Archive for the 'Media Relations' Category

Jun 26 2014

The Dos and Don’ts of Media Relations: A Practical Guide to the Art of Pitching

Published by under Media Relations

Alyssa Bedrosian

As a young public relations professional, it’s vital to look to experienced practitioners for direction, advice and constructive criticism. Whether it’s a colleague, friend or industry leader, find someone you can talk to openly and honestly, and find the time to pick his or her brain and learn as much as you can.

When I began my career in PR, I scoured the Internet for the top PR books to help guide me through my first years in the industry. I came across This Is How You Pitch by Ed Zitron, founder of EZPR, and spent my first few weeks reading about tips, tricks and best practices for media relations efforts. While media relations is just one component of PR, crafting the perfect pitch is an essential part of working in the communications industry.

Zitron’s book is a clever, honest and accurate guide to media relations, agency life, and what it means to be a PR pro. If you are a recent college grad, or even if you’ve been working in PR for a few years, I recommend you find this book and read it as fast as you can.

Here are the top 5 lessons I learned from Zitron:

The pitch will never become obsolete.

Technology may change, but the pitch will always be central to what we do as PR practitioners. In the history of public relations course I took in college, this lesson rang true: people will always relate to each other through the stories they tell, even if those stories are through Snapchat and Instagram rather than traditional media outlets. According to Zitron: “Pitching is simply learning how words relate to people — what makes sense in a particular moment, what connects to a person and their own personal story versus what makes somebody walk away and wish you were dead.”

The game is won or lost before it begins.

Zitron says the best way to approach pitching is to begin with a “meticulous, personalized process” that involves a lot of research, knowing what your targeted reporters are interested in, and interacting with reporters on social media long before you have a story angle to pitch. I learned this lesson the hard way when a lack of preparation resulted in a pitch that seemed more like an awkward exchange with a stranger rather than a natural conversation with a friend. If you do your homework and get to know reporters, pitching will become more efficient, successful and enjoyable.

A good headline is key.

The headline in the subject line of the email should accurately reflect the pitch. Don’t put yourself in a situation where reporters think you misled them or wasted their time. Although I have never been accused of misleading a reporter, I have definitely learned which headlines attract a reporter and which ones don’t. Tailor your headline to each specific reporter, and make sure it is a straightforward, accurate representation of the story you are trying to tell.

The pitch should be mutually beneficial.

Roughly 95 percent of pitches end up in the garbage. With so many pitches thrown in the trash, you have to cut through the clutter by crafting a pitch that benefits both your client and the reporter. I’ve experienced this firsthand, with reporters asking, “Why should I care? How does this benefit me?” Keep in mind that the goal is to secure coverage for your client, while at the same time providing reporters with high quality, interesting material they can use as content. If you provide a reporter with a quality pitch that benefits them, chances are they will contact you the next time they need information for a story.

The work isn’t done after the initial pitch.

Following up is key, but don’t harass reporters. Give them some time to react, and then follow up once or twice. The majority of my media relations success has come from sending a quick follow-up email—because reporters are so inundated with emails, they often miss the initial pitch. If they still don’t bite, let it go. You can’t win them all, and it’s not worth it to ruin a relationship with a reporter because of excessive follow up.

When it comes to your media relations toolbox, the pitch is arguably the most important tool. While many other skills are necessary, the ability to share your client’s story in a way that attracts the interests of both journalist and reader is the key to success in this industry. Zitron puts it plainly: “While there is no formula, there is one skill you can learn that will dramatically increase your chances of succeeding in PR. That skill is pitching…Not everybody is good at it. But if you are, your career trajectory will be limitless.”

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Feb 04 2013

Five Things About Public Relations You Won’t Find in a Textbook

By Hannah Nelson

Read. Take notes. Pass exams. Now what?  

As I finish up my last class at Elon University, it’s easy to assume that I am done with school. Done with over-priced textbooks,  done with vigorous note taking in Accounting 201, done with memorizing Supreme Court cases for my media law class. Done with learning and ready to jump into the field.

But in the transition from a student-and-intern mindset to that of an agency employee, I have found that this industry has many tools, tricks and tactics that cannot be learned in a classroom and that it will very much be a lifelong process.

1.     Each client’s definition of PR

In my first communications course, I was taught that public relations is simply positive relations. If it only was that simple. Working on different client accounts, my days at RLF are filled with much more than media relations. Maintaining relationships with journalists, branding through social media, researching competitors…and that’s all before my lunch break begins. Each client will have its own needs for a PR agency and will, therefore, set different goals and duties for the account team. Regardless of the textbook definition of PR, your agency was hired to further the client’s business goals.

2.     A focus on small business and niche clients

Most case studies that I’ve read for class feature Fortune 500 companies and their agencies’ successful PR campaigns. But for most of us starting out, giant corporations (and their seemingly unlimited PR budgets) will not be in the job description. Despite this, I’ve learned to prefer smaller clients with niche focuses. Working for a smaller agency, I’ve already gained experience talking with clients and have seen my work directly impact the client’s success. I also enjoy becoming a mini-expert on a range of topics, including marching band history, nanotechnology developments and even swimming puns.

3.     The learning curve of technology

In my classes, we skimmed various duties within the field that clients might require, and one simple word has proven to be deceivingly complex: tracking. Media tracking for each client requires multiple technological tools, Excel sheets and databases. At your internship you may have used three different platforms, all different from what you use on your first job. Hopefully, one of your skills listed on your resume is “fast learner.”  Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification and consult your notes. Sooner than you know it, you will be navigating Cision and crunching quarterly reports.

 4.     Diligence

Remember that time you had to read 75 pages of your media ethics textbook and you approached it with the “skim-reading” method? That is how most journalists will read the pitches that you’ve spent hours writing, editing, revising and distributing. You’ve probably spent a good week becoming an expert on a pitch idea and it will be hard to understand why everyone on the media list is not as excited as you are (for me, it was a pair of gibbons. Come on, who wouldn’t want to write about apes?!). It requires time and energy to pitch, follow up, further follow up and even further re-pitch, but once you get your first hit and secured story, it will be worth it. Oh, and it will also probably be time to follow up on another pitch.

5.     Thick skin

Continuing on the topic of communicating with journalists, thick skin is something you will need to build up. Sure your Introduction to PR professor might have mentioned this one day while you were day-dreaming about spring break, but now you’ve graduated and feel on top of the world. It’s hard not to feel unstoppable after accepting your diploma (and passing geology), but almost every PR professional out there has at one point been hung-up on by a reporter or opened a not-so-nice email rejecting a story pitch. Despite that, we keep going. We know the feeling that comes with reading one of your clients’ names in a national outlet, and that outweighs all the criticism.

You won’t find this information on any mid-term exam, but I would highly suggest taking notes for your career as an A+ public relations professional.

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Jul 12 2012

How PR Professionals Can Break Through a Culture of Over-Communication

Published by under Media Relations

By Emily Thomas

Buzz. Click. Ping.

How many times in the last hour have you heard your smartphone vibrate, your email ping or or one of your social media sites sound an alert? Probably more times than you can count. And you’re not alone.

CNN reported a study that showed smartphone owners check their phones for email, messages and social media notifications 34 times a day. That’s in addition to time spent on computers checking email, Websites and the like.

This frequent communication is great for staying in touch with friends and family, but the volume of communication has made media pitching tougher for PR pros. Journalists, like everyone else, are becoming better at tuning out inbound communications – including media pitches. You can imagine how an inbox packed with pitches could have that effect.

So how can we break through this? Below are four tips for breaking free from the crowd and getting the attention of journalists.

Check your watch

Since a reporter’s email inbox is constantly flooded with story ideas, it’s crucial to optimize when you pitch yours. For example, you should avoid pitching at the end of the work day or sending out a press release on a Friday afternoon. Choosing the right time to pitch a story or send a news release can reduce the odds of getting lost in an overcrowded inbox.

Do your research

Many publications post editorial calendars online. Getting to know the schedule for each outlet you’re researching will boost pitching success rate. Targeting a weekly business journal? Most hit the stands on Friday but go to print on Wednesday – meaning Tuesday nights or Wednesday mornings are terrible times to pitch. Reporters and editors at monthly publications will tend to be busier certain weeks of each month, depending on when exactly they go to press. Get to know these cycles and reach out to journalists when they are less stressed and have the time to concentrate and read through your pitch.

Be creative

Today we must be creative in how we approach journalists. For example, a PR professional recently sent an editor at Fast Company magazine a Twitter video pitch that landed her a coffee meeting. The request was eye-catching and unusual. Creativity can help break through the chatter and impress journalists who are used to seeing uninspired pitches all day long.

Find your perfect match

Generic media lists don’t make the cut anymore. Naturally, not every story will be newsworthy for every media outlet, but assuming there is some real news value to your pitch, I can practically guarantee that somewhere there’s a journalist or publication that will be interested. The more research you do on reporters (what stories they’ve covered, their beats, what they are sharing on their Twitter accounts, etc.), the closer you can get to making a connection and following up on a story. Personalizing your pitches for specific journalists helps considerably in breaking through the clutter and earning a story.

In the endless stream of emails, tweets, status updates and blog posts, PR professionals must work harder and smarter than ever before. The pitch that’s the most relevant, targeted and personal wins. So before you reach for your smartphone, send an email or share a social media update, make sure you’re using the right form of communication. Personalization isn’t a luxury anymore; it’s a necessity.

 

Photo courtesy of Ian Lamont via www.digitalmediamachine.com.

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Feb 22 2012

3 Media Pitching Tactics You Can Learn From The Bachelor

Published by under Media Relations

By Jennie Klahre

The Bachelor, ABC’s popular reality television show, has been helping people find love since 2002. And this season is no exception as lovestruck contestants recently introduced the Bachelor, Ben Flajnik, to their families on the “hometown date” episode.

 

Contestant Courtney Robertson takes the Bachelor to her hometown. Photo courtesy of ABC.

 

But while many have loved, loved and lost, or just simply lost this season, everyone has had the opportunity to learn.

For example, contestants this year have learned how to make an appropriate entrance onto the show (preferably on a horse or with your grandmother at your side), how to compare any activity to falling in love or getting married, and how to spend more airtime crying than talking to the Bachelor.

You can also learn some equally important lessons from the show. They may not be quite as riveting or dramatic, but they are more useful in public relations, especially when it comes to pitching media.

Use your time wisely

With The Bachelor

Host Chris Harrison has warned many a Bachelor contestant this season to use her time with Prince Charming wisely. The contestants are vying for the attention of one man, so it’s important they be interesting and memorable. This generally means:  Avoid trash talking the Bachelor’s other girlfriends during one-on-one time, attempt to make intelligent conversation rather than commenting on the pretty ocean, and divulge every personal life detail (like that time you were dumped via text message). After all, if you’re unable to impress the Bachelor with your sparkling personality while shark diving off the coast of Belize, it’s pretty safe to conclude you aren’t worthy of his time.

With reporters

While public relations professionals don’t generally have to gain the attention of reporters by jumping 500 feet out of moving helicopters, they do face the challenge of standing out in a crowd. As reporters juggle tight deadlines and limited time to report and write stories, PR specialists must make their email and phone pitches quick and enticing. A good pitch will grab the reporter’s attention and persuade him or her to ask for more information. On her blog, Erica Swallow, a contributing writer for Mashable and CNN, urges PR professionals to “limit the PR jargon and just be a human.” So, don’t get lost in the details while writing a pitch, but instead focus on hitting main points and ideas. Clarity and conciseness will go a long way.

Don’t burn bridges

With other Bachelor contestants

Bachelor contestants are notorious for passive-aggressive cat fights, trash talking and backstabbing – either because they are too infatuated with the Bachelor to think straight or because they think it will put them on the fast-track to stardom.  When contestant Emily O’Brien told the Bachelor about her on-camera tiff with contestant Courtney Robertson this season, it didn’t go over smoothly. The Bachelor reminded her that she’s on the show to win his affection, not Robertson’s. While this is true, I also would have told her that grudges and the stress they bring are rarely worth it.

With reporters

It’s always important to be honest and professional with reporters, both in and out of the office. Cultivating relationships through effective communication is important because it helps both parties do their jobs a little better. Reporters have go-to sources they can call for information and PR specialists have media professionals they can reach out to with story ideas. Stirring up bad blood will only make things more difficult in the long-run because reporters have a network of connections. So, avoid negative exchanges, take the high road if you are being treated unfairly or disrespectfully, and don’t say anything you might regret later.

Accept and move on

To the Bachelorette

If you don’t get a rose from the Bachelor, it’s time to move on. While contestants have been known to sob hysterically, make a dramatic exit, or even almost faint, life does go on after the show ends. As Robertson said this season, “Ben’s not the only guy in the world.” And she’s right. There’s always The Bachelorette, a spin-off of The Bachelor, for the losers other women.

To the next story idea

If a reporter can’t use a particular story idea, don’t sweat it. Not every pitch will be a perfect match for every news outlet. The reporter may be going in a different direction with a particular story or may be too close to deadline. Avoid taking a rejected story idea personally and simply move on to the next opportunity. Learn each publication’s niche and tailor your pitch to fit a specific topic that’s covered.

As the contestants head off to Switzerland next week, the stakes will be even higher and the goal of finding love (in a hopeless place) will be that much closer. Hopefully a few lessons will be learned along the way – be they learning to ski on fake snow in San Francisco or pitching media outlets successfully. Either way, it’s important to keep your eye on the prize… er, rose.

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Mar 11 2011

PRWeek Names RLF Campaign ‘Promotional Event of the Year’

International Civil Rights Center & Museum Last night, at the annual PRWeek Awards, RLF Communications’ campaign for the International Civil Rights Center & Museum’s grand opening won the Promotional Event of the Year award. RLF’s campaign was recognized over successful campaigns from much larger agencies.

One of the judges noted that the RLF team “hit it out of the park” with the opening.

The event drew 3,000 spectators; more than 200 members of various media; 500 VIPs; and elected federal and state officials – far exceeding the museum’s objectives of attracting between 2,000 and 2,500 diverse attendees to the ceremony.

With 192 million media impressions and 700 broadcast stories nationally, coverage included ABC World News and CBS Evening News, as well as a USA Today cover, among others. The museum’s Facebook fan page attracted more than 11,000 fans in the six weeks before and immediately after the opening.

This is not the first time RLF’s work for the International Civil Rights Center & Museum has been recognized. For more details about the PRWeek award, go to PRWeek’s website.

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Jun 23 2010

2010 Sabre Awards Dinner

Even in a deep recession, the public relations profession is turning out amazing and meaningful work for clients.

That thought has resonated for me during the last month, since I attended the SABRE awards dinner at the gorgeous Cipriani building across from Grand Central Station in New York City in May. More than 1,000 public relations professionals had gathered for one of the big three awards shows to honor the best campaigns and teams in our industry (the PR Week Awards and Silver Anvil Awards are the other two major national awards).

Paul Holmes, the organizer of the SABRE Awards – which stands for Superior Achievement in Branding and Reputation – set the tone for the evening when he remarked that despite all of the economic troubles that have challenged our industry, the number of entries for SABRE recognition set a record (1,700) and the quality had never been higher.

As Paul noted, public relations has demonstrated that reach and frequency are not enough to create successful outcomes in today’s world. There must be engagement as well, and public relations has taken a leadership position among the communications disciplines in creating engaging, meaningful campaigns. This is particularly true in the realm of social media, which our profession has done a remarkable job of weaving into the overall communications mix.

Over the course of five hours (from the first cocktail to the closing coffee), Aleasha Vuncannon and I had the opportunity to talk with fascinating professionals from around the country, review the lists of finalists for the awards in each category, and enjoy the pageantry of an event as a participant (instead of as a behind-the-scenes organizer, which is our normal role!).

And when our time came, when the finalists for the top campaign in the category of Educational & Cultural Institutions were announced, we were thrilled to hear that our work in partnership with the International Civil Rights Center & Museum had been recognized as the best in our business. We had felt like it was worthy of this recognition. We knew how hard our team had worked and how much had been accomplished. Yet, we still held our breath in anticipation as the winner was announced, because every campaign that had made the finals had strong results.  It felt good to scream when we heard the results.

Here is a brief glimpse into the work that we did for the grand opening of the International Civil Rights Center & Museum:

After the dinner, Aleasha and I walked through Times Square at midnight, dressed in our best clothes, carrying a deceptively heavy trophy and reflecting on the evening (not surprisingly, no one batted an eye at us or thought we were out-of-place in the crazy scene that is Times Square). It feels good to do great work for clients, to create campaigns that generate meaningful results and advance our client’s objectives. We do this work not for awards, but when we strive to be one of the very best agencies in our industry, it is evenings like this that provide the mileposts to let us know that our agency is on the right road.

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Feb 16 2010

The Grind

CREDIT: Photo by richelleantipolo via Flickr (CC)

Part of my fitness routine these days is swimming with a Master’s team three mornings a week. At the beginning of the year, I made a simple sounding resolution — stick with the workout from start to finish. But it’s really not that simple.

Swimming, like many things in life, is more mental than physical. Once you are in relatively decent shape, it’s not that hard to swim 3,000 – 3,500 yards each workout. But mentally it is very hard to push through each set and not quit before the last lap. I have a bad habit of not finishing the final 20 laps and slipping out of the pool early.

After nearly four decades of competitive swimming and training, I call it The Grind. A quality workout is important, but there is no substitute for quantity. The Grind is about putting in the time and effort when it would be easy to slack off.

What applies to swimming is equally true for work. We are already seeing that 2010 is the year of The Grind. It requires long hours from virtually every level of an organization to get things done. The economy is improving, but it has not negated the need for perservance and hard work. In fact I believe in this environment those qualities are equally as important as being smart, creative and strategic in our business.

In January, I watched several members of the RLF team grind it out as they prepared for the opening of the International Civil Rights Center & Museum. You know your staff is working hard when the security guard tells you that people are working too late.

The opening was a big success, and looking back, we cannot point to what particularly late night or extra effort made the difference. The work and commitment built upon itself, day after day, minute task after minute task. It would have been easy to leave things undone in the belief that small details were not important. But in the end, we know that they are. So we stick it out. We grind it out. And our clients and agency are better off for it.

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Dec 10 2009

Hello, Lonny!

lonny_magazine_cover

The past year has seen the unfortunate folding of many magazines, including the recent announcement by Conde Nast that they are closing Gourmet, along with three other titles. Earlier this year, Conde Nast folded another RLF favorite – Domino. The death of this popular magazine was mourned by many and it seemed there was really no substitute. Enter Lonny.

Lonny is an online-only magazine cofounded by the former editor of Domino. Their mission:

“By embracing an online platform we provide inspiration at the click of a finger, directly connecting our readers to their favorite products and resources. Our freedom from page limits means that we can share more content in each issue, delivering an intimate look into the way people really live. “

I spent hours “flipping” through the pages of this pretty pub, oozing over the beautiful photographs, great interviews and quality (not to mention quantity!) content.

I love that many of the elements featured in Lonny are directly accessible to me as a reader. For instance, a simple point and click on the gorgeous gilded mirror from page 28,  and I’m instantly taken to the online retailer who sells that mirror. Although this feature could be bad for my bank account, it’s definitely great for the future of online content. Let’s hope this trend continues and we see even more magazines being reborn on the Web.

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Jul 07 2009

‘Take the lead’- how to prepare for an editorial lead time

Published by under Media Relations,News

It’s the end of June and summer is in full swing. School is out and pedestrians puddle on the sidewalks as the temperature surpasses 90 degrees. So why am I drafting stories about haunted houses for Halloween and the Great Backyard Bird Count schedule for December? The same reason fashion models suffer through swimwear photo shoots in the dead of winter and don fur-lined overcoats in July… to make editorial deadlines for long-lead publications.

Press outlets– print in particular– have what’s called a “lead time,” a (usually) reasonable time interval between the initiation and the completion of the production process of each issue. Lead times for publications can vary tremendously, but on average stand at about three to six months for monthly consumer magazines.

However, to say “lead time” to a television reporter or an online blogger could be like speaking a foreign tongue — most of their careers are spent in real time. A hurricane hits the Florida coast at 11:15 a.m.; it goes on the 12:00 o’clock news. They announce Michael Jackson’s death at 6:15 p.m. EST; it’s on the blogs at 6:24 p.m. This is because television, radio and online news outlets often operate with zero lead times. When breaking news hits, these news outlets need to instantaneously respond to stay on top. This is definitely different than the longer lead time expected with magazines, so it’s imperative that you know and understand the specific needs of your outlet type before you start the pitching process.

Now any media relations specialist worth her salt knows the pitch process for these long-lead publications. You want to:

  1. Identify your targeted media outlets
  2. Gather corresponding editorial calendars (schedules outlining specific topics the publication will address within each issue that year)
  3. Compare and contrast to find overarching themes in content
  4. Plan your story calendar accordingly

Or better yet, call your target editor directly and ask them what stories they’re working on in the next six months. You’ll be surprised how much they’re willing to divulge.

The media relations take on editorial calendars is this: if you know what’s coming up, you can plan for it - get the research done in advance, conduct any necessary interviews, polish the writing, make sure all the images are in place, etc.

You can also plan based on the type of coverage that you’d like to receive. Will it be a feature, a round-up story or a short blurb? Once you determined the coverage, plan for it. For example, a round-up story you’re after will require you to identify specific trends that editors will cover and then align your product or service with that trend. If your trend forecast research shows that periwinkle will be the new black next fall, it will be relatively easy to convince editors that your periwinkle-colored products will fit nicely into this periwinkle fad.

Wondering where you can find these calendars?

More likely than not, editorial calendars can be found with relative ease on a publication’s Web site.  Calendar catalogues can be found at PR resources like MyEdCals.com or MediaBistro.com. Media databases like Cision Media Source or Vocus often include editorial calendars as well.

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Jun 09 2009

You can’t cancel a crisis

If there is one thing that should be crystal clear to today’s C-suite, it’s that you can’t create a cover up without being smoked out.

I don’t need a Harvard study or a PhD to make my point. Enron, WorldCom, Martha Stewart, Tyco, Madoff and Bear Stearns, to name a few, have already done so.

The lesson from this – other than don’t cook the books – is that communication is powerful and permanent. The phone notes that implicated Martha Stewart, the shredded files of Arthur Andersen, the video of Dennis Kozlowski’s Sardinian party are communications that the guilty tried to take back, hide, ignore or deny. But there is no amount of privilege, fame, money or power that can keep you in total control.

I once held a highly coordinated press conference to announce a business deal between two companies. To the public and the media, everything went smoothly, but behind closed doors it was another story. Both companies wanted to cancel the press conference on the day of the event. One executive demanded another’s quotes be changed in the press release. Another threatened to lock up the event location a few hours before show time. Drama ensued at every turn.

Of course, none of these things happened. Why? Because they made decisions at a point where their power no longer held jurisdiction. CEOs must realize that there are stronger forces in the world than their executive orders. The media, bloggers, special interest groups, legislators and whistle blowers are powerful and mostly credible sources of information in our society. It’s not to say that executive orders don’t matter, but they must be thought of in a larger context than the company itself.

Faced with a situation that questions your decisions, the best option is to be truthful. If you ask me, the best thing that President Barack Obama has done in office was to admit his mistake in the handling of Tom Daschle’s Cabinet nomination.

This excerpt is taken from the FOX News story on the subject:

“I consider this a mistake on my part, one that I intend to fix and correct and make sure that we’re not screwing up again,” Obama said. “Ultimately I have to take responsibility for a process that resulted in us not having a (health and human services) secretary at a time when people need relief on their health care costs.

“So this is a mistake — probably not the first one I’m going to be making in this office, but what I’m absolutely committed to doing is fixing it,” he said.

What else can you say to the man? He admitted his wrong doing, promised to fix it and moved on.  Granted, President Obama may have learned the right moves by watching his predecessor being raked over the coals for the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ comment. Perhaps executives should take note of his honestly policy. You’ll find that the public is more forgiving and the media is less interested in dragging out continuing coverage when people tell the truth.

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