Dance Like A Fool

She looked awesome in that early ‘90s lavender gown that barely revealed the polish on her yellow pumps – yet more than enough of an opening to fuel the imagination of her pimply-faced date.  Her bangs were teased just high enough to nearly incite a jealousy-fueled riot in the Aqua Net aisle at Wal-Mart a few hours later. The corsage squeezed her tiny wrist, practically launching her onto the dance floor in a blurry wisp of stale red and white carnations.  And man could she move.

But for a few brief moments, before she shredded the “Running Man” and before the ill-fitting tiara proclaiming her queen of the freshman dance wrapped around her head in an awkward embrace of rhinestone angst, she represented rejection. Shrill, Vanilla Ice-voice inducing pain aimed at the gut.

Why did she embody such torture to be compared to the worst in White Boy rap? Because, at the last moment, after her date had clipped on the hand-me-down tie and tucked it underneath the previously-worn beige vest that rested underneath the oversized jacket of his Goodwill suit, she called to say she would not be arriving at the dance in his arms. The corsage fell from his hand. He was crushed.

But he would have redemption among his peers. Her bony hand in his sweaty palm at midnight felt like jewels that might slip away with the slightest tug – for he was king of the freshman dance.

The same awkward ritual plays out in modern-day PR offices around the world. Flacks spend hours crafting the perfect pitch with the hopes of luring that sequined journalist to the dance floor, only to be flirted with – sometimes outright rejected, inducing epic mascara runs  – and left wondering if their date will show. But when he does, he gleams like Deney Terrio (look him up kids) and spins their PR dreams to all corners of the media world, their client gladly clapping in the background while clasping a stogie.

It’s a tumultuous relationship. Fifteen years spent in the bowels of a newspaper – the last nine in the newsroom of a major metro – saw the dance played out on every stage imaginable.  From the journalist’s perspective, it begins with annoyance, because, like that skinny rail of a freshman weighed down with Coke-bottle glasses, the PR pro might as well not even exist. The truth hurts like a bad 90s ballad.

PR pros would do best to not take it personally. They wail in pain, “Why won’t this (expletive) reporter respond to my emails? Why is this (expletive) ignoring me? This. Is. A. Great. (Expletive). Story!” The beating of breast commences. The truth? Your story sucks worse than White Lion’s “When the Children Cry.” And like that crappy ballad, your pitch took up four minutes of valuable time and singed ears.

The news hole has shrunk. Air time has been squeezed. As a PR pro, you have to realize that reporters get exponentially more emails than requests you receive to brainstorm ways to publicize your clients.

Think outside the dance floor. Remember that scene in “Back to the Future” when Marty McFly’s image is slowly fading from the photo? That’s traditional journalism. Be the smacker that George McFly plants on Lorraine at the “Enchantment Under the Sea” dance to resurrect Marty’s “Johnny B. Goode” electricity by offering digital/social media avenues, like video easily attached to a website. The news cycle has evolved, so capitalize on the social media-driven world of people checking smart phones before the early morning bathroom break. The best part of waking up is your client’s news alert.

Like the king who overcame rejection, do not take a reporter’s distaste of you personally.

At the end of the night, with his second-hand suit crumpled in a heap near his Sega Genesis game console, the freshman king of the dance stared at his bedroom ceiling. Vanilla Ice was a distant memory. He could still feel the queen’s soft lips on his cheek, the pat of classmates’ hands on his back.

Rejection can be so sweet.

Life’s a Pitch

Media relations have always been the bread and butter of our business. Our job is to get clients names in the headlines. That’s why when I came across a story earlier this fall about the art of the pitch, written from a journalist’s perspective, I was intrigued to hear what she had to say.

Since journalists are on the receiving end of most PR efforts, they have just as much say in how these relationships should work. It’s no easy task delivering a perfectly crafted email with a clear and concise angle in mind… that also creates the “spark” for a story. PR professionals and the media are constantly running against the clock, so everything should have always been done… like, yesterday. But in order to appease both parties there has to be a middle ground.

Based on experience, the subject line might be all the writers ever read. If you fail to catch their attention or you scare them away with some awful lead in (i.e. THIRD ATTEMPT: …), you might have lost them forever. It’s got to look appealing and effortlessly roll off the tongue. Like a Tweet, you have to learn to say what you need to say in a compelling way with limited words/characters. Some want it creative and some just want you to get to the point already, so knowing your audience and catering to their interests is a top priority in this case.

PR pros that are best at what they do respect their industry and those who work in it. While there is always the pressure from clients to get the job done and get it done quickly, handling every media opportunity with respect will go a long way. Building relationships with writers isn’t always easy, but you live and learn and eventually it comes naturally. Communicate with them like they are humans, because they are. Avoid emails written like advertisements or robotic messages. Put in a little personality – did a “Have a good weekend!” ever hurt anyone?! Send a thank you when you’ve worked with someone on a piece. They’ll appreciate knowing there is a person behind the pitch.

What some might forget – even the most experienced PR pros – is common sense. You might be thinking, well, duh! But it’s more common to forget common sense. It’s easy to get caught up in a press list and just start sending. But cross referencing is the best thing you can do when reaching out to media contacts. Did they write this already? Will it appeal to them based on their most recent work? Is the angle I’m using fitting for this outlet? Every writer is different. Every outlet is different. So pay attention and research.

So, what’s the best way to go about your daily PR research? Stay connected. Social networks have done wonders for PR and the media as a whole. It might require a little more time and effort managing all the various channels in which you can find news, writers, ideas and more, but it’s worth it. Consume the news. Love the news. Why? Because without it, would PR even exist?

This certainly isn’t all we need to know about approaching our peers in the media world, but it’s a start. If you genuinely believe in your story, writers might feel that spark, too. And let’s be honest, nobody wants to crash and burn.