Public Relations Commentary

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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Public Relations, Best Served With A Dash Of Magic.

Posted on May 23, 2014. Filed under: Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Time was when magicians were loath to reveal their trade secrets to anyone. To do so would be akin to Coca Cola giving away its secret recipe for its eponymous soft drink. There probably isn’t enough money in the world to entice Coke to publicly expose its secret soda recipe. But the lure of television dollars broke the brotherhood of magicians. Who hasn’t watched one of those hoary TV shows in which a professional magician takes you behind the scenes to see how the magic is actually made?

Not that I don’t believe in magic still. I do, just as I believe – against all the sputterings of the stern-faced naysayers – in the Curse of the Billy Goat on the Chicago Cubs and in the theory that says Oswald didn’t do it by himself.

But most magicians are showmen and show-women, crowd pleasers who practice a learnable trade, it seems.

Let There Be Magic

Public relations people are often urged to go “do their magic” by clients. It’s a high compliment when someone – especially someone who’s footing the bill for your work – tells you that. It means they believe you as a PR person can move mountains of media coverage and publicity their way. That’s what PR people do, truth be told, especially if they’re on the agency or freelance side and must earn their way by performing magic on a routine basis.

But is there really magic involved? Public relations is certainly a learnable trade. It’s routinely taught in colleges and universities, alongside other disciplines such as accounting, public policy and law.
Sober-minded professionals will tell you that public relations is 99% hard work and 1% inspiration. Little room for magic there. But the wise public relations practitioner always keeps a little container of magic dust hidden about the office somewhere.

Because what clients, especially on the promotional side of things, want is real magic to take place. They want to see their story come to life through the media. They want to become more relevant with customers through social media. They want to see demand for their products and services soar. They believe in PR magic. And so should we, the PR practitioners. Because PR, when done well, does have an element of magic to it.

No Glory In Obscurity

How’s that, you say? (I won’t assume you’re a stern-faced naysayer if that’s what you say.)

How else to explain the sudden explosion of news coverage that occurs after a well-timed media event or well-crafted and disseminated news announcement? Yesterday, you weren’t even on the news media’s agenda. You were Mr. or Ms. News Nobody. Today, you’re in the news everywhere – or at least in all the news media outlets that mean something to you and your business. It’s a new day for you and your company. You feel good, like you just knocked in a 40-foot putt on the 18th hole at Augusta to beat a gape-faced competitor by one stroke.

Later in the week or month, as the case may be, after the excitement has died down some, you get to thinking: that was great, but what’s next? Is there any magic left in our story? How do we keep the momentum up, going forward!

Glad you asked.

This is where good PR people really earn their keep, by coming up with creative ways to keep their clients in focus with customers and prospective customers. We do it by recommending strategies and tactics that will engage and motivate customers to choose you over the competition. The selection of tools to use may vary, depending on a host of client-specific variables. Newsletters, social media, media briefings, feature story placements, new events, celebrity tie-ins, games – the PR toolbox is bigger than ever today.

The public relations world is bristling with opportunity for companies that are willing to open themselves up to it. Not all good PR ideas, it’s true, come from the outside PR experts. But a good many of them do, precisely because of that “outsider” point of view. That’s why it’s so important for clients – in my opinion – to engage with public relations agencies and freelancers (the aforesaid “outside experts”) not just on a one-time, gimme your best shot type of thing but for a longer-term engagement.

Inspiration Is Good Magic

Good PR people deliver outstanding value. There is a kind of magic in that. It’s a hard-won magic – public relations is the kind of profession where experience really counts, along with a near-rabid belief in one’s ability to make a difference in the world. Therein lies the true source of magic.

No good comes from trying to dispel the sense of magic that informs the world of public relations and marketing. True, they’re both disciplines, and in this age of big data driven marketing systems, it might seem that the scientific approach is dispelling any sense of magic that a PR practitioner might bring to the table. Can’t argue with the facts. Big data is impressive. Fixed up with a little PR magic and you might be surprised at just how impressive it can be!

So, to recap, PR is 99% hard work, 1% inspiration, leavened occasionally by a slight sprinkling of magic dust – some might call that mightily inspired thinking – by the PR practitioner who knows when and how to apply it. It all comes down to knowing what you want, knowing how to attain what you want, and then having the willingness to expend the time, effort and resources to achieve the goal.

The idea of magic might be off-putting to some. And yet, consider the Cubs and their Billy Goat problem. The last time they won a World Series was in 1908. They haven’t even been in a World Series since 1945. What’s really amazing is that Cubs fans still flock to Wrigley Field in droves, acting as if they believe every year that someone is going to wave a magic wand over the Northsiders and turn them into world-beaters.

What about you? Has the magical muse of public relations ever touched your life? Are you interested in making some PR magic for your own business endeavors? Feel free to leave comments, ask questions, even contact me directly and we could have good conversation about what type of PR magic might work best for your business.

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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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Now Hear This, Mom! Public Relations Makes Perfectly Good Sense.

Posted on March 13, 2014. Filed under: Family Life, Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary | Tags: , , , |

Public relations was hard enough to define in lay terms  in the analog age. Imagine trying to describe to your mother what you did in PR back in the day when the word processor was a marvel of technical wizardry, laptop computers weighed umpteen pounds, and daily newspapers still had multi-page classified sections thick with want ads.

“I help companies get their messages out through the news media, Mom,” you might have said. That in lieu of going into a lengthy explanation about the need to identify key publics, slice and dice the demographic aspects of your target markets, develop a media platform by which to tell your story, align your efforts with overall corporate marketing and business strategies, and blah blah blah. Mom, meanwhile, has turned the page and is wondering whether she remembered to get  stamps yesterday so she can some household bills into the mail today.

Visuals Overcome Cultural Barriers

So you might try using pictures. We had a client, back in the good old days of actual cut-and-paste layout boards, that produced a children’s television show for PBS stations. The goal of the public relations campaign was to create national awareness for the new season of this show — a show which, by the way, earned several Daytime Emmys and was sponsored by one of the largest breakfast cereal companies in the world, one that features a noble beast of the jungle as a signature character. Anyway, we were charged with not only doing media relations but also station relations. So we storyboarded part of our presentation, including various poster concepts, newsletter concepts and some graphic slicks that could be dropped in as-is into print publications. Those visual materials were easily grasped by Mom, as they were by the client for that matter. Now Mom had some idea of what I did – promotional posters and colorful newsletters, of all things.

Fast forward to today. Now Mom, who’s relatively computer-averse, has an even harder time understanding what I — or most any PR-oriented individual — does. Besides getting people news and blogosphere coverage for all the many newsworthy and compelling stories that they have to tell, I have to talk about using social media channels such as Twitter and LinkedIn, blogs, brand journalism and Native advertising, and YouTube to “engage with key client audiences.”

Mom, meanwhile, is still sticking stamps on envelopes and using the U.S. Postal Service to pay her bills.

Back To The Marketplace

So I just say that I do a lot of copywriting for companies, come up with ideas to help them stand out in the marketplace and get their stories told in a lot of different venues — including the good old, but now quasi-analog media such as newspapers, television and radio — and give important people (such as customers and prospective customers) reasons to know about them, and like them well enough to do business with them.

If Mom wants to see pictures, all I have to do is get on the Internet and call up examples of my work.

Mom, of course, is computer-averse as mentioned earlier. She doesn’t like looking at stuff on computer screens. So there’s not much chance she’ll look at what I have to show online.

Mom, most likely, is dealing herself a hand of solitaire — one of her favorite pasttimes these days — while I finish up my spiel about what I do in my PR life. Being an analogist, Mom is playing with an actual deck of beat-up cards, Bicycle brand. I could tell her that I like to play solitaire to relax too — but now I play online. I wouldn’t even know how to deal a hand of solitaire these days. I’ve forgotten how. The computer does it for me. God help me if I ever get stranded on a deserted island with just a deck of cards for entertainment and no computer. I’d have to reinvent the whole damn world of solitaire all over again. Holy Hoyle!

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Social Media For Therapists

Posted on February 15, 2013. Filed under: Public Relations Commentary, Social Media | Tags: , , |

Interesting look at special challenges facing those in medical/therapy professions and their use of social media:

A Psychotherapist’s Guide to Facebook and Twitter: Why Clinicians Should Give a Tweet!.

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Email Pitches From Public Relations Agency Go Plunk, Plunk Plunk Into The Night

Posted on July 22, 2012. Filed under: Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary | Tags: , , , , , , |

Reading the newspaper: Brookgreen Gardens in P...

Reading the newspaper: Brookgreen Gardens in Pawleys Island, South Carolina, United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a good reference piece about pitching stories into a highly competitive news media market Email pitches went unnoticed.

The writer – Alyson Shontell of Business Insider — indicates she deliberately ignored the 3 – count ’em, 3 – email pitches sent to inform her about a new Internet startup.

As it happened, the news about the launch of Rally.org would of interested Shontell. She might have written about the launch, had the PR firm — or more specifically, the “PR Lady” pitching the account for the firm — tailored its pitch to Shontell more adroitly.

Startups Clog The Email Pipeline

As Shontell tells it, she gets an “absurd amount” of email about startups daily. So to cut down on the information overload, she screens messages by looking first, to see if she knows the sender; secondly, by what’s in the title line; and thirdly, by what’s in the first sentence of the release as revealed by Gmail’s preview tool.

One of the pitches failed because the title line indicated the attached news was embargoed until a certain release date and time. No no no, Nanette or whatever the PR Lady’s actual name is, this didn’t work because Shontell doesn’t want to be treated like a commodity. She wants exclusives, like every other reporter! (It’s actually refreshing to hear a reporter say that’s how the game is played.)

Another pitch failed because of a weak title line, something about some company named Rally.org — not yet on the national business radar screen — pointing out a flaw in rival Kickstarter’s formula for social fundraising via an Internet-based technology platform.  Fair enough. Subtlety is not a virtue when pitching stories into the national media maw.

Stranger In A Strange Email Inbox

All of the pitches had one strike against them with this reporter by virtue of the fact that the sender was unknown to her. That’s an absurdly common problem in PR, since most PR practitioners, especially in agencies, deal with a wide variety of companies and industries and can’t know everybody who’s anybody in the news business – else why have media list services? It’s also a bit of a canard, and good PR people know it’s ultimately the newsworthiness of the pitch that will make or break the selling of the story to a reporter and his or her news organization. Shontell actually acknowledges this, noting it was obvious that the PR Lady did not know her – meaning she didn’t know what made Shontell’s news detector screen go on full alert.

How so? Because the pitch was not well-tailored enough to grab Shontell’s attention. The news, the really interesting part of the news, as she notes, was buried in the news release somewhere (the really interesting news was that some big nationally known investors were backing this unknown company). Use of those names as calling cards in the title line of the email or at least in the lede sentence, would have piqued Shontell’s interest and caused her to read on — because she knew those investors’ names, had probably written about other investments they had made (something that the PR person could have discovered in advance) and so was inclined to grant the all-important credibility factor to any startup company backed by such financial luminaries.

Hold That Cursor, There’s More To The Story

Shontell seems to be just telling it like is is. As a reporter for a digitally based, breaking news-focused business news site, she probably has little time for idle chit-chat or investigating every little news release that comes  her way.

Exclusive angles, sharply written title lines in emails, powerful lead sentences, and an approach hand-tailored to each reporter and outlet – especially the majors, however that is defined on an individual client basis — all are important considerations. None of this is to say that Atomic PR failed its client, Rally.org, in getting news out about the startup. Shontell only thought to write about what went wrong with the pitches that the PR agency sent her way after seeing news about Rally.org elsewhere. Something must have gone right for the PR Lady.

More to the point, Shontell provides a warts-and-all look at what it takes to separate the wheat from the chaff in email pitching. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not just about who the public relations practitioner knows in the media world but what the PR pro knows about crafting messages that attract media attention. Why warts-and-all? Shontell’s anatomy of why she missed the Rally.org story has a bit of a mea culpa feel to it as well. She did miss the Rally.org story, after all – while others got it.

A followup telephone call might have helped clarify things, but it’s not clear whether that’s even an option in this case.

PR people continually face the obstacle of getting past the various shields that people in the media put up to keep from becoming paralyzed by info overload. It’s a never-ending job. Every reporter is different. As Shontell suggests, it’s the PR person’s job to get to know them.

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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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Shouting Fire In A Crowded Room

Posted on February 11, 2011. Filed under: Digital Dalliances, Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , |

Truman Capote, as photographed by Roger Higgin...

Truman Capote, photographed by Roger Higgins

Never shout “fire” in a crowded room – unless there actually is a fire, of course.

That’s an axiom we’ve all grown up with, and yet, it seems to be pretty much useless as an admonition in a digital world driven by fire-shouters.

Just today, as every online day, I’ve seen a Tweet or two alluding to some set of “essential” things I need to know about this, that and the other thing. All of which are aimed at making me feel as if I’m an inadequate marketer unless I quick grab hold of the mouse and click on over to the poster’s page of invaluable, nay business- and reputation-saving, tips. It’s all about garnering attention, certainly, and I can understand that – in the battle for share of the digital marketing mind, all is fair.

But I as a client, assuming I were a client, would not be much in a mood for getting much work done if I spent the livelong day chasing down every hot new lead purporting to clue me in on what’s missing in my marketing strategies.

The Chattering Seas…

Since I am both client and client-seeker, in my business life mind you, I am sorry to say that on certain days it just seems as if I’m adrift in a sea of mind-addling marketing teases. That’s the time I spend online, exposed to the Twitter medium, for example – a medium that I abuse, no question about it, and much to my chagrin. Because when you get right down to it, there is a lot of essentially non-essential information floating about hither and thither under the guise of essentiality.

Which is not to say it’s not good information. People dispense with an abundance of good information all the time via the social media platforms. But separating out what’s essential versus what’s only good, therein lies a challenge of epic proportions. But that’s only half the challenge, and indeed the lesser half as it stands. The better half of the challenge, the more Herculean aspect, is to know how to rein in one’s curiosity, it seems to me.

What Would Pliny Say?

Because the Internet is a world of wonders for those with a yen for the new. There’s always something new out of the Internet, to piggyback off the statement that Pliny the Elder made re: Africa some years back. The trick, it seems, for me, and perhaps a few others, is to try and figure out how to enjoy and even benefit from this world of endless inspiration, entertainment and edification without going crazy. I’m reminded of the comment once made about Truman Capote, how he in his years after writing In Cold Blood mostly abandoned the writing craft and became a magazine addict. Better than an opium addict chez Coleridge, perhaps, but still not highly conducive to the pursuit of personal productivity.

So there you have it. Resolved, here and now, to be a better, more conscientious consumer of digital goods.

How to do it? Perhaps I’ll write on that later on. Maybe even put together a series of essential tip sheets on how to make the most of your Internet experience.

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PR Prose: Once More, With Feeling

Posted on January 24, 2011. Filed under: Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary, Public relations practices | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

“The writer is always tricking the reader into listening to their dream.” Joan Didion
How good are you at getting readers to listen in on your business dreams?

Good writing is good PR and good marketing, whether it’s a 140-character Tweet, a  Facebook post, a press release, website copy, a blog, a brochure, a presentation…

Annoyance Avoidance

Advertising Age writer Bob Knorpp recently riffed about the often lamentable state of “PR prose,” as he termed it:

“I promote myself every bit as much as the worst spammy PR offender on Twitter…,” Knorpp wrote in his blog, The BeanCast. “Yet time and again, I’m specifically called out by people saying ‘You do it right.’ How so, he asked – and people said, “You aren’t as annoying.”

His secret: he looks for the interesting angle.

Shock alert!

He writes to be read, in other words.

Give ‘Em A Reason To Read

Not such an earth-shaking revelation. Really, it’s J-School 101 stuff, and yet — here it is, 2011, well into the information age, and what have we?  Knorpp, a respected writer, certainly one on the receiving end of untold number of fuzzily focused PR pitches and abysmally written press releases, needs to remind PR people that their first duty to their reader is to be interesting.

So, we’re not talking about fancy writing. We’re talking about writing that people actually want to read, writing that they can understand and absorb. Writing that will motivate them to do something that corresponds to your underlying reason for communicating with them in the first place. To visit your store or website, for example. Buy your book or call you to discuss a new project. Hire your firm to handle their business.

Write with care, write with the needs of the audience in mind. When in doubt, rewrite. Consult the AP Stylebook. Good writing – part of that all-important “content” equation — is always a good business investment.

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For Immediate Release: Death Of Press Release Disputed

Posted on January 18, 2011. Filed under: Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary | Tags: , , , , , |

Edward Bernays was the self-appointed Father o...

Edward Bernays, PR pioneer, press release pro

All this talk about the press release being dead, it’s just talk. And what is talk if not cheap?

Granted the press release, ever malleable, gets used in ways never imagined by early PR superheroes such as Edward Bernays or Ivy Lee.

It’s certainly true that a press release can be issued on Twitter, 140 characters, maybe less, directly on message and without further ado – such as links to backgrounders, bios, calendars, visuals, etc.

Reliable, Always In Demand

If so, so what? What is a press release but a tool, more like a pair of pliers or a screwdriver than an air pressure gauge – that is more of a generalist than a specialist – and so adaptable to whatever purpose is at hand.

The press release is just a handy device, really, something that can be created readily enough by a seasoned pro, easy to use, informative and always there when someone such as a media person asks, “What have you got in writing?”

A Social Media Workhorse

I don’t know what could be simpler than that. Sure, we’ll go ahead and add in all the social media bells and whistles, the links, the graphics, the interactive pieces, the embedded video, the boldly concise writing style, all the wizardry of the digital age. It’s still a press release, requiring some effort by someone, usually a PR person, to organize information in such a way as to communicate a message about something.

So no, I don’t think the press release is going away anytime soon. (Although we could all do with a lot less of the PR-speak that seeps into a lot of press releases, giving them a written-by-a-lobotomized-robot feel.)

Not all press releases are created equally. A simple new-hire release needs to be short and to the point. It’s going to get boiled down to a line or two in the trades anyway. But a new product release, or a release announcing a new study, survey, initiative, new use for an existing product, those are the kinds of releases that can use some creative flair and persuasive language.  Something out of the ordinary. News! Real news! Make the most of it. Write up a fireball of a press release.

Pay By The Press Release? If Only…

But as all of us in PR know, we don’t get paid by the press release. We get paid for results.

Maybe what the press release needs is its own advocacy campaign, sponsored by some organization such as The Society For The Preservation Of The Press Release (SPPR). Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? Maybe I’ll send out a press release asking for contributors to the cause.

[Note: the author owns no stock in any press release manufacturing organization other than his own PR agency at the time of this writing.]

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Sponsored Content Is Here To Stay

Posted on November 10, 2010. Filed under: Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary | Tags: , , , , , , |

Forbes

Image via Wikipedia

Will ForbesAdVoice Be The Model – PRSA Chief Says No

Old media lions sure don’t lack for chutzpah.

Case in point: Forbes magazine.

Forbes, it seems, is jumping into the online sponsored content game with both feet (or is that with both hands open and outstretched?).

The venerable business bi-weekly magazine is running an online section called “ForbesAdVoice”. Sponsors pay for the privilege (and what price, privilege?) of having their self-penned content nicely laid out on a page that bears a striking resemblance to the general editorial production of the magazine.

The copy is clearly labelled, at the top, as being a ForbesAdvoice section.

Even at first glance, it seems obvious this is purchased space. Nothing unusual about that, except that the section is so cleverly designed that it could, stress could, fool the unassuming reader into thinking it was real journalism they were looking at.

Unassuming Reader, Beware

Happily, my first encounter with the suspected offender was anything but unassuming. A column in Advertising Age, written by Public Relations Society of America Chairman and CEO Gary McCormick, had alerted me to the dangers ahead. McCormick had gone so far as to call this a “nefarious” endeavor.

I as a reader was on my guard, determined to not only spot the fraud but expose it on the spot, via my Twitter button if need be.

A Sheep In Wolf’s Clothing?

Imagine my surprise when I saw nothing more squalid than a banner ad from SAP advising me to run my business better (damned good idea there) and a by-lined column (AKA a blog post) from a SAP executive disputing the notion that business software was dead. Below that, links to more SAP-sponsored AdVoice bloggings, links to SAP web pages, and an assortment of links to various technology-related stories authored by real Forbes journalists.

McCormick makes an excellent point in his Ad Age piece about the need for “transparent PR.”

Sponsored Content: It’s A PR Thing

Sponsored content is one of the fastest growing segments in online marketing and communications, so it stands to reason that many PR people will be involved in writing and influencing such material. Publishers such as Forbes, have a responsibility to be up front with readers about what’s legitimate journalism and what’s a commercial product paid for by an outside source. Ultimately it’s in their best interest to be above-board with readers. That’s especially true with a publication like Forbes with its large following within the investment community, a group most susceptible to being both duped and able to spot the main chance.

People don’t like to feel like they’re being duped.

Nothing To Tweet About

But I’m not so worried that the readers of Forbes will be duped by the AdVoice section. Even though the labelling doesn’t scream that this is sponsored content, it’s still hard to miss. And you might expect Forbes readers to be a somewhat media savvy lot to begin with. (A telling point: only two readers had Tweeted the SAP-authored article when I visited the page on Wednesday morning, Nov. 10, which isn’t a lot of traction in the Twitterverse.)

What McCormick seems to be most worried about – and this is a very legitimate point – is what will happen If publishers start to push the envelope with even more cleverly disguised sponsored content features. If that happens – and given that it’s the Internet, it undoubtedly will happen – then I expect we could see some blowback in the form of more government regulation. That’s not a happy thought, however. Let’s hope the publishing world, especially those with reputable leanings, musters up the resolve to police itself.

In the meantime, I may go and try to dig up that cat-shaped mousey electronic device that Forbes dropped on me as a loyal subscriber sometime back in the early years of the dot-com age. I never did use it as it was intended, mostly because I couldn’t figure out what it was actually intended to be used for. I seem to recall putting it in a corner of the basement where in hopes of entertaining a few real mice.

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New Journalism 101: Slanted Coverage Is Us?

Posted on November 5, 2010. Filed under: Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

NBC News Washington

Image via Wikipedia

What about this new journalism that eschews objectivity? It’s not real journalism say some. Journalism is becoming more and more something that is what it is in the eye of the beholder it seems.

The shrill cries against the mainstream media (MSM) — emanating from the farther reaches of all sides of the political spectrum, including the apolitical anarchists — echo throughout the land. People I know on both the left and right are convinced, absolutely convinced, that the so-called mainstream media are comprehensively biased one way or the other.

Even Davy Crockett Knew How To Play The Game

Being in public relations, I can understand their frustrations. Getting your voice heard through the din of the media marketplace is a big problem. But it’s been like that since, what, the invention of the mass media? Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier, had a PR agent. The early Ottoman emperors employed their own scribes to write their accounts of their reigns.

More recently, I’ve worked with clients who were absolutely convinced that they could never get a fair shake in the MSM because of A) their political/religious bent; B) their lack of a powerful advertising budget; C) their ethnicity. In all cases, it wasn’t that the MSM was fundamentally opposed to their side of the story. It was that they needed to first figure out what their story was, and then package it properly and pitch it to the appropriate reporters and editors etc. in a timely fashion. And yes, there was an element of “let’s hope for the best,” as there always is when you’re asking someone to do something for you.

I’m not saying that the MSM isn’t ever biased. That’s just not realistic. But in general, if you’ve got a good story to tell, there’s usually a way to get it told through the news media.

Dogs Do It, Editorialists Do It…

Look, it feels good to have a platform to air your views, the bigger the better as Keith Olbermann and every other media commentator with a license to be opinionated knows. (I’m reminded of my pup days in journalism, when one of the newspaper’s grand old editors advised me to keep in mind that writing an editorial was a lot like a dog pissing on its hind legs, it felt so good to the dog that it didn’t care what kind of mess it created.)

But most reporters, and most editors, are still looking for the good story first and foremost within the constraints of whatever particular outlet they happen to be working for at the time. Not to say that bias doesn’t happen. But persistence and some degree of knowing how to package a story, as well as cultivate the media’s attention, still goes a long way in getting information through the gate and into the promised land of MSM news coverage.

And no, the odds are that the media are not going to do a free ad for you. You’ve really got to have news, or at least one heck of a good angle.

– 30 –

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The Making Of The Un-Chevy

Posted on June 11, 2010. Filed under: Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary | Tags: , , , , |

William C. Durant, better know as Billy Durant...

Billy Durant, founder of General Motors, Chevy man Image via Wikipedia

General Motors seems to be making a run at getting itself covered by News Of The Weird.

The word “Chevy” is corporately disallowed when referring to the august Chevrolet brand, on penalty of a $.25 per usage fine at GM HQ. So reports The New York Times among a legion of other pilers-on.

Call Me Chevrolet Too.

In keeping with the new corporate un-Chevy policy may we suggest the following communications approach:

Name Chevy Chase, the actor and comedian of renown, as the new brand spokesperson. Mr. Chase could come out to reveal for the first time ever that his real full name is Chevrolet Chase, and would you all be so kind as to not refer to him by the more vulgar and downmarket nickname, Chevy?

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Number One (But No Bullets! We’re Talking Airports.)

Posted on March 22, 2010. Filed under: Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

"Official Photograph" of Hubert H.

Image via Wikipedia

Orly or DeGaulle?

JFK or LaGuardia?

Berlin-Schonefeld or Berlin-Tegel? (Not Tempelhof any longer, tragically.)

One or Two?

Since it seems that we’re in an air travel mode here, you may be thinking that the last coupling – the numerical one – refers to the question that flight attendants ask you when you request cream with your in-flight coffee. True, it is a common question but for our purposes, I’m referring to the new names for the two main airport terminals in the Twin Cities. (And yes, it’s not quite apples and apples here – the aforementioned airports are just that, airports, while we’re talking about the two main terminals at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. But still, these two terminals had their own distinctive identities, complete with non-generic names, prior to this recent reversion to the numerical mean. So let’s call them apples and grapples.)

Beancounter’s Bonnie Delight.

Number One, of course, is the main terminal, formerly billed as the Lindbergh Terminal.

Number Two is the secondary terminal, previously seen on TV and elsewhere as the Hubert H. Humphrey Terminal.

Maybe it was a tough call for the airport terminal namers. Two is greater than one, except when referring to the Top Dog, who is always Numero Uno.

Maybe I’d better strike that Numero Uno. Too darn much international flair to it. OK. It’s Number One, pure and simple. Better yet: 1.

No confusion there. 1 is the indispensable number, there would be no 2 without a prior 1, just as there could be no byte without the bit.

Minimalissimo!

Is it a case of minimalism run amok at the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) in Minnesota?

No, the MAC never said it was trying to make a fashion statement with its new terminal nomenclature. It’s a matter of common sense, says the MAC. Too many people were confused by the previous system. A problem no doubt, if you show up at the Humphrey Terminal only to find that your flight departs from the terminal down the street.)

One way to keep them straight, even if you didn’t know your Lindbergh from your Humphrey, you could always think Conservative vs. Liberal – Lindbergh being the conservative (maybe a slightly sinister cast to that conservatism according to some, e.g. Phillip Roth, The Plot Against America), while the Humphrey would enjoy the unabashedly liberal mental association.

The 1-2 Punch, Or Bland Is Better

It’s just that simple. People can always distinguish between 1 and 2. It’s drilled into us from our salad days of potty training on. One is not 2, 2 is not one. One is first, two is second. One is better unless you’re trying to get to home plate. Two is twice one, but only half as good unless you’re talking a 2-for-1 special or about the amount of money you have left in your wallet after purchasing a latte at the leeward Starbucks.

Now if this trend catches on, maybe New York City will be renamed Number One City and Chicago and Los Angeles can fight it out for the Number Two slot in the pantheon of American cities, with an asterisk to the loser. President Obama could be Citizen One and Vice President Biden Citizen Two.  The mighty Mississippi could be renamed River Number One with the Missouri assuming the mantle of River Number Two.

Last Call For Professional Namers.

What a blow to the naming industry. No more half million dollar contracts to come up with fancy names for new products and companies. Just rank them in order of numerical priority and go to it with your advertising, marketing and brand building campaigns. Prove to the world that even the most generic of names need not be commoditized in the marketplace!

Maybe Lindbergh and Humphrey don’t have the same je ne sais quoi of a Bogart and Bacall, Ruth and Gehrig or even a Starsky and Hutch. There might be a better way to pay homage to the two local heroes than by naming the state’s two foremost air terminals after them. (The cup of local patriotic pride runneth over for the late Happy Warrior, since the Metrodome Stadium — street name: The Hump — is also named after him. (Although The Hump now is officially Mall of America Field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, or some such thing.)

Mall of America. Wouldn’t that be American Shopping Mall Number One in our new non-confusing system?

Better By Any Other Names?

Better names for the MSP terminals? How about Franken and Davis (ha ha that would light some talk show fires in the Twin Cities). Killebrew and Carew, in honor of the diamond kings. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sinclair Lewis, homage to a pair of 20th century literary heavyweights from the Land of 10,000 Generic Lakes. Speaking of lakes, how about Walleye and Muskie, two of the most coveted finny catches from state waters. Or, I dunno, Day and Night? Gaga and Gorgonzola?

One and Two it is then. Not Pepper and Salt. Not Scotch and Soda. Not Bemidji and Brainerd, or Ojibwe and Dakota. And let the healthy competition begin: will Terminal Number Two be content to play second-fiddle, or will it connive to become Number One in the hearts, if not the minds, of Minnesotans and air travelers everywhere?

[Editor’s Note: as the writer well knows, most airport terminals are given prosaic names like A, B, C, or even 1, 2, so it’s obvious he’s just having a little fun at the expense of the Metropolitan Airports Commission here. But he raises an interesting point. Would Lady Gaga ever consider going after naming rights to an airport terminal?]

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No Country For Dull Press Releases

Posted on March 19, 2010. Filed under: Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

(And Other Thoughts In A Public Relations Vein)

Here’s best-selling author Michael Connelly on the state of the newspaper world, as seen through the eyes of Jack McEvoy, erstwhile star crime beat reporter for the fictional L.A. Times, a major daily newspaper in the City of Angels. In Scarecrow, Connelly’s 2009 novel, McEvoy is going the way of all aging reportorial flesh. Which is to say, he’s been riffed, let-go, pink-slipped, fired, in short, a casualty of the ongoing catastrophe that is 21st century newspaper journalism.

“There was no newspaper out there in the market for an over-40 cop shop reporter…Like the paper and ink newspaper itself, my time was over. It was all about the Internet now. It was about hourly uploads to online editions and blogs. It was about television tie-ins and Twitter updates…The morning paper might as well be called the Daily Afterthought. Everything in it was posted on the web the night before.”

newspaper revenue projections

Connelly’s a former Los Angeles Times cop shop reporter himself, so he knows whereof his bloodied lead character rants.

Okay then.

The newspaper business is in a bad way, no argument there.

But where does that leave us, the scribbling foot soldiers of the public relations world?

Writing, Still A Primary Tool Of The PR Trade?

Does good writing matter anymore, PR-wise? And if so, how so?

I was thinking all this through the other day as I pondered a client’s reaction to a piece of writing I had produced for publication – on the client’s behalf — in a daily newspaper. In a slight bit of deadline haste – ever had an anxious editor say you have to make a few last minute changes just before the ink hits the newsprint? — I put in a sentence that might not have totally captured my client’s thought process. My bad. Expediency can be a killer. Fortunately I had an understanding client, who did not let one bad moment spoil what I believe to be a good working relationship.

But, let’s think about this for a moment more. Here we are, in the post-literate age supposedly, and words obviously still count for something. More to the point, the written word counts, even if its published in that most maligned of modern media institutions, the daily newspaper.

Why is that?

Writing Sticks.

I thought of all the words that pour forth from the mouths of politicians and corporate spokespeople, celebrities, athletes, scientists, lawyers, cops (a passing nod to the crime beat reporter there), experts of all stripes, luncheon keynote speakers, not to mention babes, all emptying into the mighty maw of broadcast, print, Internet and personal journalism (AKA the grapevine). Such a mighty roar, and yet the power of the printed word is such that it can make a grown man nearly cry if he gets it wrong.

And why is that?

The only thing I can think of is that the printed word, is still understood to have lasting significance. Maybe that’s granting it a magical essence that it really doesn’t deserve. Personally, I don’t think that’s true though.

People instinctively know that they can be moved by the power of well-written words, be they found in a press release, a corporate backgrounder, a brochure, a newsletter, even – God forbid – in a Twitter alert. Moved to think, to learn, to take an action. Stuff that moves markets, in other words.

It may be that ink and paper newspapers are slouching towards extinction. I don’t know for sure about that. Everybody seemed to declare them dead in 2009, but even so recently as yesterday I found someone willing to sell me a hard copy of the daily newspaper over the counter for 50 cents.

But words in print, hand-crafted for a specific commercial/social realism purpose such as selling a product, building brand awareness, establishing a position, informing and motivating a target audience (or audiences)?

Not Quite As Post-Literate As We’d Like To Think.

I think my client was dead-on in expressing a concern about the way in which the newspaper article – an op-ed piece, as it were – depicted the issue at hand. There is magic in the printed word (and let’s call it like it is, the Internet does bear a striking resemblance to the world of print in some ways, noticeably by its durability). Good writing is powerful. It has staying power. It is memorable. When applied commercially, it is a reflection of the company that sponsors it.

Newspapering may not be what it once was. Public relations isn’t what it used to be either (it’s better, in my opinion, more comprehensive, more multi-dimensional).

But good writing, good story-telling, there’s a need for that – quite possibly now more than ever, what with the increasing emphasis on content as a marketable business and social commodity.

So while Jack McEvoy might be out of a job (or maybe not, you should really read Scarecrow to find out what happens to him, it’s a good read), those of us who labor away in the PR trenches know this: you can’t keep a good press release down!

 

 

 

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The Unbolted Truth, In PR As In DIY Automotive Repair Work

Posted on January 22, 2010. Filed under: Public Relations Commentary | Tags: , , , , , , , |

God so loved the world that he gave us MAPP gas that DIY auto mechanics can use to burn rusted nuts and bolts loose. MAPP gas I say, not propane, propane takes forever and never gets hot enough for the most miserably stuck bolts. (Sorry, Hank Hill.)

Bosch Oxygen Sensor

Bosch Oxygen Sensor

From now on it’s MAPP gas first, not as a last resort (unless there’s a pesky fuel line in the vicinity).

I had to get a burned out oxygen sensor off the top of a catalytic converter on the exhaust system, about an inch and half of clearance. Notice I say I had to. It was a matter of utmost pride to do this simple task and change out the oxygen sensor on my personal vehicle, a task that’s performed hundreds of thousands of times a week in automotive mechanic shops across America.

Removing the oxygen sensor proved more of a challenge than first anticipated. First I noticed that there was no real way to get a conventional socket wrench on the sensor — even though I had a special oxygen sensor socket fitted out just for this specific purpose. In fact, I had two oxygen sensor sockets, both a flat and an angled one, as well as a fancy oxygen sensor wrench with a swivel head that I’d picked up at Autozone sometime back when first I realized that getting at this particular oxygen sensor was not shaping up as the proverbial walk in the queen’s park.

In the end, having these special oxygen sensor gadgets didn’t much matter. The first time I used the flexible-head oxygen sensor wrench, I snapped off the upper part of the sensor, thereby leaving nothing much more than the butt end of the device — consisting of a 22 mm nut half-buried behind a steel mud shield welded to the cat converter — yet to be removed.

Unforgiving Bolt Opens Gateway To DIY Madness

That was when my descent into DIY hell commenced.

The remaining nut was frozen in place, as if it was a leftover crustacean from the pre-Cambrian era.

It was impenetrable, intransigent, non-negotiable, a force not to be reasoned or reckoned with. Hour after hour went by, me lying in Michelangelo-esque agony on my back on the hard cold Minnesota ground, my head and torso squinched underneath the jackstand-supported car, waving my arms and tools in futility at this most implacable foe.

Finally, I decided all was lost.

Folly’s End: The Nuclear Solution

That is, until the guy at the O’Reilly Auto Parts down the street advised me to heat the sensor, baby, until it glowed bright cherry red. I indicated a nearby brake line gave me some safety concerns. Brake fluid boils at 450 degrees Fahrenheit, he said. Cover the brake line with a piece of sheet metal, he said, and bring on the heat. That or take the car out for a nice ride to somewhere where it really wanted to go and see if I couldn’t sweet talk it into coughing up the sensor stub.

I finally just stuck the tip of the full-on MAPP torch on top of the bolt and burned away for about 3 minutes. It was like looking at the Grand Canyon at sunset. It glowed. It smoldered. It turned a beautiful bright blushing red. Then it came right off even though I could only do about a quarter-inch turn with the long-handled 22 mm box wrench.

It was literally the last thing I was going to do before giving up and handing the car over to the mechanical professionals to do what they do best. (And what a low-down feeling that is when you have to take your car, which you’ve not succeeded in fixing, to a mechanic’s shop and ask them to do it the right way for you. They chuckle knowingly — if not downright contemptuously — when a beaten down DIYer comes into their shop with a “fix it please for I have failed and probably made it worse” story. And they charge accordingly. Funny how they never advertise “See me now, or attempt to do it yourself, and pay me later” in the automotive service industry. It’s probably one of their best-kept money-making secrets, the exponential impact on job costs that DIYers impose upon themselves when their home projects go wrong.)

The Bolt-Busting Message For The PR And Marketing World

So what does this all have to do with PR? I’m getting to that right now.

I get at least two takeaways from this that are relevant to the professional PR and marketing communications community.

One, never give up. No, revise that: go ahead and give up, but give it one more try anyway. Just so long as you don’t make matters much worse. Stop yourself, as I did with admirable and somewhat surprising self-restraint, from picking up a sledge-hammer and a long sharp chisel and launching a full-scale punch and bust attack on the balky bolt. No, that won’t do. That will only do you in. But it’s awfully tempting to bang out your frustrations in such fashion.

Extra Mile Attitude” Is What Did The Job For Me

Two, rely on professionals for knowledge that you don’t have. In this case, the professional in question was my friendly counterman at O’Reilly Auto Parts. He didn’t hesitate to help when I told him about my heretofore lame efforts to conquer a mundane but immensely difficult task – one that I had never quite undertaken before in my checkered career as an automotive DIYer. His advice was free. Since I’d already purchased the replacement oxygen sensor (a Bosch part, by the way), there was nothing in particular he could sell me for this job. (Okay, he did suggest that I might want to pick up a can of PB Blaster, a penetrating oil of some renown. But I already had said rust-busting oil in hand.) What he did do with his helpful and off-the-cuff advice was give me a new direction to take, grounded in been-there, done-that automotive realism. And it saved the day. Literally saved the day. You know the feeling, when you finally get the result you’re seeking after scratching and clawing away for such a long time. It seems like the solution is just out of reach. Like there is that one essential thing that you’re not doing correctly.

That bolt, hardened and cemented to that catalytic converter as if it put there 10,000 years back, it came right off after the fire treatment. I even used my fingers to unscrew it after letting it cool down for a spell.

Well, don’t be like me and my DIY dense attitude. Whether you’re beating your knuckles against a cold steel car frame or beating your head against a seemingly impenetrable PR challenge, I’m here to say: don’t go it alone if you don’t have to. Find someone who can help you get over that last steely edged hump. Find someone — in the company, an acquaintance or — shameless plug here — someone in a good reliable outside PR agency who can assist you in meeting your challenge successfully.

Did I mention that the O’Reilly counterman — a young guy, and a very nice guy, I’ll have to remember to tell him so next time I see him — knew me from previous experience? In other words, he knew me as his customer and knew it was in his and the company’s best interest to treat me with respect and to offer up his best counsel, even though I was not likely buying anything from him at that particular instance. In other words, he knew that by doing me a favor for free now, he’d likely see me again — when I needed to buy something for my car?

There’s a lesson in that for all of us in the business world too. If you’re not getting that kind of extra-mile counseling from your current agency sources, perhaps it’s time you scout the field for someone new. Just as in the automotive world, there are those of us in the PR and marketing communications world who make it a matter of faith that we will go that extra mile for our clients.

Now, I’ve got to get back to work. Gotta make some cash so I can afford that extra-nice new suspension set-up I’m thinking of installing in the old rolling thunder machine next.

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Political Foot-In-Mouth Fetish

Posted on January 15, 2010. Filed under: Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary, Uncategorized |

Ok, Harry. You said it. You thought it was off-the-record. So you sez. Didn’t anybody ever tell you that off-the-cuff often trumps off-the-record?
So, Harry now what do you do? Do you:

  • Ask for forgiveness. Oops, tried that.
  • Pretend it was all a big misunderstanding. Oops, tried that.
  • Blame it on Hostess Twinkies.
  • Swear upon a stack of Bibles that you were channeling Rush Limbaugh when you said it.
  • Claim you suffered a momentary flashback to the 1950s when white guys in power actually talked like that.
  • Review your options for retirement living.

The latterly choice, Harry, is looking more and more like the best choice. Consider the virtues of Switzerland.
Too bad, Harry, that an improvident slip of the tongue has besmirched your reputation, such as it was. You have lost the moral high ground, Harry. Pretty hard to take it back. Just ask the leaders of the free world’s biggest financial institutions.
There’s only so much that PR can do for a situation like this. (See the first rule of media relations again, “Nothing’s ever off-the-record” and rule #2, “The reporter is not there to be your friend.”)
Then again, there’s the rule that says the reporter is in charge of the question, and you’re in charge of the answer. I think you muffed that one, Harry.
Basic media relations 101, Harry. We teach it every day in the PR trenches.

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