Sabina Hitchen's blog


Learning from your Competitors can help your Pitches

When branding our products or ourselves we often try to distance ourselves as much as possible from our competitors.  There are times, however, when we can actually learn a lot from them about what works for our pitching and outreach portions of our pr campaigns.

When you are launching your campaign you know your unique selling points, you know who the demographic is you're reaching out to, and you most likely have already created a pitch and a media list of the outlets to which you will be reaching out.  As you continue to pitch I encourage you to look at brands who create products similar to yours, or experts who work in similar areas to yours.  Look at where they have been placed editorially, and what television programs covered them.  This will let you know where there is bound to be interest in the categories and topic in which you work.  If you are a product-based brand it will let you know what outlets work well with your price point and aesthetic.  It can also show you which areas of the magazine or television show might be best to pitch - even which editors or producers work in your beat.

When you see products similar to yours in a blog or even in a newsletter like Shefinds or Daily Candy, check out their website to see other places they have been covered, as it could lead you to other placements for your own brand.  For example, I recently was reading's Style Section while checking out Michele Baratta jewelry, a popular picture frame jewelry brand we work with who was being profiled there.  While reading through the placement to review it, I looked at the other brands that were featured in the story.  I already knew they had to be fairly similar in price point and style and most likely shared similar customer demographics since they were in the same trend story.  Next I visited the websites of these brands to see what I thought of them and if they seemed like they could be put in similar product categories as Michele's jewelry, and I confirmed the could.  So the last step was checking out the press they've received in the past.  This led me to discovering a few great blogs that would be right up her alley, as well as discover that a popular magazine I never would have pitched her to in the past was now working on a new column her story would be a perfect fit for! 

Part of getting great placements in the press for your brand is a) pitching the right editors and outlets, and b) always learning about new places to pitch and reach out to.  With so many television shows, websites, magazines, and even taxi cab news programs emerging, there are hundreds of places to share your story and your brand.  In order to be sure you aren't ever barking up the wrong tree, and to help guarantee you aren't missing any great possibilities out there in the world of media, be sure you keep up -to-speed on where your competition is telling their story, and if you could be telling yours there too!

Now get out there and do some research!

Change in the Media Landscape calls for a Change in your Media Lists

It's no surprise that the lay-offs are rampant nationwide, and one place that has been hit especially hard is the media.  If you've been reading the papers - especially in a media capital like New York City, you've heard that everywhere from Time Inc to Hearst to the celebrity weeklies are being hit with heavy lay-offs.  Last week the Wall Street Journal announced it too would be cutting back on staff.

The Baltimore Examiner?  Closing.  Both Page Six Magazine and T the New York Times publication have cut back on issues, and both ABC and ESPN have witnessed hundreds of lay-offs.  These are only a few of the examples of one of the sad effects of the recession.  

So what does this mean to you, you many wonder?  I don't work in media, why should I be following this trend?

If you are working with the press -and all of you should be if you intend to raise awareness for your brand - you need to be doing two things.  First, be sensitive to the situation at the media outlets you frequently reach out to.  Understand that the staff who were retained are often stressed, overworked, and wokring in an environment where they've just lost friends & coworkers.  This is not the time to be demanding and unpleasant (not that you would ever do so, but give them extra time to respond to you and so forth).  

Second, remember to constantly be updating and checking your media lists, where you are recording your pitches and media contact information.  We here at Collective E have to check our contact lists monthly to ensure we're updating them regularly for our members.  Even if you subscribe to a service like Cision or Vocus (which shares media contact information) you still need to do your homework, these programs are often slow to update information.  I know for a fact they have yet to update Good Housekeeping Magazine after their latest round of lay-offs.  That means you need to be on top of your media contact game!  Check mast heads on magazines you frequently pitch, follow websites like Media Bistro in order to keep in touch with what is going on in the media world, and make sure you're regularly reaching out ot and maintaining relationships with your contacts so that if they do leave, you'll not only notice, but hopefully be notified of their upcoming plans.  Remember:  fewer employed journalists mean more freelance journalists, often the source of amazing stories in great outlets.  Again, I can never stress enough how much the relationships are what matters here.  Get to know people who should and and do care about your story, and keep in touch with them.  This ensures no matter where they go if a need comes for you or your company, you won't be far from their mind.

Remember that the more you keep up on your media lists, the less this task will turn into a mountain of work.  The job market is turbulent in all sectors and the media is no exception, so pay attention, stay on top of things, and adjust your media plans accordingly.

Best of luck!

Reasons Why I Love Being an Entrepreneur: #1 Stress Free Coffee Breaks

I've decided I shall start sharing my many reasons that I love being an entrepreneur because let's admit it....this lifestyle isn't always easy, and we need reminders at times of why it rocks.  That said, here's one that I was reflecting on today, and feel free to send ideas to add to the series!

I love being an entrepreneur because even though I work A LOT I can go get coffee whenever I want without worrying that I'm taking too long a break and someone is going to give me an admonishing stare when I come back into the office. 

This morning I decided to get some fresh air before going back in to pitch and I went on a great walk, got some coffee, met the small business owner who runs the shop, and then walked back to the train for work.  Not once was I frantically checking my clock for fear that my "fifteen minutes" were up.  I arrived back at the office refreshed and re-energized.  Ah bliss!  

PS -  if you want a stress free coffee break with once in one of the friendliest spots in Greenpoint, check out Cafe Grumpy.  I just feel creative being in there, and they have better coffee than anywhere I know!

Media Kit Reminder: Always Be Prepared

We all know that media kits are essential to your brand, as they are you calling card to the press, buyers, investors, your sales team, really anyone who wants to know about you, your business, and your products or service.

As a rule at Red Branch PR, we always have at least 10 hard copy press kits created and good to go should they be requested by an editor, producer, or stylist.  Yes more and more often these days one can just email a media kit and save paper, but at least once a week (at least) we are mailing a kit that was requested, or sending it along with a sample to an editor.

To save yourselves the hassle, I recommend the following "always be prepared" tactics that are a rule in our offices, and should be in yours as well:

* Always have ten prepped media kits good to go with your "foundation material" which includes your biography, company backgrounder, one sheet (if necessary), a couple recent press releases, line sheets, photos, and product FAQs. 

* Only add in press pages to kits once you know where it's going.  Don't send a kit out to a media outlet with lots of their competitors' press in it, they won't cover you and you won't look original.  Only send press clippings from outlets smaller than the one you're pitching, or in a different medium (TV vs Print, Online vs Newspaper, etc).

* Always have a template media kit prepared that can be used as a model.  This way if you or someone else need to make one in a flash you can just follow the model. 

* Never send a media kit out without personalizing it:  add or subtract any material according to who is receiving it, add a personal note, and be sure your business card is included.

* Keep all your "filler" material organized by client next to the prepared media kits.  When you are running halfway through them, re-order so you never fall short in a pinch.

Be sure to give yourself monthly Media Kit Check-Ups and go through the material to be sure it is up-to-date and in line with your key brand message.

How to Figure It Out: Which Editor to Pitch at a Magazine

The pitching process often intimidates entrepreneurs, especially when they haven't had much practice.  In order to alleviate some of that pressure here are a few tips that you be sure are studied, noted, and followed BEFORE you even begin pitching, tips that will help be sure you are reaching out to the correct editor/writer/editorial assistant.

Start your day off right! Get your Morning Mojo Back!

The first year I started my business I would shoot about of bed in the morning bright and early, partially due to my massive list of things to do, and partially out of excitement/fear/disbelief over what I was doing and building.  As an entrepreneur there is rarely a morning that I ever press snooze, as the moment my brain wakes up it's ticking off a list of things to do and full of new

Make a Good First Impression & Create a Media Relationship that will Last for Years! Part One

The moment an email from you pops into an inbox, or your call is answered by a member of the media contact - even before your pitch begins, you are building your relationship with that outlet.  The little things are what matter in situations like this, this first impression you are making could lead to months or years of positive interchanges, or brand you as a hassle, or thorn in their side.  Be sure to think about what you say, how you say it, and how you present yourself.  Here are some tips that have worked for us and are sure to work for you:

When emailing be sure your subject line is direct, to the point, and not full of numbers, exclamation points (or overuse of caps), and doesn't run off the screen.  This ensures you will not appear to be spam, and it shows them you know exactly what you want to say and can get to the point quickly.

Before launching into your pitch always introduce yourself.  You would be shocked at how many people forget this on a daily basis.  If on the phone NEVER assume that someone will remember your voice, or who you are and what your purpose was.  So you emailed them last week?  Pitched them last month? Politely refresh their memory:  "Hi Karen, this is Sabina from Red Branch, we spoke last month about the rollerskating chickens performing at Madison Square Garden this week."  See that?  This ensures they don't have to go through their mental files or waste precious time remembering your story - it is also much less presumptious!  If you are emailing the same rule applies!

If on the phone, always ask if they have a few seconds to chat - please note I said a few seconds - they do NOT have a few minutes to chat with you - at least not until they have gotten into your pitch and see it applies to them.  To ask without any previous relationship if they have a few minutes to chat is once again not respecting how busy these editors and producers are.

Begin building the relationship:  "How was your holiday weekend?"  "So you're stuck at work still too?"  "Isn't it awful and dreary out" , "Happy Hump Day",  "I'm sure you're swamped planning holiday/Valentine's Day/Fashion Week/Sweeps/Dental Segment ......these phrases are "connecting phrases".  You are working on establishing comfort and sincere relationships.  So don't be too sterile in your pitches.  I always make an effort to humanize the conversation and find ways to connect with the editor, whether over something we have in common, the fact that we are all burning the candle at both ends, who knows!  The point is you want to be sincere, likeable, genuine, and immediately come off as nice and easy to work with.

Never show anger or disappointment if they don't have time to hear you out during a phone pitch.  Don't take it personally, they are busy, you may not be a good fit, they may be in the middle of a meeting...there are countless reasons your contact may not be able to chat.  Instead simply acknowledge that they are busy and ask "do you mind if I shoot you over an email with the information/line sheets/fact sheet?"  If they say yes, let them know what email address it will come from ("be on the look out for an email from") and ask if they will take attachments.

When sending initial emails unless you have prior permission to send attachments, do not send them.  Especially don't send high res images.  You will not only clog somebody's email box and thus be linked to that frustration, but you may end up directly in their spam box.  Be patient and in the interim just send links to your website or line sheets.

Smile & Dial!  When pitching via phone, before you even pick it up put a smile on your face.  This will change the way you present yourself vocally and will affect the way you are perceived on the other end of the line.  It's also a great way to combat nerves!

Grammar, Grammar, Spelling, Spelling:  I can't say it enough, and it's not just the ex-teacher in me.  All of us make mistakes shooting out emails or even blogging from time to time (!!)  but when sending out a pitch, press release, or an introductory email, be sure you make a great impression by ensuring your spelling and grammar are in tip top shape.  These days all it really takes is a click of a mouse and the computer will do it for you.  Nevertheless, be sure to give it a final read through, and if you don't  trust yourself ask a friend known for their impeccable grammar and spelling.

Above all, always remember that the media are people just like you:  busy, trying to do a good job, often under pressure, and happy to help if they feel you are a good fit.  Reach out to them from a place of goodness and a true belief that you are a good fit, do it the right way, and if not now, soon, you will be rewarded for your efforts.  Remember that once you establish you are a great resource and easy to work with, they will surely be back for more!

Telling the Truth

Media exposure can be one of the most powerful things your business acquires in terms of impact on sales and brand recognition.  Nevertheless, just as it has the power to make companies, it also has the power to break companies.  Though we all want our story to be told, our product to be shared, or our expertise to be highly sought after, in order to ensure long term relationships with the media who can help you reach that oft discussed "tipping point", it is essential to be 100% honest with the media at all times.

Examples of when to be honest include:

  • The depth of your expertise, your training, who you have worked with, and how you have impacted them.
  • Past media experience.
  • Availability and pricing of your product.
  • Testimonials, reviews, and use of celebrity endorsements.
  • Facts, figures, the reach and span of your business, and financials.

It can be tempting when faced with a possible media opportunity to exaggerate any of the above, but it will only bring you more harm than good.  Lying to editors or producers not only affects your relationship with them, but also their own job.  Bringing on an inexperienced guest, products that aren't fully available, or sharing stories not based in fact can impact them in a negative way as well.  If the story isn't a good fit for you at the time, it's much better to share why, and know that you will be on their radar and file for future fits, and also be known as an honest company at their studio/magazine/blog.  Quite the opposite will happen if you stretch the truth for short term gain.

Remember that your pr strategy is a marathon, not a sprint.  You want stories that are good fits for your long term brand goals, not short term quick fixes that were gained by half truths or exaggeration.  An even better way to secure longer, more quality media relationships?  When you aren't a good fit, recommend someone who is!  Make yourself a valuable tool for the press and they will keep coming back to you for more! 

Are you "oversharing" your newsletter? How overzealous promotion can affect your brand and how to prevent it

I'm a woman who receives hundreds of emails a day, literally hundreds.  In order to be sure I (eventually) get to everything on my plate, and that I get to them in the order they need to be addressed, I triage them.  Hundreds of them.  Nevertheless I personally see what crosses my inbox and lately I've noticed more and more newsletters that I've never subscribed to flying into


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