4 Magic Spells for Instant PR Results
Looking to get earned media coverage for your company? A public-relations wizard shares the secret spells and charms that can zap some sizzle into a PR campaign.
I've seen some marketing magic in my day. But when I saw that the Disney marketing team was making hay out of a leak of a possible trailer for a movie that might happen, if we wish really hard, for the next Doctor Strange movie, all I could say was "wow." Those folks really know how to build up buzz off of the merest whiff of a rumour.
Meanwhile, far away from the billion-dollar Disney empire built on spellbinding stories of comic book heroes … us regular public-relations professionals need to make do with what we've got. There's always time and budget to consider, so we have to rely on our own magic tricks.
I use this magic, subtle but effective, every day in summoning the spotlight of fame down upon my clients. Say the magic words; cast a spell. Change my tone of voice, my body language — it's kind of like how Dr. Strange does it, but without the CGI fireworks.
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Here are four magic spells that get you instant results in public relations.
1. The smile of the public-relations sorcerer
Smiling makes you seem friendly and approachable. I know, this might not be breaking news to most folks, but it's good to keep in mind when you're face-to-face with someone you're trying to keep on your side. That's true if it's a reporter I'm bugging on a video call or a client I'm trying to keep on our side in a slow week (it happens sometimes). It's a confidence booster, for you and for them.
If there's any drawback to using this magic spell, it's that you can rely on it a bit too much. One time during a business meeting, I got a Slack message from a co-worker asking me to tone it down because it was getting creepy. I glanced at myself in the Zoom video window and realized I'd gone from friendly and jovial to crazed like William Dafoe as the Green Goblin in Spider-Man. So, everything in moderation.
2. Inception: plant a memory to help get your media pitch into the reporter's head
"Remember me?" I hate it when people ask me that at a party because I'm actually not so great with names and faces. That's what my contacts list is for in my smartphone, I keep telling myself.
I'm not going to tell you how to cast a spell to improve your own memory. I have no clue how to do that, really. But I do have a trick for planting a memory, or at least a shadow of what might be a memory, in reporters' brains — to create an illusion of familiarity.
While I don't rely on being best friends with every reporter I pitch, relationships (or an insinuation that a relationship exists) can give you an edge.
You only have to use two letters and a punctuation mark at the beginning of an email subject line to cast this spell: "Re:".
It makes it seem like it's a continuation of an existing conversation. And it would be rude not to answer, right? It's not a spell you want to use every day — but if you're looking to boost your open rates by five to 12% (it varies … this is magic, not science), it's worth a shot. I hold this spell in high regard.
3. Conjuration of the comedian: getting a reporter to smirk helps your pitch work
I will reach out to a reporter maybe three or four times (more than that, you may need to change strategies). Email and social media are usually the preferred mediums. However, this persistence can turn into annoyance very quickly. What can you do? Joke about it — laughter always alleviates tension.
There was a particular case where I was contacting this reporter for the fourth time for the same pitch — I knew I was pressing my luck. On my last try, I signed off with "Sincerely, Your Persistent but Hopefully Not Annoying PR Pal."
That got me a chuckle — "Haha hey Jon, appreciate hearing from you. This is super interesting…" And that's always a nice reply to get from a reporter after a pitch.
4. Time warp: ask the reporter about his or her past to help your future pitch
Back in 2019, I was at a GeekWire Summit in Seattle and bumped into a reporter who had been giving me the brush off for months. I couldn't go back in time to redo those lost opportunities. But now that I had him in front of me, I could still make use of the past to improve my chances of pitching success in the future.
"How did you get into this line of work, anyway?" I asked him. And we talked in that hallway for 15 minutes before the following lecture. After that, I always got a response from him — why? Because now he knew who I was. I use some variation of this in all kinds of conversations to build rapport. People just love talking about themselves — and I love to listen.
As it turned out, we had a similar trajectory early on: a political science degree that neither of us did much with, some bounces back and forth between journalism jobs and marketing gigs. It was pretty much luck of the draw that meant he kept on the reporter's career path while I carved out a path in public relations. But we had enough in common that I think I stuck out — which is why my next few pitches in his direction over the coming months mostly resulted in some really swell media coverage.
Looking back on my own days as a reporter and editor, before I made the switch, I realized a lot of these magic tricks worked on me for many years. Well, good on those wizards, who delved deftly into a sparkling bag of tricks. These days, these charms and spells work for me in a pinch — and now, I'm happy to pass them on to my fellow PR wizards.
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