Behind the Scenes: How Shift Secured a Two-page Spread in the Trib

Behind the Scenes: How Shift Secured a Two-page Spread in the Trib

Media Relations PR

by Therese Joseph, Shift PR Fellow

Yesterday, on November 2, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review distributed its Sunday paper, as per usual. However, unlike its usual paper, this edition contained a two-page, cover-spread story, the longest in the paper’s memory, on the behind the scenes making of Franksgiving, the Film Factory winning screenplay produced by Steeltown Entertainment Project.

Anyone who’s attempted to gain media coverage for a company or organization can understand the challenge of getting any mention or coverage within the paper. So how did Steeltown Entertainment Project manage to score a 2099-word article with three photos? Shift Collaborative provides PR support for Steeltown Entertainment Project, and we are happy share how we made this media relations dream into a reality for our client.

How We Got the Trib Onboard

Tim Colbert, Shift’s PR Director, works with Steeltown on a regular basis. Reflecting back on when he was working to secure coverage for Steeltown’s annual competition, The Steeltown Film Factory, Tim said that the competition “started to feel, in terms of media, like old news. Oh, okay well, they won a little contest and they did a little movie and you know.” But Tim was not satisfied. He remembers thinking, “There must be a way to elevate and promote this project.”

As the Film Factory competition was coming to a close, a possible solution to this dilemma came to Tim: a behind-the-scenes exclusive. He had been working with the Trib to provide coverage on the competition and the final event in May.  As Tim remembers working with the Trib, he said “They were really interested and really into Steeltown Film Factory. And my gut told me that, having gotten to know Steven Knezovich, director/writer of Franksgiving, that he would be up for it.”

So Tim decided to go for it. As he explained, “The worst thing that could happen was someone was going to say no. Fortunately, everyone said yes.”

The Timeline

On Saturday, May 17, Franksgiving won the Film Factory competition.  On May 20, Tim put in a call in to the Trib to see if they were interested. And before Memorial Day on May 26, he had gotten the meeting with the Trib and the Franksgiving filmmakers to work out the details.

By the end of May, Tim had secured a placement in the Trib in November, five months away.  Tim admitted this was a long-term project for everyone, but as he explained, “If you want to get the good placements, that’s the kind of commitment and that’s the kind of long view time frame that’s required.” Needless to say, Tim’s long-term view has been justifiably rewarded by the coverage the Trib provided for Steeltown.

The Agreement

In the meeting between the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Franksgiving filmmakers, they agreed that the Trib would have unlimited behind-the-scenes access, including production meetings, script read-throughs, and on-site privileges during four days of filming at three separate locations.  In addition, the Trib’s photographer/videographer, and journalist would have free-rein while they worked.  According to Tim, “They took full advantage. The journalist from the Trib followed and covered the project for nearly five months.”

What’s the Appeal of This Story

The key to securing any media placement is the story you have to offer. The story needs to be considered newsworthy to even have a chance to be published. The story also needs to be pitched to a journalist who writes about and is interested in that subject matter. Without these two aspects, it is highly unlikely that you will capture the interest of a news organization.

Steeltown’s Newsworthy Story

According to the media reports, the Pittsburgh region is on track for a record-breaking year in film and TV production, but many of the city’s residents don’t know how these movies are being created within their own backyards.  “We don’t know how movies and TV productions get made,” said Tim as he reflected on the story. “Who doesn’t want to go, particularly with the entertainment industry, behind the scenes and see how the magic happens?”

The Trib agreed. This story was an excellent opportunity to provide their readers a peek into the film production process that is continually happening all around the city.  As Tim remembered discussing the opportunity with the Trib, he said, “The Trib was very excited to offer its readers this behind-the-scenes opportunity. And they were good enough to devote considerable resources and space to the story.”

What Got Published

In the Trib’s Sunday edition, a two-page spread was published on a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Franksgiving. The spread included 60-column inches of copy (2099 words), not to mention numerous photos.

On the Trib’s website, the story includes with an exclusive three-minute video including behind-the-scenes interviews with the filmmakers and the cast of Franksgiving.

The Benefits of Media Coverage

With the advent of social media, some might question the value of obtaining media coverage. According Eric Sloss, principal of Shift, the main benefit of an organization receiving media coverage is third-party validation.  When comparing media coverage to an organization’s social outreach, Eric explained that “third-party validation of your company or organization via terrific media coverage is always going to be more credible and more persuasive. You are not saying how good you are, someone else is.”

Tim then went on to note, “We’ve seen, overall, the intersection of traditional media and social media. So part of being strategic about this is: the more media coverage you get, that feeds right into your social platforms. Of course you’re going to want to link to a great newspaper placement or a broadcast segment and promote it via your social media channels. This is where they work in concert with one another.”

How Steeltown Entertainment Project Benefits

This story has two benefits for Steeltown Entertainment Project in terms of publicity and finances. In terms of publicity, this story demonstrates Steeltown’s commitment to nurturing a growing film community in Pittsburgh through projects like Film Factory. “The beauty of the Film Factory competition is that it provides invaluable hands-on, professional experience for people who want to get into the business,” Tim said. “If you are a local, you’re not going to get work on the Will Smith movie if you’ve never done anything else.”

In terms of finances, this story has given Steeltown coverage that would have cost them a fortune to produce a similar impact through advertisement. According to Tim, attempting such an investment would have cost Steeltown $63,000.

How Franksgiving Benefits

Franksgiving, like Steeltown and the Film Factory competition, has also gained a tremendous amount of publicity from this story; the story has generated interest and excitement for the film’s world premiere at the Three Rivers Film Festival later this month.

How the Three Rivers Film Festival Benefits

The Three Rivers Film Festival kicks off later this week, on November 7. As this story is published on one of their featured films in the days leading up to the start of their festival, this story is also a nice publicity boost for their efforts.

View the Story and See Franksgiving

Now that you’ve read all about how Shift secured a two-page spread, why don’t you check it out? The story is featured on the Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s website.

Franksgiving will be premiering at the Three Rivers Film Festival on November 10. For more details on the showtime and how and where to get tickets, visit the festival’s website.


Image Credit: Jasmine Goldband, Trib Total Media

PR Part 3: Resolving a Media Crisis

PR Part 3: Resolving a Media Crisis


Whether it’s the latest professional athlete scandal, a revealing political bashing, or a brand not holding true to its values, we’ve all heard a media crisis story.  The response to these crises often sets the stage for whether the organizations will be able to recover from their crises. Every brand, business, and person can face a public relations crisis.  The key to coming through the other side of a crisis is having a plan and knowing when to follow through.

Anticipating a Media Crisis

The most successful method for navigating through a crisis is to plan for it before it happens.  When a crisis occurs, your immediate reaction is to respond and contradict the severity of the criticism. This reaction is actually a mistake.

Before responding, you should take a moment to reflect and research the situation in order to careful form a response that will not make the situation worse.  This reflective process can be a time consuming process that does not always fit well into the time-frame of responding to a crisis.  By constructing a plan in advance, you allow yourself more time to research and reflect on the situation and properly form responses based on the severity of the interaction.  Thus, when the crisis actually occurs, all you need to do is gauge the severity of the crisis and turn to the appropriately scaled response.

What are my potential crises?

The type of crises your organization could face depend on the specifics of your organization and your industry. The best way to identify possible crises is by looking closely at your organization for areas that could be viewed unfavorably by opposing or partner organizations.  For instance, a gas drilling company needs to be prepared for errors or malfunctions in their drilling process that could illicit a response from environmental groups, and a family-focused organization would need to be wary of whether any of their merchandise is produced through child labor.

Recognizing a Media Crisis

While you are in the mindset of looking for negative responses, it is important to remember that not every negative reaction constitutes a crisis.  Just because one person gives you a negative review on Yelp or Twitter doesn’t mean you should launch your entire crisis management campaign against them.  This reaction will most like cause an actual widespread crisis.  Instead respond in scale to the situation.  In this case, it would be a comment on the review providing context to others reading the review while you justify or remedy your actions.

What are the signs that I’m dealing with a crisis?
  1. there’s a threat to the organization
  2. the threat comes as a surprise
  3. you have a short decision time
  4. resolution may require some change by the organization
McDonald’s introduces their new Happy Meal Mascot, Happy on Twitter. When Happy receives a negative reaction, McDonald’s has to respond to the crisis in Twitter.

Responding to a Media Crisis

When you know you are in a crisis, now is the time to turn to and implement your crisis management plan. Things to remember in this moment are:

  • the response should match the scale of the crisis
  • have a dedicated spokesperson distribute information
  • respond through the same channel where the crisis started

Our Previous Posts …

This post was the third and final post in a series of posts on public relations this month.  If you missed our first post, PR Part 1: The Media Pitching Process, we discussed the steps involved in successfully pitching a story to the media.  Our second post, PR Part 2: The Social Frontier discusses how to manage your reputation through social networks.

PR Part 2: The Social Frontier

PR Part 2: The Social Frontier

PR Social media

by Therese Joseph, Shift PR Fellow

As public relations professionals, it is our job to monitor and manage the reputations of the businesses we represent.  Traditionally, this was managed by working with media outlets to spread positive press about the businesses.  While these tactics are still employed, research shows that people trust the opinion of a friend over advertising and press.  Enter social media.  A large network we people can not only connect with their friends, but the friends of their friends.  The everyday person’s reach and influence has skyrocketed, and so has the value of their opinions.

Social media is changing the game of public relations.  Now as public relation professionals, it is our job to engage in social media networks to address negative responses and to encourage and highlight positive responses.  In order to effectively manage the conversation people are having about your business, we have to go where people are talking and looking for information.  That’s online and on social networks.

Why Your Business Should Be On Social Media

If you are a business, you should be on social media.  Why?  Because the people who use your services or buy your products are there, and they are talking about you.  Since they’re already talking about you, it’s a better idea to join in their conversation than to ignore it.  Just think if one of your customers has a negative experience.  Would you like them to tell all their friends and their friends’ friends how terrible your company is?  If you are a part of the conversation, you can spot this interaction early and address it immediately.  Think about it.  Social media provides you with a channel to connect directly with this individual and change their experience.  This improves your reputation with that individual and with all of their friends and their friends’ friends.

Customer Service & PR Become One

Customer service and public relations were once separate functions.  Customer complaints were listened to in person or over the phone and public relations happened behind closed company doors.  Not anymore.  People are not dependent upon the local print paper for news and they don’t limit their complaints to casual in-person conversations.  Instead, people are doing  both of these things in the same place – on social media.

Through social media, a company needs to promote their reputation and resolve their customers’ issues.  We help your business manage both of these tasks through tactics like responding to customers, sharing your press mentions, engaging with influential followers, addressing common questions/issues faced by your customers through content marketing, and more.  Today, if your company wants any chance at controlling their public reputation, then you need to manage your digital reputation.

Engaging Your Online Audience

When communicating online, the people you interact with will have different experience and comfort levels for how they participate in the online community.  The majority of people tend to be inactives, spectators, and joiners.  This means they mostly view content with minimal interaction with others beyond their immediate circle.  However, the most influential people are the collectors, critics, and creators.  These people create and curate content that the rest of the community will view and read.

Online users identified in Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff.

If you want to distribute a message, all of these people have the potential to view or read your content.  They key to getting a message to spread farther and go viral is to engage collectors, critics, and creators.  Once these people are creating and curating content about your message, the message will spread further and faster.  As I mentioned earlier, people trust the opinions of their friends the most.  When their friends are the ones sharing the message, that’s when you get more clicks, shares, likes, and comments.

Our next post …

This post was the second in a series of posts taking an in-depth look into the public relations techniques we use to manage our clients’ reputations.  In our first post, PR Part 1: The Media Pitching Process we discussed the steps required for successfully pitching a story to the media.  If you enjoyed either of these posts, check back on September 25 when our next post, PR Part 3: Resolving a Media Crisis will go live.  In the post I’ll be discussing tactics for responding to a crisis.

PR Part 1: The Media Pitching Process

PR Part 1: The Media Pitching Process

Media Relations PR

by Therese Joseph, Shift PR Fellow

Public relations professionals have to acquire many skills to manage the public image of their clients including a solid media pitching process.  The  most successful PR professionals most often acquire and perfect these skills through an apprenticeship model. While this model of learning helps PR professionals to learn their skills without ruining a client’s reputation, it also ensures that the people outside of the public relations industry are less aware of how the best PR professionals work their magic.

In the month of September, we will be taking a closer look at some of the techniques we use at Shift Collaborative to work our own public relations magic.  We’re starting off our series with an in-depth look at how we gain media coverage by pitching a story.  If you ever wondered how we get journalists to care and write about your company, here are a few of our secrets.

1// A newsworthy story


To successfully pitch a story, we need one main ingredient.  The story must be newsworthy.  Journalists are rewarded for getting the scoop and spotting the trend.  If your story is old news or doesn’t have a unique angle of relevance to the public, then journalists won’t care no matter how we frame the story.

In order to be a reliable source for journalists, we have to spot what is newsworthy or not before we share.  Otherwise, we risk being blacklisted by journalists as someone who repeatedly shares stories that they can’t use.  The danger of being blacklisted is very much like the story of the boy who cried wolf; when we finally have that newsworthy story, no journalist will respond because they have made a habit of deleting our messages without reading them.

2// Compile a targeted list of journalists

A pitch is more likely to be read when it is directed to a specific person than a general editor.  Journalists are often swamped with deadlines and have very little spare time.  Due to their lack of time, they won’t read information that wasn’t specifically directed to them and they won’t redirect information that was misdirected to them.

As PR professionals, this means we must know who covers what stories at each publication and target individual journalists based on the story we are pitching.  These journalists expect us to know what they write about and to contact them with newsworthy stories that are relevant to their area of expertise.  Repeatedly sharing stories with a specific journalist that doesn’t match up with their area of expertise can be just as bad as repeatedly sharing stories that aren’t newsworthy.

3// Be aware of media deadlines

Journalists have deadlines they need to meet and require time to follow up on a story before they can publish.  Knowing when different publications and their sections are expected to submit finalized stories is a huge advantage.  One, if you pitch a story with enough time before deadline, a journalist is more likely to pursue the story.  Two, you can avoid irritating the journalist by presenting a newsworthy story that they cannot properly investigate.

4// Craft personalized pitches

Once you have your newsworthy story and a list of targeted journalists, you are ready to begin crafting your pitches.  Each journalist should receive a personalize pitch.  There are many advantages to this approach.  One, it allows you to frame the story with how it relates to their area of expertise.  Two, since journalists are looking to discover a story first, they will be more encouraged to respond when they are the sole recipient.  They will be eager to grab the story first and attempt to negotiate exclusive rights to the story, if possible.  Three, you can reach out to multiple journalists who write about different areas of expertise by adjusting the angle you frame the story from.

5// Follow up on pitches

This can be the trickiest part of the process.  As a PR professional, our goal is to secure as much coverage as possible for our story.  Increased coverage can be achieved by obtaining multiple journalists to write about the story or by obtaining one journalist at a widely distributed publication.  However, every journalist wants to be the only journalist on the story.  As requests for information come in, you  have to balance the need to secure coverage with the need to maximize the distribution of the story.  This can be nerve-racking as responses come in at different rates.

Follow-up can sometimes include a phone call to a journalist a few hours after we emailed a pitch.  All follow up communications of this type should ideally be communicated via that journalist’s preferred method of contact.  This is why is it crucial to cultivate long-term relationships with journalists so you can come to know such preferences.

6// Connect journalists with our client

When a journalist commits to writing a story, they often immediately want access to the client to ask addition questions for the story.  For a news article, this can be as simple as exchanging phone numbers and setting a time for them to talk.  For broadcast news coverage, we have to negotiate a time when the client can go to their studio to film the segment on the story.

In these or any other instances, a necessary step of connecting the client with the media is prepping the client to respond to the media.  This type of preparation usually includes reviewing talking points, issues to avoid, and how to respond to difficult questions appropriately.  Without this type of preparation, a thoughtless quote might overshadow the entire purpose of the original story.

 Our next post…

This post was the first in a series of posts taking an in-depth look into the public relation techniques used to manage our clients’ reputations.  If you enjoyed this post on media pitching,  check back on Thursday, September 18 when our next post, PR Part 2: The Social Frontier will go live.  In the post I’ll be discussing the techniques we use to monitor and manage your reputation through social networks.

Carlos Danger Needs a Crisis Manager

Media Relations PR

 by Eric Sloss, Shift partner

New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner is a great case study for what not to do during a crisis. He resigned from Congress for texting photos of his penis to various women he randomly met. A couple of years later, now running for Mayor of New York City, Weiner continued to send photos digitally under the nom de guerre “Carlos Danger.” One would expect a popular politician to have the money and support to find the right way to handle a crisis.
But methodically he severely damaged his chances to win the most coveted mayoral position in the world by mismanaging his own crisis. His wife, Huma Abedin, who took the Tammy Wynette tune “Stand by Your Man” right out of Hilary Rodham Clinton’s soundtrack, has tarnished her own image by her commitment to her husband. Abedin did not have to go far to find Clinton’s playlist—she is part of the former U.S. Secretary of State’s transition team. I was in New York City for business when the second Weiner photo revealed itself (sorry, I had to do it). New Yorkers interviewed by local news outlets were dismayed and disgusted by his actions, and by his wife’s commitment to her husband. His approval rating was 55% and his disapproval rating was 33% when I landed on Tuesday.

These numbers were turned on their head within a day. We have read all the headlines “Weiner’s Rise and Fall,” “Too Hard to Stop,” and my personal favorite “Stick a Fork in the Weiner.” Yes, his name does not help the crisis. When a client’s name is part of the jokes, professional communications consultants can only pray that the intelligent quotient of the fine citizens of America – for this particular instance New York City voters – will raise a few brain points and look past all the digs. One of the important tenets of communicating during a crisis is to define the problem, and Weiner clearly has yet to accomplish this. As much as we hate ourselves for laughing at the headline “Tip of the Weiner,” we also dislike Weiner for not telling us the truth: he may have mental disorder—an addictive illness that blends sexual dysfunction with ego. If you ask any professional in the crisis communication sector, defining the problem is the very first step, which his team has yet to do.

One of the many characteristics of a crisis that Weiner and company are currently facing is omnipresent media. Major metropolitan regions with a wealth of news outlets can sniff out a crisis, escalate it, and sustain a crisis for a long period of time. The New York City setting, one of the media capitals of the world, doesn’t help either. If this happened in, say, Weiner, Arkansas (yes, this is a real city), this might not be a headline of the Wienerschnitzel Bugle. Or at very least, those of us in Pittsburgh wouldn’t hear about the mayoral candidate who likes to share his privates online.

There are many principles of crisis communications. Professional consultation should tell him to use the Relationship Principle to his benefit, which tells those in a crisis to nurture their reputations. Weiner is doing this well, and it is almost his only option at this point in the race—he is a well-liked politician. However, he is doing a bad job of explaining himself and he is not executing the important Accountability Principle very well, which insists that “I’m sorry” won’t cut it. Nothing less than a full-out explanation with total candor and contrition will do.

Voters need to hear what psychological diagnosis he has, how he is going to deal with it, and most importantly, how it might affect him as in running one of the most vibrant cities in the modern world. The Disclosure Principle guides those in a crisis to tell as much as they can, as soon as they can. Running for Mayor in the city that never sleeps affords Weiner a lot of air time. The problem and the solution should be included in one of his many media appearances that are sure to come over the next few weeks. I have no horse in this race but my professional guidance tells me that in the final stanzas of this historic mayoral effort, Weiner needs to go back to step number one and define the problem.

He needs to tell the truth about his mental disorder and clearly state that he will not do it again, and assure the public that it will have no impact on his ability to represent New York City residents. He might gain a few votes on a sympathy message.