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.