Social Media Five Reporter Tips same as Traditional

The folks over at PR News do a great job of mini Q&A sessions with keynotes as part of their promotion for seminars. It’s a great PR tactic in and of itself. In their latest post Comcast PR Veteran Walter Neary was interviewed. He mentioned how he hopes one day using social media to reach reporters and bloggers stops being “special”. I agree. If you want to reach the news you need to know where the news people are. More and more tweet, blog or host FB posts. Some base their tool on company requirements, some base their tool on personal preference. Either way, no different reaching out to media on their platforms than if you called, emailed, or met them at the grocery story or local event. All that has changed is the channel of communication. What hasn’t changed is some basic elements:

  1. Know the reporter/editor’s beat (topics covered)
  2. Understand their style-each will tell their story their way, not yours
  3. Provide facts and resources to back those facts up
  4. Respect their deadlines–just because social media as well as media is 24/7/365 doesn’t mean there aren’t deadlines
  5. Build a relationship-sending media releases blindly and never communicating not likely to get you covered. Especially in the social media realm.

We cannot afford to keep blinders on about the race to reach media. If you aren’t on social media, you’d better catch up. If you don’t know how to talk to any media, social or otherwise, you’d better catch up. Or you won’t know what hit you when the Google glasses arrive.



Journalism Is NOT Dying

The definition of journalism seems erroneously linked to solely to newspapers or magazines. While newspapers and magazines have been the traditional channels for accessing the fruits of journalism, they aren’t what defines journalism. Journalism is the gathering of news and dispensing that information to the people. It is the direct presentation of facts. It’s communication that appeals to the public interest. It definitely isn’t DYING.

Newspapers are transforming, but not dying. There may come a day when they aren’t printed on paper or no longer are delivered to a doorstep, but daily and weekly news gatherers are shifting to be hourly investigators. The new info updated to online sources by the minute.

The need for news and investigation is certainly not dying. We really have the opposite–an insatiable 24/7/365 appetite for information. What’s critically important is the need to train up and coming journalists in critical thinking, deft writing, ethics and neutrality. We need Public Relations pros trained as journalists, to keep the integrity of news balanced with information about businesses, governments or non-profits.

My trip to Kyrgyzstan reminded me how true that challenge remains across the globe. Nearly 50 papers are flourishing in the capital of Bishkek. The challenge is ownership and ethics. Nearly all papers are owned by businessmen or politicians using the newspapers as propaganda rags to highlight their own agendas. Yet the Kyrgyz people are able to glean the truth as they know the biases of each publication. Journalists created a Non Government Organization which seeks funding to assure the ethical and non-biased reporting and accuracy by new journalists in the flourish of news. I was struck by the similarities here-divided media showing bias on both sides of the political spectrum. But traditional non biased news gathering still exists in the dailies and the weeklies in local news. And in some of the national publications. Some bloggers are doing excellent investigative journalism and some are just hacks not checking facts. We just need to know the difference as consumers, as business owners, as public relations professionals and as journalists.

Don’t be a Brutus Backstabber

If you are engaging a speaker for your students, your event or your business,  applying good public relations practices critical for your reputation. I’ve recently been on a public speaking circuit and/or had occasion to help others with their engagements. Thought I’d share some observations.

One of my closest friends teaches high school English. To engage her students in the story of Julius Caesar and Brutus, students were assigned a media relations challenge: conduct a media publicity campaign for either Caesar or Brutus and defend the case. Kids did great jobs: citizen on the street reaction to the death of Caesar, radio scoops interviewing “Brutus” and TV reality shows. For those who have forgotten their high school history, Brutus and Caesar were pals until Caesar started making like a king. Brutus thought a republic with fair representation a better way to go. Seeing his friend’s grandiose ideas, Brutus felt his only option was to take Caesar out-stabbed him in the back. About 3/4ths of the students supported Brutus and the push for democracy, even though killing was extreme. We talked about the challenge in public relations about taking on a client who goes against the administration and when that is appropriate, overcoming oppressive regimes.

My friend invited two of us working in the field of public relations to come “judge” the media efforts. We committed nearly three hours of our time to observe 4-50 students present their cases and provided feedback on the elements of persuasion and public relations they showcased. Gladly arranged my schedule to accommodate this educational endeavor.

But the high school administration became Brutus. My entire experience was ruined when I went to my car. You see I couldn’t find any parking upon arriving. I got to the school at the appointed time but couldn’t find parking and still had to negotiate signing in at the front office. The 6-8 visitor parking spots were all occupied, the street parking was full, so I parked in a spot clearly marked faculty. There were several open faculty spots, not like I was preventing faculty from parking closely. When I returned to my car an astrobright gold piece of paper was on my windshield. The note read

You have parked in a faculty designated parking spot. In future, park in the designated visitor parking. -High School Administration.

Clearly the administration knew I was a visitor and not a student. What an abysmal way to treat a visitor. I had to sign in and state my purpose as a guest. They knew why I was there–to share my expertise with their students. And yet, they left a nasty gram on my windshield. No one asked me where I parked when I checked in. But they sure wanted me to know where to park if I ever came back.

If the high school teacher who invited me wasn’t my best friend, I wouldn’t ever go back. I’ve painted a mural on the wall over a hot summer weekend for the class. This is the third year I’ve volunteered time to provide professional insight to student class work. And one moment could easily have ruined our relationship (mine with the school, not my friend). I told my friend about my disappointment, so this isn’t a surprise. But she wasn’t surprised either. The school administration’s heavy handed approach created a great analogy for the class assignment, fulfilling both Caesar and Brutus parts.

Even Pit Bulls Need PR

Last month the local animal shelters teamed up with the local newspaper blog focused on dogs to change the image of Pit Bulls, because too many end up in the shelters and they take months instead of days to be adopted, thanks to horrible reputation management.

The paper hosted a contest for the positive stories about the best pit bulls. When loved and properly handled, they’re an amazing breed. From a PR perspective, the contest was brilliant. It showcased a number of positive stories, including highlighting the misuse and abuse of the dogs and their sweet dispositions in spite of abuse. But that’s only one step in the campaign to change an entire breed’s image.

You see, bad behavior is learned. Not every owner of Pit Bulls should be an owner; they’re irresponsible by not understanding the breed, or understanding them too well and misusing the dogs or abusing the animal. The problem for the dogs is they have to rely on someone else for their reputation management. For too long, their reputation has been governed by the unscrupulous, generating fear. Or media coverage of dog attacks on children or being used as a weapon to murder a neighbor. Bad publicity rarely worth it; better to be ignored. Because few viewers/readers remember that “news” is the unusual; they just hear more stories about pits and fear stays. Part of the issue is Pit Bulls are blamed for these attacks, but the veracity of checking whether the dog is really a pit bull isn’t always verified. Don’t send me hate mail about Pit Bulls. I know there are stories of dogs doing bad things. That is the fault of the owner, not the dog. And a disclaimer, I’ve never owned a Pit Bull. I have cats and they wouldn’t allow any dog in the house.

How do you change the reputation? Public relations strategies. From a crisis management perspective, pits need better media relations–getting reporters to interact with the dogs. They need more positive publicity, so events with the dogs in action could be useful. Or they need community relations to be seen as champions, such as going to work for the law enforcement or the military, even better going to work as therapy dogs for troubled teens. The message around Pit Bulls needs to mimic the change the U.S. military did from Vietnam vets to Iraq/Afghanistan vets. Understanding the trauma our veterans have endured as a result of doing what their country asked of them has improved resources (although certainly not sufficiently) and military protocols. Public reaction to war actions went from hating to soldiers to supporting the soldiers and properly laying the blame at the politicians instigating the wars. If a similar approach were used in messaging Pit Bulls (the level of training or abuse the dogs go through to become such aggressors), change could affect public perception. But it will take more than just a handful of owners, unless a public relations firm can take on their reputation. And even then, it will take time to change perception. The dogs are battling centuries of misuse, so it will take longer than a year long campaign to change their reputation.

What businesses can take away from this is to manage the positive reputation in the first place. If you reach the level of fear and loathing that Pit Bulls do, it will take extraordinary measures to recover your reputation. Don’t become a Pit Bull business.

The stuff of bad customer relations from Anchor Auctions

One of my goals this year is to downsize my “stuff”. I’ve really been cognizant of the Pareto Principle that 20% of your stuff you use 80% of the time. So I decided to unload stuff through an auction. All of my collections of spoons (antique silver and collectible souvenir), bells, antique vases, cups, shaving cream pots, a collection of Santa statues, 80 Agatha Christie hard bound leather books, Elvis memorabilia, jewelry- a lot of stuff. Some furniture went too-since you don’t need more furniture when you empty out the stuff. I asked for references, checked them out. All the “how to’s” seemed to be the same on the websites, so when a couple of friends recommended Anchor Auctions house because they purchase from them nearly weekly, I went with the friends’ recommendation.

Not really crazy about their customer service. At first, I thought they were terrific–pick a day, they show up, load up everything for you, then they take it to their site, inventory it, then put it up for auction, then send you a check when it sells. Sounded perfect. I kept trying to get a handle on how they sell it and what they sell items for and when I’d be compensated, less their 30%. Wasn’t really clear, but I really wanted to get rid of the stuff.

They arrived for my items May 18th. I wasn’t able to be there-my own fault and lesson one-so I had a designee. The receipt for all my collectibles and furniture was for “bells and everything else”! Really? No one called me to tell me when the lot was going up for sale (apparently that Saturday). No one called me when the items sold. No one called me to tell me when to expect a check. A month later I call them. Figured it would take a while to inventory all that little stuff. June 18th. The gal answering the phone says, your stuff sold. Expect a check July 5th. Great! Can you tell me if all my items are gone or just some? No, she can’t. She can see a list of some stuff, but because the original receipt said “bells and everything else”, doesn’t tell her what I need to know. But I’m content to get the check, stuff is gone.

July 10. No check. I call, speak to a different person. Apparently I need a “reissue”. No idea what that means; the employee answering the phone can’t really explain but will have the owner call me cause she’s the one who can. Ok. No call. No check. I call again end of July. Get the first person I spoke with back in June. “I’m on the owner’s list”. Still no call, still no check. Now it’s August. I call again. Apparently I’m due a check for $362 and change. For all that stuff. Hmmm. Is  it inventoried? Can I get a copy of what all sold and what it sold for? Yes, fax you in 15 minutes. Hoping the fax is at my office when I get there because I left after 30 minutes when I didn’t have the fax. She tells me she remembers me and that I went on the list of call backs, not sure why the owner didn’t call me back.

Clearly the owner’s have a process, you can hear the employees go through it–but the owner’s aren’t delegating authority to solve problems. Their process seems more about the owners convenience than customers. They aren’t thorough in the customer service to handle a small problem or just provide courtesy to call a customer back. They aren’t building relations by having clear expectations outlined and ready for virgin auctioners like me in their receipts, or on their website or in keeping auctions updated. Now I’m going to turn in to a real problem. You know-demand a fedex check with next day delivery or consequences will be word of mouth they don’t want. And that’s just getting started. Never piss off a public relations expert, because we know how to give you bad PR. You can start looking for Yelp reviews and other ways that unwary customers will find out about Anchor Auctions.

Is there culpability on my part? Sure. I get the lessons on what I should have asked before and put in writing before. But you know what? If they’d have had good customer relations, such as simplifying their process, answering questions, providing an auctioner’s bill of rights or some steps in how the process workl, they could have avoided all my frustrations. Simply managing their time to call me back, would have been easier. Sending the check when they said they would. But now…

Really what they need is a good customer relations plan. Just might be offering my services. We’ll see if they take me up on it.

You can throw a helluva a party and no one is your client

Everyone loves a party, except maybe hermits. And I know many a PR student who gets in to the field “so they can manage events”. Events can be tricky for marketing your business and I caution businesses to tread lightly when it comes to events.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a party. Every year for the past 15 years I’ve thrown myself a killer birthday party and hosted 60-80 people IN DECEMBER. Friends say its the kickoff to the holiday season.

But from a business perspective, events have several cons:

  • Event hosts aren’t clear in the purpose of an event
  • The bigger the event, the more the cost and less return on investment (unless done really well)
  • Significant time investment to do an event well

Just because people love a party, doesn’t mean they will come to yours and want to be your client–they usually just want to eat your food, drink your booze and mingle with their friends, maybe make a new one. If you still want to have an event, things to consider:

  • Type of event: open house, mixer with the chamber, fundraising soiree to benefit the community, etc
  • Define the end result: new prospects, build awareness/name recognition, capture a certain percentage as clients
  • Know the cost per person to get the client and make sure its feasible. If you host an event that cost $10,000 but only 50 people go, that costs you $200 per person. That’s horrendous if you’re a hair stylist doing cuts for $35; great if you sell New York real estate with million dollar homes.
  • Be sure to have the mechanisms to capture the information about the attendees – whether they come through your bricks and mortar or stop by your booth at a trade show.
  •  Remember the stages of audience in relation to your business: awareness-great for new locations; interest-provide samples; evaluation-provide demonstrations and interactive experiences of your product or service; trial-collect signatures or business cards or have a sign in sheet to build your prospect list; adoption-offer incentives for return.

You can do something as simple as a mixer with your local chamber and offer a few crackers, cheese and wine/no alcohol options. If the chamber does the communication and you do, odds are you’ll have good turn out. Unless the chamber members aren’t your audience. Be sure you connect with the events that someone else is holding which are likely to get you to your audience. If it doesn’t, reassess why you are going or hosting an event.

Small business news ideas to share with media and clients

Most businesses, large or small, can generate news if they just pay attention and remember what they think is routine, is often unique news stories. You add a new machine that builds a different kind of widget–that’s news for a trade journal. An employee is added, promoted, taking on a different type of client development–that’s news for your website or for local business publications. The company is nominated (either by the owner, a client, or collaborator) for an awards program–news if you win. From the gambling mecca of the country: you can’t win if you don’t enter.

Try to keep in mind “who needs to know what we are up to”. Then find the best way to reach them. We’ve talked about using media releases for customer relations. If you have new equipment that expands your capacity–tell them. If you have a new client relations person, let them know. If your company’s New Year resolution is to give back to the community, update them when you start. Elicit testimonials from current and new clients–again share that on your website and as quotes in a media release, even if you only send to your client base and not the media. If you don’t use the media release format, perhaps it’s content for your client newsletter.

But that’s a blog for tomorrow.