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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

Greetings.

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.

Sincerely,
XXXXXX
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.

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