This month, Michelle Melton, one of NisonCo’s public relations account managers, joined us for a conversation. She took the time to talk with us about communication, persistence, and what exactly “pitching” is.
Hi Michelle! Could we start with your location, your role, and your background?
Michelle Melton: Yeah! I live in New York City, and I’ve lived here for a while now. I’m originally from Oklahoma.
My role — I’m the PR Manager at NisonCo.
I have a background in PR and communications and have worked in other PR agencies.
I had my own practice for about five years and have worked at creative agencies. Just, you know, writing communications strategies, a lot of different things. That’s the beauty of working in PR and communications — there are many different things you can do, work-wise, with those skills.
I just celebrated my first anniversary with NisonCo, and it flew by!
What would you say your communication style is?
Michelle: I do know from looking at my coworkers’ pitches and things that we all have different styles of communicating and writing, which isn’t necessarily a good or a bad thing. But I think the whole goal is just to communicate very clearly. Ensure the point you’re trying to get across is concise, but I think also it sometimes helps if your personality shines through — unless you’re a complete jerk, right? One of the biggest challenges is connecting with reporters you’re trying to influence and get to cover the things your clients are doing.
So how does your personality come through? [You can] take the time and treat it like a friendship. Learn a little bit about them. If they wrote something that was exciting to you or really hit home, let them know in the most concise and quick way possible. Because, again, being a writer now just continues to be more and more challenging. Their deadlines are crazy, and they’re expected to cover more pieces. The state of media is super competitive now.
So my writing style is friendly; I don’t make assumptions about anyone I’m pitching, and I try to be as helpful as possible. Before I pitch anyone I don’t know, I always take at least 20-30 minutes and do a deep dive into what they’ve covered in the past. Checking on social media is really important. You can usually get a good idea of where they stand politically, where they live, and what they’re really into. So my communication style is straightforward and friendly, and I try not to waste time because we’re all swamped. You rarely knock something out of the park or land coverage with a single pitch the first time you pitch someone. And if you do, even better.
What do you mean by “pitched” for those of us who have never done cannabis PR?
Michelle: When our clients come to us, we have a good idea about what they do, what they need to get press coverage on, and why they should get press coverage. And it’s on us to develop stories to pitch to writers.
So when we pitch, we email journalists, reporters and writers about a specific topic, typically with a particular press angle — and that’s a pitch.
Whenever we pitch a journalist, the best way to go about it is to think of a story that they would definitely cover or that falls in line with other things they’ve covered in the past. So if they have a good story and something that’s really relevant and of the moment — especially with topics like politics and everything happening with cannabis legislation — you’re being helpful. You’ve provided something to make their day easier and let them do their job more efficiently.
You say it’s rare to land pitches the first time — why is that?
Michelle: You know what — I will say that’s not always true. I pitched something yesterday to a Connecticut journalist, and he got right back to me — and BOOM! we had coverage.
But most of the time, it’s not that way. That’s perhaps the most frustrating thing about being a publicist or working in PR. I can imagine that even for that Connecticut journalist, who focuses only on writing about businesses, including cannabis, he’s getting pitched by tons of people; because everyone is covering cannabis in the United States. I feel he’ll respond to my pitches in the future. Sometimes people don’t respond to your pitches. And it’s just part of it. That’s one of the most challenging parts of the job. Sometimes you pitch people and they don’t answer, but, you know, they get pitched by people all day long.
When someone doesn’t respond to a pitch, what’s the next step? Do you follow up?
Michelle: You keep going. You don’t stop. Unless they tell you “Hey, thanks but no thanks,” in which case you lay off. But usually, they don’t. Follow-through is essential in PR. And sometimes it really sucks because sometimes you never hear back from them.
I finally broke through to a journalist at The New York Times a few years ago. I think I had pitched this woman for years. I never had many amazing occasions to do it, but the things I had pitched her in the past were relevant. Finally, she got back to me, and I was able to land a profile. Previously, I’d just been hoping for quotes.
So you can’t take it personally. We’re all very busy. Especially writers. They’re always on deadlines. So I always try to remember that. Their job is incredibly stressful. I always try to be polite, I never make assumptions, and I always ensure I’m prepared and read some of the last couple of things they’ve published. And every publicist has a different style. I know publicists who, every time they pitch someone new, they’ll say “Hey, I read your story about blah blah blah.” I don’t really do that — I try to keep it a little more straightforward. That kind of stuff has never worked for me. But I know there are account managers and coordinators at NisonCo for whom that works well.
Eventually, you’re going to break through if you’re sincere, not a huge jerk, and if what you’re saying is helpful to them or relevant. It’s not rocket science but sometimes pitches can be complicated, and sometimes they can be really sticky.
How is your job at a cannabis PR firm different than other similar jobs outside of the cannabis industry?
Michelle: Before I started working at NisonCo, I hadn’t really worked in cannabis PR. I had worked on a big psychedelic tourism project. My previous PR work touched upon many different things. Thought leadership for business executives — I did a lot of thought leadership for creative executives, specifically people that worked in hospitality, fashion, spirits and alcohol, and things like that.
Working in cannabis is very different. Also, it’s more of an emerging type of market where the other sectors I worked in were established and very competitive. I had clients with multiple PR agencies on retainer, and we all had to focus on a particular piece of the pie in their PR budget, which was also challenging. Primarily because you only have so many angles if your focus is specific. So that’s one big difference for me at least.
I guess in terms of other industries — I don’t know. It’s still all very new. That’s what I like most about it. We’re still trying to figure it out here — I guess everyone is. And the laws are different in every state. And now you have tons of new business coming out of it — everything from cultivators to accessories and products. Eventually, every brand will try to get a piece of the pie too. It’s only going to expand, which is also very interesting.
I can’t say this about all of our clients, but there seems to be more openness regarding “Hey, how else can we launch this?” I’ve never had clients who were that open to trying new things or at least hearing us out. I think that’s important for any new business, especially if you’re selling products as a retailer. I like that — I really enjoy that. There have been numerous times just in the past year when clients have said, “Well — what do you think? Are we crazy?” It’s exciting to provide input more broadly.
Thank you so much for your time, Michelle!
Looking for help from our experienced psychedelics, cannabis, CBD and crypto/blockchain PR, SEO and marketing team? Let us know if you need help researching trends and topics, crafting communications, or securing news spots by contacting NisonCo here.