Public Relations Pointers

How To Fire Up Your Media Relations Efforts.

Posted on July 3, 2014. Filed under: Creative Marketing, Media Commentary, Minneapolis, Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary, Public Relations Pointers, Public relations practices, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , |

Is traditional media relations dead? Not by a long shot. People still rely on the traditional news media for news. They may not receive the news in the traditional way, e.g. home-delivered newspapers or by faithfully tuning into the 10 p.m. television newscast. But they’re still paying attention to the news.

Which means it still pays for companies to invest in traditional media relations programs. By that, I mean a program in which news coverage is actively pursued by an actual human being attempting to make personal contact with other actual human beings. The “other actual human beings” in this case being, news people. 5Centurions1

It also means thinking through a media relations strategy.  Even better, a strategy might take into account multiple opportunities for creating news over a period of time — several months, six months, a year.

Go Beyond Doing ‘Some Public Relations’

Now I see a lot of people using press release distribution services to disseminate news about their companies. Some are of the paid variety, others free, or at least so low-cost as to be nearly free. Many come from small- to mid-size companies, in what appears to me to be an attempt to do “some public relations.” As in, we’ve got news, we should put out a press release!

If you have news, by all means put out a press release. But wait! Have you thought it through? Do you know what you’re trying to accomplish with this press release? Is it written in such a way as to appeal to news people? Does it conform to AP style? Is it interesting? Do you have graphics – photos, charts, etc. — to help make your story more compelling? Links to online supporting video?

Do you have a larger media relations strategy in place, such as one that identifies key news making opportunities for the company over time — and sets out a plan for pursuing those opportunities to your fullest advantage?

If You Release It, Many Still Won’t See It.

Recently, I helped a client get major news out about a win in a court case. The news was of both local (metro) and national significance. We agreed to put a press release out on one of the major paid news distribution wires. The release would hit all the major business and consumer media in the country — including almost all daily newspapers, television and radio news stations. Key editors covering our type of news were targeted.

Out went the release. In came a barrage of “hits” — mostly verbatim pickup of the release on a variety of web-based news sites that subscribe to the news distribution service. Nice, but not really high-caliber hits — the kind where a reporter is so struck by your news that he/she calls or emails to get more information.

Even before sending the release out on the wire, I had contacted a number of key reporters and editors to alert them to the news. (Did I know all these people? Certainly not. But I figured they would likely be most interested in the news, because it landed on their “beats.”) Most of the reporters I talked with were happy to hear from me. In many instances, they wanted much more information — including a copy of the court transcript — and they wanted to personally interview my client.

As the day went on, I called and emailed numerous other reporters, locally and nationally. Almost to a person, none had seen the press release that went out on the wire earlier that day. None. Even though it was news specifically pertinent to their beats — and of high interest to their audiences — they were unaware of the news until I brought it to their attention. Many of them did in fact request more information. Some wanted to speak with my client, Some very significant stories resulted. The news coverage — specifically that which came about from the personal contacts with the media — wound up generating more business for my client. Which was the ultimate goal of the press release and media relations approach.

I say all this not to toot my own media relations horn (although I can’t deny doing some of that) but to point out the fallacy of thinking the job is complete by simply sending out a press release. Or even doing a bit of media relations follow-up. if you’ve got news, make the most of it! Do the hard media relations work — and it is hard, time-consuming work to get the media’s attention, make no mistake — of leveraging your news to its fullest extent.

You may be surprised at how far your news travels — when it’s assertively presented and pitched.


Doug Hovelson, author of this blog post, is an experienced media relations and public relations professional working out of Minneapolis. Some might call him a media junkie, in a good way. He’s written and placed thousands of press releases and company stories in almost every media outlet known to humankind. He’s always delighted to talk media relations strategies with people who want to see if they can do more with their media relations efforts. He can be reached at 612-722-5501 or at doughovelson AT MSN Dot COM.

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To Avoid Media Mishaps, Think Like A Bank Robber.

Posted on June 12, 2014. Filed under: Media Commentary, Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary, Public Relations Pointers, Public relations practices | Tags: , , , , , , |

[Blogger’s Note: I take a semi-facetious tone in the article, but it’s a dead serious topic for businesses too. You always want to have a strategy in mind when talking with the news media. If you don’t know what you want to say to the media, don’t say anything.]

We’ve all seen it happen. Someone in a position of authority, such as a client, gets to chatting with a member of the media. The reporter is knowledgeable about the client’s industry; they know some of the same people; they start trading names and opinions, etc. Just shop talk, right?

Before you know it, the client lets his/her guard down — and starts injecting confidential information into the conversation.

What’s the harm? It’s just shop talk, right?

But the reporter’s on the clock.

Tripped Up While Tripping The Light Fantastic.

There’s a good way to think about watching what you say around reporters, especially the ones who cover your industry, company, etc.

Crime fiction offers a lesson in knowing when to hold your tongue. The bad guys know that every time they talk to a cop — even if it’s midnight in some honky-tonk bar somewhere and the cop seems to be enjoying the nightlife as much as they are — they are at risk of inadvertently incriminating themselves.

Sorry, Officer. We Can Let That One Go, Hey?

With one slip of the tongue, they might say something like, “Naw, we didn’t use that dim-wit Freddie on the bank job. Whadd’ya think, we’re crazy?” Oops. Cat’s out of the bag now, and can’t be coaxed back into it either. The cop’s probably not going to say something like, “Well, somebody was thinking straight there, keeping Freddie off that job.”

Nope, the cop’s now got knowledge that the bad guy was in on the heist. Just because the admission was made during a seemingly friendly, off-the-record conversation doesn’t mean squat. No rules were set, just two guys talking. Our guy reveals he was involved in a major crime. What’s the cop going to do? Tell him not to worry, since he’s off-duty and everything said to an off-duty cop is off-the-record?

Probably not. What’s probably going to happen is that the cop will either arrest him on the spot, call it in, or report it to whoever’s in charge of the bank job investigation. And our man, Mr. Bad Guy, gets yanked off to jail, protesting all the while that he didn’t know that what he said was on the record.

Better That The Cat Has Your Tongue Than It Crawls Out Of The Bag.

Same idea applies when talking to the media. They’re not bad people. They’re good people, most of them, but if they get a hold of a piece of information that can lead to a big story, they’re going to run with it. Odds are the client/confidential information leaker is not going to be able to talk the reporter — or the reporter’s editor — out of doing the story just because the information was shared in an informal manner.

These kind of situations do happen. People get careless, let slip something they shouldn’t, then realize they can’t take their words back. A good PR person might be able to mitigate the damage, but it is really hard to get that darned cat back in the bag again. Best not to let it out in the first place.

Oh, The Outrage! The Betrayal! Say It Ain’t So!

Tragically, some people, also known as clients, let such avoidable situations sour them on the whole idea of media relations in general. Or they get down on the particular reporter for “burning” them. “Never again will we deal with either that reporter or the rag he/she works for!” the client may bluster. “They can forget about any advertising from us, too!”

It happens, probably more often that you think. It’s very unfortunate when it does happen. All kinds of bad things can happen, once the beans are  spilled.

So take a page from our friendly if misguided bank robber. Never mistake a reporter, especially one that you don’t know well, for a confidant. If you want to go off the record with a reporter, negotiate that up front — and keep in mind that you’re playing a high stakes game. Even off the record stuff often shows up in print or on TMZ.

Maybe the best approach is that suggested by the criminal mind after all. The savvy bank robber, assuming he wants to retain his freedom and enjoy spending his ill-gotten gains, knows the risks of implicating himself, even off-handedly, in the caper. He knows that once he talks — even to his drinking buddy cop friend — he can’t take it back. His words will show up in a police report, which will be very unpleasant for him.

Just Don’t Do It!

There’s the best advice to keep in mind when talking with a reporter, formally or informally. Think before you speak. Think, “how will this look in print” (or on TMZ, assuming you have celeb cred)? It can save you endless hours of gnashing your teeth and scrambling (most likely in vain) to put out a fire that you yourself started.

But if you do say more than you should, best advice is to not try to put out the fire by yourself. Avail yourself of professional PR resources, the best you can get, to at least mount a credible job of damage control.


Doug Hovelson, author of this blog post, is an experienced media relations and public relations professional working out of Minneapolis. He’s helped dozens of companies – from Fortune 500 size to start-ups — grow their businesses with effective media relations programs. (He’s never robbed a bank, however.) He’s always delighted to talk media relations strategies with people who want to see if they can do more with their media relations efforts. He can be reached at 612-722-5501 or at doughovelson AT MSN Dot COM.

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Contact Is The Name Of The Game For Media Relations

Posted on June 10, 2014. Filed under: Public Relations, Public Relations Pointers, Public relations practices | Tags: , , , |

(Caution: strongly voiced opinions ahead.)

[Blogger’s note: the idea of being “aggressive” in business seems to have gotten a bad rap of late. From a media relations standpoint, that’s too bad. An aggressive media relations program simply means setting up shop to take maximum advantage of all the potentially business-advancing news-making opportunities available to a company. It doesn’t mean charging at the media like a rabid dog. It simply means making the maximum effort to get full value from your news-generating opportunities. I could write a book on how to do this — and maybe I will — but for now, I offer up this commentary with the hope of inspiring business people to ratchet up their expectations for the payoff on their media relations efforts.]

• Media relations is all about working with the media on behalf of clients – and it’s not an easy thing to do well. But done well, the pay-off is incredible. My favorite approach to media relations is this:

• Media relations is always personal! Pick up the phone and call somebody on the news desk, get them to do your story!

o But first, make sure you’ve got your story sorted out.

o Second, be sure you’re calling – or emailing – the right person. Not as easy as it sounds.

Media Coverage Is Credible

o Prospects are always skeptical of companies’ self-generated content. Doesn’t mean it’s not valuable or interesting. But trusted unconditionally, by strangers? Not likely.

o News media coverage is always perceived as having more value by prospects, over the self-generated content that companies put out themselves.

o Many companies underplay their media relations strategies, leaving good marketing money on the table!

Don’t Wait For The Media To Call You

o Trust but verify when it comes to press release distribution services. They all promise to reach so many media outlets with your release. They do. But whether the release ever reaches the right editorial people who can act on it, that’s a different question. The only way to know for sure is to verify, by calling, emailing – doing some bread-and-butter media relations work to drive maximum news coverage. (There are ways to do this without making the rookie mistake of calling a reporter with to ask, “Did you get my release?”)

o Reporters and editors aren’t constantly monitoring the press distribution wires such as PR Newswire, BusinessWire or E-Releases for news they can use. It’s the followup contact to bring the story to their attention that works. They do look at their email, but they still miss a lot. Or they bank your story idea, thinking they’ll get back to it. They usually won’t. They’re busy, they miss items that pertain to their beat all the time. Don’t let them miss your story idea. Contact them, somehow, by phone, email, Twitter, etc. to call it to their attention. They’ll even thank you for it. Sometimes.

o Not that press release distribution services are always the right way to go. You can build your own media lists, work off of media lists supplied by trade show and conference organizers, and otherwise make your media relations efforts more meaningful. Just be sure to keep in mind – media relations is a contact sport.

Media Relations Adds Value To All Content Marketing Efforts

o The more media coverage you get, the more value you add to other aspects of your content marketing strategy. Someone intrigued by a news story on your company may visit your website, where they’ll be exposed to your blogs, social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube Channel, etc. You’ll get more readers, viewers and “likes,” higher your SEO rankings, and more buyers for your product or service.

o And if you’re advertising too – news coverage tied to the message of your advertising campaign makes your advertising dollars work harder, travel farther, win more business.

• Winning more business. That’s what media relations is all about. Use it or lose it.

Doug Hovelson, author of this brief overview of media relations, is an experienced media relations and public relations professional working out of Minneapolis. He’s helped dozens of companies – from Fortune 500 size to start-ups — grow their businesses with effective media relations programs. He’s always delighted to talk media relations strategies with people who want to see if they can do more with their media relations efforts. He can be reached at 612-722-5501 or at doughovelson AT MSN Dot COM.

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Pitching The Media, Channel Basics

Posted on April 3, 2014. Filed under: Media Commentary, Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary, Public Relations Pointers, Public relations practices, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Reporters even today, in this most post-modern of post-modern worlds to date, prefer to get their pitches from PR people under cover of email. Or, get this, they’ll even take a story idea by telephone — yes that strange little talking device that pre-dates even the VCR, microwave ovens and the use of the designated hitter in baseball — over getting hit up with an idea by, say, a Tweet.

Not to say that all reporters, news producers and the like eschew the social media avenues for pitch contacts. TV reporters and program producers seem to get an abundance of their story ideas from social media sources, according to the 2014 Vocus State of the Media Report. This makes sense, since television news is particularly keen on reaching out to viewers for news tips and just generally more open to engaging with viewers via social media.

Best Bet – Email!

Email emerges as the favorite medium for story pitching for a number of reasons. One, it’s private. Two, it’s fast and also because people pay more attention to what’s happening in the email streams than they do to what’s being beamed at them on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and the like. Three, it’s easier to keep track of pitches sent via email versus the social media circuits.

Keeping things private, Edward Snowden aside, is pretty much a given when working with the news media. Some news people — outside the aforementioned local TV news realm — are receptive to receiving tips via openly public media such as Twitter. But putting a story idea up on a public Twitter feed also cues competitors in to what a reporter may be doing. It’s no way to pitch an exclusive story, that’s for sure. Most reporters that I know and work with seem to work under the assumption that whatever story they’re doing is their own private business — and they just don’t want other people outside their organization to know what they’re working on until they’re ready to reveal it themselves. This makes email a better choice than a public Tweet, especially if you’re pitching a particular story angle to a particular reporter. Using the private DM channel on Twitter to contact a reporter is a better approach – assuming you have that option – but again, there’s the chance that the reporter isn’t checking the Twitter feedline that often.

By Any Means Possible

A nice option is to use Twitter as a story-pitch alerter – signaling the reporter that you’ve got a newsy idea to discuss, with a note that you’ve sent an email – if that’s the case or left a voice-mail message if that’s the case. Use it as another tool for getting a news person’s attention, in other words.

Reporters often use Facebook and LinkedIn as means of tracking down sources. LinkedIn has its advantages with its built-in InMail feature, which allows users to send private emails to others in the LinkedIn system.

I find Twitter to be of immense use as a media relations tool, less for direct pitching of stories than for staying informed about specific media outlets and reporters. In fact, I often find myself browsing through my list of people I’m following on Twitter to find reporters and media outlets that might be interested in stories I’m currently pitching. The list changes all the time, depending on what I’m working on.

Personal Contact Is Essential

But for pitching story ideas – when you’re the pitcher – the best approach still seems to be a combination of email and followup telephone contact, perhaps supplemented by contacts on Twitter and other social media outlets where the news person maintains a presence. The unsettling thing about email is that you’re never sure if your pitch has been seen by a reporter who probably gets bombarded by email all day long. (There are unobtrusive email tracking systems that you can use to see if your emails are being opened; they just let you know if and when someone’s clicked open your email. (I’m not real familiar with the technology, although I’m interested in hearing from anyone who does know how effective such systems are and so forth.)

And yet, there are no absolutes — whatever works best with individual reporters and news people is the best approach.

Active media relations is very challenging work. The digital age has made it all the more complicated and demanding. People who do media relations work well tend to live and breathe the media world. Many are former journalists — more of them now than say 10 years ago. Now I’m speaking of media relations as the practice of reaching out to the media to generate coverage for clients. This goes beyond the idea of simply pumping out a press release, throwing it out on a paid distribution service, and sitting back to see what happens. Many companies do this for quick-fix SEO – search engine optimization reasons. Nothing wrong with that. But if you’ve got a good story to tell, one that you believe should be of interest to the media, then it’s worth taking the time to personally pitch the story to the media as well. The keys to great results, as the Vocus study shows, are persistence and using the appropriate means of contact.

Good Stories Buried With The Bad

Let me finish with a quote from a reporter at a national news media outlets in Southern California, as identified in the Vocus report. The reporter responds to the question of whether she is open to receiving pitches via social media. Her response appears to indicate that she isn’t currently receiving many pitches via social media.

“Yes, I think. It is hard to say what the long-term effect of my social media experience will be if my Facebook instant message or Twitter Direct Message box becomes packed with pitches like my email box is now. I routinely miss important emails as it is now because they are buried within the stack of “story ideas.” I think a more elegant solution is ahead of us, I just don’t know what it is yet.” – See more at: VOCUS State of the Media Report.

She sums up the crux of the matter, from a media relations perspective, very well when she says that a lot of important emails get buried under the stack of story ideas in her email box. That’s where good media relations people earn their keep – by finding ways to call pitch-saturated reporters’ and editors’ attention to their clients’ good story ideas. (Because a good story is a terrible thing to waste, damn it!)

Hats off to VOCUS for doing the report.

Got a media relations story to share, commentary on my commentary, etc? I’d love to hear from you.

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When Social Media Bites The Hand That Feeds

Posted on April 24, 2012. Filed under: Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary, Public Relations Pointers, Social Media | Tags: , |

Joliet Jake

Joliet Jake (Photo credit: harry harris)

Fight social media fire with fire? Small retailers have no choice but to buck up when it comes to online reviews.

Peeved customers no longer suffer in silence. They take to the Internet, to voice their displeasure over ill-treatment, real and perceived.

People are not afraid to speak up on the Internet. They’ll say things online that they couldn’t or wouldn’t say face-to-face.

A Critic In Every Corner?

Then again, the Internet has unleashed the inner critic in all of us. Millions of people now peck or swipe away — with rapture unfettered —  at digital devices, hammering out pithy commentary on movies, meals, tourist attractions, liquor stores, hardware stores, auto repair shops…about the only things that don’t get reviewed are jails and prisons, it seems. Who knows? Maybe someone like Joliet Jake is spitting out reviews of prison commissaries and in-cell amenities somewhere on Facebook or Yelp.

The point is, retail blood is spilled on the Internet every day by disgruntled customers. If it hasn’t happened to your business yet, odds are it will. No it’s not a certainty. Neither is getting called to jury duty – some people slide through life and live to a ripe old age without ever being hailed into jury duty too. Luck of the draw, really.

TV Story Captures The Dilemma

A recent news story from Los Angeles’ KABC-TV illustrates the plight of restaurateurs caught in the cross-hairs of online critics today: Under Fire.

Respond, Yes. Retaliate, Maybe Not.

But you don’t want to just be a sitting duck either. Prepare yourself for the eventuality of being digitally panned in some fashion or the other.  Consider this scenario: Someone visits a retailer’s restroom, discovers its blanketed with the rudest of graffiti, snaps a picture of it on his iPad, posts it to Facebook, and voilà – damage done! Maybe the graffiti was of very recent vintage – a leave-behind of the Sharpie-wielding patron who just preceded our visitor into the loo. The feckless critic won’t take such an eventuality into account. She’ll just run it up the Twitter pole and there you have it – your business image besmirched.

Some of the best advice going is to:

  • Stay cool. Analyze the situation. Is the criticism valid? If so, you might be best served by responding politely and with a positive attitude to the critic in the online forum. Thank the customer for pointing out the issue, and reward them with a small token of your consideration for being a good customer – a discount coupon, free meal, whatever seems appropriate. Then correct the problem, of course.
  •  Don’t be abrasive or defensive. The annals of the Internet are already chock full of horror stories about businesses that responded harshly to customer online commentary.
  • Unless it’s really out-of-bounds, you can’t win. You’re better off taking a slight loss, and moving on. Grin and bear it, in other words. If it’s an egregious assault on your business, one that you believe is without merit, you may want to see if you can convince the operator of the service to remove the comment. That won’t prevent the poster from re-posting somewhere else, of course.
  •  If it’s a problem that occurred because of circumstances particular to the customer’s visit, you may want to respond calmly and patiently to the criticism. Accept responsibility, explain the situation and what you’re doing to make sure it won’t happen again. Do this online, in response to your critic’s posting. Offer to talk – communicate – off-line or via private channels in order to resolve the dispute as well.
  • Remember, your goal is to resolve the situation as peacefully and equitably as possible, so you can continue to go about your business of running a great business.

Bouncing back from a harsh social media experience can be daunting. The trick is to turn it to your favor. A fresh public relations approach may be just what the doctor ordered, too.

Your thoughts? Experiences? Stories, horror, happy or otherwise?

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Pitch the narrative, not just the facts, ma’am.

Posted on January 5, 2010. Filed under: Public Relations Pointers | Tags: |

“Facts tell, stories tell.”

Well-put.

Read that in Starring You! The Insiders Guide To Using Television And Media To Launch Your Brand, Your Business And Your Life, book by Marta Tracy and Terence Noonan.

One key point: it’s often not so much the product that makes the story, but the story behind the product that makes for the winning media pitch.

Personality counts, in other words. The key is to find the unique selling proposition of the product and distill some aspect of that into terms people can understand and appreciate.

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