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

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

The news release is also online at

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

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.