Brie Ehrmann Q&A

August 30, 2021
Brie Ehrmann had made a career out of understanding how the media works.

“Media relations has changed a lot since I began my career. Gone are the days of  ‘smile and dial’ via phone pitching. We always prioritize quality over quantity in our pitching and building relationships with media. We are also working with more freelance writers now than ever before. As newsrooms shrink, outlets have smaller full time staff and opt to pay freelancers for their stories instead as it’s a more cost-effective model.”

You have tons of experience on earned media. What is one thing never to do when pitching a story?

Pitching media is my favorite part of media relations. There’s nothing like the adrenaline rush of a lead, or seeing a story you pitch land in the news. Never pitch a reporter without reading their work — and more specifically, their recent work. It’s important to build trusting relationships with reporters and journalists, who are always working on a deadline. If you’re clogging up their inbox with irrelevant stories, it dissolves the trust and potential of a mutually beneficial relationship between the media contact and PR professionals. As newsrooms downsize, there’s often an expectation for reporters to shift beats quickly or add new ones to their plate. With these constant pivots, especially during COVID-19, the story lines your media contact was looking for a year ago may not be the same ones they are looking for now. The news cycle is constantly evolving, therefore, it’s important to do research before each pitch, every single time.

How do you handle it when a client thinks a story should be on the front page of the Wall Street Journal and your news judgment tells you that will never happen?

We admire clients with big dreams! To determine the most viable pitch strategy, and set realistic expectations about results, we educate our clients on public relations best practices, what does and doesn’t work when pitching media, and the different editorial standards of their “home run” outlets. First, we inquire about the goal of coverage. Is it to drive direct sales? Reach potential customers or industry decision makers? Build relationships with a particular retailer? Show brand support in certain region(s)? Second, we determine what type of information or newsworthy angle is needed for the type of coverage they are looking for. If the client can share compelling, necessary information to make the pitch result in a Wall Street Journal story, that’s great! But if those boxes can’t be checked, we’ll look at success in a different way, and share other, more viable outlets that would write about this story with the information we can provide. Another way of rationalizing a pitch recommendation is by reflecting on the types of stories where competitors or industry topics have been covered and the client would like similar coverage to. This often helps set expectations on where their news is best suited to run.

How has media relations changed since the beginning of your career?

Media relations has changed a lot since I began my career. Gone are the days of “smile and dial” via phone pitching. We always prioritize quality over quantity in our pitching and building relationships with media. Another way media relations has evolved is increased pay for play. Since modern society has shifted away from the mindset of needing to pay for their news, many publications need to create new revenue streams in order to make money, beyond subscriptions. This is seen through affiliate linking to retailer sites, which earns outlets commission on each sale. In general, there is also more pay for play, meaning oftentimes to get airtime or visibility among an outlet’s audience in any meaningful way is to pay for sponsored or native content that’s embedded among other, non-paid stories. We are also working with more freelance writers now than ever before. As newsrooms shrink, outlets have smaller full time staff and opt to pay freelancers for their stories instead as it’s a more cost-effective model.

What first got you interested in marketing?

I have always enjoyed writing. In fact, when I began college I thought of majoring in traditional journalism after taking some basic communications classes my freshman year. I admired the integrity and grit of the profession that plays a crucial, and perhaps underappreciated, role in our society. However, when I learned more about the strategic communications track in the School of Journalism at the University of Minnesota, I was excited at the prospect of marrying my love of writing with a marketing spin where I was able to channel my creativity into my everyday work. Thus began my journey into the world of public relations.

Was there a class you had at the U of M that really excited you about pursuing marketing as a profession?

My capstone campaigns class I took my senior year made me anxious and excited to get my marketing career started. It was the first time we were tasked with applying our marketing skills to a real-world scenario by developing an integrated campaign strategy. We chose the local nonprofit The Crisis Nursery, and evaluated its current marketing efforts while making strategic recommendations that met their goals based on what we learned in the class, and brand case studies we researched.

You have an interest in magic. How many tricks can you do? Which is your favorite?

I love magic! Watching The Carbonaro Effect is really what spurred my interest in the mysterious art, but I didn’t try it on my own until the pandemic hit and I was stuck inside. I admittedly learned everything I know from YouTube tutorials. The cool thing is, you don’t need to be super talented, it just takes practice. In one of the YouTube videos I was learning from, the tricks were performed by a 4-year-old. I have about six or seven tricks I became pretty confident in, and would perform for family and friends over Zoom during the pandemic.

Did you pick up any new hobbies during the pandemic?

I got into just about everything that was trendy. My pandemic household experienced a lot of banana bread successes, sourdough starter fails, happy hour dog walks, halfway done home repairs, and puzzles. Lots of puzzles.