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Op/Ed

Terrible advice for people hoping to get free press from journalists

(EDITORIAL) There is a right way and a wrong way to get free press attention – are you sure you aren’t pissing off journalists?

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free press bad advice

Want to get press attention?

A young blogger recently penned a well-meaning editorial on how to better connect with journalists when reaching out to them in an effort to earn your way into their hearts so they’ll write about you. He urges people to go find a journalist and compliment them without mentioning their brand. So far, not bad advice.

Here’s the formula he suggests:

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He then recommends you CC their boss to flag them as to how great the journalist is, insists that you keep it all about the journalist and 0% about you, and let your email signature speak for itself. He concludes, “Journalists are people too. Give praise, make a friend and develop a relationship over time. The coverage you seek is closer than you think.”

Maybe “bad” is harsh. The advice sounds good but is misguided.

What’s right about this advice

First, let me explain that I operate a sizable news room. When it comes to pitches, I am the front line, and not a single story is published without my involvement. I’m the point of contact for hundreds of PR firms and thousands of companies. In my capacity, I receive hundreds of emails a day from brands hoping we’ll give them the time of day. Hundreds. I’m not exaggerating.

So, where the advice is not misguided is in the fact that journalists are people, and enjoying praise is inherently human nature. Reaching out to a journalist to develop a rapport is never a bad idea unless done poorly.

Here’s what’s wrong about this advice

Treating journalists well is the only advice given above that will get you ahead. If that email shows up in my inbox, I can’t guarantee a favorable response outside of a simple “thanks” as I trash it, not because I’m rude (I’m not), but because it’s just one more thing you’re putting on a journalist’s plate (“read this template compliment that is a misguided attempt to touch your heart, then craft a meaningful response, look into my company because you’re so impressed, then write about me so I can be the next Zuckerberg”).

Further, I get a similar template emailed to me all the time. Anything that says “I’m a big fan of yours” and cites an article I’ve written feels forced and is a red flag to me, because if you were such a big fan, we would have had more organic interactions by this point (like you commenting on the article or tweeting me without selling me or my staff). If you reference one specific article, that usually means you had no idea who I was five minutes ago, but you’ve spent just enough seconds to find a link and paste it as proof that you’re a fan.

The template email is kind and generous, and a new journalist would get a kick out of it, but reaching a busy news room when everything is absolutely on fire (and inadvertently demanding attention for what is clearly an attempt to gain favor and attention, not a compliment without strings), will land you in the trash just as fast as blindly sending a press release. It’s too obvious, it will generate eye rolls, we get these emails all the time, and it’s often some SEO person in India that wants to be hired, or a startup that is trying (poorly) to do their own PR. What you don’t realize is that this email template is actually pushy, and you didn’t even mean to be pushy!

Here’s the real advice from a news room

First and foremost, connect with the appropriate person. Find stories about your competitors or stories similar to what you’re pitching to know who’s covering that beat. The fastest way to land in a trash bin is by going to the wrong inbox. Find individual writers who specialized in your area – don’t just email the Editor-in-Chief.

Now that you’re with the right journalist, if you really want attention, there are three ways to do it:

  • Hire a legitimate PR firm. Chances are, they have well groomed connections at all of the news outlets your template email might otherwise annoy. They will put together a legitimate strategy and execute it more quickly and effectively than someone who just wants to sell their widget ever could.
  • No budget? Just get to the point. Send your press release, but at the top, don’t act like you’re a journalist’s friggin’ best friend from college, or biggest fan (they already know who their biggest fans are, trust me), just remember that your email gets five seconds before a decision is made as to what happens with the email (read, respond, or trash). In two bullet points, say what’s in the attached press release and save the journalist time. There’s no slimy feeling, it’s just business, and if it’s a fit, I don’t care if we’re friends or not, we’ll write about your widget.
  • Organically connect with journalists over time. Through social networks, networking events in person, or over email, just as you would establish a relationship with anyone, it starts with a simple like, a retweet, jumping into a natural conversation, then another conversation, and another. Nothing is forced here, and if they ignore you, move on. Getting to know a journalist’s needs without selling them, and getting to know them personally (where they prefer to connect), is time consuming, but worthwhile if trying to do your own PR.

The truth is that no one wants to be sold. Be sincere, get to the point, and always save someone time – news rooms are super hectic, and injecting yourself had better be mutually beneficial. If you can offer a journalist what they need right off the bat without kissing ass, you’re already miles ahead of the competition.

This editorial was originally published in October 2016.

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Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The Real Daily and sister news outlet, The American Genius, and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

Op/Ed

True success is measured by how often you can enjoy a nap

(EDITORIAL) We spend so much time trying to emulate what seems like success – what if we just followed our own path?

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Some classic R&R

According to actress Sarah Paulson, true success is measured by how often you can enjoy a nap. Alright, that doesn’t make any sense right now but once you listen to her reasoning, you can have that “ah-ha” moment.

You might know Sarah from her recent roles on American Horror Story and The People v O.J. Simpson, success that she is now experiencing later in her life. For her, it couldn’t have come at a better time.

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The truth about success

These days, Sarah can now enjoy “better and deeper” success as a more seasoned actress. “When you’re young and things come easily to you or if you reach the stars right out the gate, then you think that that is how it works,” she shares.

As a young actress, she was young and eager, taking any and every part that was offered to her. The goal was to not be forgotten, to stay in the limelight. For her, success meant being Julia Roberts.

However, all of the daydreaming and emulating left her unable to figure out what she was good at.

Harness the humility

Often when people picture prosperity, they only consider the end result. The goal is to get there, fast, but the truth is that everyone’s journey is different. Seeing your idols in their prime makes it easy to forget that they had moments of rejection too.

You should harness the humility this breeds, because when the success does come you can truly enjoy it. Being accomplished at a young age does not mean that it wasn’t earned. However, immaturity can make it harder to deal with. Just look at the paths of former child stars.

Your success can be different and feel different but at the end of the day, it needs to be yours.

Choose what it means for you

For Sarah, success is choosing when she wants to work and when she wants to nap. The power to choose what acting roles she wants is something she never imagined when the goal was simply to become a megastar.

It may have taken her a while to get there, but I think she will agree that it this type of success is well worth the wait.

#chooseyourownpath

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Op/Ed

Working with liars without going morally bankrupt yourself

(EDITORIAL) People are liars for about a million different reasons – here’s how to sniff out the bull and come out the other end smiling.

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liars

Pants on fire

“The honest man invariably succeeds in business,” Mark Twain once wrote, “until his path crosses that of the ingenious man, who is willing to allow the honest man to be so, to his own disadvantage.”

Let’s face it, no one wants to be taken advantage of or lied to. However, in a world teeming with people wanting our attention, it’s likely that we will eventually be the victims of those who try to lie to us, whether baldly to our faces, or through the relative safety of an email. Beyond just the efforts of individuals who try to lie to us, we’re also confronted with a plethora of misinformation, whether it be in the form of partial truths, or complete fabrications.

That Twain quote up above? He never wrote that; I just did. It’s completely made up. See how easy it can be?

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There’s no magic tell

So when we’re looking for an answer to how to detect lies, there’s no uniform reliable way to determine when we’re being lied to. Lie detector test? There’s no such thing. A polygraph machine detects only physiological changes in the subject. A trained polygrapher has to determine if those changes mean that the subject is being deceptive or not.

All the physical and verbal cues that are common when people aren’t telling the truth? You know, liars look up and to the right because they’re concocting their story. Or they touch their face and cover their mouths. Or use words that try to distance themselves from the lie, like an absence of first person pronouns.

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These are true in some cases, and not in others. Like just about everything else in life, it depends. Some people may do all of those things and be lying directly to you. Others will do those same things, but are just exhibiting nervous tics due to being questioned.

And it’s not easier for the experts. Research conducted by the University of Portsmouth identified that law enforcement officials often do no better than the average layman when attempting to detect a liar. Both groups barely exceeded the 50/50 expectation (either someone is telling a lie, or they aren’t) when trying to figure out what’s the truth.

What can we do? Instead of looking for physical clues of dubious value, look instead to a factual analysis of what you’re being told, and the motivations of the people behind them to be honest, dishonest, or somewhere in between with you.

Does it pass the smell test?

When looking at a situation in which you’re not sure if you’re being lied to or not, stop and consider the information in question. Most things that are too good to be true usually are. “Trust, but verify,” said Ronald Reagan, and he was right.

You should always trust your own instincts when something doesn’t feel or sound right. Inspect what you’re being told, if you feel it deserves further scrutiny. Most facts are checkable, and while you shouldn’t feel the need to investigate everything you’re told or see it in every detail, don’t be afraid to check those that just don’t seem right to you.

Why lie?

People can have multiple reasons for which telling a lie may be perceived as the safer course than telling the truth. There’s a reason, after all, that the Cadet Prayer at West Point includes the line, “Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half-truth when the whole can be won.”

If you think you’re being lied to, stop and take yourself out of the equation for a moment. Try to put yourself in the other’s position. What would they have to gain or preserve by lying to you?

People have been known to lie for wide ranging reasons: greed, apathy, fear of disappointment, self-preservation, self-aggrandizement, or because they’re sociopaths, just to name but a few.

For example, studies on the percentage of resumes that contain at least some false information peg that number between 46 percent and 63 percent, depending on the level of falsehood reviewed. Common lies included salary, responsibilities, and ranged all the way to fake positions at ersatz companies, along with phony degrees. Some of that is an ethically spent attempt at standing out from a crowded field of job applicants. Some of it is to feel better about one’s own self and accomplishments.

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That self-aggrandizement is often behind the acts of stolen valor, in which individuals attempt to claim that they had military service or were stationed in dangerous active duty assignments when they often were not. These individuals have been caught claiming ranks and honors that they weren’t entitled to, leading to debate on whether being a liar is a form of free speech or not. In this instance, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it’s morally bankrupt, but not against the law.

For others, you’ll be able to understand their need to lie by understanding what it costs them to tell the truth. Are they afraid of being fired, even when you’ve got them on video doing the very things that they deny? Are they afraid of disappointing their loved ones by revealing a spending habit gone out of control, and therefore lying about the bills? Again, it depends.

By taking yourself out of the equation and trying to understand their motivations not to be honest with you, you can come one step closer to finding out why they feel they win by destroying your trust.

Mirror, mirror, who’s the fairest?

Let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment, shall we? We all want to feel that we’re important, smart, and attractive, in whatever form means the most to us. Sometimes, even if we won’t admit it to anyone, including ourselves, we’re perfectly happy with reveling in the feedback of what’s socially termed as the “little white lie”.

This makes us human, but it doesn’t make things any better for us in the long run. We owe it to ourselves to be self-critical and accept the honest feedback from those around us whom we trust enough to ask it from, even when it stings at times.

It would be great if there were a way to know conclusively at all times when we were being told the truth, whether in person or online, but it just doesn’t exist yet. And as complex as humans are, it may be some time yet before a fully vetted version of a tool to do so comes about. In the meantime, we have to think alongside those who we interact with and try to understand their purposes, as well as our needs, as we search for the truth.

To paraphrase Tarantino’s adaptation of Jackie Brown, there are some people who you can’t trust, but you can always trust them to be them. Take a moment to consider those around you and figure out which camp they belong in: those you can trust, or those that you just have to trust to be them. If there are more in the latter group than the former, shouldn’t it be time for a change? After all, there’s no need to lie to yourself any longer.

#Trust

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Op/Ed

Brokers, agents taking on too many listings and hurting homeowners: How many is too many?

With technology connecting agents and consumers in new ways, the industry has responded by taking on more and more listings, but who really pays the price? Homeowners. Let’s look at a new study on the topic.

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It stands to reason that with a finite number of work hours a week, agents, no matter how efficient or technologically empowered they might be, can handle a limited number of listings successfully at any given time.

Yet some brokers and business models today—and agents themselves–are flirting with disaster by taking on too many listings to reap rewards from a system built upon commission-based compensation. The emergence of discount models that seek to increase agent productivity with technology based tools may be making the problem worse.

It stands to reason that if this hamster wheel keeps spinning out of control, somebody is going to lose. Now there’s proof. The big loser is the home seller, but it stands to reason their disappointment will rub off on the agencies and agents that that push too hard for profits.

A new study published in the current issue of the Journal of Housing Economics, How Many Listings Are Too Many? Agent Inventory Externalities and the Residential Housing Market, was conducted by Scott A. Wentland, Xun Bian and Bennie D. Waller of Longwood University in Farmville, VA and Geoffrey K. Turnbull of the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

It found that agents who take on too many listings (15 or more) will end up selling them for 3.0 percent less and will take significantly longer to sell them (129 percent more time) than agents with modest listing inventories (2 to 7 listings).

Moreover, they found that home sellers are the victims of a system that rewards agents with inventories that are too large

Too Many Clients, Too Little Time

“Agents representing 15 or more listings may be trying to represent ‘too many’ clients at one time, resulting in a substantially longer marketing duration and an important source of illiquidity for numerous homes in this market…The compensation structure in the real estate brokerage industry constantly puts agents in situations where they must balance their own interests with various clients’ interests. Agents are rewarded only if the property sells, as traditional full service broker compensation does not take into account the effort exerted to sell a particular property,” the authors concluded.

The study looked at whether agents have an incentive to take on too many listings—at least from the point of view of their clients. Additional listings may represent additional broker commissions, but they also place greater claims on the broker’s time and energy, which in turn can have adverse sales performance consequences for their clients. The dilution of agent effort and agency costs by very large numbers of listings adversely affects home prices and liquidity, the study found.

The study consisted of 21,450 properties residential properties obtained from a Virginia multiple listing service (MLS) for the period April 1999 through June 2009. Roughly half of all listings were represented by agents with medium inventory, where the agent is representing anywhere from two to seven additional listings. Nearly 10 percent of listings were represented by agents with very high inventory where agent inventory exceeded 15 or more additional listings. Nearly 17 percent of listings in the data set were represented by agents with a high or above average number of listings, from 8 to 14 additional listings. Nearly 20 percent of homes sold with listing agents who had one or zero additional inventory on the market. The bulk of the low listings were likely represented by agents who work part-time.

Baseline results showed that a small increase in agent inventory is associated with a slight discount in price and a substantial increase in time on market. The magnitude of the marginal effects are small, which is consistent with the expectation that one additional listing may not impose a very high marginal cost. An increase in agent inventory (9 listings) reduces the sale price by only 0.6 percent and increases marketing time by 13.6 percent, or approximately $1,000 and 15 days on average, respectively.

However, if the listing agent representing a seller had a very high number of other listings (i.e., 15+), that home generally sold for approximately 3 percent less and remained on the market for 129 percent longer than a home listed with an agent with a more modest inventory (i.e., 2 to 7 listings). This amounted to 142 days compared to the reference group whose time on market was on average 110 days. Despite the fact that this group represented only 10 percent of their sample, the result was still striking.

Greater Inventory = Lower Price, Longer DOM

“It is clear from the results that there is a relationship between agent inventory and sales outcomes that sellers care most about: selling price and time on market. Greater agent inventory is associated with a slightly lower price and a significantly higher time on market,” wrote the authors.

The study also compared sales of agent-owned homes with homes owned by clients and found that agents generally sell their homes for approximately 1.6 percent more than client properties. Inventory competition increases the time on market by 26 percent for clients, but only 12 percent for agents. In sum, agent-owned homes still take longer to sell with additional inventory, but not as long as client properties. This supports the theory that the inventory effect is driven primarily by agent incentives.

In the end, the authors place blame on agents, not their brokers or business models. “The results imply that agent incentives to secure additional contracts and potential commissions generate negative externalities for other properties in their inventory. Greater inventory diverts selling effort from existing inventory, resulting in longer time on market for all houses in the inventory. Agent effort to list properties has a direct effect on selling effort itself—a relationship previously overlooked. Further, the effect appears to be causal as well, in light of the identification strategy of employing an owner-agent interaction. It is clear than agent incentives drive this effect,” they said.

This story was originally published on June 08, 2015.

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