By Rebekah Iliff, Chief Strategy Officer, AirPR
Pitching journalists is a little like meeting with a hiring manager for a job you really want—before you reach out to or meet with them, you’re spending time researching the interests of someone you may have never met so you can better anticipate what will appeal to them.
But wouldn’t it be nice to get inside the head of a journalist so you can discover what motivates them to respond to your pitches? More often than not, whether they reply is one part quality of pitch, one part chance—if, for example, their editor has been craving more of a certain type of article, and you’ve hit the nail on the head.
The second best thing to being a fly on the wall in a journalist’s office is getting an intimate understanding of what excites them, which is why I recently sat down with serial journalist and media entrepreneur Lorraine Sanders. You may recognize her from The San Francisco Chronicle, Women’s Wear Daily, and a number of other publications for which she’s written about FEST, a term Sanders coined for her coverage of fashion, entrepreneurship, sustainability and technology.
Sanders’ most recent foray in the media takes shape as a podcast and media consultancy: Spirit of 608. Now that the podcast is more than a year strong, she sees the media landscape from seemingly every direction: print, digital, broadcast, and (the flipside) PR.
Here, she shares a bit about how her background as a journalist informs her work as a media entrepreneur, what brands can do to cultivate meaningful thought leadership, and a few things PR pros can do today to make her life as a journalist easier.
Rebekah Iliff: As a content-producing machine, which platforms do you feel are most effective for building a client’s reputation as a subject matter expert?
Lorraine Sanders: That definitely depends on the client and brand’s goals. But in every conversation I have about platforms and strategy, it always comes back to this: ultimately, the source of the original content, whether it’s posts on Medium or doing the speaking circuit, has to be comfortable and “into” the process. It’s all well and good to tell someone she’s got to write a guest contributor post for a major website once a week, but if she doesn’t actually connect with the process of doing that, it’s like pulling teeth for everyone involved.
As long as you’re picking a method and working on a consistent basis to become a real part of conversations that affect your industry, that’s far more effective than choosing a certain platform because it’s the hot place to be for the moment.
Our data show that when a company is educating the market, showcasing customers, and ultimately being a helpful resource, the effectiveness of their content/PR increases exponentially. What’s one tip you have for helping a company cultivate a reputation of meaningful thought leadership?
My best advice for brands is to be thoughtful, strategic, and targeted in what you produce. At a time when so many brands feel pressure to sell AND be content machines, it’s important to remember that it’s pretty unusual to be everywhere and do a really good job of it.
I am a big believer in the power of strategic collaboration through creative events and cross-marketing efforts. If you’re a mission-based brand, pooling efforts with other likeminded companies is a great way to introduce yourself to the exact audiences you want to reach. Often it’s much more interesting to journalists than whatever piece of news you happen to be touting at the moment because it signals something bigger than your company’s agenda.
As a journalist, media strategist, and podcast producer at the intersection of fashion, entrepreneurship, sustainability, and tech, what is it about this hybrid space that excites you most?
There are two primary reasons this space excites me. First, the intersection of fashion, entrepreneurship, sustainability and tech has the power to change the fashion industry for the better, and ultimately make fashion and apparel producers better global citizens.
After more than a decade writing about the fashion industry, it’s abundantly clear to me that change is needed in all areas from workers’ rights to environmental safety. Luckily, technology is revealing better methods of production and is making the ability to grow new brands not only feasible, but also attractive to independent entrepreneurs.
That brings me to the second thing I am really excited about: increasing entrepreneurship opportunities for women. It has never been easier to start a business and build a customer base around niche, creative products. That is extremely exciting and uplifting because of what it means for those who produce most of the world’s textiles and for women who deserve economic opportunity outside of the traditional corporate model.
I love that you say you can’t live without the chance to hear and tell other people’s stories. How does storytelling fit into your workflow and can you give us an example of a recent brand story that blew you away?
Pretty much every guest of the Spirit of 608 podcast has a brand story that fascinated me, and I try to bring entrepreneurs’ stories into what I do because, honestly, there’s always a good anecdote when a person has gone down the risky road of creating his or her own company.
Recently, I spoke to Olatorera Oniru, a female founder building a Nigeria-based ecommerce company that’s been called the Amazon of Africa. Her story is pretty incredible in and of itself, but it’s also eye-opening in terms of what entrepreneurship and technology could mean in many emerging and developing economies. I literally had chills after we spoke.
Put your journalist hat on. What are a few things great PR pros do that make your life easier and your stories better?
The best PR professionals I know have this in common: They only contact me when they are convinced a story is right for me; They are aware of what I have written recently and they shoot straight about the news, timing and other logistical factors; Once we are working together, they are responsive and trust me to do my job (i.e., they aren’t breathing heavily on the other side of the call I’m supposed to be having with just the source).