Getting The Media To Work For You -- With Scott Cytron
Scott H. Cytron
5924 Royal Lane
Dallas TX 75230
In addition to the transcript of the session below, you can download a sample pitch letter that Scott provided for working with the media.
Michael Platt: I want to thank everyone for joining us here this afternoon. We are fortunate to be joined today by Scott H. Cytron, a Dallas-based consultant specializing in public relations, marketing and communications activities for clients in the accounting, medical, financial planning and high-tech industries. Scott is a Dallas native who has worked over 19 years in the communications profession in both internal and external roles. Scott has worked for a public relations agency, and several nonprofit organizations including nine years with the Texas Society of CPAs, where he directed internal communications, affinity/vendor efforts, legislative activities, membership programs, continuing education promotions and Internet communications. He currently is a freelance consultant and is a regular contributing editor for AccountingWEB. He joins us today to review key ways on how to get the media to work for you. Scott, welcome! The floor is yours . . .
Scott H. Cytron: Thanks, Mike. Before we begin, I want to make sure you understand that this is a totally interactive session! Please fire away with questions at anytime.
Scott H. Cytron: First, how many expect an immediate response when they want to attract the media? An immediate response to media relations is not likely unless someone very famous or a public figure does something incredibly newsworthy. Think of the president of the U.S., or some of the more recent newsworthy items.
Eva Lang: So you can judge your Q factor by the response time?
Scott H. Cytron: Tell me what you mean by Q factor.
Eva Lang: That is what Hollywood agents use to measure the popularity of their clients.
Scott H. Cytron: Ah.
Scott H. Cytron: Most often, that “newsworthy” item is a negative story rather than a positive one. Think about the recent lawsuits brought about by Fortune 500 companies against the ERP software giants like SAP and PeopleSoft. That’s negative, rather than positive press.
I’m sure SAP and PeopleSoft are doing some great things, like contributing to local charities, creating new and innovative solutions, and partnering with some really great and well-known companies. Unfortunately, the public and your audience (business) will remember the bad press rather than the good press.
Saturation is what you’re looking for and over the long haul versus the short-term.
Sue McMaster: I agree, but what is the best way to get response from the media?
Scott H. Cytron: Saturation really makes the difference, and probably touches on the Q factor, Eva.
Eva Lang: How can you get the media to recognize your company when you aren't doing anything really newsworthy or "sexy"?
Scott H. Cytron: The best way is to approach them with something newsworthy. Newsworthy can be defined several ways. First, it is something innovative, different or something very much unlike anything you've seen before. We like to think of this as the "hook." Most often, what is obvious to you is not necessarily obvious to others. Grand openings, promotions and similar announcements aren't hooks. Instead, they are merely ways to "touch" the media on a regular basis.
The best scenario is that a reporter will think of your firm or business the next time he/she has a story that is related to what you do. For example, if the local daily were doing a story on fraud, and you had a specialization in forensic accounting, then the reporter would call you to comment or elaborate on the subject. You want to be considered a reliable source for the subject because of the services you offer, track record, reputation and other reasons.
In the reporter’s mind, you are the best expert, and the one that comes to mind the fastest. That is much better coverage than the occasional anniversary announcement.
Susan McMains: Great idea but how do you get to that point?
Eva Lang: How can you keep your name in front of a reporter without being a pest?
Scott H. Cytron: Susan - you have to think strategically about the newsworthiness of what you do. For example, how is manufacturing a widget an important item to cover by the media? Does it influence opinion, change minds, make some other change? The media are very hungry for good, solid stories.
Susan McMains: No but it brings in jobs.
Scott H. Cytron: You know best what is going to be the best coverage for your company. Often, it may not be in sync with what the media wants, though. Sometimes, you have to ask them what makes a good story to hem.
Karyn Duey: I find that as accountants get out of the limited box and start relating to their value-added service that has more impact on the media - accountants doing something different.
Scott H. Cytron: Different is the right approach, Karyn. Think in these terms. A news story is about a one-time event. This could be promotions within the firm, although you’re not likely to reap more than a possible mention in an announcement column with the local daily newspaper or business journal. You want to become a trusted source by demonstrating your abilities. If local, take the reporter to breakfast or lunch without seeming too intrusive to his or her time. Set this up by sending a note and then following it up with a phone call.
I know someone asked about being too intrusive. You don't want to be considered a pest. The best way to approach the media is only approach them if you have a good story. The old-fashioned bread and butter PR methods of inundating them with press releases doesn't work anymore. Primarily because of the Web. They get so much that you have to be different.
Karyn Duey: At our firm, we work on adding value by providing monthly articles that they can either print or not - this makes us look like experts and they have the option to reject the article
Scott H. Cytron: Monthly articles are a great idea, especially with the Business Journals. These are the local papers that are more business oriented.
Michael Platt: Scott, do you have a rule of thumb of the amount of time one should "nurture" the relationship vs. trying to get specific stories covered?
Scott H. Cytron: Mike - I think that depends on the story. You want to spend more time with a reporter nurturing the relationship if the story is worth the time it takes to do so.
Eva Lang: What about getting national media attention, what is the best way to approach that?
Scott H. Cytron: Eva - national attention is tough, but you have to demonstrate your value in the fact that the story will touch a great many people and a wider audience.
Karyn Duey: Another way of getting media coverage is by spending a little on advertising once in a while - you got to give to get...
Sue McMaster: OK, but what if the partner group does not see the ROI in advertising and marketing?
Scott H. Cytron: Advertising is a different matter altogether. You don't want to be faced with tradeoffs in editorial because you advertise. Good coverage still is the best approach.
Karyn Duey: But if you spend money with the media - they usually recognize you sooner than the competition - that is our philosophy here at Moss Adams.
Scott H. Cytron: Back to the relationship. Overall, have a reason to meet with the reporter. You may have seen a story the reporter wrote and want to follow up on that story by explaining your own firm abilities in a similar arena, or in a way that complements the story.
Sue McMaster: Good point, how do you convince the partner group to get more involved with winning the media over?
Scott H. Cytron: Karyn - what kind of dollars are you spending and is it on a national basis?
Karyn Duey: We are spending a few thousand a year - depends on the location.
Cindy Moorhead: Should you always contact the reporter or business editor BEFORE you send a press release to him?
Scott H. Cytron: Sue - you have to show them that spending time with the media makes sense on several levels. First, it makes sense on that one great story. Second, you want to be a trusted source.
Sue McMaster: GREAT idea ... what are those levels?
Scott H. Cytron: Cindy - it depends who the reporter is. If you know him/her well, then sending a release isn't going to do anything. It's better to send a letter outlining your story rather than a release because they know you sent the same release to everyone else.
Sue McMaster: What is the perfect pitch?
Scott H. Cytron: The perfect pitch is to think of the angles in the story that would most interest that reporter. It goes back to the premise that they have a beat to cover, and you're there to help them with information. Think of it in steps. I would first outline the story in a pitch letter. Keep it short. No more than three to four paragraphs. Much more and you'll overwhelm them. Second, follow it up with a call. But don't call and ask them if they got your letter. Of course they did. Instead, amplify on the contents of the letter by throwing them yet another piece of bait. I do send the pitch letter before calling. I think people want it in writing, esp. if they are visual thinkers. (like me!)
Cindy Moorhead: So you send the pitch letter before calling?
Karyn Duey: Suppose they don't respond - what next?
Cindy Moorhead: How much time after sending the letter do you call? A week?
Scott H. Cytron: I would wait three to four days. You can send the letter by e-mail. That is very accepted and perfectly OK.
Cindy Moorhead: Three to four days after you figure they have received? Do you recommend sending attachments by e-mail...I have heard pros and cons on this.
Scott H. Cytron: No, sorry about that. Three to four days after sending the letter. You want it to be very fresh in their minds. I don't like e-mail attachments because of the formatting problems. I would imbed it in your e-mail. You can't be sure who has what program.
Has anyone had experience with attachments and reporters?
Cindy Moorhead: I also heard that some are afraid of viruses from attachments.
Scott H. Cytron: Most organizations have virus protection software, so this isn't as large of an issue as it used to be.
Cindy Moorhead: Do you know of a web site that has sample letters to send. Kind of an outline to follow.
Scott H. Cytron: Cindy - unfortunately not. There are books out there and I'm sure some sites, but I don't know of any.
Think of the pitch letter as a conversation you're having. Don't make it so formal that you'll alienate the reporter by talking down to them.
Karyn Duey: I find that each publication has their own format that they want you to use - call them and ask them for one - it is also a good initial contact with the news desk.
Scott H. Cytron: Karyn - most likely, they'll have the guidelines on their Internet site.
The key to effective media relations is to really work a story. You start with a media list of every publication you want to target. You figure out how to maximize your time by concentrating only on those that will do you the most good.
Eva Lang: You can spend a lot of time pursuing the media and not get any where if you are not approaching it right. I have found that it makes a lot of sense to just use a media consultant. They have all the contacts and that way I can concentrate on my job. It is really more cost effective than me spending billable time on pursuing the media.
Scott H. Cytron: Right, Eva. Good point.
Then you develop story ideas for that publication. Let's take the Accounting Today example. We all can relate to that. How many want to get their firm/company in AT?
(I see lots of hands raised).
Cindy Moorhead: Each publication would have a different story idea or might you have one idea over multiple publications?
Scott H. Cytron: Separate story ideas, Cindy. You don't want to show up with the same dress at a party as someone else.
Now, think about the stories in AT, lately. Take the "technology pacesetters" they run on the front page. I'm sure your firms have quite a few stories to tell in technology. I was talking with the editor just a few weeks back and he asked me to forward any examples of firms demonstrating technology excellence. So you figure out what is driven by technology in your firm that would make a good story.
Let's say you have an IT practice with a twist. You serve some sort of vertical industry. That could be insurance, music or something else. Now you pitch the story to the editor with these twists in mind. You can't just say your firm has an IT practice and leave it at that. Give him a reason to run the story.
Does that make sense?
Cindy Moorhead: Yes...I'm not sure that I understand how to do the pitch yet, but the logical order makes sense.
Scott H. Cytron: Now approach it from a different angle.
How about a senior partner who has made a real mark on the firm and in the community? You want AT to run a personality profile of this senior partner. Outline some good reasons in your pitch letter why AT would want to feature him. Did he change opinion over the years? Implement a specialized practice? Taken the firm to progressively greater levels of revenue? There are probably a lot of scenarios, but I think you see the possibilities.
Cindy Moorhead: Do you start out saying that you would like to submit a story about how your senior partner has make a mark on the firm and community, then list the pitch reasons why?
Scott H. Cytron: Cindy, yes. Start out by telling the reporter who you are and what you are writing about.
Just write it as if you were telling a friend.
That's if you don't know the reporter very well, of course. If you do know the reporter, then you would send a letter and leave out the "who you are" stuff. Every scenario is going to be different in the pitch letter.
Start out with a paragraph describing your firm and get to the point quickly. Spend several paragraphs describing why the story is important. Then close with an invitation to call for more information, and that you'll call and follow up.
Michael Platt: Scott - do you have a couple of sample pitch letters that you can email across and we can post on the AccountingWEB site for everyone to download??
Scott H. Cytron: Certainly. I'd be glad to.
Cindy Moorhead: That's excellent Mike...visualizing is so important for me.
Michael Platt: Thanks--
Scott H. Cytron: I think for all of us!
Charles S. Gaiennie: E-mail is efficient but its too easy to ignore. When is a call more effective than an e-mail?
Scott H. Cytron: Charles - an e-mail is good as a first, initial contact. That's what I've found, but all of us are still neophytes in this e-mail world! You want to be careful and not appear as if you're spamming. When I send a press release out over e-mail, I send it individually instead of sending it to a group. No reporter wants to know you are sending the same release to another news outlet. I also can write a personal note in my e-mail.
Scott H. Cytron: Someone had a question about national media. Think of the local business journal not only in your own community, but in the community where your clients do business. If you are based in San Diego and do business in San Francisco, why not establish a media contact with the paper in Northern California as well?
Sue McMaster: What about hand-written "thank you" follow-up notes ... I hear that they work wonders with the media! Very personal touch. What do you think?
Cindy Moorhead: I have heard that when you send out a press release, you should double space...how do you do that with email?
Scott H. Cytron: Sue - just getting to that. Good point. Personal notes are a great idea. I think we've gotten too far away from the written word. It is mandatory that you send a personal, handwritten note if a story is run! They also are a great way to comment on a story that ran and to tie it in with a story in your own business.
Cindy Moorhead: But do you send a personal, handwritten note if you sent an email with no response.
Scott H. Cytron: You're not going to get a response to your e-mail unless you've announced that someone prominent died or absconded with lots of money. It's really just an entree, like a pitch letter, in writing.
Charles S. Gaiennie: I've also heard that a press release as an attachment rather than being contained within the body of the e-mail is taboo. What the prevailing approach?
Scott H. Cytron: I wanted to respond to the question about double-spacing a press release. When it goes by e-mail, you never know what it's going to look like. Single spacing within an e-mail is fine.
Cindy Moorhead: Good..thanks.
Scott H. Cytron: We touched on attachments earlier. I think that is OK if you want to send as a release. If you have a Web site, a better idea is to send the URL for the release on your site. That directs them to your Web site!
Cindy Moorhead: I sent a press release via email last week and did not receive a response (I'm learning)...I am not sure if I should just drop it or try to follow-up. This was to state newspapers.
Scott H. Cytron: Sometimes the response is mixed, Cindy. What was the subject?
Cindy Moorhead: Well..The subject was about being an online expert with AccountingWEB.
Scott H. Cytron: That's a tough one. What kind of coverage were you trying to gain? Were you hoping for a mention or a bite for a longer story?
Cindy Moorhead: The angle was that local professionals can gain international exposure through the Internet.
Scott H. Cytron: OK. But I'm going to play devils advocate. What would this have done for your firm?
Cindy Moorhead: A local paper has agreed to write a front page story on it, but I'm not sure that it will go anywhere with the state papers.
Scott H. Cytron: I think that's because there isn't a great tie-in with state papers. Sounds to me more like a local story, or perhaps a longer feature story for the Journal of Accountancy.
Cindy Moorhead: OK...makes sense...maybe it shouldn't have been sent there so no follow-up is necessary (like I say, I am learning).
Scott H. Cytron: Did you know the reporter with the local story?
Cindy Moorhead: Yes I did.
Scott H. Cytron: We're all learning ... don't worry about that. I think this goes back to relationships.
Michael Platt: Scott - Any words of wisdom to fill in at the end of this sentence: "When dealing with the media, absolutely don't do this . . ."
Scott H. Cytron: Mike - don't feed them story that isn't a story.
I got burned last month. Here's what happened.
A professional franchise baseball team went public, and I thought this would be a great story. The IPO happened last spring. I pitched and pitched and pitched. And nothing. Then I got a national accounting magazine to take a bite, and got a call from the editor. This was months later. I left something out. The CFO helped them go public, along with the help of a Big 5. I imagined a cover shot of everyone standing around the mound.
Sue McMaster: How did you change your pitch?
Cindy Moorhead: So were you pitching this story over and over to the same magazine?
Scott H. Cytron: No, Cindy. I started out with the biggest publication I could find. Then settled for something else because I couldn't get any bites.
When I called the CFO back and told her what I did, she said the team was up for sale and the IPO was off.
Cindy Moorhead: So you would wait awhile before taking the same story to another magazine?
Scott H. Cytron: I had to call the reporter back and confess that I had my tail between my legs.
Sue McMaster: When did you leave out the CFO and Big 5 details? First time around or last?
Scott H. Cytron: Before pitching again, I should have checked with her to make sure the story was a story.
Scott H. Cytron: Sue - that was in the original pitch.
Sue McMaster: Interesting.
Scott H. Cytron: I knew the national publications wanted CFO stories because they have run too many public accounting stories over the years.
I thought his was a natural! It was embarrassing, but I wrote the editor a follow-up note.
I hope he'll rely on me as a "trusted source."
What other questions do you have?
Sue McMaster: Honesty is always the best policy!
Scott H. Cytron: Yes, Sue, that's right, esp. because I'll run into him again sometime soon.
I wanted to be sure give you this URL: www.amcity.com. That's the web site for the Business Journals.
Michael Platt: Is there a different approach between "timely" news and "interesting" news?
Scott H. Cytron: Mike - I don't think so. If you have something timely, you have to call attention to that right away. But a story is a story. And the PR professionals will see it as an opportunity to gain coverage. Which translates into increased attention and future business.
You asked what not to do…
Don’t call the reporter, complain about lack of coverage or other matters, and expect the reporter to take you seriously. Talk with them in a constructive manner that shows the reporter you know what you’re talking about.
Let's share some stories. Who has had good luck lately with the media?
A reminder, too. There is more than "print" out there.
There are local radio shows, TV shows in many major markets that have guest spots.
And the Internet ... wow. What a wide open market that is.
Michael Platt: Scott: In the time that is left, what are the follow-up action items you would suggest everyone does as a result of this session?
Scott H. Cytron: First, decide on your expectations. What do you want to gain from the media efforts? Get it clear from your firm partners and other heads of the company regarding expectations. Make it clear this is not an immediate results business.
Pershing Wells: We have gotten some nice coverage locally since our company is software developer located in an area not known for technology. We've been able to leverage that distinction fairly well on a local level.
Scott H. Cytron: That's because, Pershing, you have a story with a twist.
Second, develop an action plan. Decide the messages you want to send, and then decide which publications are the best ones for you to pursue. Make a short-term list for the next 30-90 days, then a long-term list for later on. Make it manageable. You can't be expected to accomplish a goal if it's unreasonable. Then, start pitching. Be sure to factor in evaluations. Bring your firm the results.
If you can't seem to garner any coverage, then something is indeed wrong. I bet I could find an angle everywhere in each of your firms. Just put yourself in the reporter's shoes. That's a four-step approach. Remember, though, that you have to make it reasonable. If your goal is to "gain as much media coverage as possible in the next three months," then you're going to fail.
Scott H. Cytron: What other questions do you have?
Michael Platt: We're just about out of time. Anyone else??
Scott H. Cytron: One more thing, Mike.
I think there is an incredible amount of merit in writing articles for publications. You can pitch the publications and see what they want.
Pershing Wells: The household name versus upstart companies question. Which types of companies are most likely to get coverage?
Scott H. Cytron: Pershing - it depends on the story. The company with the interesting angle will get the story.
Any other questions?
Pershing Wells: Thanks Scott and Mike. Very informative.
Michael Platt: Scott, thank you so much for your insight and advice. We really appreciate you sharing your ideas with us. If anyone would like to continue a dialog with Scott, you may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scott H. Cytron: Bye, everyone.
Michael Platt: Thank you!!