Posts Tagged ‘public relations’
October 28, 2014 by Kay Paumier
I recently listened to a webinar entitled “Insider Secrets to the Perfect Pitch” by Batt Humphreys, a former CBS News executive with more than 30 years of experience in the industry.
Here is some of what I took away from the webinar, which was sponsored by Vocus/Cision. Much of this is not new, but it is important to regularly review the basics, especially the importance of the story and the pitch.
It’s all about the story. As the former newscaster Dan Rather said: “We’re all just telling stories here.”
What is a good story? Potential good story themes include:
Whenever possible, do your own research. Thirty-nine percent of respondents to a survey said that exclusive research helped make pitches stand out in the crowd. So look for ways to generate original data related to your topic.
Qualities of a Good Story
Whatever the angle, the story needs to be clear and concise, and connect with its intended audience.
Once you have your story, you need to pitch it. Some tips:
These are just some of the highlights from the webinar, which you can hear for yourself here.
September 18, 2014 by Kay Paumier
Ever since Deep Throat, people have been fascinated by how the news media get information.
Although you probably won’t be involved in toppling a president, you might have reason to consider whether you should say “no comment,” speak “off the record,” or offer some material exclusively.
Unfortunately, these definitions are often misunderstood, both by the interviewee and the interviewer. For that reason, it’s a good idea to discuss the meaning of the term with the reporter before you provide any information.
As the online encyclopedia Wikipedia notes: “Politicians, rock stars, royalty and other celebrities seem to favor the no-comment line of defense.”
For the rest of us, however, the term makes little or no sense. Studies show that people think you’re guilty if you even say “no comment.”
That doesn’t mean you have to answer every question. You can just state that you cannot discuss a particular topic. Just avoid the words “no comment,” which for many people, imply guilt.
“On the Record”
When you speak “on the record,” everything you say can be reproduced verbatim and attributed to you, without further approval from you. Most media interviews are on the record.
“Off the Record”
“Off the record” means you are speaking not for publication or attribution. Many people think that “off-the-record” comments will never find their way into print. However, the term just means that the information will not be attributed to you. The reporter could still attribute the information to “an anonymous source” or could track down someone else who will confirm the information and be quoted.
Also, just saying something is “off the record” (or “not for attribution” or “on background”) is insufficient. The reporter must agree to keep the comments confidential.
I would never advise a client to go “off the record” unless we had a good relationship with the reporter and knew that he or she was trustworthy. In general, it’s good to keep everything “on the record.”
“Not for Attribution”
Speaking “not for attribution” is just a variation of “off the record” and, again, requires the reporter’s agreement to be effective.
The term means that the information will not be attributed to you directly. However, you could be described in such a way as to suggest your identity (e.g., “a high-ranking official in the State Department”).
“On Background” and “On Deep Background”
Another variation of the off-the-record theme is to speak “on background.” The Encarta dictionary defines “on background” as speaking “on conditions of anonymity and in an effort to provide the press with non-attributable information, usually sensitive in nature, which addresses the issue on background only.”
If you speak “on background,” you give the reporter some information that cannot be attributed to you, but could be attributed to an “industry insider,” “high-ranking official’ or the like. Your information can be quoted verbatim.
If you speak “on deep background,” the reporter should not attribute the material to any source.
Both “on background” and “on deep background” are mainly used for explanatory discussions and investigative reporting. However, if the reporter can get the same information from an alternate source, that material may be used.
And, again, the reporter must agree to the terms in advance.
Nondisclosure Agreements (NDAs)
When dealing with unannounced products or initiatives, you can ask the reporters to sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA), which is a formalized version of an embargo.
The NDA describes the terms under which reporters may disclose the information they receive. In particular, the NDA should state the date when the reporter is free to use the information.
The reporter must sign the agreement for it to be effective.
Until this point, all the confidentiality issues we’ve discussed bind the editor. Exclusives and specials bind you.
Exclusives are usually restricted to feature or interview placements. In general, the term means that the article or material will not be given to any other publication or program, or that the spokesperson will not interview with any other outlet. Oftentimes, an exclusive increases the chances a story will be published or aired.
A “special” is just another way of saying an exclusive. The term, which is commonly used for contributed articles, means that the material is tailored for a particular publication. You should not submit that exact material to any other publication or outlet.
Magazines usually insist on specials or exclusives for contributed articles. If a publication requests an exclusive, make sure you understand what the editor or producer means by the term. If the outlet is prestigious enough to request an exclusive, it’s probably important enough for you to give it.
A Final Note
As stated earlier, these terms have slightly different definitions, and misunderstandings are common. Avoid surprises. Confirm the meaning of the term before you providing any information.
September 4, 2014 by Kay Paumier
Here are some of the media’s most common pet peeves, with advice on how to avoid them.
#1: Showing you do not understand the media outlet
Avoid pitching stories that do not fit the publication, program or blog.
One editor told me that a PR firm regularly pitched cooking recipes to his technology publication, a sure sign they didn’t know what the magazine covered.
And there really is no excuse. Review the media outlet. Note its sections and departments, its tone and topics. Check its media kit, which gives you an overview of its audience and mission. (You can typically find media kits either under the “advertising” or “about us” sections on the web.)
Do the same type of research for any broadcast program. Note its format (e.g., news program or talk show). Study the personalities of the host and hostess. Learn the correct pronunciation and spelling of their names. (Don’t be like the PR manager who mispronounced the name of a leading San Francisco radio personality. This definitely showed that she had not listened to the program. It’s fair to assume that the producer only slightly listened to her.)
Throughout this process, consider where your company or organization might “fit” into the publication or program. Remember, the media is not going to adapt to you. You need to find a place for yourself.
#2: Showing you do not understand the journalist’s role
Some journalists regularly filter out communication from companies or agencies they feel have wasted their time.)
Contact the appropriate person for your story or pitch. For newspapers, send news releases to the city editor (for local news) or to the business editor (for business stories). For magazines, send news releases to the news editor. For newspapers and magazines, send story ideas and articles to the features or articles editor. For blogs, send to the blogger who writes about your industry.
For broadcast contact the news director (for newscasts) or producers (of specific programs).
#3: Failing to respond
If a journalist asks you for information, get it to them as quickly as possible. In general, I recommend getting back to the media within the hour, if only to say that you can’t provide the information immediately. If that’s the case, at least let them know you’re working on it, and give an estimate of when you will have the material.
#4: Failing to deliver
If you’ve promised something, deliver it or have a very good reason why you don’t.
One way to assure you’ll keep your promises is to focus on the most important reporters and editors. The 80/20 rule works in publicity as in virtually every other endeavor. Keep in close contact with the people who provide 80 percent of the value of your publicity program.
#6: Hiding contact information
It’s amazing, but many companies do not put media contacts on their websites or even on their news releases. Include contact information on all releases, and place the information prominently on your online press room.
#5: Treating someone poorly
Years ago, someone verbally attacked the assistant of a prominent technology journalist, bringing the assistant to tears. He went public with the story, making it clear that he did not appreciate that kind of conduct.
The moral of the story: follow the golden rule. It’s good business. It’s good PR.
#7: Losing perspective
This is perhaps the media’s biggest pet peeve of all.
Sometimes PR people are too close to their companies to do their jobs well. PR’s function is to facilitate two-way communication between the organization, the media and other outside groups. The best PR people are intermediaries. They help both their companies and the media.
So look at things as reporters would. Ask yourself if your idea would appeal to their readers or viewers. Adapt the idea until it has that appeal.
This ability to balance the needs of the organization with the needs of the media is at the core of solid PR work. Maintain that balance and you will have a win-win relationship with your company and the media.
August 7, 2014 by Kay Paumier
It’s the middle of the year, and it seemed a good time to take another look at the Vocus State of the Media Report 2014.
Some things really struck me, notably the not-so-encouraging statement that “PR practitioners may find it harder to place stories” because of social media. For years we’ve competed with breaking news and other popular stories. Now we have to compete for the attention of journalists “who have a worldwide web of blogs, social media and alternative news sources at their fingertips.”
All this means that PR professionals should not “expect more than 10 seconds” of a journalist’s time.
I agree that the competition has never been greater. But the basics remain. “It’s more important than ever to connect with reporters on social, comment on their stories, offer information that is relevant to their beat and build relationships.”
Findings about Social Media
The level of engagement that social media makes possible has changed the reporting dynamic. In the past reporters didn’t know what their readers were thinking unless they got a letter or phone call. “Now readers and reporters alike know what the other is thinking almost immediately.”
That said, I found some of the specific comments about social media interesting.
June 19, 2014 by Kay Paumier
In my previous post, I discussed the Malaysian Airlines crisis communications, and outlined two things you should do before a crisis:
Here is more advice on what you should do before a crisis strikes.
Prepare your messages and materials.
To be sure that you will be ready when (and if) the time comes, develop your “crisis messages” and materials in advance. Specifically:
· “Our main concern is for the welfare of our (employees, customers, shareholders, etc.). We’re doing all that we can for them at this point.”
· “This is what we know right now. As we get more information and verify its accuracy, we will pass it onto you.”
How many people are affected?
· What kind of severance are you offering?
· Is out-placement assistance available?
· Does this mean the company is going broke?
· Are your executives taking pay cuts so that fewer people will be laid off?
Deal with logistics.
The final step in preparing your plan is to manage the logistics.
Review the plan.
Make sure the entire executive staff and other key management people, including the corporate lawyer and investor-relations executive, review the crisis-communications plan.
Assign someone to check the plan quarterly, if only to update the lists. The entire crisis-communications team should review the plan annually. Treat the plan as you would a company insurance policy.
Media train your spokespeople, specifically practicing crisis scenarios. Review this training at least annually.
Test the plan. Run through simulations of possible situations. Consider contracting with an outside moderator to run “tabletop exercises”— roundtable discussions based on given crisis scenarios.
Crisis communications planning is often on the “to-do” list, but all too often is not done. However, preparing a plan doesn’t have to be arduous. The planning can be broken into manageable pieces and worked on over several months.
In my next post, I’ll discuss what to do during a crisis.
June 8, 2014 by Kay Paumier
In writing those tips, I was reminded of the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, which was a classic study of denial, misinformation and hubris.
I assume you’ll handle any crisis better than Exxon did. But what do you do after the crisis has subsided?
Do a post-mortem. Specifically:
At best, crisis-communications planning can help you avoid a crisis. At the very least, you’ll be more prepared to deal with a crisis should it occur.
Some information for this article came from the following sources:
Crisis Communications – Malaysia Airlines and the Missing MH370, Priyanka Dayal
Critiquing Malaysia Airlines’ Crisis Communications, Doug Bedell
Malaysia Airlines in Crisis Communications, jocelyncaonyu
Crisis Communications Lessons from Malaysia Airlines, Laura Petrolino
Many websites have a wealth of information about crisis management and communication. Here are some of my favorites.
All About Public Relations, www.aboutpublicrelations.net/crisis.htm
Al Czarnecki Communications, http://www.topstory.ca/crisis.html (crisis communications checklist)
Bernstein Crisis Management LLC, www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com (Has a crisis management newsletter.)
Sandra K. Clawson Freeom, “Crisis Communication Plan: a PR Blueprint,” http://www3.niu.edu/newsplace/crisis.html
May 29, 2014 by Kay Paumier
Your first steps are to mobilize the team and review your communications plan, modifying it to fit the situation, as needed. Then:
Whatever the crisis, your responses during the first 24 hours are very important. You need to demonstrate concern, care and empathy. People are often emotional. They will not “hear” rational arguments until you get past their emotions.
So deal with the feelings first. Specifically:
Control the communication.
Communicate directly with your employees and other important audiences.
Do not rely on the media to communicate with your employees and other important audiences. Use your website, email, blogs and other means to get factual, accurate information directly to your important constituents.
Remember that all your employees are PR representatives. If they feel secure and believe that the organization is dealing appropriately with the situation, they will project that confidence.
At the same time, don’t tell your employees anything you would not want to see on the news. Reporters might approach them directly, hoping for a “scoop.”
Cope with an online crisis.
If the offensive communication is on a website, discussion group or email list, try to find out what lead to the dissatisfaction.
Look for some common ground. If you made a mistake, fix it. Rogue sites have bashed companies just because someone did not receive ordered merchandise. Once the product arrived, the sites disappeared.
Websites such as www.snopes.com, which identifies urban legends, may be helpful in countering a false claim.
In any event, try to resolve issues peacefully. If you’re antagonistic, the situation could easily deteriorate.
My next post will discuss what to do after a crisis.
May 15, 2014 by Kay Paumier
Product recalls. Corporate scandals. Natural disasters.
Almost any organization can be faced with a crisis. How it handles the crisis can easily determine its success or failure.
Consider the response of Malaysia Airlines after the disappearance of flight MH370 with almost 240 passengers on board.
Early on, some people praised the airline for being “clear, honest and open in their communications,” and for “exuding competence and leadership in a crisis that has rightfully captured the attention of the entire world.”
Others were not so impressed, saying that the company had “been totally lacking on the compassionate end of it from the get-go,” that it “was completely not ready for a disaster like this,” and that it “didn’t act swiftly enough, nor did they stay on top of the issue, providing updates, or even just communicating there were not any updates to be made.”
And then there was that infamous text message, sent to relatives of the passengers: “Malaysia Airlines deeply regrets that we have to assume that MH370 has been lost and that none of those on board survived. As you will learn in the next hour from Malaysia’s Prime Minster, we must now accept all evidence suggests the plane went down in the Southern Indian Ocean.”
According to The Drum, the airlines claimed that most of the families had already been informed in person and by telephone. Even if that were the case, the text message seemed cold and impersonal to many observers.
Only time will tell what impact the crisis, and its aftermath, will have on the airline’s business. But the unfortunate episode does illustrate the importance of being prepared for a crisis, and of communicating appropriately when one occurs.
To do that, you need a plan. In this post, I’ll start outlining what to do before a crisis. In later posts, I’ll discuss what to do during and after a crisis.
Before a Crisis
Inventory potential problems.
Your first step is to define a crisis for your organization. Consider all the things that could negatively affect your organization, directly or indirectly.
One approach is to ask management about potential vulnerabilities, which could include:
Examine these situations and prioritize them according to their potential for harm. Focus first on the most probable and potentially most dangerous problems, and resolve or at least mitigate them if possible. In so doing, you can reduce the possibility that a crisis will occur.
Some of the most important crisis-management work is done at this stage. This is not the stuff of headlines. If you do a good job, almost no one will even know about it.
Sometimes you can’t totally avoid a crisis, but you can reduce its impact. One analysis of the World Trade Center suggests that hundreds of lives were saved because of the frequent safety drills conducted in the buildings. (“For Many on September 11, Survival Was No Accident,” USA Today, December 19, 2001) Surely 9/11 was a catastrophe of immense proportions, but things could have been worse.
Develop a plan.
Once you’ve identified potential crises for your organization, develop your plan, which should:
Identify the crisis-communication team.
The crisis-communication team should include representatives from every department in the company, including finance, operations and communications. The president, CEO and any other appropriate spokesperson must be members.
Once everyone is identified:
• Give all members of the team complete contact information for everyone on the team, including office, home and cell phone numbers; Twitter handles; and emails for the team members, colleagues and even their partners.
• Designate a crisis manager and assistant manager who will be responsible for overall crisis management and communication.
• Determine the primary responsibilities of each member of the team.
• Identify the groups that you must communicate with, such as:
• Designate a spokesperson and back-up spokesperson. This person (probably the president or CEO) will represent the company, make official statements and answer media questions. The back-up spokesperson will fill that role if the primary spokesperson is unavailable. Restrict all external communication to these spokespeople. It is essential that the organization present a unified image and consistent message.
• Prepare an up-to-date list of contact information for key internal and external people including the Board of Directors, the executive staff, major suppliers and customers, and important community leaders and services.
• Update your media list.
• Identify any internal or external experts who might be good resources. Third parties can add credibility in times of uncertainty. Include their complete contact information.
The good news is that a lot of this information is probably easily available. It just needs to be organized.
I’ll give more tips on what to do before a crisis in my next post.
May 1, 2014 by Kay Paumier
Like many celebrations, this day provides some publicity opportunities. For example, vets could discuss how to take good care of dogs. Animal shelters could promote the benefits of adopting stray dogs. Pet supply stores could offer seminars on dog care. And counselors and therapists could even discuss the beneficial impact of having a furry friend.
Here are some other celebrations in August that might be publicity opportunities for you.
• August 1, 1990: Celebration of World Wide Web Anniversary
• August 3: National Mustard Day – celebrating mustard slathered on food
• August 4 – 10: Single Working Women’s Week – honoring single working women
• August 6: National Night Out – promoting police-community partnerships
• August 8: Happiness Happens Day – encouraging expressions of happiness
• August 18: Serendipity Day – celebrating unexpected discoveries
January 9, 2014 by Kay Paumier
Everyone knows Valentine’s Day and Presidents’ Day are in February.
But did you know that we also celebrate bubble gum, laughter and sword swallowers that month?
These—and other less-quirky anniversaries and celebrations—can give you the opportunity to promote your company, your product or your service.
Here are some other anniversaries and celebrations coming up in February. How can you use these to market yourself more effectively?
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