Monday, September 25, 2006

Writing Query Letters to Publish Articles

In the PR professional's handbag, is a tool known as the pitch letter. Very few people understand that the pitch letter is even more important than a press release when it comes to PR.

Very similar in purpose to a query, the pitch letter is meant to gain a media person's attention and make him or her ask for more. Unfortunately, there are plenty of books on how to write a killer query and virtually none on how to write a perfect pitch letter. Most PR people learn how to craft a pitch letter from trial and error (and advice when they can find it).

First things first - format: A pitch letter, like a query, should be limited to a single page. Limit your prose to three paragraphs and keep them clean, concise and direct. Use one inch margins and print it on letterhead or nice quality stationary. Make sure you have called ahead of time and gotten the correct spelling of the person's name and his or her title. If you aren't sure whether the person is a Mr. or a Ms., ask. If you don't know who you're looking for, ask. It is perfectly acceptable to say, "Could you tell me who books talent for the Leeza show? Do you know how far in advance they book a show?" It is better to play dumb and ask lots of questions than send your material to the wrong person. If you think the slush pile at a publishing house is ominous, it is nothing compared to a producer or editor's collection of daily pitches and press packets. A pitch letter can be sent alone or as a cover letter to your press release/press packet.

The first paragraph should introduce yourself and the subject. This is where you need a hook, but one that explains exactly what you have to offer, who you are, when the event is happening and where it will be. These are known as the five W's of journalism and should be included in every pitch letter and press release you write.

The second paragraph should explain why the producer or editor/reporter should have you on the show or include you in an article in their publication. For city and regional media, give them a local angle. It can showcase you as a local person, give a local example of a national incident or trend, or be related to the community. An example would be if you saw an article in the Wall Street Journal on how writing a book can be a quick road to success. Copy the article and attach it to a pitch letter that offers to give the reporter an inside look at what really happens to authors from a local source.

For national television, radio and print media, tie yourself to a national trend or incident. If you have a book coming out and want to get on the radio, tie the controversy of America's obsession with the Clinton "sex" scandal to the misinterpretation of romance books as "sex" books as a comment on our society. Remember that reporters are always looking for material that can be tied to a holiday, is timely or gives a new slant to a current trend or issue.

The third paragraph explains how you can be reached. Give them phone numbers and voice mail even if it is already printed on your letterhead. Always end your pitch letter by saying that you'll be contacting them and tell them when (such as next week, the beginning of the month or you can be specific and say a day.)
Above all, make sure that what you are pitching is what the media person needs. Don't pitch your book signing to the gardening editor or the financial editor, you'll only make enemies. Research is important. Look at back issues of a publication or watch/listen to a show before you pitch. Get to know what types of people they interview, what topics seem to repeated often and which journalist is the one reporting. If this seems like a lot of work, it is. But thorough investigation will pay off in better responses from the media. Their number one complaint is that they receive material which is not suited to their publication or show.

Media people need and want fresh ideas for their publications and shows. If you give them what they need, and make it easy for them, the more likely they will be to use your material and possibly interview you. Remember to think like a journalist on a deadline when you're writing a pitch letter.

Mark Buzan is the owner of Action Strategies, a public affairs & marketing communications consultancy. You can subscribe now to his monthly PR & marketing tips newsletter by visiting www.actionstrategies.ca and dropping down the newsletter menu.

Six Future Trends Changing Marketing

By Mary Brown

1. Consumers Are the New Creative Directors

Brands that create a process of discovery drive passion and ownership of the brand. Consumers like being the creative director and feeling in control of shaping the products and brand. Born from consumers' desire to differentiate themselves from the mass market, this trend toward customization will continue to grow with the flexibility and efficiencies offered by technology at home and in manufacturing.

2. Cynicism Raises the Bar for Authenticity

With consumer cynicism about marketing at an all-time high, brands must cultivate authenticity on a level never demanded before. Consumers are smart, resourceful and savvy. If your brand doesn't deliver on all its promises, or fails to speak to a consumer's specific, personal needs, your brand will become irrelevant, or worse: a pariah.

Conveying brand messages via third parties, especially if they are a trusted, impartial source, will be better received. We'll see an increase in brands using the more transparent channels of public relations, sponsorship, niche interaction, word-of-mouth/buzz and blogs to deliver seemingly unbiased brand communications.

3. Multitasking and Info Overload: Don't Waste My Time

Consumers look to companies, media and marketers to provide information filters—tools to edit the mass amount of data available. As Robyn Waters, trends guru and former VP of Trend, Design and Product Development for Target, points out, "too much information without editing is toxic."

To effectively filter and communicate relevant data to a specific consumer, brands will need to be well versed in the art and science of interpreting, translating and delivering information. This requires cultural, ethnic, gender and generational expertise as well as sophisticated global knowledge of word associations and linguistics.

4.Humanisticn of Technology

Successful brands will "humanize" technology by delivering a brand experience where the technology is transparent to the consumer. Products, services and communications fashioned around innate human behavior, instead of the ideals of a programmer, will win consumers.

5. From Multi-Channel to Uni-Channel

Increasingly, consumers will be less aware of separate marketing channels. Instead, all experiences of brand communications will be perceived as one all-encompassing, 360-degree, 3-D channel. Brands can prepare now by investing in creating a consistent and integrated customer experience across today's communications channels.

6. Trends in Trending

With more than ever a largerproportionn of the population aging, marketing will need to find ways of catering to this ever important demographic.

Mary Brown is president of Imago Creative. For more information, visit www.imagocreative.com.

Mark Buzan is the owner of Action Strategies, a public affairs & marketing communications consultancy. You can subscribe now to his monthly PR & marketing tips newsletter by visiting www.actionstrategies.ca and dropping down the newsletter menu.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

It seems the times have changed the date of an election

Once again, the unstable nature of minority parliaments have shown themselves. I, as a result have to admit that perhaps the proverbial gun was jumped. A federal election in Canada now looks incredibly unlikely to occur. The opposition parties decided not to call the OM on his threat to call an election and the softwood lumber deal is going to go through. The question remains however, when will it be?

It seems the next likely date will be this Spring. Notwithstanding ''jumping the gun'', it is still wise to prepare your organization for the change in lobbying tactics you'll need when the writ is dropped. Have any thoughts? Let me know.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Contesting government buying decisions

Many entrepreneurs I come across in the Ottawa area have expressed an interest at one point or another in doing business with government. Many of them express frustration in the complicated process or have even accused the RFP issuers of already having a supplier in mind.

I want to touch on two subjects.

First, the latter is possible but it is not impossible to overcome. Well placed questions to RFP issuers are welcome. Just as in the sales process it is important to uncover the real motivations of a potential buyer's concerns; it is just as important to get to the heart of government purchasers concerns. For example, in a recent Communications RFSO available on the Merx system, I sent no less than 2 inquiries asking the purchaser to justify requirements I felt were unnecessary towards doing the job at hand.

I suppose the message here is that you should not be afraid to ask questions. You might just get them thinking!

Second, believe it or not, you can beat a lot of RFPs from ever making it to the Merx system by pricing your items under $25,000 and getting on the ''good list'' of decision makers. Believe me when I say it, if given the choice, many decision makers would prefer if they could just get on with the job. If you build relationships and market your company to the point of being top of mind, you could end up avoiding the headaches of frustrating challenges to RFP requirements.

Let me know your thoughts.

Mark Buzan is the owner of Action Strategies, a public affairs & marketing communications consultancy. You can subscribe now to his monthly public affairs newsletter by visiting www.action-strategies.ca and dropping down the newsletter menu.

Is a federal election coming?

Ok, so the word is out. It seems the Prime Minister has drawn the battle lines along the softwood lumber deal. This fall, Parliament will be called upon to ratify the treaty signed earlier this year. The vote will be a confidence vote.

Chances are the Tories will lose the vote and the Liberals will be thrown into a frenzy trying to manage an election campaign at the same time as the party is seeking a leader. What's the PM's motivation?

The answer is simple. At no time sooner than now will he have a greater opportunity to secure a majority government. The polls seem to be confirming this fact. Interesting huh?

But here lies the crux of the problem if you're an organization head trying to get attention for your agenda: time is unfortunately, not on your side!

If you've managed to get attention for your issues up until now, my congratulations go out to you. My guess is that depending on how far along matters have progressed, you have a reasonable chance of seeing matters through to the end. The government will be anxious to demonstrate it has accomplished things and pushing initiatives through parliament in anticipation of an election is the way to go.

If however you've experienced challenges thusfar, you may want to consider shifting gears away from the bureaucracy of committees and parliament. Getting to know the potential campaign kingmakers of the various political parties may be the more appropriate route.

For example, how many of you have been plugged into the Liberal Leadership campaign? Yes, I know...they're in the opposition and don't influence day to day policy directly. BUT they can influence the direction of the governing Tories in how they perceive policy issues. Just as when the Alliance and later the Tories were in opposition, I maintain that it is sound government relations professionalism to maintain relationships with the opposition parties regardless of whether there is a majority or minority parliament.

Regrettably, many other practitioners don't see it that way but I digress.

Now is the time to push for recognition of your issues in the platforms of political parties. Far too many times, I have seen pressure groups attempt to get their issues recognized during an election. Beyond the attempt in getting media attention, WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS???? By this point, it's TOO LATE!!!! Doing your work in advance of an election gets the parties to adopt your ideas once the election is taken forward. From there, you can watch the politicians talk up the importance of your concerns on a national and regional level.

If your issue is selling services and goods to government, my suggestion to you is to do everything possible to speed up the process. My experience has shown that government tends to go into buying paralysis during, just before, and after an election.

Let me know your thoughts.

Mark Buzan is the owner of Action Strategies, a public affairs & marketing communications consultancy. You can subscribe now to his monthly public affairs newsletter by visiting www.action-strategies.ca and dropping down the newsletter menu.