Archive | Media Relations RSS feed for this section

How to Be the Media

22 Jun

“We are the media” is a common Web 2.0 rallying cry. The upshot — every business needs to think about itself as if it were a multimedia producer with a goal of generating attention, awareness, interest and action — or sales for the business.

Adam Singer talks about this on the Top Rank Blog in the context of an organization’s agility.  His point is that it’s vital to find ways to keep contributing fresh content to the web — it impacts search engine results, improves digital PR, meets growing consumer demands and has a host of other benefits.

But what does it mean to think like the media? Or, to put it another way, how do the media think, and how can thinking like the media improve marketing and corporate positioning?

Here’s my list, and I’d welcome input from actual media folks:

1. Find stories and tell stories. The hallmark of journalism is the ability of reporters to observe, ask questions and bring people’s stories to life.  I’ve had the opportunity to play reporter for a client’s internal newsletter, and the results have been rewarding — I talk to their people and let them tell their stories — about successes and challenges and their own interests and concerns. The results are rich stories that inspire other employees to learn, strive, collaborate, innovate and sell.  These stories may well find their well to external audiences and I hope they do — there’s value in these stories — in themselves and in the conversations and ideas they can generate for the company.

2.  They generate attention. Being the media isn’t “art for art’s sake” — tbey want people to read, and view and interact with them.  From a business standpoint, we’re talking about creating content that will interest and excite your constituents — customers, prospects, partners, investors, employees, and community. Perhaps more importantly, it will encourage them to generate conversation…to whit…

3. They spur conversation..and word of mouth…and keep it going. The media want to make a difference in the lives of their audience.  And, besides the satisfaction they get form this, they want more people to consume what it creates, so that they get more subscribers, can charge more for ads and make more money.  So when The Atlantic comes out with a new cover story on “what makes people happy”, they get that story out influencers, they blog about it and they do everything they can to make sure people know that they have something exclusive, unique and special.

4. They plan ahead. The trade media are good at this.  They create ‘editorial calendars’ each year.  They lay out milestones — trade shows, seasonal events, conferences, special issues.  Then they tell people what’s coming, so advertisers can advertise and companies can participate. Can businesses to the same?  Sure — there are a lot of company events you can plan for — product launches, prime selling seasons, key trade shows, quarterly earnings — and have a content strategy for each.

5.  They listen…and react. Or at least they should be.  New media companies do. They are watching web analytics to see what stories are doing well … they’re even promoting stories by showing their site users what articles are most popular and most emailed, and offering them tools for sharing stories. They are opening their content to conversation — sometimes moderating, sometimes not — and participating in ways that keep it going. And they’re scanning the rest of the web to create links and to be sure they know where their story is going, so they can react quickly to changes.

This discipline is particularly critical in a crisis.  The question:  are you listening, and do you have the tools and skills necessary to react…quickly…in a crisis.

6. They meet their customers where they are. You want to roll your eyes when you see your daily newspaper editors talking about Twitter — it sounds like Grandpa talking about “the hippety hop music”.  But the truth is that it’s a sign that they’re paying attention to where their audience is — or is going.  Are you?

7. They think about their audience constantly, and communicate every day. Here’s where daily media and new media are strongest. Every morning, your daily newspaper or TV news organziation holds a meeting. They talk about what they’re seeing out in the world…what’s happening…what’s interesting…what’s news.  Do you do that for your organization?  Every day, every minute your online presence is saying something to your constituents.  Is what you said yesterday relevant today?  Is what you’re saying today moving people?  Are you getting the reaction you want?

The tools are there — from blogs to Twitter to YouTube to Flickr to iTunes your own website and email lists.  What’s on your channel today?

Any media folks want to add a comment…What can we learn from you?

11 Essential PR Skills

25 Mar

I’m preparing a “PR 101” course for a client this week. I’m glad to do it — the client is a non-profit that has never done much in the way of deliberate communications and marketing, and will need to rely on volunteers to keep any kind of communications program moving.

The exercise has me thinking about what it takes to do PR these days. In a lot of ways, PR is easier.  For example, when I started work at a big agency in 1992, typical assistant account executive duties included stuffing press kits, sending out faxes, poring through the Bacon’s directories to build media lists and doing daily newspaper scan-and-clips.  Doing media relations could be expensive.  If you wanted to generate media attention for a national consumer campaign, you’d be prepared to spend thousands of dollars on Nexis or Dialog databases, or you were cold-calling big national media lists (it didn’t make sense, but happened more often than you’d believe today).   Needless to say, every bit of that is now digital, searchable or automated.

As has been noted here and elsewhere, what is essential about public relations has not changed: moving people to action by creating credible, meaningful relationships between an organization, and the people and groups important to its success.

What’s changed?  The media, the available, the audience and their expectations of organizations.  There are more media, they move faster, and expectations are high from organizations, influencers, clients and the audience.  The risks and opportunities are higher than ever.

What are the essential skills for today’s public relations practitioner?  Some are tangible skills you can learn and practice; others are more of a “state of mind”.  I’d start here — I’d welcome your comments — what would you add?

  1. Sweat the small stuff. PR people are problem solvers. We’re i-dotters and t-crossers. We make sure the reporter has the background, and the VP has the right numbers.  If the event requires a microphone, mariachi band or glockenspiel, we find it and get it there.  We listen — and make sure the message comes across, and make sure it isn’t misunderstood. My dad liked to tell us kids, “don’t sweat the small stuff” when we’d get too riled up on the details and lose sight of the big picture.   A core PR skill is to do just that — so others don’t have to sweat it.
  2. Know your audience. Who do you want to hear your story? What do you want them to do?  You’d be surprised at how many communicators and marketers have trouble answering this simple question.
  3. Know the media. PR people need to be experts on who’s wielding influence for that audience.  Otherwise, how do you know what stories will work and won’t?  There are too many PR people read the paper, but they don’t follow news online.  Or, they get their news online, but don’t read the paper.  They don’t read blogs, or they only read blogs. They’ve never set up an RSS feed, tried out Twitter and Facebook — or think they can get all their news that way.  They’ve never seen the evening news or watched Oprah and Ellen, because no one they know is watching.  The point is to get to know the media.  Love the media. Get to know who’s doing what and writing what and saying what. Note bylines and blog profiles, followers, audience measures and ‘authority’.   Know where the conversations are happening.  And where you and your organization can and must get involved.
  4. Be the media. Another “these days” thing. PR needs to think less like a facilitator and more like a producer.  What are we going to communicate today?  How will our audience get our story?   How will we meet them where we are?  How will we “move” them today?
  5. Think outside your organization. Be objective. Sometimes, you have to be the voice of your audience with management.  What stories will fly and what won’t?  AIG needed someone to do this — to tell them how the public would react to their actions and force them to reconsider their decisions.
  6. Research…and synthesize. The ability to gather and synthesize information is vital to just about everything we do — from understanding the audience and market environment to getting background on reporters or bloggers before an interview. The ability to help your organization better understand their environment — and connect that understanding to their ability to achieve objectives — is vital.
  7. Understand measurement. The web promises measurement and analytics never before available to the public relations profession. It is vital for PR people to gain a better understanding of web analytics and to build a greater degree of feedback and measurement into programs.  In my time at big agencies, our measurement offerings were too expensive for most clients. This is unacceptable.  We need to do a better job with understanding and building in measurement and feedback loops into our programs, and that starts with building a basic understanding of how websites work and web analytics.
  8. Understand objectives. This is a simple one:  We don’t do PR to generate clips or website hits or blog posts or links or viral action.  We don’t even do it to raise ‘awareness’ or generate ‘word of mouth’.  We do it to increase sales, maintain and build customer loyalty, muster support, gain votes or influence public opinion.  We do it to change behavior. While  all of the traditional PR measures may well influence behavior, they are not an end in and of themselves.  This is why the Skittles experiment is, in my view, doomed to fail. There is no clear benefit beyond generating marketing buzz, which benefits marketers and agencies far more that it drives sales and brand loyalty.
  9. Write. Storytelling is essential to communications.  Nothing has replaced good writing.  Not 140 character limits. Not video. Not the web. It all starts with good writing.  But it doesn’t end there.
  10. Communicate in multiple media. The big change in the media world is the primacy of multiple media. Get to know them.  Where can podcasts augment press releases?  Where can video be more effective?  Where can a game, animation or image communicate what the written word cannot?    PR people don’t need to be expert in every form of media, but they need to understand the uses and appeal of each.
  11. Be smart. Reporters constantly complain about bad PR pitches. Bloggers do, too.  There’s no excuse for a cold call. It’s too easy to do the research. They know it, and you know it, too.

That’s just my list, and it’s just a start. What’s yours?

Shining Up PR’s Apple

10 Mar

Last  evening, I caught part 2 of Rachel Maddow’s rant on AIG and PR giant Burson-Marsteller.  Have a look for yourself.   The gist: AIG is using taxpayer dollars on PR firms. The news is a PR Week notice that respected investor relations firm Kekst & Company their list of PR representatives, but this is just a jumping off point for a rant on Burson–the agency that ‘evil has on speed-dial.’   (we’ll ignore for now that the otherwise intelligent Maddow expresses confusion on the meaning of the term “M&A”).  

The charge:  AIG is using taxpayer dollars to “shine up their image”…to “spin” us, the very taxpayers who own 80% of AIG.  Most people I talk to agree — this is incontrovertibly a waste of not only taxpayer money, but corporate money.  Why would any company need a PR firm to “communicate”?  My answer: why wouldn’t they?  

My argument is with the premise.  I don’t know what the good folks from Kekst or Burson or any other firm are telling the folks at AIG.  What I do know is that good PR counselors don’t shine up images, particularly in a crisis. We like to say that the best you can do with a bad story is to try and keep it from getting worse.  PR in this situation is a management function.  You hire an agency because you know they have smart people who’ve been there with other comapnies in crisis, who can give you an outside perspective on how to tell your story straight.  To avoid groupthink — the insular thinking that leads to big management mistakes.  

Think about any relationship you have.  How easy is it to tell your wife you received another speeding ticket?  Or that you’ve lost your job? How much easier is it to hide the truth; how much harder is it to own up to it?  Management struggles with the same very human emotions. If I’m management, I’m thinking I need someone with the experience to tell me to stop talking around the uncomfortable truth and say and do the right thing.  Or when I’m saying something stupid or insensitive.  They need someone to help them put what they need to say into words that will make sense to people. To tell their story.   Trust me — clear, honest, open communication is a lot harder than it looks.  

Not saying the agency folks are going to make a difference.  Or that AIG is a good company with management that wants to do right — I have no idea one way or the other.  I’m not even saying that AIG  shouldn’t be able to handle this themselves — in a perfect world, they would.  But in a perfect world, they wouldn’t be in this mess.  

But I can understand why they feel like they need help, and why PR agencies are the right call for them.  They’re not trying to shed light on some “secret awesomeness” of AIG — they’re just in a deep hole, and need someone to hand them a flashlight.

The Magic of Media, Message and Moment

30 Jan

As much as we try to increase the precision by which we predict and measure it, there’s an art to marketing.  Strategic planning is like a sculptor examining a block of stone.  You decide what lies within, and the tools you’ll need to reveal it to the world. 

I was thinking about this with a story I’ve been writing for a couple years…the premise begins like this:  It’s your first day of school.  New town.  No friends. And secrets that you left back home…like the power inside you that killed two classmates and left your best friend paralyzed for life.  Your dad got you out of that one, you don’t know how, and then cut all ties with moved you away clinical efficiency.  So here you are, first day of school, afraid, but full of hope, too, that here in this new place, maybe you can be somebody new. And then you feel this guy behind you, his cold hand on your neck, his hot breath on your ear. And he whispers, “I know who you are.” He’s gone, and you still have to walk through that door.

I started this story as a novel, and then turned it into a comic book. Now I’m thinking about it as a novel again. Why? Because there’s nothing that an artist can draw that can recreate this sense of dread and anticipation like your imagination.  I heard Neil Gaiman talking about this on the radio the other day. He said that for him, the story comes first, then he decides whether that story is a novel, graphic novel or movie script.  

The communications and marketing story?  Marketing — sales, leads, traffic, awareness, advocacy, membership — comes from that magical combination of message, media and moment. 

Message-focused strategic planning starts by asking, “What’s your story?” and then “Who should know it?,” “Where are they,” and “What should they do?” 

The answers drive your media choices. Should they react instantly? Is it something they’ll want to share?  The message may well be blog and Twitter-ready. Or, is it a “junkie” audience that loves insanely in-depth takes on a narrow topics?  Think about blogs and websites, or gathering a like-minded community. Is it instructive? Are they eager to learn?  Try graphics and video or more immersive online environments. Does the audience see the Internet as “technology”?  Try traditional media, and make sure the message gets online anyway.  

There’s no replacement for having a sense of the moment … knowing — or intuiting — the mood of your market and how they’ll react to your story.  I was listening to a discussion with Gwen Ifill on NPR today, talking about Obama as the perfect example of this.  He’s a remarkable person in his own right, but he’s president today because his story spoke to this social and historical moment, and his media strategy supported that.  

You can – and should – research and survey and analyze and debate and collaborate to create the perfect message and the perfect strategy.  And then turn what you learn into your own work of art — where is my story?  How will a carve away the clutter and reveal it to the world,  so that it can move people?

Next Generation Media Training

21 Jan

There is something that sounds inherently ‘old media’ about the idea of media training.  My impression from clients is that media training initially conjures up images of how to look good on TV and avoid withering under Mike Wallace’s steely glare (hint:  Wallace has mostly retired.  The bigger danger is being seduced by Anderson Cooper’s baby blues).

I recently had the opportunity to update my media training session.  Some observations on translating this ‘traditional media’ exercise into today’s media environment:

  • All media are “online media”.   This is especially true of daily newspapers, which, for the most part, are already online media.  What this means is that you can expect the story to appear much faster, and that story may be accompanied — and enhanced — through rich multimedia.  The same is true for local TV news.
     
  • The core distinction among media is “professional journalists” and the individuality of everyone else.  The distinction most relevant to a spokesperson is whether they’re being interviewed by a professional news person — be they reporter, editor, blogger, video host or all of the above — or a dedicated amateur with utterly unique interests, audiences, standards and styles. 
     
  • Spokespeople should expect more use of ‘raw’ interviews.  Where before, media training emphasized “headlining” and “flagging” key messages to encourage use of their soundbites, spokespeople must now consider that a more raw, unedited version of their interview will likely find its way online, where they will benefit from a more conversational, “human” style.
     
  • More than ever, media training is message training.  You can only do so many mock interviews to prepare for so many kinds of interviews, and most spokespeople aren’t so sophisticated actors to control their facial expressions optimally for online video interviews. The best media training has always been built around helping a spokesperson master their messages.  From message mastery, they learn techniques to avoid traps and ensure that those messages are heard.
     
  • The best spokespeople in new media will translate their message into conversations.  In other words, spokespeople must go beyond Kissinger’s arrogant “who has questions for my answers” and be ready to engage an audience whose questions will run the gamut from ignorant to insightful to insulting.  They need to be ready to fire off answers in online chats, write for forums and Facebook, answer questions by video, and be ready to have audio from phone interviews uploaded to blogs.  

That said, the need to be able to stare down a press conference or TVV news magazine star isn’t going away anytime soon. More than this, organizations need to identify spokespeople who can handle the need to be engaging, open, conversational and involved — and prepare them.

Five Things About Social Media I’d Be Thankful to See Change

28 Nov

Mike Keliher wrote last week on things to be thankful for about social media, and tagged me on a related topic:  things I’d be thankful to see change in social media.  Appropriately, it’s the day after Thanksgiving, so let’s have at it.

For me, the issues with social media are less with the media themselves, and more with how it insinuates itself into our lives an conversations.  To whit:   

1.  Overstating Social Media’s Reach.  I work in public relations and marketing; I live in a world with mothers and fathers, housewives, sales people, real estate agents, corporate marketing communications professionals, stock brokers, designers, financial executives, housekeepers, retirees, restaurateurs, lawyers, shopkeepers … it goes on an on.  Just because you and your friends are Twittering and Uttering and blogging, snickering about the demise of newspapers and reviewing carefully compiled RSS feeds each day, doesn’t mean everyone is. Moreover, it doesn’t mean that most people are.  

Most people are checking their email every day and have a few favorite websites they follow. They barely manage to keep up with the news, but they scan the paper.  They have no time to read blogs.  They are amazed that anyone would use Twitter. 

I’d be thankful if communicators and social media evangelists would remember this. And, more importantly, respect it. 

2.  Understating Social Media’s Impact.  Flip the coin over and you find that most people have little idea how deeply social media impacts their lives.  Someone in their world is emailing them links to the hottest YouTube videos. TV takes them from the web, and then back into it again.  Every Google search delivers more data to marketers, every product review read and followed amplifies the power of one person’s opinion.  A friend of a friend of a friend shares a link or a bit of news on Twitter that makes it to your inbox in hours, if not minutes.  And have you noticed how many of your friends, family, high school and college buddies have signed up for Facebook?  How many colleagues are on LinkedIn?    

I’d be thankful if those who shake their heads and say they have no time for this would pay attention to how much more entertaining, fulfilling and downright useful social media has already become in their lives. 

3. Personally, I wish it were all easier. No matter how good you are with social media, it’s a pain.  There are too many networks, too many websites and technologies and services to follow.  Too many contacts to keep track of.  When my kids grow up, I expect that communications and the Web and gaming will all be handled by The Chip.  They’ll just stick this do-everything chip into their heads and they can call people and surf the net and play games just by thinking about it.

Okay, so I’m mostly joking, but I do know some folks who’d be first in line when The Chip hits the stores. Me, I’d be thankful if what want to know, who I want to follow and how I want to share would all just flow.  

4.  Could newspapers just figure it out already? Not directly “social media,” I know, but it’s my blog…  Here’s the deal:  We need journalism. We need professional journalists.  We need people covering news beats in our daily lives, we need people to make sense of it all.  And we need editors and fact checkers committed to the idea that they’re going to get the story right so their readers can trust what they report. We need business people and news leaders who run professional news organizations to stop fretting over classified ads that aren’t coming back and figure out a new millennium organizational and business model that will support this noble endeavor. I’d be thankful for that.

5.   It’s OK to put it down for awhile. I’ve been visiting family for the past week.  I haven’t Twittered (much) or blogged (until now), or kept up with much news (except Mumbai and the Minnesota Senate recount).  My family asked me if the Blackberry makes me feel compelled to answer emails instantly.  I said no.  There’s a comfort to knowing you’re always connected.  That if anyone needs you, they can find you.  But there’s even more comfort in sinking into the couch, Thanksgiving dinner over and the kids in bed, goofing around with your family, no cell phone, computer or Chip in sight. 

So there you go.  I’ll tag Adam Singer to try the same topic, in part because I’m almost sure he’s written on it already.

Rally Time!

31 Oct

Last night, my wife and I went to a rally for Al Franken’s senate campaign…the draw: Bill Clinton was coming to town.  It was my second rally of the year; the first was last week I took my son to see Hillary Rodham Clinton when she came to town to goose the Franken campaign.  

I come to these things as a sort of tourist. I just can’t bring myself to get truly revved-up-fist-pumping-slogan-shouting over — as  President Clinton artfully called it — “some whoop-de-do political speech.”  Anyway, I know who I’m going to vote for, but heck — last week it was Hillary and this week it was Bill and my wife wanted to see what the fuss was about.  

So we got there at a decent time and carved out a spot in the crowd with a pretty good sightline.  And after two rallies this year, some observations: 

 

  1. If you go to one of these things, expect to stand.  A lot. Since it was the former president and we were lined up in front of the auditorium at the Minneapolis Convention Center, a few of us had the thought that we might get to sit in the auditorium. But you don’t want 5000 volunteers, partisans, celebrity hounds and curious folks who just want their kid to get a glimpse of the former president to be photographed lolling about in auditorium seats.  You want them standing, shouting, cheering and waving signs proclaiming that Obama+Franken=Change to stamp out that ticket-splitting idea promulgated by that silly old StarTribune! 

    So we stood. 
     

  2. These events aren’t exactly run like well-oiled machines.  They start early and end late — timed to finish in time for the 10 pm news (they failed on this one by the way.  WCCO had its reporter talking over Clinton live).  You get your warm-up acts — mayors, representatives, state officers.  Then you get a break. Then you get Walter Mondale, a nice surprise.  Then you get Sen. Klobuchar, and then a recorded Al Gore speech.  Eventually, Franken and Clinton arrive.  We’d been standing for 3 hours at this point.
     
  3. You can really tell who in the party’s ‘big leagues’ at these rallies. They speak in ways that are not just smooth and practiced, but passionate and controlled.  They’re confident, comfortable in their own skin. They tell stories that flow effortlessly from funny to personal to issues to the big picture.

    My take from afar? Though she’s not running this year, Minnesotans will have the chance to vote for Sen. Amy Klobuchar for a long time.  And Minneapolis’ R.T. Rybak seems to have matured over his years in the mayor’s office … strong speaker, and comfortable working the lines outside, too.

  4. There are a few Democrats who haven’t gotten the message about rising above identity politics.  Rep. Keith Ellison, for example, felt the need to give a shout out to the usual laundry list of Democratic ‘communities.’ Sounds 1980s to me. The Democratic message resonates strongest when it speaks to us as individuals with common issues and aspirations, rather than communities with interests.
     
  5. Al Franken comes across far better in speeches than he does in debates or ads.  Granted, it’s a good crowd  for him.  But the guy is engaging. He’s clearly smart. And he’s funny, but in ways that get you thinking.  Moreover, he never talks about himself – never says his own name. Never even says “vote for me.”  He talks about his audience, and he talks about issues. 

  6. Watching Clinton, I can’t help but compare him to the Republican vice presidential nominee. Clinton isn’t shy with the y’all’s.  He apologizes for not giving a “whoop-de-do political speech”.  He’s not being folksy.  He is folksy – and frighteningly conversant on issues from the financial crisis to national security. 

At times, Clinton dances on the edge of being condescending or didactic, but largely, it works … you’ve got to respect what he he has to say (and besides, as my mother-in-law says, “he’s a very handsome man). 

    At 700 words, I’ll stop here… a few more thoughts tomorrow on politicians as public speakers. Thanks for reading! 

    %d bloggers like this: