Happy New Year!

Happy New Year 2014

It’s that time of year again.

Time when every media outlet known to man puts together their year-end lists:

“Best of…” and “Worst of…”

“Top 10…” and “Top 100..”

“Things we want to remember…” and “Things we’d rather forget…”

They all make the rounds, competing for your attention, your likes and shares, your retweets and plus-ones.

And while my favorite kind of list – “Words for the New Year” – is nothing new, I’ve never made one of my own.

So to get my desire to do new things in 2014 kicked off right, I’m going to start today. Here’s my first ever “Three Words for the New Year:”

Community & Kindness – OK, so my first word is actually two, but that’s only because I think they’re inseparable. 2013 was a divisive year, with sides taken on almost everything. Anger, hostility, and a general incivility seemed to be everywhere we looked. In 2014, we need to be better at working together to achieve common goals and not just give lip service to “getting along” when all that is doing is providing yet another way to point a finger at someone. If you can’t start a conversation with a compliment of some kind, then you probably shouldn’t talk.

Economy – With so many resources, so much technology and so many things to do in a day, we could each make a full time job out of just managing what’s coming over our transom. In 2014, we need to slim our intake in order to make our output more productive. That doesn’t mean do less – it means eliminate the noise. Stay on course. Keep checking items off your to-do lists and adding new ones. Get to the finish line as fast as you can, and then go find a new one.

Creativity – Perhaps a perennial word, but one that should be repeated anyway. New years mean new starts, new things to discover and new records to smash. It means bending your brain in ways you haven’t yet – or haven’t in a while – to achieve that thing that’s been on your to-do list for so long it’s starting to collect dust. Creativity is the leaf-blower of your life, so plug that sucker in and go all Carl Spangler on it.

There are other words that came close to making the cut, but for now I’ll stick to these. A year from now, we’ll look back and see how these words – and the ideas behind them – held up.

What are your words for 2014?

Happy New Year!

Action Begets Action


I recently conducted a media training session with a client.

After taking her through the one hour tutorial, we branched out into other topics, and landed on her question to me about how often her group should send out news releases. They’re a grassroots organization dealing with a current political issue and looking for lots of attention to drive their agenda. We’ve already helped them be successful, and they are looking to build on it.

We had a spirited conversation, and it led me to codify a few key ideas:

1. Make your communications actionable. Everything you send should say “here’s our thing, and here’s what you can do with it.” Whether a news release, a pitch letter or an e-blast to your subscribers, always have an actionable embedded in the communication. Otherwise it’s destined for the trash.

2. Don’t do quotas. While you want to make your communications frequent enough to keep you and your group in the front of people’s minds, don’t set up an artificial threshold that compels you to send useless information. It will dilute your message and your credibility.

3. Drive the cattle back to the ranch. Whenver you communicate, include links to information and other sites that are helpful and that expand on your message. Sending people to your Facebook page will get them to your community where they can interact and share. Linking to your YouTube channel will get them clicking on your video content where they will learn more about you. Send people to places they will get fast, useful and (here’s the trick) entertaining information that they will want to consume.

4. Act, yourself! Don’t be shy about following up with people if you’ve asked them for a response and they havent given you one. And when people respond on your blog or Facebook, acknowledge them somehow, even if it’s with a “Yes! Thanks for commenting!” or favoriting their tweet. Engage with them and retain their interest and spur future activity.

5. Build your tribe. This is the whole point of communication. Collect email addresses, Facebook likes and twitter followers. Get people to carry your water (ie, your message), and contribute to what you are doing. Expanding your footprint will also make you more credible with media when you go to interact with them.

What are your thoughts for how and how often to communicate?

Getting Under the Gray Lady’s Skin (In A Good Way)

Page One: Inside the New York Times

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I recently watched “Page One: Inside the New York Times” on Netflix. Great movie. Watch it.

It’s a documentary-style film about what goes on at the City’s paper of record – warts and all – and casts the guys at the Media Desk (the reporters who cover the media as an industry) in the starring roles: Brian Stelter, David Carr, Bruce Hedlam and Richard Perez Pena are all interesting and fun to watch.

While talking about everything from newsroom layoffs to WikiLeaks, they’re also terrifically candid about the future of newspapers, the news business and the stuff that goes into being a reporter in this new world of social and digital media. Short story: it ain’t easy.

I came away from the film with a renewed sense of awe for the pressure that good journalists put on themselves for getting a story right.

I’ve spent my share of years in a newsroom, all on the broadcast side, here in New York, and so the documentation of how any news product gets made takes me back to that fun, crazy time. I really don’t think people know what goes into producing a newspaper, an evening newscast or great news radio. If they did, they wouldn’t take it all so much for granted.

It also amazes me that it’s possible to create something like the New York Times (or the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post or other printed publication) on a daily basis. From the reporting and editing to the physical printing and distribution of the papers to a geographic area that stretches to the four corners of the Earth (no kidding), it is an astonishing feat. It actually shouldn’t be possible, I think.

The other thought that washed over me as I watched the interplay between these reporters and the stories they were chasing is how we as PR people can best interact with them.

Reporters volunteer to produce a tangible product on a daily – and in the case of broadcast and now social media, sometimes hourly – basis, pledging to get it 100% right every time. For those times they do make a mistake, there’s the public humiliation of the correction in the next day’s paper or the on-camera apology. And they get paid tons of money (insert sarcasm here) for the privilege. Like I said, it ain’t easy.

Respecting the job reporters need to do – and the hoops through which they have to jump, including deadlines, fact checking and multiple layers of necessarily naysaying editors – and being considerate of those obstacles is so important to the relationship we build with them. Doing so gets us further toward our goal of spreading our clients’ messages.

We PR folk are kind of like multi-lingual translators: assigned to convert the languages spoken by journalists and by our clients into a shared dialogue they can both understand. We need to be clear, deliberate and respectful of the needs of everyone involved at all times.

By putting yourself in their position, you can be a better PR person, and connect more often with reporters who are in interested in what you have to say.

Gee, this is starting to sound like a “5 Things” list. Guess I better get writing that one.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of the Tweet

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The news of Osama Bin Laden’s death was the most tweeted event in history.

More than just a set of information sharing platforms, the impact social media had on the events of Sunday night and Monday made the news intensely palpable and personal. Social media – even more than traditional news outlets – fundamentally changed how the news broke and spread and even what was said and felt.

It goes without saying that word travels fast over twitter and facebook. We’re plenty familiar with the power of these still new platforms and their ability to help share information at the tap of a button.

But for the first time in a uniquely American scenario, people had the ability (perceived or real) to participate in this breaking news event and to secure a sense of their personal place in a global community witnessing something monumental, impactful and intensely important.

With details emerging at a jackrabbit’s pace starting even before the President’s speech Sunday night, social media inserted a new dynamic into the way we heard and reacted to the news and what we ultimately thought of it.

Social media also compressed the news cycle to the point where, as I write this on Tuesday morning, less than 36 hours after the news was officially announced, we’re even starting to turn our attention to other issues, including the 2012 Presidential race and the floods in the midwest. This never would have happened just 10 years ago, before facebook and twitter. There would still be new content emerging for days and making it into the American consciousness through traditional, filtered media channels.

Social media allows us to access and process all this information faster. It’s like drinking water from a firehose.

Social media’s presence in the information spectrum had direct impacts on the platforms themselves:

– Did twitter expect to beat out the cable news networks – combined – to be the number one way people learned the news that Bin Laden was dead? They were.

– Did facebook expect to be the organizing outlet around which breaking news and in-depth coverage was shared? It was.

– Did foursquare ever think they’d need to shutdown “Osama is Dead” parties? They did.

– Did a quiet recluse who unknowlingly moved into the town where Osama Bin Laden was hiding out ever think he’d live tweet the military op of the century? He did.

And there were those who took to social media to rhetorically ask that – even though the most evil man on the planet was no more – whether our reaction should be one of celebration, as though we had just won some big game?

(Editor’s note: I’m glad Bin Laden is dead. He was a mass murderer who isn’t worth the spit on his watery grave. But don’t think for a second we can rest on the achievement. There are thousands more terrorists bent on the destruction of worldwide modern civilization that need to be dealt with. People saying the troops can now come home are fooling themselves.)

For all the good, there were remarkable instances of failure too: media organizations moved fast to keep up their web and social media content, even as the story evolved in real time. Some moved too fast and made horrific mistakes, in one case killing the President himself (for only a split second before correcting the error).

So what’s the takeaway?

This event is confirmation – even for the naysayers – that social media is the most powerful information-sharing platform on the planet, and has impact beyond just what is being said to how it is being recieved. And when used correctly and then unleashed to work its magic can be a powerful tool to spread your messages and organize action. It changes the game at the ground level and allows those who might have once been shut out of the conversation to have a voice and connect with others and drive a conversation.

So… when are you creating that new profile?

Comcast-NBC Deal: “Pro-Consumer or Pro-Company?”

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The NBC-Comcast deal is a monster of a package, on a scale never-before-seen in the TV industry. And there’s something a bit unnerving about concentrating this much access to content in one place.

The FCC seems to agree, having forced some major restrictions on the boys from Philly, especially around hulu and its ability to freeze out top-dog Netflix. But we all know this is the very reason why in-house lawyers for big companies get paid so much money: to find ways around restrictions and then extract the teeth of said restrictions until the watch dog is reduced to a whining pup.

Of course, the real golden nugget for Comcast is the ability to marry the information on what content you consume (plus when and how) with new products they can sell you (facebook already does this alarmingly well), so we’ll see how they get to that goal. Either way, get ready for some major changes in how you access your media – TV, Internet, on-demand services and even wireless – in the near future.

Get it First? Or Get it Right?

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Watching the tragedy of the shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the slayings of several other people unfold in real time over the weekend was gutwrenching.

Being no where near a TV, I monitored the twitter feeds of major news organizations to get the latest information. I was shocked and saddened at the savagery that unfolded in a suburban parking lot – where the world is supposed to be safe.

What also troubles me was the multiple retractions of media reports that Giffords and several other people had died (when they had not, or had not yet) and many other flat-out innacuracies that were later “corrected” by news sources we count on for reliable information.

This is inexcusable. News media (and I know my journalist friends will agree with me) have an obligation – before getting a story first – to get a story right.

It made me flashback to my training in a New York City newsroom almost two decades ago, when I gave a piece of bad information to an editor, who wisely caught my mistake. The tip lacked credible cross-checking, and the error would have resulted in the radio station announcing the death of a fireman, by name, who’s family might have been listening.

“You can’t un-kill someone, kid,” the editor warned me, before handing me back my notes scribbled on a piece of paper by young hands eager to break a big story. “Be more careful next time.”

Imagine, for a moment, the impact that the false reporting of Gifford’s death had on her extended family across the country, as they watched (what they thought were) reliable news broadcasts for word of her condition. One moment, they were told their daughter/wife/sibling was gone. Then, later, a retraction. She’s still alive.

The pain these families suffered was needless – inflicted by newsrooms caught up in the silly game of “getting it first” – and who took the word of unverified, anonymous, or unauthorized sources just to splash a scoop all over twitter, facebook and news websites.

(BTW, sources are termed “unauthorized” for a reason; now you know why = they’re unreliable).

Some will argue that’s the price of doing business in a digital world: that everything is faster and sometimes we break a few eggs to make the omlette. Nonsense. I say it’s a callous abdiction of a sacred duty to report accurately and to the best of one’s ability the first time.

Worse is, sloppy reporting like what we witnessed this weekend sullies, by association, the hard-earned reputations of thousands of great (and I mean REALLY GREAT) reporters all over the country who work hard to get a story right and first, and do it day after day. They are fantastic people who do a tough job for very little reward.

There are times to “get it first.” Literal life-and-death situations are not one of those times.