PR Specialization

Adapting Strategies for Effective Storytelling in the Social Media Era

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With the tremendous growth of social media in recent years, the PR landscape is continuously evolving and causing public relations professionals to adapt to the 24/7/365 news cycle we now work in as well as the instant, viral nature in which news breaks and spreads.

For those who work in sports and entertainment PR, there are many areas of our practices we should be evaluating from how we pitch media in the social media era, to crafting captivating press releases, packaging media stories and effectively communicating our messages to the right audiences in real time. And, for the future trends of our industry, we should begin looking to analytics more in order to better determine what influences our media strategies, planning and implementation.

With many traditional PR practices becoming out-of-date or even obsolete, taking a closer look at how storytellers can effectively pitch and communicate their messages in the social media era is Michael Ehrlich, Director of Public Relations for adidas, in our recent Q&A with him:

Can you share more with us about your PR position at adidas and some of the areas you are involved in on the sports and entertainment side of the brand?

First off, thank you so much for having me for a Q&A. I had a great time chatting with Chris Yandle and PRSA members on our recent podcast.  Hopefully we can host another chat again soon!

Editor’s Note: Michael Ehrlich’s podcast can be found here.

I’ve been at adidas America for five and a half years now, working my way up the ranks of the Public Relations department and now sitting in the Portland-based Newsroom. Before my time at adidas they were actually my client, as I worked for the brand’s PR agency of record for almost three years.

Currently I’m the Director of Public Relations, working across all brand categories in both Sport and Style.  What is unique about my position is that I sit within the our Portland Newsroom – consisting of our PR, Social and Analytics team – so I work hand in hand with my PR leads, Social Strategists, Community Managers and Analytics lead.  The fusion of these groups truly mirrors the current state of the news making and storytelling industry as a whole.

My team is based at the brand’s US headquarters and we are part of a Global network of adidas Newsrooms, with locations in key offices allover the world.

With the way the PR landscape has shifted in recent years due to the evolution of social media and its increased use, can you share with us how PR professionals need to adapt to this and always be prepared for the 24/7/365 day news cycle we are now working in?

It truly is an exciting time to be a story teller in today’s media landscape as there is no limit to the news cycle now and it continues to evolve each day.

Story timelines have shifted from traditional long-lead or daily print opportunities to instantaneous news with the introduction of social as the go-to storytelling platform.

The traditional cadence of pitching stories to media has even evolved as well.  The process of emailing a press release to a reporter/editor, following up via phone to pitch your story, offering a spokesperson interview, coordinating the conversation, followed by the story ultimately appearing in print is long gone. News breaks in a split second today and spreads instantaneously via social. There are no boundaries to how far a story can extend.

Reporters today even are now their own social brands and are competing to break news 140 characters at a time. Honestly, EVERYONE today with a phone and WIFI is their own media outlet, so the competition to break stories is more competitive than ever.  This is such a great opportunity for newsmakers and storytellers alike as PR professionals can get creative with who they partner with to communicate their stories.

To adapt to this shift in the traditional news cycle, PR execs must act faster, communicate quicker and be more nimble with their planning to succeed.

Specifically, how has media pitching and storytelling changed in recent years and what are some tips for PR professionals to improve their pitching practices?

With these shortened timelines and just the sheer amount of pitches that media receive each day, PR pros must stand out, break through the clutter and package stories up for media in snackable and shareable ways.

In certain instances, email is actually too slow as a story pitching mechanism and some reporters don’t even answer their phones, so communicating via social is a great alternative.  A lot of times, reporters respond quicker to me via a DM than an email or text or call.

Leading with content – whether still or video – and cutting down the traditional press release to shorter/more straight forward copy also goes a long way. Your pitch becomes easier for media to digest quickly and ultimately share on their social channels.

What about press releases, what are some new strategies and tips PR professionals can keep in mind?

The first press release launched 110 years ago and the format and tone mirror a lot of versions still used today unfortunately. Honestly, this traditional format is completely obsolete now.  Information overall is consumed differently because of social and the competition among stories today grows stronger each day.

I can’t even imagine how many pitches reporters receive in their inboxes each day, so the key is to stand out in a short time frame.

As I mentioned earlier, leading with impactful visuals and cutting down PR copy are two tactics that will immediately pay dividends. Taking the time on the front end to craft messaging and copy specifically for a media target is also an important step to take.

Of the different social media channels available to PR pros, which do you think has the most opportunities and why? Social media in general is the perfect tool today PR professionals.

The opportunities that Twitter has as a news breaking and real-time communications platform are endless. Whether it is during a sporting event or a key culture moment, news makers, story tellers and consumers are all glued to this platform for instant reaction and ongoing analysis.

I am also intrigued by a few new propositions on Facebook – especially Facebook Live – and so far I really like how certain media outlets such as Yahoo! Sports’ The Vertical, The Ringer and Bleacher Report are using this platform for interactive broadcasts with their readers.  The opportunities here amongst media, brands, leagues, teams and athletes are vast and I’m excited to start leveraging the platform both professionally and personally.

Instagram Stories so far also seems to be a very successful new tool for brand story telling.  The sheer reach and engagement opportunities are quite fast.  I’m curious to track the evolution as more brands start using it.

How do you see the PR landscape evolving in the next couple of years for those who work in sports and entertainment PR and how can we begin preparing for it?

Although I’ve never been a numbers guy, I am fascinated by the use of data in PR.  Analytics changed sports during the Moneyball era in baseball with the Oakland A’s (growing up in Northern California, they were my team of choice) and I truly believe it is the next big trend in Public Relations.  I’m most excited about this use of data to influence media strategy, planning and implementation

In just a short time working with my analytics team at adidas, I’ve been able to leverage data to determine future PR strategy, tactics, media targets and brand partners’ PR-ability

I think the more information a PR pro can study – everything that makes up a reporter or media outlet’s social footprint – the more successful their future storytelling will become.

For those looking to break into the sports and entertainment industries such as young PR professionals, what advice do you have for them including any important skill sets to possess?

This is a great question and one that I get a lot in conversations with students, prospective interns and future PR pros. Communication, writing and critical thinking skills are what I look for most in a prospective hire.  How this person hones these skills though is what truly sets them apart. I started my PR career on the agency-side and the experience there is invaluable.  This is the perfect place to develop PR planning, media pitching experience and your professional network, while working across multiple accounts.  The biggest pieces of advice I have are to consume as much media as you can on a daily basis, become an expert within the PR and communication field and network as much as possible via social.

Natalie P. Mikolich is the Founder of npm | pr ( and the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Entertainment and Sports Section 2016 Chair. In addition to providing public relation services for top global sportswear and equipment companies like Prince Tennis, Natalie has worked with some of the leading sports and entertainment agencies such as Blue Entertainment Sports Television (BEST) and Lagardere Unlimited Tennis.  Natalie has represented many world class professional and Olympic athletes including Greatest Doubles Team of All-Time Bob & Mike Bryan, Seven-time Grand Slam Champion and former WTA World #1 Justine Henin, 2012 London Olympic Bronze Medalist Marlen Esparza and 2014 CrossFit Games Winner Camille Leblanc-Bazinet along with Major League Soccer Medical Coordinator Dr. John Gallucci. Prior to this, Natalie was a former NCAA Division I Team and SEC Conference Champion a part of the 2002-2003 University of Florida Women’s Varsity Tennis Team and a top five nationally ranked USTA junior tennis player. Follow Natalie on Twitter @npmikolich.

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Natalie P. Mikolich

1 Comment

  • Thank you, Michael, for your review of current indispensable trends and skills for PR professionals. Another I see gaining momentum: the influence of the hand held device as a mini studio to make and publish video content. The fast and efficient power of the tool means “the medium is the message” (-Marshall McLuhan) for individuals as well as brands. I’m happiest though that the classics still lead the pack: communication, writing and critical thinking skills. The old adage “Story Is King” prevails.

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