Wednesday, July 26, 2017

PR Tips from a Journalist

I get a lot of PR pitches every day. A lot. Some are way better than others -- those get read. The rest end up "spiked" -- that's old-fashioned newspaper-speak for "deleted." The worst of those end up being inspiration for my #PRFail rants on Twitter (like this and this and this and this).

PR friends, you don't want your pitch to end up in one of those tweets.

Luckily, there are plenty of things PR people can do to improve the odds that their pitch gets noticed. I spent part of this afternoon with my friends at Team LEWIS, talking to their staffers about what PR professionals absolutely must do -- and absolutely must not do -- to get on a journalist's good side. Here are my notes:

The first thing you absolutely must do: due diligence

Good editors remind their reporters to trust but verify their sources, and PR people should do the same with their press lists. Make sure you do your due diligence! That means you must:
·      Know the journalist: What does he currently cover? Does she still work for the same publication she did last time you reached out? Does he use his full name or a nickname? Does she prefer emails or phone calls? Is "Chris" male or female?
·      Know the outlet: Take a look at their latest two or three issues, or at their website (and not just the home page! If the website has multiple landing pages or sections, take a quick look at as many of them as possible). Do they still cover the same topics or products they did before? Is your client or product a fit?
·      Know what’s already out there: Who are your client’s competitors? Is there something similar already out there? What makes your client different from them?
·      Know what’s already been written: Has the publication or reporter you’re pitching to written about a similar product before? If so, it’s unlikely they’ll write about your client, and may be irritated by your pitch.
·      Know your product: If a reporter responds to your pitch and wants to know more information, have that info handy and reply right away. Saying “I’ll get back to you on that” is the same as saying “We’re not really ready to have you write about this right now.”
·      Know your audience: Who is going to buy your client’s product? Does the reporter or publication you’re pitching to reach that audience? I wrote about parenting in the mid- and late 2000s. The babies I wrote about then are nearly teenagers now, so, no, I am not interested in your client’s range of organic, cruelty-free, hypo-allergenic, hand-curated, small-batch baby products.
Other things you absolutely should do:
·      Proofread. We all make mistakes, but a silly typo in a press release can make both you and your client look bad. It makes a good journalist wonder: How much reliable information are you going to give me if the data in your press release is incorrect? How much attention to detail is put into the product if you don’t know the difference between “their, “they’re” and “there”? Also: Get my name wrong and your pitch likely will be spiked. Do it again and your email address is added to my spam list, which means I’ll never see any of your pitches again.
·      Be clear. Use easy-to-understand, everyday language to describe your client or product. Unless you’re pitching a white paper to a research firm, there’s no need to use academic terms, and most reporters absolutely hate marketing jargon.
·      Be brief. Reporters are busy – they don’t have time to scroll through three pages of email or listen to a two-minute long voicemail to find out what you’re pitching. Stick with who, what, where, why, and how — who you are, what you’re pitching, where it is located (if it's an event, where it fits into the market if it's a product), why it’s significant or different from the competition, and how to get more information.
·      Remember that you are asking the reporter to help you out. It’s not the reporter’s job to give your client publicity, it’s your job to persuade the reporter to consider your pitch. No one wants to deal with an overly pushy or demanding PR person. Be considerate of the reporter's time; if you’re calling on the phone, the first thing out of your mouth after “Hello, my name is _______” should be “Do you have a minute to talk?” or “Is now an OK time to chat?”
·      Make it easy for the reporter to get what he or she needs to use your client as a source or promote your product. This includes having your contact information visible in a sig at the bottom of your email (if you’re sending a hard copy of a press release, have CONTACT and your name, email, phone and social media handle at both the top and the bottom of the page; if you’re leaving a voice mail, start by introducing yourself and giving your callback number). Even better: Set up a media page for each client on your website, and house hi-res and low-res images, press materials, bios, and contact information there, so if the reporter loses (or spikes) your email he or she can still access assets -- and reach you -- easily.
·      Offer samples or access, if appropriate. A good reporter will not write a review of or promote a product or service he or she has never tried. Offer access or a sample (and a way to return it, like a postage-paid box, if you want it back) when you make your request, but be advised that many organizations do not allow their staff to accept gifts (or keep samples) that are worth a lot of money.
Things you should absolutely not do:
·      Don’t automate your pitches or blast the same exact pitch to multiple people. Not only does in increase your chance of including an error, it increases the possibility that your pitch will be irrelevant to a reporter on your list.

·      Don’t rely on spellcheck. Spellcheck only picks up on words that are spelled wrong, not words that are used inappropriately. Take this phrase, for example: "Sew, adz eye rote bee four...” Not a single word in this phrase is spelled wrong but, obviously, not a single word in that phrase is used correctly. Also: Spellcheck won't tell you if you've spelled my name correctly or not. Both "Lylah" (yes!) and "Lyla" (no!) would be flagged as incorrect, while "Lydia" (also no!) would sail through.
·      Don’t send anything as an attachment. In this day and age of malware, phishing scams and hacking, most emails with attachments end up stuck in a spam filter. If they get through, the chances are high that a reporter will never open the attachment. If your message doesn’t get read, your pitch is worthless. Got a large file to share? Host it on your site or on Dropbox and make it available to download. Got a video to share? Host it on your site or use YouTube or Vimeo so it can be either downloaded or embedded. The only time it's really a good idea to send an email attachment is if you're sending materials that the reporter has already requested and you know they're expecting your email -- and, even then, there's still a risk of infection from a virus or malware.
·      Don’t expect them to click on links. Links can lead to phishing or malware sites, but it's also a good idea to avoid sprinkling them like confetti throughout your pitch because that's like forcing reporters to take extra steps and extra time to help you. It’s fine to offer a brief rundown and then suggest they go to your website for additional information or assets, though.
·      Don’t try to flatter them. Sure, we love it when people say they love our work, but if you say you love the last product review that I wrote, and I haven’t written a product review since 2009, I know you’re being insincere (and that you haven’t done your due diligence). Ditto praising all the articles I've written on health care reform (zero in the past many years).
·      Don’t be too casual. Do not start your pitch with “Hey, Beautiful,” “Hi there, sweetheart,” “Dude,” “Hey,” or “What’s up?” unless you know the reporter well in real life. This is a business relationship. A too-casual approach will make you and your client look unprofessional. (And, yes, I really have received pitches starting with all of the above greetings.)
·      Don’t be cute or gimmicky. Do not snail-mail a package with confetti, perfume or glitter. Do not send cookies or candies for no reason. Do not send a card with a noisy, pre-recorded message. Do not use gifs or other animation in your emails. It’s distracting and annoying (and reporters hate it when animations or graphic-heavy emails crash their ancient computers).
·      Don’t be a stalker. If no one responds to your email or voicemail right away, it’s fine to follow up a few days later. But don’t keep emailing, and for goodness sake, keep the phone calls to a minimum – not only is the writer likely fielding other pitches, he or she is also trying to, you know, write.

Friday, June 16, 2017

On WGBH: Interviews with conspiracy theorists, columnists and campaigns, and more

Tonight on "Beat the Press," Dan Kennedy (Northeastern University), Jon Keller (WBZ) and I join WGBH's Callie Crossley and Emily Rooney to talk about the media. We're discussing Megyn Kelly's upcoming interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, whether newspaper opinion columnists should disclose their political ties, what role the media plays in the politics of violence, plus our rants and raves. Tune in at 7 p.m. on WGBH, or click on the players below for the various segments!

On interviewing conspiracy theorists:

On the media and violent political rhetoric:

On opinion columnists and campaign ties:

Our rants and raves:

Thursday, June 1, 2017

On WGBH: Trump, the Paris Deal, Health Care and More

I joined Scot Lehigh of The Boston Globe and Republican lobbyist Jessica Tocco on "Greater Boston" for a discussion (with host Jim Braude) about the president's possible plan to withdraw from the Paris climate deal, how the GOP-crafted Obamacare replacement is faring, and whether former FBI Director James Comey's anticipated testimony will make a difference. If you missed the broadcast, you can catch up by watching the clip right here:

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

#FakeNewsBoston: Talking about journalism in a post-truth era

Lylah M. Alphonse at the LEWIS #FakeNewsBoston event on May 18, 2017.

When I'm not in the newsroom at U.S. News & World Report, you can find me talking about the news on WGBH's "Greater Boston" or "Beat the Press" and at various speaking gigs along the East Coast. Most recently, I was in Boston to talk about the fake news phenomenon at an event hosted by LEWIS, an elite PR and marketing group run. Here's a Storified synopsis of what we discussed.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Friday, March 17, 2017

On WGBH: Prying vs. privacy on "Beat the Press"

Back on WGBH tonight, this time on "Beat the Press," where I'm talking about the media with host Emily Rooney, Dan Kennedy of Northeastern University, WGBH News’ Callie Crossley, and Boston University College of Communications Dean Thomas Fiedler. Tune in at 7 p.m., or watch each segment of the show here:
Fake Forecast - National Weather Service withholds information:
Prying vs. Privacy - Popular podcast motive called into question
Much Ado - Rachel Maddow’s scoop on Trump's tax returns falls flat
Pool Problems - Should partisan outlets participate?
Rants & Raves - The panelists offer their rants and raves over some of what happened in the media world this past week

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

On WGBH: Trump, tax returns and other shiny things

I'm on WGBH's "Greater Boston" tonight at 7 p.m. ET, chatting about Donald Trump, tax returns, and other shiny things with Jim Braude and The Globe's Frank Phillips. Tune in! Or watch it here:

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

On WGBH: The first month of Trump's presidency

Back on WGBH's "Greater Boston" tonight to talk about the first month of Trump's presidency with Jim Braude, the Globe's Dante Ramos and lobbyist Jessica Tocco. Missed it? You can watch it here:

Friday, December 16, 2016

Talking Politics With Westford CAT

I was so happy to chat with Joyce Crane of Westford CAT recently, for the new "celebrity series" of her show, "Main Street, Westford." It was a wide-ranging conversation, and we touched on everything from the fake news phenomenon to politics to my interviews (while at Yahoo) with first lady Michelle Obama. You can catch the whole conversation online at

Thursday, November 3, 2016

On WGBH: Cognitive Dissonance on the Campaign Trail

With six days left until the election, Scot Lehigh of the Boston Globe and I join Jim Braude at WGBH's "Greater Boston" to talk about polls, election anxiety, the FBI and cognitive dissonance on the campaign trail. Read the write up at or watch the segment below:

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

CertaPro Review: Do Not Hire This Painting Company. Here's Why.

Updated, 5/23/17: Since this review was posted, the owner CertaPro of Needham has responded to a negative review with the Better Business Bureau by accusing us of trying to extort money from him. About a dozen other people have left reviews for the CertaPro of Needham  on Yelp -- most of them negative.

This is why you should not go with CertaPro painters: This area was not prepped properly before painting, and you can see the new paint inside the area where the old paint flaked off just six months after the work was completed.

If your house is in need of an exterior paint job, you have plenty of providers to choose from in the Boston area. But there's one you should absolutely avoid: CertaPro Painters of Needham, which also does business as CertaPro Painters of Norfolk County. Their prep work was poor, their painting and repair work was poor, the customer service was terrible, and they are reluctant to honor the two-year guarantee they offer.

The reviews on their site are glowing, which is what tipped the balance in their favor when we were looking for painters in Oct. 2015. But $13,325 and more than a year later, now we know the negative reviews are removed from their site and from social media in exchange for refunds. That's what happened to us when we tried and failed to have the franchise owner address problems with their work on our house -- even though one of his own employees had documented the problems early on. We've been writing reviews of products and services in the Boston area for nearly 20 years; those reviews have been published in The Boston Globe, Yahoo and elsewhere online, and in all that time we have never been offered a refund in exchange for deleting a negative review. So that request -- which came with a legal document that we refused to sign as written -- was a first for us.

We agreed in writing that the house needed a thorough scraping, sanding and power washing, as well as repairing and replacing some rotted wood siding with new pre-primed boards. They finished the entire job very quickly, and it was immediately clear they hadn't properly scraped or sanded any side other than the front of the house. They thinned the paint with water, as if for spraying, but then mostly brushed it on, resulting in poor coverage in some areas. Where they did spray, they over-sprayed, covering outlets, brickwork, the concrete foundation and utilities.

Most glaring: They painted over the rotten wood instead of repairing or replacing it.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Raising Money to Help in Haiti

My cousin's daughter is raising money to help people in Haiti, where she lives. She knows full well that organizations solicit money for relief efforts that never get to those who are really in need, or that help only a handful, or that come with strings attached. She is personally buying, collecting and raising money for things -- non-perishable food, baby formula, flashlights, school supplies, etc. -- and then delivering them herself to places where they can do the most good. If you're able, please consider helping her efforts. More information is available on her GoFundMe page. Thank you!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

On WGBH: Previewing the Third 2016 Presidential Debate

I took a break from debate prep today to talk about the debate-turned-Reality-TV-show tonight on WGBH's "Greater Boston" -- that's me with host Jim Braude and guest Dante Ramos of The Boston Globe, above. Read the writeup at, or watch the segment below:

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Defending Gabby Douglas and her Hair

This piece, published in August 2012, is still one of the most-popular posts I wrote at It seems worth resurfacing now, as Douglas prepares to compete in the Olympics again.

Gabby Douglas is proudly representing her country in the Olympics. She's poised under pressure, performing gravity-defying athletic feats in front of an international audience. She's 16 and the second female African American U.S. gymnast to ever make the team. But instead of lauding her achievements, some people are slamming her for... not getting her hair done. 

"I know that every black female looked at Gabby Douglas' hair and asked why? Just why?" Tweeted @stephaniebabe93.

Seriously? Douglas is an incredible athlete. When you're doing something like this on a 3.9-inch wide wooden beam set four feet above the ground, the last thing you're worrying about is your hair.

Some critics insist that Douglas needs to properly represent the African American community, and how her hair looks is part of that. And yet, most of the negative comments about her hair are coming from other African Americans.

"I find it sad that I have seen more Black women post criticizing comments about Gabby's hair than I have comments of praise about her athleticism or adding color to USA Gymnastics since Dominique Dawes," writes Monisha Randolph at

Many African American women choose not to work out in order to protect their hairstyle, Randolph points out. "The last time I checked when you play a sport, you sweat. I know I do. And when a Black woman who has chosen to wear her hair straight begins to sweat, her hair will (not might) begin to revert back to its natural coily, curly, or kinky state," she writes. "Some of us are sitting up right now with our hair done but suffering from high blood pressure, borderline diabetes, obesity, and/or a lack of energy. Oh, but the hair is on point."
Hair has always held a special significance in the African American community. Emmy Award-winning comedian Chris Rock was so struck by his daughter's obsession with her friend's hair that he made a documentary about it, "Good Hair," in which he goes on a quest to better understand why hair is so important to so many black women.
"There's always this sort of pressure within the black community like, if you have good hair, you're prettier or better than the brown-skinned girl that wears the Afro or the dreads or the natural hairstyle," actress Nia Long told him when he interviewed her for his film.
"They say it's for the men, but it's really for the women. Because guys don't care" about a woman's hair, he points out. His theory is borne out in the stream of tweets about Douglas' hair -- the most critical comments are by women. (Thankfully, some of the most supportive ones since have been by African American women as well.)
Instead of worrying about whether her hair is perfect, Douglas is focused on making history and winning Olympic gold. She is representing all Americans, not just one single group. She's achieved more by age 16 than most of us do in a lifetime. Shouldn't we be cheering her on instead of tearing her down?