Media Relations Crash Course with M&C Saatchi's Vicki Scarfone

If you want a crash course in media relations, you should talk to Vicki Scarfone. Having worked with top-tier brands for a decade, her experience – and evident talent – recently landed her the role of Vice President of Media Relations at M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment North America. We spoke with her to get the scoop on what this work entails, the ways she measures success, how social media has changed the game and the immense value of networking (even when it means getting out of your WFH sweats). 

Vicki Scarfone

Tell us a little bit about your media relations work at M&C Saatchi.

After nearly six years at M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment North America, November 2021 marked a significant shift for my role at the agency – one I was so honored to step into - going from Senior Account Director to assuming the position of Vice President of Media Relations.

In this role, I now assist in navigating and setting media relations strategies across some of our biggest accounts, developing consistent internal programming to further educate, discuss and collaborate around the media landscape and our client campaigns. I also lead on agency industry relations, working to elevate our presence across trade and relevant consumer publications.

If there is one thing I have learned in my 10 years in this industry, it’s that publicists and editors carry an immeasurable responsibility – from advising our brands on what is right, to encouraging your readers to DO what is right. I believe we have important stories to tell to help make this world a better (and let’s face it, more exciting) place. I am beyond fortunate to work for an agency who represents brands that care about their consumers.

These past few months have been a whirlwind of adventure overseeing the agency’s media work – from insights and strategy development, to execution – across our portfolio of clients. I am eager to see what the future holds as our roster of clients and staff continues to flourish.

Please share your thoughts on relationships and networking as it relates to media relations work.

Porter Gale said it best - “Your network is your net worth.”

I believe that the most successful media relations experts and publicists are often those who put in the work to network with new contacts and maintain existing relationships throughout their careers. A Production Assistant who started out in 2012 at a local New York news station at the same time that you were a PR Intern could very well now be your go-to Talent Booker on a national broadcast station as you enter a VP position. Ultimately, pursuing opportunities to connect with industry leaders or professionals with varying interests and perspectives is critical to your own career growth in media relations.

However, it can’t go unmentioned that networking can be exhausting - and, at the end of a long work day, it might be the last thing anyone wants to do. But after two years working-from-wherever, it's important we all muster up both the energy and the motivation to power up and channel the confidence needed to make these authentic connections.

Iceland Tourism Board 'Let it Out' Campaign

How has social media changed the way you do your work?

An easier question would be how has it not!

Social media has had a profound effect on public relations, creating new opportunities and challenges for brands. It seems as though overnight, everyone is a journalist - influencers, brands, even consumers - all with their own opinions and statements on others’ opinions.

The life span of news stories has completely shortened due to the rise in social, pushing editors to turn around stories in a much shorter time frame. It’s as much about reporting in real-time as it is about pitching.

Apart from pitching stories, writing and distributing press releases and maintaining media relationships, social media has made it so that publicists now also play a role in building the brand’s voice online by way of content sharing and more importantly, managing and protecting the online reputation of their clients. As a result, tasks like content promotion, media monitoring, community engagement and measurement have all been added to the PR toolkit.

I do believe that overall, social media has added a beneficial new life to PR. It has given unknown brands the potential to become a viral phenomenon at the cost of a single tweet or post, or conversely, die anonymously. It’s all out there; media relations experts just need to learn how to navigate it to their advantage.

We hear more about data and analytics than ever lately; what metrics do you look at when assessing media relations efforts?

This truly varies from client to client - and often even from industry to industry. What is measured as a success for one may not matter at all for another.

Generally speaking though, we aim to assess the following across the board when analyzing whether a media relations strategy was a success:

As an agency, we also leverage tools such as Cision, Critical Mention, Meltwater, Muckrack, Propel, WARC, Brandwatch and more to get into the nitty gritty data of each campaign and dive into competitor sets and beyond.


Can you tell us about any campaign(s) you are especially proud of and why it was so successful?

Wow, where to start!

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in July 2020, M&C Sport & Entertainment North America joined forces with our sister agencies to support Iceland’s Tourism Board and their campaign to encourage visitors to return to the beautiful country once restrictions were eventually lifted. The campaign featured stunning content of the Icelandic countryside while leveraging data showcasing the importance of letting out your frustrations during tough times. The campaign was also one of the first travel campaigns during the pandemic on behalf of a tourism board. The campaign went viral, with Al Roker even doing his own ‘let it out’ scream on-air on the Today Show. Additional coverage was secured on NPR, CNN, Insider, Muse by Clio, CBS News, AdAge and so many more. 

Almost exactly a year ago, we worked with Reebok and their then VP of Creative Direction, Kirby Jean-Raymond, to launch a new short film, ‘CrateMaster.’ This campaign culminated in the form of a launch event in the heart of Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood. Designed by M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment North America, the film and screening celebrated the community in such a beautiful way. Coverage was also a smash following the event with stories landing in Hypebeast, Complex, Paper Magazine and more.

Last spring, we worked with Milagro Tequila, part of our portfolio of brands with William Grant & Sons, to re-enter the post-pandemic world with a campaign encouraging consumers to celebrate Mondays and get out of their mundane routines. The strategy, giveaway, trip and media relations were all executed by the agency and was a milestone project across our roster from an educational standpoint. The news went wide, with Travel + Leisure breaking the story with an exclusive. 

What started out as an April Fools’ gag became a one-of-a-kind jarred pickle from Katz's Delicatessen and Hendrick’s Gin as the agency worked on behalf of our client, Hendrick’s Gin, to garner the iconic partnership and launch the limited run of gin-inspired pickles. A 360 media relations strategy was developed and implemented, creating a marquis media moment for the William Grant & Sons portfolio. Coverage was secured in the likes of The New York Times, Food & Wine, People, Forbes and beyond. 

On the other hand, what are the top pitfalls to beware of in media relations work?

As much as I hate to acknowledge it, media relations can certainly be a scary practice. There are certainly a few factors though within our control as professionals that in my opinion can be put into effect to avoid the top pitfalls and ensure the best results for our agencies and clients: Media relationships count! Not to harp on this, but I think you can see what I’m getting at. Regardless of what your news is, if you have strong editorial contacts, you can at least get feedback, which can be just as valuable as coverage at the end of the day. Oh, and while you’re at it, keep those media lists updated regularly.

Now more than ever, timing and tone are critical. With our ever-changing news cycle and unfortunate increase in negative news, we as professionals need to be extremely mindful of daily and current events, monitor and guide clients to consider these at times of launches. Writing and public speaking skills are not just important in school. Errors, omissions, poorly worded sentences, lengthy copy, and poor structure are all pitfalls that land pithes in the trash. You need to grab the reader's attention, get quickly to the point, and follow up with information about the event or activity. Keep it concise and include all pertinent details. Same goes for presentations!

Media relations strategies are not a waste of time. Trust me. You cannot do public relations by winging it. It is hard to know what to do next if you have no plan of action. You need to determine where, when, and how you are going to proceed. You also need to be flexible and have backup plans should all else fail.

Any advice for communications pros for working better with their media counterparts?

My best advice - treat them like humans. They do not want to be stalked on social media, or hassled four times if they don’t respond to your follow-ups. Sometimes, no answer is a NO answer, and sometimes, they are simply too busy having an actual life outside of work (something we should all practice a bit more in 2022!).

Ask questions, sincerely - and I don’t mean, “hope all is well what are you working on?” type questions. I mean, “how have you been since I saw you at that event? You mentioned you were stressed about moving.” Pay attention. Treat everyone you meet with respect. Just because the industry moves quickly does not mean we need to treat each other with that same type of speed.

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