Posts Tagged ‘media relations’
Even a little PR / social media blog like this one gets pitched. A lot. The vast majority of the pitches I get are absolutely awful. So I’m going to profile one that made me WANT to write about it and explain why.
This is the email I got:
So why am I writing about this, and not the roughly 20 other pitches I got this week?
First, it’s an unusual concept. A legal insurance firm like DAS Canada doing a contest is unexpected (at least to me.)
Second, it points out a serious, real problem — being able to afford legal representation.
Third, it’s in the range of things that I might write about anyway — social media related, has a business application. You’d be surprised how many pitches I get for stuff that I would never in a million years write about on this blog (would you believe beach umbrella anchors?!). And you’d also be surprised by the people who pitch to me even after I’ve explicitly written to them and asked to be removed from their lists. (I’m looking at you, Imal Wagner, who pitches books to me that I would never cover, and has been told so).
Fourth, the release is reasonably well written. I could get the concept. And they quote the president of the Canadian Bar Association, which gives it some relevant credibility.
What didn’t I like about the pitch? The subject line’s kinda clunky. And I would love to have seen some personalization. A multimedia component would also have been nice — links to imagery or audio or video.
For all I know, the people at Pointman PR did absolutely no research, and me getting this was just a lucky chance for them. Or perhaps they thought about it a little. Either way, it worked. So what can you learn if you’re doing pitching to blogs or to mainstream media?
- Just look at the blog a little. I’m a PR blog. It’s not that I don’t care about children getting impaled by rogue beach umbrellas. It’s just that it doesn’t fit my slant. So don’t WASTE MY TIME PLEASE!
- Think rich content. If there had been a picture, I probably would have used it.
- Personalize. Yes, it’s a pain. But do it anyway.
- And if you’re told to stop pitching to someone, FLIPPING WELL STOP PITCHING!
I have to admit to some shock at the announcement that the just-announced successor to Ted Koppel at ABC News’s Nightline program is Dan Abrams. Why?
Because while Dan Abrams has some significant experience in journalism, he’s most recently been a CEO in the PR and marketing industry. Koppel, by contrast, was a lifelong journalist (and, of course, remains a journalist and commentator).
Many journalists leave that trade to begin working as public relations practitioners. That’s nothing new; there are decades of history pointing to that, including my personal history. It’s much less frequent to see people move from the PR industry back to journalism.
For what it’s worth, I think there are good reasons that PR people should be PR people and journalists should be journalists. When you embark on a media relations initiative, the theory is that media coverage tells the reader / listener / viewer that while there may be a “PR angle” to the story, the “media” have judged it worthy of coverage. Hence the phrase “newsworthy.”
There are many ways in which the wall between editorial decision-making and the advertising / marketing / PR / communications world gets chipped away. When I edited some magazines nearly 25 years ago, I would regularly have the sales manager come to me, saying “You know, it’d be great if you covered something about McBlatherston’s, they just took a full page…” I didn’t do that. And the ongoing tension and conflict was a big reason I left that job.
Publications often create “special advertising sections” that use cheaply produced or free copy that surrounds ads. There are “infomercials” that try to mimic the look and feel of news reports or programs. There was the VNR, or Video News Release, which caused quite a scandal in the 2000s. And there are publications which simply sell their editorial space. Sometimes it’s completely obvious, as in a full-page article on a business with a facing page ad for the business; other times, it’s much more subtle.
When Abrams left journalism to start PR businesses, his first idea was to have working journalists consult with corporate clients on communications strategy. That didn’t fly, so he moved on to a suite of websites (probably led by Mediaite, a media news blog) and Abrams Research, “a full service digital and social media agency, specializing in the development of web-based digital marketing campaigns, in addition to advising on social media strategy for non-profit, international, financial, political, sports, entertainment and Fortune 500 clients. In a nutshell, we help brands direct their social media efforts to efficiently reach and engage their target audience(s).” Now, he’s back in journalism as the anchor of a TV show with a fearsome reputation for indepth journalism.
ABC has said that Abrams no longer has any responsibility within the companies that bear his name. But he remains an owner of those companies. I don’t like that. This is a game of perceptions. If and when I watch Nightline with Abrams, I don’t want to be asking myself if the guest is or was a client, or whether there were arrangements made with one of his companies regarding the questions to be asked.
I’ve noticed a trend in retail: auto parts stores selling grocery items; pharmacies selling electronics; office supply stores selling food; grocery stores selling DVDs. I want to buy my drugs and antiperspirant at the pharmacy; I want to buy my food at the grocery store. AND I WANT MY JOURNALISTS TO BE JOURNALISTS, NOT PR PEOPLE.
I think that this sort of thing not only harms journalism, but also reduces the ability of a public relations campaign to actually influence its audience. If there’s no editorial coverage that isn’t bought, if there’s no more trust, why bother doing media relations at all? Just do social media.
I was asked by the organizers of next week’s Social Capital Conference to join organizer Lara Wellman on the local CTV morning show to talk about the conference, keying in on a tart little infographic they published recently: 10 Ways to Suck at Social Media (I’ve put the infographic at the end of the post, if you want to check it out).
The interview, done with cohost Jeff Hopper, reminded me that live TV interviews are a unique experience for even experienced interviewees. Cameras (in this case, one robotic and one human-operated), lights, a computer monitor behind us — distraction is easy and time is short. In this case, I think (THINK – always hard to KNOW) the interview went well, in great part because Jeff Hopper was already knowledgeable about social media, and because he had an obvious personal interest in the topic.
So here’s my tip for today. When you’re doing a live interview, either on TV or radio, KEEP TALKING. The host will find his or her way into your chatter to ask questions, get clarification, or take the interview in a new direction. What lies behind the dictum KEEP TALKING means you should be conversant enough with your topic to theoretically deliver a monologue for the length of the interview.
The easy way to KEEP TALKING is to have a set of key messages in your head and ceaselessly repeat them. This is not ideal. People know “key messages” when they hear them, thanks to politicians who seem to think we won’t notice them robotically repeating them. Here’s probably the most egregious example ever, courtesy of ex-Member of Parliament Peter Penashue:
The key here is to balance out your ability to KEEP TALKING with your ability to be a gracious part of a conversation. It’s a skill that takes practice to develop.
I won’t be talking about media training at Social Capital, but I’m happy to talk to you about it, or to meet you at the Social Capital conference, where I’ll be doing a talk on “Why You Are Stupid.” (pssst: The “You” in my title also includes me.) It’s not too late to register and hear from some truly un-dumb people, including Gini Dietrich (Chicago-based owner of Arment Dietrich and co-author of Marketing in the Round), and Danny Brown (cofounder of ARCompany and author of the hot off the press book Influence Marketing) (affiliate links).
And if this is something you need heavy-duty help with, you might want to check out Brad Phillips, a New York-based media trainer, and his Mr. Media Training blog. He has tons of great tips, techniques and case studies that he updates pretty much daily on his site.
UPDATE: Here’s the interview, as uploaded by CTV Ottawa Morning Live.
And here’s the infographic:
I tend to end up volunteering for a lot of stuff. Part of it is because I have a hard time saying no to good causes, part of it because I enjoy doing the work, part of it because it makes me feel good to help, part of it because often it’s friends asking, and part of it because I might learn something or hang out with cool people.
One of the things I think has been changed most fundamentally by social media is the relationship between not-for-profit organizations and people wishing to do good things for them.
Back in the day, charities and not-for-profits relied on long-term relationships with volunteers and donors. Every year, Jane Bloggs would “collect” for the Heart Foundation, the March of Dimes, or the Cancer Society (Of course, this still happens.) Every year, people would write cheques (as my parents still do, in memory of my brother) to the local children’s hospital. Memorial donations.
And not-for-profits would have committees which would provide muscle and brainpower to organize events and fundraisers. Need a fashion show? A charity tea? Casino night? Strike a committee, likely with one or more of the same people who canvassed and knitted and hosted the dinner etc… and the event comes together.
I suspect that in many ways, there was even a parallel thing happening with genders. Men would join “service clubs” like Rotary, Kinsmen, and the like, and women would have parallel clubs (in Canada, the IODE or the Catholic Women’s League).
But things are changing. Traditional service clubs are declining in popularity, as noted both by media and by club believers. But at the same time, there are good things happening too. And that’s where social media comes in.
The ability for people to self-organize and act via social media is awe-inspiring. Let me give you a bunch of examples:
- Twestival‘s remarkable success (nearly $2M raised in three years) comes to mind (and I feel justifiably proud in pointing to Ottawa’s superbly done Twestival event last year, organized by Stéphanie Montreuil and a gang of other smart people).
- The recent example of Caine’s Arcade is another heartwarming story, especially now that in addition to providing Caine with the world’s first crowdsourced scholarship (I’m guessing), a foundation has paired up to match those funds and help other kids like Caine.
- Hélène Campbell, a young woman from Ottawa, took her diagnosis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and turned it into a campaign for organ donation that took the province of Ontario’s Trillium Gift of Life Network by surprise — when she got celebrities such as Jann Arden, Justin Bieber, and Ellen Degeneres involved in urging organ donation, their registrations went from about 50 per day up to hundreds per day. She bumped the whole province’s registration number by two percent — nearly 250,000!
- 12for12K was a campaign organized by Danny Brown back in 2008, which raised more than $100,000 for a number of charities.
- And a couple of years ago, this was brought home to me when I found myself raising money and collecting goods for a local women’s shelter that had suffered a terrible fire.
So what makes all this different? A few things:
- People don’t have the same sort of connection to the organization they’re working on behalf of.
I didn’t know Cornerstone from a hole in the ground beforehand. I’m not a woman. I’ve never had to live in a shelter. I didn’t know any of the staff or volunteers. I just got riled up by the fire. I don’t think Hélène Campbell was involved in organ donation before she got sick. This sort of spontaneous engagement has good and bad implications. First, it can be an unexpected and serendipitous boon. Yay. Second, it can create unexpected work for charity staff or established volunteers. Not exactly Boo, but uh-oh.
- Not-for-profits can sometimes do best by staying out of the way
Organizations that aren’t familiar with the ad-hoc, high-energy, short-term nature of these movements might stifle them with excessive bureaucracy, caution, or general wet-blanketing. That in no way means you let people run with a valuable brand. But you don’t want to oversee and second-guess every decision.
- Trying to court these folks into becoming longtime donors or volunteers may not work, or even backfire.
The irony of these “flash-givers” is that while they may well believe in your cause, be willing to use social media, traditional media, public relations, and the like to boost it, and make a big difference… it may be a one-night stand. They may feel little to no long-term interest in the organization, and may well be too busy or lack the long-term interest to come back to the organization, volunteer, join a board, etc.
- Use this new energy to leverage your organization.
In the media relations game, ”earned media” implies a third-party endorsement of an organization. Well, someone coming out of the blue to support your organization financially or with an event is an EXPLICIT endorsement of what you do. Use them (with their permission and support) to solidify or expand your organization’s brand in the media, to increase your website’s Google juice, or to further promote your own social media initiatives. All parties will benefit.
- Smart charities and NFPs will figure out ways of encouraging and supporting these flash-gives.
Just as you could stifle an initiative with too much “management”, you can fan the flames with some judicious support. Ask how you can help. Have resources ready for them — logos, sound bites, etc. Be ready to include news about them in your organization’s online presence. Work your existing networks to help the new folks achieve their goals, or at least offer to.
As the old ways of cultivating and managing volunteers become less effective, the NFP sector needs to find ways to harness this somewhat anarchic force. Those who do can reap great benefits.
Some great resources for not-for-profits:
Get enough public relations professionals together, and you’ll inevitably hear the conversation. The one I’m thinking of starts around war stories, then moves to why the corner office folks (or the C-suite, if you’re more modern than I am) don’t listen to us, don’t take us seriously.
You know why? Because we cheapen ourselves. We do things that we shouldn’t, and we suffer the consequences.
Case. In. Point.
In California, water is a big deal. The water 18 million people in southern California use to drink, wash, and take care of their sewage arrives in their houses via a 240-mile pipeline all the way from the Colorado River. So I’d figure that the topic of water there is discussed a bit more than it is here in my city of Ottawa, where a mighty river brings all the water we need to our figurative doorstep.
The Los Angeles Times ran a story yesterday about one of the authorities which manage the water supply for 2 million folks living south of LA, the Central Basin Municipal Water District. The CBMWD apparently signed a $12,000/month contract with a consulting firm to write and place stories about them on a news site called “News Hawks Review.” The documents around this were obtained by the Times:
The selling point? That this would be indexed by Google News as a news outlet. Well, that door’s slammed shut — as of this morning, Google News has de-indexed News Hawks Review. In discussions with the LA Times, Coghlan claimed to have no editorial role with the News Hawks site. However, he was a frequent contributor to the site and was listed as a “reporter” with an affiliated “newshx.com” e-mail address.
Before I start opining, a caveat. I attempted yesterday to contact News Hawks Review, Coghlan (the company seems to not have a web site, which is curious for someone working in social media), and the CBMWD for comment and to ensure that the LA Times coverage was not inaccurate. None of those people responded to phone calls or emails. So if I’m extrapolating from incorrect information, be aware that I tried to verify the facts as reported.
There are two issues here, to my mind. The first is that what was done is, in my opinion, unethical. This was an attempt to create a simulacrum of news coverage without disclosing the financial interests.
I asked PRSA for a comment about this, and here’s what Prof. Deborah Silverman, the chair of their Ethics Board, told me by email:
“This practice is contrary to the Public Relations Society of America’s Code of Ethics, which espouses honesty and accuracy in communication, the free flow of information, and disclosure of information. The Central Basin Municipal Water District’s use of a communications firm to create “news” disguised as media coverage is a serious breach of ethical standards, and the district is operating in a manner that does little to aid the public’s decision-making process.” I’m sad to say that I also e-mailed my professional association, the International Association of Business Communicators, and nobody responded.
Did CBMWD know their communications person or people were engaged in unethical behaviour? Did they endorse it? I don’t know.
Second, this is a ridiculously ineffective use of thousands of dollars. What is the measure of success here? What opinion was changed by these innocuous stories? A youtube video accompanying the story has a whopping 101 views:
Meanwhile the documents posted by the LA Times show the communications folks for CBMWD referring to this as a “unique and innovative utilization of an internet news service to distribute actual news.”
If we as PR professionals can do no better than to use the tools at our disposal in unethical and deceptive and ineffective ways, then why SHOULD the C-suite listen to us? And if the boss thinks this is what we do, why would he or she think of us as anything other than unethical shills?
UPDATE: Thanks to the PRbuilder blog, I discovered two things. First, Ragan’s PR Daily covered this issue, and second, that the LA PRSA chapter has sent a letter to the Times calling this an “egregious breach.” I don’t think the letter’s been published in the Times yet, but the Ragan story has it.
Now, there’s no doubt that this isn’t the first walk-out, or the first time there was distinct squirminess in an interview.
Or, Mike Lazaridis on the BBC:
Ann Coulter on Fox News:
Carrie Prejean on Larry King:
So what’s going on here?
In my opinion, these incidents stem from agendas that don’t meet in the middle. In many cases, interviews have become nothing more than glorified promotional opportunities. Hollywood has this down to a science, flying dozens of journalists to junkets for movies with the tacit — or perhaps not so tacit — understanding that the coverage will be uniformly chirpy and positive. Angelina Jolie probably took this to its apogee when she had a lawyer write up a contract (which The Smoking Gun obtained) for interviews promoting her film “A Mighty Heart” (ironically, about journalist Daniel Pearl and his wife):
Another example? The US Federal Emergency Management Association held this 2007 news conference to talk about wildfires in California:
You’ll note that the reporters don’t identify themselves. That’s because they’re FEMA employees. There were no reporters, and when it came out, the head of FEMA was not amused.
The upshot of this is that celebrities and leaders — in Hollywood, politics, business — grow accustomed to dictating the terms under which they will be covered. To a certain extent, that’s all well and good. Hopefully, no PR practitioner would recommend doing every interview and answering every question.
But in celebrityland, the prevailing belief seems to be that all the questions will be softballs and that the intent of the interview is more or less entirely promotional. And, if you read Eric Snider’s “I was a Junket Whore“, you’ll discover that the revenge on those who break that contract — or even expose it — can be swift and intense.
The bigger question is what this means for you and me, the person who does interviews that aren’t nearly so visible, who isn’t recognizable like a celebrity. This means that regardless of what you THINK the conditions of an interview are, be prepared for them to change. Don’t assume that because you’re a good person, you’ll be treated fairly. Don’t assume that because you think your story is positive and interesting that the person on the other side of the pen or mic will as well.
One of the things that strikes me about the video examples above is that people handled the shifting interview agenda REALLY badly. They saw that the ground had shifted under their feet, but they were unable to regain their balance and respond, so they walked. One way to ensure the interview agenda never shifts is to fake it, as FEMA did. Another way is to do what San Francisco’s BART transit system did earlier this month, by uploading its own version of news about how they shut down a protest:
Control is good. But in the real world, it’s better to acknowledge the limits of your control and to prepare for interviews that go out of your comfort zone than it is to be rigid and break when the wind shifts.
Rob Ford is the mayor of Canada’s largest city. The dedicated Flacklife reader may note that I’ve covered Mayor Ford a couple of times here. The most notable post was the one in which I included audio of his interview (to use the term loosely) with CBC Radio’s national show “As It Happens” — an pre-booked interview which was 210 seconds of intense awkwardness.
That was October. This is August. And Rob Ford has worked hard on his media relations skills.
Today, he met with the Premier of Ontario, and afterward, met the Toronto media for a scrum. But this was a scrum with a difference. Listen and learn:
This is taking the Donald Rumsfeld school of media relations to an entirely new plateau. News conferences are far more pleasant when in two minutes you can tell the gathered reporeters what they would be asking, answer those questions, and leave.
I don’t know whether to rejoice at the innovation or… jump off a bridge.
Audio from the National Post’s Youtube channel.
While politics isn’t a huge part of my business life (unlike my compatriot Mark Blevis, for example), I am an armchair political quarterback of the first water. So this post by Maclean’s magazine parliamentary correspondent and blogger Aaron Wherry really caught my eye.
Minister of Industry Tony Clement is possibly the most passionate user of Twitter within Canada’s federal cabinet (although there are others.) And he should be given credit for not cutting and running despite being in charge of some controversial files, including changes to Canada’s census, an attempted takeover of Potash Corporation by Australian firm BHP Billiton, and most recently the government’s awarding of $300 million to Pratt & Whitney Canada to assist the company in carrying out research & development on new aircraft engines.
The announcement of this funding led to some stiff media criticism, and last night, as Wherry illustrates, Minister Clement took to his Twitter account to joust with several people, including journalist Andrew Coyne and economist Stephen Gordon (who had been intensely critical of Clement’s decision to discontinue the mandatory long-form census).
The exchange lasted about two hours and ended at about midnight. I think it’s remarkable (in a good way) that Clement is doing this. But it makes me wonder about a couple of things. The Stephen Harper government has been painted as exceedingly locked-down in terms of communication, and there has been a long history of clashes between journalists and the government. But here’s a senior cabinet minister slugging it out with a journalist and others in the public twitterverse.
So I tip my hat to Minister Clement. I think it’s great that he’s doing this. And now, some tips that I think his tweeting can teach us all:
- Use the tool that you are comfortable with. It could be argued that a blog might be a better tool for Clement. But for whatever reason or reasons, Clement likes Twitter. So he’s using Twitter. You can’t force a minister to do stuff. But I don’t think anyone’s twisting Clement’s arm to do this. He’s engaged. So work with that.
- Don’t cut and run when things get tough. Clement has gone through some bruiser battles on Twitter. But he’s still there, and while he may end a given exchange, he doesn’t go to ground when critics appear. You have to brace yourself for the critics and be ready to respond.
- Remember that you control your message, no matter the medium. In the exchange from last night, Andrew Coyne presses hard for Clement to disclose departmental research. Note that Clement doesn’t say “no.” He ignores the request. He could provide it at a later time, or he might not. Or Coyne could do an Access to Information request to obtain the research.
- Choose a medium you can communicate in. Clement appears to be a tech savvy guy; he also appears to like cut and thrust. That makes Twitter useful for him. Furthermore, he uses the shorthand and conventions of the medium to his own advantage. He shortens words, uses hashtags, etc.
- Choose a medium that matches your urgency and frequency needs. I mentioned in tip 1 that a blog might be better for Clement in terms of putting out fleshed-out arguments. But the conversationality wouldn’t be there, and the need to polish the writing would be higher. A podcast would require some sort of equipment (even Audioboo would require a mobile device), and it doesn’t have the immediacy of a tweet.
I hope these tips are useful. If you have any more to add, please leave them in the comments.
I’ve been dithering on whether to write about the investiture of Toronto’s new Mayor Rob Ford since I first heard that Don Cherry had been invited. You may recall that I covered Rob Ford earlier this year, when he didn’t quite do an interview with CBC Radio’s “As it Happens” on the day after his election.
For non-Canadian readers, Ford has styled himself as a plain-speaking council maverick who will stand up for the “little guy.” Don Cherry is a former NHL coach who is now a commentator on Hockey Night in Canada, a Saturday-night sporting institution. He’s also got a number of other gigs, from a radio commentator on sports radio networks to endorsements or ad appearances for things such as Cold-FX, the Quizno‘s restaurant chain, a series of hockey videos, and a chain of restaurants with the Don Cherry name over the door. He’s a passionate supporter of Canada’s military and a number of charities from organ donation to a hospice named after his late wife Rose, to whom he seemed to have been quite devoted.
Cherry is also a polarizing figure. He can seem belligerent, he doesn’t seem to suffer fools gladly, and he would likely place himself pretty far on the right of the political spectrum. In a recent byelection, he recorded a robocall in support of Conservative candidate Julian Fantino.
And then he was asked to attend Rob Ford’s investiture ceremony to place the chain of office around Ford’s neck (it should be noted that in most cases, the city clerk does this duty). Here’s what he said after he did the deed:
So. I was a little horrified at this speech. It seems to me that the investiture of a mayor and a council is a time for a little dignity and not for baiting of one’s ‘enemies’ and crude insults.
And I wasn’t alone. Spacing Toronto is holding a poll to design a “LEFT-WING PINKO” button, and others are busily printing t-shirts and other merchandise. Meanwhile, more right-wing media outlets are supporting Cherry as plain-spoken and just what was necessary. Joe O’Connor, for example, wrote in the National Post:
Be outraged over Cherry. Be embarrassed for Toronto. Or else be like this left wing, bike riding, print media wacko and lighten up. And remember this: we are talking about a 76-year-old Grampa.
But I think it’s too easy to simply dismiss Ford — or Cherry, for that matter — as ignorant or stupid. Ford is sending messages here, and I think they’re very specific. I think he’s specifically targeting the “pinko” contingent and smacking them verbally.
Now here are the public relations / communications questions, and I don’t know if I have answers or not:
- What does it gain Ford to do this?
- What are the circumstances – in politics or outside of them – when it’s appropriate to antagonize or alienate publics?
I would REALLY appreciate some insights on this. I rarely find myself unable to answer my own questions.
Earlier this week, I wrote about Stephen Duckett’s unfortunate choice to focus more on his cookie than on the reporters chasing him for comment.
A quick summary: while Alberta Health Service, the agency managing that province’s health system, was going through some serious criticism over wait times and other issues, reporters buttonholed its CEO, Stephen Duckett, looking for comment. He wanted them to wait for a media availability that was happening in a short time, and instead of commenting kept walking, repeating “I’m eating my cookie!” in response to persistent questions.
A couple of things to note here:
- the wording is important, particularly these phrases: “will no longer serve” and “both the Board and Dr. Duckett have jointly agreed that now is the time to move on.”
- According to the CBC story, one board member has resigned, while a Calgary Herald story suggests three board members may have resigned. This decision came direct from the province’s health minister, Gene Zwozdesky. The Herald story is somewhat unclear on who told them this, but apparently the agency’s board chair said “I did speak to the minister and his directions were clear.” Sounds like marching orders to me. This may also explain the resignation or resignations..
- I suspect the provincial government needed to be seen to be cleaning house on a messy situation. Keep in mind that a Conservative MLA was kicked out of caucus last week for criticizing health management in the province and that opposition parties are baying like hounds on a fox hunt on this.
Departures at the top of any organization are difficult to manage, and this one appears particularly messy. But to conclude that it’s because of one bad media encounter going viral leads me to two thoughts:
- If this was because of “Cookiegate”, it’s a bad decision
- If it wasn’t, there’s likely a great deal that we normal humans don’t — and won’t — ever know.
Don’t judge too quickly. We outsiders aren’t privy to what really is going on within the organization.
Update: The Globe and Mail has its analysis.