July 2007

I recently chatted with my friend and colleague Ken McQueen. Ken is the Bureau Chief for Vancouver for Maclean’s Magazine. He covers the West Coast of Canada and the U.S. for the magazine and is one of the best journalists around.

I asked Ken to tell me what he wants to receive from someone who wants to have Maclean’s cover their company’s story.

Here is what Ken told said:

“A good pitch is aimed at Maclean’s (link), not a generic pitch to all media. It is a story of national interest, or a story that is nationally interesting. And it arrives, miraculously, on a day, and in a week, when I have time to write it and the editors have an interest in slapping it into the magazine. This is a rare, but not impossible, confluence of events.

Somewhere in PR school they must teach that it is a good idea to follow up an email pitch with a phone call. Wrong. It is a bad idea unless there is something exceptional to add. I don’t know how many dozen pitches I get over the course of a week. If everyone includes a phone call I get no work done.

A general all-points pitch is dead on arrival. And a pitch that I think is going just to me, and ends up in the next day’s dailies, is a very, very, very bad idea. I need things exclusively, and well in advance if I’m going to hold my editors’ interest.

I honour embargoes. I appreciate tips and will sit on a story until a mutually agreeable date. I work for a news magazine, I don’t write advertising copy.”

This is great information – straight from a well-respected journalist. Read, watch or listen to the media organization you want to tell your story to … think about whether it is right for that organization. Then think about it again. Don’t pitch to everyone – choose who your target is and do your homework. Find out what they cover, find out what grabs their attention. Remember that the journalist you pitch has to find your story compelling enough to take it to the story meeting and pitch it to their editor or producer, give them the ammunition to do that.

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I have a profile on  Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube. I spend time on all these sites – sometimes for fun, often in looking at them through the eyes of my clients – thinking if this would this be a good place for them to be.

There are several new sites out there including xanga.com (link) and another one I have just heard of – which is a take off on Facebook for dogs… I haven’t found it yet – I heard about it on the news and didn’t catch the URL. So if anyone knows it, please send it my way! I really want to see what a Facebook for dogs looks like – and what its reason for being is…

I LOVE social networks for a lot of reasons. One of my favorites is Project Opus (link) – and not just because they are a client J. In my mind, Project Opus has a reason for being – the love of music. When I go there it’s going to be about music, listening to it, talking about it, searching it out.

I am still working out the role of some of the other social networks in my world. For some clients, they are great ways to reach out to groups that have showcased their interest in a topic. In my leisure time, I surf through the networks because I like to know what people are thinking and talking about… but, I keep getting invitations to be “friends” with people that I don’t know very well or have maybe met once … as well as invitations to link to people I do know well. The people I know well are easy to say yes to. I know them, I am comfortable in a personal or professional sense in introducing them to others. And – I have to admit, some of these networks have reintroduced me to people that I really like and respect and have lost touch with … BUT …what happens when an acquaintance or the acquaintance of a friend of a friend sends an invite to connect on a social network. How do I gracefully get out of that? And should I?

There seems to be a need for people on social networks to have a large number of friends. Professionally, I can see this for musicians or any other role that needs to showcase that you have a fan base. It helps get the word out about gigs, performances and events. That makes sense. But if I say yes to an invitation to be “friends” – am I endorsing that person – either obviously or in some subtle manner? Am I saying to the online social community that in my opinion, this is someone who has something to say? This is someone worth listening to? If at a networking event an acquaintance came up to me and asked me to introduce them to a respected colleague, strategic partner or client – I would make sure that a) I was comfortable doing that and b) that I let the person that I was introducing the acquaintance to know that they were just that – AN ACQUAINTANCE. Someone that I have met before, but have no real life knowledge of, that I am not endorsing or encouraging them to connect with…it’s just a neutral introduction at an event. And the truth is, if I was the least bit uncomfortable, I wouldn’t do it.

If someone I didn’t know well asked me to introduce them via email or to give them the phone number of a respected colleague or client, I wouldn’t do it without doing my due diligence and checking the person out.

Social networks are still working out some bugs… this, I think, being one of them. I find that since I am often in the public spotlight because of speaking events and workshops and when I take on the role as spokesperson for a client, that I have to deal with a larger group of acquaintances in my professional life. I would say that 90% of “acquaintance” phone calls, emails or requests to be “friends” online are from people who want some kind of favor from me or from AHA. I don’t think that is the way social networks were made to work. I believe that there is a two-way street out there … where people connect because they can benefit each other. Don’t get me wrong, we also get calls from people who have recommended us to someone looking for a great PR agency or who want to bring something to the table that will mutually benefit both companies…but for the most part, I think social networks are being overrun by people who haven’t started to live in a world where you go out of your way to show your value and what you can bring to the table to another entrepreneur first, before you ask for something from them.

I think social networks will evolve and it will become the business utopia we all hope they can be. Right now, I worry that this mad scramble to connect is creating some disengagement on the part of people and companies that want real, strong, authentic connections rather than phony, “I don’t really know you but will accept your invitation so I don’t have to reject you” kind of things.

So – while social networks find their rightful place in connecting people for the right reasons – I will say this here and now… just because I am connected to someone on some social network doesn’t mean I am recommending them, know them well – or in some cases have met them more than once. If you want a vote of confidence in someone I know, call me. Don’t believe everything you read online.

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