Steppingstone LLC wins Ragan’s PR Daily Award

Our work on behalf of Teens for Gun Reform supporting their White House protest after the Parkland tragedy won an award from Ragan’s PR Daily. In only 30 hours, we were able to issue a press advisory, do follow-up, and support an avalanche of media attention at the event. The resulting photos and interviews were seen worldwide.

Read the Ragan PR Daily announcement about the award.

Learn more about our winning project in this post in our portfolio.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven


Presentation: Copywriting in the Digital Age

Much of the advice in this presentation is “tried and true” but there are a couple of surprises – including the suggestion to read your copy backwards. This was presented in a roundtable discussino format for “Issues of the Day for Associations & Nonprofits” organized by the Public Relations Society of America – National Capital Chapter in Washington, D.C. in February 2019..

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven

Publishers: Get More Content Shared on Social Media

We help clients think strategically about building connections with core audiences, and our advice often includes sharing content from within their industry, not only  information they’ve generated on their own. After all, you can’t talk about just yourself, all the time. That’s boring. You need a good mix of news and information from yourself, coupled with news and information from other partners and industry leaders on your social media feeds.

Curation, creation and humanization should be the guideposts of a social media content strategy. Some companies and organizations try to follow the 5:3:2 rule, and it’s very helpful in thinking about how to set up the mix and interplay of industry and organizational news. For every 10 posts on Facebook or Twitter:

  • 5 posts should be curated – they should be content from other sources that are relevant to your audience.
  • 3 posts should be content you’ve created, that’s relevant to your audience.
  • 2 should be personal, fun content that humanizes your brand.

With half of those posts are coming from other sources, you likely need to pull from a variety of publishers to keep a steady diet of news relevant to their core audiences pumping out on those social channels.

But sometimes there are problems and we can’t share some of the content we’d like to on all of the social channels. Why? Because their websites are not up to snuff. And even worse – these are all problems that site publishers could fix on their own. Here are the common problems we encounter in trying to share content on client social channels from others.

Problem #1: Publishers don’t always include images with their content. If you don’t include an image with your content, even if it’s a wonderful article, we probably won’t schedule it on Facebook. Images are just too important! No image = no share. Sometimes I’ll schedule content on Twitter without an image, but never on Facebook. Facebook used to allow us to insert an image so we could fix this problem, but right now it doesn’t let us do that.

Problem #2: The images the publisher offers don’t auto-feed to Facebook. Some websites are simply not set up to share images to Facebook. Even if an image shows up on the web page, it may not be “scraped” by Facebook.

Problem #3: The images the publisher offers look truncated or fuzzy on Facebook. This is icky. No one wants to share content that looks bad.

Problem #4: The content is password protected. Unfortunately, we find this occasionally with articles we might want to share from smaller newspapers or smaller trade associations, who are still padlocking their information gateways. It makes no sense to share their content if no one can read it.

Problem #5: The content is posted online but in a format that is difficult to share socially. We find this problem sometimes with magazine content. A publisher will have a gorgeously designed print magazine displayed in ISUU and won’t publish the article we are interested in sharing separately on their website. Or it takes a LONG time for them to publish that article individually on their website.

A few publishers may say so what – who cares if my content can’t be shared on some organization’s Facebook page. You should care. Because your competition is way ahead of you.

Unfortunately, all of these problems prevent social shares of your content. But thankfully, there are solutions.

Embrace using up-to-date technology for your site. Unfortunately, some publishers are still using older technology to run their websites. Their sites aren’t optimized for mobile users, and are not set up for successful social sharing. If this is your site, prioritize an upgrade.

If you own the website that is having problems with social shares,  try out the Facebook debugger tool. Figure out what’s going on with your content and why social sharing isn’t working for your site. See this page for more advice on debugging problematic Facebook shares. If you are publishing content online, the best advice I’ve seen is to set  Open Graph tags for each piece of content you publish on your site.

Publish your content so it can be shared. If you wonder why no one is reading the quality content in your magazine or the article brief issued by a trade association, it’s often because the content is not shareable. Maximize shareability and produce great content, and you’ll see improvements. You’ll also win more allies and friends online, establish more partnerships and see references and link backs to your organization or company improve.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven


Social Media Usage & Nonprofits: Are You Using It Like a Billboard, or to Build Relationships?

Many nonprofit organizations have now been on social media for more than a decade. New start-up nonprofit organizations can easily set up a Facebook page, Twitter feed and Instagram account to share their work, attract donors, and engage volunteers. But what value do nonprofits really get out of social media? And how are they leveraging limited time and resources to engage in social media?

Are they using social media more like a billboard yelling out “hey look at us!” at anyone who passes by? Or are they using social media strategically to build and nurture relationships with core audiences that matter to them and their work? Some recent studies shed light on what nonprofits are doing.

A 2017 survey by Bloomerang, found that nonprofits want to use social media to share organizational news, promote events, and share organizational success stories. Sharing news and information ranked #4 on their list of goals, with fundraising at #5. The social media platform of choice was Facebook with 99% of respondents on Facebook and 90% considering Facebook to be their primary vehicle for social media engagement.  Respondents said success was tracked by examining engagement.

More than half (55%) said social media was “very valuable” for their marketing efforts (they are really busy hanging those billboards!). Yet the survey also revealed that many struggle with strategy. Sixty-seven percent don’t document their social media goals. And more than half – 58% – don’t document their social media strategies (posting schedules, content types or target audiences). Nearly three-quarters of respondents (73%) did not have a documented strategy for responding to negative comments. In other words – the billboard hangers are more often than not, winging it when it comes to what they put on the board and how they hang it.

Many of the survey respondents were also missing important connections that could have been nurtured through a social media engagement. Only 13% were tracking the social media accounts of constituents in their donor database. This is a key gap for nonprofits seeking to communicate with donors and raise funds. And other key audiences – volunteers and supporters – ranked eighth seventh, respectively, when it came to overall goal-setting for nonprofit social media presence.

A 2018 study Kansas University on international nonprofits and social media usage concluded that nonprofits were more effective in using social media if they received clear support for social media engagement from organizational leadership. The allocation of resources – people power and funds to support social media engagement – made a big difference.

Researchers noted, ““Strong organizational leadership support of social media efforts was the most significant factor in predicting the organization’s social media involvement. A lot of people say, ‘Social media is free.’ But it’s not free,” Seo said. “It takes people to develop content and share it, and that takes time, resources and leadership commitment.”

A 2015 study known as the Nonprofit Social Media Scorecard  noted that nonprofits often don’t nurture sharing and relationship. About half (49%) don’t respond to questions on Facebook and 55% don’t respond to questions on Twitter either. When donors posted a comment or asked a question, only 28% within 24 hours on Facebook and 8% responded within an hour on Twitter. In many cases, all that might have been needed was a simple thank you!

Only a quarter (24%) give donors tools to share about a donation on social media. The authors note a study by the American Red Cross which found that 40% of donors would share or be likely to share about a donation they made on social media. They also noted that 18% donated because they received an email from a friend and 17% donated because they read a social media post. By not enabling social sharing and not commenting and engaging with donors and supporters through social media, many nonprofits are losing opportunities to engage and nurture relationships.

If you just discovered you are a billboard hanger and not a relationship builder when it comes to social media – you can make a change today. Here are a few steps to help:

Suggested Action Steps:

  • Identify social media as an important engagement strategy for your organization, with clear support for it from the leadership of your organization.
  • Write down your goals for social media engagement for your nonprofit. Review your goals regularly and consider how they can be measured and improved. Write a social media policy for your organization and a clear policy on how negative comments (and positive ones) are responded to.
  • Draft your social media tactics and content.
  • Allocate staff time and resources to foster more engagement on social media.
  • Respond to comments and questions on social media platforms. Pay particular attention to donors and supporters.
  • Turn on social sharing tools for donors and supporters. Praise those who share and carry your message as an ambassador to others.
  • Periodically measure the effectiveness of your social media efforts. Modify what you are doing based on what you learn.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven


When a Press Release Typo Becomes News: Tips to Recover

It’s every public relations professional’s worst nightmare – a press release typo becomes front page news. So how do you recover?

The Women’s March issued a news release this week attacking President Donald Trump’s new Supreme Court justice nominee, but there was one problem.

The space for the nominee’s name on the release was still filled in by XYZ in the first sentence, and the nominee’s name was misspelled further down in the release. Clearly someone had used the wrong version of the file or completely forgotten to add the name of the nominee in the rush to distribute information quickly. USA Today and other media outlets covered the gaffe, and conservative social media was of course, all over it.

To make it worse, the gaffe played into fears that Democrats and their allies planned to oppose anyone nominated by the President. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted, “So many groups on the Left were declaring War on President Trump’s nominee — even before they knew who it was!” As a PR professional, you never want to be in a situation where a typo in a press release makes news.

So how do you recover when a mistake in your release becomes a big story all by itself? Here’s a few tips to help.

Fix the release. Immediately. Right away, the Women’s March corrected the error. An updated message with the errors corrected was sent out minutes later. So often when I talk with people who have made a mis-step in the media, they have not taken efforts to correct it quickly and stumbled in their response. Then they torture themselves about it for months. The approach the Women’s March took was decisive, speedy, and immediate.

Respond directly to criticism and get back on message. The Women’s March responded with this direct remark to Senator Graham within an hour and a half of his original tweet criticizing their release. They said, “Senator Graham is right. We did prepare a press release in advance because we knew that all the people on Trump’s nominee list would strip protections for almost every marginalized group in the United States for years to come.”

Call a typ0 what it is. A typo. The announcement of a new Supreme Court justice by a controversial president, was planned in advance and well-publicized. Groups on all sides had time to prepare news releases. The nominee’s name was speculated about in advance. Of course, groups on all sides were putting XYZ in their draft news releases as placeholders. It’s common in PR to do this, and  even to have a version that you trash or don’t use, based on the outcome of an event. The Women’s March did a good job at using their mistake to talk about their message, and they didn’t belabor the point. They didn’t blame an intern or staff member for the mistake. They simply got back on message right away and used the extra attention the mistake generated to talk about their views.

Make sure you don’t make the same mistake again. Review your procedures and systems for approving a news release before it goes out. Even if staff are rushing to get something out due to a breaking news event after work hours (which this was), there should be some type of check to ensure it’s correct. A second set of eyeballs can be a huge help to avoiding a media relations problem.

I think every PR person in Washington, D.C. will be doublechecking their releases for a while.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.


Managing PR Volunteers for Your Nonprofit: 8 Things to Know

When you work in nonprofit public relations, you often get asked to help with pro-bono projects, where you assist a nonprofit agency free of charge. This is often a great public service, allows a public relations professional to volunteer for a cause that he or she cares about, and provides a cash-strapped nonprofit organization with public relations support.  But it’s not always a rosy experience.

If you want to keep your PR volunteers happy, there’s a few things you need to do:

Share with them accurate information and keep them informed. Keep PR volunteers informed and engaged. Let them know what’s going on with your organization and be clear about how they can help. Be judicious about inviting them to lots of meetings if they have limited time available.

Ask how they want to be involved. Find out how they want to be engaged with your organization. Is it support for a one-time project like publicizing a special event? Or a longer-term project like assisting with messaging, media training, a longer term campaign, or branding?

Give them professional materials. If someone has offered to help you, give them good quality professional materials to issue on your behalf. I have sometimes offered to issue a press release for a project, but when the organization I am assisting sends me the release – it’s loaded with type-os, inconsistencies, and problems (e.g. the time for press to show up is not clear, the copy is too long, etc.). It might take me 3 emails and calls with back and forths, as well as a couple of hours to fix a really   messy release. If I really care about your organization, I might fix this and stay involved. I also might interpret a messy release as a sign of sloppy organization and be wondering if I should continue to assist you or not.

Fact check your event or program information before it is publicized. There’s nothing worse for a public relations person who offered to share information with the press about an event, to realize that some of the information provided is wrong. For example, I was assisting  an organization with publicizing a community event, and the address they had printed on the event fliers was wrong. Unfortunately, this was discovered after I had already contacted area press. This meant I had to go back and correct the information.

Change the event details after the event or program is publicized. Because so often community calendars, newspaper event listings, and press deadlines are well ahead of an event, last minute changes can really hamper publicity. If you asked for a professional to publicize your event. then you need to run your event like a professional. This is one of the worst things you can do because it means additional work for your public relations volunteer – they have to go back out to the press and let them know things have changed, or adjust on the fly if you are surprising them during the event with these changes. You should not change information about the event that has already been distributed to media outlets without a good reason.

Respect any boundaries they have set about time, tasks or future involvement. If the volunteer has set up some boundaries about how much work they can do, in terms of time, what they will do, or how they will be involved in the future, respect that. This level of respect will be returned, and they may volunteer with you again.

Be clear on timelines and your own availability. I once had a group of public relations students volunteer to assist a nonprofit that I managed publicity for. They were wonderful and had great ideas, but their professor structured their project so that most of the execution of their ideas was near the end of the semester. So the last week of school was really stressful not just for them, but for me, as I had to approve copy and materials in a very limited amount of time. Fortunately, I was able to make myself available to do all of this, but it was not easy. Being clear on the timeline up front (this was really the fault of the professor, not the students) would have made things move a bit smoother, and shifting their time frame to spread out execution of their ideas a bit more could have really made things a lot smoother for everyone and likely yielded better results too.

Ask how it went. Talk with them about what volunteering for your organization is like. Thank them for their help. Ask for what could be improved and find out if they will volunteer again.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.




Presentation: What Does Success Look Like? Measurement & Evaluation in PR

I enjoyed co-leading today a great session with Brigitte W. Johnson, APR, MSM on what does success look like for PRSA-NCC‘s 7th Annual Public Relations Issues of the Day for Nonprofits and Associations. We had some wonderful discussions about measurement and evaluation – and how it really works in the field. The thing I love about this event is that it operates on a round table format, so each discussion group is only 5-6 people. Attendees get to select 3 topics to attend.

At our table, we discussed the issues with measuring earned media and how to get away from vanity metrics like impressions or number of articles placed. We discussed doing message point analysis of media stories to see if key messages were delivered (or not), and how to do competitive research and sentiment scoring. We talked a lot about the importance of defining objectives up front and determining what you will measure before starting a new project or program. At the same time, we also assured people that it’s better to start late with measurement and evaluation, than to never start at all.

We also talked about the many tools available to assist with measurement and evaluation, getting a request to do focus groups after the fact on an already deployed campaign (been there), dealing with territorial issues inside organizations that make attributing success difficult (many people had this sticky situation to navigate), and the need to involve stakeholders in agreeing to what should be measured up front. We also talked about how challenging it can be to attribute a measurable action or input, to a particular outreach effort or tactic – for example, did those new donations come in because of a media interview or a mailing by the development department? Do we know if more donations came in from a particular part of the country than another? Where are web hits coming from and why? Do we know the demographics of our site users? We also talked about social media advertising and using A/B testing to look at ad performance, as well as gathering data from lots of sources and creating streamlined results reports for “the boss” that emphasize key achievements but not busywork.

I suggested we need to take a holistic view of measurement and evaluation, looking at many data inputs – from media relations to social media to member relations, fundraising or other types of engagement.  We also discussed that “success” for a given campaign could look very different based on what your objectives are. For example, if you care about raising money, then an ask for donations (and actual resulting donations) might be very important to your organization and to your definition of success. If your objective is greater public awareness, then a clear description of a program and what it does,  might be more important to you in a news story. Growing an email list might be more important to you right now, or connecting with long-term donors could be more valuable right now. Whatever your objective is, is where you need to measure. There is no one size fits all automated solution, as much as many people will try to sell you systems that do lots of great things with bells and whistles. Brigitte also mentioned the Barcelona Principles, which reject ad value equivalencies, and embrace a broader interpretation of how we define success in PR.

We had great discussions with all 3 rounds of attendees at our table and I was thrilled to catch up with some old friends and colleagues as well. See our slides below. They were just a jumping off point to the discussion – which was fast and furious. Contact me if you’d like to talk further about comprehensive evaluation and measurement for a communications program or campaign and how Steppingstone LLC might help.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.


Stock Images: 21 Sites For Free Photos & Where to Buy When You Have To

The demand for stock images is going up for nonprofits, trade associations and small businesses. More images are needed for social media channels, videos, publications, and other materials. We all need to get stock images or artwork to jazz things up and vary what people are seeing. Sometimes, you need to hunt for just the right image that resonates or expresses what you want to say.

One way to get yourself into trouble, is by going to Google Images and helping yourself to whatever comes up. Your organization or business can open itself up to legal liability by doing so. The solution is simple: stock photography. Stock images are a great option for the time-crunched or when you just need one photo to crank out a project.  You can also build up a library of images to select from when you have a big project or need choices.

A few tips on looking for stock images:

  • Think about photo orientation and your needs. Many photos used in social media formats look best in horizontal orientation. Website layouts and needs may require horizontal or vertical photos. Consider your need before you hit download.
  • Expect to be registered. Whether it’s a free site or a paid one, expect that you will need to set up an account. A few of the free sites do not require registration, but many do, especially if you are downloading a lot of images.
  • Read any subscription, credit, or purchasing choices carefully. Make sure you know what you are paying for. If you need a lot of images, a monthly subscription might make sense. If you just need one or two, a few credits or pay as you go may be more practical. If credits expire or you need to cancel a subscription before a renewal date – set a reminder in your calendar so you don’t forget.
  • Watch where you click on the free stock image sites. Many of these sites are sponsored by a site with subscriptions and they will advertise other photos (usually labeled) that are for sale to you.
  • Always check the licensing options tied to the photo. Some licenses will not allow images to be featured prominently on merchandise without the purchase of an extended license. Others may only allow up to a certain number of views or downloads.

Here’s my list of places to get stock images:

21 Places to Get Free Stock Images

Many of these photographs are free from copyright restrictions or licensed under creative commons public domain dedication. This means you can copy, modify, distribute and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission. But you should always check the license associated with the photo, even on the free sites. Some photos may be free, but will require attribution.

Burst – has some nice photos in certain niche fields. I like browsing their collections to see what’s available. I’ve not had a lot of luck for certain subjects.

Freestocks – artsy photos in a handful of categories.

Death to Stock – every month they send you via email 10 “not” stock photos. Easy signup. Gotta love their pluck.

Foodies Free – more than 800 free stock photos of food.

Gratisography – offers stock photos in bundles that you can download. Love their animals bundle. For some of my stock needs for particular objects, I’ve not found them helpful, but they have some pretty stuff.

ISO Republic – bills itself as free stock photos for creatives – and they have some great ones!

Kaboompics – Great quality on the images and their search engine tool is better than some of the other free stock sites – allowing you to search by photo orientation. One unique thing they do – they add a color palette with free graphics for download to images (you can also select the quick download option for just the photo).

Life of Pix – beautiful and artistic images. They also offer free video at Life of Vids.

Makerbook – offers a package of 71 free photos for download.

MMT Stock – free photos organized in collections.

Negative Space – images organized by topic. For personal or commercial projects – all Creative Commons Zero (CC0) licensed.

Pexels – All photos are licensed under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license. This means the pictures are completely free to be used for any legal purpose. I find the library to be a bit small, but if you just need 1 or 2 images, it works.

PicJumbo – Offers 1500 photos for free. For free images, they do not require registration before downloading. It sells access to premium images.

PikWizard – Offers 100,000 free photos (no log in required to download, but there is a pop-up you have to close every time you download) with 20,000 images exclusive to the site. Free to use without attribution. Organizers aim to reach 1 million images (that’s a great goal).

Pixabay – this is my all time favorite free stock image library. They have some great materials, and you can even buy them a cup of coffee! The image featured with this post is from Pixabay and is one of the 410,000 images they offer.

Shot Stash – you can sign up to get new photos every week. Images are organized on the site in 8 categories.

Skitter Photo – public domain images. I haven’t found objects that I need, but lots of other choices.

Stock Free Images – they bill themselves as the largest free image site online with 1.7 million images.

Stock Snap – Check out their trending feature to see what is most popular. They will send you a weekly email with their most popular photos if you sign up. I find their images to be nicely curated and good quality.

Styled Stock – stock photos made with female entrepreneurs and marketing to women in mind.

Unsplash – lots of interesting images and no registration required for download.

Paid Stock Images: Where to Buy When You Need To

Adobe Stock Photo – allows you to download 10 standard license images per month on their basic $29.99 plan.  They have a library of 90 million images and offer templates and video as well. If you need an extended license for an image – expect to pay a bit more per image.

Big Stock Photo – allows you to download 5 images per day on its cheapest $79 monthly subscription (that’s 150 images per month). Their library includes 57 million photos. If you need to bulk up your personal collection quickly, this may be a good route if the images fit your needs. They offer a 35 images free promotion.

Brown Stock Imaging – if you need images to represent or reach out to a diverse audience, this is a great site for you and costs are reasonable, often only $25-$45 per image.

Deposit Photos – this is one of my new favorites. Offers a library of 60 million images and their monthly subscriptions start at $29 for 30 images, and you can buy additional images for just $1 a piece.

Dreamstime – sells credit packages that you can use for downloads. While they typically run a five images free introductory offer, their packages rapidly go up in cost – with a one month package for 750 images per month for $197/month.

iStock photo – images in the essentials collection are as low as $12 each but prices go up from there with Signature images going for a premium. The library uses credits that you purchase. It also sells high-definition video. A month long subscription for signature images (10) is $99 and a month long subscription for only essentials images (10) is $40. This library is built by Getty Images.

MegaPixl – they bill themselves as offering a no monthly downloads limit subscription plan. However, it’s pretty much impossible to view the subscription options without giving them your email address, which I personally find to be a turnoff. Hopefully they will change this soon. They offer a one month free subscription.

Shutterstock – is an industry standard with plenty of vector, photo and video available. Subscriptions start at $29 per month for 10 images and go up from there. They say their library includes more than 100 million photos. There are on demand download and team subscription options too.

Storyblocks – offers 400,000 images for download and purchase, as well as video and audio. They offer up to 20 downloads per day. Pexel users can get 7 days with free access. Their Marketplace section gives photo sellers 100% of the purchase price (many of the major stock sites only pay photographers pennies on the download). They offer 115,000 HD videos, 400,000 images, and 110,000 audio tracks. An annual plan is $99/year and gives you rights to their 400,000 image library. Annual plan members get a 60% discount on marketplace photos, making them often $3.99 apiece.

Talk to Us
What free or paid stock image sites work for you?
What do you look for when selecting a stock image?

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.


Writing a Letter to the Editor: 9 Tips for Success

I once spent hours going back and forth with a client over a letter to the editor. They wanted it to be just right for their president and CEO to sign. They littered clean copy with jargon and industry insider language and I kept taking out all the muck, and made the message simple and on point. Finally, we reached final draft form and I was delighted to declare the letter “done.” Then they told me that they had their CEO sign it and that they put it in a mailbox with a stamp and mailed it.

I wanted to pound my head on the wall. Because I knew their letter would never be published. No newspaper in its right mind was going to re-type that letter and publish it.

Because the deal with letters to the editor is – more letters are submitted than will ever fit in the publication in any reasonable time period.

The truth is – even good letters to the editor can be rejected because there is not enough space for them. While a handful of submissions are delusional screeds written by potential serial killers on cereal boxes, many submissions are thoughtful, make a point and address a matter of public interest. And sadly, many will never be published.

Thankfully, that incident with the printed letter to the editor was a few years ago. And I hope that client is wiser today and would not make the same rookie mistake.

If you are serious about getting your letter published, you should do everything in your power to not only write good copy, but to also make it as easy as possible for your letter to be chosen. Not submitting your letter electronically creates a barrier to its publication. A printed letter gives an over-stressed op-ed staff a reason to say no.

Instead, you need to give them every opportunity to say yes. I’ve written letters with clients that have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and many other publications. Here are my tips on how to write a great letter to the editor and up your chances for publication.

Tip: #1: Respond to something the newspaper published. Some of the best letters respond to an article or column published by the newspaper – offering a new insight, big reactions, or something of value that moves public discussion of an issue forward.

Yes, if you have an important issue to bring up that you feel the newspaper has ignored, by all means bring it up in a letter to the editor.

Tip #2: Be timely. Many people find it easier to write a good letter to the editor when they are fired up about the topic, so don’t delay. This is no time to take your time. If you see an issue referenced in the newspaper that matters to you or your organization, small business, or association, you only have a couple of days to get a letter to the editor drafted and submitted.

In larger organizations – a cumbersome approval process can introduce delays. Do yourself a favor and streamline your approval process for letters to the editor internally (before you need it), so you can get strong copy drafted, approved and submitted quickly.

Tip #3: Stick to the topic at hand with great enthusiasm. This is no time for verbosity. Be pithy.  And interesting. Express outrage, alarm, concern, dismay, sadness, joy, or praise as needed.

Address the topic squarely. Spout evidence in support of your position. Include research and statistics if you can. Pose a question or angle not considered in coverage.  Say something that forwards knowledge or discussion on the topic. Clarify a point that was muddled or ignored previously.

Tip #4: Tie in your credentials or expertise. Don’t overdo name-dropping (and definitely don’t include your CV or resume), but your opinion carries more weight if you have a degree, experience, or other credentials that relate to the topic at hand.

Work in professional titles, degrees, or organization affiliations if possible. If you are writing about something you know a lot about – reference your experience in the letter. Many newspapers will list an organization or title after your name if your letter is selected for publication, so this can also be great visibility for your organization or company (just realize that your opinion will be linked to your company if this happens, so be sure you are comfortable with that affiliation).

Tip #5: If you are trying to hold a mirror up to someone (positively or negatively) – use their names. Whether it’s a corporation, an organization, an elected official, or someone else in a position of influence or power, mention their name in your letter.

The person or company you are referencing will be more likely to read your letter if you reference them by name. Many larger companies and personalities use a daily google news search or a media monitoring service to track coverage of an issue. So even if they are a major entity not based in your community with a heavy presence, they may see your letter after it is published.

Tip #6: Respect the word count. Most newspapers post word count limits for letters to the editor. If the word count limit is 200 words or 300 words, do your best to not go over the limit.

If you have great ideas, but write too much, you are still unpublished. If the limit for letters is 200 words and you submit a 600 word essay and they don’t have space but like your idea – they will to cut down your letter dramatically. Do you want for them to decide which points are most important and which ones to cut? Or would you rather make that decision? A time-strapped staff may not have time to trim your letter down. Nor will they have time to negotiate with you about its shrinkage. Instead, they may opt to run a letter that is under the word count limit. Do yourself a favor and trim the word count down below the guideline listed before you submit your letter.

Tip #7: Proofread your letter. Be merciless. Read your draft out loud to yourself. Does it make sense and get to the point? Does it offer new information, clarification, something interesting or unique? Is every sentence needed? Is every word necessary? Are your points clear?

Ask a friend or colleague to review your letter if possible and provide feedback.

Tip #8: Follow any other directions for submissions. Many newspapers will require submissions to include a street mailing address (not to be published) because they want to know where you are in relationship to their coverage area. They also may request a daytime phone number, an after hours phone number, and an email address. Just make sure that you provide only your authenticated data to avoid inconsistencies from stirring up later. Why take the risk when you can send certified mail? They may want to call you to confirm that you wrote the letter and discuss any possible edits or clarifications with you.

The newspaper staff cannot do these things if you do not include the address they requested, or do not list the contact information they want. Do not give them another reason to say no. Follow the directions.

Tip #9: Submit your letter to the email address specified.  Sometimes clients think they are gaming the system by emailing the editor for the op-ed section instead of the generic letters@ newspaper account (even if the generic address is specified in submission instructions).

This strategy can work and get your letter in front of the corrects eyeballs, but it can also back fire. Often assistants are empowered to review anything coming into the general account and move it along faster. Sometimes head cheeses with decision-making powers are out of the office and not reading their email. The letter may be overlooked in a a personal inbox. Do yourself a favor and follow the directions.

Resources to Help You
How to Submit a Letter to the Editor (New York Times). Note the 150-175 word count.
Tips for Writing Effective Letters to the Editor (Berkeley Media Center)
Writing Letters to the Editor (Community Toolbox)
Writing an Effective Letter to the Editor (Union of Concerned Scientists)

Talk to Us
What is your experience with submitting a letter to the editor? What strategies have worked for you?
Do you have any tips or experiences you can share?

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.


Embargoes & Exclusives: The Ins & Outs of High Stakes PR

In journalism and public relations, a news embargo or press embargo is a request that the information or news provided not be published until a certain date and time, or before certain conditions are met.

Typically, an embargo is set up by emailing a news release to reporters with “embargoed until date/time” written on the release near the top and in bold (often right under or above the headline). It is also usually noted in the email subject line of the news release. And it is sometimes just offered verbally over the phone.

Some journalists view embargoes as helpful tools that give them a head start on a story. Journalists attending trade shows where many major product announcements may be made, can use embargoed releases to get ahead on their coverage.

Reporters trying to digest a complex report or research study may also benefit from an embargo – getting time to review data and information. In health and science journalism embargoes are common, as journals and news services distribute research findings in advance so journalists have time to review the materials, conduct interviews and write stories.

There is even a blog called “Embargo Watch” that delights in sharing what happens when am embargo is broken in the science field. It also poses a bigger question – asking if embargoes contribute to building more informed journalism or not (the jury is out on that one). Nature publishes its views on embargoes for authors, as does the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). Of special note to those worried about embargoes causing leaks, NEJM notes: “A reporter may share an embargoed study with a source for comment. If this occurs, the reporter is responsible for ensuring that those with whom the article is shared agree to uphold the embargo.”

It’s important that the playing field be fair for all the media outlets participating in an embargo. You might brief some outlets ahead of others – but when it comes to publishing, everyone should have the same opportunity to publish the information after it is made publicly available.

I have occasionally gotten calls from reporters seeking an embargoed report that is rumored to be out on the grapevine. Some journalists view embargoes warily. They worry about competitors publishing before they do. And they know that public relations professionals have little recourse once a story is out. The offending journalist who broke the embargo can be excluded from future embargoed release lists (and so can their media outlet), but the reality is that if the reporter works for a media outlet that is valuable to the organization or business issuing the news, they may face no repercussions for breaking an embargo.

Other journalists simply find embargoes annoying. It can be a lot of trouble to keep track of an embargo and deal with the hassle of it. Occasionally news outlets will have policies on embargoes and their willingness to abide by them. It doesn’t help either when PR staffs use “embargo” for things that really are not time-sensitive or significant – every piece of news you issue cannot be under an embargo.

“Herd embargoes” where releases are emailed under embargo to literally hundreds or thousands of journalists – can be particularly despised. With many outlets involved, it’s too easy for a story to break early before the agreed upon time. The pressure to publish first online can be extreme and the more outlets involved in an embargo – the more likely there will be a leak.

Some outlets have responded that they will no longer respect embargoes. In the technology field, broken embargoes became such a problem in 2008 that TechCrunch vowed it would not observe embargoes any longer. In 2009, PR News reported that the Wall Street Journal would no longer honor embargoes unless it was granted an exclusive, because breaking embargoes was becoming too common. Embargoes are still used today but it’s smart to research in advance what an outlet’s policies are.

I advise clients to research the outlets they want to send information to in advance and to talk about why they really want or need an embargo. Do not just use a huge list pulled out of Cision/Vocus or Meltwater. Go through the list line by line and pick carefully. Plan ahead so you can give reporters enough time to get information ready before the embargo day and time. The goal of an embargo is to generate informed coverage – so 24 hours in advance may not be enough time – unless your tidbit of information is so juicy (or short so it’s not a hassle) reporters will instantly drop everything to create a story.

The exclusive. Sometimes it makes sense to issue select information early to just one reporter at a media outlet. This is known as granting an exclusive. For the reporter given an exclusive, you might also make select people available early for interviews before the news is issued, or offer a draft report or other information to aid the reporter working on an exclusive.

People have lots of reasons for giving exclusives. Perhaps you are convinced that only that reporter at that media outlet can do a good job on this particular story. Or you know that people who need to pay attention to your story will be more likely to notice if, it’s in that particular outlet or publication. Perhaps you are trying to cultivate a good relationship with the reporter and want to give him or her extra time ahead of competitors because you want to work with the reporter on something else down the road.

If you are the subject of a scandal or a matter of public interest who just wants to talk to one person (and get it over with), an exclusive may help you and your situation. For a subject of intense media interest, an exclusive can burst the bubble of interest by having your story show up once. If it’s done well, then it deflates the other outlets who might pursue you. But the media outlet must be big enough for it to matter, and the reporter should be someone you trust. Timing is key – if it’s too long since your story became public – this strategy can backfire – drawing more attention to you now – than you want.

I have used this strategy in the past when advising people in difficult circumstances, and while their situations were so challenging they had no truly positive options or choices available to them – in one case, doing a major front page exclusive with a top five newspaper deflated media interest in their terrible situation and gave them a year of privacy to deal with the things that had happened to them that shouldn’t have. It wasn’t perfect, but it was enough to buy time.

Setting up an exclusive is typically best done by phone or in person, in the morning (or early in the reporter’s shift when they are less likely to be on immediate deadline). You might offer the information “on background” (read more about what this means) and stipulate that the news cannot be broken before a certain time.

There are some risks with embargoes and exclusives – and the stakes can be quite high. Here are a few of the challenges involved.

It only takes one mis-timed report – to mess up your neatly scripted public announcement plan. Realize that if one media outlet breaks the embargo or somehow gets ahead of your promised exclusive and publishes first, your news will be out early. Other reporters will likely break the embargo too, if someone else publishes first. The more news outlets involved, the more likely this will happen. Expect a few annoyed calls from journalists. And if someone publishes ahead of a reporter you had promised an exclusive (perhaps they got information from another source or a leak), then you can expect for that reporter and his her outlet to be very upset.

It can either strengthen, or completely devastate your relationship with the media. Executed well and according to plan, embargoes and exclusives can deepen your relationships with reporters and the outlets they serve – these relationships bank in trust. A bungled embargo or exclusive can strain those relationships.

Be cautious with bloggers. Bloggers who do not have backgrounds in journalism may not know what an embargo means and may not abide by requests for information to be held in confidence until a certain date and time. Be even more cautious with an exclusive.

Timing is key. For an embargo and an exclusive, you want to release the information early enough that reporters have time to do their work, conduct interviews, review materials, etc. At the same time, the more people who know about something, the more likely the beans will spill. Ideally an embargo should be issued at least 2-5 days in advance. An exclusive may involve days, or even weeks, of advance work

The cat can be let out of the bag – to other organizations and even adversaries. Reporters who are writing about the topic under embargo may talk with sources to get quotes who are outside of your organization or business. On some issues this may not matter, but for some it really can be a problem. If you trust the reporter(s) you are working with – and calling a source is really going to be a problem (e.g. the potential source could quickly maneuver in a day or two to make your about to be filed lawsuit irrelevant) make that concern known to the reporter.

Other voices may chime in. The involvement of other agencies or organizations may be a positive for the organization issuing the embargo, or a negative. It can take attention away from you, add a chorus of critics, or bolster support for you.

If your organization is impacted by an embargoed report or an impending announcement being issued by someone else, getting a call from a journalist in advance, gives you time to formulate a response before the news is out publicly. This can be a major public relations advantage, as you are now ahead of the curve (by a little bit) instead of behind it when the story breaks.

In closing, my feeling is that success with embargoes and exclusives – all boils down to good old-fashioned public relations: relationships with journalists. Research carefully who you involve in an embargo or offer an exclusive to. Always work with reporters you trust and know well. It’s also important you know the publications you are pitching. Know what their deadlines are and what their publishing cycle is. These issues may influence your embargo or exclusive and its success.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.


Press Release Timing: When Should You Send Out Your News?

You can have the most well-written and newsworthy press release in the world, but if you send it out on a bad day or at the wrong time, you may hurt your opportunities for news coverage. The day and time you issue a press release matter.

The key questions to consider are:

  • When will editors and reporters reading their email be most likely to see my release? (probably 8am-9am)
  • When will editors and reporters most likely be too busy to pay attention to what I am sending out?
  • If I am holding an event to make a big announcement, what is the best time to issue an invitation to media to attend, and what is the best time to issue a release sharing the outcome of the event?

It’s important to think about work flow. Most people check their email when they first arrive at work. So if your news release is in the digital pile (and near the top) in the morning, you have a better chance. If reporters need to pitch a story from your release in a 10:00 am editorial meeting, they will need your release before then. Journalists are like many other workers – they take time off on the weekends and holidays to see their families and friends – so certain days and dates are best avoided.

In an ideal world – your news release should make the job of the journalist easier. Not inflict stress. So schedule your press release accordingly. Here’s the best advice we have (take with a grain of salt, today’s 24/7 news cycle moves at such a frenetic pace that we are seeing reporters working super crazy hours and some releases are going out at crazy hours and not the ideal times):

Best days of the week to issue a press release: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. A 2013 review of MarketWired releases found that Tuesday was the busiest day of the week for press releases – meaning your release is competing with lots of other news traffic for attention. You might fare better on Wednesday or Thursday, but try out a few options and see what works for you.

Moderately ok day of the week to issue a press release: Monday. Yes, lots of releases may come out that day, but there is something to be said for your release being at the beginning of the week and the top of the pile.

Worst days of the week to issue a press release: Friday (afternoon/evening especially), Saturday, Sunday

Best time of day to issue a press release: 8am-9:30am (most likely to be seen when people clear their morning email before news editorial meetings. At the same time, there is some flux in this. At this time of day, you are also competing with many other releases on the wire services (if you use one).

Dates to avoid: April Fool’s Day (April 1), Labor Day, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving Day (and the days before and after), Christmas (December 25, but avoid 3 days before and any day through January 1).

Should you issue a release later in the day? Sometimes you do have to issue news later in the day. The world is not going to end if this happens. But use commonsense. If you expect actual interest from a television news outlet and the story is time-sensitive, then don’t issue your release an hour before they go on the air or during their news show.

If you expect newspaper coverage – issuing a release in the late afternoon when reporters are on deadline is traditionally bad. HOWEVER, with journalists increasingly asked to produce more content (especially for online purposes) – this also means that there is opportunity for a well-written release to be used by a reporter or blogger any time of day (work/life balance is squeezed on many fronts, including in journalism). If you release information later in the day – make sure your work is top-notch and clear as day – reporters may not have as much time to follow up and be stressed to produce copy.

Realize that news outlets plan coverage in advance. Even if reporters like a story idea, they may need to run it past an editor or assignment manager. An interview may need to be arranged by phone or in person. The reporter may need to locate other sources. All of this takes time. It take an hour, a day, a week or months.

Get your ducks in a row in advance before sending your release out. Make sure key spokespeople are available right after the release goes out. Have numbers, background materials and suggestions for other sources ready. Don’t muddle up the process by being ill-prepared. Sometimes circumstances force you to go out with a release without some key supporting materials – scramble to get this information organized as fast as possible in case you need it.

The Friday night news dump – it’s a real thing. If you have unflattering news about yourself that you are required to issue, the traditional advice given out by public relations professionals is that you should release it on Friday afternoon or early evening (known as the Friday night news dump), when it is least likely to be noticed. While there is some debate over whether this is a good strategy for company earnings reports (see report on this matter), it remains a well-used strategy for many other types of news, such as product recalls.

For example, on Friday, August 25, 2017 late in the day, the White House formally issued directions for a ban on transgender members of the military, and later in the evening, U.S. President Donald Trump issued a controversial pardon. The fact that this was done while a major hurricane was closing in on the Texas coast meant there was plenty of distraction in the news media space. It was still covered, but perhaps not to the extent it might have been.

Contacting media on the weekend – Is it ever ok to contact reporters over the weekend? Yes, if you have real breaking news of high interest to reporters, you should send out a release and make calls (to news desks). This happens sometimes for government agencies who are coping with a threat to public safety, or for organizations or businesses that have had something truly catastrophic happen to them that is of high interest to the media and can’t wait. If you have important information that impacts public safety or breaking news that is highly likely to be covered by the media – you should send it out as soon as you can. Very, very few news releases meet these requirements – but if yours does – send it out when it needs to go out, even if it’s the weekend.


Market (In)Attention and Earnings Announcement Timing

Talk to Us: What do you think is the best time or day to issue a news release? What has worked for you and your nonprofit organization, association or business?

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven


Media Relations: “Off the Record” and “On Background” Explained

Should I go “off the record”? It’s one of the most common questions I hear from clients I assist with media relations training and support. Even just curious people who find out I work in media relations often want to know how going off the record or “speaking on background” works. What “off the record” means has been in the headlines lately, because former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci disputed whether he was “off the record” in an obscenity-laced tirade to a New Yorker reporter. In Washington, D.C., we even have a lovely upscale bar at the Hay-Adams Hotel called “Off the Record.”

I’ve talked with journalists “off the record” and “on background.” I’ve advised clients on navigating confidential information sharing many times. Using “off the record” is not a tool to be used by a novice. You have to know what you are doing and be clear.

You must be intentional about what you do and don’t want to share. Absent an “off the record” or “on background” agreement, anything you say to a journalist or captured by a recording device they use, can be reported on. In media relations training, we always warn CEOs, interviewees and spokespeople that anything they say in front of or to a journalist could be used in a report. We tell them that even if a camera, phone, microphone, or recorder does not appear to be recording, anything said near one should be considered “on the record.” If you don’t want to see the information you have in print or on the airwaves, do not say it, allude to it, or hint about it. Keep your lips zipped.

Why people go off the record or on background. So even though people like me tell you it’s safest to be “on the record” or to keep your mouth shut – why would you go “off” the record? People I’ve met and assisted have a variety of reasons for doing this. Sometimes they work for a large government agency or have been hurt by something or someone.

Sometimes people go off the record or on background because they have come across information or wrongdoing that they feel should be publicized, because it is the only way to reform or fix a system or process that affects other people. Sometimes they have been mis-treated and been retaliated against for trying to fix the problem – and they want to see the wrong righted, but they also want to protect a job, family, organization, or reputation.

The information itself may be of compelling public interest. It may reveal corruption, crime, falsehoods, mis-management, problems in government, or something else. Information shared off the record should relate to a current news story, or be so unique, scandalous, of public interest, or unusual – it should be something that a journalist would salivate to cover. Absolutely, it must also be accurate and true information. This is no place for falsehoods.

The Associated Press defines “on the record” and “off the record” in these ways and I like the clarity they give to the terms, which can seem murky when you look at other sources:

On the record. The information can be used with no caveats, quoting the source by name.

Off the record. The information cannot be used for publication.

Background. The information can be published but only under conditions negotiated with the source. Generally, the sources do not want their names published but will agree to a description of their position. AP reporters should object vigorously when a source wants to brief a group of reporters on background and try to persuade the source to put the briefing on the record. These background briefings have become routine in many venues, especially with government officials.

Deep background. The information can be used but without attribution. The source does not want to be identified in any way, even on condition of anonymity.

In general, information obtained under any of these circumstances can be pursued with other sources to be placed on the record. This is a key point. Don’t be surprised if you tip off a reporter and they come up with a way to cover the story without you – if you told them about a good story and didn’t want to be quoted or alluded to.

Information should be verifiable and accurate. If you choose to share information off the record or on background, you should expect for your information to be vetted and corroborated by the journalist. While there is a tendency to sometimes see “unnamed sources” in reporting about the White House or political topics, the information is often verified by using multiple sources. Skilled reporters are savvy at verifying information without revealing their sources.

You should only tango with someone you trust – this is not a dance for the faint of heart. My feeling is that you should never go “off the record” or “on background” with someone you don’t trust. It is a big deal to put your reputation, career or even freedom in the hands of a journalist and his or her ethics. So you need to trust the person you talk to.

Journalists have a code of ethics (this one is from the Society for Professional Journalists) and as a group, they pride themselves on protecting sources. News outlets often have a code of ethics for their journalists and requirements for “off the record” and “on background” or anonymous sources. It’s helpful to look this information up online so you can understand the boundaries the reporter you want to talk to might be operating within. NPR addresses anonymous sources in its code of ethics. In NPR’s case (and at many other media outlets as well), editors are involved in decisions to grant sources anonymity and go off the record.

ProPublica’s code of ethics is a good example of how a news agency approaches using anonymous source. It gives you a good idea of the perspective they bring:

We strive to identify all the sources of our information, shielding them with anonymity only when they insist upon it and when they provide vital information — not opinion or speculation; when there is no other way to obtain that information; and when we know the source is knowledgeable and reliable. To the extent that we can, we identify in our stories any important bias such a source may have. If the story hinges on documents, as opposed to interviews, we describe how the documents were obtained, at least to the extent possible. We do not say that a person declined comment when he or she is already quoted anonymously. Editors have an obligation to know the identity of unnamed sources in our stories, so that editors and reporters can jointly assess the appropriateness of using their information. Sources need to understand this practice.

This is no time for flights of fancy. No reputable news outlet will allow you to speak under a false name or pay you for information. So keep your feet on the ground and focus on being truthful and accurate. The stakes are high. The one trump card journalists have in this crazy game is public interest. They will do their best not to throw you to the wolves and I’ve seen journalists go to great lengths to protect their sources.

Know the reporter and outlet you want to talk to. You may not know the reporter personally, but you can get a sense of a reporter from his or her work. Research who is covering the topic or issue you want to share information about. Do they work for the publication that the powers-that-be will pay attention to? Who has a reputation for listening? Read what he or she writes, or watch or listen to what he or she produces. What is the reporter’s style in reporting? What is the news outlet’s policy on reporting with anonymous sources, “off the record” information, or “on background” remarks? Much of this information can often be found online.

Prepare before you call or set up the meeting. You need to get your head straight. I sometimes work with people in challenging situations. Inevitably the person in this situation is aggrieved, distressed, wronged, traumatized, and wrapped up in so many details and emotions – they’ve been on such a journey to get to this point – that it’s hard for them sometimes to be clear and focus. But clarity is important. Jot down your key points and think through what you want to say. Be clear about how you feel about being referenced (or not referenced). What about your story makes it compelling? What hard evidence do you have or can you point the journalist to?

If you need help preparing, work with someone you trust. The best way to keep something quiet is not to tell anyone. Secrecy is important if you are really serious about staying “off the record” or on “deep background.”  That means you can’t discuss this with very many people. Ideally you should discuss it with no one. But sometimes people need help getting ready. The more people who have the information and know the source, the more likely the information will leak and be out of your control. If you need public relations counsel to prepare and get your head straight, seek it out with someone you trust. This is not a job for the junior communications staffer, but a seasoned  public relations practitioner with experience. If you hire public relations counsel, make sure there is a confidentiality clause in the contract.

Having an upfront agreement with the journalist is important. There is no “off the record” in hindsight.  Here’s how it should go: You say to the journalist or reporter over the phone or in person (do not do this by email) – is now a good time to talk? Wait for an affirmative. Then you say, “I’d like to talk off the record (or on background) about something with you.” Because not everyone agrees on what “on the record” or “on background” means, you will want to clarify what the term means to you (use one of the definitions above). You might say something like “To me that means…” Wait for the journalist to agree verbally to having a conversation that is “off the record” or “on background.” You are now “off the record” or “on background” and can spill the beans. If the journalist does not agree, say thank you for their time and get off the phone or leave.

Be cautious. I typically recommend first talking verbally or in person. Do not hand over documents before you have an agreement about going off the record or on background in place. After the agreement is in place, if you have inside knowledge, you can tip off the reporter to research or sources. You may be able to tell the reporter to ask for information via FOIA or public records requests that he or she might not have thought of. Some media outlets (see the Washington Post’s page) have information on their websites about how to share information with them safely and confidentially. Sites like can often help in these cases as well. Just make sure that you’ve done your homework and know your rights.

Talk with the reporter about how you might be referred to in reporting, if at all. If the reporter is interested in the story, talk with them about how your identity will be protected. Even if you are “off the record” the information you share could point a finger back to you inadvertently. Typically, someone quoted in a news story as speaking on background is identified as ‘a source,’ ‘an XYZ department official,’ ‘a government office official,’ ‘a senior administrator,’ etc. The reporter will often try to couch how they refer to the source in a way that illustrates their credibility, but without giving away the identity of the source. Reporters also will want to set a context for why you are not identified.

If a reporter asks you to speak on background about something, consider the ramifications. Occasionally, I have had reporters ask a client to speak “on background” about a topic that the client was knowledgeable of, but not seeking attention for. In these situations, I talk with the client about the request and we decide whether or not to participate. These conversations often lead the reporter to new reporting angles and allow the source to speak candidly.

Is it safe to share information off the record or on background? There is always some risk to sharing sensitive information, but there can also be great rewards. Typically, reporters value their sources and will go to great lengths – some even risk jail – to protect their sources. They won’t yield to bullying and newspapers retain lawyers on staff for a reason – to protect the rights of a free press. Reporters are also fierce about protecting their sources because they don’t want to lose other sources (word can and will get around). They won’t want to damage their reputation among their colleagues either. Bungling an anonymous source can mean a journalist even loses his or her job. And they don’t want to cause harm to their sources.

There can be real risk. A young government contractor who leaked information on Russian interference in 2016 in the U.S. election system to The Intercept is currently in jail and awaiting trial, because she printed out documents on a color printer (color printers put tiny unnoticeable dots on documents that can identify when they were printed) and mailed them to a media outlet. In verifying her story, the reporter sent snapshots of the pages to a government source, who reported it up the food chain. She also emailed the media outlet from a personal email account on a work computer. Don’t do these things if you really don’t want to be caught. The publication is assisting in her legal defense and has re-evaluated its policies on anonymous sources and news gathering because of what happened but the reality is – she is in a big mess.

Listen to your gut. Sharing information “off the record” or “on background” is not a decision to be made lightly. Your intellect and logic play a role – but so does your gut. Consider the risks, but also the rewards. Listen to your intuition and do what feels right to you.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven




Presentation: Make Headlines for All the Right Reasons

Media relations can be challenging, even for those working in criminal justice or law enforcement, who interact with journalists regularly and rely on them to inform the public about information. In this July 2017 presentation at the annual conference for the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP), Ami Neiberger-Miller offers an overview of media relations and how to build positive relationships with journalists that can benefit drug court programs.


Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven


Media Relations: Press Releases Don’t Beat Good Conversations

As a media relations expert, I am routinely asked how to craft pitching angles or get a story placed with a blog, publication or broadcast outlet. Of course, if you have news – something that is timely, breaking, uniquely interesting, or of great public value – you can often achieve coverage and placement. But what about when the story is softer and you are trying to stand out in a sea of others?

Perhaps you are a company that wants to highlight your CEO. Or a nonprofit that wants to share its good work. Or an association with a membership base that wants focus on its issues.

Inc. editor Jane Berentson recently wrote, “A press release will never beat a good conversation” and she’s got a great point.

But how do you have those conversations? Public relations professionals calling media after a targeted distribution often get dumped into voice mails and can’t have those conversations. I’ve talked with junior staff at major firms who talk about making call after call, not because those calls earn ink or conversations, but because the firm wants to report numbers to the client.

But how do you get to conversations with reporters and editors if you don’t know them? You get there by being authentic and focusing on relationship-building. Here’s a few tips.

#1 – Abandon your notions of what media relations outreach has to be. It can’t all be about numbers. When you are focused on churning out numbers and not authentic relationship-building for your client, organization or business with the media – you have lost sight of the goal.

#2 – Don’t treat your media relations like content marketing. In this day and age with content marketing – organizations are sending out pre-written stories that get picked up by bloggers and smaller newspapers who need to fill space. But the mass distribution methods we use for placing pre-written stories, don’t work when we have a softer story that needs one-on-one attention from a reporter or editor.

#3 – Set clear expectations with the boss, the client or whoever is above you and cares about the pitch. Talk with the powers that be and make sure they understand – authentic media relations is about being real and targeting – not mass blasting. This means they will need to accept that stories take time to place. Yes, we can score helpful tips on a lifestyle issue or product in smaller publications – but the in-depth feature they would love to see will take time to pitch and place.

#4 – You begin with finding the right reporter or editor for the story you want to share. You start with targeting the right reporter or editor for the story you have. This might require reviewing similar news on the topic, cyberstalking research, and looking over work they’ve recently written or produced.

#5 – Craft a solid pitch that is authentic, not fake. Reach out to the reporter or editor and indicate you’ve read something they’ve written, what your story idea is, and say something interesting about why it’s important/unique/different/special/offers lessons for others/relates to some bigger pressing issue in the headlines now. So often sample pitches I review from communications staff are lackluster and lack pizzazz, shine or any degree of a story hook. Don’t use generic terms like “your publication” in your pitch (a dead give away that you mass blasted your pitch). Don’t make grandiose claims that won’t hold water. Talk about people, not just programs or initiatives. Especially on a softer story – reporters need a voice or person to help carry the story – otherwise it will be too dry. Don’t include references to their personal lives if you happened to stumble across them while doing your research. Do include brief references to the availability of statistics (fodder for graphics or story content) or photos or video. Do be real. And don’t write too much.

#6 – Follow up with the reporter or editor and try to have a conversation. Try to call at a convenient time (mornings are often best, near broadcast times or press deadlines in late afternoon is bad). If you get them on the phone, be prepared to verbally pitch your story again – you may want your original email pitch out in front of you so you can easily reference it. Then listen. Really listen to what the reporter says. If you’re lucky and the stars align -you may walk out of this with the story you are hoping for. You might even suggest a face-to-face meeting or getting together for coffee (yes, these things do still happen even in this time-sucking crazy age).

#7 – If the reporter doesn’t respond: wait, and then cut your losses and move on with the story – but focus on relationship-building. Forward your original email and add a note at the top saying you are following up with them. If you just don’t get traction, move on to another reporter or editor in a week or so. If you really feel this is the right reporter for your topic or issue, keep him or her on your media list. Reporters are inundated with email and information today. You (or your organization or client) might still end up on an experts list they keep or land on a list of future potential story topics, even if now is not the right time. Don’t blow it by acting rudely.

#8 – Be persistent about selling the story. Do not allow discouragement to dampen your enthusiasm for the story.  If what you have on your hands is a great story, someone will want to cover it. It just may take time to find the right publication or outlet and the right person to champion it. Reporters and editors today are maxed out for time and running a few thousand miles an hour, so getting on their radars can be tough. If you are starting from no relationship, you have to take it slow. Media relations is a bit like dating – and you do sometimes hear “it’s not you, it’s a great story – but I’m covering XYZ for now and into the foreseeable future, so it’s not a good fit for me.” If you get a no and they seem friendly and like the story idea, ask if there’s someone else they can recommend. And don’t give up.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven



How to Make the Redesigned Google News Work for You

PR pros who count on Google News to help them track the latest information about their clients got a rude awakening a few days ago when Google rolled out a “new look” for its news zone.

With the help of a little caffeine to dispel my morning fog, I sat down to examine the rollout. Yes, the layout is cleaner, and the card format is polished.  But I do wonder about the story cards – given their emphasis on showing news from different perspectives, someone is curating content behind the scenes to assemble those cards and deciding which views are presented on those story topics.

Google has blogged about the changes. They say the goals were to: “To make news more accessible and easier to navigate, we redesigned the desktop website with a renewed focus on facts, diverse perspectives, and more control for users.” You can add sections for topics, choose which sources you prefer (or don’t) and can scan easier. So I’ll give them kudos for those things.

But the change I found most befuddling, was how to get Google News to display searched articles by date (not by topic relevance which is the default). To get to the display by date option, you need to get to the “full coverage” page. But you can’t get there easily through the new Google News main page.

On a topic like “nonprofits” this is not too hard to make happen. You search for “nonprofits” in your Google News search bar.  Then you look for the “View full coverage” link.

Now you’ll see “full coverage” for that particular story topic, but not a list by date of all news related to nonprofits (like you used to). So if you are a nonprofit-loving person like me who is always up to check out news in the do good sector, there is still no way to get a comprehensive list of nonprofit news even with this full coverage option in Google News. The familiar bars and tools for sorting by date and relevance are gone.

If you are looking for a less popular topic as part of your Google News search – you don’t get a “full coverage” option for a story. For example, if I search for news about “lawn  mowers” – I get a list of articles, but no option to switch to full coverage and then sort by date. I just get whatever has been deemed most relevant by Google News, in no particular order. On its blog post explaining the changes, Google just tells people to look for the “full coverage” button, but seems blissfully unaware of the news consumer who comes in with a particular topic in mind who wants to drill down into a fire hose of coverage by date. The old Google News let you do that. The new Google News is hit and miss.

I played with settings and other options trying to get just the basic stories from the last 24 hours to load in order by date, and couldn’t do it.  I tweeted at Google but got no response. Thankfully, there’s a work around. And it’s crazy simple. Here it is:


Go to And search for nonprofits. You get 67.5 million results in a little over a second. Sweet. Now click on “News” so you only see news stories. This will give you stories sorted by relevance and this looks a lot like the old Google News when you searched for something. Then go to Tools and pick “sorted by date.” Now you can see a list of articles, in order, by date published, on your chosen keywords.

In other words, you have found where they hid Google News, minus the flashy home page loaded with curated content. You can also still sign up for alerts at the bottom of the page (i could not find an option to sign up for alerts about nonprofits on the new Google News page even after searching for news about nonprofits).

I use Google alerts, Cision/Vocus reports, hashtags, and all sorts of things to monitor news for clients.  But I still rely on Google News to help me sort stories by date and monitor the pulse of a topic, and it’s dis-orienting to see these types of changes without a lot of notice. I know many nonprofit agency staff who use Google News to monitor topics and coverage because they can’t afford the more expensive news monitoring services. I’m grateful there’s an easy work around to the new Google News so I can continue to review the coverage I want to see.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your project, review our portfolio, sign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven


Best Practices in Using Twitter for Associations

Ami Neiberger-Miller (@AmazingPRMaven) had a great time talking about “Best Practices in Using Twitter for Associations” at the Association Media & Publishing annual 2017 conference (#AMP17). Her co-presenter, Mark Newman of the Endocrine Society, talked about how he has used Twitter (@Endocrine_News) to recruit authors for the association magazine and engage with readers.

This presentation focused on maximizing Twitter for your association (and making your job easier). It discussed using Twitter as a promotional tool and a content cultivation tool. Tips were offered to help association staff save time, reap more benefits, create graphics they can use on Twitter, and maximize exposure.

Due to how Slideshare operates, some of the links in the notes may not be visible. So here they are if you want more information!

Wiley research: How are societies using social media? (02/27/2015)

BuzzSumo: We Analyzed 100 Million Headlines. Here’s What We Learned (2017)

To make awesome graphics without your graphic designer’s help: Canva

To see your Twitter account analytics:

Twitter accounts referenced during the presentation:


American College of Radiology @RadiologyACR

American Medical Association @AmerMedicalAssn

American Planning Association @American_Planning

American Society on Aging @AsAging

Ami Neiberger-Miller @AmazingPRMaven

Chamber of Commerce @USChamber

Endocrine News @Endocrine_News

Endocrine Society @TheEndoSociety

Episcopal Center for Children @ECCofDC

Linda McMahon @SBALinda

Mark Newman @MarkNYC64

National Association for Music Education @NAfME

National Association of Social Workers @NASW

Plan Arlington VA @PlanArlingtonVA

Springdale Chamber of Commerce @SpringdaleCofC

U.S. Chamber of Commerce @USChamber

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your project, review our portfolio, sign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven


Guest Post: 6 Tips for Reaching Millennial Audiences Through Social Media

If you’re working in marketing, you’re marketing to Millennials. According to Forbes, there are 80 million Millennials in the United States, and they have about $200 billion in buying power. Connecting with them through content marketing is a must for any business or nonprofit aiming to survive in the digital age. And yet the internet is littered with cringe-worthy corporate attempts gone horribly wrong. There’s even a subreddit dedicated to the phenomenon: r/FellowKids.

Trust us, you don’t want to end up there. Luckily, you don’t have to. Whether you’re a Gen Xer looking to update your web presence, or a Millennial looking to refresh your approach, there are things you can do to better reach Millennial audiences through social media.

Diff’rent Strokes, Diff’rent Folks. Does your business have a Facebook profile? Great. Does it have a Twitter account? Instagram? Snapchat? Periscope? YouTube channel? It might seem impossible to keep up with all the social media apps, but it’s necessary to remain au courant with Millennial audiences. No, you don’t have to jump on every trend — how many of those Pokemon Go business accounts are still active? — but platforms with millions of unique users and sustained success are worth your time.

Millennial audiences don’t rely on just one social media account to broadcast their online personality to the world, and your business shouldn’t, either.

Learn The Language. That being said, learn to use each platform most effectively for your business. If your Instagram feed is overrun with text, you’re doing it wrong. If you’re always trying to post visual ads to Twitter, you’ve fundamentally misread your medium.

Before your account goes live, do some personal research: Establish personal accounts for yourself, and practice by making non-business posts. Tweet a little bit. Send funny Snaps to your friends. Follow celebrities, journalists, random people you know — and only after that, major corporations and brands. No one will read your social media content if it’s not matched to its platform or if the tone is more ad agency than real talk.

Millennial consumers don’t want promotions: They want people.

Don’t Try To Do Too Much. Still, know your place. There are few things worse than a company trying too hard to prove its hipness or relate-ability. Who can forget the Great Eyeroll of 2016, when Pizza Hut unveiled its “Hut Swag” merchandise line? In addition to not making sense, “Pizza is Bae” wasn’t something most Millennials wanted to wear on a black sweatshirt.

If you only learn of a meme because you Googled the word “meme,” you shouldn’t use it. Likewise, if you’re anything less than 100% sure of what a piece of slang means, keep it out of your mouth… and your Twitter feed. Millennials value honesty and transparency more than the ability to use the word of the moment. And nobody likes a try-hard.

Make Use of Your Younger Employees. If you’re old enough to be in charge, you might also be old enough to be out of touch. That’s where younger employees and interns come in. Don’t be afraid to ask for their help, or even delegate some of the social media work to them. (They’ll probably appreciate the work, and it can look great on a resume.) But don’t absent yourself from the process entirely. Instead, think of your younger employees as native speakers who are available to translate and teach.

Volume is Key… But So is Quality. You know that old chestnut about Millennials being glued to their devices? Well, it’s kind of true. According to The Wall Street Journal, Millennials spend over six hours a day on the internet or interacting with social media. They expect a constant stream of content, and although it doesn’t all need to come from the same place, intermittent or inconsistent posting can mean that your brand will get lost in the shuffle. Without sacrificing quality, you should aim to keep your accounts active on a daily basis… and in some cases, on an hourly schedule. Twitter is particularly fast-paced, but other platforms — like Instagram and Facebook — also need daily touches to be effective tools.

Always Connect. The great thing about social media is that it allows you to connect with your target audience in real time. So take advantage of that immediacy! If someone follows you on Twitter or Instagram, follow them back. If you get a question or comment because of a Facebook post, respond publicly! The more open and available you seem, the more a Millennial audience will trust you. You might be a company or a non-profit, but on social media you can be like everyone else: a relate-able voice, in 140 characters or less.

Sam Radbil is a contributing member of the marketing and communications team at ABODO, an online apartment marketplace. ABODO was founded in 2013 in Madison, Wisconsin. And in just three years, the company has grown to more than 30 employees, raised over $8M in outside funding and helps more than half a million renters find a new home each month.


Building a Platform as a Writer: 7 Tips to Get Started

Even established and well-seasoned authors need a personal platform to promote their work. This presentation talks about what goes into an author’s platform and how to build one. It offers seven tips to help authors get started on building a personal brand.

Tip #1: Start with believing in yourself.

Tip #2: Decide what your online persona will be.

Tip #3: Pick at least 2 social media platforms to build your platform on.

Tip #4: Build a website for yourself. Really. Yes, you do need it.

Tip #5: Get allies. Make a list of influencers.

Tip #6: Publish, publish, publish. And not just your book.

Tip #7: Be relentless at building your platform.

Ami Neiberger-Miller delivered this presentation in April 2017 at Writers Project Runway III in Leesburg, Virginia.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your project, review our portfolio, sign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven




Authors: Learn How to Get Attention at Writers Project Runway III on April 1

Steppingstone LLC’s Ami Neiberger-Miller will be speaking at Writers Project Runway III on Saturday, April 1 in Leesburg, Virginia.  She is presenting: “Your Author Voice: Building a Platform.”

Learn how to build a platform so your voice as an author is noticed and heard. Traditional publishers today increasingly ask authors to publicize their work and promote sales. Whether you have a book deal or not, publishers want authors with an established platform who will help promote their books. If you are self-published, the responsibility for publicizing your work rest squarely on your shoulders.

But how do you start and sustain your platform? Should you have a website? Or a mailing list? Do you need a Facebook page, a YouTube channel, a blog, and a Twitter feed? Should a news release be issued about your book? What will you say? How will you find time to write while juggling promotional outreach into your workload?

Hear Ami talk about where the rubber meets the road when it comes to public relations. Get practical advice on how to build your platform and share your writing with the world.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your project, review our portfolio, sign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven


Twitter Basics: Building Influence and Followers

Twitter can be a great platform for building your influence. This presentation on Twitter basics was created in February 2017 for a group of people who were new to using social media. They wanted to be more engaged politically and wanted pointers on how to grow a Twitter following and be efficient. I talked during the discussion time about how I use searches and lists to help manage incoming information. The presentation is available through Slideshare.

Talk to Us: Do you enjoy using Twitter? What works for you? How are you staying active and engaged through social media? Post a comment to let us know your thoughts!

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your project, review our portfolio, sign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven


DoGooder TV Awards: Nonprofiteers, Get Your Submissions in by 2/13

The DoGooder TV Awards honor the best work from people and organizations that are using video to create real impact for important causes. If you have made a video about your nonprofit organization or cause, this is a great opportunity to share it with the world and be recognized for your hard efforts.

There are some fun categories. There’s the Funny for Good Award and the Best Nonprofit Video Award. There’s also a brand new award category: the Fundraising for Good Award. This award will honor the best nonprofit fundraising video that successfully contains a direct call for monetary donations to support a nonprofit’s mission and programming.

Video submissions are open for all three categories through February 13, 2017. The public will then have the opportunity to view the finalists, selected by a panel of expert judges, and vote for the best video in each category from February 20 – March 20, 2017. The contest is open to both organizations and individuals.

What do you get if you win? Recognition for your work and your cause/nonprofit will feel good if you win.  The winners will be honored in a special ceremony at the 2017 Nonprofit Technology Conference being held March 23-25, 2017 in Washington, DC. Your video will be showcased at the event and you get a free registration to next year’s NTC in New Orleans.

Every day organizations and causes tell stories through video that have the power to move people and transform lives. Submit your videos and get recognized for your hard work!

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your project, review our portfolio, sign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven


Starting an Independent PR Practice: 5 Keys to Success

In November 2016, Ami Neiberger-Miller talked about starting our business for the Independent Public Relations Alliance (I.P.R.A.) which is part of the Public Relations Society of America – National Capital Chapter. The presentation was part of “How to Start and Grow an Independent PR Practice.” She co-presented with Sandra Wills Hannon of the The Hannon Group. In her presentation, Ami highlighted five keys for success and offers insights helpful for many small business owners. Here is the copy from her drafted remarks.

I’m going to begin by describing how I started my business and then I’m going to talk about five keys to success that have helped me along the way.

I started my business thirteen years ago, after getting married and moving back to the D.C. area. I was telecommuting for my old job but that was coming to an end, and I was job hunting. I got offers from friends for project work while I was looking for a traditional nine to five job – and my husband said, I don’t know why you are looking for a regular job, you already have work coming to you. Why don’t you start a business?  Hearing him say that, is what made me really seriously consider starting an independent P.R. practice.

At the time, my husband had a full-time job with health insurance. So we moved an old dining table into the basement, and set up a little office for me. Then I began to dream a bit. What would an independent P.R. practice for me look like? What kind of work would I do? Who would I want to work for? It was exciting. I initially thought i would work in P.R. and focus on nonprofit organizations and youth development, as that was where i came from. So I went to the Loudoun Small Business Development Center and got a checklist of things to do. I set up my business checking account and deposited my first check. I was on my way! Three years after starting my business my husband quit his job and came to work for me, after we won major curriculum writing and design contracts (and it was clear more creative and design work for him would be coming our way). So how have I made it work all these years?  

My first key to success is – network with people – not with computers or Twitter handles – with people. You should strive to never burn a bridge or lose a good contact. When I started my practice, I began contacting old colleagues. Those contacts led to referrals. I also joined P.R.S.A.-N.C.C. and became a charter member of I.P.R.A., which was just getting off the ground. I found in I.P.R.A. – my water cooler crowd – the people who would celebrate success with me, give me advice when i needed it, and even be a support when life didn’t go well. I have done business over the years with people I have met through I.P.R.A. Sometimes they are one-time projects, other times it is an account that we are sharing together. Sometimes it’s long-term. Someone I met at an I.P.R.A. lunch, called me a few years later and invited me to have lunch. She had followed me online over the years and wanted to talk about doing business together. She hired me, and I subcontract to her virtual P.R. firm. I work on a team, and we’ve had a very successful collaboration now for a few years. 

My second key to success is to learn from others the things you don’t know, and to keep striving to improve. One of the challenges I faced is that I didn’t come from a P.R. agency background. So I had to learn how to market myself, compete for business, and service clients. And that was a big learning curve.  I learned through trial and error, read a lot of advice online, had coffee with wonderful people like my co-presenter Sandra Wills-Hannon, and partnered with others who knew things I didn’t know. One experience that raised my proposal game – was when I was asked to be part of a proposal by one of the larger P.R. firms in D.C., who thought having a Loudoun county sub-contractor would help them win a new account. They found me on LinkedIn. I went through the proposal process with them, rehearsed presentations with them, and helped pitch the account. It ended up we didn’t win the business, but seeing how a larger agency managed that process and what they put into it, was eye opening and made me much more competitive. And I have another example – as social media took off – I had a client ask me to help them strategize how to build a social media presence. At the time, I was just learning this arena myself, so I invited another I.P.R.A. member to work with me on the account who knew more than me. My client got great advice, and I learned a lot too. Sometimes people who are new to business worry about others “stealing” their ideas or clients – but I have never found that to be the case. And you can protect yourself by signing no-compete agreements if needed.

Now we come to key #3 to success: be shrewd about your time. I did a lot of networking early on. But as time went by, I became more shrewd about how I invested my time. We were members of the Chamber of Commerce for a few years, but we let our membership lapse because it didn’t lead to the types of clients we wanted and took too much time. I did find networking events for women fruitful, and I found that PRSA events helped me make contacts and grow professionally. I also like events I can tweet from and use for blog fodder, so I get multiple returns.  Being shrewd about time should also extend to how you work. You become more aware of time when you are working for yourself, billing hours and focusing on deliverables, and you know you have to deliver to get a pay check and meet your commitments. So efficiency is key because your time spent marketing, networking, etc. is not billable. When I’m downtown meeting clients, I need to get a lot done, so I have a membership in a co-working space. I have a quiet place to work when I’m in D.C. and I’m not working in noisy coffee shops.

Key to success #4 is to invest in building a public persona and good systems. My first website and business cards were awful. I made them myself. Luckily for me, my husband is a graphic designer and three years after I started my business, he joined me in my practice. So he designed a new logo, ordered me new business cards, and built a new website. Today I have a website, a well-developed blog, a linked-in profile, a business Facebook page and a very active twitter feed with around 7,000 followers. I find that new clients have often already read my twitter feed and blog before calling me. And current clients also read my blog and tweets. It is a challenge to keep information flowing out, as we balance client needs and limited time. It’s also important to have good financial tools. After many years of struggle – I finally found the financial management tool that works for me – I use Quickbooks for self-employed and I love it. I review transactions as they come in – often on my phone – and categorize them for tax purposes.

Success key #5 – persevere and keep a cushion. We have faced some challenges in our business over the last thirteen years – and there are times it has been hard to persevere. I always advise people who are self-employed, to keep a cushion – a cash reserve. It gives you options. In 2007, while we were on vacation, my brother was killed in combat in Iraq. Some of my clients found out about it from news reports and I was managing press while trying to help my grieving family. We buried my brother at Arlington National Cemetery, and a day later, on our wedding anniversary, my husband had emergency surgery for a condition that could have killed him. All of that happened in just eleven days.

Some of our clients evaporated. So did some of our friends. We had to rebuild our client base. I was invited to submit a proposal to a higher education association through a referral, and another firm asked us to bid on a curriculum job. I remember sitting down at my desk, three weeks after my brother died, and my husband’s surgery, and thinking ok, I am going to write these proposals as an act of therapy. We probably won’t get them, but it will do me good to write and dream. And we got both of those jobs.

You need a financial cushion and you will also need the will to persevere even when life hands you unexpected blessings. Three years later – the adoption agency called – a year earlier than we thought they would – to say our baby was on the way. And our daughter, Gabrielle Miller, was born the very next day. We had no car seat, no diapers, no baby clothes, and no childcare plan. We quickly got all of those things. Because we had our financial cushion in place and our business built back to a healthy level – we could afford the adoption costs and for one of us to go part-time.

Today our practice continues to evolve. Having an independent practice, has allowed me to balance my work life and home life. Our practice supports our family and we are on the leading edge of the new economy – one where people work for multiple clients and on their own terms. We have our own clients – sometimes people hire only me but a project requires my husband’s talents too. Sometimes we hire others, and sometimes we are subcontractors to others.

At times, we have considered expanding into more of a traditional agency model. What has held me back from that is that I enjoy doing the work with my clients and I don’t really want to give that up to grow into a larger firm. That might change someday, but for now, I am content with my practice.

Talk to Us: Have you started your own business? What worked for you? What are your keys to success? Post a comment to let us know your thoughts!

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your project, review our portfolio, sign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven


Five Tips on Crafting a Pitch for Bloggers

If you want to reach out to bloggers with a story idea or information from your nonprofit, association or small business, what are the best ways to reach out?

As a blogger, I get pitched regularly by people offering me content for my blog. Most pitches are awful – off-topic,  poorly written and unfamiliar with my audience.  I write about public relations, social media, writing, and work-life balance. With a few key tips these prospective bloggers could avoid rejection and score a guest post.

Tip #1:  Know what content you are trying to place. Generic info about your organization does not work for this group. Who you reach out to and how, will depend on what you have to offer. Are you distributing information about an upcoming contest or program, offering an article with advice, suggesting a story that you might write, or an infographic with key points?

Tip #2: Do your research. Make a list of the types of topics bloggers are writing about that relate to you. Is it bloggers who cover activities in your community? People who write on a particular topic or with a passion for an issue? Blogs affiliated with a friendly organization or publication? Research the blogs out there. Read them.

If you subscribe to a media database like Cision, you can look up a list of bloggers by topic. If you use a database, do a good job at reviewing and weeding down the list. Researching a list of bloggers can be time-consuming.

One way to be efficient, is to make a list of top 10, 25, or 50 blogs to reach out to. Drawing some parameters can help make the project more doable if your workload is busy.

Tip #3: Draft your pitch. Bloggers are busy, so keep it short and include copy when you can with your pitch.

No matter what you are sending – you need an introductory paragraph that introduces the topic, why it is relevant to their readers, and (briefly) why you are the right person/group to offer this information. Say whether you are willing to write a blog post or whether you would like to provide information to them to use as background material (make clear what you have).

Sweeten the deal by offering with your pitch to link to the post or share it on social media (if you have a lot of followers, mention your stats).

Story proposal for a post you would write (one-paragraph pitch): If you are proposing a story that you might write (but have not written yet), outline your key points in a paragraph, explain why their readers will enjoy this information, why you should write it, and why. Mention any timing (e.g. a special day or month coming up, how your work might fit within a schedule that they appear to be publishing on).

Story proposal for a post that they would write (one-paragraph pitch): If you are proposing a story that you are hoping they will write, outline some ideas (be creative) and outline any assets you can provide (statistics, interviewees, reports, images, graphics). Explain why the topic is relevant to their readers.

Reprintable article: If you are offering a pre-written reprintable article with tips or advice, include the copy in the body of your email (not as an attachment).  Write a pitch paragraph at the top of the email to introduce yourself and the topic. Do not let your article go over 500 or 600 words. Offer photos or graphics if you have them and offer downloadable links with them. Some top blogs may not take reprintable articles but many bloggers appreciate this information.

Infographic pitch: Write a one-paragraph pitch about the infographic topic. Include a downloadable link for the graphic.

Tip #4: Craft a great subject line. this is probably the most important part of your pitch package. Write a good subject line that gets to the point. Be clear about what you are offering.

Tip #5: Proofread your pitch before hitting send. Look over your pitch and collateral materials. Check any links with graphics or images to make sure they are working.


Talk to Us: Have you pitched bloggers? What has worked for you? Post a comment to let us know your thoughts!

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your project, review our portfolio, sign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven


Pitching the Editorial Board: Five Things to Know

The Washington Post recently caused a stir by inviting people to pitch the editorial board. Most editorial boards enjoy hearing from readers and appreciate input – especially if it is thoughtful and well-assembled. But most of them don’t do what the Post did and put up an online form to help you make your pitch. Before you pitch the Post, or any other newspaper editorial board, what should you do? Here’s five things to know.

First, you need to understand what editorial boards do. Many people don’t realize that editorial boards write opinions on community issues. They might commend a community effort, support a call for change, express empathy for a tragedy, endorse a candidate or action, weigh in on a known (or unknown) issue, or hold up for verbal public flogging people who’ve done wrong to the public.

The best way to understand an editorial board and its perspective before you pitch it, is to read what the editorial board publishes – this is often found in your newspaper, perhaps toward the back of the first section, often under an Opinions masthead. For most editorial boards – it’s about public interest. They make a statement or comment that they feel is in the best interest of the community.

Second, research what the editorial board has said in the past on your issue or related issues. This is really important. Thankfully with the Internet, researching editorial boards has become a lot easier. If your newspaper is not accessible online (and you don’t keep copies from your subscription – it is important to read the publications you want to pitch either online or in print), try your public library – they will often have access through specialty databases.

Search for a variety of keywords. Look for issues similar to yours, as well as your issue. Know when the board has weighed in and what it said. Make a list if you need to. This is also a great time to make a list of the board members (many newspapers will list the members in print or online) and familiarize yourself with their names.

Third, you need to pick the issue  you want to talk with them about. Many nonprofits and activists are working on multiple fronts. Yes, you might be able to sit down and talk with an editorial board about your organization and issues, but try to single out one thing that the editorial board could comment on that would make a big difference.

This is where your research from the newspaper itself comes into play. If the board has already stated a position on your issue. Good news: they care about your issue. Bad news:you can’t ask them to say the exact same thing again. You need to ask them to do something new that will make a difference – perhaps endorse legislation, applaud an outstanding volunteer or leader, commend a new community program, or hold accountable a person or an institution.

Fourth, get your facts straight. You will need to use only good, reliable data in your pitch to the editorial board. Double check facts and figures. You must know where your data comes from. If the editorial board asks where a statistic is from, you should be able to quickly tell them.

Fifth, write your pitch.  Write an email or letter to the editorial board asking them to write an editorial on your issue. Be coherent, brief and on point. This is tough. Your letter should not be more than one page. Lay out your issue plainly. Be clear on how it impacts the community and how far-reaching it is. Point out how an endorsement or comment by the board can be in the public interest (not just in the interest of your organization).

Use your statistics and numbers. Reference if the board has discussed the matter before in print, but explain how what you are requesting is different (if they have written on something related to your issue before – be flattering and point out that you know they have a historic interest in XYZ, but now ABC is happening). Offer to meet in person to review the facts and discuss the issue. Include your contact information. If the issue is time-sensitive because of an upcoming vote, decision, or deadline, contact them well in advance (at least a couple of weeks).

Avoid  buzzwords in your pitch. Everyone in the nonprofit world claims they are innovative, leading, collaborative and partnering but organizations or causes sometimes struggle to illustrate how they are these things. Embody these elements in your organization and tone, instead of loading your pitch with fluff and jargon.

Talk to Us: Have you pitched an editorial board successfully? Or unsuccessfully? What do you think helped or hurt your pitch? What advice would you share with others trying to approach an editorial board?

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your project, review our portfolio, sign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven


Social Media Tools for Twitter: MyTopTweet

Ever wonder what is your most engaging tweet? Or what tweets from a competitor or client are their best? There are lots of tools out there (and many are integrated into social media management platforms like Hootsuite), but if you just need to know which tweet comes out on top, MyTopTweet delivers.

It’s a simple matter to log in to MyTopTweet with your own Twitter account, see what your own top tweets are, and to check what they are for other accounts.

The service looks at the past 3200 tweets sent by the account to show you their top 10 tweets. For your own account, you can also easily share your results by clicking a button.

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