Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Forest For The Trees

One of the biggest problems small business owner and non-profit directors have when handling their own PR and social media efforts is that they are too close to their own organization.  I know this sounds strange to say, but sometimes being TOO familiar with your business or non-profit can actually hinder your ability to speak to the masses, gain friends and followers and garner you some much needed earned media coverage.

Case in point:

On Thursday morning, I received this email from a friend who works as news producer at a local television station:
On Nov 11, 2010, at 11:56 AM, Shaw, Duncan J Shaw wrote
You know I *love* sending you stuff…

Nowhere in this e-mail or attached press release is there an explanation of *what* “Wage Theft” is (they provide a link to a video in the e-mail, and I think there are links in the attachment), but you would think you’d at least give a one or two line explanation…
This "release" is one of the myriad of "Bad press releases" that newsrooms receive every day.  Fortunately, I have the pleasure of reading a few of them from time to time without having to sift through the piles of garbage that producers, reporters and editors have to deal with.

Before we go any further, let's take a look at the aforementioned "release":
(NOTE - I have removed the name of individual who sent the release)
Sent: Thursday, November 11, 2010 11:53 AM
Subject: Press Advisory for Wage Theft Action in Denver, 11-18-10


Attached is a press advisory about a Wage Theft Day of Action and Awareness that will take place a week from today in 30 cities around the country (including Denver) on Thursday, Nov. 18th at 11:00am.

Here is a YouTube link about the problem of wage theft:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hn6nr2PviIU&feature=player_embedded

For general inquires ahead of time about the Day of Action in Denver or concerning the informal partnership that has developed in Denver between Interfaith Worker Justice of Colorado, the Department of Labor, OSHA, and the El Centro Day Laborer Center, please contact me (Rev. Daniel Klawitter) at: 303-477-6111 ext. 36.

For inquires about what wage theft specifically looks like in Metro Denver and/or to get personal human interest stories from workers who have had their wages stolen by their employer, please contact the Director of El Centro Humanitario, Eddie Soto, at: 303.292.4115, esoto@centrohumanitario.org

WHAT: Educational event/Press Conference on Wage Theft
WHO: Religious Leaders, Day Laborers, Worker Advocates and representatives from OSHA, the Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division and Colorado Dept. of Labor and Employment.
WHEN: Thursday, Nov. 18th at 11:00am.
WHERE: El Centro Humanitario, 2260 California St. Denver, CO 80205.

Speakers will include Dusti Gurule, the regional representative for U.S. Department of Labor Secretary, Hilda Solis.

There was the obligatory follow-up contact information at the end, which was perhaps the best part of the release.

Now let's take a look at WHY this release is such a poor example of a press advisory.  Look back at Duncan's note in his email to me.

1. There is no explanation of what "Wage Theft" is
2. The video link is just that, a link, no embedded video

These two items alone make this a very ineffective press release.  Of course there are some reasons as to why these mistakes happened.  First, the sender assumed that journalists know what wage theft is.  Second, they may not have taken the time, or knew how, to embed video into an email.

While both mistakes are understandable, they aren't excusable.  As we've covered in this space many times before, journalists are two things; busy and lazy.  Yes, it sounds like a contradiction, but it's not.  Reporters, editors and producers already have a ton of work to do.  They either won't want to, or don't have time to open up external links or attached files.  If you want a journalist to look at your video, read your release or peruse your article, then you have to put it directly into the body of your email.

You really have to make it as simple as possible for them to get and digest the information quickly.  One stop shopping is the way to go.  Don't make them go to YouTube, or take tha chance that whatever file you've attached doesn't come with a virus.  Yes, it's only one extra click, but that extra click can be the difference between getting news coverage and ending up in the ignore pile.

Speak The Language:

Now about the other miscue, assuming that journalists were already aware of "wage theft", well, that's an entirely different beast.

As a small business owner or non-profit director, you deal with your particular cause, service or product on a daily basis.  You know all aspects about what your organization does, from top to bottom and from all angles.  No one knows as much as you do when it comes to your business or non-profit.  On one hand, this makes you the perfect person to go forth and spread your message.  On the other hand, this intimate knowledge can be a real handicap as well.

For instance, the individual who sent the above press release is most likely so involved with the issue of wage theft that it is almost inconceivable to him that very few people actually know what wage theft is.

This has been an issue with many of the clients I work with as well.  Whether it's a restaurant, a storage company or any number of non-profits, each of them simply assume that everyone is already aware of their business or cause.

This assumption negatively impacts how you present your information.  Because we all know that brevity works when dealing with the public, corners are cut and vital information is often left out.  This is the kind of information that, while well known to those close to the business or cause, isn't readily known outside of those circles.  Thus, you end up sending a release that focuses on your upcoming event, without actually describing what your business or cause is all about.

More than that, BECAUSE you are so well versed in your cause or business, you ultimately end up using language that is either confusing or is a turn-off to the public at large.

When dealing with one of my current clients, we have gone round and round over the type of words used to describe pets without homes.  To the public at large, homeless pets are feral.  But within the circles of animal rescue and care, feral has a very specific meaning.  That means we have to use both "homeless" AND "feral" in all of our releases.  It might seem like a little thing, but it's extra words that can ultimately confuse readers.

Another instance involves the upcoming holiday season.  When it was proposed to promote proper care for new pets given as presents, the client had a problem because so many pets will likely come from breeders, something the client is opposed to.  The problem is, the public doesn't care, thousands of new pets WILL come from breeders this holiday season.  Simply by talking about holiday pets won't increase the number of pets purchased from breeders.  But by avoiding the topic altogether, the client would have missed an opportunity to talk about spaying and neutering for all these new pets and wouldn't have had a platform to discuss spaying and neutering in general.

This problem can be seen in every walk of life.  Engineers, chefs, computer programmers, non-profits of every stripe.  When putting together your press releases, when posting items on your various social media platforms, keep in mind that the public at large isn't familiar with your acronyms, your technical speak, your specific definitions.

Combating The Problem:

It's not easy to step back and see the bigger picture.  In most cases, you don't have that luxury.  You're so busy handling the daily details of your organization, you are essentially immersed in every aspect of your organization.  So when it comes to putting together your release or posting on Facebook or Tweeting, here are some ways you can make sure your knowledge doesn't get in the way of your success:
1.  An extra set of eyes - Get someone you trust to go over your releases before sending them out.  Make sure this is someone who isn't as familiar with your organization as you are.  By getting someone to represent the public at large, you can make sure your message isn't lost, hindered or obfuscated by technical language or terms that only you will understand.

2.  Dont' get caught up in the minutae - Yes, to you, the minutae matters, it has to in order to be successful.  But too much minutae will turn away followers.  They don't care about the difference between "homeless" and "feral" or between "hoagie" and "grinder".  You also don't have to explain every little thing, just the overview.  Make sure your basic message is received in the simplest and most understandable manner possible.

3.  Don't forget the bottom line - In the end, you want others to understand, appreciate and support your business or non-profit.  The public wants value and you have to show them why your organization gives them that value.  Don't worry about every little thing, focus on explaining, briefly what you do or what you're about, and what you can do for them.  If you can adhere to these two basic elements, you're releases and your postings will be successful.
You have a passion about your organization, that makes sense.  But if you don't step back and simplify and clarify your message, your efforts will result in failure.  Just keep in mind that you have to explain in short simple terms what your business, product, service or cause is all about and then explain why you bring value to the public.  It's not hard to do, unless, of course, you're just too close to the subject matter to see the forest for the trees.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A view from the other side:

One of the most important things anyone dealing with the media needs to learn is the thought process of producers, reporters and editors.  Sometimes, it's not as easy as it sounds.  Listen, it's not rocket science, but, like a lot of other professions, one can't REALLY understand someone's thought processes until they "walk a mile in their shoes," so to speak.

Of course, it's impossible for everyone to spend time working in a newsroom (although I, and many others think it SHOULD be requirement for PR professionals, but that's another issue).  Heck, most people wouldn't want to work in news.  It can be boring at times, terrifying at others, there is tedium, long hours and to make up for it all, few people are getting rich working in local news.

One of my goals when starting this blog was to help small business owners and non-profits understand a little better HOW newsrooms operate, what kind of pressures they work under and the thoughts and decision processes used by most journalists.

To that end, I offer this article.  It comes from Shoptalk, a popular media website and email newsletter that comes out every day.  The article is written by Doug Drew and I think it gives some incredible insight into how producers book guests for their shows. 
Keys to Booking Guests

Guests are often trying to promote something other than your primary objective.
The producer of the Howard Stern show, Gary Dell'Abate, recently appeared on David Letterman's The Late Show, telling Dave that if Stern was a good guy on the radio "we would have no where to work." It was a great interview with lots of insight into Howard Stern and his shock radio show. It was about an 8 minute interview, lengthy by late night talk show standards, and not until the very end did Letterman let Dell'Abate plug the real reason he was on the show, to promote his new book They Call Me Baba Booey.

The plug goes at the end of the segment
I am sure Dell'Abate's agent or publisher pitched The Late Show to book Dell' Abate as a guest. In fact, most guests who appear on television are booked through a PR agency who sent a press release to the station. Television stations are inundated with people trying to get on TV to promote their product, their book, their movie, their concert, their community event, their restaurant, etc. Some of these make great guests, but just remember whose show it is. Accomplish your goals first, and get them to hold their plug for the end of the interview.

It's easy to book a guest who comes in the door through an agency or a press release. You simply call the contact person on the release, and select a date for the appearance.

Guests are given valuable airtime
But too often that is where the planning stops, and it can't be that way. Too many producers simply pick up the press release, call the contact person, agree on a date, and viola, the segment is booked! But it's not just about filling time. You are giving these people incredible amounts of airtime. It's time they very likely couldn't afford to buy if they were going through the sales department. So, they should be willing to do whatever it is you want, within reason.

Dan Aykroyd is making the local TV circuit, his agent offering him as a guest to pitch his new Vodka. Aykroyd is a great guest, but if not planned properly he will simply come in and do a commercial. Instead, think why you would want to have him as a guest. You'd want to talk to him about his movie career, and about the new Ghostbusters movie that is in the works. You have to make it clear to the contact, that you'd love to have Aykroyd as a guest, but that you will start off talking about his movies, and at the end, he can talk about his new Vodka. It's a win-win for everyone.

Charities must follow the same rule
If the Cancer Society wants to come in and talk about it's upcoming fundraiser, that's fine, but you don't want the Executive Director on as a guest. You want a cancer survivor on to talk about what it's like to deal with the devastating disease. Remember, what you want are real people with interesting stories to tell, while the charities are trying to promote an event. It's your show, demand a real person and promise you will promote the event at the end.

Make the PR agency do all the work
Put the people who write the press releases and the PR agencies who are pitching guests to work. Tell them that their clients can come on the show, but only if they do it your way. If they don't want to play, then they don't get on. Believe me, most will agree to your requests. Have the agency do all the work. If they are pitching new toys for kids, tell them that they have to have all the toys on set, plus they need 5 kids to test the toys and are willing to talk to your hosts about what they like or don't like about the toys. Make the PR agency come up with all the props and children.

Bottom line
Make the guests and their agencies do the heavy lifting. They do the work, and you get a great segment. These guests don't get on your show unless they do it they way you want. It's a win-win for everyone.
Take a moment and re-read that "Bottom line" paragraph.  I think it sums up fairly well what works when trying to get yourself booked with a news program.  I've mentioned it before, but I think it's worth going over again. 

Producers, editors and reporters are busy folks working under tight, tight deadlines.  The more you do to help them, the better your chances of being booked as a guest.  More importantly, if you get booked once, and you prove that you can speak their language, understand their time constraints and deliver with a quality, interesting guest, they won't hesitate to book you again.

In essence, what this article is telling journalists is that they basically hold all the cards.  Having been on the PR side for several years now, I'd like to dispute that point, but I really can't.  They ARE offering you a chance to appear on television or in print and get valuable airtime to spread your message or promote your event, product or services.

Certainly you are offering something of value to the newsrooms as well.  But it's a very rare and fortunate few that can call their own shots when trying to be booked as a guest on any television program. 

Two very important things to remember:

If you take nothing else from this article, you should remember two very important points made about the purpose and kinds of guests being booked. 
1.  The purpose of the guest is NOT to give a commercial, but to provide entertainment or valuable information to the audience.

2.  Always look for the more compelling guest.  In other words, don't take the PR spokesman or the executive director, when a more compelling interview subject is there for the taking.
This holds particularly true for non-profits, as mentioned in the article.  If you run a non-profit dedicated to improving schools in low-income areas, then it's much more interesting to hear from a student or a teacher discuss the challenges and difficulties and victories of everyday life at the school, than to listen to the non-profit director extoll the virtues of the program.  People want real, they want gritty, they want emotion.  They want stories, told by the people who are living those stories.  They DON'T want to hear from spokesperson who isn't on the front lines of the problem and recanting stories second-hand.

This is the kind of information you have to put into your releases and pitch paragraphs.  Let the journalists know immediately what the story is, then follow up by letting them know who the interview subject will be.  The more compelling the interview subject, the better your chances of getting booked.

What this means:

This means you have to prepare, you have to train, you have to practice.  In other words, if you're trying to book your business or non-profit as an interview subject either on a local TV news show or in your local paper, you might have to offer up someone other than yourself to actually be interviewed. 

This can be tricky, because, frankly, who knows more about your messages, your business, your organization and its overall goals than you do?  Whoever you offer up has to be well-versed in your messages.  They have to be comfortable being interviewed, both on camera and off.  They have to know what to say, how to say it and when to say it. 

You will want to spend time going over all of these things before letting them loose in a newsroom.  They will have to make sure they get your messages across without having it sound like a commercial, they will have to be able to tell their story in a concise and compelling manner and they will have to remember to make sure to plug whatever service, event or product your pitching at the end of the segment.

To that end, you will want to remind the journalists why your guest is there.  You can do this simply by sending an email thanking them for allowing you to appear on the show to promote your subject matter.  During this email you will want to make sure you include your address, the time and location of the event, the correct spelling of the product and of course, the correct spelling of your organization and the person being interviewed.  You might also want to provide any photos or video you have, plus put together any lists you have that is associated with the interview that could be used as full cover graphics. 

If you couch this in the spirit of trying to be helpful and providing information, the journalist won't be offended.  You're simply trying to make sure there are no mistakes and that both parties walk away from the interview satisfied.

One of the biggest issues I hear about is a business or non-profit complaining about how the news misspelled a name or didn't get something right during the interview.  When I ask them if they had followed up with the newsroom BEFORE the interview, 99-percent of the time, the answer is no. 

Journalists KNOW you want to get exposure, and they're okay with that as long as they get a quality interview segment out of it as well.  They won't take offense and they will appreciate any ideas or extras you throw their way to make the segment more interesting both informationally and visually.

So, in the future, if in doubt, take a moment and re-read this article if you have any questions about what kind of guests a newsroom might be looking for.  Then go out and make sure you are able to provide a journalist with everything they might need for a good segment.  If you can't, rethink making your pitch, or rework it from the ground up.  If you can offer them what they want, then go forward and begin pitching.  If you can do this, journalists will love you and you'll find yourself being called upon again in the future for more interviews.  And that's never a bad thing.