No, You Can’t Pick My Brain. It Costs Too Much

Adrienne GrahamAdrienne Graham  Original Post

But your knowledge has value. You’ve invested time and money into learning your craft and it’s not fair for people to expect you to give it away for free. Even friends need to understand there are boundaries.

For example I will no longer advise my friends or family for free. (Wow, I just made some people mad….they’ll get over it!). I have businesses to run, employees to pay, a mortgage to pay, an office rent to pay, college tuition, etc, etc, etc.

I’ve told this to friends who have promptly replied, “Me too, you know I don’t have much money”. SO WHAT. That means you either have to delay your plans or come up with the money to fund your dreams. Period. Giving away information is the quickest way to end up evicted or foreclosed on. Put that in proper perspective for a moment.

If you’re having problem drawing the line in the sand, here are some rules of thumb you should follow:

  • Believe that what you know is valuable. If it wasn’t then why are they coming to you? You’re their chance to solve a problem or find a solution. That has value. Charge for it.
  • Create a fee schedule. Whenever someone wants to pick your brain, make sure you have your fee schedule in front of you. Give them a quote for how much it will cost them. They’ll either pay it or move on. If they move on, good riddance. They weren’t interested in paying you anyway. Let them figure it out on their own.
  • Decline lunch/coffee invitations unless they are strictly non-business.If the conversation swings around to business, quickly and politely tell them you’re off the clock. If they are interested in a consult they can book an appointment and let them know what the charge is for that.
  • Keep it light. Some of you will probably cave and throw a few nuggets out there. If you do (I hope you don’t), keep it general. Give the why and what but never the how. Anything beyond the why and what comes with a charge. And don’t even point them in the direction to obtain the how. That’s short changing yourself.
  • Prominently post that there are no freebies. OK not in those words. But if you have a blog or website, and even on your social media profiles, make sure you mention that consultations are available at a fee.
  • Exchange for equal value. This puts you in an advantageous bargaining position. If someone requests free information or help, you must feel comfortable in asking for an in kind value service. Assess what they have that can be of equal benefit for you. If they are genuine, they should have no problem in an even exchange of knowledge. Only you will know if what they have is equal to what you’re giving.
  • Refer them to your “free” resources. If you write a blog, have published articles, have archived videos or podcasts or have a show in which you dispense advice, refer them to that information. Explain that those are the only free information sources you offer. Anything specific or beyond what’s readily available has a cost.
  • Don’t be afraid to send them to Google. You can recommend they go to Google, or any other search engine or to sites that have articles or information about what they need advice on. You can also recommend a book or magazine that might be helpful. Let them expend that energy they would have used in meeting you at Starbucks and hit the search engines to find their answers. Problem is, they’ll be overwhelmed with varying degrees of information. Not fun for them, but when they’re ready to put it in proper perspective and implement, they can come to you…for a consult…a paid consult.
  • Ask them for a paying referral. If they truly want your expertise, they have to be willing to help you out too. It’s kind of like the Equal Exchange point I made above crossed with paying it forward. Before you dispense any advice, ask them to provide you with referrals to others who most certainly need (and can afford) your service.
  • Don’t back down. I know it’s hard to say “no” sometimes. But you can’t back down. People will know how far they can bend or push you. Stand firm, set your boundaries and guard your treasures (your brain and the know how in it). The minute you compromise you devalue yourself and your expertise.

Most people are afraid to draw the hard lines in the sand for fear of angering a friend or losing a potential client or opportunity. Trust me, if they will walk away because they cannot get a freebie, they weren’t meant to be a client and there was no real opportunity in it for you.

Many in the marketing circles will tell you the freebie give away is vital. But it doesn’t always lead to a sale. Likewise giving away what you would do in a given situation during an interview will not necessarily lead to you being hired. It’s up to you to determine what you’re willing to give away and how much of it. Know your worth, understand your value. Stop being taken advantage of. No more freebies.

Til next time.

Adrienne Graham
No, you can’t pick my brain!

Stay tuned for the release of my new book “Get Recruited: Secrets from a Top Recruiter to Use Unconventional Tactics to Get Noticed in an Inconvenient Economy”



How to Read an Editorial Calendar

By Rebecca Bredholt

When a magazine plans their upcoming year, they put a consolidated version of the topics they will cover into an editorial calendar. Then their advertising and sales departments use this calendar to sell ad space to companies that would be a good fit for those issues. For example, if a bridal magazine is going to feature honeymoons in their August issue, travel agents and visitor’s guides might want to purchase ad space next to those articles. A fringe benefit is that people planning their public relations efforts can use this same calendar to pitch stories to that magazine’s editorial team. They’re basically telling you exactly what content they are looking for!

However, there are a couple of things you should keep in mind when reading these calendars. Think of this as your secret decoder ring for those mysterious tablets of information.

  1. 1.       What do the dates mean?

Ad Close Date(aka Space Close): this is final day on which advertisers can reserve a space/page in that issue. This date tells you the editorial staff has already decided where their articles are going to go and has already acquired the photos and images it needs to go along with those articles. PR people should have already pitched before this date. If they haven’t heard back, now would be a good date to follow up. Otherwise, you’re probably not going to make it into this issue.  PR peeps shouldn’t give up at this point! Much of the content from this print issue will go on their web site or into their apps where there might be more room for more information.

Materials Due:  This is the date on which the advertising department needs to give the electronic file of the display ad to the graphic design department. This date is relevant to PR people because the same graphic designers who place the ads in the magazine are the ones laying out the editorial content as well. The editors can’t have them redesigning editorial to get your PR material in the magazine if they are already placing the ads. (hint: if you’re supplying artwork to go along with your pitch, send them the same type of files they need for ads, aka read the ad specifications for file size and type. They will love you for it.)

On Sale: The magazine is hitting newsstands, subscribers get their issues afterwards since they are all mailed out at the same time and residential mail tends to be the slowest (see USPS fail).  By now, the editors have already selected their content for the next issue.

  1. 2.       What’s a Feature*?

Editorial Theme: Some magazines have regular departments in each issue, then they choose a story or topic from outside those to feature on their cover. Other magazines choose from their regularly occurring departments and expand it to include more content and get the cover. You won’t know unless you read the magazine on a regular basis. The editorial calendar does not always provide this information.

Focus: This could mean that the editors are going incorporate this theme into every single department for this issue. For example, if Real Simple magazine decided to focus on green living for their March issue, everything from their cover to their Problem Solvers of the Month would mention sustainability.

Special Sections/Reports: I could get skewered for letting this secret out, but if I were in PR I would be careful about spending my time pitching around these sections. Oftentimes, and I do not speak for every magazine, but usually, these sections/bonus issues are not pitchable because they cater the content to the advertisers and conventions.

The asterisk here is because when I planned out the articles as editor, I knew there was always a chance that we would scrape that cover feature for something more timely and relevant. Ultimately, the publisher had to approve our request to change the content and the sales team had to let their clients know. If we already had good editorial content, we didn’t want to lose it, so we would just save it for another issue. The PR take-away here is to always let the editor know you are available to update the content if they choose to run the story at a later date.

A Word about Newspaper and Websites Editorial Calendars

Do not assume they have editorial calendars. Newspaper editors generally don’t create editorial calendars every year. Clearly, they cannot predict what will break in the future (that’s why they’re called news-papers), but some will do a special section on weddings every summer. The same goes for websites: they generally do not plan their editorial content in advance. As I steer the collection of thousands of editorial calendars each year for Vocus, I notice that more and more digital publications are starting to create calendars.  This year on Twitter I saw the words “editorial calendar” get thrown around more than I have in the last two years among bloggers. This doesn’t mean that they will share it with you, it just means they are starting to get better about planning topics out in advance – and if you ask nicely, they might even tell you what some of those are IF they have them.

A Good Example

If you work in the insurance industry, get a hold of the Best’s Review media kit. Take advantage of the fact that they created a stellar diagram of what each department covers. They explain what articles they need in every issue, right there in black and white. PR people would be fools to not take advantage of someone handing them the blueprints.

How to Write an Effective Press Release

press release, also known as a news release, is a written statement distributed to the media. A fundamental tool of PR work, a well-written, well-distributed and well-timed press release is not difficult or expensive to produce, yet can be effective for publicizing a scheduled event or calling attention to a range of issues: personnel promotions, awards, news products and services, sales accomplishments, etc.

The key to writing an effective press release is getting it read and the information published. With these objectives in mind, the most important elements of writing the press-release are clear and engaging content, and following a standard press release format.

Content of Your Press Release

When writing content, make a list of key points in your news story. Use these key tips to write effective content:

Write news, not advertisement
The purpose of a press release is to inform the world of your news item. Do not use your press release to try and make a sale. A good press release answers the 5Ws and the H (who, what, where, why, when and how), providing the media with useful information about your organization, product, service or event. Your tone should be neutral and objective. Avoid directly addressing the consumer or your target audience. Always write in third person. The use of “I,” “we” and “you” outside of a direct quotation is a flag that your copy is an advertisement rather than a news release. If your press release reads like an advertisement, rewrite it.

Make it newsworthy
Illustrate why anyone should care about your news. Avoid clichés like “great customer service,” “leader in the industry,” or “best value for your money”. Focus on the news aspects that are unique or unusual. Using real life examples can powerfully communicate the benefits of using your product or service.

If you are reporting a corporate milestone, make sure that you connect your success or failures to one or more events. If your company has experienced significant growth, tell the world what you did right. Show the cause and effect.

Write for the media
Develop a story as you would like to have it told. Speak the truth, but avoid all fluff and embellishments. Evade the question mark, as it screams exaggeration, and may make your credibility questionable. Occasionally your press release may be run with little or no modification. The closer you write a press releases to the way the editors will actually publish it, the greater the chance they will choose your story over the next one on their piles.

Use an active voice
Writing verbs in an active voice brings your press release to life. Instead of writing, “A new location has been opened by the company” use “The company opened a new location.” Also, use strong verbs to condense and strengthen sentences that will attract attention and interest in your story. Some strong verbs include: emerge, expose, deliver, impact, launch and transform. Your press release is more likely to be read if written in this style.

Correct grammar usage
It is imperative to follow the rules of grammar and style. Grammar and style errors affect your credibility. Editors will definitely reject a press release with excessive errors.

Avoid jargon
Not everyone will understand jargon, which is terminology used specifically in a distinct profession. The best way to communicate your news is to speak plainly, using ordinary language with the general reader in mind.

Use mixed case

NEVER SUBMIT A PRESS RELEASE IN ALL UPPER CASE LETTERS. This is very bad form. Your release will most likely be ignored by journalists.

Does not use HTML
Never embed HTML or other markup languages in your press release. Not everyone uses the same software, so when the press release is sent via email, HTML tags may not translate consistently on all computer platforms.   If sending the press release via email, you are better off writing in a standard font.

Get permission
Companies are very protective about their reputation. Before including information or quotes from employees or affiliates of other companies or organizations, make sure you have their written permission. This includes adding a company’s ticker symbol (stock symbol). Any dispute resolution will favor the other company, meaning that your press release may get pulled.

Take the time to do it right. Write, print, proof read. Rewrite and revise again. It often helps to have someone else look it over to catch little mistakes that you may have missed.

Follow a Standard Press Release Format

How you present your news is just as important as its content. The standard press release is 300 to 500 words long. Make sure to include the company’s name in the headline, summary paragraph and first paragraph.

The first line of your press release should read “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” in the left hand margin.

Even though this seems like the first step, you should actually write the headline after you write the full press release by extracting the most important keywords to reveal an announcement. Ideally it should be under 80 characters, and definitely no more than 170. Capitalize every word except for prepositions and articles of three characters or less. Make the words bold and slightly bigger than the rest of text. (Remember, however, if you’re sending the press release via email, forget the special formatting or HTML, and just use a standard font.)

Summary paragraph
The summary paragraph is your introductory paragraph. In one to four sentences, it should be a slightly longer synopsis of the news in the headline. Some distribution points only receive your headline, summary and link to your press release. Failing to include a summary paragraph inhibits the effectiveness of your press release. Write this paragraph in italics using standard capitalization and punctuation. (Again, if sending in email, just use standard font and formatting.)

First paragraph
Begin this paragraph with the city and date which the press release originated. Start strong. In 25 words or less, the first sentence in this paragraph should tell the story. The rest of your press release should provide the detail. You have a matter of seconds to grab your readers’ attention. Do not assume that your reader has read your headline or summary paragraph.

Second paragraph
Detail the news in the following paragraphs in descending order of importance.  Make sure to keep all paragraphs short, no more than three or four sentences each.

Third paragraph
This paragraph should include a quote from you, or the CEO.

Fourth paragraph

This paragraph should include a quote from any other party involved, such as a customer or partner. Make sure to get the quote approved and released by the party to avoid possibly having to issue a retraction.

Additional paragraph
Add any other information about why the announcement is significant to the audience. It is typical to restate and summarize the key points in this paragraph.

Last paragraph
This paragraph should have a short company history or “boilerplate,” and describe your company, products, service and mission. If you are filing a joint press release, include a boilerplate for both companies.

Add contact information:

  • Media/PR      Contact Person
  • Official      Company Name
  • Telephone      & FAX Numbers with proper country/city codes and extension numbers
  • Mobile      Phone Number (optional)
  • Timings      of availability
  • Email      Addresses (use name(at) to prevent spam)
  • Website      Address

Lastly, list three number signs, “###”, to signal the end of your press release.

If you follow these steps, you can write a respectable press release. However, writing a good press release is half the battle. You still have to find a careful selection of recipients, and make sure you have a good timing of release. If you are on a tight budget and have abundant free time, you may choose to write your press release yourself. However, a professional company that writes press releases will save you a lot of time, and can provide an enhanced press release that will certainly be taken seriously, and have a greater chance of being published.