Monday, February 27, 2006

Technology Takes Over

Publicists are no longer mailing out formal press releases to various media people and diligently counting the hits in each publication—we’ve established that. With the domination of technology in public relations, “message pickup” is the new goal.

Wayne Hickey of Weber Shandwick explains that blogging and podcasting are new media tools to get the message out, and RSS is a way of tracking the message. With the expansion of these technologies, it is important to know who you want to target and which tools to use. At a large corporation like Weber Shandwick, they might target print, online and broadcast press and blogs on a select basis. A small PR firm might have a better chance getting ink by pitching to a blogger rather than the New York Times. Thus each publicist will pitch their message in a different format using different tools.

Part of this technology movement expands consumer’s access to the messages. It started as simple as newspapers going online—you no longer wait for the morning paper to be delivered because you can access a story often the night before online. It is a 24/7 world of information. Press releases are posted online allowing all Internet surfers access. This may change the way a PR pro will write the news release—it’s no longer written solely for a reporter.

Consumers also have greater access because of portability. Audio and video podcasting allows the consumer to choose when they watch a video rather than when a network broadcasts it. If this proves to be a successful tool, the “message” will be picked up more. News Corporation just announced a new venture that will "insinuate itself into millions of cellphones" (www.nytimes.com/2006/02/27/technology/27mobile.html). They have jumped on the bandwagon of mobile media--consumers can purchase videos, graphics and music through their entertainment store Mobizzo. As the New York Times article points out, all media companies will have their eye on this business that New Corp is starting.

It'll be interesting to me to see how far technology will infuse media and public relations. I don't see myself paying for audio or visual broadcasts on my cellphone or my iPod--but then again I never thought I'd have a Blackberry or an iPod.

Are tech-media companies creating products to meet the needs of consumers, or are they creating something to serve a craving before the consumer has it?

Monday, February 13, 2006

Practical PR Tips

Getting Ink for Your Client

The increase of blogging within public relations is blatant proof that the industry is no longer what is used to be. In order to be good at your job, you have to keep up with the latest trends and use your tools wisely. I never thought I’d have a blog—let alone for PR—but I now realize this is just the beginning. With the constant evolution happening “out there,” traditional methods for projecting your message must be fine tuned and often re-vamped.

I scoured through PR blogs for tips on getting your client ink. I emailed a few seasoned pros for their advice. So much is written about bad pitches and PR-gone-wrong that I found myself collecting a list of “things NOT to do.” However, nestled within the ranting and raving, I found some useful advice.

Enough about the bad pitching, let’s hear what can be good.

Steve Cody, Managing Partner and Co-Founder of Peppercom Inc., is author of the public relations book What’s Keeping Your Customers Up At Night? Having heard him speak at a PR conference last summer and followed his blog (www.repmanblog.com) for past few weeks, I reached out to him for words of wisdom. I’m always intrigued by advice from people who start their own company because they know more than anyone how to start from scratch, acquire clients, and get their clients in the press. It requires great skill—there’s no company foundation or reputation to rely on. Mr. Cody advised me to “talk to the media about the problems/issues that are keeping the client’s customers up at night and how the client provides a unique solution to that pain.” He says it’s all about “problem/solution.” Ideally it’s a proactive and people pleasing approach.

When it comes to the pitch and sending out a press release, PR Ideas (www.publicrelationsideas.com) suggests writing briefs rather than articles to grab the attention of an editor and gain a better chance of ink. The idea behind a brief, something like a 75 word list, rather than a lengthy 900 word article, is that it feels less promotional and it’s easier to fit on a page. As soon as a reporter feels like the PR pro is “selling” the story, it’s in the garbage can. A brief is also easier for a writer to read quickly and decide if it’s of interest to their readers. Whatever you send to a reporter, making it press friendly will increase your chance of ink.

In general, sharpen your new releases. When a reporter is flooded with poorly written press releases, they’re going to be thrown out. This message consistently appeared in my search for PR advice. Strategic Public Relations (http://prblog.typepad.com/) recommends working on the content of the release rather than the format. They liken the press release to blogs in that they are both tools for PR, and each tool is useful for a particular job.

Michael A. Burns, president and CEO of Michael A. Burns & Associates, insists that good journalism is the key to getting ink, much like the suggestions made by PR Ideas and Strategic Public Relations. Writing a tiered new release in AP style will make it easy for the reporter to place your story. During an interview I had with him, he asked me if I knew what “AP format” was. Of course I do, it’s taught in communication classes and I have the manual sitting on my bookshelf. I realized he must have asked me because of the poor writing sent out these days by the public relations amateurs. After sending the release, Mr. Burns often sends a private email and makes a phone call to follow-up and explain why this story is different than the routine release.

Jeremy Pepper, founder of POP! Public Relations and new addition to the Weber Shandwick team, tells me to find the story and the angle and make it good. Mr. Burns and Mr. Pepper, both founders of public relations firms, insist that a unique story rather than a run of the mill new release will stand out in the sea of homogeny. It is key that the writer sees why this client this different than the others.

Mr. Pepper also recommends you have a good media list. It’s practical and simple and will make all the difference when you want to reach a certain audience. I learned this while interning at a PR firm last summer. My “boss” made sure we both had the same copy of her media list, and it was my responsibility to keep it updated. Know their phone, fax and email and their preferred form of contact. Although compiling a solid media list can be tedious and somewhat boring, it’s essential to good PR. Mr. Pepper emphasizes how important it is to have a list of the reporters that would potentially cover your client. That is, if you represent a musician, you’d want to be friendly with arts & entertainment writers at various newspapers and magazines. He has a concert in Sacramento? You want to know the music reporter at the Sacramento Bee. By building a strong relationship with them, you’ll have a better chance of getting your client ink.

In an age of email obsession, it’s easy to forget that tried & true means of communication sitting in a cradle on your desk—the phone. Although each reporter has a preferred form of contact, talking to someone is the most direct way to get your message across. Jeremy Pepper instructs, “Don’t leave voicemails, but get someone on the phone.” This is your chance to push your client, explain the story and set up the interview.

While these tips are straightforward and seemingly simple, perfecting each tactic will help make you a pro. It’s easy to forget the basis of good public relations: sharp writing in AP format, press friendly materials, media contact information and verbal communication skills. Regardless, I know there is more advice out there waiting to be absorbed and I’m determined to find it.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Blogging as a PR Tool-The First Taste

I’ve never had an interest in blogs.

The first time I heard about one was in the New York Times Sunday Styles section. A young woman in the city exposed her working and dating life in New York, attracting a significant group of followers. I meant to check the blog out, but never got around to it.

Months later, my dad emailed about a famous blogger, Ana Marie Cox, (www.wonkette.com) who recently spoke on a panel he attended. I didn’t understand how and why these blogs gained such attention—why would someone care to read a web diary?

As I began researching blogs, I found them to be more than a web diary, but a new channel of communication. Blogs have potential; it’s a small culture that I think can become a successful and competitive way for companies to promote their image or publicize a product in a tech savvy forum. Carefully.

For years I’ve enjoyed browsing Daily Candy (www.dailycandy.com) for interesting products, new restaurants and fun weekend activities in different cities. A self described “ultimate insider’s guide to what’s hot, new, and undiscovered — from fashion and style to gadgets and travel” the website now had nine editions that various cities.

There’s a strong resemblance between Daily Candy and some fashion and lifestyle blogs, although it isn’t a blog per se and they clearly state, “there is no pay for play.” I think as blogging expands a fine line will blur between promotional websites and blogs, advertisements and public relations.

Blogs can send messages in ways we haven’t before. Unlike broadcast news, magazines and newspapers, blogs lack the screening and censorship that limit what’s said and what’s not said. This could be a problem in regards to credibility for a company or individual. “Getting ink” is no longer exclusive—bloggers can throw a product or name into their posts easily and instantly.

Many P.R. executive’s blogs express views on media news through their posts, allowing them the opportunity to make an opinion separate from the company, yet with the company name tagged on. A blog can build their credibility or destroy their reputation.

It’s like a more formal and glamorized fusion of message boards and instant messaging. Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman, (http://www.edelman.com/speak_up/blog/) uses his blog to respond to ideas expressed in other blogs such as a story written by Tom Foremski in the Silicon Valley Watcher (www.siliconvalleywatcher.) In Edelman’s January 13th post, he debunks public relations fallacies proposed by Tom and speaks directly to him as he clarifies key points.

P.R. pros talking through blogs is like an informal and public form of networking. While private emails may be exchanged, fellow bloggers see their dialogue and evolving relationships.

Right now, blogs are just another communication tool in the P.R. toolbox. It’s too early to tell how significant of a role they’ll play, but it’s fair to say they’re worth a try. I look to blogs created by public relations pros such as Jeremy Pepper (www.pop-pr.blogspot.com) or Steve Cody (www.repmanblog.com) to see what approach they take.

One commonality that’s apparent in all P.R. related blogs is they know the news. Not only do these P.R. blogs address issues within their industry, they comment on politics and technology, and hit the P.R. implications.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Text Messaging

In browsing some blogs the other day, I noted a "prediction" made by Mike Manuel (www.mguerrilla.com). He thinks instant messaging and text messaging will be commonly used forms of communication within public relations. Although instant messaging has a certain stigma such as a middle schooler sitting at home after school in front of the computer, it is a fast and easy way to increase a professional's level of multi tasking. One can be on the phone, writing an email, and checking an instant message simultaneously. It might cause a mental overload, but it helps get the job done. Instant messaging in the work place might not be frowned upon as a silly social tool within the office, but regarded as an effective external PR tool that can be used at all hours. I definitely saw this in action at Rogers & Cowan and can see how it is an easier way to communicate rather than picking up the phone, dialing out, being connected then reaching a voicemail.

On a similar note, text messaging is another useful external PR tool. I think a great example of it's effectiveness is a video clip of Charlize Theron (shown on Extra) stepping of the airplane and telling cameras her publicist text messaged her the good news of her Oscar nomination. There you go--PR on top of PR.