Attracting Media Attention and Perfecting Your Pitch with Annie Scranton

I had the pleasure of chatting with Annie Scranton, President and Founder of Pace Public Relations. Annie has spent nearly a decade as a seasoned television producer, booking for major networks such as CNN, Fox News, CNBC, MSNBC, and ABC, before she established her company.

Pace PR is a full-service media relations and communications firm that deliberately customizes and tailors each client’s publicity plan to fit their unique PR objectives while optimizing media exposure. Annie and her team are solely focused on media relations, which entails securing placements for their clients on traditional news outlets such as TV, radio, print, and digital.

Her expertise in television is undeniable, as she combines her in-depth knowledge of behind-the-scenes television production with her unrivaled network of contacts. Every day, Pace PR has a number of clients on national and local television, including CNBC, Fox News, HLN, MSNBC, Fox Business Network, Bloomberg TV, and others.

Since she founded PPR as a solopreneur in 2010, the company has evolved from a studio apartment with one employee to a multi-million dollar firm with over 40 clients around the world and ten staff spread across different offices.

Breaking into the media

Breaking into the media is highly difficult, and it can be challenging without a lot of time and professional guidance. Hiring a PR firm with an extensive history in placement and bookings could help make sure that all eyes are on what you have going on. However, if finances prevent this from happening, Annie has shared tips that will help increase your chances of being seen in the media.

“The first thing I would say is that you need to have a very clear brand message and just understand how to explain your company in 30 seconds,” she said.

You need a clear, concise, and understandable brand message that will resonate with potential customers on an emotional level – otherwise, they’ll never know what makes you different from other companies or brands out there. This will help reporters understand why hearing from this particular business should be worth 30 seconds or more of someone else’s time.

There are a few different ways to get on television. For starters, you can focus your efforts in local markets where it’s familiar territory for both yourself and potential network sponsors. As every TV network has its own unique way of doing things, make sure that you conduct your research first before trying to pitch yourself to a producer or report.

“Some of them have a local hero spotlight segment that they do every week, or they have a weekend morning show where they have more of a focus on entrepreneurs or local business owners,” Annie cited. 

Find out what networks will be interested in hearing from you, and what the ideal segment is, and make sure that the tone of voice used matches this audience’s preference for basic, generic content.

Her last tip is to align yourself as a subject matter expert or thought leader in whatever field your business specializes in. “That will give you more opportunities to help a producer out and to play a role in the content that they put out.”

When Glenn turned 30, he began to rethink the direction of his life, and he wanted to give in to his entrepreneurial urge. He started a music tutorial YouTube channel called I Am An Orchestra, and he tried to sell a mini ebook to his online audience. However, he only sold ten ebooks, making less than $100 in sales.

He could have given up, but his entrepreneurial drive hadn’t faded. He decided to learn from his mistakes and take online digital marketing courses. “It got me really obsessed about how to create funnels, and email automations, and marketing, and positioning, and writing copy, and creating websites, and things like that.”

He started doing freelance marketing work, and he eventually got his marketing dream job. But he still wanted to be an entrepreneur and forge his own path. When the pandemic hit, he left his dream job to become a digital marketing consultant working mostly with musicians and course creators.

Building trust

“A warm introduction is going to go a million times further than just a cold email.”

It is essential for entrepreneurs and their PR firms to work together in order to establish connections with the media, especially by nurturing those relationships over time. Building trust will make it more likely that journalists to consider covering company stories when you have something newsworthy going on at your business or organization.

Some reporters will only accept pitches by email because it is less intrusive than receiving dozens of phone calls. It is worth noting that “Every journalist is a person. And so are you as a person going to respond to it.”

One of the most important things you can do is to be professional, yet personal. Producers and reporters are not just reading one email from someone – they might be getting hundreds every single day with all different sorts of pitches. Think about how you can get their attention. What can you offer?

Annie highlighted, “Think of how to just make their lives easier, make a connection, and then slowly in time, hopefully, that will build and that trust will build.”

Timing is crucial

As the saying goes, time is everything. This is especially true when pitching a news event because no one wants your material after the deadline. Find out when the best time is to contact a journalist so you can ensure that your content will be of interest and use. Every media outlet has its own deadlines, depending on how frequently they publish different types of material in various timelines throughout each day or week.

“If you send a pitch on a news event that happened a week before, you’re going to look so dumb. You’re going to look like you don’t know how the news works. Even sometimes it’s better to get a pitch out that’s not maybe exactly perfect, but that’s really timely because especially in cable news, it’s 24/7.”

In general, you must also choose your target audience wisely, because your prospects will set your tone for what kind of message they want from you and what type of connection forms between the parties involved.

Hear my full conversation with Annie on the Fascinating Entrepreneurs podcast.

Transcript from Podcast

[00:00:00] Annie: Most common for entrepreneurs to get featured is to align yourself as a subject matter expert or thought leader in whatever area your current company is focused in. You need to start thinking of yourself as that expert, because that will give you more opportunities to help a producer out and to play a role in the content that they put out.

[00:00:22] Natasha: Welcome to FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS. How do people end up becoming an entrepreneur? How do they scale and grow their businesses? How do they plan for profit? Are they in it for life? Are they building to exit? These and a myriad of other topics will be discussed to pull back the veil on the wizardry of successful and FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS.

Did you know that I love helping entrepreneurs like you scale and grow your business efficiently to enable revenue and profits to grow faster so you can enjoy the fruits of your labor more fully? I use real world experience of owning and running a profitable multi-million dollar company that has been on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies in America for three years in a row.

That coupled with studies at Babson college, the entrepreneurial masters program at MIT and Harvard gives me the unique ability to help entrepreneurs see your blind spots and move over the road bumps faster. I help entrepreneurs like you break through your plateau and reach higher levels of achievement. For more information, go to my website, natashamiller.co.

Annie Scranton started Pace PR in 2010 and has since grown it into a multi-million dollar business with more than 40 clients spanning the globe and 10 employees and multiple office locations. Now let’s get right into it.

[00:01:59] Annie: I was producing for Dani Georgia show on CNBC way back, like 2007, 2008, and his show got canceled. And so when it got canceled, I found myself without a job, very unexpectedly, no money. Bank account, it needs 27, 28, whatever. And I sent out an email to every one of my network saying, just lost my job, show got canceled.

If you know of anything, please let me know. And a publicist who I had worked with often booking his clients to do interviews with Dani, email me back and said, I don’t think you have experience in PR, but if you would like to help me and see if you could get my current client booked on any show on CNBC, I’ll compensate you.

And we can see how it goes. And his client had written a, he was a trader. He had written a book on the markets and I brought it to my friend who was producing for a dayside show on CNBC. And she said, “Oh, he looks great. Can he come on next week?” And that was when my light bulb moment went off that maybe because of my background and connections I could pivot and go in a different direction of my career.

[00:03:07] Natasha: And you started your company as a solopreneur. How long were you doing all of this by yourself?

[00:03:13] Annie: For about two years before I hired my first employee. It was like total traditional entrepreneur story, like in my studio apartment, by myself all day with my computer and my phone. And that was it.

And there were just so many days where the only person I would see was like the delivery guy. But I just look back on all of those days with such fondness because I loved it. And it was so fun and rewarding and cool and interesting and exciting to try something new. And I worked like 15 hours a day all the time. But if you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work so much.

And yeah, about two years where it was just me before I brought on my friend.

[00:03:51] Natasha: How did you feel about hiring an employee and what steps did you take to learn how to find someone, how to interview them, how to qualify?

[00:03:59] Annie: It was really hard and scary. I think the hardest part was just reconciling. Okay. Like now I’m going to be responsible for somebody’s salary and their livelihood and everything. But I took my time, meaning I knew that it was a point where I just could not do it all myself anymore. And there was enough money coming in where I said, okay, I’m just going to go for it and make it work.

Thankfully, just through my own network, I was able to find people to hire. Working in TV and media, people are always in between jobs and waiting for the next gig. So that part was easier for me. And then luckily I was able to lean on a client who is an attorney to help me just find a payroll company and this and that.

Just things I had never even given a second thought to before I started the business.

[00:04:45] Natasha: There’s so many things that go into running a business as an entrepreneur that you don’t really think about because you’re passionate about what you’re good at doing. Your skill was publicity, right? And media, your skill was not building a company and it’s like that for most entrepreneurs.

[00:05:04] Annie: Yeah. I had never taken a business class. I went to a liberal arts school and English major and not even terribly good with finances up until that point in my life. But I just crowdsourced just different people that I knew and friends and colleagues and parents of friends, and just got as much advice as I could.

I’ll be honest with you. Running the business part of what I do 11 years later is still my least favorite part. I like the work. I like being a publicist. I like pitching the media and doing all and talking to clients and all this stuff that, that entails. But the business part, you don’t have your business in order, then you can’t do the work.

[00:05:46] Natasha: Did you consider bringing in a CEO so that you can remain the visionary and creative and do the working in the business rather than the day-to-day managing of people and accounts?

[00:05:57] Annie: Yeah, I think about it every day and want to do that in so many instances. We never took like funding or went the investment route. And so still in some ways feel like we’re scrappy in terms of just the business part of it. But yeah, I think it’s actually now 11 years later, I think we’re at that point where some of those conversations will lead to be had and will ultimately benefit the company.

But it’s a little scary too, because we’ve been successful up to this point always doing things the same way. But I also know that in order to really grow, you have to make changes, but it’s scary to do that.

[00:06:37] Natasha: Yeah, it is scary. Thank you for saying that out loud. A lot of people think, oh she’s got the successful business and she’s got this many employees and this many clients and she’s got it made. That is not necessarily always the whole truth.

So I’d love to ask you in your business right now, who is one, if you can say, of your most exciting current client projects and what successes have you landed for them?

[00:07:00] Annie: There are so many to choose from, but I would say on a personal level, we are really proud and feel honored to represent Fast Company and Inc. Magazines are two of our clients. Two brands that I always look to when I was producing and try and pitch in and pitching our clients.

[00:07:18] Natasha: You work closely with Eric?

[00:07:20] Annie: Eric Schoenberg? Of course. Yes, absolutely. So he’s the best. I was lucky enough to just meet him at like a networking dinner type of thing, and that’s how it came to be. But I think we’ve really helped to elevate their brands through various TV placements by pitching their writers and reporters for different podcasts and radio shows.

But by also bringing a lot of visibility to the different conferences that they host. And then of course, with Eric. He recently has launched his LinkedIn live show, The Human Factor. And so we were played a big part in that as well. And so that was cool to do something different for our client and help them launch that.

[00:08:00] Natasha: That’s great. I didn’t know that you did that with them. And I’m really closely meshed in their system as an Inc. 5000 recipient when I speak for them. And I’m actually doing something online with them next week.

[00:08:14] Annie: Small world, it keeps getting smaller.

[00:08:17] Natasha: I hope the listeners know we did not set that up ahead of time. That was totally organic. So you are willing to talk about how entrepreneurs can get themselves on the TV and media without necessarily hiring a publicity firm like yours. So let’s hear it. What are the tips and tricks and strategies?

[00:08:37] Annie: The first thing I would say is that you need to have a very clear brand message and you need to just understand how to explain your company in 30 seconds.

And if you can’t do that, go to work and figure out how to be able to tell your story effectively. We have to be able to know what makes you different, unique and what is the return on investment that a reporter and then subsequently the person at home watching is going to get after hearing from you.

There’s a few ways to get on TV in particular. The first step I would say is to focus on local TV outreach as a stepping stone, it can be local to where you live currently or to where you went to college or to where you grew up. So think of those sorts of different markets. And the first step is to do research on the actual TV network that you are going to try to pitch yourself to sound so basic and generic.

Every local network has their own different way of doing things. And some of them have a local hero spotlight segment that they do every week, or they have a weekend morning show where they have more of a focus on entrepreneurs or local business owners. So do your research and figure out what’s the best segment and then subsequently producer reporter to pitch yourself to there.

The other way that I think is most common for entrepreneurs to get featured is to align yourself as a subject matter expert or thought leader in whatever area your current company is focused in. So for example, in PR, if there’s a celebrity crisis or something, I could potentially pitch myself as someone to.

J.Lo needs to do this differently in order to, whatever. So just think of yourself that if you’re a tech entrepreneur and Apple is launching some big new product or something like that. You need to start thinking of yourself as that expert, because that will give you more opportunities to help a producer out and to play a role in the content that they put out.

[00:10:37] Natasha: Okay. So we have done the research. We’ve figured out what segments, reporters, et cetera, et cetera, that we want to go for. Two things. One is how do you get their contact information? And two, what’s the best way to pitch to them? And I’m going to preface this by saying it probably isn’t with a press release.

[00:10:57] Annie: No don’t say. Sorry. My head just exploded. So first question first, you can find their contact information very easily in a very simple Google search. So if their information isn’t right on the affiliate website, like wibc.com or whatever, go on LinkedIn and just search the affiliate, everyone will pop up. Everyone’s on LinkedIn. Look for them on Twitter.

Most people have their emails and their Twitter. So it’s not hard to find actually I would say that most media prefers to be pitched over email. No one wants to get called anymore. So send an email when you’re sending an email, my recommendation would be to first start with a one or two lines about another segment, another story that they did recently and say leg, hi, Natasha. I really enjoyed watching you report on X. My family and I really got. One particular part of your segment. If you are covering other stories in the area that pertained to insert your area of expertise, I would love to be considered as a resource to you.

I’m available for sound bites. I can help make introductions, et cetera, et cetera. If you have something specific you’re promoting like a launch or an initiative, my recommendation would be. I’m launching this new thing. I’m including a press release below my signature. So if you care to read more, there’s more.

[00:12:23] Natasha: That’s great. So the key is find them on the internet. There’s really no excuse to not be able to find this person. There’s a lot of research and homework to do in advance. You could have a virtual assistant or somebody doing some of that research for you. And then second of all, the pitch needs to be to the point, conversational, short, and then put that press release down like that is not the forefront.

And I think people, they don’t understand media, they don’t understand pitching. They aren’t really thinking about the human consumption of information are going to miss that point.

[00:12:59] Annie: Okay. I was just going to say that every journalist is a person. And so are you as a person going to respond to it.

[00:13:07] Natasha: You can just feed something into and then-

[00:13:10] Annie: Exactly. And so make it personal. It’s a real person on the other end, getting that email. The other thing to remember too, is producers and journalists. Literally hundreds of pitches every single day and they’re inundated. And sometimes they think publicists are people pitching themselves are annoying and do it too much and they’re not wrong necessarily.

So think about how you can help them. How can you make their lives easier? Take yourself in your own ego, out of the equation, because the journalist doesn’t owe you a story. They’re not required to write on whatever you’re doing. So think of how to just make their lives easier, make a connection, and then slowly in time, hopefully that will build and that trust will build.

[00:13:53] Natasha: So don’t expect an email reply that said, You’re spot on. Let’s get you on. It is a relationship building exercise, correct?

[00:14:02] Annie: 1000000%. And to that point, also something that I do all of the time is I will see on LinkedIn or Insta or Twitter, do I have any mutual connections? To this specific journalist I’m trying to reach out to, and if I do, and I’m close to that mutual connection, reach out to them first and be like, how do you know Natasha?

Like whatever. And then, because a warm introduction is going to go a million times further than just a cold email.

[00:14:29] Natasha: Have you been surprised at some of the responses from the media to your pitches? Since you’ve been in the industry for 11 years, has anything taken you by surprise? Have you ever landed something with just one pitch and you’re done?

[00:14:43] Annie: Absolutely. It doesn’t happen often, but absolutely it does. A lot of it though is like timing. So it’s when a story for us, we pitch a lot of our clients to cable news networks and financial news networks. So if there’s a big breaking story that happened and we send out a pitch within 30 minutes on our client that’s really great, yeah, we’ve gotten major national TV interviews.

[00:15:09] Natasha: Like crypto takes a dip or Ethereum?

[00:15:12] Annie: Exactly. Or like when the game stopped stuff was happening a couple months ago. That was one example.

[00:15:17] Natasha: A week later is probably a week too late?

[00:15:21] Annie: It’s way too late. And that’s part of it too, because a producer wants to know that they’re working with a publicist who understands the new cycle and who gets it.

And so if you send a pitch on a news event that happened a week before, you’re going to look so dumb. You’re going to look like you don’t know how the news works. And so even if sometimes it’s better to get a pitch out that’s not maybe exactly perfect, but that’s really timely. Because especially in cable news, it’s 24/7.

And when there’s breaking news, they may have had an entire show booked and planned out, but then they need to scrap it and find a new guest who can do it. And so that’s a big part of, I think the success that we have.

[00:16:02] Natasha: So you guys have to be super scrappy and super fast. And do you have trouble sleeping?

The anxiety of being in a timely manner would maybe make me crazy.

[00:16:17] Annie: I was a TV producer for eight years, so it’s a little bit in my blood and a little bit in my DNA. I’m always checking and getting updates and everything. But yeah, we have a team in place now where the burden isn’t on just one person all of the time.

And also you have to be kind to yourself. I’m never going to hit every single story every single time in the exact right way. But the aligning yourself or your client. Subject matter expert or thought leader or a commentator really works. It really works. And so if you can discipline yourself to try to get in that habit, the result is worth, the lack of sleep and the sort of stress that goes with it.

[00:16:53] Natasha: So putting on your CEO hat today, what would you say running your business is really giving you a challenge? There’s always something. So what is something that you really are trying to overcome in the business?

A couple of things. One is to get some of our mid-level staffers to that next level, because we are in a growth period.

[00:17:16] Annie: So figuring out how can I transition members of my team who have been more in a support capacity into leaders. And that I’ve done up to this point through sort of osmosis and having them sit in meetings with other senior leadership, et cetera. But I’m feeling like there needs to be more of an element of structure or something in place to give that little extra boost.

[00:17:41] Natasha: Development and training, perhaps.

[00:17:43] Annie: That’s exactly right.

[00:17:43] Natasha: Like you’re thinking, what development or training could I give?

[00:17:47] Annie: Yes. Do you have any recommendations? I need some.

[00:17:50] Natasha: It really depends on the role, but yes, sometimes people can rise up through the ranks by absorbing and watching, but some people as everyone learns and receives information differently, it’d be better for them to have a structured route to that path.

And it is the maturity of a CEO to realize that’s the next step. And then find those solutions.

[00:18:13] Annie: And we’ve started to source or to try to source, I should say some of those solutions, but it’s harder than I thought it would be actually, because while I am the CEO and we are a corporation, everything, I still think of myself as like a startup.

And so that’s been a process over the course of the past decade or so is putting some of those processes in place. And I would say another just aspect that I’m always wanting to get better at is figuring out how I can attract clients who are larger, but also who are willing to sign a longer agreement with us.

I think, especially in light of the pandemic. So many of the companies that we work with or that we want to work with really understand that PR is something that needs to happen and that they need to make a commitment to. But they’re gun shy about signing a year long contract, or sometimes even a six month contract.

And then it’s very frustrating for me because every month I’m like, is this client going to resign? Are they going to stay? Do I need to find more? And so that’s something that I’m hoping will even out a little bit.

[00:19:20] Natasha: I want to ask you a question. I hesitated to do this because it might be somewhat controversial, but I’ll start it out with this.

I’ve been working with a recruiter and he’s great. He’s been amazing. I would basically pay whatever he asks. Yes. But. His pricing model was a percentage of the starting salary of the person, and in San Francisco, starting salaries for some of these roles are 110, $150,000. So he has since changed his model because he does a lot of research on the front end.

And then he can come up with a few candidates and then you may or may not hire this person. And then he may or may not get paid for all the work that he’s done. So he now has this model that is, you pay him a little bit of a fee and then there’s a smaller percentage and it’s not based on the salary. It’s based on salary ranges.

Okay. So in publicity and please correct me if I’m wrong, you pay upfront a monthly amount and you guys do all the work that you can do to get placements for this person, but there are no placements guaranteed, whatsoever, right?

You can’t speak for the people you’re trying to pitch for. As a potential hire of a publicist. It would be so much better feeling. However, I can imagine it would be difficult for your P&L if I paid. A fee, a set fee that’s significantly smaller. And then based on the types of placements I get, if you get me Good Morning America, $5,000. Or if you get me local TV news, $500, totally making this up. Does anyone work that way in your world?

[00:21:07] Annie: Only if you’re just starting out or you’re still like a solopreneur, like freelancer type then, we have in some instances worked in that success fee, but the issue is that once you get established, it’s just, you don’t need to do. From the business side.

And obviously that’s not the smartest approach like business. You’d rather just have the monthly retainer, what you’re getting at, et cetera. But we’ve had clients who, as a way to motivate us to try to get the GMAs and whatever we’ll add in on top of our regular fee. This sort of success-

[00:21:40] Natasha: They give you little spiff.

[00:21:41] Annie: Absolutely. But I should say though that myself I’m always open to different types of arrangements or how to work with people. And I would consider doing a smaller retainer fee and a success fee, but the issue becomes when you have many clients like we do, and everybody’s paying around the same amount of money based on what they’re doing.

It gets harder to justify putting the same time and staff behind someone who is paying a way smaller amount on the hopes you’re going to get something because to your earlier point, we can’t control what a journalist or a producer chooses to cover or not. So we have a great track record and know all the right people and know how to do it, but there’s still no guarantees.

So it gets trickier to take on that sort of model.

[00:22:26] Natasha: Got it. Thank you for allowing me to paint that potential picture. So the next thing I would love to know is when you started the year in January, or whenever it is, you actually started this year because pandemic kind of screwed up all planning. Was there a strategy that you were like, okay, Pace Public Relations, we’re going to double down on this strategy to scale and grow our company. What was that?

[00:22:52] Annie: I have to say the answer to that is no, I did not start the year with a strategy. 2020 wound up being honestly our best year ever in terms of revenue and profit, which knocking wood right now, was insane because it did not feel that way back in March and April of last year, but it’s been crazy.

It’s been the highest highs and the lowest lows that I can remember from more than a decade of doing this. But it’s interesting. You asked me this question because I recently just hired a consultant who we’re going to start working with in a couple of weeks, who’s going to help us put together a growth strategy and some other of those sorts of business by the book, things, documents that you should have in place, because we’re still scrappy.

So we haven’t done any of that, but we’re at the point now where we just have to, because I’m not going to get to where I want to go if I keep doing everything the same way, but I think emotionally and internally, it’s just still a struggle to accept that because it means changing things and I’m like, but we’ve been doing great. Why do we need to change? And I’m like, no, we need to change?

[00:23:59] Natasha: You don’t change your approach to that. Your team isn’t going to either.

[00:24:04] Annie: You’re right. You’re a hundred percent. But what is this about in my brain that stuck, that it’s so hard to make this change.

[00:24:10] Natasha: You know what it is? It’s comfort. It’s the work. So systems and process is so important in able to scale, like you have to have that and having an operating system for your company. I don’t know if you’re looking at EOS traction or scaling up or any of those things, but it makes such a difference even with a team of 10 to have these things in place and you can be the visionary and somebody else from your team should be the implementer, the person that makes it happen and it keeps people accountable. Then you’re off.

[00:24:44] Annie: That sounds good. And your rating is comfort because up until now, the business has been great. Like it’s been comfortable, but as an entrepreneur, I think you always are striving to do better.

And I’m definitely at that point now.

You have taken the best step you can in hiring a consultant to help you take you to the next level. You could have tried to do it yourself with reading books and blogs and such, but having somebody pull you through that, keep you accountable to your blind spots.

No ideas. It’s the best.

I was just going to say it’s the accountability part. Honestly, that’s like the biggest part because I can have all these ideas, but the execution. I dunno, but now I’m paying somebody. I’m like, okay, I’m going to show up. I’m going to do the work. I’m going to make sure this happens.

We learned how entrepreneurs should position themselves as an expert in their field and how they can get themselves on TV and other media outlets and so much more. For more information about Annie and Pace PR. Please go to the show notes where you’re listening to this podcast.

For more information about me, go to my website, natashamiller.co. Thank you so much for listening. I hope you loved the show. If you did, please subscribe. Also, if you haven’t done so yet, please leave a review where you’re listening to this podcast now. I’m Natasha Miller and you’ve been listening to FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS.

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