- Member Type(s): Expert
- Title:Principal and Co-founder
- Organization:InkHouse Media + Marketing
- Area of Expertise:Public relations, social media
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Friday, September 21, 2012, 9:05 AM
Today, The New York Times officially banned “after-the-fact quote approvals.” This is the fairly common request from PR people and spokespeople to approve their quotes following an interview. The Times memo stated that “demands for after-the-fact quote approval by sources and their press aides have gone too far.”
Everyone understands the desire to ask to approve a quote. We’ve seen the perils of misused quotes and statistics all too often in this year’s presidential race. However, most of us aren’t running for public office, and in journalism, unlike the creative halls of political campaign ad execs, the truth is the ultimate goal. In fact, reputable reporters follow the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics.
Asking to approve a quote can do more damage than good. In most cases, if you ask to approve a quote, you’re insulting the reporter. She’ll think you either doubt her ability to capture your words accurately, or that you don’t trust her ethics. Regardless, this kind of insult is often the beginning of the end of that particular media relationship. And the only way to have good PR is to have good media relationships.
So if you would like to avoid angering reporters, there are some effective approaches that will reduce the likelihood of a misquote and preserve your good media relationships.
First, know who you are talking to. A columnist is very different from a news reporter. Columnists by nature include their own opinions, and as PR people, it’s our job to help spokespeople understand the perspectives of the reporters interviewing them.
Practice. We need to work with spokespeople to ensure that they can nail their talking points. All too often, a spokesperson who wants to see quotes after the fact is more afraid about what he actually said that a reporter’s ability to report it accurately. In other words, the spokesperson wants to provide the quote he wishes he spoke. Well-trained and practiced spokespeople rarely get misquoted.
Of course, there are situations when you suspect that the reporter did not fully understand your points. Follow up. After the interview, draft a few bullets that clearly and concisely summarize your points and send them to the reporter.
Finally, thanks to the round-the-clock news cycle and online media, PR people and their spokespeople have the unique opportunity to provide canned quotes. At InkHouse, we do this most frequently in response to breaking news – such as the iPhone 5/iOS 6 launch this week. Reporters are working quickly to file stories on these events and need experts to quote. If you provide a written quote at just the right time, with just the right unique perspective, chances are fairly good that you’ll be quoted, word for word.
Gaining coverage in a media outlet comes with the inherent risk of being misquoted. I consider it the opportunity cost for gaining media coverage. If you are misquoted, and there are gross factual errors, you can always request a correction. In today’s digital world, those are usually minutes away.
Read more from Beth Monaghan
Follow Beth Monaghan on Twitter @bamonaghan
Tuesday, June 12, 2012, 11:18 AM
A career in PR is one part anxiety and one part triumph. The anxiety stems from a lack of control – at the heart of PR is a mandate to convince someone else to do something we desire. We must convince clients to agree with our recommendations, and then convince reporters that the news/point of view we’re pitching is relevant and worthy of coverage.
The convincing is the hard part. People come into the world with an innate aversion to being convinced. They feel the slightest push and they instinctively push back. However, good PR people overcome this many times each day through the power of persuasion, which hinges on a fundamental understanding of the tired, yet true adage, “perception is reality.”
How do these people persuade? They consider this question on an almost hourly basis: What is the perspective of the person I am trying to reach?
It’s that simple. If you can fully consider and adjust based on the other person’s point of view, you will be more successful in meetings, pitching the press, and interactions with your coworkers.
Of course, this is not as easy as I am making it sound. In PR, some of the things that make us good at our jobs (being fast on our feet, quick with new ideas, and talkative conversationalists) work against us when we’re trying to understand and hear someone else’s perspective.
It is possible, though. Following are some tips that I’ve captured from watching others do them well:
- Be confident. On Mad Men’s “Episode 9: Dark Shadows” this season, Don Draper goes to a pitch with two concepts and leaves one (Ginsberg’s) in the taxi. His rationale? He never goes in with two concepts because it makes them both seem weak. Present your best possible pitch, and in the words of one of my favorite VCs, “It’s just as important to be convincing as it is to be right.”
- Know how to bend gracefully. You went in confidently, but the reporter/client/prospect hated your idea. Now what? Have the grace to bend with confidence. If you slink away, you are proving that you weren’t smart enough to have a seat at that particular table. Being able to think on your feet, adjust your perspective in response to someone else’s input, and come back with something refined, or entirely new, is a crucial skill. It’s one that can earn you a lot of respect as well.
- Really listen. If you are busy formulating your response while the other person is speaking, you aren’t listening. Listening requires focus, being fully present. And focus leads to a more thoughtful response that addresses the important nuances that often matter the most.
- Become comfortable with silence. If you find yourself jumping to speak and then berating yourself later for rambling and forgetting your key points, stop. In his new book, This is How, Augusten Burroughs writes, “Think out loud, but don’t babble. Babbling is a form of insecurity and anxiety. It’s an intolerance for space, silence. Never be afraid of space or silence. They are merely the cool side of the pillow during interactions: a refreshing mental nap.”
- Be yourself. Yes, that again. Authenticity conveys confidence. Your boss can coach you by giving you her words and points to make in an important meeting or pitch to the media, but if you try to mimic your boss, you will fail. Make them your own. Express them in your own tone, style, and words.
- Don’t argue. Cultivate the judgment to understand when an idea or recommendation can be salvaged through adjustment and when it should be dropped completely and immediately. Once one side of the discussion digs in on his or her point of view, it’s over. By digging into the deep grooves of your own stance, you will only make the situation worse. Your audience’s perception is your reality.
Wednesday, May 9, 2012, 12:32 PM
There. I said it. The in-person media tour is dead. In the 1990s, “desk-side” briefings reigned. We regularly tracked executives’ travel schedules and lined up press meetings in New York, San Francisco and Boston, often with five or six each day. These often took place months in advance of an announcement, back when lead times for some print publications that published on a monthly schedule were as long as six, or even eight months.
Today, the technology world often works on deadlines of a few minutes. We’ve heard stories of stressed out bloggers, working around the clock to keep pace with their ambitious competitors, and then suffering heart attacks. I understand how this could happen. Often, if we have set an embargo for 8:00 a.m. ET, we’ll see a number of bloggers post their pieces at 7:58 a.m. ET just so they can say they were first, and to inch their way up in the search results. Embargoes, of course, are an entirely other issue (for more, read: The Embargo Lives, for Now).
As online media has quickened the pace of reporting, so too has the pace of PR increased. When just two or three years ago, we’d schedule quick 5-10 minute calls to provide quotes about breaking news to the press, today, now we frequently respond electronically, writing quotes and sending them in, often with a deadline of an hour to meet the reporter’s shortened deadlines. Reporters simply don’t have time to take the call. While they are writing their articles, we’re working on a quote that they can drop in at the last minute before pushing the story live. This does not mean that we won’t try and be opportunistic to schedule meetings around clients’ travel schedules – a good angle or a unique point of view always has potential to break through this clutter.
However, in general, all of this illuminates the way in which time has become a precious resource in the wake of constantly breaking news. Lunch breaks are a thing of the past, and office hours don’t exist. Reporters don’t have time to take an in-person meeting when a 20-minute call or an email interview will do. Likewise, they don’t have time to break away from their computers to attend events. We rarely, if ever, recommend scheduling an event just for the media. There are lots of good reasons to host in-person events, but you should consider media attendance an unexpected bonus if it happens.
There is good news for PR. The opportunities for inclusion in these short lead-time stories are numerous. We should stop lamenting the days when we could develop face-to-face relationships because they are, unfortunately, coming to a fast close. Relationships are still critical, and the way we can best foster them is through responsiveness and transparency. Following are a few tips from our experience here at InkHouse:
- Be fast. Get back to reporters within five or 10 minutes for proactive requests for comment.
- Be gracious. Don’t complain about short deadlines – we are living in the world of the press, and if we want to be included, we have to play by their rules and realities.
- Respond quickly. If you have an opinion about a story that happened this morning, tell your PR people within minutes. Once the story breaks, it will be over within the hour. You can get ahead of this by identifying the types of news stories on which you’d like to comment in advance, and even preparing broad points of view to fuel the PR engine.
- Be compelling and unique. If your point of view is exactly the same as everyone else’s, it’s likely to get cut.
- Be helpful. If a reporter comes to you for commentary and the request is either outside of your specific area of expertise or irrelevant for your business, don’t ignore it. Respond, if you can, or try and help them find another resource. They’ll remember the next time. I believe in karma.
As in life, PR lives in shades of gray, so there are exceptions to my black and white perspective. For example, I’m fairly certain that people such as Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Al Gore could easily book an in-person meeting about virtually anything (or nothing) with almost any relevant reporter of their choosing. We also secure in-person meetings for the top executives at our Fortune 500 and high-profile venture capital clients. Additionally, if you have a major launch and happen to be in the same city as the beat reporter who always covers your news, chances are fairly good that you could book a meeting.
For the rest of us though, there is reality. You have to accept the reality of who you are, and adjust your expectations accordingly. Just because I love singing in the car and my three-year-old thinks I’m good does not mean I’ll be the next Adele, no matter how badly I believe I deserve it.
Monday, April 23, 2012, 4:44 PM
How you say it is just as important as what you say. The good news: reaching your target audience used to be a lot more difficult before the days of social media and online news. The bad news: getting attention used to be a lot easier.
If you long for the good old days of reading the morning paper over a cup of coffee and coming home to the evening news, still wondering what happened in the world today, I have bad news. Now we have RSS feeds, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Flipboard, Google News, Yahoo News, and every blog and media site out there, not to mention thousands of cable TV channels all bombarding your audience with information. I found out about the Japan tsunami before I turned on a computer or a TV because #Japan was trending on Twitter.
Breaking through this clutter of messages and channels is PR’s job. The how involves a great many tactics that I won’t get into here. However, it starts with two must-haves. First, you must have a unique point of view that is anchored in something more authoritative than your own whims. Then you have to tell it in a way that is compelling.
A unique point of view. Your point of view is not about your product. It should lead back to your product or service, but it has to be about something bigger and more meaningful to your audience than you. This viewpoint must be relevant enough to be part of your industry’s conversations, yet differentiated enough to emerge into full view. It’s not enough to have a compelling point of view though. Just thinking something will only get your friends and family to listen (maybe). It must be rooted in authority – third party research, proprietary data, or unique expertise.
Telling it well. How you communicate your point of view is just as important as the viewpoint itself. For example, NPR aired a piece recently that looked at the issue of humor in politics. It cited an example in which President Obama, who you’d think would get attention for virtually anything he says, has been talking about how his views on immigration differ from Republicans’ for quite some time. However, what broke through was this quote:
“They said we needed to triple border control,” said Obama. “Well now they’re gonna say we need to quadruple the border patrol. Or they’ll want a higher fence. Maybe they’ll need a moat. Maybe they’ll want alligators in the moat!”
The alligator joke was the tipping point that finally drove full-blown media coverage. And in a less high profile example, Larry Greenemeier, technology editor for Scientific American, tweeted this press release headline:
Words matter just as much as the message itself. One of my all-time favorite press release headlines was reproduced in news headlines widely: “Groupon Raises, Like, a Billion Dollars.” It was funny and irresistible. You can check out the search results for yourself, but even TechCrunch could not resist using it.
Good PR people also think beyond the words to visual elements (infographics, videos, etc.) to help reach target audiences. You only have to think of Pinterest to understand the power of visual communications – it’s now the number three social network behind Facebook and Twitter.
It usually begins with the written word though – a press release, blog post, Web copy, you name it. I don’t want you to change your company culture to get headlines. You must be yourself. Authenticity is the secret handshake for entrance into social circles. But make sure that you are unique and authoritative. Above all, if you’re not a natural comedian, make sure you’re something other than “best in breed,” “next generation” or “leading edge.” If you need help, check out Samantha McGarry’s (@samanthamcgarry) post on words we recommend retiring.
Tuesday, April 3, 2012, 11:55 AM
As part of an industry that counts written and verbal communications as an art, I think about concise, clear and compelling communications often. Back in 1995, I was taking a required English literature course at Syracuse University. In the first class, the professor looked up from his yellowed and tattered teaching notes that clung together with the help of scotch tape, and said, “Women use more punctuation in their writing because they cannot express themselves as well as men.”
I dropped the class. However, annoyingly, his words creep back to me every time I am motivated to employ a smiley face in an email or social media update to better convey my meaning. I regularly make resolutions to eliminate emoticons and extraneous exclamation marks from my communications, yet find myself reaching for them nonetheless.
What should we do? As in most things, I think a careful balance is in order. Yes, emoticons can become a crutch, but only if we let them. A smiley face is often warranted in an age of rampant sarcasm that isn’t clear in written communications. However, maybe we just need to try harder.
Leslie Lee wrote a great piece, “Punctuation, Social Media, and Evolving Rules of Communication,” that examined this issue and how Twitter could actually make us better writers. I believe it can. Personally, I love Creative Nonfiction’s #cnftweet contest that seeks tiny truths in 120 characters each day (check out @cnfonline for details). It’s a great way to force the creative process – in brief.
So if we find ourselves slipping away from the lovely art of crafting brief yet compelling communications in favor of silly faces, perhaps we should pause and think twice. I am first in line. And if that doesn’t work, I will happily give up the smiley face in favor of the snark (also known as the “Percontation Point” and the “Irony Mark”), which is a lost punctuation mark that conveys sarcasm.
BuzzFeed has a handy link to 14 Punctuation Marks That You Never Knew Existed. I am committed to finding the right words to convey my meaning, and will think again each time I type a smiley face in place of words. But I won’t object to bringing these cool punctuation marks into common usage either.