Dec 19, 2003
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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
P.O. Box 4689
Atlanta, GA 30302
-> Stafford's background
"The South is my home," Stafford says with a pleasant accent. He was born in DC (which he considers the South). "But Southerners down here consider me a Yankee," he says.
He graduated from the University of Tennessee and has worked as both a reporter and editor. He's been at the Atlanta Journal Constitution for seven years, and in the newspaper biz for almost 20 ("Uh-oh, that dates me," he says).
-> Current editorial coverage
Stafford has a column about advertising, PR, and marketing that runs every other week. He also writes stories in the business section on topics such as new agencies, campaigns, and products as often as there's news or trends worth talking about.
"If there are stories that are newsworthy every day, I'll write one every day, if I think people will really want to hear about it. But that doesn't really happen," he says.
Three things make a story newsworthy, he says:
o Happenings in the marketing world that have a direct impact on business communities in and around Atlanta.
For example, he wouldn't run a story about an agency simply because they signed a new client.
"Every once in a while you'll get the client who wants to go to the next level," he explains. "They say, 'I've been doing my own voiceovers for years but I really sound like a rube and I want to give my campaigns more credibility.' That's where I get interested."
o A business perspective.
If a new business has come into the Atlanta market, Stafford's angle would be the impact the business might have on the bottom lines of other businesses. "Otherwise, it's a feature story and goes into human interest."
o National trends with a local angle
-> The best way to pitch Stafford
He prefers to be pitched by email, and he prefers that you *not* follow up with a phone call. If you're concerned that he may not have received your email, include a sentence along the lines of, "Please let me know that you got this," and he's happy to send an acknowledgement.
Then, if he's interested in your story, he'll get back to you.
-> What Stafford looks for in a story pitch
His stories run in the business pages, so remember that your pitch needs to have a business angle.
"I'm not writing just about an ad on TV, I write why is it important for Company A to have an ad and get in front of the consumer," he says. "Are they having problems making money? Are they exploiting a new revenue source? There's a lot more I'm looking for in business coverage than just the fact that advertising and PR exists."
So when pitching Stafford, tell him not just what you're doing (starting a new ad campaign, hiring a new agency, etc.) but why you're doing it and what you hope to get out of it.
"The bar is pretty high," he says. When he gets a release announcing that an agency has a new client, he thinks, "Why should I care about that?" But if you tell him how your campaign will affect your new client's bottom line, he gets interested.
Stafford shared three other tips for grabbing his interest:
o Tip #1. A local angle means more than just being in the local market.
"People will say their company has introduced a new sandwich in their fast food chain and they know that we have the same big chain in our town, so they want me to do a story on it," he says.
That type of minutia has no place in his stories. Nor does a local angle mean that your company advertised in the 96 Olympics in Atlanta or donated to an Atlanta charity. Think of the impact on the business community.
o Tip #2. Carefully craft your email subject heading.
Write "Story pitch" in the subject heading of your email, then a short description of your press release, letting him know that there's a local angle involved. "That gets me excited much more quickly than someone who says 'Product A has a new line,'" he says.
o Tip #3. Position yourself as an expert
Stafford relies on experts for unbiased opinions on the industry. Get on his radar by sending an email describing your specialty and why you're better on the subject than others.
"I'm looking for someone who's been around and seen some things and knows where the business has been, where it's going, and where it is now," he says.
But don't pitch yourself in an overly sales-y way. He wants experts who want to share their knowledge, not people who simply want to see their names in print.
-> Pet peeves
1. Desperation calls
Stafford can tell when a PR person knows they don't have an angle but their client is pushing them to get coverage. "They're harassing me to see if they can trick me into it, and I sense that desperation," he says.
2. Pitching without having done your homework
Look at what the paper has done and think of what they're likely to see as new and fresh.
"I'm still getting lots and lots of pitches on stealth marketing," he says. "Well, we've done that already, we're not going to do another."
3. Not taking no for an answer
Don't ask if you can call in three days to see if the situation has changed. "It's just not going to happen," he says. "No means no."
-> What he looks for in printed press materials
If you send a press kit, he'll look at the headers to see if it's relevant. If it is, he'll read the materials. Still, he prefers email.
Don't send books. He never reviews them.
-> Where you can meet Stafford
Email and invite him to meet you at your office. "I like visiting some of the offices and hearing what everybody's doing. It's better for me to get out of the office to find out what's going on." Bear in mind that it might take months to get a date set up.
-> Favorite professional publication
The Washington Post