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