Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Video Killed The Radio Star...

With all apologies to the Buggles, video didn't really kill the radio star (the title is a song reference, if you don't know the song, look it up, it's pretty good, AND it was the first ever video played on MTV...so...a little knowledge for you at RPR). 

Does social media mean the end of traditional TV news?  We say no!

There's been a ton of angst about the future of news now that social media has taken a firm grip on our society and doesn't look to be letting go anytime soon.  As a former journalist and longtime fan of the news, I have to say; I'm not overly concerned.  There's a reason for this, and I think if you ask most journalists working today, they'd also say that they're more worried about budget cuts than any impact social media might have on their end product.

To be fair, though, the emergence of social-media-as-news-breaker does confuse many small business owners and non-profits, not to mention many in the public relations field.  I can understand this confusion since social media certainly has forced traditional news outlets to change tactics.  But here's one thing you should be clear on; social media is NOT the death knell for traditional news, whether they're newspapers, radio or television.

As Americans, we seem to thrive on conflict.  We like things to be black or white, one or the other.  Republicans vs. Democrats, chick flicks vs. action/adventure, good guy vs. bad buy, traditional news media vs. social media.  But real life doesn't usually operate that way.  Sometimes both sides of the aisle actually work together, sometimes the good guy is deeply flawed and the bad guy does bad things for good reasons, and, let's face it guys, even your favorite action/adventure movie has an element of chick flick in it, deal with it.

So it's no surprise that traditional media outlets are learning to work with, not against, social media as it continues to grow and develop. 

Many of the small business owners and non-profits I talk to and work with seem to believe that pitching their local newspaper or TV outlet simply doesn't provide the same bang for their buck as it used to.  In fact, many of these organizations have turned their entire marketing and outreach focus towards social media.  This is a mistake.

Recently the BBC issued a statement following a snafu with Twitter and breaking news.  You can see the entire story here.  FOX News, CNN and other major television news outlets are following the lead of the BBC and stating that they will attempt to limit breaking news over Twitter.  The thinking behind these decisions is that breaking news on a social media site such as Twitter hurts their traditional news broadcasts.  At the same time, however, every one of these outlets admitted that there might be times when social media tools might be necessary to break new or provide information before a story can be fully vetted.

So what does this mean?  It means that you are watching the transformation of traditional news, not the death of it.

What's Old Is New Again:

Let's take a trip in the "Way Back Machine" for a minute.  At one point in our history, news was distributed primarily by newspapers.  This all changed early in the 20th Century with the introduction of radio.  At the time, many observers felt that this new, "almost immediate" form of communication meant the end of newspapers. 

Fast forward a few decades and television hit the scene in a big way.  Suddenly you could actually SEE Edward R Murrow instead of just listen to him report on bombings from a London rooftop.  He was in your living room, a trusted companion.  Again, observers cried that television rang the death knell for radio.

The thing is...it didn't.  Radio didn't kill newspapers, tv didn't kill radio and, believe it or not, social media won't kill tv.  News adjusts, it adapts.  Newspapers suffered initially, but they rebounded and discovered that while breaking news could be covered better by radio, newspapers did a better job of providing perspective and analysis, not to mention covering local stories that larger radio networks couldn't get to.

Television was able to provide both breaking news as well as some more in-depth reporting.  Radio stations, like newspapers before them struggled at first to find their niche.  They did. They switched from soap operas and stories to talk radio.  Instead of Jack Benny and Bob Hope, radio turned to talk radio and more local personalities starting in the mid-60's.  Of course FM radio helped keep radio alive until the talk radio phenomenon really exploded in the late 70's and early 80's; a phenomenon that continues today.

Now we have social media making inroads into territory that once exclusively belonged to more traditional news outlets.  But this isn't a new challenge.  Earlier this decade, heck, spanning back into the late 90's bloggers were insisting that they were doing a better job of covering "real" news than most existing networks.  And, in some cases, this was true.

The Smoking Gun site did a good job of breaking news in true journalistic style, through diligent fact checking and confirmations.  Regardless of the ideology of the site, many of the stories it reported turned out to be factual and impactful.  The problem was, bloggers had no oversight.  In many cases, bloggers were simply spewing opinion as fact and calling themselves journalists. 

These bloggers made it hard for the bloggers doing actual journalism to gain respect among the more traditional news outlets.  Now, in 2010, social media tools like Twitter and Facebook has made everybody a journalist.  We can shoot photos and videos on our phones, talk to people on the spot and post a Twitter or Facebook post almost immediately.  Much faster than most tv or radio or newspaper outlets can scramble a reporter to the scene.

Case in point.  

A month ago I was in Longmont at the Seagate facility.  While I was there, a plane towing a glider ran into another glider, resulting in a grizly crash that killed three.  The glider being towed managed to land safely.  I received a tweet on my iPhone notifying me of the crash and that roads outside of Boulder had been closed.  The Tweet came from KCNC in Denver, but it also noted that the information came from an individual on the scene, someone not working as a reporter. 

Within minutes of the crash, a Denver TV station had photos and eyewitness information without having to send out a single reporter.  In this instance, social media helped a traditional media outlet break the news within minutes of the event.

Certainly, traditional media outlets have to be careful, very careful when dealing with information being posted by the general public.  There is no editor, there is no ability to know whether the information is true or accurate until the news station does its own follow up.  However, most of the time, this kind of follow up can be done simply by placing a couple of phone calls. 

What this means to you.

For small business owners and non-profits, this new symbiotic relationship between social media and traditional news outlets means you can get a jump on pitching related stories.  For instance, let's say you use a program like Yoono to keep track of your social media postings on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. 

Suddenly, you see a post pop up with some breaking news about a deadly shooting between neighbors resulting from a festering dispute.  You just received this information and it's likely the TV stations just received it as well.  The TV stations haven't yet reported on it because, A) it's hours before their scheduled newscast, and B) they are probably still in the process of confirming the story.

Now let's say you run a non-profit tht specializes in conflict management.  This is a great opportunity to drop your local news outlets an email stating who you are and how you can provide insight and analysis to their coverage of this tragic event. 

You have just made the job easier for producers, editors and reporters.  Now, if the story is confirmed, they already have a resource they can use to help advance the story for their next broadcast.  You have helped the local TV and radio stations get ahead of the story instead of simply report on it.  You have also now made yourself known to local journalists who may come to you again for future stories.

Social media and traditional media can be friends, to completely butcher a line from the musical "Oklahoma".  News outlets are already figuring out how to use social media to enhance their coverage.  But they also know that social media really can only do so much to provide information and breaking news.  Traditional news outlets know that their job is changing to provide even more analysis and insight to their reporting and in many cases are using social media to get ahead of the news, rather than chase it. 

This means that as a small business owner or non-profit, you should be doing the same thing.  You can get the same social media feeds newsrooms get.  By watching these posts regularly, it can help you come to the aid of a newsroom as an expert or analyst.  It also means that while using social media can positively impact your bottom line, it still doesn't work in a vacuum. 

Your social media efforts should work hand in hand with your traditional PR efforts.  There is still a credibility and reach provided by traditional news outlets that you should be taking advantage of.  If you're not including PR and local news outlets in your planning, then your missing a key component.

And if that's the case, you will likely be going the way of the radio star in that classic Buggles song. 

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Labels, we don't need no stinking labels!

Demographics is a word tossed around a lot by industry experts.  It's always been that way.  Even back in my radio and television days, we were always concerned with reaching the right "demo".  And it makes sense why demographics are so important to not just media outlets, but to small businesses and non-profits as well.

Demographics are a quick, easy way to identify a particular group of people you want to reach out to, whether it's in your marketing efforts, your public relations efforts or your social media efforts.  By identifying your audience, you can better structure your content to appeal to those specific individuals and, hopefuly, drive more traffic to your website or business.

But demographics can hide a trap that many small businesses and non-profits, even large corporations, fall into regularly; and that's labeling.

Don't Label!

I recently held a meeting with a client that is preparing a large social media campaign aimed at a specific target demographic.  This particular client is looking to reach pet owners under the age of 35.  That is a fairly specific demographic on one hand, as it specifies and age as well as a particular lifestyle, that of pet owner.

But it doesn't delve into education, financial situation, relationship status, ethnicity or location.  There are some campaigns that have stated their target demographic includes Hispanic women 20 to 25, college educated, unmarried, professionals with a household income between $30-$50k per year living in San Diego.

Now THAT'S a specific demographic.  And when dealing with such specific demo's, it's fairly easy to put together a campaign that speaks directly to that crowd.  And yet even with such detail, organizations can run into problems when approaching that group as a monolithic entity.

In other words, even within such a specific demographic, there are many different tastes, desires, goals, etc.  To treat them all the same is a huge, huge mistake.

For instance, let's go back to the client I had the meeting with.  According to recent studies we know a few thing about under-35 year olds when it comes to social media.  We know that they are very community oriented, we know they tend to be more skeptical of advertising and marketing, they don't blog, but they do read blogs. 

Currently, according to the organization, their largest current user base is women 40-years and older.  Now this organization has some decisions to make.  First, do they focus so much attention on their new target demo that they risk alienating their current users?  Or do they try to find a balance and take a risk that something less than an all out effort will carry their message to the target demo.

The primary danger when dealing with a specific target demo, any target demo is trying to lump them all together.  Let's face it.  We all hate being labeled.  I'm supposedly of the Gen-X ilk.  I know there were numerous studies done on what we liked, what kind of lifestyle we preferred, how we gathered information.  But when it comes right down to it, I only fit a handful of their findings, as did many of my friends. 

This is where the many companies got into trouble when trying to create advertising campaigns for Gen-Xers.  Many of those campaigns failed, miserably.  And they failed for one reason.  Instead of creating campaigns that were simply good, and would naturally appeal to Gen-Xers, these companies made it very clear that these campaigns were specifically targeted at us and, by goodness, we were SUPPOSED to like it.

One Size Does NOT Fit All!

The problem is, we didn't.  I think that's because we were being told that a particular image represented all of us.  When in fact, no one generalization fits well with any demographic.

In our efforts to create this campaign for my client, one of the things we have to avoid is creating social media platforms that scream out, "THIS IS ONLY FOR THE UNDER 35 CROWD!"  That's the fastest way to turn them off of your campaign, and alienate your current base.

Instead, we're looking to create pages and groups that will naturally be appealing to that specific demographic.  This includes creating pages that deal with relationships, financial issues, time concerns and futures planning.  These are all issues that this particular demographic is particularly interested in.  Postings that deal with perhaps a more risque side of relationships, or with balancing professional and personal needs are natural draws.

We also understand that we have to utilize video to its utmost effectiveness and, knowing what we know about blogs and this particular demographic we will delve more into micro-blogging than with more traditional blogs.

We also have to keep humor, irreverence and cleverness at a premium.  By creating content more in line with Collegehumor.com, or funnyordie.com, we'll have much more success than mirroring content more likely to be found on NPR or more staid sites.

However, regardless of what we do, it has to be created and presented in a way that says, "here, take a look at this, it's good...period."  NOT "Here, look at this, you'll like it because you're under 35."  If we go the second route, we'll fail.

Small businesses and non-profits should always focus on quality of content over demographic generalizations.  Demographics are best used when helping to determine what kind of platforms to use in your social media campaign and to guide the kind of content you post.  Note that I said, guide, not determine, but guide.  Good content will take care of itself, but if you know that your audience, by and large prefers video over long articles, funny and irreverent over dramatic and respectful then you can tailor your content to meet those standards.

Spending some time on sites that cater specifically to the age group you are trying to reach will help you in your content delivery and even help you speak the language to an extent.  But don't try to act like your 28 if you're 50 years old.  The demo will sniff you out and turn on you.  But if you treat them with respect, don't label them and present quality content in a way that appeals to them, you'll find success.

Keepin' It Real:

One final note on that.  Let's say you want to reach out to a 30 and under demographic and tell them about CPR classes.  Your facts say everything you really need to say, but you need to present it in such a way that will appeal to your target audience.  You COULD write out a series of stories in a blog, but you already know that probably won't impact your demo and drive them to your website.

But, you COULD put together a micro-blog together with video and photos that would have greater appeal to your demo.  You could also find ways to relate CPR to relationship issues, health issues, professional concerns or futures planning.  Yes, this may be a little difficult, but if you could find a way to make CPR sexy or somehow a relationship-enhancer, you're going to find a great deal of success in reaching out to your target audience.

If this means spending time with members of your target audience to find out more about what they find fun or interesting, then do it.  Just don't try to BE a member of this target audience unless you really belong there.  In other words, in the verbiage of the kids today...just keep it real.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Sometimes Smaller is Better

One of the wonderful things about social media is the vastness of it all.  The reach and scope of social media goes far beyond what we've been able to do in the past.  A simple blog post, or video can reach more people in less time than the lead story on a newtork news program today.

Now, one of the most frightening aspects of social media is, well, the vastness of it all.  I've seen a lot of small business owners and non-profit directors freeze up at the thought of entering the social media fray.  There are so many people out there watching, reading, viewing, reacting.  There are so many different tools to choose from.  It's all so overwhelming.

I get it.  And yes, it CAN be a little overwhelming.  But, as stated in previous posts, starting small can help you ease into social media.  Public relations is very similar.  Not quiet as overwhelming, since there are already well-established modes of delivery (i.e. magazines, newspapers, tv and radio broadcasts).  But even public relations is going through growing pains as social media changes the way the media operates.

Even without social media, the economics of news makes it an ever-chaning world.  Magazines start up and shut down every day.  Newspapers change their coverage focus, depending on what they can afford to pay staff.  Radio stations are constantly changing formats in their never-ending pursuit of new audiences.  Even TV stations are trying to do more with less, impacting the kinds of stories they can cover, which ultimately impacts your PR efforts.

One of the best ways to combat this feeling of being overwhelmed is to narrow things down, create more focused goals.  It's one thing to say, "I want to reach every person in my town who might ever want to eat a sandwhich."  That's a huge audience.  It's another thing to say, "I want to reach families who want tasty, fast and healthy sandwhiches."  Now you've narrowed your reach and can begin to use social media tools that speak directly to those potential customers.  Even in PR you can start targeting publications or outlets that are regularly watched by that audience.

This also helps you focus your trends search.  Let's face it, we all have different viewing, watching and reading habits.  Not all of us spend hours upon hours on Facebook, while others treat it like a World of Warcraft marathon and never log off.  Trying to spot trends when dealing with such large audiences is often like finding a needle in a haystack.  It begins to get too muddled and the variables start looking like baseball stats.  "50 year old women use Facebook mostly on Wednesdays, when the moon is full and against lefty's on artifical turf"

A case in point:

Most media outlets break down their audiences into groups and subgroups.  When radio stations, tv stations, newspapers and magazines look at their audience, they don't see one giant mass of humanity lumped into a single entity.  No, they see age ranges, gender even financials.

When I was producing Jay Marvin at KHOW, one of his primary adversaries was Mike Rosen, a conservative talk show host on KOA.  During one ratings period, Jay had a larger audience than Rosen, leading Jay to exclaim he had more listeners and was winning the talk show war of ideologies (I'm paraphrasing here).  To which Rosen responded, "It's the difference of quality over quantity.  Jay may have more listeners, but I have better quality listeners."

Disregard the personalities or individuals in this example.  What matters is this; Rosen was more concerned about the makeup of his listeners.  In other words, he really wanted to reach an audience that was, in general, more educated, more affluent, older and in positions of leadership, either in their communities or at their places of work.  And when you looked at who was listening to Rosen, that pretty much summed up his audience.  Certainly a smaller number than the public at large, but Rosen didn't care.  Because his listeners tended to be older and more affluent, his advertisers were generally companies that catered to this audience and, therefore, generally spent more money to advertise on his show than companies who advertised on Jay Marvin's show.

The right audience might end up being smaller, but financially, it can have a bigger impact for your bottom line.

Another Example:

Now let's look at how to use this trending information.  Earlier this month I posted a story dealing with "Mellennials" (29 and under crowd) and blogging.  One of the surprising aspects of the story dealt with texting and blogging and who's doing what in the Millennial crowd.  As it turns out, Millennials aren't blogging in a traditional sense.  They're doing what is called "micro-blogging" or, using their texts and facebook to keep a running commentary about what they're doing, what they find interesting or what they want to be doing.

It's less of a storytelling format and more of a stream-of-consciousness format.  Even when it came to texting, the story revealed that most of the texting is being done by females 25 and under.  So what does all this information mean?  Well, if you're promoting an organization or service or product that is geared towards an under 30 crowd, then you'll want to stop blogging and texting and find another outlet for them, right?

Not necessarily.  You see, the same story noted that, even though Millennials weren't actually blogging, trends showed that they were actively reading blogs as a primary source of both entertainment and information.

If you're already online and using social media, this information would mean that your Twitters should most likely focus on topics that will appeal to females, since they're the ones regularly texting.  It also means your Facebook posts should mirror the style and content you see in the posts of under 30 audience.  Speaking their language, talking about topics that interest them will draw them to your posts and then to your blog and ultimately, hopefully to your website.

The PR Fix:

Even in public relations, there are ways to narrow your scope and reach a targeted audience.  Too often small businesses and non-profits ignore their local community papers.  Community newspapers and focused, smaller magazine formats can help you reach individuals who will have an immediate impact on your bottom line.

There's another tool that is often overlooked, the MyHub section of most major daily papers.  As stated in a previous post, this is a great way to become your own journalist and tell your story to a specific audience.

Starting small gives you a chance to reach targeted audiences to be sure.  But it also helps you focus your research, which is important, because this trending information is going to help you really tailor your social media and public relations campaigns to effectively reach out to potential customers, donors and staffers.

Since most trends services cost money, most of your research will be done online, I'm assuming.  As you are probably well aware, doing searches online can be a frustrating experience.  However, if you go into your search knowing EXACTLY what kind of trending stats you need, knowing the audience or target demographic, you'll be able to cut your research time in half.

Once you have that information, you can then begin to search out the exact platforms that will help your social media campaign really take off.  Perhaps it's a Meetup, or Digg, or a blog, or a vlog...whatever it is, you'll at least know that your message is going out to the right audiences.

So, think big, but start small.  You don't have to reach everyone all at once.  You're better off starting with a smaller, targeted audience when you begin as it will keep you from getting overwhelmed by the endless social media possibilities, will help you focus your efforts, save you time in research and implementation and drive a higher quality customer to your site (by higher quality, we mean more likely to action once reaching your site rather than a multitude of looky-lou's)

Sometimes, smaller really is better.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Finding What Works in Social Media

Sometimes you just have to shake your head.  You know what I mean.  You put in hours, blood, sweat and (maybe) tears, building your social media campaign.  You target your audience, you hit all the key groups, you use various platforms and tie them together with a consistent message and interesting content and then you release it to the world.

And then you find out that what people are watching seems to have more to do with luck than with actual planning.  In other words, sometimes it all feels so futile.  This is the reaction I hear from clients all the time, particularly early on in campaigns.  They put together what they feel is a very solid social media effort, only to discover that viewers aren't immediately coming in droves to their website.  Instead they're watching completely random, albeit entertaining, videos on YouTube.

Here's an example.  These were two of the most popular downloaded videos on Thursday, March 25, 2010: (Thank you to Mashable.com for the links and the stats)

First up, a random moment between former Presidents Bush and Clinton while visiting Haiti:

Next up, something you've probably never seen before:

This can be discouraging, I know. It's easy to throw up your hands and simply exclaim, "I can't compete with a girl balancing 10 books on her head, reciting Pi and working a Rubik's Cube!" To be fair, not many folks can. That's some serious talent and should be enjoyed and honored in the only way we can in 2010; by copious amounts of sharing.

But before you toss your social media campaign as a flaming, heaping pile into the trash, let's step back and analyze these videos for a second.

One Wonders Why?

The first thing we have to do is ask ourselves, "Why are these videos so interesting?"  What is it about the two videos, each one completely different than the other, that makes them so downloadable and, more importantly, why are people sharing them at such high rates?

That's a fairly easy question to answer regarding the first video.  To begin with, it has two former U.S. Presidents.  Both Presidents were highly polarizing and controversial.  The video also is coming on the heels of a nasty fight, both in Congress and in the streets, over Health Care Reform.  We live in a highly politicized environment right now.  Americans are taking sides and girding for some contentious elections in six months.

Right now, anything depicting something political, particularly something that might show one political adversary "dissing" another one, will quickly make the rounds.  There's a built in audience for anything political, and it's a huge one.

The success of the second video is more of a mystery, but not a huge one.  To quote "Mashable" in its analysis: (click the link to see the entire article)

"The comments section of the video is flooded with marriage proposals, and currently it has been viewed more than 30,000 times. So why the recent spike in interest? Could be because Pi Day recently rolled around? Or could it be because spring has sprung and the Internet set is feeling amorous?"

So, it's the advent of Pi Day?  Real Public Relations thinks it has more to do with the audience and that fact that, well, it's just plain cool.  Geeks everywhere are sharing this video and admiring her big brains, combined with her obvious dexterity and balancing ability.  Really, there's no hard and fast way to quantify the success of this video.  Other than the "coolness" factor, this video is like a million other videos online with people showing off their, um, unusual, talents.

Here is another video I received yesterday from a friend:

Again, this is an example of a person showing of a very cool talent (yes, that's ONE guy doing both parts, and he's clearly pretty talented).  My friend sent this to me because she knows of my love of both musicals, television and is familiar of my lamenting of a lack of great TV Show theme songs in recent years.  I don't know how she found this video, but once she did, she "immediately thought of me," she said, and forwarded it to me. 

This is how viral works.  It connects with a specific audience and that audience then begins to click and share it with their friends, who also happen to fall into that particular audience.

Clearly, these videos work and take on a viral life of their own, meaning fleeting stardom for their creators.  But a closer look at the success of these videos can reveal an element of strategy and point to specific reasons why they're "going viral," even if the creators didn't plan on it.


For every video or social media campaign that goes viral or reaches high levels of success, there is an audience just waiting for it to happen.  In some, rare instances, viral success hinges solely on the unusual or cool factor.

But in most cases, there is a specific audience that finds the video or campaign irresistible, funny, touching or amazing.  Even the viral video of the kid with the light saber had built-in audiences.  Both sci-fi geeks AND parents found that video compelling for whatever reason. 

The trick is correctly targeting your audience.  In the case of the Pi Girl, the video was posted on a college board, then made its way to a science forum before exploding into a geek phenomenon.

There are always some topics that will garner interest.  Politics, religion, abortion (which encompasses both) and money/finances.  When I was working in news, I knew that any story covering one of those topics would immediately be of interest to our viewers and would result in tons of messages on our website.

They're Different:

All three of the videos I've posted above are unusual in the fact that you've probably never seen anything like them before.  They're new, they're fresh and they're fun or interesting.  But all three also have two other important factors in relation.

1.  They're not preachy - They are simply showing something and letting the audience judge.
2.  They're not TRYING to be funny - Different, yes, but not necessarily funny.

Comedy is hard.  Humor is subjective.  What is funny to me, may not be funny to you.  Interesting and clever will always, ALWAYS be more successful than someone trying to be funny.  That's because humor is so hit and miss.  As you put together your social media campaign, and start incorporating videos into your campaign, you may put something up that you think is funny, but to others it may be lame, or even offensive.  I'm not saying "don't be funny."  I AM saying "if you're going to try and be funny, then you'd better darn well be funny."


Of course, video isn't the only element of successful social media campaigns.  Your posts, your topics, your message and focus have to be interesting as well.  And this is where many small businesses and non-profits get into trouble.  They approach every day as the day before.  The trouble is, things change.  People's interest change from day to day, heck, from hour to hour. 

Your posts should try and relate to what people are talking about that day, that morning, that afternoon, that minute.  If people are talking about Tiger Woods, but you're talking about spring fashions, you're going to miss out on a huge potential audience.  You certainly may have a hardcore audience of fashionistas who will be interested, but everyone else will miss your post entirely. 

Of course, tying in every post to the popular interest of the day isn't always so easy.  For instance, if you run a deli, or a cleaners, or an auto shop, how do you tie your campaign into the Health Care discussion?  You could pick a side and align yourself with those who agree or disagree with reform.  This is risky, because you'll immediately alienate half of your audience.  OR, you could look at people's money situation and approach it from an economic point of view.  Eating, transportation, being clean and looking good are all important aspects of people's everyday lives. 

Perhaps, as a deli owner, you could discuss the fact that you'll be required to post nutrition information on your menu's and how you feel about that or how it might impact your bottom line.  As an auto mechanic, you might discuss how people will spend their money in terms of transportation, or how the new laws could impact auto-makers in general.  As the owners of a dry cleaners, why not talk about the health implications of clean clothes.  These may seem like a stretch, but the point is, you'll be couching your message, your goals and your online activities into the overall topic of interest, which will attract way more attention than if you just spent time talking about sandwiches, cars or clothes.

There are ways to find out what people are talking about that are easy, quick and free.  Perhaps the best way to check is to simply look online at your various social media platforms and find out what people are talking about.  This is a great gauge, although because most of these folks are your friends, it's a limited sample.

Best to go to your groups and watch the conversations there.  Twitter also has a trends section which will tell you what the most twittered about topics or words are.  By incorporating some of these words into your content, and then into the tags, you can garner more attention.

Just like when you're targeting news outlets when pitching your news story, you have to know what the hot button topics are.  In news, you have to tailor your pitches to relate to the news of the day.  You have to do the same thing when tailoring your daily social media efforts.

Be aware that trends will change, but you can also look ahead to see what people might be talking about.  Some looked ahead in February and early March knowing that the NCAA tournament will be taking place right now and put together a modest social media campaign to reach out to the vast audience that has a huge interest in the games.  Others look ahead to particular political activity, while still others look ahead and tailors their campaigns around holidays.

Whatever you do, it has to be current, and it has to relate to what people are talking about and what they're interested in.  Successful campaigns also keep in mind that "interesting and useful"works.

One final Note:

As I said earlier, it's easy to get discouraged early on with your social media campaigns.  But here's the secret.  Unless you're a Pepsi, or an APPLE, quality social media campaigns don't happen overnight.  The best ones take some time.  They start out small and, with work, dedication and daily maintenance, grow into something big.

If you put out a video and post to various platforms in a concise, well-thought-out way, using interesting and useful content, you are on the right track.  If you do all that and expect customers to be pounding down your door and flooding your website within a week, then you're going to get discouraged and quit on a promising campaign too early. 

Particularly early on, you have to judge your successes incrementally.  Are you getting more viewers than yesterday?  Are your sales up, even slightly, in your comparisons?  Are you starting to garner more interest from new areas?  The social media graph doesn't start at zero and suddenly shoot up to 100.  It starts at zero and goes up to 8, then back down to 6, then up to 15, then levels off, may dip a little then shoot up again. 

Your social media and PR efforts are not overnight fixes.  They are keys to long term success.  So go ahead, watch the Pi Girl, giggle at the singing hamster, watch "prankwars" with wonder and silently curse the lightsaber kid.  You can even hum the tune to "pants on the ground" but in the end, know that all of these viral oddities will quickly disappear from public view while your campaign will continue to steadily climb, attracting more attention and ultimately help you grow your organization.

Just stay on top of the trends while you're at it.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

How NOT to use Social Media

Just a quick note before we dive into today's issue:  The messaging function for this blog has been adjusted and is now open to any and all readers to make comments on a particular entry.  Please add your thoughts and comments, they are welcome and respected.

We've been spending a lot of time discussing the correct ways to utilize your public relations and social media campaigns.  Learning tips, adding insight and developing strategies is great, but sometimes we have to learn through example.  Today, I have a great example of how NOT to use social media and public relations.

Today's topic comes courtesy of the UTalkMarketing website and deals with an ongoing social media battle taking place between Greenpeace and Nestle.  If you haven't been following the fight, here's a recap: (This is NOT a political statement, simply an example)

Essentially, as part of it's campaign to save Orangutans of Indonesia, Greenpeace created a social media campaign, complete with a viral video spoof of Nestle's KIT KAT, "Give me a break" commercials.  The Greenpeace site accuses Nestle of "destroying rain forests" for palm oil, which is used to make Kit Kat bars.  Through its Facebook site, Greenpeace has also asked Facebook users to change their profile to a redesigned Kit Kat logo (it now says "Nestle KILLER") and post it to the Nestle Facebook fanpage.

This is nothing new for Greenpeace and other activist groups who, for some reason, have managed to grasp the power and scope of social media much better than most in the business and non-profit communities.  Greenpeace has long used videos to get their point across, as well as an organized Facebook, Twitter and blog network, not to mention saavy, and relentless, public relations.

So how did Nestle counter this social media attack on their product and organization?  They threatened to block people posting the new logo from their fanpage.  Not a good move.  Or was it?  From a strictly business standpoint, the move to block the doctored logo looks like a solid strategic decision.  But does that action say more about Nestle than the actual Greenpeace video?  This space says yes, and here's why.

All The Wrong Moves:

At first glance, the Nestle decision look like overreacting.  More than that, it gives credebility to Greenpeace's actions and accusations.  By threatening to ban users, Nestle looks like it has something to hide, and in some users eyes, validates the claims levelled against the candy bar giant.

Too often companies, both large and small, react to a social media attack by shrinking away from the problem, ignoring it, hoping it will simply go away.  But it doesn't.  In fact, like a wildfire, left untended, social media attacks can take on a life of their own and will burn until there's nothing left, leaving only scorched earth in its wake.

Here is a short excerpt from the article, discussing this phenomenon:

"Social networks are not about a one to many communication technique, as PR once was; the web has created a two-way communication model – something some brands are failing to recognise and adapt to. Consumers have a voice, from blogs to forums to comments on newspaper websites – they have a platform to make themselves heard. And they will make themselves heard. NestlĂ©’s biggest mistake was not to respond and engage from the outset. They should have taken on board the comments, then tailored a response to help build discussion around the issue. Keeping quiet or blocking people will only fuel the fire."
In other words, Nestle should have used its social media outreach to engage in discussion with those who would question their methods and activities in Indonesia.  I'm not talking about firing back accusations at Greenpeace, because this isn't a fight between Greenpeace and Nestle.  It's a fight for the "hearts and minds" of the end user; aka, you and me.

Most small businesses and non-profits know which fights to pick and which ones to shy away from.  Nestle has to know that doing battle with Greenpeace and its most ardent supporters is one they don't want to get involved with.  Not because Greenpeace is correct in their stance, I don't know that.  But from a social media and public relations standpoint, Nestle is never going to sway the ideas and convictions of that audience.  To publicly fight with Greenpeace is a lot like an atheist arguing with a priest.  Both sides will make good arguments, but eventually it will probably just devlolve into a shouting match.

No, Nestle needs to reach out to the rest of the public at large who may not be familiar with the issue, tell their side of the story and engage those with questions.  You might say that banning Greenpeace and its supporters from the fanpage doesn't preclude Nestle from still reaching out to the rest of the public, but that's not the point.

If, as a user, I have questions about some of the issues Greenpeace may have raised, and I go to the fanpage or website or forums to do some individual research and I see that Nestle has banned these users from those sites, that's a powerful statement.  To most users, it looks as if Nestle is afraid of the accusations and not willing to engage in an open dialogue.  Nestle should be confident enough in its actions and procedures to explain what it does and why it does it.  And those conversations should include those who have already made up their mind.

Nestle can refute any facts or information put forth by Greenpeace on those sites, speaking directly to the users who have not yet made up their minds.  Nestle doesn't even have to acknowledge, directly anyway, the Greenpeace posts.  It simply has to address the issues raised in those posts in a professional, educated manner.

Another Giant Under Attack:

When I did work for Shell Oil, we constantly had to address the concerns of environmentalists and conservationists.  For the most part, these groups were willing to listen and engage in civil debate, even though they clearly believed the worst about Shell.  But every now and then, groups such as Greenpeace and ELF, reared their head.  Because most of our work was focused in smaller, rural mountain towns, we had a bit of an easier time reaching the effected audience.  At the same time, accusations levelled against Shell spread very quickly in these small communities, and, given some of the history between Shell and these towns 30 years prior, it was a tough sell to disprove or ease concerns over some of the accusations.

We never took on these more radical organizations head on.  Instead, we worked with the media, community groups and online to reach out to everyone we could and attempt to hold a one on one discussion with them.  We also put together a travelling exhibit and held town hall meetings where our representatives fielded any and all questions.

Shell was proud of its community activity, as well as its conservation efforts.  It was willing and able to stand on its record of conservation and its efforts to keep the environment clean while continuing to look for new sources of energy.  At each stop of the travelling exhibit, environmentalists and conservationists were invited to attend and ask questions.  Shell didn't shy away from the tough questions, it didn't duck its detractors, and for that reason, the exhibit and the outreach efforts were both highly successfull.

Nestle can't take a travelling exhibit to every town in the U.S.  But it DOES have access to the internet, just like we do.  It could very easily put together its own video.  It could, as the CEO of Toyota did recently, have its own CEO go online and refute the allegations made by Greenpeace.  It could even have other officers go online and engage in conversation with those who may be questioning their Indonesian activities.

Of course, as I stated earlier, none of this is going to change the minds of Greenpeace and its strongest supporters.  But that's not the audience Nestle has to worry about.  That audience is already lost to them.  But the vast majority of the American public is still out there waiting to hear from Nestle on this issue.  So far, the silence has been deafening.

What this means to you:

As a small business owner or non-profit, this is a great example of what not to do when facing a social media attack.  The first step is simply monitoring your social media activity.  Because you know that you can't please everyone all the time, there is, inevitably, going to come a time when a disgruntled customer, donor recipient or employee/former staffer, says something negative about you online.

Don't panic.  Don't threaten to sue (unless it's truly a horrific form of slander/libel) and don't start banning people willy nilly.  Take a good look at the accusation.  Is there a kernel of truth in the allegation?  Is it comletely false?  Do some investigating and find out the truth of the matter and then go online to explain the disagreement or refute the claim.

Be open and honest and your customer base and potential customer base will more often than not forgive you if you made a mistake, or come to your side in the disagreement.  Part of doign business is engendering trust and loyalty.  The correct handling of a social media attack can go a long way towards creating the image of an open, honest and trustworthy organization that demands that kind of loyalty.

By banning people and ducking the issue entirely, you can create the opposite image, regardless of whether or not the accusations are true.  You also don't want to get into a fight with the accusers.  You have to be above the fray, as they say, in order to hold the high ground in any social media attack.  We've seen it all before on forums, in comments sections, on Facebook and Twitter.  There truly are no winners in a social media war.  Both sides end up looking immature and reactive instead of proactive.  People don't want to do business with those types of organizations.

When, and it really is just a matter of when, not if, you are attacked online and through social media, make sure you are present and engaging and willing to answer questions and have conversations.  Because the last thing your customers and other shareholders want to hear in these types of situations is crickets chirping.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Be Your Own Reporter

One of the most frustrating obstacles most small businesses and non-profits run into early on in their public relations efforts is a lack of success when pitching their stories.  This is to be expected.  We all want instant gratification, and we want it NOW! 

Even if you follow every tip and bit of advice from this blog, or any other expert, there's no guarantee that your pitch will get picked up by a news outlet.  Sometimes, you just get unlucky.  I remember pitching a story I really thought was a "slam dunk," a story too perfect to not be picked up by reporters, producers and editors.  However, after three straight days of sending emails and follow up phone calls, I was getting nowhere. 

Annoyed, I ran it past a few of my producer and reporter friends locally.  I wanted to see if there were flaws in my pitch.  I sent them the emails, I walked them through the follow up and each one of them said it was a great story.  Had it been local, they would have picked it up.  For some reason, the news outlets in the cities I was pitching just didn't seem interested.  Or so I thought.  I kept pitching as three days turned into four and then into five, all the way up to a week.  Then, just as I was about to give up, the phone calls began to roll in. 

It just took a little time for them to take notice, which happens sometimes.  The story was good, but as it turns out, the region I was pitching to was going through a unusually busy news cycle and they just hadn't had time to really look at my pitches.  I couldn't help the timing, as the event I was pitching was taking place at a time that happened to coincide with the odd news cycle.

I learned a great lesson on that pitch, namely, sometimes you have to write your own story, be your own reporter.  Fortunately, with the technology we have at our fingertips today, that's easier to do than ever before.

You Are the News!

As I've pointed out in previous entries, writing full press releases has slowly gone out of fashion in recent years.  Most of my pitches are simple emails personally addressed to individual reporters, producers and editors.  The exception is when I'm pitching a specific event, in which case, I will normally put together a media alert, detailing the who, what, when, where and why of the event.  It's a simple format, easy to read and gets all the information out very quickly. 

But what if you're not pitching an event, but a deeper story?  Making your regular pitch is still necessary, but there is another outlet you can utilize that is too often overlooked by small businesses and non-profits; writing your own article.

This isn't like writing a term paper or a report.  This is a genuine news article, a feature article, to be printed in newspapers and online.  Let's take this one step at a time and walk through the process that, hopefully, should guarantee you some media coverage.

The Article:

This process doesn't have to take very long, as you're not writing a novel.  In fact, the shorter the better.  Three paragraphs is really as long as you want to make your article, particularly for print outlets.  You can make it longer for online outlets, but even then, shorter is better.

First, when writing your article, you have to remember the important aspects of a feature news article.

1.  Character
2.  Message
3.  Who, what, where, when, why and how

Also remember, the who, what, when and where should take up as little space as possible, because the why and how are really the most important and interesting aspects of your story, plus that's where you're going to be able to tell your message most effectively.

For examples of some articles that reflect the kind of content and length you should strive for, go to www.cgcommunicationsonline.com.  This is the kind of article you can write in an hour, maybe two.  If you don't feel comfortable writing the article, ask someone you trust to write it for you.  Include quotes, either from yourself or from the primary character.  Also include photos as visuals will also help sell the story. 

Don't worry about the "inverted pyramid" style of news writing.  It doesn't matter here.  Just write an interesting article that you think will grab the attention of readers.  Just like everything else you write for your PR and social media efforts, you want to remember to make your article interesting or helpful, both if possible.  Finally, make sure to have someone proofread it for grammar and typos.  You don't want to send out an article that is littered with mistakes.  It distracts from the content and reflects poorly on your organization.

Article Written, Now What?

So now you've written the article.  What do you do with it now?  This is where technology comes into play.  There are a number of new outlets you can send your article to that not only want your story, but need it.  Here's a list of places you should be sending articles to regularly:

1.  MyHub.com (nearly every city has this, or something like it.  Use it)
2.  Blogs
3.  E-Zines
4.  Group boards (i.e. Meetup, message boards for groups you belong to, etc.)
5. Small neighborhood papers

I know, you're looking at these going, "But Chris, these aren't newspapers, or television stations, what's up with that?"  Well, hold on just a second.  All of these outlets are part of a wave of news outlets specifically catering to what we call citizen journalists.  MyHub is one of the major outlets designed to help local citizens tell their stories.  Because of cutbacks, newspapers around the country can't cover the volume of stories they used to, or would like to.  MyHub was created to help catch the stories that, in days past would have been covered, but today fall through the cracks.

All the stories in MyHub are written by local residents, folks just like you, with small business and working in non-profits.  MyHub wants your story, it was created to allow you to tell your stories.  The first stop for your article should be on the desk of your local MyHub editor.

Blogs are another wonderful outlet for your article.  Unlike, MyHub, though, bloggers aren't as open to outside material as we would like.  However, if you send your article to a blog that specifically relates to your organization or your story, you might find some success.  A well written article with tips and useful information, will attract the attention of a blogger who might be able to use it.  The blogger may end up using you as a guest writer/blogger.  A nice letter to the owner of the blog, explaining what the article is about and why it would be a good addition to the blog will go a long way to getting it published in a blog.

Local small newspapers, like the big boys, are struggling in today's economy.  They have even fewer resources, so well written articles that they can just plug into their format helps them immensly.  Again, a well-written letter to the editor of the small paper, much like your pitch, will hopefully persuade them to publish it in a future edition.

E-zines are simply online magazines, and like all other outlets, are in constant need of content.  Follow the same rules as with the blogs and small papers, and you could find your article in an E-zine, available to millions of people worldwide.

Group boards are a perfect place for your article, as you can often control the content of what you put in.  There are often notice boards, tips boards, helpful hints boards, any number of places on group boards that you can probably post your article.

In the end, there are a number of outlets where you can post your story.  Even other websites that are, again, closely associated with your organization's goals and philosphy.  Make sure to add in a short "about the author" note either at the end of your article, or in your initial letter so people will understand your qualifications and understand why you're an expert in your field.

As with everything involved with PR and social media, nothing is guaranteed, you won't get your article posted everywhere you send it, but you'll likely have a higher success rate than with your more traditional pitches, particularly early on.  Also remember to post your article on your own website and blog and on your other social media platforms.

Remember, YOU are the journalist of your own story.  Now get out there and start reporting!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Reaching Out With Power!

Ahh, it's almost springtime, baseball is in the air, the cold, miserable days of winter are, seemingly, behind us.  It's these times when our minds wander.  We begin to think about phoning it in for a day, hitting the slopes one last time, hosting a barbecue and volleyball in the park, taking the family for bicycle outing.  But, alas, work beckons and so we hit the office, perhaps still daydreaming about enjoying the glorious weather outside.

Spring and summer are great times of year for small businesses and non-profits, if you can capitalize on the activity and energy of your constituencies.  One of the best ways to tap into all this energy is to host an event, preferably an outside event.  Something fun, something that will be a draw to your regulars and attract others who might never have heard of you before.

Don't look now, but you've just stepped in a big pile of public relations.  I know, I hear you.  "But how is a picnic considered public relations?"  Patience, grasshopper.  First, think of all of the outdoor events you go to during the course of your spring, summer and fall?  There are community gatherings, parades, civic events, holiday activities, the list goes on and on.  Now think about how many new products and services you are exposed to while you're at those events.  New restaurants, new drinks, new services, they're all around you.

We also know that nothing trumps face to face, one on one meetings when it comes to customers, donors and others who impact your bottom line.  You can look someone in the eye, shake their hand and make a genuine human connection without a computer, television, radio or newspaper coming between you.  Face to face meetings drive customer loyalty and are more memorable.  Plus, it helps put a human fae on your organization, making it more relatable to potential customers, donors, volunteers, etc.

What we're talking here is an element of public relations called community outreach, and it's perhaps the most powerful tool you have in your PR arsenal. 

All the news coverage in the world will only go so far when it comes to truly capturing customer loyalty.  You might draw a lot of interest, but that kind of interest goes away fairly quickly when not backed up with other forms of social media or public relations effort.  Simply put, people forget what they read and hear and see in the blink of an eye in today's fast paced world.  But back up a news report or magazine article with a community outreach appearance, and suddenly your organization begins to gain in name recognition and credibility.

How it works:

There are multiple reasons for choosing to do a community outreach event.  It could be part of an image makeover, a follow up to a media blitz, an educational event, it can even be used as a crisis management tool.  Regardless of how many different reasons there are, there are really only three ways to approach any community outreach effort from a logistics aspect.

1.  Participatory
2.  Self-orchestrated
3.  One on one

Let's start with the least time-consuming and least expensive of the two; Participatory.

In Denver, there are several large events that take place all year long, starting in January and running all the way to the last week of December.  Each one is a great opportunity for small businesses and non-profits to get out and press the flesh, meeting as many people as possible, getting the word out about you and what you do.

However, not all events are good fits for all organizations.  For instance, if you're a non-profit specializing in education funding for the arts, a Fourth of July picnic might not be the best place to set up a booth.  It wouldn't be the worst idea in the world, but you'll be surrounded by families enjoying the height of summer.  Schools and funding aren't necessarily at the top of their priority list at that time.

However, the Parade of Lights in December might be a great place to be since it's a parade that features many local high schools.  Events in August and September are also a great place to start.  How about the annual Taste of Colorado event?  Would that be a good idea?  Perhaps, but an even better event would be the People's Fair or Cherry Creek Arts Festival since it features arts and crafts and music from around the region.  You'll be dealing with a crowd that is either involved in the arts, or has a passion for the arts.  People who understand the value of funding for arts in public schools. 

You'll get a lot more bang fory our buck by participating in events that are somehow linked to what your non-profit or small business does.  Taking part in pre-existing events can be real boon to you on a number of fronts.  Here are some of the positives of hosting a participatory community outreach event:

1.  There are a vast number of different scheduled events taking place throughout the year.
2.  Find two or three that have close ties, philosophically, to your organization
3.  You don't have to worry about the set up, licenses, permits or other logistics
4.  You don't have to spend the money on logistics, security, licenses, permits, etc.
5.  Much of the marketing is handled by the promoters of the event.  Anything you do on top of that is a bonus.

Here are some of the cons:

1.  Registration and booth fees can be expensive, depending on the particular event
2.  You have little to no control over your placement at the event
3.  You may get lost in the shuffle of a large event, lessening your return on investment (ROI)

For small businesses and non-profits, the best strategy is to find smaller events that take place within a few miles of your organization and share philosophies or goals similar to yours.  Smaller events tend not to be as expensive to take part in and you're less likely to get lost in a crowd of other booths, businesses and organizations.


The self-orchestrated event is exactly what it sounds like.  It's an event hosted by you for a select audience.  These can be highly successfull and, as the name suggests, places the focus of your event squarely on you.  One of the big mistakes I've seen clients do over the years when putting together a self-orchestrated event is that they don't accept help when it's available. 

Part of being the host of an event is also being able to decide who to partner with.  Partnerships for larger events is not only helpful, it's absolutely vital.  Local banks, other organizations with similar goals and philosophies, even local media outlets are great partners to have when hosting your own event. 

This may sound like a contradiction, but you should seek out partners when putting together a self-orchestrated community outreach event.  In the end, the responsibility still lies with you, as does the control.  But teaming up with other organizations who perhaps have some experience with self-orchestrated events is always a good idea, at least your first couple of times.

Here are the positives to handling a self-orchestrated event:

1.  You have control over the event, including entertainment, goals and partners
2.  The focus is on you, your organization and your goals and philospohy
3.  Any success adds credibility and recognition directly to your organization

Now, some of the cons:

1.  Depending on the size of your event, it can get expensive, particularly if you need to purchase permits, licenses, pay for entertainment, food, alcohol, insurance, etc.  This is where having partners can greatly reduce your overall investment in both time and money.
2.  Any failure directly on you and your organization, moreso than any partners or other participants.

Clearly this is a high-risk-high-reward type of situation.  If your event is a success, then you get all the accolades.  If it is a failure, it falls squarely upon your shoulders.

So perhaps we need to take a moment and look at how you define success for a community outreach event.  Whether it's one you sign up to be a part of, or one you host yourself, you have to have a goal in mind.  For some it may simply be to spread your name to potential new customers, donors or volunteers.  But for others, there may be a more focused goal.  Perhaps to help remake your image or to spread a specific message.  Knowing WHY you want to host or participate in a community outreach event will help you choose the right venues, the appropriate entertainment and the correct partners. 

For a lot of organizations, the closest they get to community outreach events is participating in industry trade shows.  These are fine, but they might not meet your goals.  In the end, however, the strategies don't differ all that much.  Regardless of what your goals are, you want to get noticed.  You have your own reasons why, but the bottom line is, you want people to notice you, listen to your message, take an interest in your organization on some level.  You also want people to remember you after they've left the event.  Here are some tips to help you catch the attention of event-goers and help them remember you after they've gone:

1.  Be visible.  Even if an event places you in a corner, next to the port-o-potties, take advantage of wherever you are and get people's attention.  Play music, play video (always a winner, people will always stop to watch a good video) have a microphone and interact with passers-by.  Whatever you do, make yourself visible.

2.  Have a clear, concise message that will stick with people.  You only have a few seconds to get through to event-goers.  Your slogan or message should be, again, visible, easy to understand and they should know exactly what you do immediately after reading it. 

3.  Have collateral.  This is a fancy way of saying, have business cards and pamphlets.  But everyone has those items.  Try and make your collateral stand out in some way.  For example there is a company in Denver that specializes in small business education.  It is called "SEEDS".  The first time I met the owner, he handed me a business card, which was a seed packet for peas, with his information on the front.  It stuck with me.  It's memorable.  You don't have to give away cameras, or big screen TV's to be memorable.  Something simple but creative does the trick as well.

4.  With that said, give people a reason to find your booth.  Raffle off something enticing.  People will go to great lengths to get something free, or to find a great deal.  This is why silent auctions tend to be fairly successful.  People can support a cause or business they like and at the same time, get something of value.  There's a reason why radio stations have give-aways, and businesses have sales; they work.

5.  Don't sell.  Remember, this is an opportunity to meet potential shareholders and get your message out.  People will take interest if you're interactive, asking questions, listening, making small talk.  You want folks to want to learn more about you.  If you make a hard sell to them, it will likely turn them away and leave them with a bad taste in their mouths.  Approaching them with respect, and treating them like friends instead of just customers will leave a big impression on them.

A few final notes:

Remember your visuals.  It can be a series of photos, it can be a video, heck, it can even be a clown (well, maybe not a clown, but you get the idea).  People are drawn to visuals.  Give them something to watch or participate in, and you'll get them to your event, or your booth.  What you do with them once they get there is all on you.  But if you have a passion about your organization, it will show and it will rub off on those who come to see you.

One final thing.  Timing is very important for any event you take part in or host.  If you know you'll be taking part in an event, or if you've scheduled an event on your own, make sure to tie it into some kind of media relations effort (contacting news rooms, pushing for pre-coverage of you or the event) or a social media push.  You still have to let people know that you'll be out there in the community, meeting folks and talking up your organization.

It's a lot of hard work, either way to you go about it, but the returns can be enormous, perhaps the best return of any of your PR or social media efforts.  But, again, it doesn't work unless you include those other two efforts as part of any community outreach event you are involved with.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

How to think like a journalist:

There's a big misperception about journalists.  Like lawyers, many people rate journalists just above cockroaches, but below rats on the evolutionary chain.  And that's debatable since I know some who value a cockroach much more than they do a laywer or a journalist.
No, I'm not Superman, just a journalist...

But, speaking as a longtime journalist, I'm here to tell you that they're just like you.  They're human beings, they have good days and bad, they bleed if cut and they weep when confronted with human tragedy.

I remember covering Columbine and seeing the circus it had become just a day after the shootings.  Hundreds of reporters, technicians, producers were scurrying all over the park, looking for stories, trying to find any new tidbit of information they could report on.  And to me, it was exciting, thrilling, it was why I became a journalist in the first place.

But I also remember many other reporters who looked tired, sad, done with the whole thing.  I distinctly remember watching one reporter file a report for a network and afterwards she turned around, put down her microphone and said simply, "I'm done.  I can't do this anymore."  She left and never returned to the park.  I sometimes wonder what happened to her.  At the time, I couldn't understand why she would just walk away from such an important and monumental story.  Years later, after 9/11, I understood her fatigue, her frustration, her disgust with being constantly tired and sad.  And so I left as well.

I tell you this not to elicit sympathy, but to paint a picture of the journalist as a human being.  They are prone to weakness at times, they are biased, they sometimes do things with their gut and let the chips fall where they may.  It is for this very reason that you have to try to understand how a journalist thinks in order to meet their needs and make your future PR pitches a success.

I've already covered what constitutes news in previous entries, but let me quickly recap for those who may have missed it.  The general parameters journalists use when deciding on what is newsworthy and what isn't is as follows:

1.  Timeliness
2.  Proximity
3.  Impact
4.  Relevance
5.  Wow factor

But even with these guidelines, there are always disagreements among newsroom staffers about what story should be covered and which one should be left in the futures file.  There's a very good reason for this.  Think about it.  While timeliness and proximity are pretty set variables in the equation, others like impact and relevance, even wow factor can throw the entire decision-making process out of whack. 

For instance, I'm not a parent.  I don't really have a paternal bone in my body.  My interests lie elsewhere.  So a story pertaining to a baby crib recall just doesn't hold that much interest for me.  Certainly I recognize the impact and relevance it has for my potential readers, viewers and listeners, but because of my personal bias, I might only assign this story as a :15 second reader while a colleague might push for a full :90 second package complete with live shot and graphics.  We both recognize it's a valid story, but it's how we approach that story and handle it's coverage that separates us.  And that difference has everything to do with who we are as people.

Would you like to play a game?

With that in mind, I want you to take a moment and play a game with me.  I call it the newsroom quandary exercise, and it's a great illustration of the difficulty of the decisions newsrooms face very day.

I'm not assigning a time limit here (although in my class, I give my students about 10 minutes since they're usually discussing this in a group and debating their points).  If you can do this exercise with two or three others, you'll get more out of it because you'll notice how vastly different their opinions are from yours.

First, let me tell you who you are.  You are a producer for a local television news station, let's call it KDEN, for convenience sake.  Your audience is primarily the front range of Colorado (Denver and its surrounding suburbs).  One final thing.  The mission of your particular station is to deliver hard-hitting, "quality" news stories. Your program also features a local business report.  There's more but we'll get to that after the first part of the exercise.

You have 11 stories before you.  You can only cover six of them.  You have to choose which six to keep and which six to cut.  You're on the clock, GO!

1.  John Elway elopes and gets married during private ceremony in Hawaii
2.  State officials declare snowpack well below normal, warn of severe summer drought
3.  Governor hopefulls attend caucus debates the night before, (story to include caucus results)
4.  10 killed in plane crash in Florida (1 coloradoan believed to be on board)
5.  Police break up massive drug ring in aurora
6.  5-car pileup kills one, delays traffic for hours on I-25 during morning rush hour
7.  Baby crib recall issued for nation
8.  Local filmmaker wins Oscar for best documentary
9.  Local non-profit opens spay and neuter clinic, estimates millions to be saved by City
10.  150 laid off from Coors.
11.  Police still on manhunt following shooting on Capitol Hill the night before (Police press conference included)

Honestly, that's a tough, tough list.  Certainly there are days when producers don't have that many stories to choose from.  Yet, there are days when there are even more. 

How did you choose?  What did you cut and what did you leave in? Here is my list in no particular order.

Elway gets married
Police manhunt
Snowpack below normal
Baby crib recall
Coors layoffs
drug ring break up

It was a tough one for even me as the estimated millions saved by the local non-profit is tempting to pick.  But I made a decision that it was a story that could be covered at a later date with little or no loss to the impact of the story. 

I chose NOT to include the pileup knowing that it would have been covered already by previous shows, plus, a follow up to the story the next day would offer more perspective and allow for a more in-depth story.  It might also be a story I hand off to the 10pm news for deeper coverage.  The same holds true for the award winning local documentary filmmaker.  I wanted to put in the caucus story, but by the time I get to it, it's almost 24 hours old.  A better follow up story is required for me to be able to put it in my broadcast.  Finally, I chose not to cover the Florida plane crash because it's not confirmed a Coloradoan was on board, and the national networks will cover that story better than I can at this point. 

What were your reasons for choosing what you chose?  I'd love to hear them.  Listen, there are no real right or wrong answers in this.  Frustrating isn't it?  The best you can do is make your decisions and be able to justify your decisions if asked to do so.

Now, the hard part.  You need to rank the stories.  In other words, what do you lead with, and in what order do you cover them?  Here is my ranking:

1.  Police manhunt
2.  Snowpack levels low
3.  Baby crib recall
4.  drug ring break up
5.  Coors layoff
6.  Elway gets married

My top three are all stories that have an immediate impact on my viewers.  The police manhunt (complete with police press conference), the cuacus and the recall all have the potential to impact the lives of area residents. There's also a contextual issue to deal with here.  While the possibility of a severe drought in the summer may seem like a long way off in March, based on the fact that Colorado is still suffering the effects of our last drought, it takes on a larger meaning.

In much the same way that school shootings have taken on a larger profile since the Columbine shootings, when news happens that is related to a previous big story, it can also take on a bigger presence.

Now, keep in mind, that producers also must decide how to handle each story.  Would you give more time to the crib recall?  Maybe you'd move Elway farther up.  Or perhaps you'd focus on the layoffs.  These kinds of decisions will be influenced, like it or not, on your personal biases.  Producers have to decide which ones to give a package to, which ones to just assign as short readers and which ones to provide graphics for, soundbites for, plain video for.  Each of these decisions take up time in your newscast.  Producers have to decide where in their broadcast each story will be placed.  Some in the A-block, some in the B-block and so on. 

As you can see, there are a ton of decisions that go into putting together a newscast.  The same holds true for newspapers and radio broadcasts.  Radio reports generally get 2-3 minutes, tops, to report on the news of the day, while newspapers only have so much space to print their stories, complete with graphics, sidebars and photos.

What this means to you:

First, as you can see, it's vitally important to keep up with the news of the day.  If you know that an important event is happening on a Thursday, you should know about it and try not to hold an event on the same day, or make a pitch that day as it could get lost in the shuffle of the coverage of the news of the day.

Second, knowing what the news of the day will give you an opportunity to make a pitch that relates in some way to what a news outlet is already covering.

Third, by understanding how these news decisions are made, you'll be able to better tailor your pitch to meet their needs.  If, for instance, you know that one news outlet prefers hard news stories over more feature stories, then you can adjust your pitch to meet that requirement. 

This exercise also helps in understanding the pressures journalists are under.  If you can understand the personal biases involved in these decision-making processes, you're less likely to get frustrated when a pitch is declined.  A story you pitched on Monday and was decined on Tuesday might be a viable story when news gets slow a few days or a week later.  It might be a good time to repitch.

As always, I'm available to answer questions and take your feedback.  In the meantime, have a great St. Patrick's Day!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Updates, Links and More!

It's almost Spring, and that means time for a little housecleaning and catch-up.  I'm sending some valuable links and a few updates about social media and public relations that will really help out the small business owners and non-profits out there.

First, a couple of links I have to pass on:

The Edit Foundry:  Yes, I posted this link yesterday, and it's on the sidebar of blogs I follow, but I thought it was worth mentioning again because it really gives quality insight and instruction into videography and editing.  For anyone considering doing their own video work, it's a great place to check out. 

P.R. By DeVol:  This is a blog by my old business partner and a longtime friend, Darren Copeland.  Like me he spent the bulk of his career as a journalist and now finds himself in the muckraking world of public relations.  The blog is new, but offers some good insights into social media that you won't find in a lot of more established blogs.  He's been blogging and doing social media for years and now you are the beneficiaries of his experience.

High-Gain Productions:  This is in response to my entry from Monday regarding B-roll.  I'll admit that shooting and editing video CAN be a time consuming exercise for a lot of small businesses and non-profits already pressed for time.  So here is a site, owned and operated by another colleague of mine that exists to help you shoot and post quality video.  Steve Fedoriska and I worked together at KUSA in Denver and he's an award-winning videographer.  Certainly worth taking a look at and hiring when you need some good, video work done quickly.

Mashable.com:  I know I have this in the sidebar as well, but it's such a great source of information on the latest technological advances and improvements in the online and social media world.  If you haven't taken the time to check out this site, do it.  Do it now.

Now for a couple of updates regarding social media:

This article from Inc.com, asks an interesting question and one that every small business owner and non-profit must ask themselves as they manage their own social media campaigns.  While I DO believe that social media is well worth the effort, I also agree that small business owners and non-profits need to have some patience and a long term outlook when it comes to their social media efforts.  Check it out and draw your own conclusions:

Is Social Media Worth Your Time?

Also, for those who might have missed the entry on B-Roll, check it out.  Video should be an essential part of every social media and public relations plan you put together and understanding B-roll, how to shoot it and use it will go a long way to making your pitches successful!

Monday, March 15, 2010

B-Rolling Along

B-Roll.  You hear that term a lot when you work in television.  After a while it becomes just another acronym, part of the linguistic shorthand that is used to produce TV news.  Things like VO and VOSOT and NATSOUND and 1-shot, wipe, CG and CG Full are simply the vernacular of TV producers, reporters and editors.  For the most part, you'll never need to know what these terms mean, unless you simply want to deftly slip in NATSOUND while hosting a wine and cheese tasting party one day.  And if you do, please seek help.

But B-Roll is another story completely.  When it comes to the world of public relations B-Roll is a term you will use early and often.  As you're putting together your pitch to the media, you have to be thinking about visuals as well as your story.  Certainly photos and videos help punch up any pitch you make.  But what kind of photos, what kind of video is appropriate and will help catch the attention of reporters, producers and editors?

Let's start with the basics.  There are two types of video you can use while putting together your pitch or your press kit.

1.  The story
2.  B-Roll

The story video is pretty self explanatory.  Generally, it documents an event or a day in the life of an organization. It can be used as a commercial, to help spread a message or highlight something specific about your business or non-profit.

For instance, let's say you own a massage therapy shop.  You provide massage therapy, acupuncture and other forms of holistic care.  You could put together a video that you can post on your site and add to your press kit that follows a customer through an acupuncture session or an aromatherapy.  This could have interviews, narration, video that tells a story from beginning to end.

Here's an example of a story video that carries a message meant to express the goals of a non-profit.

The B-Roll:

Now let's take a look at B-roll. First, a definition: B-roll is video footage shot to help tell a visual story. It is generally used to cut in-between interview segments, and to run over narration.

Think about the last time you watched your local TV news. Perhaps there was a story of a car wreck, or a housefire. As the anchor or reporter described the scene and reported the facts, video was most likely being shown. This is because TV news uses a method called, "See it, Say it."

In this method, if the anchor is talking about the roof of the house being on fire, then the viewer should be seeing video of the roof being on fire. If the reporter mentions firemen rescuing a cat from burning house, then we should be seeing a fireman carrying a cat out of the house, or at the very least, see video of the cat in the fireman's arms.

As you put together your pitch, think about what visuals would go with your story. Maybe your pitch is about a local theater. You probably would want to show video of the theater itself, actors in rehearsal, bits of a show, perhaps some interviews with a director. You might even include shots of an audience entering the theater, video or your concessions, as well as some of the costumes, props and sets used in your theater.

Here is an example of B-roll shot for the Qatar Science and Technology Park:

Notice that it starts with a wide shot, then moves into more specific shots of individuals, experiments, labs and other resources. There's just not enough time to get into the mechanics and details of how to shoot award-winning video, however an old colleague of mine, Shawn Montano writes a blog devoted specifically to shooting and editing video. It's called The Edit Foundry. For more background into how to shoot professional video, click the link and check out his blog. It's worth the time.

Why B-Roll?

While I was working on a crisis communications project for Kroeger/King Soopers a few years back, one of the things we felt we had to put together video of a King Soopers pharmacy in an effort to illustrate some of the security protocols in place as well as some of the general day to day activities of the pharmacists and techs.

There were a number of reasons why we felt we had to shoot our own B-roll. First and foremost for us, was the fact that King Soopers management didn't want a number of television crews invading one of their stores to shoot video at a pharmacy. Not only would it disturb the shopping experience for some of their customers, but there are restrictions regarding what can and can't be shown in video of a pharmacy.

There was also the control aspect. King Soopers wanted to be able to have some control over the kinds of images used as part of the story that would be covered. For many small business and non-profits, that level of control and sensitivity isn't such a big issue. However there is another major reason why b-roll can be very important to your PR pitch: Time and Resources.

Newsrooms today are doing more with less. Many have slashed budgets and personnel to the bare bones. The kinds of stories local TV news used to cover aren't being covered anymore. They simply don't have the staff and videographers to cover everything. However, there are many times when newsrooms have to make tough decisions on what stories to cover and which ones to leave alone. In those instances producers will generally choose the stories that mean the least amount of work for them. Stories with complete information and b-roll will almost always be chosen over stories without those elements.

I'm not saying journalists are lazy, just severely pressed for time, and the more help you give them, the more elements to the story you assemble as part of your pitch, the more you increase your chances for success.

Finally, one of the major advantages of creating b-roll over other forms of video presentations is the time involved. You can usually shoot effective b-roll in just a couple of hours, depending on what you're shooting. You also cut down on any editing time, since you're not necessarily telling a story, you're just cutting together various video shots of your small business or non-profit.

Just a few things to keep in mind when putting together your B-roll:

1. It doesn't have to be glossy or slick. Simple video camera and video editing tools are the only things required. You're not shooting a movie, just b-roll, keep that in mind.

2. Keep it to 3 minutes or less. If it's too long, people won't watch it and producers won't take the time to go through the entire b-roll.

3. When you send your b-roll to a newsroom as part of a pitch, also send a shot sheet with time codes, so producers and editors can quickly and easily use the video in a pinch.