PR Wars Podcast: The golden placement

The Associated Press is the gold standard for journalism. For many of us in public relations, a great hit in the AP can not only mean success for your company, it could mean success for your career. On today’s PR Wars podcast, we talk with Skip Foreman, Mid-Atlantic Breaking News Staffer at the Associated Press. Learn how to construct your press release to be more newsworthy. 

Listen to PR Wars on:

“We want the truth.” “We want the truth.” “We want the truth.” “I have news for everybody. Get over it.”

Announcer
It’s time. Welcome to PR Wars. Coming at you live from Atlanta, Georgia. Now, here is your host, Chris Shigas!

Chris Shigas
Welcome to the show. I’m Chris Shigas. And you’re listening to PR Wars. The Associated Press is the gold standard for journalism. For many of us in public relations, a great hit in the AP can not only mean success for your company, it could mean success for your career. The Associated Press is in more than 15,000 news outlets worldwide. Now hear me out on the impact of this. More than half of the world’s population sees AP journalism every day. In the United States, the AP has counted the vote in national, state, and local elections since 1848. The AP Stylebook is the standard for how public relations professionals write. And not only has the AP won 54 Pulitzer prizes, but Associated Press photographers have captured many of the most iconic images in American history. Our guest on the show today is Skip Foreman and he’s been with the Associated Press for more than four decades. He covers breaking news for the Mid Atlantic region. When he began his career pack in 1979… just think about it… the cost of a new Toyota Corolla just over $3,600. He was a journalist through the terms of seven US presidents. And his wisdom is a benefit to PR pros, because he has had a front row seat in the evolution of news, along with the many changes to the world. But before we get to Skip, I’d like to introduce the PR Wars co host and fellow communications paragon, Brad Grantham.

Brad Grantham
Thanks, Chris. I’ve known Skip for close to 20 years. I consider him to be one of the fairest and best journalists I know. So very much looking forward to this episode, so why don’t we just Skip to it.

Chris Shigas
Thanks, Brad. Hey, Skip Foreman thanks for joining us. I appreciate you being here on PR Wars.

Skip Foreman
Thank you.

Chris Shigas
Let’s start you are a long timer with the Associated Press back from when you started in 1979. How has news gathering and the wire service changed over time until today,

Skip Foreman
I can bring you some some vivid examples.

When I started the AP, we, our bureau did not have a television. We did not know between the six and 11 O’Clock News and even if there was a six and 11. We had no idea. When I started in 1979. The local the News and Observer of Raleigh the local paper had separate editions. We’ve always waited for the 10:30 edition so we could get the most news out before midnight. So we could bolster our report the day when I started in 1979. transmitting a picture was an eight minute process by landline by phone line, and you didn’t know how the picture looked until it came out of the receiving device, our printer as it were. And if there’s any sort of noise in the line or any disruption, you’d have to start the whole process over again. So it was really convoluted. Plus you had to find the space between other people trying to transmit to get your picture out. Now you’re looking at today, the Raleigh bureau have five TVs. You can see the news and observer online and grab news read news any time of the day or night and I can send a picture from my phone. And it gets to the destination almost immediately. If the immediacy is what’s different now we aren’t locked into a point where we’re having to wait for somebody to report from a scene. You know, put a dime in a phone and call, we don’t have to wait for somebody to come back from an assignment. That sort of thing. Everything is now you can write it from where you sit. And that makes a huge, huge transition over time and I’ve watched it in varying stages from type writing and sending something by a fax machine, or what we used to be called a tele copier so and back. Then, you had these 40 pound portable computers that use couplers. So if you’re filing from a basketball game and there was any crowd noise Your file was basically ruined. We finally got computers that didn’t go through external noise that made filing a little simpler. And now we’re at the point where you can file a story on almost any device that you possess or have been assigned to. It’s the change is just remarkable. And it’s just been interesting to me to watch it over 40 years time.

Brad Grantham
Skip, you know, the average American looks at his phone, his or her phone over 92 times a day, according to report from late last year. And the news? Well, obviously, it’s a lot more than that. We’re probably looking at our phones 100 500 times a day, but we are deluged from the moment we get up in the morning, to the moment we lay our head down to sleep in the evening. How has social media made your job better, and also worse? What’s been the most challenging for you?

Skip Foreman
I would I would lean to the side of better whereas you would have to contact say a law enforcement group or or some sort of entity to get information on a certain breaking news story or spot news story. Now we get tweets. We get Facebook posts, we get live streams. We get things that make the job easier because the information we’re seeking is right there. police stations police departments now use Twitter to put out running information on breaking events. One case in point was the shootings at UNC Charlotte when the county emergency agency kept updating to the point where it told us there were casualties on campus. years ago. That wouldn’t have been an option. We would have had to wait for somebody to step before us and tell us as much before UNCC police in Charlotte Mecklenburg police held their news conference that night. We already knew Those two young kids we’re dead. That helps our members have an idea of what’s coming, or what else is coming as it were. And what we already know, if there’s a downside, and we probably avoid this is that too many people trying to feed in information that they don’t have verified, we very rarely ever run into that, at least from my perspective, because they’re not the people I rely on. I can go to a sheriff’s department, Facebook page, and they will have a release on a major arrest a major crime, I can go to Twitter. And for example, I cover Maryland, the Maryland law enforcement agencies, some of the bigger ones actually live stream their news conferences. So that makes a huge difference in learning what you need to learn without being in place to hear it and not having to wait for the local TV station or the local newspaper to run something out. You’re hearing it as they hear it and you’re able to run As they write it, so it makes, it makes a huge difference. They really know from my work, no downsides to social media, except for people who are on the periphery maybe saying things that they haven’t verified, an info only heard from rumor and hearsay and second and third hands, so we just stay away from them.

Chris Shigas
So let’s talk a little bit about public relations. The Associated Press is the Golden child of hits for a public relations professional, right. If we have our client or our company has a soundbite in the Associated Press, it has the potential to be in every media outlet in the United States, as well as the world. Now there’s this love hate relationship between PR and journalists. On the PR side, it feels that if I have a good news story, I can’t get a reporter on the phone. And if I have a bad news story, I can’t get one off the phone. Now I’m sure from the journalists side, it looks like it’s not that you don’t like public relations pitches, you let our story ideas you’d like good story ideas that you can use. The problem comes when you’re getting too many bad story ideas, right? As you see good story ideas and bad story ideas. What are you really looking for?

Skip Foreman
I got a pitch. When I was in Charlotte, which was a very, very good pitch. It’s one of the best pitches I’ve ever seen. It was about this person who started a car service for cancer, cancer patients who needed treatment. It was an awesome pitch. I mean, it wasn’t oversold. It simply described what he did. And it offered and offered an example of the people he helped. And it was perfect. It just told me what I needed to know. And it’s sort of like goaded me to do the story,

Chris Shigas
and how long was it?

Skip Foreman
a printed page, maybe two, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t drawn out. It was the presentation, and then the example. And it was just perfect. It was great because it told me what I needed to know. And it basically sold itself. It didn’t take a lot of fluff. It didn’t take a great deal of introduction. It didn’t need it, because the story was so compelling. You just felt like, oh, man, this guy’s pretty cool. And he’s got clients and it’s working. Boom, we’ve got the story. I mean,

Chris Shigas
As you saw the email, you could glance at it and really kind of tell Okay, I get what’s going on here. Right?

Skip Foreman
Completely. And, and it just, it was great stuff. And, ultimately, I guess, in their transmission of that email. I saw the story on CBS. CBS Evening News ran it, so it was like, Okay, good. They that whoever did that had a great pitch, and it paid off. So it was just it was a wonderful thing for them. And, and it to me, it was just a textbook case of how you present a story that you want to be told. They didn’t get in the way they didn’t call every day or two, or anything like that. They made sure I had it in Galloway. And that was fine that That to me was just an ideal pitch. I thoroughly enjoyed that. I liked it. And I remember it every time I think of the other things I get going.

Chris Shigas
Brad, do you want to talk about the other things

Brad Grantham
I find the best pitches, at least from from our end is to basically sell it in a paragraph now because of our attention spans, right? Because you’re getting hit all the times with emails, we’re getting it if I can grab you in five to 10 seconds off the top right I’m not gonna have any chance You know you were getting any further. So how many emails scamp Do you get on average a day? And can you tell us, you know, some recent recent examples of some pitches that you got? That could have been made a lot better?

Skip Foreman
Sometimes it’s pitch itself for some time. It almost never gets you in the door. And I say that from from the perspective of, I’m not sure sometimes there are people who realize what it is we do we be in the AP. Got one right here, for example, elevate your career when the economy push, pause and Marsha gay working folks, some time for introspection. Many wondered, am I really where I want to be? Well, that’s fine in one perspective, but at the same time, you have people who are out of work altogether. It’s not like they want to go look for something new. They just want to go look, because they don’t have anything old or new. I get that but there’s a part of me that says we might offend people who are struggling to keep it They’re worried they might get laid off, they may not get back. How do you push this idea in a way that’s palatable to everybody? I mean, if there’s a person who doesn’t have a job, and they start thinking, maybe I need to do something else, that’s a thought, but the person who is working at home and thinking, Hmm, I could do home decor, because they’re been looking around their house for like weeks on end, I may see five to six of these a day, which in a grand scheme isn’t that many. But you have to look at what we’re looking at overall, in this timeframe. I’m getting multiple political emails, I’m getting multiple regular news emails, and then just the administrative stuff that comes in. So there are a lot of emails in the span of a day. And even if you get to look at a pitch, I can’t guarantee you that I’m going to get back to you or I can’t guarantee that That is a pitch I can pursue. The people who make the pitch usually follow up with a phone call saying we sent you something. Did you get it? Well, I have to stop at that point. Because I’m not prone to lie to them and say, Yeah, I got it. Thank you. But they just gave you a task,

Chris Shigas
right? Yeah,

Skip Foreman
yeah, they just gave me an additional mission to perform on their behalf. And I’m going, might as well look. So you go back through the thing, and you finally find it. And you have to say, and if the conversation goes, accordingly, you say, I appreciate it. We’ll take a look at it. Thank you. And I will take a look at it. But it’s not promising that I’m going to be able to follow through with it and it’s not so much the pitch. It’s the time involved. We in every news outlet right now. Their plates are breaking, because they’re full. There’s a lot of stuff going on right now. I mean, between 100 Based on police brutality and injustice, the election year, virus Yeah, yeah. to, to to wedge in, in my where I want to be in my career. That’s a tough sell. That’s a very tough sell. And if you if you can do it, God bless you.

Chris Shigas
Do you think it would be a better pitch if they tied it into a current news angle, whether it was, you know, laid off from because of Coronavirus and make a career change or do you think the tie ins work better?

Skip Foreman
But yeah, and here’s the thing. I mean, we can always talk to an expert. We all talk to experts, we all pitch experts in a certain PR release. But what about the person who’s directly impacted and if that was a point that came up with the first gig example I brought you not only did I have the guy doing the transporting of cancer patients, they had a cancer patient who talked about what it was like to have the service that goes a long way in getting your story down the road. Because while we don’t want to copy the release verbatim, at least we have a name we can go by, in fact, two names and we can find other people we find out where that person is, and we we track them down. One, you have a story two, you have a photo three, you have video. And at that point, there it is brilliant with the pitch like the one I just brought you, I have a person who’s an expert, but I get a headshot, I get a thumbnail. And that’s, that’s different. I mean, it’s one thing to read. It’s one of those things that that might show up in the section C or D of the newspaper on Sunday, but it takes a lot to get that story to pull the reader’s attention.

Brad Grantham
I think Given like the way that you broke that down, you know, you’ve got to have that human element to it, right? So it’s impacting somebody whether, you know, you’ve got to have that full picture. And again, if anybody were to watch their local newscast, or read the AP or newspaper, you’re going to have those elements in there. It has to be because you’ve got to drive it home to your audience. Would it be safe to say that if you have pitched the AP or a local news outlet or any type of media outlet, if you don’t hear back from that reporter within 24 to 36 hours, that it’s probably not going to happen? But that’d be fair to say if you didn’t serve it up? Or do you have an evergreen file that you kind of keep some stories in potentially

Skip Foreman
two pronged approach here dependent, it depends on the pitch. I would say that there is a 36 hour rule that if you don’t hear from us or the outlet you contacted it’s it’s not going to get anywhere at the same time when December comes in. Trying to produce content for those days when it’s real lean. These are the types of things that if properly produced, pitched and presented, it’s something we could pursue for a quick story, something that would capture a reader’s attention on after they’ve gone shopping at the mall or on oil online, because who knows if we’d be able to go a mall in December, there’s always an opportunity that something you pitch can be used. I would say the odds increase the later you get into the year because we’re all looking for something to write. That isn’t the daily stuff. All PR stories have the potential to be something different. You just have to find that niche and hope you hit that spot that says, hey, this might be pretty good.

Chris Shigas
There was an interesting insight I got from a reporter with the Raleigh News and Observer, an insight about public relations people and this reporter in particular had a couple of PR people who kind of got angry over the phone about a story. Or maybe they were overly aggressive in terms of number of phone calls or demanding questions in advance those kinds of things. And his observation was, I wonder what kind of stress people that this person reports to are putting him under being aware that maybe this wasn’t coming from the PR person themselves, but from the stress of their client or from the company that they serve when you’re encountering PR people and you’re talking to them? Are you aware? Or are your colleagues aware kind of, you know, where the public relations people are coming from and what they’re trying to do and their role in this whole news gathering thing?

Skip Foreman
Yeah, I think I can count on one hand, the number of times I’ve gotten multiple calls from PR people who’ve, like, Well, can you do anything with it? Can you do anything with it? Can you mean but it’s not constant, but you have to To know that the person making the pitch is probably under some sort of pressure to get this imprint somehow, and they’re figuring we’re the people who can do that. That’s all well and good, but sometimes it’s not necessarily the pitch. It’s just the timing. And the volume that head of it. If we’ve, if we can pull it off, we’ll do it. I mean, and they’re, they’re going to be some days this fall and winter are leading into the holidays that you’re looking at one of these and go, you know, this isn’t a bad idea. It’s just awfully difficult right now to say, Okay, I’ll we’ll do this. I mean, oh, yeah. The COVID-19 Report for the states coming out today or Yeah. Or there’s a demonstration in Greensburg. today. It’s like it’s,

Chris Shigas
it’s the difference between slow news day and a fast news day. I had an experience when I was an editor for a local TV station, and the producer was having me edit video on a feature of flooding in China. And I was thinking to myself flooding in China. What? Why would anyone you know, in North Carolina care about flooding in China, and I just remember being upset, I had to cut this video. Then I became a producer. And it was a very slow news day, and they’re on the feed came flooding in China. And I was like, well, maybe there’s good video. So you’re right on a slow news day, the right timing could be very important.

Skip Foreman
Yeah, if you just got an email saying we’re looking for evergreens that will hold up through the holidays and somebody sends you that PR pitch that may happen to tick off the right boxes. You make the phone call, they call you, or you call them saying hey, this is a pretty good idea. Who do I talk to? Where do I meet him, so forth. There’s always a possibility but I think odds increase with a point in the year when you really want Do them if summer maybe because in some cases there’s the legislators meeting no important gatherings going on to cloud the view. But that was before now. And now it’s just difficult to wedge stuff in. But like I said, there’s always a point. If there’s there’s opening in the clouds you take it.

Brad Grantham
Of course for listeners the answer to any trivia question going forward, asking about a specific year will always be 2020. No matter what

Skip Foreman
you’re in for now, Henceforth, and forevermore and yes, randomly What happened? 2020.

Chris Shigas
Skip, when you look at the lasting relationships you have with a PR person, maybe they represent someone very important that you need as a source. Maybe they help you out when you have a need, even if it’s not their company. Is there a common theme to some of those relationships that you have with PR people that have just proved to be people beneficial for you over the years.

Skip Foreman
The biggest thing about a relationship with a PR person is that they know what you do. They are keenly aware of how the AP works. They don’t beat you over the head with an idea. They’ll present it and move on and do what they need to do. To get you the information you need for a story. One of the great PR people I met was actually a government person for the state of North Carolina. One day he walked into the AP Bureau in downtown Raleigh said I’ve got a release for he hold it up, balled it up through the trash can. He said it’s no good.

Chris Shigas
You don’t even want it.

Skip Foreman
And those are the type of guys you love, because they’re the type of people who understand what you can use. They don’t expect you to use everything they say and they’ll give you a little nudge about something but their feelings are hurt if you don’t run it and You won’t hear from him again, if it doesn’t happen. I mean, I think the relationship is the key. And if you’ve got a good one and you’ve got a good PR person who knows how you work, they’ll work with you. Regardless. They’ll give you what you need, and they won’t burden you with what you don’t.

Chris Shigas
Great. Thank you so much for joining us today. Skip. I appreciate I enjoyed it. Thank you guys. You can tune into a new episode of PR Wars every Sunday night at 8pm. On behalf of Brad Grantham, and the entire PR wars nation. I want to thank skip Foreman with the Associated Press and do me a favor this week. In addition to your company expert, think about the person that your product or service helps. How can you put this person’s story into your press release? Now go get ’em!

PR Wars was selected as a Top PR Podcast You Must Follow in 2020 by Feedspot.

Leave a Reply