Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Godin Offers Take On Newspapers' Future

Evidence of the decline of newspapers--as we now know them, anyway--is all around us, both locally and nationally.

Pioneer Press, the chain of weekly newspapers that has been around for more than a century, just shut down a dozen of its papers throughout the Chicago region. Last week, three Pioneer editors I have been in regular touch with the past two years were among 10 top editors who received pink slips.

Amid that dour news, I recently came across "When newspapers are gone, what will you miss?" a blog post featuring some refreshing insights from marketing maven Seth Godin.

One point he makes about journalism, and which I wholeheartedly agree with: "Punchline: if we really care about the investigation and the analysis, we'll pay for it one way or another."

Still very much in flux: just what that business model will look like.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Political Pundit Proft Offers Unique Blago Blast

Four years ago, toward the end of my stint covering the storied town of Cicero for the Chicago Tribune, I first crossed paths with Dan Proft.

He was the campaign manager who helped engineer Larry Dominick's upset victory over incumbent Ramiro Gonzalez as town president and since then he has served as the town's spokesman, among other duties.

In basketball, I've come to appreciate Dan's set-shot abilities from 22 feet and beyond, though he really does need to work on his drive to the hoop.

And in the arena of political commentary, he continually finds a fresh take on things, rife with historical context, pop culture references that span the generations and some well-justified cynicism (after all, in the wake of the Jack Ryan-for-U.S. Senate meltdown five years ago, Proft was stuck with Alan Keyes as the Republican nominee/sacrificial lamb against Barack Obama.)

Today's Proft commentary, as part of his ongoing observations that air on the Don Wade & Roma Morning Show on WLS Radio AM-890, offered a hilarious take on the imminent departure of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Take a few minutes to see how Proft weaves in Ted Kennedy driving off a cliff, a swipe at actor Dermot Mulroney, and the phrase "gaggle of middle-aged, man-hating shrews in sensible shoes" into his commentary, "The Circus Won't Be The Same."

The link also provides an audio option, for those interested in gleaning the full effect of Proft's sardonic jabs.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Blah-Blah Blago Takes His Cue From Drew

Emperor Rod Blagojevich at this very moment, instead of defending himself before the Illinois Legislature as it proceeds with an impeachment hearing, is in the midst of making the national media rounds.

As Rex Huppke so ably noted in a story that appears in the Jan. 26 edition of the Chicago Tribune, Blah Blah Blago's talk-show tour is much like the path blazed in November 2007 by that other notable Illinois creep, suspected murderer Drew Peterson, about whom I wrote a few months ago.

And though he is the Emperor Without Any Clues, Blah-Blah must surely know that he is simply the Freak Show of the moment, having just begun to tap into his 15 minutes of infamy.

He has even stated that he knows his days as Illinois governor are numbered ("the fix is in," he self-pities). Left unsaid, but clearly understood, is that he only has so large of a window he can jump through before the media moves on to the next heel.

The Emperor's PR team, which includes the same shameless publicity crew that is representing the aforementioned Peterson, may well be pleading with the staff of Oprah to let Rod on her show.

Of course, Blah-Blah today divulged what he surely knew would reap headline play across this celeb-obsessed land. While appearing for an interview on Good Morning America, he let slip a slight smile as he told Diane Sawyer that he considered approaching Oprah Winfrey to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Obama.

Maybe the Emperor's supplicants and enablers could propose tying in his Oprah appearance with the talk show titan's hoped-for weight loss--as in, the state will be shed of Blago's 180-extremely-odd pounds when he moves from governor to prisoner.

We can only hope that, like Sawyer, other national media types will have the sense to ask Blah-Blah the same tough questions that he's been ducking by local reporters for years.

Among them:

Do you know how to spell "narcissist"?

With a 13-percent approval rating before the feds charged you in December with, among other misdeeds, plotting to sell Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder, did you really think you had a shot at the U.S. Presidency in 2016?

How long have you been quoting Rudyard Kipling poems?

In any event, Blagojevich will eventually have to answer to criminal charges.

As I forecast when he was elected to a second term as governor, even then under a cloud of federal investigation, he very likely faces some significant time behind prison bars. If that comes to pass, he will follow in the shameful footsteps of his gubernatorial predecessor, the chronically corrupt George Ryan.

Can a Drew Peterson bid for governor be far behind?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

ULI Summary: Niche Property Classes

Freezing temperatures and the Urban Land Institute: the two will be forever linked in my memory.

That's because last Thursday, very possibly the coldest day of my life (it was about 20 degrees below zero), I trekked to the Union League Club to cover a meeting of the Urban Land Institute's Chicago chapter.

The topic: "Niche Property Classes: Are they faring better than Primary Real Estate Asset Classes?"

For the fourth time in as many months, I learned a wealth of information. When my fingers thawed upon returing to my office, I wrote this summary for the ULI, which touches on some of the insights shared by development experts in the niches of parking garages, medical offices and college housing.

You can also read three prior summaries I've written for the Urban Land Institute's Chicago chapter, "Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2009®," "The Credit Crisis: How the Collapse of Credit Impacts the Economy and Commercial Real Estate," and "River North: Past Plans, Future Opportunities."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Presidency To Test Obama's PR Realism

President Barack Obama's inauguration today brings two other dates to mind:

Twenty years ago today, I was an intern at the Telegraph & News of Macon, Georgia, helping edit the front page that included news of George H.W. Bush's inauguration as president.

And 20 years before that, I was in diapers as Richard M. Nixon was sworn in as president.

Unlike Obama, both Nixon and Bush had relationships with the media that were strained, at best, and often disastrous.

I have nearly finished reading Stephen Ambrose's Nixon: Ruin and Recovery and among other truths, Ambrose shows that Nixon recognized the impact of public relations perception on his political viability.

At the same time, it's even more obvious that he terribly misgauged the magnitude of his actions on generating the worst kind of PR. He also had a fundamentally flawed view of the media's very nature. He tried to battle journalism's investigative, cynical, "gotcha" qualities instead of accepting those traits as fact and proceeding accordingly.

Of course, in the immediate aftermath of the June 1972 Watergate Hotel break-in, Nixon's options ranged from really, really bad (if he had 'fessed up immediately that his subordinates--though not Nixon himself--had ordered and orchestrated the botched Watergate break-in) to politically lethal (hide his subordinates' role and then hide his role in the cover-up, then conceal each successive half-truth, distortion or outright lie that followed in the tangled web).

As for the elder Bush—fittingly, as the Republican Party's National Chairman he was among those advising Nixon during the disintegration of Nixon's administration in 1973-74—his view of the media became remarkably unrealistic and embittered over time.

In 1997, four years after he left office, Bush 41 issued a ridiculously impossible “no media allowed” demand on a talk that he gave in Elgin, Ill., where I was a reporter at the time for The Courier News.

What brought him to town? He was the featured speaker at Money magazine’s “adoption” of the city to teach personal finance lessons. While the magazine was at it, maybe they should have added a PR lesson for Bush.

As his talk before thousands at Elgin High's gymnasium approached, reality set in, and Bush’s handlers had no choice but to “waive” the unenforceable media ban.

Obama, on the other hand, appears to have developed a clear-eyed view that he can influence, but not impose his will, on the media.

That realism will be put to the test as his honeymoon media-darling phase comes to a close in rapid fashion, and he begins bearing the inevitable brunt of criticism that confronts all Presidents.

This essay also appeared in the Marshfield (Ma.) Mariner, the publication where I began my journalism career 25 years ago.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Doors Open, Narrow On Healthcare PR

Healthcare is integral to our lives, and over the past few years it's developed into a significant portion of Inside Edge PR business, with more than a dozen health-and-wellness clients in my A to Z experience.

This afternoon, I had the intriguing, immaculately timed experience of fielding a call from one healthcare provider (who had spoken with me about six months ago) seeking help with marketing and PR strategy, even as another provider--a hot prospect only a few weeks ago--notified me via e-mail that the regretted to report they were cutting back on marketing/PR support.

One door opens wider, another door goes from wide open to ajar.

(I never view doors as being entirely closed, unless I simply would not want to work with a given individual or organization. Um, Emperor Blagojevich, that includes you.)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Keeping Your PR Eye On The Calendar

Of all the similarities between being a journalist and being a publicist, one of the most prominent ones is the need to keep your eye on the calendar.

Mine says that today is Jan. 16th, which means, among other things, that it's well past time to start thinking about Valentine's Day-related story ideas, whether you represent a client or toil in a newsroom.

I touched on this timing truth in an Inside Edge PR post two weeks ago.

On another front, if you don't have a Super Bowl-related pitch ready to roll, it's time to go into the two-minute drill. Yesterday, as I was speaking with Don Riley, the new fitness director at Five Seasons Sports Club in Burr Ridge, a thought popped into my head--how can we tie in his expertise with the big football game on February 1st?

The answer came quickly, and simply: offer simple fitness and nutrition tips that TV spectators (aka "couch potatoes") can implement as they "watch 22 players desperately in need of rest," as the late, great football coach Bud Wilkinson has been quoted.

More to come in a future Inside Edge PR post.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Cyber-News Tension: A Story's Worth

I had to chuckle this morning when I came across a story online at The Wall Street Journal. It was about the Chicago Tribune’s announcement that next Monday it will soon be offering a tabloid edition (with the same content as its home-delivered version) for newsstand sales

Earlier, I had seen the story, by Phil Rosenthal, on the Trib’s front page (since I am one of the dinosaurs who still gets the print edition delivered to my home). But I had yet to follow the jump inside, distracted as I was by the Obama bobblehead doll reference that also graced Page 1.

So I figured I’d see what the esteemed WSJ had to share about the development.

The Wall Street Journal piece built up a head of steam, captured my interest and then….asked me to fork over some money (“to continue reading, subscribe now”) if I wanted to continue reading the third paragraph, let alone the rest of the story.

I moved on, my credit card safely tucked in my wallet. That moment underscored the tension that newspapers are waging in terms of traditional vs. online content delivery.

I didn’t want to subscribe to the Journal—I simply wanted to finish reading the story.

In a world where access to information is so rampant, what is the worth of any given shred of news? If a single copy of the Trib is 75 cents, how much monetary value can be assigned to a John Kass column --a few pennies, a nickel, eight cents?
Some day, maybe they will devise a system that zeroes in with such laser-like fashion. For now, anyway, I’ll just flip back to the Trib’s print edition and pick up Rosenthal’s story where it left off.

(A John Kass P.S.—mark my words, within six months he will be a household name in America, as the rest of the media world catches up with his no-hold-barred reporting on the “Chicago Way” and its intersection with President-elect Obama.)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Triblocal Gets Much More Local For Clientele

The other day, I posted a news release for the Illinois Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine on

You can see the release ("Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine: Not All Providers Are Created Equal") here. It joins dozens of other Inside Edge PR news releases (written, as all my work is written, in journalistic style) on the site.

Soon, many more Inside Edge PR releases will be on the site, as the Tribune expands its reach to include Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park--right in the heart of so much of my client roster.

Though its focus on western and southern suburbs has typically been beyond most of my clientele's reach until now, Triblocal has been a solid go-to resource for nearly a year. The site is easy to use, has a broad reach and, of course, is connected to the top newspaper in the region.

Make no mistake--the site does not draw anywhere near the traffic that flocks to the flagship paper's site at Chicago

But clients report receiving visits to their site from the Triblocal pages, and the pieces also frequently pop up on Page 1 of Google searches for various organizations, businesses and individuals that I've publicized. That all has a real, if difficult-to-measure, impact on a company or organization's bottom line.

One quick case in point: during the recent dog wedding in Oak Park that I promoted (I Do, Doggone It!), I asked a gentleman who trekked from Glen Ellyn to Oak Park how he learned of the event.

He first replied, "The Tribune." When I mentioned that I'd not seen it publicized there, he clarified that he meant

Rarely will I develop a news release with Triblocal in mind--it's simply one of many spots where I send or, in the user-generated website's case, post it. However, at bare minimum, tapping into the site provides an online home for stories that might otherwise not get published anywhere else.

In that regard, it becomes a kind of online adjunct to an organization's website and overall marketing effort.

Friday, January 9, 2009

PR Aimed At Local Newspapers: Alive & Well

In yet another piece of News That Isn't Really News comes a recent report from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

Pew asked more than 1,000 folks where they got "most of" their national and international news. In 2008, the Internet eclipsed print newspapers as their primary news source.

You can see more detail here in a New York Times blog.

Local news, however, is a different beast. For one thing, local publications don't have a user-friendly (or even, in some cases, any) website. More significantly, however, local news is a much more intimate, day-to-day relevant resource than national and international news.

While the future of major newspapers is cloudy, I am most optimistic about the fortunes of local publications that do a solid job of covering their own communities. From a PR perspective, it is crucial to recognize how to tailor news releases and story suggestions with that specific smaller geographic focus in mind.

For example, if you have five people, from five different communities in the same metro region who have benefited from a given company's service, then the same type of story can be pitched to at least five (and sometimes even more) distinct publications.

Increasingly, this has been a most fruitful approach for our clients at Inside Edge PR. We regularly secure multiple "media hits," each one of which is targeted to an audience that is actually in a position to take action that benefits the client (for example, becoming a new patient of a given practitioner.)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Page 1 Ads Signal Tough Economic Times

About 12 years ago, while I was on the news staff at The Courier News in Elgin, Ill., the newspaper began placing advertisements on Page 1. For what felt like months on end, we hawked a chance to win a free Daewoo.

I didn't like it at all. The "journalism purist" in me feared we had crossed the line and, by doing so, had diminished our credibility. In short, I felt we had "sold out."

Today, as advertising is a commonplace sight on the front page and as I near the 10-year mark of self-employment, I have a more sympathetic take on things: my paper was simply trying to do what it could to make ends meet.

That's certainly the case with no less an institution than the New York Times, which recently began offering Page 1 ads for $75,000 a pop and even more on weekends, according to the New York Post.

Desperate economic times call for desperate measures.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Profile on Helen Karakoudas in Medill Magazine

Back in August, I shared an Inside Edge PR post about a piece I was working on for my alumni magazine, Medill.

The story was about the remarkable career-comeback journey of Helen Karakoudas, managing editor of Wednesday Journal, Inc., the Oak Park-based company that publishes nine newspapers in Chicago and the near western suburbs. She is pictured below with her dog, Mr. Big, at a mass dog wedding that I promoted, I Do, Doggone It!, in November.

It's always unnerving to write about journalists, since they are so familiar with the process and there can be a considerable amount of self-consciousness on the part of both scribe and subject. In this case, it was doubly so, since Helen can edit circles around just about anything I write.

In the end, to my relief, Helen said she thought I did a fine job. Demonstrating admirable restraint and diplomacy, she even refrained from offering post-publication editing suggestions.

You can see the piece here on the Medill website, as well as below:

Friday, January 2, 2009

PR Resolution: Give Media Plenty of Lead Time

If it's January 2, then that must mean it's time to start seriously brainstorming some Valentine's Day story suggestions.

Though the romantic holiday may seem way off on the horizon--a full 43 days away--a recent story in Pioneer Press newspapers reaffirms that it's never too soon to start planting story seeds with the media. In late October, I sent a news release to print and television media about the fitness transformation of Wayne Arner (pictured, with son Tommy).

Arner is a member of Five Seasons Sports Club in Northbrook, a client of Inside Edge PR for the past two years.

At the time, I was trying to be as timely as possible, in the wake of Arner's competing in a national triathlon championship. You can read about him, and my initial PR approach, in this Inside Edge blog post on Oct. 27, 2008.

Of course, Arner's dramatic weight-loss is a timeless story--and is especially timely as an inspirational and educational New Year's Resolution piece. And that's just what Pioneer Press staff writer Mary Graham did in a recent story bearing the headline "Man of Resolution."

Graham also wrote a sidebar to the Arner profile that included input from Drew Surinsky, who has trained members at Five Seasons Sports Club, as well as Marie Pearson, the club's group fitness director.

A remarkably versatile trainer in her own right, Pearson is the one who first tipped me off to Arner's story and offers important tips for anyone seeking better fitness.