- Member Type(s): Expert
- Title:Principal and Co-founder
- Organization:InkHouse Media + Marketing
- Area of Expertise:Public relations, social media
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Wednesday, January 4, 2012, 10:18 AM
Public relations is a notoriously stressful career. CNBC ranked PR as the #2 most stressful job of 2011, just behind airline pilots. I beg to differ. Lives are not in our hands, after all.
Of course, PR can be stressful. We are at the mercy of forces outside of our control, for the most part. The right pitch has to edge up against the right timing and the right reporter for any great placement to happen.
It takes a certain kind of personality to thrive in PR. Read any PR job listing and you’ll see requirements such as: detailed oriented, excellent writing skills, multi-tasker, organized, energetic, blah blah blah. Yes, PR people must embody these traits, but excelling at PR requires a number of intangibles. It’s the gut feeling we’re looking for when we interview candidates that cannot be quantified in a job posting.
I owe credit to Jason Keath (@jasonkeath) at Social Fresh who inspired this post when he penned the 54 Warning Signs That You Work In Social Media. It’s a hilarious read and all true. Aside from Jason’s list, I have some to add into the mix for those of us who work in social media and PR that will give you a better sense for those intangibles that I mentioned above:
- The five scariest words you fear all day are, “Why aren’t we in this?” (from the hilarious @lmokaba)
- In grade school, your teachers noted that you were a “social butterfly” on your report cards (not in a good way).
- You’ve disabled all of your notifications on your mobile devices and your computer. You don’t need them. You know you have at least 50 emails, five DMs, and 10 texts.
- When you see a great story in the press, your first thought is, “Who placed that story?”
- You scrutinize every single word you write. Yes, there is a difference between “over” and “more than!” (Just ask Steve).
- You’d never buy a gift for a reporter, but you would retweet him or her to show that you are paying attention.
- You’re surprised to hear that people still use desktops.
- When the iPhone first came out you sacrificed function for image (yes, you had to figure out a new way to manage your tasks since they no longer synced like they did on your BlackBerry, but it was worth it).
- You know what a “muscular verb” is.
- A “day off” = only checking email every 15 minutes while you are physically out of the office.
- In your personal life, when people try to help you stuff invitations, assemble gift bags, etc., you take over the project because it will be done more quickly.
- Over drinks, when a friend tells you an amazing story about how she saved a lost dog or saw an ostrich along the side of the highway, you say, “I could get that on TV.”
- Your grandmother wants to know when your article will be published in The New York Times. You just tell her, “soon.”
- Your friends ask you to compose their apology letters.
- You can identify people at meetings, tradeshows and on the street based solely on their Twitter avatar photos (HT @lmokaba).
- People assume that you attend parties and meet celebrities for a living (and you let them because it’s better than the reality of being chained to your phone and laptop).
- You could easily hold the record for the most lists on Twitter, but there’s no formal way to measure that yet.
- You still have Google alerts set up for past clients just to see what type of coverage they are getting (HT @lmokaba)
- You might use terms such as “boiler plate” and “hashtag” during happy hour conversation.
- Caffeine and alcohol, in that order.
- You have a running list of jargon that you ban from all writing. And you judge others who use those terms. If you need a starting place, check out Sam’s list of the words to retire in 2012.
- You are perfectly capable of writing a press release while tweeting, updating Facebook and watching Mad Men at the same time.
- You justify new clothing and accessories by telling yourself and others that you are “in the image business.”
- You believe that all customer service reps will give you what you want if you approach the conversation the proper way. If that doesn’t work, there’s always Twitter (Meg could give you some good advice).
- You use Google+ because it increases the SEO for your content and all of the reporters you work with are on there, not because you like it (at least not yet).
- If you cannot find a piece of information, it’s not findable.
- You take pride in finding typos in the novels you read (and contemplate notifying the publisher).
- You know and use proofreader’s marks.
- You have entire conversations with your colleagues using buzzwords just to crack each other up (another great one from @lmokaba)
- You sleep with your iPhone.
- Your answer to most questions that begin with, “Do you think it’s possible to…” is yes.
- You write headlines in 140 characters (actually, 120 is ideal to leave room for retweets).
- “Speechless” is a foreign word.
We’ll be tweeting these signs using the #SignsYouWorkInPR hashtag, and encourage you to add your own on Twitter or in the comments below.
Monday, December 12, 2011, 11:23 AM
2011 was a good year for PR. It’s growing and changing for the better, as I wrote back in June. While it’s harder to break through the streams of tweets and updates that fly at us each day, PR has an unprecedented opportunity to tell stories through new vehicles. The stakes are higher though, so we have to be smarter and more creative. I used to tell clients not to worry too much about negative coverage because Google’s memory is short. Well, it’s gotten a lot longer this year with archive searches, so you can Google this post next December and call me prescient or just plain wrong.
- Infographic Saturation. Like all shiny new toys, infographics are suffering from an abundance of enthusiasm. Data visualization is an important piece of content marketing, and one that isn’t going away. However, in the next year we’ll see a bit of a contraction in infographics as the market tires of the onslaught and demands quality design work that is based on great data and equally interesting insights.
- PR Skills Move Well Beyond Media Relations. Recruiting is a challenge for the PR industry overall, which is enjoying a nice period of growth (a November 30 Forbes article cited the PR industry’s growth at 11% in the past 12 months). At InkHouse, we call this a good problem, but a problem nonetheless. A successful PR professional today must have a wide array of skills. Gone are the days of cranking out press releases and simply excelling at selling stories to the press. PR pros have to be good at both of those today, but they also have to understand the fast-changing social media and content marketing world and be able to write like never before. It’s one thing to write a formulaic press release, but an entirely other writing challenge to ghost author a blog post for a CEO in her tone and style.
- The Phone Matters…Again. We had a few years during the blog explosion when some PR professionals slid into the keyboard, choosing to type their media correspondence behind the safety shield of their monitors. Email and social networks are important tools of the trade. However, to have good relationships, you need real conversations. PR people who pick up the phone get better coverage, period. In the late 90s, we used to send FedEx packages to reporters to convey importance because they stood out from the regular mail and daily barrage of faxes. Today, the phone is worthy of a resurgence since very few people use it anymore.
- Social Chaos Comes into (better) Focus. When clients object to Twitter, the first concern is the sheer exposure to followers they probably don’t know. The second concern is due to intimidation by the Twitter fire hose. Those of us in the industry have found ways of filtering and focusing social content. I am the first to admit that it took quite a long time for me to get my system to a place where it really works for me though. It’s a manual process. I chose Tweetdeck because it helps me filter by list, search term, Twitter handle, etc. This year, LinkedIn Today launched, and it is one of the few places I look each day outside of Tweetdeck. The content is dead on and I always see something I missed elsewhere. Facebook and Google+ have both added new functionality to make content streams more customized and to enable people to group their contacts by topic and share selectively. This will only improve in 2012 and I, for one, am thrilled.
- The Influence Bubble Deflates. Influence metrics like Klout work because they play to our narcissism. And they are addictive. People get attached to their influence scores, and some check them every day. As Klout discovered, people become so attached that changes to the algorithms can create a lot of frustration (see The Next Web’s Klout’s scoring changes incite a riot of complaints). Aside from personal frustration, these changes also have an impact on social media measurement. We used to use metrics such as Klout in our social media reports, but the ever-changing metrics make it impossible to benchmark and often make it appear as though our clients have lost ground in the social sphere, when they have actually gained ground. My prediction: it’s becoming clear that no influence metric is truly accurate, yet. Until we can benchmark and show real influence (what of the figures of major influence who are not involved in social media?), influence metrics may be relegated to points of interest, not points of real value.
- Content is Critical. Content, content, content. Good, creative content. This has always been the basis for good PR, but now it’s more critical than ever. Blogging and social channels have opened up an opportunity to have direct and meaningful conversations with your target audiences. To do this, you must begin with great content, told through the right lens. 2012 will bring more of this, and to prepare, check out our piece in PR News on the tenets of good storytelling and this one on what to blog about. Then check out this infographic on MarketingProfs about content marketing.
- Tech Product Launches Take a Back Seat. Remember the days of big bang technology product launches? If you happen to work at Apple, you only have to think back to the iPhone 4S. However, for the rest of us, product launches have lost their luster for the press. A product launch tells a reporter that 20 other reporters are going to be doing the same story, which is a major deterrent today. Product news is important though. Unless you have a product launch that will change the shape of a market, you might consider casting a smaller, and more focused net on the few reporters who will write longer, more in-depth stories. Good PR people know how to couple this kind of launch with quality content – demo videos, infographics, Slideshare, etc. – to populate the launch through social channels and directly to the target customer base.
- RSS Feeds Lose More Ground. From a content syndication standpoint, we use RSS feeds every day at InkHouse. However, from a consumer’s perspective, as Twitter lists, Google+, Facebook and others provide new ways of filtering content, RSS feeds will lose more ground. My personal favorite tools are Twitter Lists and NetVibes.
- Measurement Gets Measured. PR and social media measurement is a big market (Salesforce acquired Radian6 this year for $326 million). Measurement is critical, but it can also be very pricey. Tools like Radian6 and Sysomos are fantastic, but I have yet to find a tool that gives us everything we need. Good PR needs access to listening tools to find hot topics and competitor information, but we also need a platform for acting on that information. PR measurement is certainly growing up and I see more on the horizon in 2012 as the industry defines what is required in much clearer terms. Until then, my trusty Google Analytics, NetVibes (the free version) and a cadre of other free social media monitor tools will get us by.
- Transparency Trumps Spin. Yes, it is the job of the PR professional to position a company’s story in the best possible light. This will always be the case. Transparency, though, has gained in importance as social media has taken off. It’s no longer about talking at your audience, but about communicating with them. The coming year will only bring this need into sharper focus. This is one of the nice side effects of social media – it keeps everyone honest!
Friday, December 2, 2011, 3:21 PM
10 Tips For Businesses on Facebook
If you run a business page on Facebook, have you updated its status today? If so, you may not have had the social networking site’s Edgerank algorithm in mind. And you should. According to B. Bonin Bough, the global head of digital for PepsiCo, only 1 percent of what you post is seen – abysmal if you are a business trying to raise your visibility and engage with your audience.
Here are a few tips -- collected at yesterday’s PRNews Facebook conference -- for how to improve your results.
1. Focus on the feed. Facebook’s controversial news feed may annoy some but this feature is important because it is the primary place where branded content appears, more so than on a company’s profile page. One new tweak from Facebook enables users to highlight stories that they like. Edgerank uses that information to select what should appear in the feed. So if you are a business, and want to stay in front of your audience, pushing out relevant and interesting content is the best way to achieve this. Users can also game their feed by sorting for news that is recent, which means that not only do you need to push out relevant and interesting content, but you need to do it twice a day.
2. Engagement counts. Literally. Edgerank tallies how many likes, comments and links are connected to your updates and your visibility is based on those results.
3. Post and tag images. Photos and videos get more traction on the news feed than any other content. Facebook hates embedded video and you don’t get algorithm points for it. But tagging someone in a photo or encouraging friends to post photos on your page is one of the most effective ways to not only to game Edgerank but to create engagement. Bissell asked people to post pet pictures and likes increased immediately. People also love behind-the-scenes access. Hershey’s did a successful video showing how a Kiss is made.
4. Ask your friends to “share.” It’s OK to do this (not every time) and it works. Shares are the most important gesture, as opposed to likes or comments, because they indicate that friends see the content as valuable and can make it go viral. Strong statements are more likely to get shared. People share information because it makes them look smart or because they think their friends will find it interesting. In other words, it improves their own status. There are other reasons, too.
5. Know when to post: Updates on Thursday and Friday have an 18 percent higher engagement rate (though this varies a bit by industry). Experiment with this. Also, early morning and late at night had better engagement. Surprisingly, weekends are busy times for b-to-b engagement. Luckily, Edgerank is no longer penalizing for those using a third-party application to post during these non-work hours.
6. Keep it short. While you can now have a status update as long as 60,000 characters -- don’t. Eighty characters or less have a 27 percent higher engagement rate and posts between 100 and 250 characters get 60 percent more likes.
7. Links should have commentary. I have no further comment on this.
8. Ask questions in your update. This elicits responses, especially if asked the right way: “where,” “when,” “would” and “should” are better than “why” or “did” because they are easier to respond to. An Oreo example: “Are you a dunker or a twister?” Quizzes and polls and interactive ideas also drive engagement.
9. Use fill-in-the-blanks. These work well for engagement. Coke + ____=J
10. Create a holiday calendar. If you’re really out of ideas for content, keep track of notable or interesting holidays so you can use those as a touch stone to prepare content. This is one of our favorites.
Thursday, November 3, 2011, 1:25 PM
Private Group Chat, Backups, Acknowledgements, Hashtags and More
Back in April I posted our first Twitter cheat sheet, and since then, a few of the Twitter terms have waned, new tips have come forth, and we’ve discovered some third-party tools that make Twitter easier to use (namely, private group conversations!).
If you are new to Twitter, Twitter has a handy page with 31 Twitter basics for getting started. For those who’ve been on Twitter for a while, please feel free to add your own tips to the comments below.
Third-Party Tools That Work
- !b = Private group chat for Twitter. I wish I thought of this! You don’t need to be following each other, and you don’t need any special downloads. It works everywhere – desktop, mobile phone, you name it. The folks at !Blether launched it yesterday. And in case you’re not Scottish, Urban Dictionary has a useful definition of “blether,” which means: n. 1. person who chatters incessantly; one who babbles on and on. or v. 2. to engage in conversation, long-winded or idle talk. To use it simply login at www.blether.co/ (you can use your Twitter credentials) and type “!b” followed by any list of Twitter handles. For more details, check out Courtney Boyd Meyer’s story on TheNextWeb.
- Backup Your Tweets. You’ve no doubt discovered that Twitter only keeps tweets for the short-term. If you want to back them up, check out TweetBackup and Backup My Tweets.
As I mentioned in my post, Tweet Like it’s a Networking Event, acknowledging other people’s ideas and finds is important in the real world and the social media world alike. Here are a few ways to acknowledge others on Twitter:
- via = I found this information via someone else. Due in part to automated tweets on news sites, Twitter users have begun using the term “via” to acknowledge other Twitterers. For example, if I found a story and wanted to write my own tweet instead of RTing someone else, I might write a tweet such as this: “The intertwining of luck and genius: Bill Gates & Southwest Airlines from @nytimes nyti.ms/vigNYP via @joshandrix”
- HT = Hat tip. This is a way to virtually tip your hat to another Twitterer. It can be a congratulatory tweet, or perhaps you just liked the article the person wrote. Use it as you feel it’s appropriate. There aren’t set rules for this one.
- #FF = Follow Friday. Follow Fridays has been around for a while and it’s a way to suggest other Twitters your followers might want to follow. Instead of blind tweets with #FF followed by a bunch of handles, I suggest adding context. For example, “#FF to my favorite foodies in Boston @abcdefg @hijklm”
- Favorite. You can favorite someone’s tweet, which is another nice way to acknowledge him or her publicly. I would use this option if the tweet contains information you’d like to refer to later.
- Hashtags can convey humor, foster conversation during live or virtual events and rally support for major campaigns (think “#OWS” that is being used by the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations).
- OH = Overheard. It’s a good way to share the funny things you happen to overhear everyday, and it’s a great way to add personality to your tweets. No one wants to follow a robot.
- Keyboard shortcuts. If you’re using Twitter.com here is a screen shot from Twitter on the keyboard shortcuts:
The Standby Twitter Abbreviations
- RT = Retweet. Put an RT in front of a message to rebroadcast someone else’s tweet to your followers.
- MT = Modified tweet. Similar to a retweet, this means that you are passing along a tweet from someone else, but have modified it from its original form. I should note that “PRT” or partial retweet used to be used a bit, but I have not seen it in months, so I think we can call it a thing of the past.
- @ mention (public and semi-public). An @ mention happens when someone else mentions you in a tweet. If the @ mention is at the beginning of the tweet (e.g. @bamonaghan Thanks for the RT today), only that person, and the people following you and that person can see the message. It’s NOT private though. If you want everyone to see an @ mention, simply embed it in the middle of a tweet (e.g. Great seeing @moleary today) or place a period before it in the tweet (e.g. .@moleary and I had a great meeting today).
- D = Direct message. These are private messages that only you and the sender can see. The person you are DMing must be following you though for this to work.
- CC = Carbon-copy. Works the same way as email.
Tuesday, November 1, 2011, 10:53 AM
Last week, I participated in a panel discussion that was sparked in part by my blog post on the Art of Pitching the Media. It took place at the Mass Technology Leadership Council Innovation UnConference in Boston and included Scott Kirsner, Innovation Economy columnist for The Boston Globe, and Rodney Brown, news editor for Mass High Tech, along with PR pros Patrick Rafter and Adam Zand.
Our goal was to understand the perspective of both journalists and PR people when it comes to news value, pitching stories and building relationships. As it turns out, journalists do care about the art of the pitch. A good pitch makes the difference between a story in tomorrow’s paper/blog and permanent relegation to a reporter’s junk folder. To stay in the business of helping to shape the news, PR professionals should follow the 11 tips that came out of our discussion:
- Be ready. If a reporter can’t get to the essence of your story within a few questions, you’ve failed. I was thrilled to see an entrepreneur and 2011 Mass Challenge finalist, Erica Zidel of Sitting Around, stand up and deliver an almost perfect pitch to Scott and Rodney. Sitting Around connects families with networks of trusted babysitters. She nailed the problem statement, demonstrated a clear market need, successes to date (2,000 families across the country) and how the company would grow. And she got to the point quickly.
- Know why your story is important. Even companies in stealth mode find themselves speaking to the press, particularly when they secure financing and have to file publicly with the SEC, which often prompts unsolicited media calls. You may not be able to talk about your offering yet, but Scott recommends being able to speak articulately about the problem you are solving and the market you will be addressing. Rodney added, “If you can’t explain the problem you’re solving without giving away the secret sauce, it’s a problem.” On the other hand, if you’re not in stealth mode and cannot articulate these points, you are not ready to speak with the press.
- Make your story concise and targeted. Blanketing your entire media list with the same pitch is often a fruitless effort (and one that annoys reporters). The fire hose approach may be successful for a story here and there, but long-term success, and coverage, is dependent on targeted and intelligent pitching. Chris Carleton of CHEN PR was in the audience and likened the media pitch process to sales: you wouldn’t take a product to market and start selling randomly to unqualified leads, so don’t do it with your media relations either.
- Be honest about who else you are talking to. PR people are often trying to get lots of reporters to write about a particular story. The days of 24x7 reporting have tightened competition, and reporters do not like surprises, particularly when they think they are getting a story before anyone else. Be honest about how widely you are casting your net when you are shopping your story around. For more, see a past conversation with Scott about embargoes.
- Make it easy to check the facts. Reporters almost never send articles to sources before they go to print, but if you have concerns, there are some things you can do. First, ask if it’s making sense during the conversation (thanks to Chris for the tip). Second, follow up with materials that answer the tough questions. (Offering a fact sheet never hurts.) Third, Scott suggests that you make sure the reporter has the spokesperson’s after-hours contact information (as well as the PR person’s) for quick questions as he or she finishes up the story.
- Understand the bar for coverage. Know what the publication you are pitching covers, and understand that it differs. If your company is based in Pennsylvania, don’t pitch it to Mass High Tech (it’s in the name). Likewise, if you’re pitching an enterprise technology story, the technology reporters may not write about you until you have the validation of venture capital financing.
- Don’t get discouraged. You might have done a briefing with a reporter and have not seen a story yet, or have seen a round-up story on your space in which you were not included. Make sure that the reporter is aware of your major milestones and prove why he or she should cover your company. Adam suggests that you bring them a new angle to reignite interest.
- Don’t take it personally. If a reporter ignores your calls, leaves you out of a story or writes something you don’t like, getting angry never works. An angry call to the reporter asking why he or she did not include you will only ensure that you’ll never get coverage.
- Be findable. Scott recently tweeted in frustration about a press release without contact information. If a reporter can’t find a way to reach you quickly on your Web site, in your press materials and on the Web in general, you are at a disadvantage.
- Understand how you fit into the broader trend. If you can provide a broader perspective about your company and how it fits in, you’ve done the work for the reporter and it might even get you a story sooner because the reporter won’t be waiting around to find another company to fill out the piece. As Rodney said, “Do an end run around that randomness.”
- You’re not the only one. There is no reporter (or investor for that matter), who will believe that you do not have competition. Be honest about it, and to the point above, it could actually help you get coverage.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011, 8:13 AM
No one is born with the grace and agility to answer tough questions off the cuff. Media training is an important primer. However, practice in the trenches of real-world media interviews is the only direct route to competence. And even the best spokesperson can stumble (or jump) deep into the fray in the face of a sharpened or unexpected attack. The fray is not a place we recommend; it inhabits blame so deeply that few people emerge better for being there.
The GOP debates and considerable media attention about jobs have provided some good examples of how to handle the questions that you’re trying to avoid or didn’t expect. These fiery topics demonstrate how confidence, honesty and a thick skin can overcome almost any tricky interview. On the other hand, a deep dive into the fray can light up the kind of side story that slingshots the conversation in a new and completely irrelevant direction. Let’s look at a few examples.
The Unexpected Issue: Politico conducted a pizza taste test with panel of, well, three: Doug Heye (a Republican strategist who covers restaurants for Capitol File), Karen Finney (a Democratic commentator) and Nycci Nellis (who runs TheListAreYouOnIt.com).
In this blind taste test that included plain cheese slices from Pizza Hut, zpizza, Ledo Pizza, Papa John’s and Godfather’s Pizza, Godfather’s came in last. Nellis said, “It’s the most unappetizing….The cheese is really sour! The crust is like a sponge.”
Naturally, Politico went to Herman Cain, GOP hopeful and former Godfather’s Pizza CEO, for his reaction. What did the Cain campaign do? Spokesman J.D. Gordon told Politico, “At the end of the day, I think we can all agree on liking pizza. What’s not to like?” Who can argue with that?
The Question You Were Hoping To Avoid: During the October 18 GOP debates at the Venetian in Las Vegas, Rick Perry went on the offensive with Mitt Romney about his alleged employment of illegal immigrants. As reported in the New York Times, Perry’s attack was dogged and included many interruptions. Perry said, “Mitt, you lose all of your standing from my perspective because you hired illegals in your home.” He added, “And the idea that you stand here before us and talk about that you’re strong on immigration is, on its face, the height of hypocrisy.”
Romney’s response was drawn out and zigzagged from denial (“Rick, um, I don’t think I’ve ever hired an illegal in my life. I’m looking forward to finding your facts.”) to explanation ( “We hired a lawn company to mow our lawn and they had illegal immigrants working there. And when that was pointed out to us, we let them go.”). Romney worked to direct the conversation back to immigration policy (his and Perry’s), which was a nice attempt, but it was too late. At one point, Perry interrupted him again and Romney responded in an uncharacteristic outburst, which included these lines:
- “I’m speaking, I’m speaking, I’m speaking. This is how the rules work here.”
- “Would you please wait! Are you just going to keep talking?”
- “This has been a tough couple of debates for Rick, so I understand that, and you’re going to get testy.”
- “I suggest that if you want to become president of the United States, you have got to let both people speak.”
Like the pizza taste test, this topic was irrelevant to the debate. Unlike the pizza taste test, it is a topic of importance, and it was designed as a pointed attack that was meant to discredit Romney’s stance. A brief and measured one-sentence explanation and a bridge to the more important topic ends these kinds of discussions. Unfortunately, as it always tends to do, this particular spark of controversy dominated many headlines instead of the candidates’ proposals for creating jobs.
Side note: It also felt a bit wrong for Rick Perry to refer to Cain as “brother,” but that’s a topic for another post entirely!
The Issues You Plan For: A few weeks ago, Leslie Stahl interviewed General Electric CEO and Job Czar for Obama, Jeffrey Immelt. She introduced the piece with this: “Not since the Great Depression has unemployment been this bad for this long. And one of the reasons is that U.S. companies have gone abroad for their workers and their profits….No company has gone global more aggressively than General Electric, the conglomerate that makes everything from refrigerators to MRI machines to jet engines.”
Immelt answered her questions easily, appearing comfortable and as though he wanted to answer tough questions, and did so often. Although this was before the headlines of Occupy Wall Street, Stahl asked him about the negative public sentiment toward corporations. He responded, “I think this notion that it’s the population of the U.S. against the big companies is just wrong. It’s just wrong-minded and when I walk through a factory with you or anybody, you know, our employees basically like us. They root for us, they want us to win. I don’t know why you don’t.” He had turned the issue around.
On creating jobs here in the U.S. versus overseas, Immelt answered with honesty and pragmatism, “I’m a complete globalist. I think like a global CEO. But I’m an American. I run an American company. But in order for GE to be successful in the coming years, I’ve gotta sell my products in every corner of the world.” He went on: “If I wasn’t out chasing orders in every corner of the world, we’d have tens of thousand fewer employees in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Massachusetts, Texas….I’m never going to apologize for that, ever, ever.”
I strongly encourage you to watch the video because Immelt’s presence was half of the equation. He was confident, comfortable and optimistic. Most importantly, he was honest and didn’t let Stahl put him on the defensive.
Last week, Occupy Wall Street protesters occupied Immelt’s front lawn, despite his recent statements supporting the demonstrations. Clare O’Connor at Forbes summarizes GE’s response and Immelt’s, which both stayed above the fray and focused on the issue at hand: job generation.
Andrew Williams, media relations director for General Electric, said, “The protesters certainly have a right to share their opinion, but they don’t have a right to their own set of facts. The fact is that GE is investing in America. Since 2009 alone, GE has announced more than 10,000 new U.S. manufacturing jobs and this week, GE announced that it will build its 16th new factory in the U.S. since 2009.”
In the end, a spokesperson’s job is to keep his or her audience focused on the vision and the issue at hand. It’s easier said than done, and often requires an extremely thick skin. A command of the facts coupled with a honed filter for separating bait from substantive debate and a calm demeanor will mitigate many of these tough situations.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011, 9:17 PM
Public relations is more art than science, and as long as people are involved in creating companies and in writing about those companies, art will prevail. Today, we have tools at our fingertips that enable us to press one button and reach thousands of reporters, helpless against the onslaught of untailored and uninteresting pitches. I sometimes long for the days when I was instructed to stand in the mail room and manually send out “blast faxes” on launch day because the tedium often dissuaded those in charge from going this route.
We don’t allow blast anythings at InkHouse for one simple reason: they don’t work. Sure, if you are a PR professional, and you are looking to play that numbers game, I’m sure you’ll get some placements. If you blast enough emails out to enough reporters someone will eventually bite. But you’ll be starting from scratch again next week when you embark on your next campaign.
The anonymity of digital communications lets people hide behind their computers, and makes it easy to forget that relationships do matter. Do you want a reporter to think, “Oh here’s the tenth email from Sandra this week. Delete?” Of course not. But if you spent your last campaign blasting out emails without securing any feedback, you’re starting from scratch, and probably at a disadvantage because you are now about to annoy all of those reporters again.
The relationship business is a hard one, much harder than it was when I first got into PR. And that is what separates the good and thoughtful PR people from the blast emailers. Here is my advice if you want the media to pay attention.
Start by writing down your pitch – and rework it until you would open the email. You might be delivering it by phone, but the simple act of writing it down will help crystallize it and prepare you for the questions you will receive. My advice for the written pitch:
- Lead with the news. This sounds obvious, but it bears repeating. The subject line should convey three things: the news, the timeliness and why it’s important. This is the most important part of your pitch. If a reporter does not respond to the subject line, everything else is lost in the trash bin. Example of a bad subject line: “XYZ Corp, the leading provider of social media measurement tools launches new product.” A good subject line: “Advance on 10/6 news re: first metric for on & offline influence?”
- Sound like a real person. If the body of your email reads like a marketing brochure, you should get a glossy copy and hand it out to prospects. Reporters want to interact with human beings who understand what is interesting and what is not. Casual correspondence is important. And brief pitches work best. I recommend no more than 3-4 sentences until the reporter asks for more.
- Make it easy to find more information. Hyperlink, hyperlink, hyperlink.
- Include your contact information! Don’t lose the story because the reporter didn’t have your phone number.
- Be yourself. You won’t build relationships by turning yourself into someone else’s vision of the perfect PR person. If you are yourself, you’ll create relationships that you can nurture.
Now how should you deliver the pitch? Before you even think about making the pitch, READ the reporter’s work. This will add relevance to your pitch and will save you from embarrassment when you discover that the reporter wrote a very similar story to the one you are pitching just yesterday. Then, choose your channel wisely:
- Phone adds humanity. It’s only through a live conversation that you can have, well, a conversation. Knowing when to place that call is the key though – there are important rules about when to call daily newspapers and broadcast outlets. Know them and follow them. Likewise, understand that a phone call conveys importance. Don’t call unless your news is worthy of a call or your pitch is strong enough to withstand tough questioning. On the phone, you have a minute or two to make your case, so come prepared with information – you do not want to have to go back and ask questions because you’ll lose the opportunity. And if you get the, “can you send it to me in an email?” line, do not assume the reporter is interested. You’ve just encountered a kind reporter who is trying to let you down nicely. That is what I say to all of the salespeople trying to sell me water/news monitoring/office supplies, etc. at InkHouse.
- Email is easy to ignore. I like email pitching and it works when you craft the pitch well. Email messages are non-intrusive and are an effective way to share information with links to deeper data. However, they are also easy to ignore. Your first step is to make sure the pitch is good, but the next step is to make sure the pitch is received. Mass email pitching alone is the equivalent of praying for a miracle. It might happen, but you’d be best suited to find a way to channel divine intervention through your own actions.
- Social media is tricky. We use social media to interact with the media frequently. However, this is tricky territory. What is NOT okay? Pitches posted in public places: @ messages on Twitter, Facebook walls, and blog comments. What IS okay? Direct messages on Twitter (and Facebook if you know the reporter accepts pitches there, although if I were a reporter, I would not welcome that tactic). When in doubt, read the notes in your media database as a starting point (Cision provides intelligence about how reporters prefer to be contacted). But if you are going to be working with a reporter often, ask how he/she prefers to be contacted. Many have blog posts that outline the ways in which they like to work as well.
Other useful resources:
Monday, September 26, 2011, 3:39 PM
As we gratefully evacuate a decade that was marked more by words that conveyed the unspeakable sadnesses of 9/11 and Katrina than the triumphant victory of Captain Sullenbeger (although we welcomed that blessed pause in the heartache that made us believe in miracles, if only briefly), we emerge divided.
In his article, “Coming Apart,” George Packer noted that we entered into 9/11 just after the 2000 election when the news media, for the first time, color-coded the country into blue and red states. The ensuing decade featured rhetoric that has polarized the country.
Polarization is a powerful communications tool for fostering interest. It works almost every time. And an appropriate degree of controversy is critical for breaking through. However, when it goes too far, it does damage that has staying power. Just last week Professor Elizabeth Warren, in her bid to unseat Senator Scott Brown, went viral because of controversial, polarizing and therefore memorable comments that are yet to be judged by the clear rear view of history. But they are certainly getting attention (as of today, she has almost half a million views on YouTube):
“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for… Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea — God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”
The foibles, squabbles, dogmatic battles and personal shortcomings of politicians provide some instructive examples of tactics to avoid when committing words to the public record. Consider these lessons from recent history (and the unforgettable past) about what not do:
- Assign blame. This week, Congress is feuding over approval of a disaster relief measure and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, “Do they (Republicans) want the government to shut down? Do they want FEMA to close?” In the UK, the government blamed social media for the riots that shook London this past summer. During the debt ceiling crisis, Republicans and Democrats spent more time talking about who was to blame than about how to fix it. Now the President and Congress are suffering from dismal approval ratings (the approval rating is 15 percent for Congress and 40 percent for the President). Blame trading only hastens plummeting approval ratings and it almost always looks weak.
- Use polarizing language liberally. U.S News & World Report had an article last week about Americans’ distrust of the news media – CNN and FOX in particular due to their bias. Rick Perry called Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke a “traitor” and Teamsters President Jim Hoffa called Republicans “sons of bitches.” It’s tough to sit down and talk like gentlemen with those fighting words under your belt. Now, if they are warranted, strong words pack an incredible punch when used sparingly. But used widely they have the opposite effect: they become part of your public repertoire and lose meaning. Your credibility suffers. Remember President Bush’s “rid the world of evil doers?” I know you do. The tag lines of the “War on Terror” were repeated far too often and became meaningless. Tougher issues demand specificity to inspire confidence after the emotion wears off.
- Use war imagery(unless you’re talking about a real war). During every debate, we are guaranteed to hear at least one war reference: candidates will discuss their “battle plans,” draw on the support of their “war chests,” and explain how they will use our votes as “ammunition.” Recall Sarah Palin’s cross-hairs map of states for Republican focus that was quickly removed after the attack on Congresswoman Giffords. As we’ve seen, this kind of rhetoric can go wrong in an instant.
- Lie. This one is obvious and I wish it did not have a place here. Unfortunately, the undertow of lying amid the white heat of public questioning is often stronger than will power. We know the now famous politicians’ lies of our time: Nixon’s “I am not a crook,” Clinton’s “I did not have relations with that woman,” John Edwards’ “I am not the father of any baby.” The list goes on. Today, social media has amplified the uncovering of lies. We can point to Senator Weiner and more recently, State Representative Hinkle. Lies pulled each of these figures deeper into scandal. So deep in fact, that the lying became worse than the actual disgraced act. Add in media coverage, and “it’s like burning an ant with a magnifying glass.”
- Grossly exaggerate. I’m not talking about embellishing or framing in the best light. Gross exaggerations wind truth and fiction so tightly that it’s hard to see the space between them. Once someone does (and they always do), the person’s word is forever tainted. Michelle Bachman has been dinged in The New Yorker about her family’s strong Iowa roots: a story of perseverance, complete with overcoming flooding, drought and locust infestation. The reality, however, is that her facts and dates did not align and it happened near Iowa, not actually in it. Rick Perry is also defending his reference to Social Security as a Ponzi scheme. This has created debate within his own party that has drawn attention away from the issue of Social Security and toward the Ponzi Scheme statement (see **** Cheney’s ABC News interview). Lesson? Gross exaggerations might sound good in the moment, but soon they will overtake the real issues you want to discuss.
In the end, we must all remember that words have the ability to convince and repel, and regardless of the outcome, they are etched in the public consciousness more deeply for being written…particularly when they are reported in the media and documented by Google.
You can view the original post at www.inkhouse.net/rhetoric-%E2%80%93-comm...
Thursday, September 15, 2011, 3:13 PM
The recent controversy surrounding Michael Arrington’s decision to start a new venture fund while continuing to run TechCrunch that ultimately ended in his departure from the blog he founded (he appeared at TechCrunch Disrupt wearing a green t-shirt that read “Unpaid Blogger”) and the public berating of Arianna Huffington is just one blip in a history of conflicts of interest in the press.
Steve Myers at Poynter wrote a detailed piece that outlines the conflicts of other outlets such as the New York Times and GigaOm (backed by True Ventures). Disclosure has been the appropriate way to mitigate these conflicts, and I think it’s a fair one.
As we all know, the economics and codes of ethics of the news media have been changing dramatically as we’ve all gone digital. I think this is a natural evolution. We have long accepted the bizarre practice in which newspapers endorse political candidates yet remain dedicated to unbiased coverage of the elections in their news pages. Today we have the sparring polar opposites of CNN and Fox News both purporting to be unbiased when everyone knows their political agendas, and if you don’t, you only have to tune into Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show to get a glimpse.
I am not sure what will happen with TechCrunch now that Michael Arrington is no longer there. Along its trajectory, the blog has created many waves before this current tsunami and I’m certain it will continue to do so. For example, TechCrunch’s embargo policy rippled across the blogsphere (and the PR sphere), ultimately creating preference among tech startups for coverage in TechCrunch over other outlets. (See my media roundtable on embargoes for more details). And like all leaders in a given space, this has placed TechCrunch on a seesaw between target and trophy. Unlike one year ago when TechCrunch coverage was an inevitable boon to follow-on coverage in other competitive blogs that wanted to keep pace, today it is an assurance that most other outlets will not coverage a piece of news. The competitors have opted out of the race.
PR people are working to navigate these uneasy waters, and at the same time to understand the conflicts that do exist so that we can work within those parameters. For example, we at InkHouse have long known about the True Ventures conflict for GigaOm and its corresponding editorial policy so we never pitch stories related to those companies because we know GigaOm will not cover them, as they should not.
As 24-hour news cycles, minute-by-minute blogger updates and live Tweeting continue to change the nature of how we find information, it’s more important than ever to understand the point of view behind the news you are reading. We all understand that columnists by their very nature share opinions. Bloggers are very much in the same camp but span a broad gamut, from respected experts to fly-by-night newcomers trying to break through. The rules are less clear and not everyone abides by the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics that mandates seeking and reporting the truth, minimizing harm, acting independently and being accountable. However, in all of this chaos is also a myriad of perspectives that have the potential to provide checks and balances – just glance over the comments of any blog post on TechCrunch. It’s an embracing of varying points of view and an opportunity to be heard.
Conflicts are always going to exist, and to be credible, news outlets and reporters/bloggers/columnists must disclose those conflicts – transparency is a very important currency in the economy of influence. This makes PR people’s jobs a bit harder, riddled with tough choices. But a good challenge always brings the brightest ideas and approaches to the forefront, so I welcome it.
As we stumble down this road together, my advice in any interaction in which you exchange or consume information: consider the source.
Thursday, September 1, 2011, 10:13 AM
Dear Mobile Phone Talker/Texter/Twitterer/Facebook User/Fill in the Blank,
When I was little, my parents made me address their friends as Mr. and Mrs. Even now as I slide toward the upper end of my 30s, when I think of those family friends, their names are forever etched in my mind as Mr. and Mrs. Dyrli and Mr. and Mrs. Rabenstein.
Back then we had a mustard yellow rotary telephone with a spiral cord. My mother taught me to answer by announcing my name, “Hello, this is Beth,” and we had hard and fast rules about when it was appropriate to place phone calls. You did not call during dinner, after 9 p.m. or before 9 a.m. In turn, we answered the phone when it rang – often running to get to it before the miracles of voice mail and caller ID.
As you and I know well, it’s a lot more complicated now. Many of us sleep with our mobile phones next to our beds (I mean, a friend who does not want me to use her name told me that she does that). I work with a bunch of PR professionals, and we’re always thinking about the mode of communication that will be the most palatable for the media we are contacting.
Personally though, I am often overwhelmed by keeping track of all of the messages awaiting my response. At times, the need to tick through my correspondence has compelled me to multitask by getting in a few calls while I shop for my daughter’s favorite butternut squash and apple YoBaby yogurt.
To muffle this urge, I have turned off all of the notifications on my Mac and my iPhone. It’s a daily struggle to put the iPhone down, but I am trying, and I hope you don’t mind if I offer a few suggestions for managing all of these technologies – and hopefully improving our interactions.
- Please don’t take a call while we’re having dinner. Human beings standing or sitting in front of you should almost always take priority over those who are interrupting you electronically. Even in less personal scenarios, such as shopping for bar soap at CVS, I don’t talk on my phone while checking out because there is a person at the register, and they deserve the two minutes of my attention that are required to check out.
- If you’re shopping for groceries, focus on the food. You might not agree, but when you’re at the grocery store, gym, riding on the train, and in hundreds of others public places, it’s tough for me to navigate my own business when you are doing yours so publicly. I hate feeling like I am being rude because someone is in mid-conversation and not paying attention when I’m trying to get to the ice cream case.
- If you call me three times in a row I will think you’re in the hospital. If I don’t pick up my phone the first time you call, it means that I am busy and can’t talk. Unless it is an emergency, in which case, you should call again because my heart stops every time I get a repeat call, please leave a message and I promise to get back to you as soon as I can.
- Text messages are not the same as email. This one might be a generational thing, I but like text messages for their brevity. Unlike teenagers who send upwards of 1,000 texts each month, I don’t use them for conversations. I text to coordinate about logistics or when I need to get back to someone urgently and can’t place a call.
- Dinner and sleep are sacred. Every time my phone rings or I hear the ding of a text message, I jump to see it. These noises make me stop what I am doing. I love hearing from you, but I value sleep and dinner with my family more than most things in life, so please don’t call or text during those hours. I don’t have a hard and fast time rule like Larry David’s “The Cut-off Time,” so I trust your good judgment.
- Remember the difference between public and private messages. I know it’s confusing. A Facebook Wall seems like great places to put everything, but it’s not the place to ask about my recent doctor’s appointment. I love that you are interested in my life, but want to keep some things private, which is where private Facebook messages are great. TechCrunch posted a great example recently with the story, “Jeremy, Call Your Mother. She’s Worried Sick.” This applies to Twitter too though – @ messages, while semi-private, are public if you look in the right place (here’s our Twitter cheat sheet if you want a refresher).
Now that you’ve read all of these, you’re probably thinking that a bunch don’t apply to you. That’s the point. While many of these could be universal (and should be if you ask me), they are the things that I find appropriate. So when in doubt, just use the Golden Rule and treat others as you would have them treat you.
The woman trying to squeeze past you in aisle 5