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.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Alphabet Soup: Consume With Caution

We live in the USA--the United States of Acronymia.

What's your initial reaction to that twist on our country's name? LOL?

See, only two sentences into this post, and I've dropped two acronyms on you. Lost yet? (LOL is "laugh out loud," by the way.)

One of the biggest enemies of clarity in communication is this overuse of acronyms. This comes to mind a day after Chicago's WBBM 780 radio broadcast of the Chicago Marathon.

In my half-hour of listening, Josh Liss must have used the term "PR" at least 10 times in connection with various runners' efforts. Not once did I hear him offer the words attached to each letter.

Serious runners certainly would know what he meant, but what proportion of the radio station's listeners are casual fans (like me) and therefore may have been hazy on what "PR" stands for?

As I listened to the broadcast, I was scrubbing the bathtub and performing other cleaning tasks. In that moment, to me, PR meant "persisent rinsing." I am also a publicist, so in that realm "PR" represents "public relations."

Actually, what Liss meant was "personal record": an individual's best-ever marathon time. I suspected that was the case, then looked it up just now online to be sure.

If a true pro like Liss can fall prey to this tendency--I've heard him for years, and he's usually an excellent communicator--then we all need to be vigilant about steering clear of exclusively using abbreviated jargon.

I'm not advocating an outright ban on alphabet soup, but every once in a while we ought to intersperse acronyms with their complete phrasing, particularly when we are speaking to an audience that may not be so familiar with the jargon.

Text messaging has spawned numerous acronyms, of course, such as the LOL noted above. You can see many more here.

And while we're on the subject of the Chicago Marathon, if you know someone who ran--or even if you don't--you can see how they fared. I see another Matthew Baron, a 37-year-old from Los Angeles, ran the 26.2 miles in about 5 hours.

Kudos, namesake! Even if that time was not your PR, I hope that you appreciate this little bit of PR.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Take It From Me: See `Taking the Wheel'

One of the most rewarding aspects of my work is helping get the word out about newsworthy, interesting subjects, whether they are a client or not.

So it was a thrill this morning to get word from a longtime friend, David Ackerman, about prominent mention that gave a brilliant 10-minute film that he wrote and directed, "Taking The Wheel."

Last Friday, when I saw the query "Getting Grandma Off The Road" on Help A Reporter Out, I immediately thought of David and connected him with the writer, Harriet Baskas.

She produced this thoughtful story.

It's even more gratifying to know that the story--as David's film has done since its release in 2002--will assuredly play a key role in saving lives.

Among other successes, the California Highway Patrol regularly shows the movie as part of its Driving Safety Education Outreach Program. "Taking the Wheel has certainly helped to save many lives," the CHP has stated, "and we intend to make sure that it continues to do so."

To learn more about the movie, which stars Patience Cleveland and John Cleese of "Monty Python" fame, you can check it out here. Then make a point of watching the movie--and sharing it with your loved ones, young and not-so-young!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Cubs, Sox Out: Bye-Bye, By The Numbers

Last week, I offered this equation: October + Baseball=By the Numbers, as I reprised my research-and-writing role for the Daily Herald.

I was hoping for a month filled with Chicago baseball. With both the Cubs and White Sox in the post-season, and the Cubs sporting the best record in the National League during the regular season, I figured I'd be wearing out my calculator.

Alas, both teams flopped--especially the Cubbies, who were swept for the second straight year. You know it doesn't bode well when I'm spending an inordinate amount of time researching Chicago players' errors, strikeouts at the plate, and streaks such as the last time a certain slugger (yeah, you, Alfonso Soriano) had homered.

For the By the Numbers' body of evidence of Chicago baseball woes, see:

White Sox, Game 1 preview

White Sox, Game 1

White Sox, Game 2

White Sox, Game 3

Cubs, Game 1

Cubs, Game 2

Cubs, preview Game 3

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Just Who or What Is `Mainstream Media'?

Lately, there has been much discussion and debate on my Medill School of Journalism alumni list-serv about what constitutes "mainstream media."

Of course, the phrase is often used in the context of claims that the aforementioned nebulous institution is biased, out-of-touch and worthy of tongue-lashings from all quarters.

On a related note, someone recently got huffy with Peter Shankman's Help A Reporter Out source-and-storyteller matching service. The reason they unsubscribed from his so-called HARO: he was including too many source requests from bloggers in his thrice-daily (Monday-Friday) outreach.

To me, much of it shakes out thusly: what influence and impact does a given entity--whether it's a person, a website, an organization, or whatever--have on your target audience?

In some cases, a blog with a relatively small, but intensely interested, passionate and motivated following, can represent a much better and more relevant "hit" than a national publication with a huge, but diffuse, reach.

Anyone seeking to increase their sales, their profile, or otherwise attain a goal needs to intelligently assess the entire landscape of communications outlets--and it's growing bigger and murkier by the hour--and then make thoughtful decisions about where to devote its story-telling resources.

Today's mainstream may well be tomorrow's footnote, and today's alternative media may well be tomorrow's mainstream.

Terminology aside, if you're a publicist, this is my bottom line: If your media outreach list isn't constantly evolving, then you're not paying nearly enough attention.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Tennis Player Outreach Nets Coverage

I had a post on Friday regarding my media outreach about a 12-year-old tennis player named Jordan Belga who trains at Five Seasons Sports Club in Northbrook, Ill.

On Saturday came this Daily Herald feature, which included an interview with Jordan's coach, Five Seasons tennis pro Jacek Dabrowski.

It doesn't always work out so nicely. In this case, fortunately, the Daily Herald opted to devote some attention to the club where Jordan has developed his game to the point of being rated No. 1 in the nation. Of course, it helped that when the reporter spoke with Jordan, he talked about Jacek--among other things, sharing that he texted his coach upon learning he'd gained the top spot.

One last note, and something that publicist Peter Shankman taught me through his book, Can We Do That?: Sharing Jacek's number with the media is important, but sources must be coached to be responsive.

When Jacek tipped me off to Jordan's No. 1 ranking on Thursday, I reminded him to be ready for phone calls from unfamiliar phone numbers (the media)--and to pick 'em up, if at all possible.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Courting Media With Tennis Phenom News

For nearly two years, starting with George Hood's two 2007 Guinness World Record attempts at marathon spin cycling, I've enjoyed getting the word out about Five Seasons Sports Clubs in Burr Ridge and Northbrook.

Yesterday morning came the latest chapter: a phone call from Jacek Dabrowski, a top tennis pro at the Northbrook site. He had some exciting news: a 12-year-old he is coaching, Jordan Belga, moved up to the No. 1 spot in the United States Tennis Association (USTA) rankings for his age group.

Seeking to capture the freshness of the news (Jordan's ranking had been published on the USTA website late Wednesday night), I pushed my other work aside and gathered information and photos from Jacek and from Jordan's mom, Kelly. I quickly wrote a news release and began contacting Chicago-area media in the early afternoon.

You can see the release as it appears on the Chicago Tribune's user-generated website, Triblocal. And soon, I hope, you will find it in other media.

(Photo credit: Lloyd Clayton,

Thursday, October 2, 2008

October + Baseball=By the Numbers

It's October and Chicago playoff baseball is under way, so that means my statistical hat is fit snugly atop my head.

Allowing my numerical passions to run wild again is Daily Herald sports editor Tom Quinlan, who began publishing my "By The Numbers" baseball blurbs on the Cubs and White Sox in today's newspaper.

My numbers-related writing dates back to August 1997, toward the end of my eight years at The Courier News in Elgin, Ill., when I began writing a weekly "By the Numbers" column. It was later syndicated by Copley News Service, and served as the springboard for my numeracy training program called "Go Figure: Making Numbers Count."

Along the way, I had a stats column for Sports Illustrated For Kids and developed the Home Run Power Ratio, an inflation index for home runs.

This is the fourth time over the past six Octobers that the Daily Herald has allowed me to be a part of their baseball post-season coverage.

On the Herald's website, you can read the first round of figures I came up with in connection with the Chicago Cubs and their Game 1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, as well as previewing the Chicago White Sox's Game 1 clash with the Tampa Bay Rays this afternoon.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

"Results Through Relationships" Author Talks His Walk in New Business Book

When my wife recently embarked on a top-secret mission to solicit letters from relatives, friends and work colleagues for my 40th birthday, she wasn't sure how to categorize a few people as she assembled the letters.

Were they friends or work colleagues? One such individual was Joe Takash, who undoubtedly is a friend first, and a colleague second.

That's because Joe is so committed to developing meaningful, transparent, fully engaged relationships that go beyond "getting the job done." And as a result, when there is a job to get done, it is accomplished far more effectively than if our connection were business first and relationship a distant second.

Joe is president of Victory Consulting, a performance management firm based in the Chicago area that specializes in the areas of leadership, customer/client service excellence, presentation skills and employee motivation. For more than 20 years and over the course of more than 3,000 speaking programs, Joe has been on the frontlines of personal and professional development.

So it's only fitting that I readily agreed, at Joe's request, to help get the word out about his recently published book, Results Through Relationships: Building Trust, Performance, and Profit Through People. (Wiley, Sept. 2008)

Our relationship began seven years ago, after I e-mailed Joe to compliment him on the practical, humorous truths he was sharing in "A Kick In the Attitude," the business/motivational column he would go on to write for six years for Star Newspapers in suburban Chicago.

Since then, our friendship and burgeoning business partnership has been a microcosm of what Joe lays out so well in his excellent book. At the heart of what Joe preaches--and it stems from what he practices and so commandingly guides his clients to practice--is transparency and an obsession with adding value to others' lives.

Three months ago, I wrote "The Art of Effective Confrontation," detailing Joe's mentorship of me. The post was sparked by my reading of The Five Dysfunctions of A Team, a bestselling business book by Patrick Lencioni, who (fittingly enough) endorsed Results Through Relationships. (See how it all comes full circle?)

By now, people who have come across my LinkedIn account have read the glowing recommendation that I wrote about Joe. But what they haven't seen is the longer version, which I edited because it was so gushing that I was concerned it may come across more like a eulogy.

I am pleased to confirm that Joe Takash is very much alive and beyond that, Results Through Relationships is an engagingly written, practical guide to helping people individually and organizations overall to infuse their days with greater effectiveness.

Unmistakably, the book is geared toward helping people get more out of their work relationships. But the principles and how-tos that Joe spells out will benefit those who mine the precious gems sprinkled throughout its pages and apply the recommendations in their day-to-day lives.