Damn, I Wish I Had Said That

PR Disaster

So much of what we do as PR people isn’t about message – it’s about good advice.

And good counsel shouldn’t be relegated to press releases and placements. We need to help people think through challenges and problems and help them find their way to their goals.

When clients make bad decisions – and worse, when they make those bad decisions because we didn’t help them make a better one – is when the ground falls out from under them. And from you. And pulling things back together can be very, very messy.

So for Friday ShareDay, here’s a great article – that frankly, I wish I had written myself – about “When PR overshadows the problem” by Phil Rosenthal.

Happy Weekend!

Stop, Look, Listen and Enjoy


It’s been quite a work week for me.

I had the privilege of organizing two very important media events that I know you have heard, seen and read about by today. My team did an amazing job with each assignment and I am very proud of the work we produced. The reporters, producers, photographers and cameramen we worked with gave (for the most part) wonderful and smart coverage. They are the best in the business and were an absolute pleasure every step of the way. (Hey, this is New York City; you don’t get here with second rate skills).

So as I stare out the window of my morning train to work, I reflect on the amazing experiences that I – and indeed, that all of us – have, not just today but every day. And I think about how so much of it can just pass us by if we don’t stop, stand back, look at it and take it all in.

So for this Friday ShareDay, rather than give you someone else’s content, I share with you my own thoughts:

“We each have an amazing story to tell, people with whom to share the journey, and much to contribute before we get to the end of our run on this planet. Don’t waste a minute.”

Happy Weekend!

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?

Pick Three Things (And Stick With ‘Em)

Pick Three Things

“Pick three ideas and convey them frequently.”

It’s advice we give to clients in the PR world, especially when we train them to speak with media or engage with public audiences of any kind.

Our strange cultural fascination with the number “3” aside, there is wisdom in the root of this concept. Studies show the human brain can’t retain more than three bits of information at a time, at least not in a meaningful way. And even though you can train your brain to do more, the truth is, most people don’t.

Just as the parable advises on how to eat an elephant, we should not endeavor to jump to the final step from the first. Nor should we try to accomplish everything simultaneously. At best, we will fail. At worst, we will implode.

Three things. Pick ’em and stick with ’em. Only once they are done (one way or another) should you decide to move on.

Here’s the Windup and Here’s the Pitch…

Pitching the Media
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So you think you’ve got a great story and you want to get the media to pay attention to it. Easy as calling the newsroom and telling them to come out, right?

Anyone who’s ever tried to pitch a story has been turned down. So what’s the secret to success?

1. Find the why. Your story needs to have impact. It needs to be important to a wider audience of people. It needs to tug at the heartstrings. It needs to be important to more than just the people who are involved in it.

2. Do the research. Dig deeper into your client’s story to find the real news nuggets. Often they’re buried, or they’re overlooked because the people who’s story it is are so familiar with it. I once publicized a story about a little girl who had constant operations over the course of her life and had spent most of her time in a hospital. When we drilled down on her story, we found out that she soon would be celebrating her very first Christmas in her own home. And there was the hook that made it (literally) front page news.

3. It’s who you know. Know who in the newsroom is going to make the decision to cover your story. Sometimes its the reporter who covers that beat; other times (often TV newsrooms) it’s the assignment editor who will make the call. Talk to the person who you need to convince.

4. Watch the clock. Understand when is the most effective time to talk to the news outlet you’re pitching. For spot coverage, it’s before the 8am meeting – which means you need to call a day or two before to get on the newsroom’s radar. For newspapers, don’t bother calling before 10am. And never ever call late in the afternoon (after 3pm) when everyone is on deadline.

5. Make it special. Reporters love exclusives and putting their own spin on a story. Sometimes you’ll have an event or press conference that’s designed for mass coverage, and that’s fine. But other times, think about trying to give the reporter something special that they can claim as their own. You’ll likely get a bigger story out of it and develop a relationship that will live beyond the story.

6. Add the elements. Anything you can add to the story, especially a social media component or something to involve the media outlet’s audience – will make a story more attractive. These have to be genuine outgrowths of the story, not just shameless tweets and facebook posts.

7. Follow up. Reporters hate being thanked for their “great story” because it makes them feel like you think they did you a favor, when in fact, they were doing their job. But it’s my experience they like being thanked for caring about an important issue, because that shows you recognize the value of what they’ve done.

8. Never give up. You will be turned down. Babe Ruth struck out far more times than he hit home runs. But if you don’t swing, you’ll never hit the ball.

Good luck!

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?

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.