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, 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, 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

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.