Inside the Mind of a Millennial Reporter: The Art of Pitching

the Art of pitching

Inside the Mind of a Millennial Reporter: The Art of Pitching

An Interview with Inc. Columnist Jeff Barrett

By Heather Harder

We all know the stat: For every five PR people, there is one journalist. With the fast pace of news development, pitching has become both easier and harder in different ways. Contributors have become even more essential to help news rooms fill content.

I spoke with Jeff Barrett, an Inc. columnist, PR and digital consultant and Shorty Award winner to learn more about how he became a successful top-tier contributor, as well as his advice for PR pros who want to pitch contributors.

How did you become a top-tier contributor?

This wasn’t something I stumbled into. Inc. approached me because I’d written for Mashable many times over the course of six years. I never thought of myself as a journalist.

When I first started as a PR professional, it was really difficult to make a phone call, send an email and try to make someone cover something in the business. I needed to be able to create a name for myself and have an opportunity to get myself covered more. So I made a bigger social platform, and places started becoming pretty interested in my writing.

I kind of used the column as an opportunity to build up a name to where I’ve taken a different path to being able to help get coverage for my clients.

How does being a contributor make it easier for you to get your clients coverage?

I don’t write about clients. It’s about credibility and visibility, getting a leg up and a having a talking point when pitching reporters. And it goes both ways – doing an interview for Inc., for example, I understand what the PR person needs and wants.

What are some things to keep in mind when pitching a contributor vs. a full-time staffer?

A full-time staffer is going to be a little more rushed. I would say a contributor is more PR friendly. They’re going to be looking for all kinds of things to talk about.

Ask yourself how you can create reciprocal value. How are you providing value to a staffer? Do you have clients who are good sources? In both cases, it’s more about developing a relationship than it is about developing your pitch. You want to be able to say, “Here are the people I work with and the things I hope to get covered.” Then hope they’ll think of a way to create something. The time spent trying to cultivate the perfect pitch is not as advantageous as trying to create the perfect relationship. It’s the same with full-time staffers.

What are key things millennials like/don’t like when it comes to receiving pitches?

It has certainly become less and less formal. There is greater need to tap into social influencers. It really does just come down to building that relationship.

Pull away as far as you can from press releases. A press release is the owner’s manual. If you bought furniture from Ikea, you kind of need the manual to put things together, but you wouldn’t sell someone the owner’s manual. My process is to build the relationship and have a quick discussion. That discussion might end up being via text, Facebook message or Snapchat until we get to a point where something makes sense. It’s finding people in the channels that make the most sense to them.

You just start to adapt your message and speak in quicker soundbites. If you send someone a novel, it might be a little intimidating and they might just not know what to do with it. You almost start speaking in 140-220 characters. Plus with that approach, that’s less work on your end, then you can build out the release.

The worst thing to do is take three hours writing a release and crafting the perfect pitch. Every client is going to think that all their stuff deserves all the attention in the world. You have to believe in your clients.

When first making contact, do you think it’s better to be overly professional or to show your true personality?

A bit depends on how the relationship started. If it started on Twitter, it can be more goofy and casual. Over LinkedIn emails, you have to be professional. Go with your gut. Generally speaking, I try to get to casual as soon as I can. It’s way more beneficial.

How are changes in storytelling affecting how we need to package our stories?

Everything has a shorter shelf life now. It used to be that you could run things down. I received about 50 pitches with people wanting to talk about United a day or two after the big incident 2017. It was too late. Yes, it takes time to come up with the pitch and the angle. But if you have a relationship, tell the reporter you can talk about United now. You have to be able to capitalize on the first 24 hours. If you see something emerging, make sure you have three to four people in your back pocket to help you out. It’s really like a speed game – it’s like day trading versus investing in stock. Pitching is faster now.

Heather Harder is a communications specialist at RSE Ventures, a New York-based investment and incubation firm. She was formerly PRSSA National President and PRSA New Professionals Board Member. Follow her on Twitter @HeathHarder.

Maximize Your Career Potential by Managing Up


Picture this: you’ve just started a new job, but your new manager isn’t as hands-on as previous supervisors or professors. Instead, you get 30-minutes of one-on-one time with them every other week and—before you can even learn how to use the printer—they expect you to show results. Yikes! Other managers may report into someone that is too hands-on—an entirely different challenge. Whatever your situation may be, learning how to work with your direct supervisor can make or break the early days of your career. The right manager can be your mentor, guide and biggest cheerleader, and it all comes down to how you manage up.

Changing Workplace Dynamics and the Keys to Managing Up
According to the Pew Research Center, Millennials (ages 21 to 38) have overtaken Baby Boomers in the workforce. Did you cringe at the word “millennials”? It’s Ok. I hate that word, too. Younger generations get a bad rep – we are often pegged as needy, entitled, narcissistic, unfocused, lazy – the list goes on. What’s interesting is that we see ourselves as motivated and purpose-driven, trying to make a difference in the world.

Simon Sinek’s video about Millennials in the workforce highlights a key point that unlocks a lot of our problem here: Millennials tend to have difficulty developing meaningful relationships—especially in the workplace. They also tend to be impatient about getting to where they’re going.

The reality, as stated by Sinek, is that the key to managing up is found at the intersection of patience and relationship development.

We’ve all heard the saying, “People leave managers, not companies.” According to Gallup CEO Jim Clifton, “The single biggest decision you make in your job—bigger than all the rest—is who you name manager. When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits—nothing.” (Source: Inc.)

But what makes a good manager? In my experience, the best managers are available when you need them, capable of sharing quality feedback, and able to recognize the strengths and weaknesses in others. While it’s easy to demand those of others,  best way to bring these characteristics out in your manager is to portray them yourselves.

Millennial psychology aside, there are some clear ways to “hack” managing up—no matter which kind of manager you have.

The Power of Quick Wins
If you’ve worked at an agency, you’ll be familiar with this concept. This is the first rule of onboarding a new account—deliver quick wins. However you define a “win,” immediately delivering on your promises and showing success can go a long way in getting the right attention from your manager.

This doesn’t only work for new relationships. In fact, this works after every performance review, weekly one-on-one meeting and more. Remind them of why they hired you and remind them that it was a good decision.

How to Ask for Feedback
How many times have you felt criticized or unappreciated at work? In those situations, I would say it’s probably because you were lacking quality feedback. There are hundreds of articles and books about giving and receiving feedback for a reason—it’s the key to every good relationship.

When giving feedback, first make sure they’re open to it. Ideally you would have already established a relationship with your manager so you can go to them with your questions and concerns. If you have a weekly 1:1 with your boss, then it’s easy—that’s your chance to talk about things that are/aren’t working.

If not, then you need to ask. It’s easiest to do that in the context of your work with them. When they come to you with a new project ask if you can discuss your concerns one-on-one. Some helpful phrases to try out:

  • “Would it be helpful to have another perspective?”
  • “Now that I’ve gotten my head around this assignment, can I talk to you about how things are going?
  • “Do you have a minute to discuss ____? I need more clarity from you on [my role, my responsibility, how we are approaching the assignment].

The key with this is to be specific and don’t get personal. If you start making generalizations or start attacking them as an individual, you could put them on the defensive, and lose your chance to be effective.

It’s worth noting that some relationships will not allow for feedback. In those situations, it’s usually a senior executive so empower yourself to do your best to see things from their perspective.

Receiving feedback is simple—all you need to do is ask:

  • “Do you mind providing feedback on this project? I’m interested in getting your thoughts so I can learn and make adjustments next time.”
  • “Did this meet your expectations?”
  • “Am I getting closer to your vision for this project? If not, where should I focus?”

Feedback should be honest (not brutal, but direct) and real-time. If you only get feedback once per year, then you only have one chance per year to improve. If you get generic responses to your questions, follow up: “Tell me more about that.”

How to Discover “Unwritten Rules”
I’m a fan of discovering “unwritten rules” by befriending the gatekeepers—like the receptionist or your boss’s assistant. You should also work to get to know the people that have been at the company longer than you—they will be a tremendous asset to you as you get to know the “way” of a company’s culture. They can also share tips for working with certain individuals (like your manager).

Unwritten doesn’t usually mean secret, so also don’t be afraid to ask. You’re probably not the first person to do so.

Why Personalities Matter in the Workplace
In Meyers-Briggs, I’m an ENTJ. That means I’m extroverted, intuitive, a thinker and judging (i.e., logical and decisive). The better you understand yourself, the better you can help others to understand you. And for someone to truly manage me, they need to understand me—it works the other way, too.

Understanding how your manager processes information is something I’m still learning—my manager internally processes information and needs more time to think before coming back to me with feedback. I, on the other hand, externally process everything—meaning I like to talk it out with you right then and there until we come to a resolution.

Get to know your manager and be curious about how they think. Learn to anticipate their questions based on their priorities. Understand that everyone is different, and it would be unreasonable to assume otherwise.

What it Means to Set Expectations
Understanding what your manager wants from you—and vice versa—comes down to how you communicate expectations. Be clear about what’s expected up front so there are no surprises (or disappointments) down the road. How do you do that? Have a process. First, ask questions and repeat what you’re hearing. Then, put it in writing (e.g., in an email) and get them to agree to it.

Communications for Communicators
Practice what you preach. Sometimes we can be so client-focused that we forget to utilize our own best practices. Try creating your own formal strategy, just as you would with any client, for how you communicate with your manager. Pre-empt their asks by being proactive. If your manager ever has to come to you and ask you for a status report, you’re too late in getting it to them.

Learn to anticipate the questions of your manager: what are they being held accountable for? That’s what they’re going to ask you about. Find a way to let them know the status of what you’re working on so they don’t have to come looking for you.

In closing, managing up is a challenge because managing people is hard. Be patient with yourself and with your manager. Everyone is on a journey and learning at their own pace.

And the key to any management relationship—up or down—is not management, but the relationship. Take your boss out for coffee and get to know her. That relationship will be the key to your success.

Scott ThornburgAbout the Author
Scott W. Thornburg, APR, is an accredited marketing communications leader with nearly a decade of global agency and in-house experience. Passionate about his work, he is known for thoughtful management of complex issues, careful attention to detail and high-impact leadership. Scott has been a strategic communications adviser for top global brands like Oracle, ExxonMobil, Dell, Cirque du Soleil, Hard Rock, Nasdaq, (acquired by LinkedIn) and more. He now works as a senior public relations manager for Sojern, a travel marketing and advertising technology company. He’s a graduate of The University of Southern Mississippi (2010), with a degree in journalism, and an emphasis in public relations. Scott is a member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and serves on the organization’s national board.

Mastering the Art of Networking


Networking- it’s a very intimidating word, especially for those who cringe at the idea of meeting complete strangers at a happy hour or local event.  Though it may come off as intimidating, the truth is that mastering the art of networking is a crucial step to land your first job.  The expression “it’s who you know” isn’t a myth and it certainly isn’t an expression that should be underestimated.  As someone who began their first post-graduation job in August, I can vouch for the importance of networking.  I can also provide some tips on how networking and landing your first job go hand-in-hand.

1. Utilize Your Resources

When looking for a first job, it can be tempting to start the search with platforms like LinkedIn, and while you may find some great positions listed, it’s not where I would begin. Very often when looking for your first job, it’s the people already in your circle that’ll help find the position you want, and ultimately, get you that position.  Whether it’s a professor, classmate, or family friend, chances are that you have a connection in the field that you are applying.  Once you establish that connection, don’t be afraid to reach out.  It may be an unspoken truth, but people in the communications field (and in general) like to talk about themselves and their professional experiences.  If you reach out with a positive attitude and genuine curiosity about the work they do, you’re golden.

2. Put Yourself Out There

Grounding yourself in the professional world requires you to get out there- literally. If you have colleagues or friends going to a networking happy hour or sporting event, make sure to get that plus-one invite.  Being open to meeting new people and stepping out of your comfort zone is the first step in securing that first job.  Even more important, it gives you the opportunity to be asked the first impression question: Who are you?  This is where your perfected 30 second elevator pitch comes in handy.  No matter who is asking, consider them a possible professional connection and sell yourself.  Make sure your presentation doesn’t sound staged or rehearsed, as people respond better to conversation that sounds genuine and honest.

While these two pieces of advice aren’t the only ones to consider when looking for your first job, they encompass the big ideas.  Everyone has been in your shoes before: colleagues, your boss- and everyone gets how difficult it is to assimilate into the real world.  The most important thing to remember is that the people around you are the ones that matter.  They are in your circle and consider themselves a connection for a reason- use that.  Taking advantage of networking opportunities will pay off in getting you that first job and it will pay off in the career path you choose.  Understanding how to talk to people, especially those who you want something from, is an invaluable skill.  So next time you are stepping into a networking event, try to let go on the intimidation and nervousness, and remember that it’s just one piece in the puzzle to help you get your first job.

evan-martinezEvan Martinez is a Communications Associate at American Iron and Steel Institute, a DC- based trade association representing the North American steel industry on Capitol Hill.


PRSA New Pros 2016 ICON Recap

Indianapolis skyline.

The Public Relations Society of America’s annual International Conference was held Oct. 23-25, 2016 in Indianapolis, Ind. We’re thrilled that a number of New Professionals section members were able to attend, and if you weren’t, read on for our recap.

New Pros Breakfast

The conference officially kicked off Sunday, with New Pros gathering for a networking breakfast.

Thanks to all who joined our New Pros session at PRSA International Conference – it was great to meet some fellow new pros and hear from seasoned professionals from the College of Fellows. We covered tips including first jobs and how to get involved in PRSA. If you’re interested in getting more involved and volunteering for the New Pros section, reach out to get involved! – Jessica Noonan, Chair, PRSA New Pros

Planning to join PRSA in the next couple months? Use the code AM16 to get a free New Pros Section membership when you apply to become a PRSA Associate Member.

“Where Are They Now?” – New Pros Panel at #PRSSANC

The New Pros section also hosted a panel for students at the PRSSA National Conference. Top tips included:

My advice to my 21-year-old self would be to relax. Don’t worry so much about graduation and focus on making the most of your last classes, internships and time as a student. – Nick Lucido, Immediate Past Chair, PRSA New Pros

You can rely on your network for support and guidance for the job search. But if you’ve gone dark on a person for a nine months and reappear asking for help it may not be as helpful as if you kept the relationship strong over time, so stay in touch with your connections. – Brian Price, Chair-Elect, PRSA New Pros

I was once told, “The only person holding you back is yourself.” Don’t be a roadblock to your own success. Believe you can achieve everything you dream of, be confident, and don’t let fear keep you from trying. – Heather Harder, Programming Chair, PRSA New Pros

Management Session Recap

On the final day of conference, the section led a session for New Pros (and their supervisors) on how to manage your first intern/new hire, client, project, and more. Top takeaways include:

To effectively manage up or be managed from below you must clarify and manage expectations and respect the boundaries and communication style preferences of the people that you work with on a daily basis. – Ruthann Campbell, Programming Chair, PRSA New Pros

When it comes to first-time managers, you have to be flexible. Remember that you are combining someone with little experience in management, with someone who has little experience in being managed. To effectively support your new hires, remember the 5’s: set expectations, structure, share (time, knowledge and networks), support and self-growth (because new pro managers learn too!). – Andrea Gils, PRSSA Liaison, PRSA New Pros

New Pros should begin managing their first client account or project once they have a successful track record of work, can handle an increased workload and have set expectations. It’s good exposure for them, especially with upper management and for mentorship opportunities. – Hanna Porterfield, Blog Chair, PRSA New Pros

Want to learn more on this topic? Join our next #NPPRSA Twitter chat on Tuesday, Nov. 15 at 9:00 p.m. EDT.

ICON Testimonials

Wondering if it’s worth going to PRSA ICON as a New Pro? Looking to convince your employer to help you attend next year? Simply want to learn more? We’d love to see you!

This was my first time experience with a PRSA conference. Attending would not have been possible without my involvement with PRSA New Pros as it was through volunteering for the national committee that I was presented with the opportunity to speak. It was invigorating to be able to meet new people and hear about the similar struggles and challenges being faced by professionals in all stages of their career and industries. I learned a lot about new tools and strategies to help me be more effective in my role at a non-profit. If you have the opportunity to get involved and participate at any level of PRSA, I highly recommend that you do so and in the words of a College of Fellow representative, don’t’ just join, join in! – Ruthann

#PRSAICON has been THE highlight of my year. I can’t believe it was my first conference and I was able to present too – all thanks to PRSA New Pros! My favorite part of this year’s conference was being able to talk to a new pro after our session. She was so engaged not just during our presentation but afterward as well. She was facing challenges that we’ve all have faced as new pros and it was very rewarding to be able to listen to her and help her tackle her challenges. I think there’s a perception that PRSA New Pros is for those who just graduated from college or PRSSA – and it is – but it’s also for those who are seasoned pros and may be new to public relations. Our session showed me that there are a variety of New Pros, who are all equally interested in our section and what it has to offer. – Andrea

Check out more recaps from general sessions on PRSA’s website. Contact any of our section committee members to learn more and see you at PRSA ICON in Boston, Oct. 8-10, 2017.

New Pros Week Q&A with Pat Ford of Burson-Marsteller

We LovePRSA New Pros (1)

Editor’s note: as part of PRSA New Professionals week, The Edge sat down with Pat Ford, Vice Chair, Burson-Marsteller for inspiration and advice.

How did you get started in PR? 

I got my start with a small public affairs firm in Washington, DC, for which I had already been doing freelance writing assignments as a side job when I was still a newspaper reporter.  I didn’t know much about PR then – and in those days (early 1980) – I didn’t ever see the kinds of amazing resources we have today for students and young professionals, such as PRSSA and the PRSA New Professionals program.  Once I joined the profession, I loved it and my enthusiasm has only grown stronger over the past 36 years!

What was your biggest challenge when you were a new professional?

The first priority was to learn all I could about how to be an effective communications professional.  Because I worked in a small firm and simply didn’t know about PRSA or other organizations from which I could have received training and met with role models/mentors, I really had to drive that process myself.  

I immersed myself in anything I could read about PR, and gained a lot from several books on PR.  One that sticks in my mind even today is a work by Edward Bernays, one of the most important pioneers in the PR profession, called Crystallizing Public Opinion.  It was written in 1923 but still resonated in the 1980s and is still worth a read today.  The other key priority was to find and enlist the help of great mentors.  I’m so grateful as I think back now about a number of individuals who invested time in my professional development and generously shared the benefits for their vast experience and insight on PR, on public policy, which was the focus of my early days in this business, and of journalism, so I could learn far beyond the limited experience I had.  

I’ll never forget those mentors and I feel a sincere responsibility to honor their selfless dedication to me and other young professionals.  That’s why I am committed to make that same kind of investment in emerging talent today – and every day of my professional life.  

What makes a new professional stand out and advance in the PR industry/to senior leaders?

Your professional persona is, in essence, your brand.  So how do we grow brand strength?  The most important factors in growing any brand are differentiation and relevance: if someone has made it through our screening process, we expect they will have had good grades in school and be smart; we assume a certain standard of writing ability; we expect they will strive to complete a task when they get an assignment; we expect they are or should be voracious consumers of news and media content from the wide range of channels available to all of us today.  Those are table stakes – everyone has to be able to demonstrate those core skills.  

What differentiates you as a young professional are the ways in which you go beyond the expected to the exceptional.  You do this by learning all you can about how business works and how your company’s (and client companies’) business works.  You do it by being proactive and looking for ways to do even the most routine task in an exceptional way, including through flawless execution.  You do it by continually enhancing and improving your writing ability and adapting it to each specific business situation.  And you do it by asking smart questions that show a keen insightful thought process.  And you do it by demonstrating passion for the mission – don’t just say you are passionate or dedicated; show it!

How can new professionals find a mentor?

If you ask them, most will come!  

To paraphrase a lyric from one of the best songs in the musical Hamilton: “Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive (in PR) right now!”

  • Look around in your own office – not just your bosses, but colleagues at every level.
  • Look around in other professional settings like the PRSA, or the Plank Center for Leadership, or The LAGRANT Foundation.
  • Look around and seek out people who seem exceptional at some aspects of the business (or, if you’re lucky, all aspects of the business).  I can’t think of one who ever declined to be helpful.  Some are better than others, but all or most really want to help.  These are priceless opportunities for young professionals, but you need to make them happen.

As a whole, what areas do young professionals come in with the least amount of experience or understanding and how can they make up that ground?

Business acumen and exceptional writing ability.  I can’t emphasize these points enough. I wish I could connect with every future PR professional while they are still in their early college years and convince them to build more business and economics courses into their course loads.  They should also be reading the top business books/publications/sites to build a strong working knowledge of business trends.  It will give you an immense advantage.

Even in our new social media world that is heavily driven by video and 140-character messages, you gain a huge, differentiated advantage if you are an exceptionally talented writer.  Like any special skill, that requires a passion for excellence, a rigorous devotion to honing your skills, and practice, practice, practice.  

What is your top piece of advice for new professionals?

You have NOT reached your destination: this is the beginning of a journey that will have its biggest opportunities and benefits down the road.  These early years of your career are incredibly important for establishing a strong foundation for that journey, so think of them that way: soak up as much knowledge and experience; keep asking the right questions; look for ways to differentiate your personal brand; constantly broaden your horizons with the profession and in business generally.

FordPatrick Ford is Burson-Marsteller’s vice chairman and chief client officer. Over 27 years at B-M, he has held numerous positions including North American CEO and Asia-Pacific Chairman. Pat is a trustee of three leading PR organizations: the Institute for Public Relations; The LAGRANT Foundation; and the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. He was recognized in 2014 with the Plank Center’s prestigious Milestones in Mentoring Legacy Award. Follow Pat on Twitter @fordpat.