Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Local Paper Covers Car Repair Shop

A few weeks ago, I shared a post about the re-emergence of Asian Domestic Authority, the Oak Park car repair shop gutted by fire in September 2007. Pictured here is Roy Rivera, co-owner of the business.

The holiday season can be a tough time to secure media coverage, with short-handed staffs and year-end top-story roundups putting the pinch on available editorial space.

So I was grateful to see that the Oak Leaves, in today's edition, published a piece by Chris LaFortune on the shop's re-opening, which you can read by clicking here.

Monday, December 29, 2008

An FYI You Want To Apply ASAP: Use BCC!

Growing up, I learned early on about A.D. and B.C.
Around the same time, I discovered ABC, NBC and CBS, and how those three channels dominated images that emanated from something called a TV.

Along the way, I've encountered other acronyms, be they musical groups (BTO, for Backhman-Turner Overdrive; and CSNY, for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) or Internet-induced abbreviations, like LOL (laughing out loud) and ROTFL (rolling on the floor laughing).

And BCC, too. That stands for "blind carbon copy" and it's a magical e-mail function that all too many otherwise-intelligent individuals have yet to discover or continue to refuse to apply. By using the BCC address field, you conceal the identities of those to whom you are sending the e-mail.

Amazingly, sadly, among this group of BCC boycotters is the occasional publicist.

The second word in "public relations" offers a hint that (positive, fruitful) relationships are central to a publicist's success. Yet just a few minutes ago, a publicist from a decent-sized Chicago-based company (self-dubbed as "Specialists in Mission-Driven Marketing") just sent an e-mail to me and 60 others whose last name begins with "B."

I recognize one other person's name on the list, but the rest are strangers to me. Strangers who now have my e-mail address and, fortunately, will use much better sense than to spam me as this publicist did. I suspect that right now, he's blazing through the alphabet, onto the letter "R" by now, and sending his hastily created emails to upwards of 1,000 people.

Driven, for sure. But the mission and marketing are sorely lacking.

And he really ought to delete "FW:" from the prior mass e-mail that he sent and come up with something more creative than "thought you might like to see our newsletter."

Moral of the story: if you are ever in a position of sending e-mails to a large group of people who are not connected to one another beyond simply being in your e-mail address book, then use BCC.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Minasian Exhibit Gains Tribune Coverage

Minasian Rug Co.'s textile arts exhibit that I've been promoting the past few months received a nice mention in today's Chicago Tribune, as an "Editor's Pick" in the House & Homes section.

You can check out its coverage of “Island Magic - Court and Tribal Textiles from Indonesia” online here.

Previously, I posted more background about the exhibit (at Minasian's Evanston location, 1244 Chicago Ave.) at Neighborhood

The exhibit has nearly two more weeks to go, concluding January 10th, so don't just settle for watching some of the YouTube videos I uploaded--check out "Island Magic" in person for yourself.

In addition to coming across some amazing pieces, you may just bump into Stephen Blackwelder, the textile arts director for Minasian, or co-owner Carney Minasian (pictured, above).

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Brave, New Archive-Friendly World

When I began writing for newspapers, in 1984, I needed to clip stories myself and make photocopies if I wanted to ensure keeping track of those pieces.

Today, nearly a quarter-century later, the Internet has created an entirely new archive-friendly world.

A few years ago, for example, I began using Google Web Alerts to tip me off when a particular word or phrase appeared in cyberspace. So any time I begin working for a new client, I add their name to my list.

I also have my own name flagged, and intriguingly enough, it's not only new content that pops up in the alerts. Just today, a five-year-old item, a brief ditty on that I wrote for Time magazine, came back around.

So did recent material, such as summaries I've written for the Urban Land Institute's Chicago chapter.

If you are in business--and especially in the business of seeing how your business is being portrayed online--then enlisting the help from services like Google Alerts is imperative.

In addition to your own business or organization, you may want to keep tabs on your competitors and general information about your industry.

To set up your own, free Google alert(s), click here.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Understaffed Newsrooms Drive PR Approach

Over the years, Inside Edge PR clients have occasionally asked why my agency goes to such lengths to provide comprehensive news releases that can (and often do) gain word-for-word placement in respected publications.

My response flows from more than 20 years on staff or as an active freelance writer for newspapers and other publications: newsrooms are notoriously understaffed and overworked.

So anything that comes across with journalistic style and content has a huge advantage over typical news release puffery that more closely resemble advertising copy. (Having been on the receiving end of thousands of news releases in my career, trust me--I'm being kind.)

After being a journalist for so long, finding actual news hooks is automatic. If I can't identify one, then a news release simply doesn't happen. Of course, within 15 minutes of speaking with a prospective or current client, I always find one--even if it doesn't always teem with eye-popping page 1 potential.

For the latest evidence of newspapers' overworked/understaffed plight, check out this piece: Editor & Publisher's Top 10 Newspaper Industry Stories of 2008.

The #1 story: record newsroom cuts.

Those cuts represent a significant opportunity for individuals and organizations that can provide timely, relevant material that bring mutual benefit.

The newspaper fills its paper with legitimate news, and those individuals and organizations in the news receive strategic editorial placement. And those placements carry many times the credibility and marketing potential than buying an advertisement--and often at a fraction of the would-be ad's cost.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Timely PR Tips: How To Get Free Publicity

For me, one of the most enjoyable parts of sports writing has always been the vast array of cool action verbs that you can use in describing a game's outcome.

Routed, pummelled, thrashed, drubbed, nipped, shocked, trounced, to name only a few.

In a similar vein, I suspect that journalists covering the economy these days may be finding solace, amid the overwhelmingly negative news, in being able to trot out numerous adjectives to spice up their stories.

Is the economy "beleagured" or "beset" or "in the doldrums" or "troubled" or "swooning" or "moribund"? Take your pick, and crack open the thesaurus to find other words that may be fitting.

No matter which pejorative word or phrase one uses to describe the economy, there's a public relations antidote for those seeking to wage a marketing campaign in this (pick your pessimistic adjective) climate. It's called "free publicity," and it's something that all publicists strive to attain for their clients (for whom the freebie, of course, is on top of their publicists' fee).

A year ago, Geoff Williams, a freelance writer on assignment with Growing Wealth Magazine, included some of my pointers in a story exploring that very subject.

You can find the story on the Inside Edge PR website, on the Resources page and headlined Marketing On A Budget.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

PR For A Cause: Asian Domestic Authority

Last week, I thought I may have fractured one of my ribs. Well, more precisely, I thought that a lumbering 230-pound basketball teammate had done the damage when he barreled into me as I tried to set a pick for him.

As it turns out, I think it's only a bruise. But along the way, a few medical friends have given me counsel without my having to spend hundreds of bucks on a doctor's visit or, worse yet, a trip to the emergency room.

I appreciate this kind of informal, on-the-spot support that friends and acquaintances provide. In my PR practice, I try to do my part as well, whether it's what I call PR Pro Bono Drive-Bys or more extensive no-fee support for people like Roy Rivera (pictured below), an exceedingly knowledgeable, hard-working and honest car mechanic in my community of Oak Park, Illinois.

In September 2007, a fire destroyed Asian Domestic Authority, the shop that Roy owns with Walter Corzo. Today, they are finally back into the new-and-vastly improved space. Recently, I took some time to shoot videos and contact the media about the shop's revival as well as the content at

One of the local papers, the Oak Leaves, has already assigned a reporter to follow up on stories they wrote shortly after the fire. And if you are anywhere near Oak Park, now you know where to go if you're in need of a car repair business teeming with integrity and competence.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

PR Must Follow Audience's Online Migration

In recent years, newspapers have seen a significant decline in their circulation, partly due to readers' migration to the Internet to get their daily news fix.

In my neighborhood, I'm a dinosaur--the only one among 20 households that gets a Chicago newspaper delivered. Among all my immediate neighbors, generally well-educated, middle-class types, only one even joins me in picking up Sunday delivery of the Trib.

From a public relations standpoint, all of this points to the wisdom of placing increased emphasis on the strategic online placement of stories, through user-generated portals like the Chicago Tribune's Triblocal and the Sun-Times News Group's Neighborhood Circle.

While neither site appears to command an audience anywhere close to rivaling the traditional print editions, they clearly can play a complementary role in any media outreach. They are particularly useful in light of newspapers' shrinking news hole, which has made it even tougher to secure coverage than in the past.

At the least, sites like Triblocal and Neighborhood Circle serve as a credible online location to position news releases--a step I've taken scores of times for a variety of clients over the past year.

On a related note, a recent column by Chicago Tribune media columnist Phil Rosenthal (pictured here) is worth checking out.

In his Dec. 14 column, Rosenthal examines the dramatic step that beleagured Detroit newspapers are taking amid declining readership: abandoning newspaper home delivery most days of the week.

The move, writes Rosenthal, "would make them the first major metropolitan dailies in the country to pull so far away from the traditional newspaper business model."

"This new playbook," Rosenthal adds, "less a bold innovation than a Hail Mary pass, comes at a tough time for the entire industry, which has suffered double-digit decline in ad revenue this year."

Monday, December 8, 2008

In Oak Park: Helping To "Shop The Village"

In November 1981, as an eighth-grader at Furnace Brook Middle School in Marshfield, Ma., I started my first business: bubble-gum salesman.

My only goal, at first, was to make enough money to buy my mom some stamps for her birthday. Very practical, I know.

I started with a five-piece pack of gum one day (at 10 cents per piece), cleared a 25-cent profit, expanded to two packs, then four, and then held steady at eight packs of Bubble Yum, Hubba Bubba, Bubblicious and other varieties that I sold to fellow students.

Soon I set my sights on simply seeing how much money I could make between classes (and, yes, sometimes even during class) without running afoul of the school administration, which didn't exactly endorse my grassroots enterprise.

Eventually, and quite by accident, I branched out and began selling more than 100 pieces of Starburst candy pieces a day. Along the way, I offered rewards, especially to my best customers, in the form of freebies here and there that expressed my appreciation for their loyalty.

By the end of the school year, I had earned $500--enough to help my mom buy a used car and to enroll in a summer basketball camp. You could say I exceeded the stamps-for-birthday goal.

The entrepreneurial zeal never waned, even if most of that passion over the years was expended on competing for stories as a news reporter.

Now business has come full circle with a current marketing effort that I am coordinating called "Shop The Village." Comprised of more than 100 businesses in my longtime residence of Oak Park, Ill., the program began taking shape behind the scenes in late October and was unveiled publicly the day after Thanksgiving.

"Shop The Village" continues through Jan. 31, 2009, designed as it is to spur on shopping amid our economically trying times.

So far, and thanks to many business and local government leaders who have thrown in their support, it appears to have ignited real enthusiasm. And where I used to offer a piece of gum or a Cherry Starburst to another student, "Shop The Village" is providing more than 100 $25 gift certificates (at minimum) and a $4,000 Grand Prize at the end of the campaign.

Along with other key allies from throughout this community that I treasure so much, I will be striving to exceed initial expectations in much the same way that they were eclipsed more than a quarter-century ago back in Marshfield, Massachusetts.

And this program enjoys the major benefit of actually being backed by the powers-that-be, so there's no need for anyone to look over their shoulder!

Today, at Lido's Caffe in downtown Oak Park, we held the first of nine weekly drawings for "Shop The Village. You can check it out here:

Friday, December 5, 2008

Azure Horizons: Good Deed Gets Published

In late October, when Azure Horizons owner Keith Carrizosa (pictured, on the left) hired me to tell the story of his company's role in donating computers to Roberto Clemente High School in Chicago, we described it as "no good deed shall go unpublished."

Well, it's gratifying to know that others agree. In addition to receiving Univision TV treatment last weekend (a segment shot inside Clemente High), the Dec. 4 edition of Extra! newspaper included the story, in both English and Spanish, that recounts Azure Horizons' effort.

One element that has helped generate media interest were a series of videos that I shot, and which are noted on this Inside Edge PR blog post.

You can read the story on Extra's web site or by clicking on the image here:

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Brainstorming: As Messy As It's Necessary

When's the last time you allowed yourself to forge ahead with an unedited, uncensored, uninhibited train of thought for at least a few minutes--and you took notes while doing it?

In other words, when's the last time you brainstormed?

Brainstorming is vital to the creative process, whether it's dreaming up a headline, the name of your next child, or planning a 50th wedding anniversary party. Here are guiding principles I follow in my brainstorming pursuits:

1. The path to The Great Idea is littered with terrible, hokey, cliched, painfully bad ideas. I must be willing to go through those potholes in order to get to my Great destination.

2. When time and circumstances permit, I must be willing to be vulnerable enough to allow trusted advisers to provide feedback on what I think is The Great Idea, so they can save me from going public (or to a client) with the occasional Really Not-So-Great Idea.

3. No matter how artfully or sensitively someone offers feedback, I must remain open to the possibility that I don't have a monopoly on creative genius. For more on this truth, see my Inside Edge PR piece on soliciting feedback. ("Do you seek it to glow or to grow?").

Monday, December 1, 2008

Contacting The Media: Your First Goal

Do you have 30 seconds? Is this a good time for you to read my blog?

Silly questions, I know. Why don't I just get to the point?

OK, here it is: When dialing up someone in the media, if you want to communicate with power and persuasion, then make sure they have at least 30 seconds to hear why you're calling.

How I typically start: “Are you on deadline, or is this a good time to talk for 30 seconds?”

Such a courtesy signals that I know their world—and I am not about to waste their time. This simple question alone helps me stand apart from the publicist pack, many of whom are self-absorbed and long-winded, not even bothering to check if the journalist has time to talk.

After gaining initial buy-in (and be ready for some wiseguys to say, "OK, the clock's!"), then it's crucial that you make good on the promise.

Succinctly and confidently explain why you are calling, and be ready to get off the phone within the time you've allotted. When I say 30 seconds, I mean it--I avoid saying "a minute" because people don't literally mean 60 seconds when they trot out that phrase, and I want to be abundantly clear that I'll be brief.

The phone call's purpose is not to sell the journalist on pursuing a story, anyway. It's simply to warm 'em up to the idea that the e-mail you're about to send is worth serious consideration instead of the reflexive tap of the DELETE key.

Win that battle, keep the dialogue going, be sure to have compelling content in that e-mail, and at least you'll have a fighting chance to get your story told.

For related tips, check out PR Search Checklist: 10 Traits To Seek in a Publicist.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Art of Out-Thinking Vs. Out-Spending

If you are interested in learning some new ways to think differently, especially in the marketing realm, then I highly recommend Buzzmarketing by Mark Hughes.

It is full of creative ideas and real-life examples that capture what Hughes and others have done to stir the public's imagination--and generate business for clients--without spending a ton of money.

To paraphrase a principle that Hughes hammers home repeatedly: Are you in a position to out-spend your competition, or to out-think them? (To check out his website, go to

The easy, seemingly safe thing to do is to buy a bunch of TV time, or radio spots, or a series of newspaper ads. And into the 1980s, those were your major options. But times, you may have noticed, have changed drastically.

When someone approaches me to discuss placing an ad in a newspaper, for example, I check my calendar to make sure it reads 2008, not 1978. Does this mean all TV, radio and print ads are fruitless?

By no means---I'm just leery of viewing them as the first line of promotional thinking, particularly when working with companies or organizations that have modest budgets.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Blog Discipline Breeds PR Benefits

Six months ago, I would advise clients to consider starting a blog. You can show your expertise, I would explain, give your target audience something new to check out, and so forth.

I don't think anybody heeded my suggestion. Seemed like so much busy work, I'm sure.

At the time, I was "too busy" to get one started myself. My own business didn't have a blog, so, naturally, my counsel was half-hearted. And when you get right down to it, my recommendation was so much hypocrisy.

Then, in late May, my fantastically creative and talented web designer, Sherri Lasko, blew my cover. She built a gem of a website for Inside Edge: Public Relations & Media Services. On the home page, a link in the upper left corner boldly declared: "Read Matt's PR Blog."

Now I was cornered--in that spot I would have to offer something other than "Matt's sterling PR musings coming soon!"

Today, having surpassed 100 Inside Edge PR blog posts, and more than 100 other blog posts for other clients (both publicly, such as I Do, Doggone It! and as a "ghost" blogger), my half-hearted tone has given way to wholehearted exhortation.

I urge my clients--and anyone else who asks--to join the blogosphere. Not for its own sake, but for the structure it creates for your overall communications strategy (you do have a strategy, don't you?).

In the process of blog-letyzing ("blog prosletyzing"), I walk people through some of my own posts, not because I'm so great, but because it allows me to show them how much this blog has developed in that time--and how much more it's bound to go as I continually refine it.

For one thing, I know how to create attractive, flowing links such as this one for Oak Park's Shop The Village program, one of my current projects.

For another thing, to help attract and retain interest, I now have embedded videos, photographs and other images frequently popping up in this space. (Thanks for telling me candidly that the site was drab, Bridgett!)

The blog also allows an individual to communicate the depth and breadth of his or her organization's distinctive place in the world. Oh, and it can attract traffic with certain key words, such as Barack Obama, Matt Damon, the Boston Red Sox and Kermit the Frog (now you know why his smiling mug is above).

If you're successful to any degree, you are bound to have so much happening all the time that it's easy to have significant accomplishments and other newsworthy fodder slip through the cracks.

"I'll get back to that some time," you might say. Before you know it, you've said that dozens, even hundreds of times, and there's little chance you're going to have the time to circle back and adequately chronicle that newsy nugget.

Then, when it comes time to identify story ideas, you stare at a blank piece of paper and wonder where to begin.

If nothing else, a blog helps enforce a regular discipline of noting significant developments in your organization. Through that process, story ideas gush forth naturally.

I've seen it happen time and again, most recently the other day with one of my "ghost" blog clients. Because my blogging is behind-the-scenes, I can only offer more detail if you ask me about it 1-on-1.

Now how's that for a marketing hook?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Let The Dogs Bark, The Caravan Moves On!

If you're a publicist and want to avoid controversy, then there's a simple formula: take no risks and go to great lengths to avoid offending others.

In short, prepare to fail.

With any worthwhile pursuit, if you bring enthusiasm and creativity to the task, you will leave yourself open to naysayers, hecklers and all manner of critics.

That's because one person's enthusiasm and creativity is another's bad idea and unseemly taste.

Such was the recent case with I Do, Doggone It!, the Nov. 8 event in Oak Park, Ill. that I publicized for Downtown Oak Park, an association of businesses who wanted to bring attention to their shopping district.

We drew 87 couples on a bone-chilling, rainy day--easily the 2nd-largest wedding in history, though shy of the Guinness World Record of 178, set in Littleton, Col. in May 2007. And with 13 same-sex couples (nine male and four female duos), we likely set the standard in that category.
Local letters to the editor, and even an editorial, found fault with either the premise itself or the fact that we did not break the Guinness record.

All those slings and arrows go with the territory.

Fortunately, so does the continuing national and regional coverage, from the likes of Fox News, the Chicago Tribune and various Chicago television stations, which continue shining a spotlight on Oak Park's downtown.

Let the dogs bark, but the caravan moves on!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Chill On The Obama Countdown, Tribune!

Here in Chicago, the countdown is on, ticking down the days before Barack Obama is inaugurated as President of the United States. While I understand and appreciate the excitement, it strikes me as a tad overblown to have the countdown be by the second, as it is on the Trib's website.

Tempering the Tribune's online breathlessness is columnist John Kass, whose wry assessment of potential Obama assistants, like Oprah Winfrey, Jesse Jackson, Tony Rezko and Todd "Urkel" Stroger, is on Page 2 of the newspaper.

My favorite part of the column, rightfully slamming Obama's cynical endorsement of the incompetent Stroger two years ago:

"Send Stroger to Washington," Susan E. wrote. "Don't really care in what capacity, as long as we get rid of him. Let him work his magic for the nation. We really shouldn't be hiding this talent in one place. Send all 500 of his closest relatives, too."

Monday, November 17, 2008

In Praise Of the Urban Land Institute

I receive zero compensation for sick days and vacation, I pay for my family's medical insurance out of my own pocket, and my boss--the guy I see in the mirror--often orders me to show up for work before 7 a.m.

But as I approach my 10th anniversary of self-employment, I wouldn't have it any other way. Among the many reasons is this benefit: the variety of interesting and mind-stretching work that I get to pursue.

A current case in point is the writing I've been doing for Urban Land Institute's Chicago chapter the past few months.

Thanks to a referral from friend and fellow Medillian Ed Finkel, who had previously written for the ULI, I began writing summaries at the organization's Sept. 25 meeting: "River North: Past Plans, Future Opportunities."

That debut was followed by a most timely session whose subject was The Credit Crisis: How the Collapse of Credit Impacts the Economy and Commercial Real Estate."

Talk about a crash-course!

Most recently, last Thursday, I sat in on the "Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2009" discussion led by ULI consultant Jonathan D. Miller.

For the third straight time, by listening to very bright people use clarity and humor to cut through complex topics, I learned a ton and had the privilege of striving to boil down the discussion in about 1,000 words.

Once ULI-Chicago posts the summary on its website, I'll link to it here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Media Pro Offers Top Tips To Get On Oprah

You may have heard of this woman who lives in Chicago. She goes by the unusual name of--what was that name again?--oh, yeah: Oprah!

I jest, of course. Oprah may be more popular than her good pal, President-elect Barack Obama. And she has staying power, bow in the midst of what would probably be her fifth term in the Office of Outrageous Popularity & Influence (if the rest of the world operated on four-year re-election cycles.)

When new clients talk with me, it usually takes less than 10 minutes for them to mention her name and, more precisely, her outrageously successful talk show. The phrase usually begins: "If there's any way you could get me on Oprah..."

I've not yet landed an Oprah spot for anyone, but someone who has repeatedly media coached clients for the show is Susan Harrow, a talented media trainer and publicity and marketing expert from California. Back in June, I wrote about Susan and her great insights on getting on any talk show.

Today, I have another heads-up about Susan. She's developed more terrific tips on the Oprah front--the often-overlooked avenue of gaining coverage in O, The Oprah Magazine as a way of coming to the show's attention.

Check her pointers out right here on Biznik.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Media Manna: My Q & A With Joe Theismann

My kids' bedtime stories are of the Biblical variety. Just last night, I enjoyed reading to them again about the manna--the sweet-tasting food from the heavens--that God provided to Moses and his beleaguered crew of nomads.

It's the perfect metaphor for some of the assignments that I've been fortunate to receive over the years. In May, it happened when Wendy Cole, a senior editor at REALTOR magazine called.

A fellow Oak Parker whom I know from our time together at Time magazine (she on staff, me as a stringer), Wendy asked if I'd be interested in interviewing Joe Theismann for a Q & A to appear in an edition previewing the REALTORS Conference & Expo in Orlando.

Media Manna!

I started rattling off Joe's football stats, how he changed his last name's pronunication so it rhymed with "Heisman," and other background details. Somewhere in there I gushed my reply to Wendy's offer: "Yes!"

"Sounds like this is a good fit for you," she understated with amusement.

I did some research, prepared about a dozen questions and, on May 20, enjoyed a 23-minute interview with Joe. I anticipated a bright, thoughtful, colorful encounter, and Joe was even more classy and insightful than I'd imagined he would be.

I typed up a long version of the Q & A for the REALTOR website, and below you can see the shorter version that appeared in print:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

My Drew Peterson Doughnut Dilemma

Remember Drew Peterson?

He's still in the news, still a free man, and his fourth wife Stacy's whereabouts remain a mystery. In contrast to his national media exposure (NBC's "Today" show, People magazine cover, among others) of last November, the intensity of interest has waned since he first became a dubious household name in America.

Exactly one year ago, on Nov. 11, 2007, I became part of the media horde pursuing this saga.

I was one of a rotation of Chicago Tribune freelance reporters and staff writers stationed outside the former Bolingbrook police sergeant's home.

During my stake-out that Sunday morning, I was the nearly-speechless recipient of two dozen doughnuts from Drew's brother, Paul. Later, I tried to use those same sugar-filled treats to secure an interview with Drew.

For the full blow-by-blow, check out My Drew Peterson Doughnut Dilemma.

Monday, November 10, 2008

No Guinness World Record, Doggone It!

The mass dog wedding that I publicized, I Do, Doggone It!, may have set a record for the most same-sex dog "marriages" on Saturday in downtown Oak Park.

However, that is not yet a sanctioned Guinness World Record category.

So the 87 total marriages, while certainly one of the biggest in pooch history, fell shy of the Guinness mark (178), set in May 2007 in Littleton, Col.

To check out some video that I shot during the whimsical festivities, you can check out the blog

You can also visit a Chicago Tribune photo gallery of the event.

Friday, November 7, 2008

An Open Invitation To The Obama Girls

It's not every day that you invite the President-elect's daughters to come to a mass dog wedding.

But when it comes to a great cause, has a logical link to a pledge that Barack Obama made before the world on Tuesday night, and Sasha and Malia just happen to be in the neighborhood anyway...well, it just seems like the right thing to do.

Check out excerpts from the Guinness World Record attempt news release, touting the canine conjugals tomorrow in downtown Oak Park. It all starts at 11 a.m. for those dogs that need a speed-dating service, with bow vows at 1 p.m.

Even if the Obama girls aren't able to join in the fun, plenty of people will and you're invited along too. Here, you can check out the history of I Do, Doggone It!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

No Good Deed Shall Go Un-Videotaped

In an Inside Edge PR blog post a few weeks ago, I mentioned a public relations variant on an age-old saying: "No good deed shall go unpublished."

Of course, with this variant comes a corollary: "No good deed shall go un-videotaped."

I followed my own advice recently, as I prepared to spread the news of a donation of about 60 computers, from Keith Carrizosa of Azure Horizons, an Oak Park computer consulting company, to Roberto Clemente High School in Chicago.

Below is one of three brief interviews that I shot and uploaded onto YouTube. The other two videos are here and here.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Read It! Obama: From Promise To Power

It's a few minutes past 10 p.m. on Election Day, it appears Barack Obama is about to vacate his seat as the junior U.S. Senator from Illinois, and I can only imagine what must be going through the mind of David Mendell.

He's the author of Obama: From Promise To Power, a thoroughly balanced and thoughtfully written book that was published in August 2007.

In late-January 2008, I was pleased to meet Mendell for the first time, for a pre-arranged interview. At the time, Obama's campaign was on the ropes and Hillary Clinton appeared to have the inside track on the Democratic nomination for president.

You can see the result of that meeting in a profile that I wrote for the Wednesday Journal of Oak Park & River Forest.

Since that bitterly cold winter night, Mendell and I have kept in touch by e-mail. So it was uncanny timing that, of all days, I'd bump into him this afternoon (almost literally, nearly tapping his parked car as I navigated into a parking spot in downtown Oak Park).

At this moment, as Obama stands at the center of the world's attention, Mendell must be musing about the many times he was the only one following Obama around, during the early stages of his run for U.S. Senator only five years ago.

To anyone who wants to glean significant insight into our President-elect, and who would be intrigued to come alongside Mendell during those formative times in Obama's rapid political ascent, I encourage you to dig into Obama: From Promise To Power.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Listen Up! ...And Follow Studs' Example

In September, I was invited to speak to a gathering of the Illinois Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.

As an association member was preparing my nametag, he asked how I should be described. Since I was going to be addressing the group, the logical answer might have seemed to be “speaker.”

But, really, my career has been weighted much more heavily on the receiving end—more than anything else, I’ve been a professional listener.

So I asked that “Listener” go on my tag, and the association member obliged.

This comes to mind this morning as I read about Studs Terkel, and his remarkable legacy of drawing out stories from a wide spectrum of individuals.

Studs, who passed away at 96 years old three days ago, set an example that we should all strive to emulate, whether it’s capturing stories as I do with my service known as Your Front Page or simply paying respectful attention to anyone and everyone, even if our self-absorbed and preoccupied inclination is to think they probably don’t have much of interest to share.

When I speak, I rarely learn a thing—beyond the fact that I’m reminded I ought to do it more succinctly. But when I listen, I rarely come away without picking up some helpful food for thought.

Listening, truly listening, is at the heart of “PAVE The Way to Powerful Communication,” one of the services on the training front that I have developed in recent years. Here's the PAVE foundation:

Practice active silence--be a sincere audience
Ask engaging questions--find out what makes people tick
Value all people--everyone has a story to share
Expand your comfort zone--you may be surprised by what you learn

Thursday, October 30, 2008

REALTOR Blog Hails The Wizard of Roz

REALTOR magazine senior editor Wendy Cole today posted a piece ("A WICKED Good Time To Buy") on the marketing exploits of Realtor Roz Byrne, which I wrote about yesterday.

You could say it's a "spook-tacular" ditty, but you'd merely be echoing a turn of phrase that Wendy employs in the "Speaking of Real Estate" space she shares with others at the Chicago-based publication.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Marketing Wizardry of Roz

Roz Byrne has always had a flair for fun. In her radio days, as a rock 'n' roll DJ, she was "Rockin' Roz" and worked alongside the likes of renowned contrarian Michael Moore.

For the past seven years, she has rocked the world of Chicago real estate, going the extra mile for clients in a variety of ways.

From her base in Oak Park as one of the top Realtors at Gloor Realty, she has compiled a listing of service providers--a kind of personalized Yellow Pages--that she updates periodically and gives to hundreds of people, including newcomers moving into the area.

She donates $100 from every closing to the charity of her client's choice. And she has gained specialized certifications, such as the Senior Real Estate Specialist (SRES) designation, which underscores her training and ability to help seniors find housing, often as they downsize.

And this Halloween week, she has transformed into The Wizard of Roz. As she ventures into shops throughout the Oak Park-River Forest-Forest Park area, Byrne is delivering Hershey's chocolate bars, her business card and this clever message:

"Don't be afraid of the real estate market. It's a wicked good time to be a buyer."

After all these years of outgoing behavior, Byrne may be confused for someone who can pull off these gambits at the drop of her colorful wizard's cap. But like any successful person, she continually fights through her comfort zone to do those things--like dress up in outlandish style and approach people who might think she's off her rocker--to get her message out and move her business forward.

In the midst of a decidely down real estate market, that willingness to venture into scary territory is one of the keys to Byrne's thriving career. And it's also central to successful public relations in any field.

Go to Roz Real Estate to learn more, click on the video below to hear some of her wizardry--and think about how you can apply some of the same principles in your endeavors:

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mobile Billboard Advertising Should Stay

The same fine folks who specialize in wasteful spending via patronage and other forms of bureaucratic bumbling--I refer, in this case, to the Chicago City Council--now are considering telling mobile advertising units to go away.

The latest example of government lackeys' penchant for sticking their noses where it's neither desired or necessary is a proposal to ban mobile billboard vehicles. In this piece in the Chi-Town Daily News, reporter Megan Cottrell reports that a council committee is mulling whether to assess a $5,000 fine "on any vehicle primarily used for advertising purposes."

The lame rationale, as put forth by Alderman Bob Fioretti, is that the vehicles "pollute the environment, cause traffic congestion and distract drivers." The first two concerns relate to any vehicle, so that doesn't carry any weight. And as for distracting drivers, isn't that the point of any ad--to get your attention?

What's next--banning billboards? Pretty women strolling along the sidewalk? No, thanks, Big Brother.

The story notes, "Consideration of the measure has been delayed until now because Alderman Fioretti's staff said they needed more time to gather resources and evidence."

In layman's terms, they're winging it. Here's hoping this lamebrain idea crashes and burns. In my experience, mobile advertising is far more effective and interesting than most any other form of advertising out there.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Wayne Arner: From Huff & Puff To Buff

By my calculations, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas consume precisely three days of the calendar.

But somehow it all translates into a two-month comfort-and-junk food fest, when people tend to pack on some additional pounds. (OK, I'm projecting from my own experience--it's my seasonal pattern, anyway!)

So it was with great admiration that in developing a news release on his triathlon journey, I recently interviewed Wayne Arner, a member of Five Seasons Sports Club in Northbrook. It began in September 2006, when he tipped the scales at 206 pounds and resolved to dip his toe in the water, literally, at the Five Seasons' indoor pool.

Since then, via these two photographs, you can see the distance his fitness has traveled: above, with his daughter, Annie, in 2005; and below, in a national triathlon championship in Oregon last month.

For anyone who has ever huffed and puffed after, say, swimming only a brief distance, as was the case with Wayne two years ago, let this news release serve as inspiration.

And this sidebar release, drawn from insights shared by Five Seasons Sports Club Group Fitness Director Marie Pearson, is your caution.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Inside Edge Partnership Pledge

One of my favorite clients is someone who challenges me regularly to explain what I'm up to.

Just today, she asked me about the placement of a news release on a user-generated website owned by the Sun-Times News Group. Why, she wondered, was the piece placed on a community page many miles from where she will be delivering three talks in the next few weeks?

I had a ready reply.

It's because the Neighborhood Circle website's "default" page happens to be that particular community. I assured her that the release had been simultaneously posted on a few dozen community pages, including some much closer to where she'll be speaking.

It's vital that I had a logical response. But even more gratifying to me is that my client felt the freedom to question me bluntly on the issue. Candor and transparency are so important that over a year ago I developed the Inside Edge Partnership Pledge.

I share it with each new client, and post it here in the hopes that it may help you in whatever endeavors you pursue:

"I am excited that we have embarked on our partnership.

I highlighted "partnership" in the first line not in the legal sense, but in the spirit of how I view my work with your business. I do not regard myself as a vendor simply providing services to another entity, but as someone who is now a motivated, independently contracted part of that entity with a vested interest in your—more accurately, our—success.

In retaining me, you now have someone who will provide you with clear, honest feedback about any matters pertaining to your business that I believe would be helpful for you to hear—even if they do not directly relate to my Public Relations and Media Services.

Success occurs more frequently and resoundingly in an environment where trust, mutual respect and open, honest communication thrive. I am excited about working with you and on behalf of (your business/organization/association.)

Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns about anything that arises out of our business relationship. I truly appreciate the opportunity to help serve you and your business."

In short, this is permission marketing with my clients, and it sets the tone for an honest, constructive relationship whose focus is not on preserving anyone's ego (though I take great pains to do that) but on helping the client achieve his/her/their goals.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

No Good Deed Shall Go Unpublished!

"No good deed shall go unpunished."

I first heard that phrase from Mike Bailey, my curmudgeonly (in a classic newspaper way) former editor at The Courier News in Elgin, Ill. That's Mike's mug you see here to the right.

I know Mike didn't originate the phrase, nor did George Steinbrenner, the longtime (and often curmudgeonly) owner of the New York Yankees baseball empire, pictured below. I summon George's name because I saw the same phrase on a pillow in his office. That was in January 2001, during an impromptu Yankee Stadium tour that I was fortunate enough to receive.

In effect, the "no good deed" is a humbling reminder that even our best intentions, and best actions, can be met with derision or, befuddlingly enough, strong opposition.

But as I embark on some publicity for a client who is making a significant donation to schoolchildren, I would like to offer a new, more hopeful saying that spins off the jaded "no good deed shall go unpunished."

Here it is: "No good deed shall go unpublished."

(I realize that I'm not coining a phrase here--a check of Google turns up seven listings with that PR-tinged line, which, I should note, is about 5,000 fewer references than the more commonly expressed "unpunished" line.)

Friday, October 17, 2008

WWW: Let The Three W's Work For You

Today I provided some copy-editing recommendations to a client who had mentioned his website, but without the "www." part, in an advertisement.

Fact: you need not type "www" into the Internet address bar to trek from one website to another.

Reality: that fact notwithstanding, if you want to catch the reader's eye, include "www." in your writing, whether it's an advertisement, business card or news release. The three Ws help the web location stand out; they also brace the reader to the fact that a URL is about to come his or her way.

Remember, too, that we live in a world of hyperlinks.

So while typing "" into your address bar will get you to the I Do, Doggone It! mass dog wedding site that I developed and maintain for Downtown Oak Park, if you're hyperlinking someone there you still need some http and www. action so you don't leave your audience scratching fruitlessly at the cyber-door.

By the way, in case this is the first you're learning of the mass dog wedding, it's a Guinness World Record attempt that's happening on Saturday, Nov. 8th, in Oak Park, Illinois. Just click on the links above to learn more.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hey, Joe The Plumber: It's Just The Start!

The moment I saw my brother's text message last night, I suspected that we had the latest media sensation on our hands.

"Joe the plumber making waves in debate," Andy wrote.

At first, I thought some guy named Joe had commandeered a microphone at last night's third and final Presidential Debate and blasted Barack Obama or John McCain, or both. Instead, as I later learned, McCain had simply referred to this fellow named Joe, oh, about 4,000 times. "Joe the plumber" became a mantra as McCain sought to connect with the nation's beleaguered middle-class.

Now comes news that Joe is not actually a licensed plumber. Horrors! What next?

Of course, that's just one detail among hundreds that have already emerged about the suddenly famous 34-year-old from the Wurzelbacher clan. Typing "Joe the plumber" into Google nets 900,000 hits, easily outdistancing "Joe sh*t the rag man," one of my mom's favorite expressions.

Mark my words: in 2012, 2016, 2020, and every four years thereafter, Joe the Plumber (the "p" will be capitalized by then) will be sought out for his views of that year's Presidential race. That is, if the Ohio man can live through all the nutty media scrutiny.

By the way, a certain Amarillo, Texas plumber with a fortunately named website and a hilarious Dan Aykroyd-in-Saturday Night Life style illustration on the home page is bound to see an uptick in business.

And a certain Houston plumber must be getting some increased web traffic, too.

Can a "Joe the Plumber" political party be far behind?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

No, Not Again!! It's The Silly Season!!!

"I don't normally pass these types of e-mails along, but..."

The "Silly Season" is upon us and so, too, are e-mail chains that begin with phrases along the lines of the one that started this post.

Growing up, I learned about Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. I even enjoyed the music of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons.

But it was only when I started covering political races, in the early-1990s, that I was schooled in the Silly Season, also known as the final stages of an election campaign.

This phase was filled with all manner of dubious accusations, insinuations, and no-holds-barred mud-slinging. Along with my colleagues at The Courier News of Elgin, Ill., I would navigate this terrain with mounting skepticism of "breaking news" as Election Day approached.

Three or four days before the election, we'd halt any kind of "he said, she said" sniping and provide just-the-facts coverage reminding readers who was running, their basic positions, and where voters could cast their ballots.

Now here we are, three weeks away from choosing John McCain or Barack Obama as our next U.S. President, and the national dialogue (OK, "cacophony" is more apt) resembles a fast-paced contest of Ping Pong. Only the white ball has been immersed in so much cow dung.

So next time you get an e-mail that purports to bear actual news (you know, that stuff known as information that we haven't sifted through time and again for the past two years), be extremely leery of its contents.

By the way, one of the most effective ways to spread an untruth is to make it just credible enough, with names, phone numbers, email addresses and ancillary information that "check out" on the surface so that it disarms our skepticism.

Often, a trip to Snopes is all you need to screen a tale's veracity. Be careful, though: Snopes can't do it all, or report on it all.

If you want to help, not harm, the cause of truth, then it often takes time, effort and discernment to weed out the facts from the fiction. Sadly, all three commodities are in short supply, especially during the Silly Season.