage. Eg: AA chose to release its report on Easter Monday April 9 yet, as far as we are aware there was no need for this beyond the desire to benefit from a slow news day and little competition.

Start pitching early as journos can be hard to reach around public holidays too but have an embargo in place.

Mention in your pitch that the story is embargoed until a certain holiday or slow news day but don’t make too much of it unless you know the journo well. Eg: “Professor Expert from the UK will be available to talk to media on ANZAC Day April 25…” Let the journo think to herself: “Oh goodie – slow news day.”

Offer to pre-record radio news grabs the night before, for use early the next morning. This is a Godsend for radio journos who looove to have a fresh story or two “in the can” for those hard-to-fill early morning news bulletins which are in fact the peak listening times. This tip is GOLD any day of the week. Email us when you use it and tell us how it worked.

Similarly, pitching a print story that can be written on Sunday for hard-to-fill Monday newspaper editions is a smart move.

Want more media coverage?



Greenpeace furore highlights ignorance

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If you didn’t catch it – everyone from Prime Minister Julia Gillard down has been reassuring both the coal lobby and Joe Public that coal has nothing to fear from the leaked draft document: “Stopping the Australian Coal Export Boom” which calls for $6 million a year to be raised to legally fight increased coal mines, ports and infrastructure.

nonprofit marketing drama

Greenpeace fighting coal? Who'd have thunk it?

Even more damning is The Australian’s take.

Trade Minister Dr Craig Emerson declared that the campaign would lead to world hunger. (We kid you not.) In short; the very thought of such a campaign was anathema to our leaders. More evidence that Australia has entered the lobbying age – the stakes have never been higher, the protagonists never better organised and individual voters never less important.

Putting aside our views on the coal industry here’s some food for thought, dear Citizen:

  • Clearly it surprises the public, media and politicians that nonprofits would seek to influence policy, challenge the status quo, plan accordingly and devise a budget. Not only is this surprising – it’s upsetting. Planning & campaigning = plotting even when the motivation is broadly idealistic.


  • Corporations and institutions are not seen to be plotting, even as they spend millions on representing their interests via lobbying and campaigning. And if they are – that’s seen as natural. Even when the motivation is primarily financial.


  • Campaigning to stopping the expansion of the coal industry has instantly been misinterpreted as seeking to close an industry.


  • The coal and mining lobby run this town.


  • Leaking a report is a dangerous thing to do. (We don’t know if the leak was intentional.) It is doubly dangerous when figures in the document are wrong. Wrong figures destroy credibility; it’s not enough to say – we’ll fix it in the final edition.


  • Clearly six million dollars (even when raised through voluntary donations) is seen as huge.


  • We think Greenpeace senior campaigner John Hepburn, a co-author of the draft plan performed well for media though he should lose lines like this:

”I think they [the coal industry] are worried about their declining social licence.”

We have been hearing “social licence” too often lately. It’s too posh.

typical australians

The Sullivans don't like communists or greenies but they do like farmers.

Push food security and water quality over bloody carbon emissions. The same middle-of-the-road proud Aussie who thinks Australia’s influence over world carbon emissions is neglible is deeply concerned over our ability to grow enough food and enjoy clean water.

Note to eco warriors – we know you know this so why do we keep hearing about emissions?

What’s easier to picture? Emissions or destroyed farmland?

Suggested campaign mantras: More coal = less food. Good for coal = bad for farmers.

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pr advice: video and audio news releases

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video news releases


Are video or audio news releases (VNR and ANR) worthwhile?

First up, a definition: A VNR or ANR is a complete news story – talent, voiceover, vision, background audio, introduction, expert and case study quotes et al that is pre-made by the publicity seeker and distributed to newsrooms to be either played as a whole or used in part to create a news item. Like traditional media releases, VNRs and ANRs are made, distributed and promoted with no guarantee of receiving coverage. 

It’s a natural progression from a written media release and is aimed to give radio and television reporters the same head start that the written word provides for their print colleagues. Instead of simply rewriting, copying and pasting as lazy / time pressured print journos do with your traditional releases, ANRs and VNRs allow lazy / time pressured radio and TV journos to rework, cut, paste and go to air.

It makes for bad, lopsided media coverage and is thus very popular with large corporates, military and government. The practice can be damn expensive but also creates expanded opportunities. Publicly editors poo-poo ANR / VNR but they are used regularly.

They are HUGE in the US but should we use them here in Australia’s nonprofit marketing world? Hootville says, “probably not” though some local publicists swear by them. Why?

They are complex: you’ll need time to play publicist and journalist. You may soon develop some respect for the craft of turning your story idea, talent and facts into a finished story. Remember; an ideal VNR / ANR could be aired with just an overdub of the voiceover. 

You’ll need some extra resources to create broadcast-quality audio or video. That takes time, research and money.

You still need to pitch the story successfully to journalists who then take up your offer of the ANR / VNR. Having a ready rep[ort only goes so far, persuasion is still required. 

Suddenly you may need more coverage than normal to justify your efforts to bosses.

Distributing ANR / VNR via satellite to newsrooms can be clumsy and expensive.

The media that says yes, might, just might, want to do the story their own way anyhow and not take advantage of your effort and money.  Or they may skew it in unexpected ways.

VNR stories are usually a little …off key…to the switched-on viewer. We saw a VNR-inspired TV news story in Queensland recently. The item was about mosquito control and encouraged viewers to empty all sources of water around their home to reduce mosquito habitat.

By the time we’d seen the seventh example of a good citizen (each a different nationality) contentedly turning over a bowl of water in their back garden we knew something was awry. It was too instructive, too detailed and too…happy. Some Googling uncovered a state government department was behind the story.

And; oh, ANRs and VNRs just further corrupt media coverage.

Are audio news releases and video news releases ever worth the effort? Sometimes, yes:

When you have some big name talent (say a famous ambassador) with big appeal but limited time, newsrooms will be willing to compromise and use a ANR / VNR. Your talent’s time is maximised as is your coverage.

When you have a genuinely national story that will create a lot of interest in a short period of time, over a broad area in which you don’t have spokespeople, potentially creating more demand in more places than you can meet.

When you have a strongly regional / rural story. Short-staffed regional newsrooms may be less fussy.

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media training in Sydney

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media training in Sydney

A double dose of media training coming their way. Lucky sods.

More media training in Sydney – this time with disability support service Ability Options.

Over two days in November, Ability Options will gather its posse for Media Savvy 101 and Speak Savvy 101.

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Hootville alumni take over world

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October 10. Quite a day.

Sue White from Inner South Community Health Service speaks to ABC Radio National’s Fran Kelly about a program that helps street sex workers find new lives.  It’s the 6.35 story. We trained Sue.

media training

One of three big, fat national hits.

Kathleen Maltzhan of Project Respect features on 4Corners in a remarkable story of murder, illegal prostitution, sexual slavery and human trafficking in Australia. The real story is about deliberate unwillingness of our ‘authorities’ to investigate. We trained Kathleen.

Caz Coleman, director of the Asylum Seeker Project at Hotham Mission was part of our very first Media Savvy 101 session the best part of a decade ago. Anyhow – we’re claiming her too.

Oh did we mention we offer training?

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PR tip # 435 Select your case study well

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The wrong choice of case study hurts campaigns.

A recent 7.30 report about the insufficiency of the Newstart Allowance was a major national media hit, adding further momentum to the push to significantly increase the benefit.

Find the story here; scroll down the selection on the right and look for Unemployment Benefits.

This story didn’t happen by accident – a nonprofit pushed it to reporter Stephen Long.

7.30 is always a great hit to get and like so many stories, it revolves around a case study  bolstered by various experts. Experts are easy to find – what gets you more success more often is a compelling, case study. They are vital. Supply good case studies and you can befriend many a journo.

A good case study truly personifies a circumstance. It wraps up a complex problem and represents it to the public in a simpler, sympathetic light.

Maria is not such a case study. Maria is simply not a sympathetic, nor particularly representative case study. She is a poor selection.

Let us be clear – this is not a comment on Maria or her circumstances or the issue. This is a comment from a campaigner’s perspective on how smart a choice she was by the publicist behind the pitch. This is a judgement on how she serves the campaign as a whole.

Maria is being forced to move from the Carers Payment which she has been on for over a decade and on to Newstart at a loss to her of $200 per fortnight. She will be expected to actively look for work like any other jobseeker.

Naturally Maria is unhappy but many viewers will not be particularly moved by Maria’s claim that she cannot work due because of her age (62) or her poor English skills (she migrated here in 1976). Her knee injury is not demonstrated.

Moreover Maria doesn’t want to work and as such is A) more difficult to like B) fails to represent a sizeable percentage of those on Newstart who do want to work C) reinforces every stereotype about CALD and unemployed people on benefits. 

Imagine being on miserly Newstart and genuinely not being able to find work despite your best efforts – would you have been happy with this representation?

That said; the story is remarkably sympathetic. In fact the reporter was entirely derelict in his efforts counterbalance the debate. (It’s also poorly edited as we get a line repeated but we digress.)

We hear little about solutions to help these people find work from experts. It’s just a case of raising the Newstart benefit which opponents will hear as: “More money, more taxes, more money, more taxes!” It comes across as very welfare, very 70s, very charity, very whingy

A much more constructive case study would have been an individual who actually WANTS to work but cannot due to a lack of training options, disability employment services, a sympathetic employer, age or gender discrimination. Anyone who actually genuinely wants to work but genuinely can’t would have been better. A sense of entitlement rarely wins over swinging voters on any issue.

Good case studies:

Must be slam dunks; giving no fuel to your opponents.

Personify a situation.

Don’t need to be experts in the issue.

Can fully articulate their own particular experience.

Want the same outcome that you do.

Are vital to getting story ideas over the line.

Are happy to be restricted to offering a personal perspective.

Will appeal to the ‘swinging voter’ not just those who are sympathetic.

Meets a negative perception of your audience head on. 

Are sympathetic people – not just nice people. There’s a difference.


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Don’t ditch the pitch

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PR advice for building media relationships

Patch yourself through now.

The number one reason publicists fail to score media hits is due to lack of media relationships. What’s the number one way to build media relationships? Pitching well packaged, relevant stories to journos via the telephone.

Human contact is awkward. Who wants to risk direct rejection when it is so easy to send an email? That’s one reason too many publicists prefer to send masses of email to journalists as opposed to picking up the old fashioned telephone. Sure time is tight but frankly we suspect the true cause is the rejection.

The problem is this: the phone is a far, far more effective way to pitch a story idea. We’ll be posting more on pitching shortly. Pitching practice is one of the best parts of Media Savvy 101. Anyhoo; here’s some thoughts on phone vs email.

1. Use a combination of email and telephone calls.

2. Create an A-list of your most desired journos. (You know what we mean, stop being silly.) Our A-list might stretch to 24 journos for national stories though often it is less. Surely 24 calls is a reasonable number of calls to make? If you haven’t got the details of the A-list make this your top task.

3. Call the A-lists before distributing the email. Then email the rest.

4. Create a culture in which it is accepted that the PR team will block off time and close doors to make a bunch of calls from time to time. It’s no different to being in a meeting.

5. For long lead and important stories you may wish to use – steady, steady – mail. Yep. We think that a mailing to VIP journos for VIP stories is worthwhile. Tangibility increases your chances of being noticed.

Telephone is superior to email because it gives you the chance to build a relationship. Even if you fail to seduce the journo you may get a better understanding of what does appeal to the journo. You might learn that a particular outlet really wants a regional angle or that they might be more interested in your issue in four months time.

Like this? Spread it round. You might even consider booking a Media Savvy 101.

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