September 25, 2013No Comments

Public relations as aikido

In martial arts, aikido stands out for its emphasis on leveraging opposing forces, not just for defense but also to protect the attacker from harm. Its practice demands flexibility, a calm mind, endurance and compassion. It is the opposite of a stand your ground and shoot someone mentality - it is a defense that allows both parties to walk away unharmed and fight (hopefully non-violently) another day.

On any given day, businesses and organizations can find themselves under fire for poor customer service, production mistakes or a thousand other errors. Public relations is not about covering these mistakes up or running from them - it is about responding to them and building off of them. Like in aikido, you must be calm as you summon the strength to deflect the attack.

Remember that old maxim any PR is good PR? You can make it true. Having people talk about your brand or your organization, even negatively, is at least an invitation to a discussion. You can take that energy and respond to it positively, by listening to the concerns and, even if it is a rant, finding the kernel of truth that can help you improve your communications or your business. That last part is where compassion comes in -- it takes compassion to really listen.

Public relations should be a dialogue, not a spin cycle where practitioners try to outwit one another with gotcha games and word play. Thinking about PR as a form of aikido means that we are doing our jobs by staying in the moment, by really listening and understanding all sides of the debate, and building long-lasting relationships.

March 21, 2012No Comments

Question, Experiment and Innovation Will Follow

My Twitter feed this week has been full of reports of new social media tools for marketing and PR pros, like Pinterest and Highlight. Along with requisite hype comes the cynicism. Are these new tools just another bright shiny thing that will be hot for a few weeks, only to be eclipsed by the next next thing?

Personally, I think I'm getting a bad case of novelty fatigue. On the worst days, I wonder if I'll spend the rest of my PR career playing catch-up to whatever the new tools of communication are, lurching from the new thing to the new new thing with no time to gain expertise or insight.

But if I want be an innovator myself, I need to adjust that attitude. Relentlessly trying new things is at the heart of innovation. At least, that is what INSEAD Leadership Professor Hal Gregerson concluded at the end of an eight-year study of the world’s most innovative companies. He and his co-authors (Jeffrey Dyer, UCLA and Clayton Christensen, Harvard) published their findings in July 2011 in their book Innovator’s DNA, which spells out five skills of innovators. One is experimenting – relentlessly trying new things, taking things apart and trying out new ideas. Another is associational thinking, drawing connections among questions, problems or ideas from unrelated fields. Observing and networking help to gain new perspectives, while questioning allows innovators to challenge the status quo and consider new possibilities.

The authors say that anyone can innovate if they practice these five skills, or habits. At the center of each one is the idea of being open to new ideas. So I'm trying to brush off the novelty fatigue and experiment, question, observe, network and employ associational thinking. Check out the Innovator's DNA web site to learn more about how to create a fertile field for innovation to bloom.

March 13, 2012No Comments

“We Are a Good Company” is Not an Effective News Release Headline

If you're writing a news release or blog posting or newsletter article, it's easy and very tempting to make yourself or your organization the star of the show. And it's the exact opposite of what you should do if you want to get a journalist, blogger or, in these days of direct-to-consumer publishing, your potential customer to read it.

I once sat in a meeting with a bunch of business executives who wanted positive publicity on their recent organizational restructuring. "Great idea!" the PR people said. But how can we demonstrate the improvements? Had they reduced headcount or cut costs? Had they streamlined departments in an innovative way?

"We can't talk about that," they said. "We don't want to put any numbers out there. We don't want anyone to think what we were doing before was bad."

"Then how can we show that the restructuring was positive?" we asked. It would be the first question a journalist would ask.

"Just say that it was," they answered.

So despite our misgivings, we wrote the release making them the star -- the headline was something like "Productivity Further Enhanced at XYZ Corp." It included several quotes from management trumpeting a list of restructuring actions taken with no real context or insight into what had been in place before. And guess what? It generated absolutely no news coverage and probably drew no readers. Why? Because we didn't give the reader a reason to care.

The first rule of public relations writing is to focus on your audience first. Who do you want to read it? What do you want them to remember? Why should they care? 

Key to remember is that just because we -- or our bosses or clients -- think we have an important story, doesn't mean that the rest of the world does. The PR pro has to take a step back and look at the story with an outsider's perspective. And sometimes that means telling a client or a boss that there isn't a story there. It's a hard message to deliver, particularly to successful business owners or executives who live and breathe their work. But doing so will help you set realistic expectations for your efforts.

And save the fluffy "We are a good company" stories for the employee newsletter.




February 15, 20121 Comment

How to Get Your News Out There

News releases are a great way to promote your organization, your event, your book or your product. But writing it is only half the work. The second half is distribution.

In the old days, we used to create media mailing lists and actually snail mail or fax releases to reporters, and then put the release on either BusinessWire or PRNewswire, both paid news release distribution services that are still around today.
These paid news wire services typically send releases directly into newsroom computer systems through dedicated channels; but some, like PRWeb only send the releases out to their own mailing lists. Media relations pros prefer to pay to get a release "on the wire" as it still generates more media interest and pick-up than social media or direct distribution alone.

List of electronic press release distributors

BusinessWire http://www.businesswire.com/portal/site/home/

BusinessWire is the go-to news release distribution service for most companies, non-profits and government agencies. Putting a 400-word news release out on their news wire service to more than 1,000 news outlets in the United States starts at $325. Each news release gets its own measurement and tracking report. Their editorial staff formats releases, keeps an eye out for errors and makes distribution suggestions. BusinessWire has a large global reach, and also offers what it calls "full disclosure" releases that are commonly used by publicly-held companies to meet SEC requirements.

Cision http://us.cision.com/press-release-distribution/web-wire-distribution.asp

Cision's main advantage is that it offers flat-rate pricing while delivering to all the U.S. and Canadian news outlets that the other services distribute to. They offer two packages--one delivers releases to some 3,500 web-based news services for around $150 per release, and the other to major wire services in the United States or Canada for as little as $350 per release. They also do custom distribution.

PR Newswire http://www.prnewswire.com/

PR Newswire offers a wide array of distribution services that expand news release offerings with photos, video and web placement. They even have a package that will put a picture on a big screen in Times Square. Sending a 400-word release to their main United States distribution list starts around $715.

PRWeb http://www.prweb.com/

PRWeb offers a low-cost way to get news releases onto web news feeds like Yahoo! and Google. Skip their Basic package, which gets your release on their website for $89. Spring for the Standard or Advanced packages which get your release out to their own list of bloggers and reporters who have signed up for their mailing list. Paying $369 per release for their Premium service will get your release onto the Associated News wire.

Shop around and look for discounts. A quick search online revealed discounts to PR Newswire fees.