I am very pleased to share with you my recent interview with Crystal Matthews-Jennings who handles media relations for BodyBuilding.com who shares with us information about how models can better market themselves to the media as well as some of the current trends in social media as it relates to PR.
How did you come to work with Bodybuilding.com?
I fell in love with fitness and weightlifting when I turned 13, and my mom bought me a weightlifting set (this was all I wanted for Christmas). Facing personal difficulties at school, I quickly became addicted to the empowering feeling weightlifting gave me. Shortly after, my brother-in-law to-be (now CEO of Bodybuilding.com) started brainstorming early concepts for Bodybuilding.com. I saw firsthand how amazing it could feel to help provide the tools to change someone’s life. I served as a spokesperson off and on for Bodybuilding.com as I worked my way through college. Upon graduation, I set my site on becoming part of the team. With my Bachelors in Marketing in hand, I first joined the Bodybuilding.com team as an Affiliate Marketing Manager. My role quickly evolved to encompass many responsibilities, including Public and Media Relations, which is now my sole focus.
Can you briefly describe what got you into public and media relations?
I was actually thrown into the world of public relations. It was my first week on the job as an Affiliate Marketing Manager (my first marketing job ever) at Bodybuilding.com, and some important company news broke that needed to be shared with the public. At that time we had four people in the marketing department, and my three coworkers looked at me in agreement and said, “Crystal, you do it”. Instead of hitting panic mode (well, I may have hit it a little bit), I quickly Googled “how to write a press release” and “how to reach the media” and basically taught myself through the process. That was five years ago, so I’ve obviously come quite a long way since then.
What are some of your current responsibilities with Bodybuilding.com?
My current responsibilities are mostly focused on managing and expanding our public relations efforts and maximizing our media relationships. While Bodybuilding.com is an industry leader in the health and fitness world, it still surprises me how many don’t realize what we do and the type of cutting-edge information we have to offer for free. A big part of my effort is continually establishing who we are as a company with every news story and media opportunity we encounter. If you’d like the nitty-gritty laundry list, here are a few top-level examples:
– Write editorial for press releases, print publications, email, and onsite use
– Secure celebrity partnerships to increase media exposure
– Develop and maintain working relationships with media, including local and national newspapers, magazines, bloggers, radio, and television
– Manage blogger outreach program and PR strategy in order to build an active brand ambassador network
Now you have actually done some competing fitness work yourself. What lessons have you learned there that you have transferred over to Bodybuilding.com?
First of all, don’t expect to always win, lol. Honestly though, it’s true. When pitching your story/news to the media, 90% of the time they aren’t going to be interested. Just like competing, you have to enjoy the process, and you have to keep the passion. If you’re sharing something you’re personally excited about, then the ‘no’s’ don’t get to you. You will always be more in love with your “product” because of all the investment and time you have put into it, but a reporter (or judge) has a maximum five minutes to evaluate if you’re what they are looking for in that moment. You have to take the rejection in stride in order to go onto the next person—and keep going until you find the person looking for exactly what you’re offering.
In your job, what are some of trends you are seeing in traditional public/media relations? By that I mean printed publications.
Printed publications are doing a lot more with QR codes and callouts for online pages, where viewers can receive more dynamic information on the editorial content they’re featuring. They are realizing the power of linking to an instructional workout video or a piece of interactive content that complements their printed feature. On the flipside, more online sites are referring to printed publications for additional unique, “keepsake” content. It’s great to see the way print media and online media are working to complement one another.
What about trends you are seeing in social media?
I could write a book on all the trends in social media right now. Not a day goes by where I don’t receive at least five different e-mails/phone calls on all the new social media services out there. While there are a million widgets and platforms out there to adopt for your social media efforts, the NUMBER ONE thing to remember is that when you speak via social media, YOU ARE THE VOICE OF THE COMPANY. So many people see social media as another place to use “marketing speak” and forget that the appeal of the social world is connecting people with people. You must embody the persona of your company and be upfront, honest, and use your company personality (i.e. humorous, intuitive, quirky, etc.) in the way you address your fans. You must be transparent and add value to conversations. Robot pitches are out!
What advice would you give to talents who are looking to pitch themselves to the print media?
It’s natural to feel a bit awkward when pitching yourself. By nature, we are told to be humble and not brag about our accomplishments. Luckily, there is a way to be confident and share your credentials without coming across as arrogant. The main word and emotion to remember when you’re speaking to the media is “gratitude.” No matter the laundry list of accomplishments you have (and, yes, you should share them), remember to appear grateful, humble and eager to help others succeed, and your exposure opportunities will increase.
With publications receiving anywhere between hundreds-to-thousands of pitches a week, how do people stand out at all?
Consistency and follow-through! First off, learn what type of coverage the media you’re pitching to provides. Learn the news articles they like to feature, the reoccurring news sections, the type of audience they are trying to reach, etc. Keep in mind where you and your story could fit into their existing media plan. When you pitch them, take the leg work out of it–let them know where you could see your story being featured. Editors and reporters are busy, so the easier you make it for them, the better. Once you have pitched your idea (I prefer email for the first contact) give it three-to-five days. Then follow up with a phone call to ensure your email was received, and offer to provide any additional information they may need to help share the story. If they say they have everything they need, check back in a week to see if you can offer any assistance in moving the story forward, and provide additional information if the story has progressed. Until you hear “We aren’t interested” regarding that particular pitch, make sure you let them know you are available. Document where your conversation left off so you can plan accordingly moving forward.
What ways would you suggest talents look to promote themselves, whether it be social media, blogs, etc?
The first thing people look at to gauge a talent’s popularity these days are their social media channels. People want to see that someone has a dedicated following to ensure their viewers will be interested in a story about them. So first things first, grow your social fan base! Make sure to actively share advice, personal experiences, etc., on your social sites to show how your fans react to your commentary. Also, make sure to include a detailed resume of your experience on your social pages. (If you have limited character space, provide a link to your LinkedIn account). Refer to your social pages whenever you reach out to publications, blogs, and reporters, so they can quickly reference your “likability” when looking into providing you coverage. A magazine publisher who sees you have 10,000 active fans immediately sees the possibility of selling an additional 10,000 copies of their publication when featuring you.
How do you go about differentiating your pitches between national media and local media?
I keep my pitch fairly similar when dealing with national and local media, but I tweak it just a bit for the local networks. Both want to know why the story is “newsworthy,” but the local media wants to know how it will tie in to their local market. For example, when I’m pitching an amazing transformation story to a local news channel, I’ll make sure to include whatever ties to the community the transforming individual has (i.e. Did the play football at the local high school? Hold a chair in local government? Volunteer at the local Red Cross chapter?). These extra tie-ins give the story a local flavor, making it more appealing to their audience.
What do you feel most talents, or really most amateur pitchers, do not understand about pitching to the media? Or don’t understand about the media in general?
I recommend to anyone who is new to pitching to first read a book on selling (I personally like Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Red Book of Selling). Pitching is equivalent to selling your idea. You need to be engaging and personable with every contact, well-versed in the topic you’re pitching, persistent in your approach (email, call, follow-up – repeat), and most of all, you need to prove how covering your pitch is a benefit to the media outlet.
No doubt you work a lot with talent’s personal brand and trying to position those personal brands. What about personal branding and positioning can you comment on?
You need to distinguish what about your personal brand stands apart from the rest. There are a thousand brands in the health and fitness industry, so how is yours different? Based on your differentiating attributes, you need to form a clear statement about who you are and your personal mission. You should include this information in all of your outreaches.
What are some good PR lessons that you have learned in your career?
Here are my top three lessons:
1… When you’re looking for major coverage, you need to establish a relationship before you throw out a pitch. If your goal is to get in the Fitness & Food section of USA Today, you need to first learn about the writers who have their articles featured there. Follow them on Twitter, engage with them on Facebook, and provide helpful feedback on the stories that are relevant to your industry.
2… Piggyback on hot, trending news stories. If the media is putting a negative spin on teenage weight training (as seen recently on the Today Show), put together a press release on the safe way a teenager can implement weights into their workouts and the benefits of doing so. The key is to be timely in getting your pitch out there or people will have already moved on to the new trending topic.
3… Don’t “off-pitch” a blogger. Blogs are media outlets that need to be handled with even more delicacy than others. They are usually managed and owned by one person who has a strong personal interest in the subject matters covered. Make sure you know the topics a blogger covers before you send them your idea. If you send them an off-pitch, they will quickly ask to be removed from your mailing list.
Flip side, what are some hard lessons you’ve had to learn about things not to do?
I still kick myself in the butt for the day I emailed my news story out to 100+ contacts all in the “to” email line. Nothing is tackier than exposing your personal email contacts to one another. Always Bcc your email addresses. Better yet, take the time to personally email each contact (yes, this takes time) individually and include some commentary on the latest news of theirs you enjoyed. Compliments and personal touches go a long way in this industry.
Thanks so much for all of your shared-knowledge. Any last comments to readers?
Enjoy what you do. There is an excitement in landing a story you have worked so hard on. The ability to create news is an accomplishment not everyone can enjoy – so make sure you are enjoying it!