Tuesday, December 29, 2009

`Sampling' Wins Confidence, Then Clients

Whenever I am asked for tips about breaking into journalism or public relations, one piece of advice that I emphasize can be applied to just about any endeavor: the importance of showing your value, not merely talking about it.

And over the course of more than a decade of self-employment, I have learned that winning new clients comes by way of winning their confidence. That assurance comes when they can see, first hand and not only from client testimonials or my charming personality, how I can help them.

How can they see it? One way or another, I provide them with tangible support, no strings attached, the very first time I meet them.

It may be advice about how to improve their biography, or it might be identifying a part of their story that they've never thought to tell but which I know the media would find absolutely compelling.

And sometimes they can literally "see it," when I shoot a video that helps them promote who they are and what they do. That's what I did a few weeks ago when I met a bright investment advisor, Ted Barnhart, at his office in Oak Brook.

During our meeting, I shot two videos, which I later edited and uploaded onto my YouTube channel for him to review.

I also told Ted how to create his own channel, Barnhart Advisory, which is where the below segment can be found after he selected it over the other clip:

If someone is going to invest their hard-earned money in your service, you want to take some proactive steps to provide them with a sample of what they can reasonably expect in return.

"Sampling" works at grocery stores, at the department store perfume counter and with Inside Edge PR--and it can work for you, too.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Fun, Feel-Good Story For Christmas

Heart-warming, feel-good stories are great to share all-year round, but especially so around Christmas.

That's why one of my favorite activities this month was telling the story of one local family that moved back into their home after nearly a year away, to accommodate workers building an addition.

One of Inside Edge PR's clients, McAdam Landscaping, helped the mom put a festive, creative touch on the moment.

You can read the story here at Triblocal.com and see a related video below.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 14, 2009

5 Things I Know About Tiger Woods

Millions of words have been written about Tiger Woods over the past 18 days. And billions more will be expended in the time to come.

Here I will share five things that I know about the man and the saga that is unfolding:

1. Tiger's life, as it relates to the press and, more specifically, the tabloids and paparazzi, is forever altered. He will be shadowed, stalked, followed and hounded for at least the next decade.

2. What's more shocking than the revelation of his infidelities is that he kept it under wraps for so long.

And what's even more shocking than that is he thought he could keep it all bottled up forever, particularly since it's looking more and more like he did not confine his extramarital activities to only one woman (to say the least).

3. Amid all the PR counsel flying about, the most important piece is this: Tiger shouldn't lie to the media. So rather than commit that offense, he has circled the wagons and communicated only through written statements.

Insufficient to satisfy the media wolves? You bet.

But at least he hasn't compounded his mounting PR problems (to say nothing of his other woes, marital and otherwise) with outright lies. Half-truths and veiled language, perhaps, but that's to be expected when you're between a rock and a hard place.

4. This story in GQ, written in 1997 by Charles P. Pierce, explains much that the world either didn't realize, or chose to overlook, about Tiger.

5. I bet Tiger wishes he could turn the clock back to, oh, July 2000. That's when Time magazine dispatched me to the Western Open to provide some background reporting in preparation for a cover story that staff writer Dan Goodgame penned later in the summer.

An excerpt from my reporting:

"Teen-age girls with two-inch thick heels. Pubescent boys seeking autographs and climbing up trees for a better view. Blue-collar, white-collar, tank-top and Izod—all bobbing heads, straining their calves as they go on tip-toes.

Some are golf aficionados, having grown up in the sport with Arnold Palmer and, a short time later, Jack Nicklaus. Puffing on cigars, they frown in disdain when Johnny-come-lately fans move en masse because their favorite has sunk his putt, either not caring or not realizing that it’s a breach of etiquette when one or two others have yet to finish the hole.

Others barely know the legendary names of Palmer and Nicklaus, and just about none of the names or backgrounds of today’s top golfers. They seem oblivious to their faux pas, interested only in getting a good vantage point for the next hole.

This is the diverse face of Tigermania."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Let's Face It: A Key Part of An Interview's `Art'

Someone recently asked me for some tips on the "Art of the Interview."

From a journalistic perspective, I have led all-day workshops on the topic and feel like I barely scratch the surface. So my ambition in this small space will be confined to one key principle that is as elementary as it is overlooked these days: the in-person Q & A.

That's right--I am talking about that old-fashioned, quaint practice of actually being with the person you are interviewing.

In an era where phone calls seem to be viewed as "going the extra mile," I realize that it may seem revolutionary to recommend you go to all the trouble of being in the same physical space as the person with whom you are talking. Especially if it means getting into some mode of transportation and traveling more than a few miles to make it happen.

But it's a really, really powerful thing--whether you are a journalist chasing down a story, a publicist working on crafting a news release or developing a communications plan, or anyone else seeking to foster a relationship. After all, success (or failure) hinges largely on our ability to develop trust in our relationships.

And that's pretty hard to accomplish when all you've got to work with are words on a screen or a voice on the other end of a phone.

I've written extensively on this topic, so if you are interested in more tips, drop me a line at Matt@InsideEdgePR.com

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Super Shopper Spotter: The Commercial

Usually, my PR work involves more time on the keyboard and less time dashing to and fro in public while wearing a cape and red boots.

With that in mind, if you were in the Downtown Oak Park area a few days ago, you might have seen some especially bizarre behavior, even by Super Shopper Spotter standards.

Thankfully, Joe Kreml, producer of the Village of Oak Park's Cable Channel 6, swiftly created this 52-second segment to help explain Triple S's antics:

Monday, November 30, 2009

`Super Shopper Spotter' Picks Up Steam

Off to a good, fun start with Shop the Village, in my alter-ego character, Super Shopper Spotter.

Above is a photo and below is a video from my Saturday excursion, featuring a visit to Val's Halla Records on Harrison Street in Oak Park:

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pigs Get Fat, Hogs Get Slaughtered, PR-Style

"Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered."

In other words, don't get too greedy.

From the standpoint of creating something that is a legitimate, well-rounded piece of news, rather than a wholly self-serving PR piece that may turn off the media, the pigs/hogs axiom certainly applies.

There simply are times when it's best to share the spotlight rather than try to hog all of it. A current example illustrating that truth is a recently issued Inside Edge PR news release on an event called "Pancakes for Soldiers."

I learned of it from Pat Liss, the concierge at Five Seasons Family Sports Club in Burr Ridge. You can read the release at Triblocal.com here.

Here is a photo gallery that I assembled, with great support from organizer Tina Vandenbosch of Willowbrook.

Over the last three years, Pat has been a great source of excellent story ideas, often human-interest in nature.

And in this case, Pat was also part of the story, as it turns out. Of course, because Five Seaasons is a client--and because it played a key role in supporting the cause--the release included prominent mention of the club.

But it's not at the exclusion of noting others' support, from a local Starbucks to another company that donated a propane griddle.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Shop the Village & Super Shopper Spotter

It's a bird...it's a plane...it's Super Shopper Spotter!

A new superhero has descended on Oak Park and he's on the lookout for people shopping locally. Bearing an uncanny resemblance to yours truly, S-3 (for short) is one of the new, fun wrinkles to the 2nd installment of the "Shop the Village" program whose implementation I will again be overseeing.

Check out more details at Shop the Village's official website, which has links to a news release, a YouTube channel and other specifics.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

When One-Sided Claims Masquerade As News

During my most recent "PR Secrets From a Media Insider" workshop a few days ago, a local businessman asked what time of day deadlines typically happen for the media.

Ten or 15 years ago, I could have easily laid out some specific windows of time, I replied. But these days, I added, the answer is literally “all the time.”

That is one of the most profound effects of the Internet and the media’s collective rush to be first with news, even if it’s incomplete, unbalanced and, in some cases, the hasty airing of publicly filed records without any discernible thought as to whether it is actually newsworthy.

Some so-called news group's apparent rationale: "We'll contact XYZ Company or ABC Source when we get around to publishing a story in our print edition--that's the `real' version anyhow."

Having been in newsrooms for most of my career, this insensitive illogic is galling. It fails to consider the impact that Internet content has on an individual or organizational reputation. The Internet is forever and everywhere. Print is limited, both in collective memory and geographic scope.

Compounding that sin, some draw extra attention to these “stories” with yellow, sensationalistic headlines that take highly questionable assertions and portray them as fact.

And then there's the recent element of using social media to draw online eyeballs to breaking stories. This is terrific...except when it puts the spotlight on pieces that are woefully under-reported and unfair in their treatment of one side of an issue or another.

The moment that journalistically slipshod content appears online, the damage has already been done. As previously mentioned, the Internet is forever and everywhere.

In the long run, I am confident, such reckless behavior will hasten the demise of shoddy journalists and half-baked news outlets that are little more than cut-and-paste hacks. Those in the community to whom such outlets render this brand of disservice will simply shift their trust--and advertising and circulation dollars--to those that treat information, especially those relating to volatile, one-sided claims, with care.

But what to do in the meantime? When those situations crop up, it is essential for advocates, such as PR professionals, to move quickly and forcefully in demanding ethical accountability and professionalism from the offending media outlet.

It surely doesn't reverse the damage, but at least it slows the bleeding.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Writing On `State of the Chicago Hotel Market'

It's been awhile since I wrote about hotels.

I've written about events at hotels, provided feature reporting for Time magazine on boutique hotels--and even went into one hotel room, right after a police officer, to report on a young man who had fallen to his death from a ledge.

But it wasn't until 10 days ago that I wrote about the hotel industry as a whole. It came in the form of a summary report of "The State of the Chicago Hotel Market and Its Reflection of Economic Conditions," at an Urban Land Institute meeting.

The speakers I chronicled offered a good news/bad news report--with the good news coming only after some immediate-term bad news the industry is grappling with.

Fittingly enough, the session was at a swanky hotel known as theWit in downtown Chicago. Previous ULI summaries I've done are linked from a prior Inside Edge PR blog post.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Sharing Client's Tennis Success a Team Effort

Last week, on the heels of some significant success among girl's tennis players who have been coached for years at Five Seasons Family Sports Club, I wrote a round-up and shared it with the local media.

Along with the news release ("Five Seasons Sends Top Frosh Crop to IHSA Tennis Tournament"), which you can see at Triblocal.com, I created a photo gallery to provide online visitors another way into the story.

That's Alysa Straub in the photo accompanying this post--she's had a spectacular season at Nazareth Academy in LaGrange Park.

Often, the difference between little or no publicity and solid P.R. is cooperation from clients. This outreach, for example, came about thanks to excellent collaboration with Ernesto Faisal, a longtime coach who provided me with the background information for the story.

In all, he invested over an hour of his time to help make it happen. Over the coming weeks and months, I firmly believe the time that he devoted will reap a solid return in the form of increased awareness of, and enrollment in, the stellar tennis coaching that goes on daily at Five Seasons.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

`People Are More Interesting Than Things'

"People are more important than things."

My wife and I issue that truth to our children all the time--especially when they argue over who should be able to play with this block or read that book.

In the PR world, there is this variation: "People are more interesting than things."

In short, individuals are far more newsworthy than incidents. And events are much more likely to attract media coverage when you highlight people involved in the event.

Anyone can convey the time, location and other basics of an event. But it takes diligent effort to craft a compelling story linked to that event. This comes to mind on the heels of my current work on behalf of Five Seasons Family Sports Club in Northbrook, where on Sunday, Nov. 15 there will be an indoor triathlon in support of a bone marrow registry drive.

A key figure in the effort is Jim Kepka, a Glenview man who received a bone marrow transplant three years ago (that's him pictured, during the transplant). He and his wife, Angela Russian, are triathletes as well as founders of an organization dedicated to helping others receive the same life-saving gift that Jim got around Christmas 2006.

You can see the story here at Triblocal.com.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Showing, Not Just Telling, At Business Expo

Last week, I was an exhibitor at "A Passport to Success," the business-to-business Expo sponsored by the Elmhurst Chamber of Commerce & Industry and three other chamber organizations (Bensenville, Villa Park and Addison.)

At the same time, as the event's publicist, I took close to 100 photographs and about 20 videos.

You can see some of the fruits of my video labor at what I call my "miscellaneous" YouTube channel, not to be confused with my Inside Edge PR channel or any of the other dozen channels that I have created and maintained for clients and others.

I also posted a release, drawn almost entirely from an Elmhurst Chamber write-up, at Triblocal.com and, on the same Tribune-owned site, created a photo gallery of the Expo.

Additional links can be found on the home page of the Elmhurst Chamber of Commerce & Industry website.

Serving as the event publicist was a fantastic way to meet people and to adhere to one of my mantras: "Show, don't tell."

In short, I was able to introduce myself as a publicist even as I was in the midst of acting as one. It sure beats relying solely on my business card, brochure and a firm handshake (though those are no doubt helpful, too).

I am hardly unique: it's precisely what was done by many others who demonstrated their service and products.

They included stellar restaurant exhibitors (like Bob Tercall of Two Chefs in Bensenville, pictured) that provided food samples as well as my new favorite massage therapist, Anne Lucas of Pure Harmony Massage (also pictured), who let her hands do the talking via chair massages.

Kudos to all the chambers and participants for fostering such a dynamic networking environment. The ones that did at least as much showing as telling will surely be reaping the most benefit.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

E-Mail Interviews Can Aid Shoestring PR Budget

As a reporter, I rarely used e-mail to conduct interviews.

Among other drawbacks, it eliminated the opportunity to elicit insights that would take the interaction in an unanticipated and even more interesting direction. And in potentially adversarial conversations, it prevented me from catching a slippery source off-guard with a tough question or observing their body language and tone of voice.

But as a publicist, e-mail can be a tremendous ally, especially when working with clients on a limited budget. As a means to gather basic background information that helps put flesh on the bones of a news release, an e-mail exchange can be tremendously effective

Instead of taking upwards of a half-hour or more to extract that information, I can take five or 10 minutes to toss some queries at an individual and let them provide written responses.

The utility of this approach hinges largely on the client's ability to offer detailed answers in a timely manner. If they don't give enough detail--and don't do it quickly enough to meet some looming deadlines to ensure the timeliness of a release--then trying the e-mail shortcut can backfire and result in an even longer, costly process.

A recent scenario in which this avenue worked very well: a news release I crafted for Brian and Jun Benakos (pictured), owners of George's CARSTAR in Chicago.

You can see the release here at Triblocal.com.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Anything Can Go Viral: `Reporter Turns Ghetto'

PR 101 Tip: act as if everything you say, write, e-mail, broadcast, or otherwise communicate holds the potential to be transmitted worldwide.

Check out this YouTube clip, entitled "Reporter turns ghetto in 3 seconds," that illustrates the point, in hilarious fashion, 4.6 million times over:

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Post-Script to Chicago's Unsuccessful 2016 Olympic Bid

Whether they supported the 2016 Olympic bid or not, Chicagoans are in a state of shock that the city failed to make it out of the 1st round today, let alone did not emerge with the site selection.

And now comes the Friday-afternoon quarterbacking. Among the questions already being raised: Is it possible that Chicago "overdid" the PR push that included President Obama's reversal and decision to speak in Copenhagen?

The International Olympic Committee's 100-odd members vote in private, so we may never know the rationale fully. But I reject any notion that the U.S., embodied by Chicago leadership, tried "too hard."

That's akin to saying a sprinter who finished 4th in the Olympics, just shy of the Bronze, tried too hard. If anything, it was a matter of poor execution.

Next time--if there is a next time for Chicago--they should make sure that the focus is on what's in it for the international community more than how it would benefit Chicago.

As I stress to my PR clients, the key to successful media outreach is focusing on giving reporters, editors and producers what they need. Once you do that, then you will get what you want.

Monday, September 28, 2009

PR On A Five Seasons' Fitness Turn-Around

Sometimes, timing is on your side.

That was certainly the case about a month ago when I was at Five Seasons Sports Club in Burr Ridge to meet with leaders there and develop story ideas to share with the media.

Desarez Carlson, the club's senior sales adviser, handed me photos and notes written by Sharon Anderson, who had lost more than 100 pounds since joining Five Seasons in early 2008. It was the foundation of a terrific story about the club's impact on fostering Anderson's newfound fitness.

But I would need to talk with Anderson. Ideally, it would be in person, to be able to do the story justice and enhance our chances of attracting media coverage. A few minutes later, as I gathered more story ideas, Carlson looked over my shoulder and out the window by the club's stately front door.

"There she is," said Carlson. "There's Sharon walking in."

I excused myself from the meeting. A short while later, a videotaped Q & A ensued. You can see it below, and you can see the news release on Anderson's amazing transformation here at Triblocal.com.

Friday, September 25, 2009

ULI Update: Writing About the Future of Retail

A year ago, I began writing summaries of panel discussions of the Urban Land Institute's Chicago chapter. Two days ago, after a summer hiatus, the ULI resumed those meetings with "The Future of U.S. Retail-How a Changed Consumer Will Affect Retail Real Estate."

As usual, the speakers were brimming with insight, which I did my best to encapsulate, complete with Mick Jagger lyrics, in this written summary, which appears on the ULI-Chicago website.

Of the numerous data points divulged on Wednesday at the Union League Club in downtown Chicago, here's the one I found most intriguing: the year when the United States is projected to be its "oldest" is 2037. God willing, I'll be turning 69 that year, doing my part to justify that collective elder-statesman distinction.

You can also read prior Inside Edge PR blog posts about ULI topics I've covered, from talks the organization held last November, as well as in January, in March, and in May.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Practical Video Offers Great PR Primer

For anyone who wants to learn more about what not to do, when it comes to connecting with the media, below is a fun and practical video, produced by a company called Wondergem Consulting in Grand Rapids, Mich.

I especially chuckled at the editor who pointed out the annoying (and unprofessional) PR ploy of saying that the "client really needs to get this into the paper."

Need schmeed!

As I often tell my clients, and stress in my workshop, PR Secrets From a Media Insider, the focus must be on giving the media what they need (and then you'll get what you want).

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Oak Park's Own: My Q & A With David Mendell

Today I had the pleasure of interviewing a top journalist and author for whom I have the utmost respect, David Mendell.

We spoke for 45 minutes, non-stop, on a Scoville Park bench for an upcoming segment of "Oak Park's Own." Produced by Joe Kreml, the village's video production maestro, the segment is the third one that I have hosted for broadcast on the local cable television Channel 6 here in Oak Park, Ill.

I first met Mendell in January 2008, shortly after reading his wonderfully reported, even-handed book on Barack Obama, Obama: From Promise to Power. At that time, I was so fascinated by Mendell's odyssey that I penned a profile on him for the Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest.

The piece, "Covering a Phenomenom," is posted on my Inside Edge PR website. I also blogged about Mendell 10 months ago, on the evening of Obama's election.

Among my questions today during taping at Scoville Park:

Does he plan to write another book on President Obama? What was the biggest price he paid in writing the book? Having left the Tribune 13 months ago, does he miss daily journalism?

I'll let Mendell's answers speak for themselves when the Q & A starts airing on Channel 6 and is posted online at the same time.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Savvy Kanye: Crazy Like A PR Fox

Three things I know about Kanye West:

1. He has a knack for saying foolish things at the most inappropriate times, such as his stage-storming incident the other night when he dissed Taylor Swift.

2. He knows how to keep his name in the news, in a big way. As I told John Williams of WGN Radio this morning (after he solicited callers to comment on Krazy Kanye), Mr. West has a tremendous reservoir of PR savvy, in crazy-like-a-fox style.

3. His pause on the Leno show last night was a bunch of show-biz hokum. Puh-lease. And his excuse that he had failed to properly grieve his mother's death, and that is a factor in his anti-social antics? C'mon, Kanye, keep the sympathy card close to your vest.

Still, the guy's got a shameless gift for drawing attention to himself.

How many more people tuned in to Leno because they wanted to see what Kanye would do next? I would be willing to bet that his presence gave the show an extra 5% of viewers, at minimum.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Web: A Key, Free Promotional Platform

"What do you get when you mix an acupuncturist, a chiropractor and a massage therapist?

On Tuesday, Oct. 13, it will be a holistic workshop called “The Secret to Symptom-Free Menopause.” Three holistic healthcare professionals will teach how women can slow the aging process as they reduce—and in some cases, prevent—menopausal symptoms."

That's how I start a news release issued today on behalf of Alejandro Fernandez, Dr. Linda Knowski and Michelle Donat, all fellow members of the OPRF Partners chapter of Business Network International, a highly successful business leads group I've belonged to for three years.

In addition to crafting the release, I created a blog, with an easy-to-remember name, where people can learn more about the workshop. The site is called TrialToTriumph.info, built on the WordPress platform, and includes the release (which I'm also sending to area media outlets), biographies and website links of the three practitioners, and directions to the workshop venue.

The site, which is free, can be used for future collaborative efforts that the three develop.

The project represents my emphasis on establishing a foundation that can serve short- and long-term marketing and communications needs. If you are interested in learning more about the workshop, click on the poster image above, visit the workshop website or call 708-366-8002.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A No-Brainer on How To Insult Your Audience

One of the most dangerous phrases anyone can use is this one: "It's a no-brainer."

Three years ago, a radio ad saleswoman uttered it as she sought, in vain, to convince me to advise a client to shell out thousands of dollars for a promotional spot.

Immediately, the likelihood of my doing business with this individual went from slim to none. When someone refers to something as a "no-brainer," they are being insulting and insensitively coercive. In esssence, here is what they are communicating: "If you don't agree with me, then that means you have no brain."

How's that for undermining any chance of a mutually respectful and symbiotic relationship?

Peter Shankman, a bright and personable PR guy whom I respect, pulled the no-brainer device today. In a message to his thousands of subscribers on Help A Reporter Out. Shankman began, "This advertiser is the biggest no-brainer in the history of Earth."

Not only is it a no-brainer, but it's the no-brainer that trumps all others. That's certainly upping the ante, Peter.

Monday, August 31, 2009

PR on the Rise For "My Daisy Days"

What is a co-executive producer on the hit TV series “Lost” doing with a children’s DVD series starring a basset hound?

That is one intriguing question that revolves around "My Daisy Days," a terrific pre-school children's DVD series that Inside Edge PR has been working on behalf since May.

You can see the story about producer-director Mary Murphy's role at Triblocal.com. (That's Mary, pictured, above.)

Plus, there are a variety of tremendous resources on the "My Daisy Days" website.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Keeping Busy With Five Seasons Sports Club

Been busy of late working on publicity pieces for the Five Seasons Sports Clubs in Burr Ridge and Northbrook, including a recent series of media outreaches on the Tri-umph Youth Triathlon Clinic.

Pictured here is Kate Schnatterbeck, founder of Tri-umph, Inc., who organized the two-day session in Northbrook.

An essential element, as always, is to take photographs and, when possible, videotape. Along those lines, I set up a YouTube channel for the Burr Ridge Five Seasons on Tuesday evening.

Friday, August 21, 2009

LeBron: A Look Back at A Legend-in-the-Making

Between 2000 and 2004, I worked on about 85 assignments as a stringer for Time magazine. Easily, one of my favorites was reporting on LeBron James during his senior year at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio.

To see some of my first reporting on LeBron, while he was in high school, click here.

I also reported on him early in his rookie year with the Cleveland Cavaliers. You can see that writing here.

Three times during a formative 11-month span in this phenomenal talent’s life, I dropped in on LeBron’s World, interviewing him, his coaches, friends and a longtime support network of adults.

The first time, in December 2002, I met a reporter for the Akron Beacon-Journal, David Lee Morgan Jr. I could tell, within a few minutes, that Morgan was working on a book on LeBron. Though he coyly resisted confirming my suspicion, neither did he deny it.

So it was no surprise a short time later—I think it was during LeBron’s rookie year in the NBA—that I came across Morgan's “LeBron James: The Rise of a Star."

On my second trip to Akron, in January 2003, I met Kris Belman (pictured below, with James). He explained that what had begun as a film school class assignment had mushroomed into a documentary on LeBron and his teammates.

He took a few minutes to interview me (cutting-room floor material, I strongly suspect) at “The JAR”—the James A. Rhodes Arena where LeBron’s team played its home games.

Little did I know that it would be the better part of a decade—by which time LeBron has more than lived up to the rarefied billing with which he entered the pros—that the documentary would start appearing on screens across the country.

In October, at last, that documentary, "More Than a Game," will be aired in Chicago and other cities. You can see Chicago Tribune reporter K.C. Johnson’s story about it here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

PR Tips: How to Build Rapport With Reporters

Among many other topics during last week's workshop, "PR Secrets From a Media Insider," one was on how to develop rapport with members of the media.

In a nutshell, here are some basic steps:

1. Pay attention to the reporter's prior work.
2. Pay a (sincere) compliment.
3. Respectfully challenge a reporter's work.
4. Offer a story suggestion that does not benefit you in the least.

The brief video below, from the PR Secrets workshop at the Carleton Hotel in Oak Park, Ill., touches on these points:

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Who is your audience? And other questions...

Just what is public relations?

It can mean different things to different people, but taking a look at a definition carved out at Wikipedia offers one version.

And focusing on various portions of that definition can spur on any number of questions. Here's one, when thinking about "exposure to your audience":

Who is your audience?

How do you reach them now?

Is there a more effective way of reaching them?

How can you expand your existing audience?

What does your audience need to know?

What will move them to take the action that you desire?

Do you need to create different messages for different segments of your audience?

Any business ought to be in the continual process of updating their answers to these questions. When's the last time you took a step back from your day-to-day work and did so?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Ribbon-Cutting Symbolizes Elmhurst Chamber's Commitment

It wasn't on my list of "100 Things To Do Before I Die," but the other day I had an opportunity to be at the center of a scene that I never suspected would happen: I wielded larger-than-life scissors as part of a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The symbolic moment came inside the office of the Elmhurst Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

The organziation offers the ribbon-cutting moment to all new members, with the photograph appearing in a local newspaper and helping promote not only the new member, but the chamber itself.

And the moment was fun, to be sure--especially when I managed not to injure myself or anyone else.

But what most impressed me was the well-coordinated nature of the event.

The chamber has "Ambassadors" (you can see them in the video above) that accompany chamber director John Quigley (front row, far right) in sharing various pieces of information about the workings of the group as well as opportunities for newcomers to become more involved.

All in all, it was a thoroughly impressive gesture, and speaks volumes about the energy, enthusiasm and commitment of this ship that Quigley helms with humor and determination.

Beforehand, through my dealings with staff members like Betsy D'Onofrio and two networking events, I had been struck by the group's professionalism. Now I am motivated more than ever to meet and exceed its stellar standards.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Who's Vetting John Hughes's Pen Pal?

It is fascinating to learn that the late, great director John Hughes apparently had a teen-aged pen pal, Alison Byrne Fields, for a two-year period in the mid-1980s.

(To the left, that's his signature from one of his missives to Fields, according to her blog.)

But another intriguing element of this story is the blazing speed with which the media are hopping all over the story. And, of course, that raises this basic question: Who is fact-checking all of this?

Fields posted her wonderfully told journey on her blog, "We'll Know When We Get There," on Thursday, the same day that Hughes died.

According to the time stamp on her blog, she began writing her piece at 4:41 p.m., about 45 minutes after she Tweeted that she would do so. The first comment on her post came shortly after 9 p.m., meaning she produced it in about four hours.

So her swift turn-around suggests:

A. Fields had already crafted much of the story, including the scanned images of Hughes's letters to her, not to mention the fan club photos of actors like Molly Ringwald and Judd Nelson that she had received through her friendship with Hughes.

Was she simply waiting for an opportunity to share her experience, and Hughes's death opened the door?


B. In a flurry of creativity amid her grief over Hughes's death, Fields managed to whip up this moving blog post.

In either event, the timing of her blog, let alone the content, should spur on this question in any skeptically trained mind:

How do we know her account to be true? Has anyone independently verified Hughes's handwriting? Did he ever talk about this pen pal with any of his family or friends?

I'd be interested in reading that story. And Fields, as a media-savvy individual who understands the tenets of journalism (check out her bio here), may well welcome such scrutiny.

For what it's worth, if I had to bet a dollar, my gut instinct is this: I believe Fields is being truthful. Further, I believe she is a most insightful, gifted communicator. She is among a select group of people who would have the literary and technical ability to "write on deadline" in this manner.

But don't take my word for any of that. As I commented at the end of the Washington Post Celebritology Q & A in which Jen Chaney interviewed Fields:

"This all has an authentic air, but I wonder how various media types are confirming the accuracy/credibility of Alison? That, to me, is a story unto itself--the process of confirming her pen-pal relationship actually occurred. If your mother tells you she loves you...check it out!"

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Gift & Home Channel Airs Inside Edge PR Q & A

From the workshop earlier this year at Marion Street Cheese Market in Oak Park, "Social Networking Sites: Are You Connected?" a video interview of me has surfaced with the Gift & Home Channel.

You can see the clip, "How To Harness Municipal Tools," here at Metacafe.com. By the way, pay no mind to the shiny substance in the corner of my mouth--it was overreaching lip balm on that blustery day.

Note to self: always look into the mirror before doing on-camera interviews.

Below, I have also embedded the Q & A, which focuses largely on the Shop the Village campaign that I coordinated for the local business community last winter:

Oak Park Village Highlights - Matt Baron, Inside Edge - The best home videos are here

Monday, August 3, 2009

Oak Park's Own: My Q & A With Stephen Green

Six weeks ago, in an Inside Edge PR blog post, I noted an interview that I did with Stephen Green, the Chicago Cubs' official photographer for more than 25 years.

Joe Kreml, of the village of Oak Park, recently wrapped up editing the Q & A and did did an outstanding job. I think the segment, "Oak Park's Own: Stephen Green," will be of interest not only to sports fans, but anyone interested in the artistic process.

To see the 10-minute video from my session with Green, click on the video below.

Friday, July 31, 2009

A Dose of Reality: Gloor's Real Estate Update

Real estate has been a focal part of the news for the past few years, and it only makes sense to confront head-on some of the concerns about its struggles. That's the wise strategy of Better Homes and Gardens Gloor Realty, an Oak Park, Ill.-based client since last November.

Around that time, the firm began alerting its clients, friends and colleagues to trends in the local real-estate market through a communication dubbed "Real Estate Reality Check."

I broadened the outreach into press release-form and the effort received solid media attention earlier this year, including pieces in the the Chicago Sun-Times and the print edition of the Chicago Tribune's Triblocal section.

This time around, conveying data through the first half of 2009, the Reality Check is off to a good start again. It began with prominent placement on Triblocal.com, the Chicago Tribune's citizen-journalism portal.

I recently created a YouTube channel for Better Homes and Gardens Gloor as well, and you can find it here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

How To Avoid Obama's `Stupid' Stumble

What is truth?

The phrase, spoken by Pontius Pilate as he tried to sidestep his role in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, is one of history’s most infamously cynical utterances.

Obviously, there are clear delineations of truth and falsehood. Right and wrong. Wisdom and foolishness.

But it’s the mark of a wise individual to know that the path to such clarity is not always a quick process. In fact, getting at “the truth” of an interaction can prove to be a never-ending journey.

All of which brings me to President Barack Obama’s surprisingly block-headed foray last week into a police investigation, when he said that police acted “stupidly” in arresting Henry Louis Gates Jr.

It all began with a report of a possible break-in at the Cambridge, Mass. home of Gates, a Harvard professor and friend of Obama.

The saga has been exhaustively chronicled by now. After a long trip, Gates did not have a key that he needed and was struggling to get into his own home. When police came to question him, Gates had an emotional explosion and got himself arrested for disorderly conduct (a charge later dropped).

Thereafter, the he said/cop said back-and-forth sprang forth.

Having written thousands of blurbs, briefs, stories and in-depth reports on incidents involving police in my journalism career, I learned long ago that what is written in reports and what actually happened can range from relatively faithful renderings of events to misleading, incomplete and even patently false accounts signed and approved by “officials” in authority.

Flawed as reports can be, the fact is that the President hadn’t even read the Cambridge Police report. So he wasn’t even close to a starting point of having an informed view of how the police department behaved–or at least claimed that it had behaved.

And he hadn’t spoken to Gates, nor had he conferred with the arresting officer, Sgt. James Crowley. And even if he had sat down the two in his Oval Office and asked for a recap, he would have received incomplete, self-serving accounts.

As I knew he would do the moment I heard his remark at the White House press conference, Obama has backpedaled from his criticism of Crowley.

But the egg on Obama’s face reveals this truth: it’s infinitely more prudent to acknowledge the limits of your knowledge than to confirm the lengths of your ill-informed, knee-jerk, know-it-all foolishness.

Monday, July 27, 2009

McAdam Landscaping At 30: Sowing & Reaping

For the last two years, I have had the pleasure of providing public relations service to McAdam Landscaping, a leading company that has accomplished much in its 30 years in business.

To take a look at some of its history, check out a news release I wrote and posted the other day on Triblocal.com, McAdam Landscaping: Sowing and Reaping for 30 Years.

I also posted a photo gallery on the Tribune site.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bulldog Reporter Publishes Truth-in-PR Piece

It's true--I've been hammering hard lately on the fibbing front and the damage that lies can wreak on anyone's credibility, reputation and overall bottom-line in the marketplace.

And so it is that The Four Horsemen of the Apocryphal--the military, academic, athletic and business lies that I have observed in my career--were front and center in an essay I recently wrote.

It was published in the Barks & Bites section of today's Bulldog Reporter.

You can read the piece: "Let's Have More Truth in PR: Anticipate Journalist Questions—and Root Out Client Fibs in Four Key Areas."

The essay, which built off some recent Inside Edge PR blog posts, can also be found at my new Truth In PR blog.

If you have a Truth-in-PR issue you'd like to raise, just e-mail me at Matt@InsideEdgePR.com

Friday, July 17, 2009

Be Skeptical of Selective Statistics

We're all a star in our own life’s story, but merely a background character in others’ lives.

A humorous spin on this perspective is Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. The two characters merit only passing mention in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but playwright Tom Stoppard took that fragment and in 1967 expanded it to create an entirely different tale.

The same principle plays out with the stories we tell, whether in the media or at the dinner table.

In business, you can use the same data to hail a company’s growth or shine a light on its struggles. A classic example is when a business is said to have experienced a surge or decline in profits compared to a previous period of time.

So, for example, instead of raking in $80 million of profit, Company XYZ profits by “only” $40 million. Meanwhile, Company ABC-azon reduces the amount it loses from a jillion to merely $100 billion. What a success!

Of course, those are extreme examples, but you get the idea.

A few years ago, I recall reading a newspaper story on the murder rate in a major Midwestern city. It focused on persisting trends in which more people were killed during the hot summer months than other times of the year. Contained in the same story—buried, really—was brief mention that the number of homicides so far in that year were significantly lower than the same year-ago period.

The story very easily could have focused on that drop, with the unsurprising correlation of heat and violence relegated to background character status.

Keep Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in mind whenever you come across a story. Those “throw-away” remarks and minor mentions may contain the kernel of the less-known but more interesting tale to tell.

Another case in point: a Chicago television station once broadcast a segment on what they reported to be an upward trend in planned C-sections.

In the report, a source said that physicians and nurses comprise a large proportion of those who opt for planned C-sections (as opposed to the more common emergency C-sections). Instead of examining that intriguing angle—after all, these are the same medical personnel who are often caring for birthing mothers—the story simply moseyed along.

Here’s where the reporter could have asked some questions: What proportion of planned C-sections are done on doctors and nurses? And why is that?

Beyond that oversight, the story also failed to provide basic context, such as the percentage of births that are C-section (it’s about 25 percent) and the percentage of C-sections that are planned.

Those are dreadfully sloppy omissions, really, when you consider the entire thrust of the story was that they were on the rise.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

On August 12: PR Secrets From a Media Insider

Where will you be four weeks from Wednesday, on the evening of August 12th?

If you are anywhere near Oak Park--and are in the market for immediately useful and practical tools to improve your public-relations efforts--then you should consider attending PR Secrets From a Media Insider.

Full disclosure: I am a biased source, since I am the one leading the session from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Carleton Hotel just south of downtown Oak Park.

Attendees will receive a workbook loaded with media-insider tips and principles that work time and again, largely because having been in the media for more than 20 years, I know just what reporters, editors, producers and other decision-makers need.

Hint: at the top of the list is a four-letter word that begins with "n," ends with "s," and has "ew" in the middle.

Of course, don't be so naive as to take some self-serving publicist's word for his purported ability to match individuals and organizations with an assortment of media outlets.

Instead, be sure to watch video clips of satisfied Inside Edge PR clients and read their testimonials to see if he has anything to back up all the talk.

Then--and only then--should you call me at 708-860-1380 or send an e-mail to reserve your space.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Story on Niches in July Issue of REALTOR

The July issue of REALTOR magazine is online, including my story on niches. "Own Your Niche." The story's subheadline: "Make a name for yourself by carving a real estate specialty that combines your interests with local market opportunities."

What is true in real estate is true in so many fields. The ability to distance yourself from the pack in a clear, compelling way is a huge asset. It's also one of the prerequisites for being truly newsworthy.

What skills and passions do you have in more ample supply than just about anyone else? Continually identifying those elements is a most worthwhile exercise because it leads to bottom-line sales and profitability.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Re-Purpose of PR: Maximize News Value

As a reporter for 20-plus years, there were times when I just knew that I had my hands on a hot story.

What's more, I had tremendous influence--virtually total control, in fact--over whether the story saw the light of day. All I had to do was coordinate my efforts with an editor, perhaps weaving a photographer and a graphics artist in the mix.

As a publicist, it's a different story. I no longer have my hands "on" a hot scoop. Instead, I shepherd the story as best I can (largely through writing the news release in journalistic style) and then hand it off to various members of the media.

Sometimes, what comes next is a humbling, head-scratching experience. For whatever reason, reporters, editors and producers do not warm up to the idea quite as much as I thought they would, or think they should.

Fortunately, though, there are times when the media is in full agreement with my assessment, such as those outlined in the Inside Edge PR Success Stories section of my website.

While media placement is never guaranteed, I remind clients to think about ways in which they can recycle and re-use the content we develop for media outreach campaigns.

In that respect, the purpose of PR is to be not only purposeful, but re-purposeful---how can you maximize the value of your communications, even if the media never devote even an iota of coverage?

Therefore, any decent news release ought to contain elements that can be used in brochures, on websites and in other marketing materials that speak directly to the client's target audience.

For many organizations, particularly small businesses, viewing the media as the primary communication outlet is simply putting too many eggs into an unreliable basket.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Four Hot Spots For Tall Tales

In my Inside Edge PR post on Monday, I touched on the perils of fibbing or embellishing--OK, let's call it like it is, lying--in the stories that we tell.

In this case, an ex-baseball player is trying to stretch a single (a few low-level minor-league baseball seasons) into a home run (Major Leagues) in his marketing materials as a financial adviser.

In my two decades as a journalist, I found some areas of people's lives were especially fertile ground for the creation of tall tales. Here are four categories:

1. Military service and/or decorations, such as these stories about a would-be Vietnam War hero, including my piece for the Chicago Tribune. The saga played out two years ago this week.

2. Academic background and credentials. See George O'Leary, the short-lived Notre Dame football coach as the poster child of this phenomenon. O'Leary also padded his athletic resume.

3. Athletic accomplishments. (See Monday's post and the story below.)

4. Business history/successes. (A year ago, while reporting for a national trade magazine for its "30 Under 30" feature, I detected one highly questionable candidate and steered the publication away from him.)

Because of my passion for playing and covering sports over the years, inflated accounts of sports careers are especially intriguing to me.

There was the time in 1998 when a Cook County Board candidate, Mike Olszewski, claimed to have played for the Pittsburgh Penguins. When I confronted him with my research turning up no such thing, he backpedaled like "Get Smart" secret-agent Maxwell Smart:

"Would you believe I played minor-league hockey in Decatur?"

When I tried confirming even that modest claim, the evidence was less than compelling. I dubbed the episode "Penguingate." Olszewski lost in his bid for public office.

Monday, June 29, 2009

This Much Is True: Place a PR Premium on Truth

Last week, I received a marketing letter from a financial adviser who listed "played for the Chicago Cubs" among his bulleted background points.

Hmm. I didn't recognize his name, so looked him up on the authoritative Retrosheet and Baseball Reference websites.

He wasn't on either site, though I did find some minor-league stats for him from nearly 40 years ago. He had a .228 batting average in two Class A (low-level minor league) seasons, one in the Cubs' organization and another in the Tigers'.

Of course, the word "organization" or "minor-league system" makes for an inconveniently cumbersome bulleted point, doesn't it?

Now, this fellow may well be a great guy. I bet his friends would describe him as bright and hard-working and trustworthy. If so, then it's a shame that exaggerating this one athletic exploit--and being naive enough to think that people won't check it out--could undermine those strengths.

Or maybe the inaccuracy is only the tip of the iceberg?

Either way, the simple point remains, and it's one that anyone must place foremost in any marketing or PR communication. Especially in an era where fact-checking zooms with a blink-of-the-eye Google search, when laying your story-telling's foundation, it's always best to start with the truth.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Less-Is-More Creative Gem From Bill Daniel

Providing to your readers, in an economy of words that succinctly get to the single, distilled point or principle that you seek to convey, is infinitely more effective and engaging than droning on endlessly, even if you employ 15-cent words and $1.50 phrases and $15 paragraphs that have each and every punctuation mark—including the oft-used em-dash, which I rely on a bit too much myself—in their proper place.

Or, to put it another, much better way: less is more.

That’s why I want to take a moment to rave about this fantastic ad that my father-in-law, longtime advertising genius Bill Daniel, created a few months ago.

Before moving to Palm Springs four years ago with my wonderful mother-in-law, Pat, Bill was a force in the Chicago ad world for more than 35 years. After working for the likes of McCann-Erickson and Foote, Cone & Belding (FCB), for 20 years he co-owned an ad firm in Chicago (Equinox Advertising, which later became Washington Daniel).

Along the way, he was instrumental in numerous award-winning campaigns for the likes of Reebok, Allstate Insurance, IBM and Anheuser-Busch. At FCB, one of his brainchilds was The Silver Bullet, for the Adolph Coors Co.

As for this classic rabbit-foot ad, it is appearing regularly in Below the Line, a movie trade publication. It replaced a text-heavy ad that, while highly informational, was only slightly more digestible than the 70-word monstrosity that began this post.

Which Below the Line ad do you suppose will be remembered, and acted upon, more frequently?

I hope and trust that you will enjoy Bill’s creative masterstroke as much as I do. And if you want to try to lure him out of semi-retirement a bit more, just drop him an email at wjdaniel@mac.com.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

PR Checklist: What to Look For in a Publicist

Do you know what to look for in a publicist?

If you type “what to look for in a publicist” into Google, you get little more than vague platitudes like the importance of being a “people person” and “following up on a press release.”

Here is one pontification:

“A publicist is adept at establishing core messages and fundamental corporate goals, and introducing them to the media and the public through high interest stories and press releases about products, people, services and benefits.”


When I made the move from journalism to PR about four years ago,
blather like the above white-noise statement is why I was so reluctant to associate myself with the term “publicist.”

That’s because, in my 20-plus years as a reporter, most publicists were more preoccupied with looking and sounding good rather than being of any help. The typical PR flack dresses well and writes awfully, and has little, if any, journalism experience.

As a result, there is a huge disconnect between most PR folks and legitimate journalists. And by “legitimate,” I mean someone who pursues those quaint practices known as “research” and interviews that go beyond cutting-and-pasting others’ work or conducting all their Q & As by e-mail.

As a daily newspaper staff writer and later, as a freelance reporter for the Chicago Tribune and Time magazine, I encountered more than a few PR pros, usually at high-priced, glamorous firms, that were little more than obstructionists.

They littered their work with misspellings, factual errors and omissions of basic information that undermined any credibility their client may have and gave me little confidence that I could trust anything they communicated.

In short, precious few had sufficient news sense to make my deadline-heavy, difficult job any easier. Instead, publicists would typically waste my time and stress me out. They were intent on sharing only tiny nuggets of self-serving information, rather than doing the diligent work of providing the meat-n-potatoes material that make up legitimate news.

So, again, I ask: do you know what to look for in a publicist? Here are the Top 10 traits that I recommend you seek:

1. A Passion For The Process
2. Numerous Referrals/Case Studies
3. Stellar Educational/Professional Background
4. No-Fee, No-Obligation Initial Consultation
5. Enthusiasm and Belief In You
6. Confidence In Abilities
7. Well-Developed Media Connections
8. Hands-On Attention From An Experienced Pro
9. Ongoing Access & Communication
10. A Strong Support Team

For an elaboration on each of the points on this list, see "PR Search Checklist: 10 Traits to Seek in a Publicist."

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fact: A `Savings' Claim That Is Marketing Crap

Last week, I was at the Jewel in neighboring River Forest, Ill. when I came upon a 2009 desktop calendar that, understandably, was drastically marked down.

With nearly half the year already done, and stacks of the calendars on the shelf, Jewel was clearly in fire-sale mode with "Fact or Crap." Its cover promises "a year of bizarre trivia" consisting of statements that may or may not be true.

For example, from June 11th: "All members of Scottish clans are blood relatives." And from May 21st: "Initially, dogs were allowed to enter the Boston Marathon." (Both are crap, while a June 4th assertioh--"Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team."--is fact.)

As for the photo that accompanies this post, it's only fitting that I conclude in this way.

Fact: I did spend $1 for this novelty item.

Crap: That I would have "saved" $109.90 by buying nine additional "Fact or Crap" desktop calendars. In fact, I don't really believe I "saved" $10.99 by shelling out a buck for the one calendar.

Do they really think anybody is going to fall for this lame "savings" claim? Who are they crapping?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Irony, Tragedy in Photograph of Sosa & Bonds

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of interviewing Stephen Green, a fellow Oak Parker and the Chicago Cubs' official photographer, for a segment to air on Oak Park's Channel 6.

Through the end of the month at the Oak Park Public Library, Green has an exhibit of some 30 of the thousands upon thousands of photos he has taken since he began working with the Cubs in 1983. One is of Sammy Sosa listening to Barry Bonds as he discussed a hitting technique before the All-Star Game, circa 2004.

At the time, both had come under suspicion, to say the least, of having used illegal performance-enhancing substances to elevate their efforts. As Green and I spoke, I mused aloud if subsequent revelations of cheating somehow tainted the artistry of a photographer's work.

Since my interview with Green, Sosa's name has surfaced--to nobody's surprise--as one of the 100-odd Major League players who tested positive for illegal performing-enhancing substance use in 2003, the same year he was caught using a corked bat.

Over the past several days, I have arrived at an answer to my question: the artistry of the photograph isn't tainted, but it takes on a different tone--such as irony or tragedy.

The same is true for any writing related to those heady, naive times, such as my development of a baseball statistic, the Home Run Power Ratio, that was featured in an October 1999 issue of Sports Illustrated.

Just as it's impossible to undo a photograph from its place and time, it's far-fetched to think that anyone could recalibrate statistics by weeding out cheating, which comes in so many forms, both blatant and subtle.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Facebook Fixes Username Achilles' Heel

Facebook has a whirlwind of momentum and plenty of neat widgets that do cool communication-related things well beyond my earthly comprehension.

But until a few days ago, one of its lingering weaknesses was the lack of a user name (or "username" in Facebook parlance) that you could assign to your personal Facebook page.

To track someone down, you needed to type their name into the "search" box and sift through a long list of possible matches. In some cases, for whatever reason, I simply could not find people whom I knew were on Facebook. And if your name was relatively common (or "popular," to put a nice spin on it) then that made the searching all the more difficult.

To Facebook's credit, the company has closed up that that Achilles heel. I didn't move quickly enough to secure my first and last name as my user name, but my first two initials and last name will work just fine.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Father's Day Presents a PR Opportunity

Father's Day is 11 days away--have you thought about how it may help you promote your business or organization?

One of my clients is Nakamura Chiropractic & Acupuncture in Schaumburg. Its leader, Dr. Hiroya Nakamura, is continuing a wonderful, international family legacy that makes it a natural fit for the media.

Today, Sara Lugardo, Chicago's Asian Community Examiner, posted a column on the Nakamura family tradition at Examiner.com.

The news release is also online at Triblocal.com.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Monica Seles: Class Act Comes to Five Seasons

After reading her wonderful and courageous new book, Getting A Grip: On My Body, My Mind, My Self, I sensed that tennis great Monica Seles was a kind, warm person who possesses tremendous inner strength and wisdom borne of adversity.

So I was intrigued over this past weekend, when she visited Five Seasons Sports Club in Northbrook, to discover whether she would project the same qualities in person. Much to my pleasure, she exceeded even my high expectations with a genuine, others-centered demeanor.

Among other things, she posed for "just one more" photo scores of times--including one that I quickly snapped (see above), my left arm extended, a few moments before she departed.

You can read about her visit, which supported a charity tennis tournament, the 10th Annual Handzel Open, at Triblocal.com.

I also shot video of some of her opening remarks, which you can find at my YouTube channel.

Below is her response to a question I posed:

Friday, June 5, 2009

Quality Writing: If The Term Fits, Then Use It

Writing clearly and compellingly doesn't come easily.

Every word and every punctuation mark brings a new decision. Which word to use next? Is this really the moment to whip out the semi-colon? Should I pose a third question in this rhetorical series?

In the quarter-century since I began writing for publications (or should I simply say 25 years? since 1984?), my appreciation for--and quest to accomplish--skillful writing has steadily risen.

To compound the challenge, stories have to be written in rapid-fire fashion--even more so than in years past, since the news cycle is a relentless 24/7. When I was in a newsroom throughout the 1990s, my deadline usually was simply by the time I headed home. Now it matters if the story gets online by 2 p.m. vs. 5 p.m. vs. 8 p.m.

I offer these musings to provide sympathetic context to a word choice in an otherwise-well written USA Today story on Powerball winner Neal Wanless in South Dakota.

Quoting from the story: "The ticket was sold at an Ampride store in Winner, S.D. — an ultra-ironically named town about 35 miles from Wanless' home outside the small town of Mission, S.D. — late last month."

Is it just me, or wouldn't "ultra-fittingly" be a more apt term here than "ultra-ironically"? (Personally, I would do away with the needlessly breathless "ultra" and just go with "fittingly.")

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Yo, Rod & Patti Blagojevich: The Offer Stands!

A rather rough day on the PR front for Patti Blagojevich, the beleagured wife of the former governor of Illinois.

She eats a tarantula on "I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here," but the charity of her choice can't stomach being associated with her. You can read about it here in the Chicago Tribune's account.

I suppose it's time for me to remind the Blago Brood that the offer still stands from hair salon owner Theresa Charo. In a February campaign waged by Inside Edge PR ("Client sets sights--and shears--on Blago"), Charo offered to raise $1,000 for charity if Rod agrees to let her shave his head.

And if that scenario isn't appetizing, Charo will happily cut the entire family's hair for free through January 2011.

Sure, the $1,000 shaved-head sum pales in comparison to the double-top-secret reality-TV fee that Patti is commanding.

But at least nobody has to drink any hair spray.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Social Media: No Need To Get Blogged Down

"Social Media & Your Business: A Phase or the Future?" enjoyed a solid and receptive turnout on Thursday night at the Oak Park Public Library. About 30 people, mostly business owners, attended and learned a ton from Sherri Lasko of Sunspot Marketing and, I hope, at least a few pounds' worth from me.

I learned a bunch myself, including this reminder: people are at a loss when it comes to blogging--and it need not be so. We polled the audience and found:

13 were on LinkedIn,
10 were on Facebook,
And four were on Twitter.

The grand tally of folks who blog: zero, zilch, nada, one big, fat goose egg.

As much as I have seen the collective reluctance to blog, I was somewhat astonished that not even one soul raised a hand to claim themselves as being an active citizen of the blogosphere.

Below is a 55-second excerpt of my blog-encouragement, which was a riff off of a tongue-in-cheek hand-out I provided on Blog Schmog: Why You Absolutely, Positively Don't Have to Blog.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Blog, Schmog: Why You Absolutely, Positively Don’t Have to Blog

You hear “blog,” and think, “Blah!” As in, “Yuck!”

No, make that “Blah-blah-blah!” As in, “A royal waste of my time—as a reader, and certainly as a writer.”

OK, I hear you. And it’s true—you don’t have to write a blog. Isn’t it so 2007, anyway?

Of course, if you are looking to grow with the 21st Century way of doing things, then there’s got to be some online formula to help you promote and grow your cause, business or widget of the moment. Try this combination on for size:

Hone the Discipline of Reflecting

Take some time to actually think about what you’ve done, what you’re doing and what you plan to do. Then distill those thoughts into words. It’s not simple, but on the other side is a huge pay-off: improved processes and practices.

Psst, let others in on your mental journey. It increases their understanding of and respect for what you’re up to.

Display Your Expertise

Through anecdotes and insights that only you possess, convey what separates you from the pack. Give a bit of yourself away—not the whole store, but enough to add value to those who come across your path.

Send a Signal That Your Cause or Business Is Alive and Well

When you haven’t updated that website in years—or, God forbid, haven’t gotten around to creating one in the first place—think of some simple way to let this cat out of the bag:

“Hey, everyone, I’m still around and gainfully engaged in the marketplace.”

Hint: if you’re thinking of cutting-and-pasting those very words into an e-mail, then sending it to everyone you know, it’s time to ponder Plan B.

Create An Anchor for All Your Communication

In the online realm, it’s a good idea to figure out a way to rise above the din that comes with billions of options.

So, amid enticements to check out this video, to read that product review or to study your baseball team’s latest box score, how do you help cyber-surfing Hansels and Gretels find their way to your home?

By consistently leaving trails of crumbs—on your e-mail signature, in comments on websites and everywhere in between—that all lead back to the same URL (Uniform Resource Locator).

That’s a good start: engage in reflective thinking; show and share your expertise; regularly remind the world that your business is in business; and establish a reliable communication anchor.

By now, it should be abundantly obvious that you absolutely, positively don’t have to blog. Then again, you don’t have to harness one of the most multi-dimensional, dynamic ways for kick-starting your efforts.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

'Tis the Season to `Go Green' With PR

"Green is the new black."

Over a year ago, that phrase was the centerpiece of one of my clients' involvement with a design project at her alma mater. You can see some of the efforts to the left, and the story here.

Stories focusing on environmental stewardship are hot this time of year. Witness recent Inside Edge PR releases about Better Homes & Gardens Gloor Realty and McAdam Landscaping here in the Chicago area.

Is there something your business or organization is doing in the "green" category? My advice: think of a fresh way to position it and get the word out to your local media.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Coming May 28: Social Media Workshop

On Thursday, May 28, I will be co-presenting a workshop, "Social Media & Your Business: A Phase or the Future?" at the Oak Park Public Library.

To learn more, click on the image to the left. Better yet, right-click it, save it to your desktop and share it with others who may benefit from the session. That would be social media in action.

Along with Sherri Lasko, in the workshop I will provide an easy-to-follow introduction to the various social media services and how they can benefit individuals, organizations and businesses.

The workshop begins at 7 p.m. and will go until 8:30 p.m. It'll be fun, illuminating and will employ layman's language, so you won't get a headache from techno-geek-speak.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

ULI Update: State of the Industrial Market in Chicago

A few weeks ago, I had my latest writing assignment with the Chicago chapter of the Urban Land Institute. The session covered the "State of the Industrial Market: Past, Present and Future Opportunities" in the Chicago area.

You can also check out prior blog posts about ULI topics I've covered, from talks the organization held last November, as well as in January and in March.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Want To Drive Online Traffic? Then Tweet!

To Tweet or not to Tweet?

That's the question that has surfaced with increasing regularity the past few months. In addition to the compelling data about Twitter's growth, anecdotal indicators abound: in the last week, I've seen that my pastor and the National Basketball Association are on Twitter.

(I'm following Pastor James, but don't feel the need to be an NBA disciple just yet.)

Having attracted about 90 followers since opening my Twitter account almost exactly one year ago (May 15, 2008 was my debut), my presence on the social-media service is modest, at best.

But I have seen upticks in traffic when I post links to this blog and other writings on my Twitter account (you can follow me by going to my page on Twitter, "InsideEdge".

Then, late last night, I got a compelling glimpse of Twitter's power.

Around 11 p.m, I took a few minutes to provide links to two recent news releases that I had posted previously on Triblocal, with specific introductory verbiage so people would know the gist of what they would see. I had shared the releases with a variety of media outlets, including posting them on Triblocal.com, the Chicago Tribune's citizen-journalism site.

Here are some preliminary findings:

Link I: After nine days, a piece on an upcoming skin cancer fundraiser at Five Seasons Sports Club in Northbrook had generated a mere four hits. Within 10 minutes of Tweeting about it, the hit count jumped to 14.

As of 8 a.m. today, the tally was up to 23--more than five times the pre-Tweet tally. What will the hit count say when you click on the above link?

Link II: Intrigued to measure the Tweet-pact (Twitter impact) on another Triblocal story, I offered a link to a two-month-old Scheck & Siress news release on a family's efforts to address their infant son's plagiocephaly, or flattened head.

Within nine hours, the number of people who had viewed the story climbed from 28 to 41. After a protracted period of stagnation--less than one visit every two days--that's more than one hit per hour.

Granted, these figures don't measure what, if anything, anyone will do about having read these pieces.

As a result of my late-night Tweets, will Five Seasons see more visitors at its skin-care fundraiser on Tuesday night, or gain new members down the line?

Will a parent who hadn't thought about contacting Scheck & Siress do so now that they learned about the company's various services?

We will probably never know--though any organization ought to be continually asking clients how they found out about them, so they can measure what marketing efforts are working.

Although the extent to which those Tweets make a difference may never be clear, much more obvious is the answer to the alternative question: What if, after having already invested hours upon hours in developing those news releases, I had not taken a few moments make that extra awareness-raising nudge?