- Why it’s important to apply Ping’s “so what?” “who cares?” test to remain objective when writing a media release.
- The benefits of researching the topic/subject matter and journalist to find a better hook.
- The difference between a pitch and a media release.
- The key elements to determine ‘newsworthiness’. Also read Ping’s blog, “What does newsworthy mean?”
- How to structure a media release:
- Heading: should be no more than 8 words and say exactly what it is about, as simply as possible.
- 1st and 2nd paragraph: to contain all (and/or relevant) newsworthy elements.
- Quote: from the main contact / source.
- 3rd and following paragraph: introduce the person and/or provide any further supporting information.
- How to structure your email to a journalist:
- Pitch the story in 8-9 words.
- Copy and paste media release into the body of the email.
- Include a 1 link that contains all additional/supporting material: photographs, research, reports.
- Follow up with the journalist 3-5 days after pitching your story.
- Should you offer exclusivity on your story?
Connect with Ping:
Paul Evans: Today’s guest is Ping Chu, Managing Director of Ping Publicity. Ping has worked in Singapore, Vancouver, and Melbourne in numerous roles including as a media advisor to government, a senior PR agency consultant, a communications manager, a journalist, and a university lecturer. In each new city, Ping had to start from scratch with very few networks and contacts. However, what she proved with each move, is that if you know what a journalist wants, then media publicity is going to work for you even when you don’t have established media contacts. Her successful approach to publicity is based on anchoring yourself on journalism fundamentals. For example, show the journalists what’s new, what’s different, what’s the impact, and how relevant is it to the audience and then they’re going to want to report on your story. As Ping explains, it’s all about understanding the audience for each medium because journalists are reporting for their audience and not for you. Welcome to the show Ping.
Ping Chu: Thank you very much for having me.
Rob Patterson: You’re welcome, Ping. All right, so by way of background, last year I attended Ping’s Publicity course, that’s Rob Patterson, which I would highly recommend to all of our listeners. I walked away with two things. The first was an understanding of why my previous PR attempts had been so hit and miss and secondly a really good process for running successful PR campaigns. When Paul and I were originally discussing our podcast, Ping was really high on my list because I think she’s got a lot of insights that many people would benefit from. So I’m looking forward to this discussion. Alrighty Ping, so how about we kick off with a few icebreakers. What was your first ever job?
Ping Chu: Okay. My first ever job was when I was 18, I was a waitress at Pizza Hut restaurant in Singapore. At that time, it was actually a fully licensed, sit down family restaurant, really quite up market. It was the first time I learned to pour a beer and you know, first time I learned how to balance all these drinks on a tray with one hand. So very exciting.
Rob Patterson: Very important life skills.
Ping Chu: Yes.
Rob Patterson: Well, now given that you grew up in Singapore, did you have your first car in Singapore?
Ping Chu: No, and that’s the funny thing. I never drove because you know there wasn’t a lot of space in that country. So I thought, well, what’s the point? I’m always taking public transport. So finally, when I came to Melbourne, I was already 25 and I even held off, getting a license until I was 26 and then I bought my first car, which was the Holden Commodore. I was compelled to buy an Aussie car, so.
Rob Patterson: All right. Last but not least, if someone knew you really well, what would they know about you that others may not?
Ping Chu: Oh, okay. Yeah well a lot of people who know me today know that I love learning. I believe in lifelong learning, I’m always up for it. Learning, taking a course, or doing something. A workshop or conference, but that wasn’t always the case when I was younger. I actually hated school, all throughout primary school and secondary school, I was not a good student. And I think it was more about the education system, but I just wasn’t engaged. So luckily things turned around when I went to university, I went overseas as a foreign international student in Canada. And I remember when I got my master’s degree, my mother actually said something like, oh I guess you’re a late bloomer and I guess you’re not that bad, you’re pretty smart after all, I guess. Who would have known, she said.
Rob Patterson: Sounds like a hard task master.
Rob Patterson: That’s actually my story as well. Yeah, I was not good at high school and when I got my master’s my old man was like, really?
Rob Patterson: I was as model student all the way through.
Rob Patterson: Yeah, yeah sure.
Rob Patterson: All right. So on to the important bit. So recent publicity campaigns Ping, could you career benefit outline a couple of your recent PR campaigns?
Ping Chu: All right. Well so today I just wanted to talk about two quite different campaigns because I wanted to show how media publicity can be used in different ways. A lot of people think that it’s just about pitching the story, but there are other ways. So I’ll talk about that a little bit more. So the first one was a campaign that I actually worked with you, Rob.
Rob Patterson: Yep.
Ping Chu: A year ago when you were consulting to a business law firm. So this small firm had a unique business model. It was a virtual firm meaning that the staff didn’t have an office, but at the time that they wanted to get media publicity, the goal was for them to be visible in the mall space. They wanted lawyers all over Australia to know about them and consider joining them. It was all about growing. So with this goal in mind, the objective really was about raising awareness and so we chose to pitch a story to the Lawyers Weekly, which is read by all the lawyers and subsequently the story got published. So that was a good one. And we’ll talk about that, I guess, a little bit later.
Rob Patterson: Yeah, it was a tremendous outcome.
Ping Chu: Yeah. The second one is a holistic health practitioner. This was quite recent I worked with her. She wanted to raise awareness about her expertise because she works on the client’s subconscious. And it’s a bit hard to kind of pitch that story because she helps people change their lives. People who are depressed or angry or addicted to things. But so in her case, it was not really possible to get a news story, so we decided to use PR in a way that she wrote a blog article and then she would pitch that blog article to an editor and we chose something, we chose a parenting magazine because that was the target audience of parents and her blog was accepted and she got published and then from being published she got more visible, she got calls, things like that. So that’s a very different campaign but just as effective.
Rob Patterson: In your course, you advise that thorough background research is critical before creating a media release. But having worked with a lot of partners in particular who are eager to tell the world just how wonderful they are or how wonderful their business is, is it really necessary to do all that background? So can’t we just tell all the world how wonderful they are?
Ping Chu: Yeah, well absolutely necessary to do your research. I think that the main reason being, if you don’t do any research, then all you have is really what you want to say. That’s all you’ve got only one thing, you want to say one thing and you’re just going to say it and you’re not really considering the listener. Is it going to be interesting to them? What are they thinking? Where are they at? So most of the people who don’t do their research will actually fail in getting their story told by the journalists because you don’t understand where they’re coming from so you’re not speaking to what they’re listening for. So for me, absolutely research is important. And the two questions I always ask myself, even when I’m writing, even when I’ve done all the research and starting to write, I’ll write something and I’ll say, okay, so what I always ask myself, so what? Do people care? So it’s always two things. So what, and who cares? And it’s a good test.
Rob Patterson: Yes.
Ping Chu: To be really objective and look at it that way and try to put yourself in the shoes of the audience. Yeah, so.
Rob Patterson: Yeah, and one of the things that struck me and one of the little bits of gold that I thought you imparted to me was when we were looking at as you say, so what or what’s important about the virtual firm was is there any academic research or is there any rigor supporting your contention and that there was, there was some really interesting research supporting, our virtual firm and some of the benefits of the virtual firm. With your holistic health person, what sort of research did you do to help them?
Ping Chu: Okay. So with holistic health, I guess I’ll just explain a little bit, like with the other example with the law firm that we talked about, the research was looking at what we were going to talk about, our news hook was about looking at experience, staff experience versus staff engagement.
Rob Patterson: Yep.
Ping Chu: And so we looked for a specific piece of research that would back up what we are actually trying to say, or the point that we’re trying to make. With a blog articles, it’s slightly different because we’re not looking at it so academically, the research was about her own research, like her own experience with parents and with the topic that we looked at some of the things that she had been dealing with, but the other kind of research we had to do was… because there were a lot of people in her space that were writing about the subconscious and therapy for depression and all that. If she was to write a piece, it’s something that she really wanted to write about.
Ping Chu: We got to do the research to see what are her competitors writing about? If they’ve already been published similar stuff, you don’t want to be seen writing the same stuff. So it’s different. So the research was more about that. What have other people similar to her, what have they been writing and so it was quite interesting because we saw, yeah people were talking about depression or things, helpful tips for the parents. And then we talked a little bit more and realise that she had a lot of parents who were wanting therapy for their children, really young children, primary school aged children. And she said, I don’t want them to go to therapy. They don’t need to, most of the time it’s because it’s about the mum or the dad.
Rob Patterson: That’s true.
Ping Chu: They have to fix their problems first before they can fix the kids and actually kids can adjust according to the parents. So it was quite funny that we actually then wrote a piece about how you shouldn’t rush your children to therapy. And that was very interesting. And so we did the research to look at has anybody written about that, the opposite? And when we found that nobody had and she used that topic, it was great because the editor loved it and said, oh this is great, we haven’t used it. So I guess that’s a benefit of doing your research.
Rob Patterson: Absolutely. And going taking a position that no one else had taken.
Ping Chu: Yeah.
Rob Patterson: That’s brilliant. Another thing that you made me research and I realised the benefits of it, was researching the journalists as well that you’re approaching.
Ping Chu: Yes.
Rob Patterson: And you know for me, one of the things I learned through that was that by looking at things that the journalists had written on or had been focusing on, and then when you are pitching to the journalist commenting on that makes a heap of difference. Because you actually seem, well not seem, you are you are quite a bit informed about what they find is important. All right. So now, one of the things I also learned was the difference between a media release and a pitch to a journalist. Can you succinctly tell our listeners what the difference between the two is?
Ping Chu: Okay. All right, so a media release and sometimes we call it a press release or the news release, but it’s essentially the same thing. It’s really your story. This is the story that you want the journalist to write about and it should contain all the answers to the questions of like when, where, what, how, who. And you should also have a quote, maybe one or two quotes, from the person that is going to talk about this issue. And so that’s the story. And it’s written in a structure like a journalist. So really, you’re thinking like a journalist and writing something that they can picture themselves reporting on. Yeah. And so that’s your story. The pitch is really the sale, the sale of that story. And it has to be very, very brief because I guess everybody’s busy. So journalists especially, they get a lot of emails every day for story ideas.
Ping Chu: So you’ve got to be really quick so that the pitch is really a sale. But the first sentence is really what the story is about in maybe eight words, nine words, and why, what’s the significance? So that’s the main thing. So I would always include three things. The first thing is what the story is. What is the significance? So why would you readers care, basically. It could be because an issue has been in discussion for a while. This is interesting because it’s a flip or a different version or digging deeper, something. And then the third is always when are you available to be interviewed or who is going to be available and when, so usually just three things. And then you include your story and hope for the best.
Rob Patterson: So in respect of again, the holistic health example, what was your pitch to that magazine?
Ping Chu: Okay. So with this one it was… because I was teaching her how to do it. So she did it herself, but with a lot of guidance from me. So her pitch was how… She came up with a headline or we worked on a headline together and it says “how to be the leader of your pack.”
Rob Patterson: Okay.
Ping Chu: And then so she talked about why, she says I have an article about being the leader. I’ve got tips of how a mum can be the leader of the pack.
Rob Patterson: Yeah.
Ping Chu: And then she says it’s important today because everyone’s rushing to give the kids therapy. I don’t recommend that. So that stand and I’m using the element of conflict, talk about news elements, conflict is one of them that’s saying the opposite, just not going with the status quo. And it always works because it’s different.
Rob Patterson: Yeah.
Ping Chu: And so using conflict is good. And so that went well and they said they like the idea and she got published.
Rob Patterson: Brilliant, really cool. You used worthiness, is it another thing that, and I know that you’re very big on, marketers are often faced with a demand from the business to get our story out in the media. Just get it out there and I’ve seen it, had that laid upon me several times. So I want to know what are the one or two elements that make a story newsworthy.
Ping Chu: All right, well there’s so many, so many elements in use and it’s actually… if listeners, if you have time you can come to my website and read the blog. I actually have a blog article that says what makes it newsworthy. What is newsworthy? And I think I came down to 10, there were 10 different elements, but I’m not going to go through all of them, but I think the key one is it must be something new. So, it’s pretty basic news, it has to be something new, but that’s what people want to see what’s new and what’s different and what’s innovative. And a lot of that, I guess, not just one news element stands on its own, it’s usually partnered with a few things.
Ping Chu: So timeliness is important because you usually hook it to something that is being discussed, which is trending, I guess that’s the word that people use, which makes it interesting because certain issues have been discussed, so timeliness, new, definitely the relevance to the reader. How do you relate to this, does it impact you? So relevance and impact kind of go hand in hand and how it’s going to, like are you going to suffer from it or you going to benefit from it, you know? And what is it to actually measure that, and I talk about size as well, so if it’s a huge impact, how much impact is that? So yeah, so it’s all kind of all intertwined, those elements, yeah.
Rob Patterson: But really important, aren’t they? As I said, a lot of people want to just push their own barrow, but if it’s not newsworthy, if it’s not relevant, if it’s not timely, it’s just not going to get picked up. In terms of structuring your media release, another key learning for me was that you need to structure your media release properly. How important is the deadline, do you think?
Ping Chu: Yeah, I think it’s really important. Sometimes it could make or break the story.
Rob Patterson: Yeah.
Ping Chu: It’s funny, I mean with headlines, some people who are quite creative and they like writing, they start to think they want to be a bit clever. So almost like writing it like an ad almost with kind of subliminal meaning and stuff. And that’s not what we want because it’s very different. The headline is different from an ad copy or advertising copy. So you don’t want to try to be clever, you just want to say exactly what it is and say it simply. So it doesn’t have to be, you know, artistic or anything like that.
Ping Chu: It’s really just saying what the main point is and not too long. So usually the rules are, and this is journalism rules now when I was trained as a journalist, we would say a headline would be about eight words.
Rob Patterson: Yes.
Ping Chu: Because you want to capture exactly what the story’s about in eight words. You don’t want more than that. So all of that is about making it easy for the journalist, that they read it and they get it. And that sums it up, that that really sums it up. And sometimes Paul it’s quite deceiving. People think, oh, it’s just a short headline. Why did you take so long to write it? Actually it’s a bit of a process, and playing with it and saying, well, is this going to be the most impactful headline for this story?
Rob Patterson: So when you pitch an unusual lease, do you find that the journalists will often use your headline or will they maybe create their own variation on the theme?
Ping Chu: I think they’d like to change it a bit.
Rob Patterson: Yes.
Ping Chu: Only because they don’t like to be told what to do. And they just want it to be their piece. I think there’s a little bit of, sometimes with that competition between PR and journalists that they don’t want to be seen that the PR person’s just given them everything and they’ve just taken it without making any change, that they want to think about it a bit more. So usually they would want to change it, but the whole idea is communicating to them what the story is. And if they can see that that’s a story that they like, they can change it to a different angle and often they do change it and sometimes people don’t like it because they said no, like I gave that angle. Why did you take another angle? And that’s the thing about PR that you don’t have control.
Rob Patterson: Right.
Ping Chu: Once you pitch it, that’s your pitch, what they do with it… and sometimes it can actually, they might come up with a story completely different to what you thought it would be and it might even sometimes be a bit negative and sometimes the PR people get… The organisation gets so angry and they say that’s not what we told you, but it’s up to them, you can’t control it. But you’re trying as much as possible with your communication to communicate that’s my story. Yeah.
Rob Patterson: So journalists wouldn’t normally call after they’ve received a media release and want to run with this story or it really depends on the publication?
Ping Chu: It depends on a publication. So in terms of when it’s fairly well known kind of media, so like Lawyers Weekly, it’s highly regarded in the industry. They would want to check your quotes and at least talk to the person. With the maybe smaller publications that actually are under-resourced, like they don’t have enough journalists to cover everything and they really need to have more stories in there. Sometimes they just take it, they take it and they don’t check it. They might just check with the PR person, but they may not actually interview the person who is quoted and they might just take the quote. So it really depends. I mean from the PR perspective, if a journalist decides to just run with it without actually interviewing or without doing much more, it’s actually a real winner for them because they’ve written it, then the way they’ve written it, and it’s got published that way. It’s exactly almost like you’ve controlled it. It’s like an ad that you’ve given.
Rob Patterson: Yeah.
Ping Chu: So it’s a win for them. So ideally they love that, but that’s not always the case.
Rob Patterson: Okay.
Rob Patterson: That’s my experience as well, I think that the one that we worked on together, the journalist paraphrased it differently. It was a similar sort of slant, but paraphrased it differently, which was great, they probably did a better job than me.
Rob Patterson: So I’ve got my headlines sorted, what should I be putting in the first paragraph?
Ping Chu: Okay. So when we write the press release or the news release, we’re thinking like a journalist. So the structure of a news release is very much a structure of a news story that would appear in the age or you know, whatever it is. And that will be to have most of the key news elements within that first paragraph. So you have to have what and who and how, try and get as many of those into the first paragraph. Obviously you can’t always get that. So usually we’ll say in the first two paragraphs it should cover everything. It should cover all your who, what, when, where, how and why. So yeah, so that’s mainly the first two paragraphs.
Rob Patterson: Okay. And then you go into a bit of detail later on.
Ping Chu: Yes, that’s right. So as you expand, then you start to bring, usually in the third paragraph we start to bring in the person, if we’re talking about an innovation from a company and then it will be the CEO or principal or the law often. And explain a little bit more, and bring in a few more details as we go further. And the whole idea came from, I mean this is really back right to the old days of journalism, is that when with a typewriter, they would type the stories out and the editor would just be able to cut the last three or four paragraphs. And so the copy, I think there’s like a runner who runs, grabs the copy from the typewriter, and gives it to the press to get it printed. Would then just have the top bit so it came from that.
Rob Patterson: Okay, yeah.
Ping Chu: Yes, a cutting from the bottom. So you have the most important at the top and the least important things at the bottom.
Rob Patterson: I think that’s probably how people read websites as well. Obviously top to bottom, but read probably the first paragraph or two, then they start scanning and looking at headlines?
Ping Chu: Yes, that’s right. And that’s why the headlines are so important.
Rob Patterson: Okay, cool, cool. Okay so I’ve emailed the journalist, a week has passed and I’ve heard nothing. What should I do then?
Ping Chu: All right, well a lot of the time because journalists have so many stories and ideas that are pitched to them, they don’t really get back to you at all. So actually for a PR person, a lot of your time is spent following up. So following up is the most important thing, other than you put it out there, but you can’t just leave it and hope for the best. Really. You hope for the best for a few days and then you go, okay, it’s time to follow up. And usually what I do is give it a minimum of three days, three to three days, three to five days, could be a week. But if it’s something that you think, oh, you know, the timing is important, then I would say three days follow up on it. If something urgent, and you think that you might miss the boat if it’s a little bit too late, maybe that it wouldn’t be as strong a story anymore. Yeah. You get onto it. So definitely follow up. And that’s really important because they might say, oh, I didn’t see it. Sometimes they delete lots of emails all at one go and it’s gone and they never saw it. So, yeah, follow up.
Rob Patterson: In terms of the journalists, if I’m lucky enough and after having followed up they then contact me, should I anticipate that they might request for the material, like a photograph or a high res logo, should I sort of have those at the ready?
Ping Chu: Yeah, I think that for me, I always think the best way is the first time to anticipate everything and the first time give it to them. Because the whole idea is to make it as easy as possible for them. So they see everything all at one go. They don’t have to come back and ask you for stuff as much as possible. Obviously they will ask for some stuff, but at least you’ve managed as much as possible. So I would say, like say for photograph, I would just have that available already and what I do is, because they get so much email and you don’t want to attach too many things, so even with a photograph, which is usually if it’s high resolution takes up a lot space. So I would provide a link to say a Dropbox or something where you’ve stored. So rather than give them a big document, give them links that they can just access.
Rob Patterson: That’s a great idea.
Ping Chu: Yeah.
Rob Patterson: Okay. Now, in terms of making the pitch, should I make the pitch via email or phone? Is there a best way to do it?
Ping Chu: Well I think I always go with email, only because journalists are really, really busy. They basically… very, very few of them actually pick up phones when they’re ringing. Like they would use the phone obviously to interview people, but they don’t just… so email is the best way. Unless it’s something so urgent and you think it’s fantastic, that they would really want to know right away, a breaking kind of story. Then yes, definitely use the phone. But if it’s not urgent, it’s a story that would be great that they’ll appreciate, but it’s not urgent, I’ll go with email.
Rob Patterson: Okay. A good tip. And if I’m emailing it, do I attach the press release or do I put it in the body of the email? How should I do that?
Ping Chu: Yeah, so just like how I talked about the photos, we want to make it really easy for them. So I won’t be attaching a document, like the press release, I’ll just cut and paste the words and put it in your main email. So you do your pitch and then you just scroll down. You say this is the story, have a look, details are below and have that story there. And then you have all your links to whatever else that you want to show them. And sometimes the links could be just extra information about those issues or things that have been debated. It might be government media releases that have come out that have talked about those issues or other reports that have come out in the media. So you can just provide links to them so they don’t have to go and Google for them and try and find background information. You’ve done it for them.
Rob Patterson: Yeah. Okay.
Ping Chu: And that’s all helpful. So just, yeah, clicking through all of the links.
Rob Patterson: Which totally makes sense, it’s like if I was doing that for someone internally, that’s exactly what I would do. So I totally get how that would help them.
Rob Patterson: Should you only ever pitch a story to one journalist? So should it be an exclusive and I guess then what happens if they don’t answer? Is it poor form to then go to another journalist and pitch the story after say that three days or how do you sort of handle that kind of situation?
Ping Chu: Okay. Well it really depends on the circumstances. With the bigger media, if it’s quite an in-depth story, say that you have to go and talk about case or something really in depth, I would not offer it to all three channels. Like say if we want to go to TV, I would choose one, which I think would be the best or will give me good coverage, that will be fair, and who will do a good job. So it might be that you think, well ABC might be the best one, or maybe channel seven or maybe the project under, depending on what the case is or whatever the story is. And if they say no, they’re not interested, then by all means choose somebody else. But I would say one at a time when it’s quite in depth. If it’s a general story that you’re launching something, a service. Yeah, then I would say that would be a new story. I would offer it to everyone at the same time. And yeah, that’s an important thing, everybody at the same time. So it’s fair. It’s not like that somebody had a day before and broke the story, yeah. So you try to be fair, as fair as possible, but if it’s some kind of special investigation, you might want to just choose one media to go with.
Rob Patterson: That’s cool. Cool. Okay Ping, thank you so much for joining us today. As I said, I highly recommend your course to anybody who’s serious about public relations and getting their public relations messages across. Just before we finish up, I’ve got a few questions that I’d like to ask you. The first is can you nominate another industry leader that you hold in great respect that you think we should also talk to as part of our podcast?
Ping Chu: Yes. I have somebody in mind. Her name is Stephanie Hope. She is a principal at Argent Law. She’s a family lawyer. She has many, many years of experience in legal aid, championing the rights of marginalised women and so I really love her work and her passion. So yes.
Rob Patterson: Awesome, so I might get you to send her details through to us, that’d be brilliant.
Ping Chu: Okay.
Rob Patterson: Now if you could lead any company in the world, other than Ping Publicity, which would that be?
Ping Chu: I don’t think I have a company in mind, a specific company, but I know the kind of characteristics I guess, of a company that I would love. And for me, sustainability is very important for me, not just about eco friendly and that kind of thing, but so being good to the earth, but also sustainable in terms of the people, being good to your people so that we’re a sustainable workforce. So yeah.
Rob Patterson: But not the Republican party in the US then?
Ping Chu: No.
Rob Patterson: Okay. So one of the key things is how can people connect with you? Can they connect with you on LinkedIn or Twitter or good old email?
Ping Chu: Yeah, well, I’m on LinkedIn, but I love the email. And so my email addresses is email@example.com. And I also love for people to come to my website and have a read of my blog articles because there’s a lot of information there, which we’ve kind of covered a little bit in today’s conversation.
Rob Patterson: Oh, cool. And your website is www.pingpublicity?
Ping Chu: Yes, dot com dot au.
Rob Patterson: Most people will probably Google it, and we’ll also include those contact details on the notes to our podcast today. I might hand it over to Paul to wrap it up as he usually does a pretty good job of it.
Rob Patterson: I was just going to say thank you for being on the show. I learned a ton from it. Yeah.
Ping Chu: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me. I love talking about what I do best.
Rob Patterson: That’s great. Well, again, thank you very much.