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Successful Pitching Insights with Freelance Journalist and Founder Brittney Oliver – Podcast Transcript

Episode 44 – Pitchin’ and Sippin’ Successful Pitching Insights with Freelance Journalist and Founder Brittney Oliver

SPEAKERS: 

Lexie Smith, Brittney Oliver

Lexie Smith 

Not too long ago I was scrolling through Instagram and paused on one of my favorite accounts, PR girl Manifesto. Shout out to Fatou in Episode 29 to read something called behind the byline with a beautiful woman and a fabulous lemon dress. So naturally, I instated a little bit of shame, and pretty much immediately reached out to Brittany to be on the show. And in true PR fashion and man do I love my colleagues, she got back to me super quickly and said yes. And here we are today. So Brittany, welcome officially to the show. We’re going to talk about all things career. But I always love to start by asking where is home base? And what do you like to do outside of work for fun?

Brittney Oliver 

Love it. Well, thank you, Lexi, for reaching out. I’m so glad you stumbled upon that spotlight. I’m really thankful for that. And I am based in Nashville. So I call Middle Tennessee home. I’m originally from Clarksville, which is about an hour out from Nashville, military brat in the house. And so now I call Nashville home and it’s been great. And I moved here. It’ll be a year next month. So I moved in the middle of the pandemic. So I didn’t really get out much. But the thing that I like to do is I like to be social. And so you know, towards the end of the, I mean, towards the beginning of the summer, I started to you know, go out network and meet different people and really trying to get to enjoy the city and get to know

Lexie Smith 

well Nashville is so much fun. I’ve only been there and I’ve only been there once during a very stereotypical occasion, which was a bachelorette party. Very, very fun. I have actually one of my best friends recently moved there and I see her videos and I mean that city is full of life. So if you enjoy being social, you’re in the right place, that’s for sure.

Brittney Oliver 

Yes, it’s changed so much from when I was younger, to now and it’s just so much to do, and I’m excited for the city.

Lexie Smith 

So before Nashville, you lived and worked in New York City, is that correct?

Brittney Oliver 

Correct. Seven years.

Lexie Smith 

seven years. So I’d love to know about your career in New York and what got you really started in the world of PR.

Brittney Oliver 

Well, um, so what interests me in PR goes way back. I don’t know if you all remember but MTV had a show called PR girls. It was a reality show and it followed Lizzie Guzman or Grubman but she was one of the top entertainment publicists on the show. I think some of her clients were like supermodels, and you know, hip hop stars. And she was throwing the parties for them and getting them press and I’m like, wow, this is interesting. And at the time, um, you know, as a high school student, I was doing journalism, you know, but I also loved event planning, and then the Community Relations aspect. And once I saw this show, I said, it seems to collaborate on all the little things that I like, so I decided to pursue that career. And so I went to Howard University, because they’re known for their strong communications program, and also to be in a big city, and get access to, you know, internships and different things like that. And so that’s kind of where I developed my love for PR, or my interest in the industry. From there. You know, I have seven internships under my belt, and when I moved to New York City, it was always my dream. I have an extended family that lives in New York, and I remember my first time visiting, I was in seventh grade. And I fell in love and I said to myself, I’m going to move there when I’m an adult. I don’t know if it’s for college or whatever, but I’m going to live here and I’m going to be at this pub. I’m going to work in the PR department at Pepsi cup, like I had it all laid out, but I ended up hitting some lemons along the way, and I think we’re going to talk about that later. But that’s what brought me to the city.

Lexie Smith 

There’s actually a fair amount of your story that I relate to in a different way. So I saw I was watching the show Shark Tank. I think it was 2013 2012 And I was working for NPR, I was working for a tech firm and it was a very different scene. But I saw a PR firm on the show Shark Tank. I thought it looked so fun. They were in LA. And I pursued them and ended up getting a job. And that’s what brought me to Los Angeles where I had wanted to move my entire life. So different coasts than you. But I’m like, I saw a show. So there were similarities there I relate. relate to a lot of that. No, I don’t know how I missed PR girls, that’s I would

Brittney Oliver 

Oh, there might be an easier way for me. I know probably why it was short lived. And it kind of just disappeared. But every now and then I can mention it and someone’s like, yes,

Lexie Smith 

yes. Maybe because I think growing up my dreams and aspirations are more tied to actresses in Hollywood. So maybe it was on and I just wasn’t watching that channel for whatever reason. Um, okay, so you were named one of nine black women leaders dedicated to empowering others by Forbes. Let’s just pause. Everyone takes that in. That is amazing. I can imagine you received this accolade for many different reasons. But one of which is that you created an event series and platform with a mission to empower millennials to thrive through life’s challenges, and love to learn a bit more about this venture and what inspired you to create it?

Brittney Oliver 

Yes. So it goes into the lemons that I was about to talk about, in terms of what I faced when I first moved to New York City. So the lemon that really impacted me was that in an eight month period, after I graduated from college, I went over 100 interviews to try to get a PR job. And, you know, that’s 100 times I was made to feel like I wasn’t enough 100 times to just be rejected. And then that’s 100 times now that I’m older, and I’m wiser, they missed out on this great greatness, you know. And so it’s a lot to have to go through that to be rejected in that way. And to be young in a new city, and really not understanding the why behind that. And so, while going through that, I kept myself bottled up. I didn’t really tell people what I was going through. And I carried around the shame. And then years later, I found out I finally got a PR job two years later, then I ended up getting laid off. I’m like, wow, like I work. I almost immediately fell out of love with it. I knew I was good at it. But it feels like I’ve invested so much of my time and money because when I went to school, it doesn’t feel like it loves me back. like is this really my purpose is am I supposed to do this? And so in that layoff I experienced networking, and I met Howard Olam who worked out of magazine essence. And so we kept in touch and leading up to this layoff we were supposed to meet up. And I kept pushing it back once I was laid off because I was embarrassed. And so she just finally was like, Why do you keep rescheduling? I told her what happened and she’s like a girl that happens to everybody. And so then she called me back and offered me an opportunity to be her assistant at essence. And now I’m in the media side and I never imagined that I would be there but in that space, you know people call essence like black goo magic headquarters. And it was in that space where I was around women that I admire. I read there were you know there were communication greats, PR greats that were the essence that I followed in your career and I got access to them and it was just amazing how graceful they were. And they were unapologetic about their past or future in their present and it really inspired me to let that go. And so I did that through words. And so I started writing and then from there I wrote about the lemons to lemonade story 100 interviews, and so many people responded, it’s on my LinkedIn now. And they felt the same way. And I’m like, wow, what if I did? What if I just opened my mouth and told people what I was going to just imagine the community I could have had, and the support. But instead, I was ashamed. And it showed me a need. It showed me that we need to stop living behind this Instagram filter, curating this life that looks perfect. And be honest about the things that we’re going through. Because we need each other, we’re not in this alone. And so that’s where lemons to lemonade was born, it was started with content, because after sharing those stories, people were like, do you have more, you know, more tips, more anything. And then I decided to launch Britney all over with the blog, and then a newsletter to go with it. That was lemons, lemonade, but then I was like, What did this look like? If we can meet in person, you know, because we’re going to these networking events, and you know, you’ve networked in a big city, you know what I mean?

Brittney Oliver 

It can be savage out there, in those networking rooms, like people really are out there for themselves. And I’ll never forget this time when I first moved to New York, and I was looking for a job. And I remember approaching the guy, and he happened to work at Viacom. And before he even asked me my name, he asked me, What did I do?” And so when I went to tell him, you know, well, I’m here, I’ve moved to New York, because this is what I want to do. You know, and before I could even finish, he just kind of turned around and made an exit. And he wasn’t interested, I had nothing to offer him in his eyes. He didn’t even finish hearing my story, and you asked for my name, but this is what a lot of people go through. You know, I know what it’s like to network before s&c after people, treat you differently based on what you do, where you work, whatever, whatever you’re aligned with. And that’s hard. That’s a hard room to maneuver in. When you’re someone who’s just trying, you’re just trying to get the foot in the door. And so there needs to be spaces that are safe, where people can network and that feel like that. And that’s what I want to create in a networking environment and partner with different companies where, you know, some of these hiring managers are coming to the room. And people can network with them, and they can network with other people. And so I’m so proud of what limits have become, people have gotten jobs, people have creative friendships. You know, even my speakers have been able to go on to bigger platforms. Because, you know, up until that point, you know, this started in what 2016 DNI was still like a buzz. It was just trending news. But people were talking about how you’re having these stages, but you don’t see diversity. And so I’m proud to put different people on stages where they could talk about their actual expertise rather than diversity.

Lexie Smith 

There’s some first let me start by saying thank you for sharing, sharing that story and sharing your journey. I’m blown away over here and I have no doubt people listening in are as well. I am what you said in that story. I want to go back to that story. Is that still on your LinkedIn? Would that be where people would go to read that initial? Okay, well, we’ll make sure to include that in the show notes. Lemons to lemonade today. I mean, what an impact you’re making. Are you still hosting events? I know the world has flipped upside down. Has it become virtual? Is that something people can still get involved in and if so how?

Brittney Oliver 

Yes, we were impacted by the pandemic. And so when I left New York limits eliminated the opportunity to hit the road. So we were going on tours in 2019 . We did like a four city tour in October, and already had plans lined up to go into her again, but also really invested more time in Nashville. But of course, the pandemic hit and For me, when it happened, I had to sit still. And so eventually we went virtual. So we had masterclasses and then also, I G live and LinkedIn live content. But then there was that fatigue that happened, like, you know, at the end of spring this year with virtual and so I listened to the audience, I hear you all, y’all are ready for in person. But I’m also mindful of where we are still. And I don’t want to, I would just feel horrible if putting on an in person event compromised a whole bunch of people. Yeah. And so you know, it is a push pause right now. And I’m planning for 2022. So let’s, let’s all do the right thing. So

Lexie Smith 

fingers crossed. It’s tough , I mean, it’s a very transitional moment. People feel very strongly on both sides of the spectrum there. And so it’s a tough place to be, would there? Is there like a waitlist or newsletter that people can hop on to stay up to date on when maybe those will read, reemerge.

Brittney Oliver 

Yes. So when you go to L, two, the number two L mixer is calm, you can sign up for the newsletter there, or Britney is all over calm, perfect.

Lexie Smith 

we’ll again, per usual, guys put those in the show notes. I want to shift gears a little bit because something that’s really unique about you is that you have all three perspectives of guests that listen to the show. So you are a PR Pro, you are a founder, and you’re also a member of the media. So you’re this true triple threat. I also call it a guest trifecta. I love to pick your brain on pitching from all three perspectives. So I’d love to start with pitching as a PR professional. So you’ve landed your clients pieces and outlets such as USA Today, ABC, ABC, Chicago Tribune, black enterprise, amongst many others. So from a PR perspective, best pitching tips, Do’s, Don’ts, any piece of advice.

Brittney Oliver 

From a PR perspective, um, the best advice that I would have is one relationship, the relationship part of PR, I feel like it has gone away. I’m building relationships with journalists to make life so much easier for you. So if you can set up those phone calls, be someone who can offer something to the journalists that are out here, be helpful. And by having those relationships, what happens is that journalists will know if they need something, especially really quickly, they have your number, they will hit you up, right? You get access to things you get first tip, first dibs on news, or whatever is happening to get your client and it’s so important. So I think people aren’t fostering, especially with, you know, PR professionals that are coming out, they’re really missing that part of the relationship building. It’s not just email. You know, there’s so many people, and I’m going, I’m putting on my media hat. But there’s people that I’ve been engaged with, for so long via social media or email. And when I lived in New York, we lived in the same city, but they never went the extra mile. You know, I’m having a mixer. You never came. You never sent an email and said, Hey, Brittany, Can we have some time to talk? Over happy hour or whatever? You never did that. And so I remember the ones who do, and because they went that extra mile, just to get to know me and have that relationship, they kind of get a little bit more access, right? Yeah. So people think that way, because journalists are new data, their inboxes have so much going on. But the people who win I think they’re the ones that have that relationship.

Lexie Smith 

Yeah, any tips because it was so much easier pre what’s happening in the world when we could go to events right? When I was a publicist in Los Angeles, I could go to events and meet people with any ideas for how you can really work to establish relationships in a virtual world. Is it you know, asking for that call. Still, or is there anything else we can do?

Brittney Oliver 

Extra the call, but again, I know that’s difficult because there is that fatigue now that everyone’s virtual is a fatigue. So things are slowly getting back to normal. So, you know, if you’re vaccinated or something like that, just say, Hey, I’m, I’m here, or I’m in town, and I’m, you know, I’m vaccinated, I want it to welcome the opportunity to meet up and catch up and whatever, if you’re comfortable. But I think even extending that goes a long way. You know, even if that person says no, and then because you extended that there’s probably room for them to say, No, I’m not comfortable at this moment. But let’s hop on a call, because I appreciate that.

Lexie Smith 

Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s great. So okay, that’s PR hat. Right? Now we’re gonna put on the founder hat. So you have this incredible series and platform. If a founder is pitching, does the same advice apply, that you just shared for our PR professionals? Are there any other founders specific pitching tips that come to mind?

Brittney Oliver 

So I’ll admit, all three are kind of the same. But the thing with the founder in terms of pitching, you definitely want to build your own relationships, because I have founders who are my friends, and so they quickly just need some advice, or a contact or something, I can do that right, I can make the introduction. So definitely utilize your network of media professionals, if you’re a founder. But don’t abuse it. Right, the second thing is, one thing I feel like founders forget about is they forget about how to be helpful. It’s about me, me, me, my product, my book, my this my that. And sometimes depending on the vertical or so for example, I, you know, I do careers work money. A lot of that’s not product based, like I’m not a beauty writer, so pitching, pitching me lipstick or a facial serum, that doesn’t work right for me. But how you can flip that for business or work or money is to be helpful. provide tips to the readers. You know, it’s not about you as the readership for the journalists. In the clicks, so is as a founder, you want to think how can I help readers? What have I learned as a founder? How much money did I raise? And through that fundraising, how can I help this readers audience? So if I’m, if I write for business, Insider, 10 times, I want to know, like this founder, how were you able to raise or reach six figures in revenue in six months? Like what was your secret sauce, like, that’s what people want, is probably gonna be less about your product, or your service, and more about how you can help another founder who reads business insight. So I think more founders just need to think about that, in their approaches, less about my product, and me and my bio, and more about how can I take the things that I’ve learned as a founder to help others?

Lexie Smith 

Yeah, brilliant advice, I cosign all of that. And I think too, you know, by offering advice as a founder, maybe your product isn’t the spotlight but the more you elevate your brand as a founder that you’re attached to your brand. So in a way, you can still push people and, you know, back to the brand and in that way, yeah,

Brittney Oliver 

they’re going to give you the clicks, you know, yeah, it’s gonna be like so and so and so founder of this lip kit or something, yeah, you’re gonna get the hyperlink you’re gonna get the draw back.

Lexie Smith 

Yeah, exactly. Last perspective, dive in. Um, you must receive many pitches. So to gain your insight in this category, I want to do something a little bit different. So anytime I have a member of the media on the show, I like to just ask a bunch of random fire preferential questions. So there’s no right or wrong. It’s just what do you like and what don’t you like to see in your inbox? So are you game

Brittney Oliver 

I’m game.

Lexie Smith 

Okay, cool.

Lexie Smith 

So here we go. First, is there a certain day of the week you prefer to be pitched?

Brittney Oliver 

Tuesdays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursday.

Lexie Smith 

Okay. That’s a great time, time of day.

Brittney Oliver 

Afternoon. Afternoon.

Lexie Smith 

Um, this is a really dumb question. You’re on central time. Yeah, okay. Okay, um, we can breeze past that one, everyone. How do you feel about follow ups?

Brittney Oliver 

follow ups give me at least 72 hours, just but only follow up via email. So following up the same day or the next day, doesn’t cut it for me. Give me at least two to three days to follow up. And sending me a DM or writing on my social media pictures or whatever, saying, Hey, I, I followed up or I sent you an email. I got it. I just haven’t responded yet. Yeah.

Lexie Smith 

Yeah. Fair enough. Biggest pitch turnoffs.

Brittney Oliver 

First one, my name is spelled wrong,

Lexie Smith 

huh? Brittany, I’m Alexa. So there’s various names to spell both of our names. I get that a lot, too. I get like le X i X, Y, I’m sure you get a ny in all the above. Yep.

Brittney Oliver

But the way you spell my name is in my email. So read it. Yeah. Like you had to like, well, we probably copied and pasted. But sometimes you have to type it out. And like, how did you miss that? So just always proofread your pitches. Another pet peeve is there’s no ask or there’s no clear angle. So a lot of times people lead with how many social following they have in their bio. And that doesn’t do anything for me. And then lastly, because I have What do you call it the trifecta?

Lexie Smith 

Yeah, yes, you do.

Brittney Oliver 

I wear many hats. And so I really appreciate when the subject lines are clear. Because, you know, I am a founder, and I like to partner with businesses and stuff. So sometimes I get emails that say, partnership, opportunity. And then when I click it open, and I read the email, it’s not a partnership. Can you write about me? And those are two different things, you know, you have to really understand terminology. Partnership, me writing about using a partnership, that’s work. There’s no benefit to me, besides the benefit I get with working with the outlet, not with you know what I mean? So that’s not a partnership. And so refrain from putting those types of things in the subject line. If you know someone kind of has those multiple hats.

Lexie Smith 

Yeah, it’s like a bait and switch on this video. They’re doing it but it is.

Brittney Oliver 

It bothers me so much. And I always wonder what I’m like, do they know, because sometimes, there’s been a few where it’s been like other founders, or even people who work at Facebook or something who have sent me emails with them. And I get excited, because in my head, before I even click open, I already can see the partnership, I can see what we can do together. And then when I open it up to read that it’s not that it makes me sad.

Lexie Smith 

Yeah, I get that. I think that’s totally fair. Um, so on subject lines, if people are pitching you for media coverage, any just advice like things you like to see or think, you know, if someone puts your name in the headline, any little tidbits there to help your open rates?

Brittney Oliver 

I’m winning, if I see my name and a headline, I think it’s one of those pitches that come from email marketing service, right? So it seems generic. And I’m not really like jumping for joy about that. of things that catch my attention. I love numbers, right? So data, you know, if you’re saying this person is the first to do X, Y, and Z or this, this founder raised a million dollars in grants, and, like, those types of things are like, ooh, interesting, you know, or like, just like any article headline, if you can, if your subject line can be so good that I want to just take it and make that the headline, that’s perfect, right? So things that are SEO friendly, that I know like readership were my outlet, that I write for with really love that That’s helpful.

Lexie Smith 

Okay, great tips. So speaking of topics, looking into Q4, we’re recording this in September and 2020, to any specific topics that you’re interested in, or you want to write about in the next few months. Oh,

Brittney Oliver 

always have a running list, you’ll be surprised by topics. The real issue is where it will live

Lexie Smith 

is where sorry, one more time where what

Brittney Oliver 

The issue for me most of the time is where that story will live. Because Yeah, I could write it for my newsletter, a blog, but sometimes some stories I just feel need to be put out for a bigger reach. So I really, really would like to get more into investigative journalism. And what I mean by that is less profiles, but more of exploring topics that impact career in entrepreneurship. When I wrote for a Fast Company, I did a lot of that and I enjoyed it so much. Like my, one of my favorite articles that I’ve ever written was the one for a fast company called, what it’s like to be a black woman in the job search. That really changed the game for me professionally, too. But I love topical articles. And I, I hope in the future, there’s more budget for that. more opportunity through that for contributor writers that are not so focused, because sometimes I don’t want to, maybe I want to save those goods for my own projects, right? Yeah, like essays and a lot of outlets are very first person essays, you know, when it comes to contributing, writing a budget, rather you have like this whole first person essay, instead of that research, Diamond interviewing, getting different perspectives, and I like that type of work.

 Lexie Smith 

Okay, and you briefly mentioned it at one point, and I think you hit on one just now but can you reiterate your beats for us real quick?

 Brittney Oliver 

Oh, okay. So yes, my beats include career work, money, business,

 Lexie Smith 

entrepreneurship. Alright, write it down, people.

 Brittney Oliver 

lifestyle sometimes. Yeah, sometimes because you know, that all falls under that. But sometimes I want to switch it up, and I’ll pitch travel or just something different.

 Lexie Smith 

Yeah. You’re multi multi interests, multifaceted, multi talented, lots, lots of areas that you can write about. So we’ve talked a lot about pitching and you just gave us so much insight. And I just first want to say thank you. Now I have to ask, what can we find you sipping? So what’s your favorite beverage alcoholic or non alcoholic?

 Brittney Oliver 

I’ll do both. So I love tea. I have to have it in the mornings. It’s just that I don’t do it every day, every other day. And so David’s tea, I got hooked on it in New York City. There was one like right by my office when I used to work there. So I love David’s tea, and I ordered it but I’m also right now I am sipping on it. It is called New or bird in OIREB ud, and they have CBD teas. So I’m doing it right now. I’m trying her strawberry unity one. It is really good. And before that I had the green rose. 

 Lexie Smith 

Can you taste like that classic CBD taste in those teas? Or did they mask it pretty well?

 Brittney Oliver 

It massed pretty well. interest. Yeah. So yeah, those have been good. And then in terms of little spirits going on. I love wine. I’m a classic rosy girl. Or I like why it’s like a Sauvignon Blanc. And then in terms of different spirits I love syrup. Very smooth. And then right now I’ve recently I’ve recently tried LeBron James his new tequila.

 Lexie Smith 

We know he had one what’s what’s it called? 

 Brittney Oliver 

Lobo 1707. So I’m the CEO? Yeah, she’s the CEO of DSM. She’s been a supporter of LTL for a while. They sponsored our January Yeah, they sponsored our January masterclass. So, attendees were able to get shipped you know, kit and you can find that masterclass on delta l mixer calm, but I was able to try it out and I really, really like is very smooth and I think it’s going to take over the is going to be where everyone’s talking about right now.

 Lexie Smith 

Okay yeah I hadn’t heard it so for those of you who are like me heard it here first um and we’ll we’ll put all the links to that super fun. You know, you also spoke my language with the wine Sauvignon Blanc is my favorite white as well. Um, I just want to thank you for taking the time out of your day to come on the show and really share your breadth of knowledge with everyone listening. the last little question is, you know, where can people go if they want to connect with you further?

 Brittney Oliver 

Yeah, so I love email. So definitely email me if you have questions. Contact at Brittany Oliver.com I will get back to you. October might be kind of crazy. So I might be delayed. But normally I’m pretty quick with the turnaround as you said, let’s see. And then I’m just to keep up with myself and what I’m doing. Twitter is my jam. I think I showed the most personality on Twitter. So Britt underscores s underscore o and then also there’s Instagram and LinkedIn.

 Lexie Smith 

But don’t slide into her dm saying you just emailed her because she knows you got it.

Brittney Oliver 

I know. Oh, perfect. Definitely. On Twitter with me.

 Lexie Smith 

Yes, absolutely. Well, it is Friday evening almost for you afternoon for me over here. So I just want to say thank you again and cheers. 

Brittney Oliver 

Cheers to you too. Thank you so much.

 

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