Friday, July 22, 2011

Northwestern’s Half-Baked Attempt at Connection: A Ham-Handed, Handwritten Thank-You Note

Earlier this month, I received a hand-written thank you note in the mail from an undergraduate at Northwestern University, my alma mater.

That was impressive.

The personally written, but hardly personalized letter from
a Northwestern undergraduate.
 Then I read the note – and if it wasn’t a verbatim transcription of a form letter, then I worry for the future of this self-described English major.

How utterly unimpressive.

Why bother with a form of intimate, personal connection when you saddle it with an impersonal form letter? Why go through the motions of making an emotional connection when you handcuff a student to so much sanitized white noise?

C’mon Wildcats: unleash these young adults to communicate from the heart! Or at least save yourself the postage.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Social Media Motivation: Let it Be Excellence, Not Merely Checking-the-Box Expectations

Like anything in life, social media should be more than something you do out of obedience or fear. It should be something you engage in to do better, to be better.

If the overriding motivation is because your rivals are doing it, or because others say you should do it, or because you’re afraid of what your clients or peers will think if you don’t do it, then you’ve got it wrong – and that will come across.

On the other (preferred) hand, if you post those Tweets and create that content on Facebook because you want to inform, entertain and engage those you care about – and who care about you – then the caring will only expand.

So don’t chase expectations. Choose excellence.

Find Inside Edge PR on Facebook and on Twitter.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

With News Releases, Think Local-Local-Local, Then Emphasize Each & Every Geographic Hook

If you grew up in one town, attended high school in another, graduated from college in yet another and were hired to work in a fourth community, what would that make you?

First, what it would not make you is especially unusual: many others have traversed a similar path. Rarely does someone stay put through the various stages of life.

From a public relations standpoint, however, it would make you potentially newsworthy in four different markets. Once you develop a general news release, it's a simple matter of inserting (or at least emphasizing) the relevant local hook to secure coverage in those multiple markets.

Consider it a variation on the well-worn mantra "Think Globally, Act Locally." Only in this case, it's Think Local--and keep Thinking Local--until you've plumbed the depths of all the possible news hooks.

A recent Inside Edge PR case in point: the hiring of a Director of Economic Development for the Kenosha Area Business Alliance.

So, circling back to this post's original line: if you grew up in Niles, attended high school in Wilmette, enrolled at Marquette University and were hired to work in Kenosha, that would make you Brian Rademacher, whose KABA hiring has made the media rounds in all four of those locales.

For example, here's the Wilmette TribLocal version of KABA's hiring of Brian.

What do you think--are there instances where this focus on finding a bevy of local hooks might go too far?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Social Media Pruning: Time To Trim `Deadwood'?

At first, it seemed strange. Then, it happened so often that it started to seem, if not normal, at least not so out of whack. And eventually it became almost commonplace.

I’m referring to the experience of someone I’ve never met asking to connect with me on social media sites, specifically LinkedIn and Facebook.

Usually, I’ve declined the invitations. But not always—and as a result, more than a dozen names have crept onto my accounts without my really understanding why.

So I recently went through the process of pruning these tenuous connections. I call it “pruning” because it’s not about subtracting names (and the individuals and their spheres of influence that flow from those names). More importantly, it’s about elevating the value of those with whom I choose to remain connected.

As the Wikipedia definition states, in part, “pruning is a horticultural practice involving the selective removal of parts of a plant…Reasons to prune plants include deadwood removal, shaping (by controlling or directing growth), improving or maintaining health (and) reducing risk.”

A little reflection on some of those keywords is instructive in thinking about the “how” and “why” of our social media activities:

Selective: When we say “yes” to too many, including people whom we don’t know (or at least couldn’t pick out of a crowd), we are diluting the quality of affirmations we’ve given to people we trust, respect and, in some cases, actually love.

Especially on LinkedIn, it’s important to have your connectedness mean something beyond a list of names or glorified business cards.

Deadwood removal: How many of our contacts and connections resemble “deadwood,” insofar as our social (think Facebook) and professional (think LinkedIn) lives are concerned?

Now, I don’t doubt that, for the most part, these are good people who play a vital and positive role in the lives of any number of people. But to me, they are like “deadwood.” Lest I seem harsh, I should add that I have no illusions about my own speck-on-the-map status with these very same individuals.

Yes, I am sure that I too must resemble deadwood in some circles.

But until and unless they (and I) take the time to alter matters, then I’ll be the proactive one and say it’s time for me to let them go (and vice versa).

This can be a bit scary—I’ve played out vague scenarios in which, at some magical future juncture, Joe Linkedin suddenly emerges as a significant connection to have, and now I’m kicking myself for cutting him or her loose.

Then, after reflecting on the years of my own personal and professional history on LinkedIn and Facebook, I've come to a conclusion: such a scenario simply hasn’t played out yet.

Besides, if and when an opportunity arises with Joe Linkedin (or Jane Facebook), then that’s a great reason to kick-start a re-connection with him or her.

For a related post, from April 2009, see "Time To `De-Link' a Non-Responsive Contact?"

Friday, June 17, 2011

Overcome Weakness in Your LinkedIn Chain: Invest in Relationships When You Don't `Need To'

As the saying goes, "You're only as strong as the weakest link in your chain."

And when it comes to LinkedIn, the formula that some follow goes like this:

1. Accumulate as many contacts as possible by sending an impersonal, automated request to Link-In.

2. Proceed to ignore aforementioned contacts for weeks, months or even years. (If you're especially ambitious, write one or two recommendations.)

3. If and when you lose a job, or have a decline in business, send impersonal, mass notes to LinkedIn contacts announcing that you'd appreciate their steering leads your way.

4. When you come up dry on Step 3, complain that LinkedIn is useless.

Referring back to the introductory line--and boiling down these four steps in one word: weak.

If you've read any of my prior social media tips and observations, you know that Inside Edge PR has derived significant benefit from LinkedIn and other social media: new clients, stronger relationships, media coverage, and the development of social-media workshops that have led to more work.

And here's the biggest reason why: I've sought to help as many of my links as possible...without seeking anything in return.

That's not bragging, and that's not charity--it's straight-up common sense about human nature. Think of it this way: when is the best time to buy a car or sell a house?

When you don't need to.

That way, you're not desperate or otherwise painted into a corner. You can take the deal or leave it.

The same principle goes for LinkedIn, Facebook or any other personal or professional transaction, online or offline--the best time to nurture a relationship is when you don't "need to."

The truth be told, if you don't want to do this, for the sheer enjoyment of maintaining and strengthening connections with other human beings, you ought to consult the closest mirror.

Even failing that basic test, you should consider exercising some self-discipline, consistency and long-term thinking. Drop a note to five or 10 people at a time, simply saying "hello" or offering some words of encouragement or insight that will benefit them.

In "The Professional's Platform," one of Seth Godin's recent blog posts, he eloquently makes much the same point. An excerpt:

"We remember what you did when you didn't need us so urgently...It means investing, perhaps overinvesting, in relationships long before it's in your interest to do so."

Monday, June 13, 2011

Best Buy's Big Social Media Blunder: When Common Sense `Ceases and Desists'

Someone needs to send Best Buy an historic bit of writing known as 1 Samuel 17.

That's the chapter in the Old Testament that relates the story of David and Goliath. For those who may not have heard (spoiler alert!), wee David cuts off giant Goliath's head thanks to his faith in God and one amazing demonstration of accurate sling-shotting.

In modern parlance, that's known as a big "W" for the underdog.

Speaking of modern times, just recently Best Buy (aka "Goliath," at least for this post's purposes) made the foolish decision to overreact to a rival company's commercial parodying Best Buy's notoriously, ahem, subpar technology know-how.

Whereupon, Best Buy's crack legal team (or maybe it's "cracked"?) dashed off a cease-and-desist letter that was sure to spur on far more coverage of the parody--and awareness of that competitor,, (aka David in this example).

Oh, that reminds me: check out the 30-second commercial here:

Adam Singer, in his Future Buzz blog, offers a great take on the blunder.

As I related to Singer, someone should send a C & D letter to Best Buy's legal counsel. Is there a Department of Common Sense over there? The David versus Goliath analogy is so obvious, as is the inanity of Best Buy's response.

I can't help but chuckle, too, at Best Buy's repeated use of "slovenly" in the C & D letter to describe the blue-shirted employee. That word belongs somewhere in the early-1970s, methinks.

As Singer articulates so well at Future Buzz, the episode clearly reflects Best Buy's lack of social media awareness--how else to explain its clunky attempt to shush a company with a hugely loyal and tech-savvy following?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Social Media Policy: How To Get Started, And Why Your Organization Should Get it In Writing

Has your organization developed a written social media policy? Do you know where to begin, or why it's important in the first place?

A few months ago, when the Kenosha Area Business Alliance asked me to develop one, I at least knew where to start: Google, of course.

I typed "social media policy" into the search engine and within moments, came upon resource-rich sites like Social Media Governance.

There you'll find a bevy of templates from which to draw inspiration and adapt--in your own voice, in your own words and tailored to your organization's communications objectives.

Last week, after working through some drafts and gathering feedback along the way, I posted KABA's Social Media Policy in a logical spot: its Facebook page.

There are many reasons why it makes sense to develop a social media policy. As I consider Inside Edge PR's experience in providing social-media service to clients over the past few years, here are three benefits of creating a policy for navigating in this rapidly expanding terrain:

1. It compels you to think through the reasons why you are on social media in the first place--and thereby develop a focused approach to the process.

All too often, and admittedly in my own experience, social-media activities have been helter-skelter. More than a few times, I've posted something for the sake of making sure observers and prospects knew that the administrator (me) hadn't been abducted by Martians.
With a social media policy, you will set parameters of what you wish to communicate and any ground rules relating to how or what administrators and visitors/fans ought to communicate.

2. It offers another platform to articulate your organization's distinctive mission, employing your distinctive voice and creating an opportunity to forge a deeper connection with your audience.

Seize this kind of moment to express your organization's culture, especially via humor.

One that I highly recommend you check out: Kodak's 16-page `Social Media Tips: Sharing Lessons Learned to Help Your Business Grow.'

3. It explains, in clear terms, why you take certain steps to respond to, remove or otherwise regulate content that appears in your social media space.

In other words: beware and begone, spammers and saboteurs!
Having a social media policy in place last summer would've helped expedite some action I took for Tom & Eddie's on its Facebook page.

Some individuals associated with at least one other area restaurant, obviously feeling threatened by the new rival, were making bogus attacks about Tom & Eddie's service and food.

After internal discussions about how to respond, I removed the remarks within 24 hours. With a social media policy in place, it would've taken all of 24 seconds.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Comeback For the Triple S Super-Hero Costume?

It's preliminary, so I'm unable to divulge details just yet.

But it appears that the Triple S super-hero costume in which I galavanted around Oak Park for the holiday season some 18 months ago may soon be making a re-appearance.

It would be for another local cause, it would be in the near future and, I am happy to note, it would entail somebody else wearing it.

I realize not everyone has yet been exposed to what I'm alluding to, so you can check out the Super Shopper Spotter campaign that Inside Edge PR coordinated between Thanksgiving and Christmas 2009: here is the Shop the Village 2009 blog that I created, as part of the local effort to spur on local shopping.

And that effort came on the heels of the inaugural Shop the Village campaign.

If nothing else, and if you're primed for a good laugh, check out some of the clips of Super Shopper Spotter in action.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Pick Up the Phone, Break Away From PR Pack

Notwithstanding Inside Edge PR's journalistic style of developing content for dissemination to the media, it's been more than five years since I regularly committed acts of journalism.

Yet I still remain on a bevy of publicists' media lists. Almost daily, I get multiple news releases that encompass theater, health and fitness, Indiana tourism, healthcare and more--oh, so much more.

This underscores a PR fundamental that is sorely lacking in the marketplace: picking up the phone and actually calling members of the media. Radical, I know.

But if any of the above-mentioned releases had been accompanied by a phone call, then they'd realize that I'm no longer a viable media target. Instead, I'm just a piece of the wall where they are flinging mud.

For those in the business of trying to get your stories told to a broader audience, that's no way to get the job done. By contrast, one surefire way to separate yourself from the competitive PR pack is to go beyond the comfort (and relative futility) of relying on mass e-mails.

After all, while one of the easiest things to do is send an e-mail, deleting that same e-mail is equally simple. And the deleter increasingly views your e-mails as white noise or spam--hardly the stuff of building a constructive relationship or well-regarded professional reputation.

Meantime, check out some related Inside Edge PR posts, such as The Real Purpose of Calling a Journalist and The Art of Contacting Reporters By Phone.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Stay Rooted in Reality: Make Sure PR & Marketing Ideas Don't Interfere Operationally

It's National Burger Day on May 28 and so Inside Edge PR is in the midst of developing a promotional effort marking that day, as well as the week sandwiching it, for client Burger Boss, a terrific and popular new restaurant in Elmwood Park, Ill.

However, it's one thing to come up with a fun and memorable marketing idea--and quite another to be able to have it dovetail with operational reality. so when I shot the draft news release to co-owner Anthony Gambino, I acknowledged, "Just trying to give you an idea of what could be, and you can let me know what can be (based on operational realities)."

As I expected, Anthony replied with a scaled-down, simpler plan. You can see the news release here at

The back-and-forth between me and Anthony reflects clear-eyed cooperation--understanding that you need to find that sweet spot where marketing/PR and effective operations can meet.

I've fallen prey to this enthusiasm for pie-in-the-sky visions that have crashed and burned within milliseconds of a client's review. It's tempting to get swept away and devote significant chunks of time to grandiose plans. But it's foolish to do so without bothering to see how those visions will affect the actual conducting of business.

So before you get in too deep with that fancy Father's Day promo or that pyrotechnically phenomenal Fourth of July, check in with the guys and gals over on the other side of the business equation.

And, hey, if your name is Burger, Berger or Boss, swing by Burger Boss on May 28th!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Testimonial Truth: Start With the End in Mind

People love to connect with other people. Not an organization, or a concept, but people.

The more you can share the faces—as well as the respect, admiration and gratitude—of those whom your organization has served, the more effective your overall communications initiatives will become.

This was among the messages I shared a few weeks ago with the West Suburban Practice Group of the Collaborative Law Institute of Illinois.

Addressing the West Suburban Practice
Groupof the CLII

Addressing a group of about 15 professionals at Braxton Seafood Restaurant in Oak Brook, I emphasized the need to start the testimonial-gathering (or case study development) process with the end in mind.

Before seeking out testimonials, identify those traits that are most likely to inspire the response you are seeking from your target audience: What do the individuals and groups you have served over the years appreciate most about your organization’s impact—past, present and future?

Once you have clarity on this front, then it’s a much more simple—and focused—matter of gathering, and skillfully communicating, the prevalence of those traits via testimonials in writing, photographs and video.

This ongoing effort is among the most time-intensive of PR endeavors.
But it's eminently worthwhile.

Testimonials, when done right, carry significant influence on people to take the actions that you desire, whether it's volunteering their time, buying your product or service, or any variety of objectives. So identifying and then drawing out these stories should receive major emphasis.

Tips From the Inside Edge has shared testimonial viewpoints in the past. For example, you can check out this ditty, Go Beyond `Testimonial Providers Anonymous': Put Names & Faces With Your Rave Reviews."

Monday, May 2, 2011

Osama bin Laden's Death: 3 Elements To Make It a Genuine PR Moment, Not a Backfiring Blunder

Is it wise to turn Osama bin Laden's death
into a PR moment for your company or cause?

There's room for much debate on this one, but here's some framework to guide your decision on this volatile question: can you generate a public relations communication that is fitting, measured and respectful?

Let's break down those three elements:

1. Fitting

Does the company or cause have a logical tie-in to the events leading to bin Laden's death? Do they manufacture a weapon or piece of technology that played a role in finding, then confronting and ultimately killing the most wanted man on the globe? Is there some other (less obvious) connection that you can make?

If so, then it's worth exploring the potential for a PR outreach.

If not, then it might be time to start brainstorming on other fronts.

2. Measured

If you pass the "fitting" test, then the next step is to ensure that you develop a communication that is measured. In other words, resist the temptation to lay it on thick with whatever role you may have played in some component of the mission to get bin Laden.

For example, a company that makes tool kits that go into military Humvees may have an appropriate opening to parlay the death into some kind of news release.

But the focus ought to be on praising those who carried out the objective, with a brief mention of the company's own, peripheral role in supporting our troops.

3. Respectful

Remember that this is part of a much bigger, indescribably tragic and heart-wrenching story. Thousands of people died on U.S. soil on Sept. 11, 2001, and events flowing from that dark day--including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan--have since claimed the lives of untold (and rising) numbers of others.

Acknowledging that reality in a respectful, somber way ought to be part of any PR communication in this post-bin Laden period.

There is a line between smart and timely PR and unseemly, over-the-top opportunism that can backfire. Much is in the execution, including the choice of words in a release.

Think through the possibilities carefully, select your words wisely and then launch your media outreach accordingly.

For more story-telling tips and training, visit the Inside Edge PR website resources page.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

OC Register Reporter's Life-Saving Story Offers Glimpse at Journalism's Challenge, Thrill & Joy

Every once in a while, there's a story that really, viscerally reminds me of why I got into journalism, why I stayed it in for two decades--and why I consider myself a journalist for life even if I've been committing repeated acts of public relations for the past half-decade or so.

It's the opportunity to play a significant role in skillfully relating stories of significant people, events and issues. Along the way, the gratificaton deepens if you can capture elements of the story that other reporters would never come close to touching.

The other day, that feeling came upon me when I read a masterfully written piece by Lori Basheda in the Orange County Register. With meticulous reporting and suspenseful writing, she had my heart pounding (literally) as I took in the life-saving effort of pro surfer James Pribram as he pulled a 22-year-old woman from the Pacific Ocean.

You can read the story here on the OC Register website.


P.S. After posting a link to the story on my Facebook page, one friend noted that it brought back memories of her own near-drowning experience many years ago. And that remark just now reminds me of my own mother's recounting, more than a few times, how she nearly drowned as a young adult--and survived thanks to a life guard's rescue.

There is something about near-death experiences that is, understandably, so gripping. What about you? If you're like most adults, it's not a matter of whether you have such a story, but which one stands out in your memory? I encourage you to write about it, even if only for your own reflection.

Friday, April 1, 2011

March Madness? No, Uncommon Courage: Butler Coach Stevens Suspends Four of Five Starters

Some will decry the move as March Madness gone too far, but I say it will undoubtedly go down as one of the most courageous coaching disciplinary decisions ever.

As was reported first by an Indianapolis television station (see link below), Butler basketball coach Brad Stevens has suspended four of his five starters for unspecified "team rule violations."

As a result, the Bulldogs are now short-handed for their Final Four semifinal match-up against Virginia Commonwealth University.
Brad Stevens makes decision "based on principle"
You can read about it in a story posted this morning.

The bright side: if Butler somehow manages to win on Saturday, the four suspended players--all but Matt Howard got the temporary heave-ho--will be back in the lineup for the NCAA championship game on Monday night.

"I won't go into details, but it's based on principle that I've come to this difficult decision," Stevens said. "You can't spell team with the letter `i,' unless you want to spell it incorrectly."

P.S. As must be abundantly clear by now, the post on Friday (aka April Fool's Day) was indeed a bit of April 1 mischief, courtesy of Inside Edge PR. At least four readers confessed, in various ways, that they believed--at least for a few moments--the account of Brad Stevens suspending four of Butler's five starters. Now the question is, how will the Bulldogs win over mighty Connecticut, even with all five starters suited up for action?

-Matt Baron, April 4, 2011, 7:30 am.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Medill Name Change Inspires Mischief-Making

Me in my succinctly stated sweatshirt.
The journalism school where I studied at Northwestern University used to be known simply as the Medill School of Journalism. Often it has been referred to even more simply as "Medill."

With only a period after it. Or so my increasingly tattered sweatshirt declares.

That piece of punctuation proclaimed, "No further explanation needed. If you don't get it, then you're just out of it."

It has always struck me as a confident, borderline arrogant expression of self-edifying preeminence in the J-world.

Recently, however, the school's name changed to The Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications.

There's a new "The" to start things off, a few commas to keep the flow going, 65 characters in all (almost halfway to maxing out a Tweet!) and nary an "and" in sight. It's a rather windy name that has stirred some hand-wringing among alumni.

As for me, I refuse to wring my hands. I've opted to head straight toward mischief-making. With the creative genius of my wife backing me up, I have created T-shirt designs that poke fun at the new, exceedingly elongated name.

You can try these ones on for size: "Medill Blah Blah Blah" and "The Medill School of A Really, Really, Really Long Name That Won't Fit On This Shi"

Check 'em out here on a Zazzle page we set up.

Truthfully, it's all in good fun. I hold the institution and its faculty, staff and students in high regard. Almost all of Inside Edge PR's associates over the years have been students or graduates of Medill.

And there's also this matter of my own career path, moving from journalism to "public relations and media services" in 2005. That transition serves as a microcosm of the shifting business landscape that is part of what prompted Medill's name change.

So I'd feel almost (but not quite) hypocritical if I railed against this new, somewhat clunky description of my esteemed Medill.

But c'mon, maestros of Medill (School of this, that & the other thing): you couldn't spare an ampersand?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Spreading the PR Wealth: Be Alert to Media's Need and Be Willing to Share the Spotlight

The laurels keep coming for J.C. Restoration, which last week learned that it had received the Blue Ribbon Small Business Award from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

In the last year, the Rolling Meadows-based company and its president, Warner Cruz, have won at least four significant industry, regional and even national awards, including Cruz's selection as Second Runner-Up for the Small Business Administration's National Small Business Person of the Year.

This time around, as much as it would be tempting to focus solely on J.C. Restoration's return to the spotlight, I counseled the company to touch on the fact that it's one part of a larger story: there were 75 Blue Ribbon recipients nationally, including five others from Illinois (four in and around Chicago).

The news release, posted here at, takes that "team player" approach.

Instead of trying to hog all the attention, this tack seeks to serve not only my client's desire to raise awareness of its success, but also the media's need for a stronger story.

In the short term, does adopting this spread-the-wealth mentality result in reduced media prominence? It's possible, though there has been strong media response thus far.

And regardless of any immediate impact, or lack thereof, this bigger-picture sensibility pays off over the long haul via increased media trust and respect for future story pitches that you make.


J.C. Restoration and the other Blue Ribbon winners, by the way, are all in the running for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's DREAM BIG Small Business of the Year Award and the Community Excellence Award. The latter honor flows from online voting through Friday, March 11.

You can check that out here.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

News Release on Five Seasons' Manny Velasco Caps Small-World Story-Telling Connection

If you stay at something long enough, fun interweavings come about.

The first story that I ever got paid to write, nearly 27 years ago, appeared in the Marshfield (Mass.) Mariner. It was a feature on Chris Lapriore, a star tennis player from my high school. A two-time state champion, Chris was about to enroll at the University of Illinois.

A few years ago, as I was doing some PR on Hall of Fame tennis player Monica Seles' visit to Five Seasons Family Sports Club in Northbrook, I chatted with the club's head tennis pro, Manny Velasco. In the course of our conversation, I discovered that Manny (pictured below, with Monica) had played with Chris at Illinois.

So it was especially satisfying, and with more than a little feeling of nostalgia, that I wrote my most recent tennis piece last week: a news release on Manny's receiving Coach of the Year honors in the USTA's Chicago District.

Makes me wonder what stories I might be telling in the year 2038.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Power of Getting it On Video: From Youth Hoops to Your Next Public Relations Campaign

Did I mention that my son is a budding basketball star?

Well, to put it more modestly, he tallied his first points in a competitive basketball game earlier this month. To be more precise, I could tell you how he gained control of an up-for-grabs pass (very common among 7- and 8-year-old hoopsters), positioned his body to protect it from a defender, set his feet, eyed the rim and then launched a 12-footer from his right hip.

The ball caromed off the backboard and swished perfectly through the hoop.

Yes, I could recite all of those details--and provide further embellishment. Or I could simply direct you to click on the video below (less than 30 seconds).

Which is more compelling? More apt to catch your attention and create a more lasting impression?

As much as I'd like to think that my writing is poetic and powerful, in certain instances, like this one, it's no match for video.

As I noted in the first Tips From the Inside Edge post nearly three years ago, video is a powerful public relations ally for a number of reasons. Here are three:

1. They tell the story directly to the world, without needing any intermediary's approval or being subject to any intermediary's mistakes of omission or commission.

2. They offer the media a more compelling story suggestion, and can tip them across that intangible line, from somewhat interested to very interested, which means all the difference between taking a pass on the story to passing along the story idea to the assignment producer or editor.

3. If the media pursue the story, it provides them with a resource to share with their audience, further expanding your reach via both traditional (media) and non-traditional (user-generated websites) means.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What To Do When Oprah (Or Anyone Else) Calls

More than 90 percent of my clients say Oprah's name when discussing their PR goals. Typically, the words "want" and "get on" are in close proximity to the wildly successful talk show host's name.

While Oprah's talk show is nearing the end, shows like hers are an enduring part of the media landscape.

Susan Harrow is a top publicist ( who provides a wealth of practical insight on how to get on shows like Oprah. Unlike some teleseminar speakers, who drone on about how you can attend a two-day conference for some sum of money to learn the real scoop on Subject XYZ, a classy, professional Harrow teleseminar that I tuned into a few years ago was loaded with practical insights.

One subject that she covered was what to do when you get the call from a producer showing interest in you as a potential guest. (It likely is not enough to have a great guest idea--you've got to show that you are well prepared as well!)

Here are some of my notes:

1. Before you speak to the producer, ask: "What angle are you thinking about here, and how do you see the show unfolding?" (You are asking for their needs.)

2. During the conversation (any conversation, but especially high-stakes ones), ask, “Am I on the right track, is this what you're looking for?” (Remember, it is not a monologue, but a dialogue).

3. At the end of the call, go for the close: "Do you think I'm the right guest for this show?"

4. If you are not a fit, ask, "How else can I help?" or "What are you looking for?" (Be a team player---it nurtures a relationship long-term.)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Reflections of 1991: A Valentine's Greeting to My Former Colleagues at The Courier-News

From the front page of the Feb. 15, 1991 edition of The Courier-News in Elgin, Ill.
This past Sunday was the 20th anniversary of my start with The Courier-News of Elgin, Ill.

When Mike Bailey hired a 22-year-old guy who had trouble navigating his way to the newsroom all the way from Chicago, it was for an eight-week period to fill in for a reporter on maternity leave.

As it turned out, the reporter decided to stay home with her baby, and Bailey decided that I could stick around longer.

It set into motion an eight-year period in my career that I appreciate more with each passing year.

Before moving on in March 1999, I had the good fortune of working alongside dedicated professionals, of having the chance to do wide-ranging, important work, and of learning a ton all along the way.

One of my first assignments, during Week 2 at the newspaper, was a feature story on Valentine's Day 1991 about 25 couples who chose that romantic day to get married at the Kane County Courthouse in Geneva. (You can click on the image above to read more.)

The last few years, I've kept the piece on my office wall, with the idea that it would be fascinating to catch up with a few of those couples today, see how they're doing--and whether they remain married.

A few weeks ago, I suggested such a follow-up to my former colleagues. No reply yet, and I understand if they don't have a chance to pursue it. Resources are so limited and personnel so stretched today in the newsroom.

Thanks largely to social media, many of us have stayed in touch. Two months ago, when the paper's office at 300 Lake St. closed after more than a half-century (though the paper continues on), we had a mini-reunion.

Being the PR guy now, I shot photos as well as videos that you can find on one of my YouTube channels.

So, if nothing else, I suppose this post is my Valentine's greeting to all of those who played such an instrumental part in my years at The Courier-News--the few who remain and the many who have gone on to other endeavors.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

When Pitching the Media, Keep it Brief

Unless you've been on the receiving end of a story pitch, you likely don't appreciate the urgency of being succinct in those interactions.

Having been on the receiving end of such pitches for about 20 years, I can assure you that the goal ought NEVER be selling the reporter, editor or producer on a story--that's asking too much, too soon.

When I reach their voicemails (the usual scenario, as most don't pick up the phone), I leave a brief message with the gist of my call and a heads-up that I’m about to e-mail more detailed information.

Those e-mails all lead with the phrase “Following up from the voice mail I just left for you…”

When reaching an individual directly, my first goal is to pledge brevity. How I typically start: “Are you on deadline, or is this a good time to talk for 30 seconds?”

Such a courtesy signals that I know their world—and I am not about to waste their time. Saying “30 seconds” is intentional—when people trot out “Do you have a minute?” they usually don’t mean 60 seconds, but upwards of 10 minutes.

Now, if someone starts to engage you and you stay on the phone longer, that's great. But it has to be their call.

Your objective in calling is not to “close a sale” as they cheerily promise to crank out a story. Rather than closing anything, you want them to open up.

Warm ‘em up to the idea that the e-mail you're about to send is worth serious consideration, instead of the reflexive tap of the DELETE key.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Events Offer Three Bites at the Publicity Apple

Stories that are event-based--with a specific time and a specific place--offer three bites at the publicity apple.

If you're settling for anything less, then you need to work on growing your PR appetite. Not to get too technical, but I like to refer to these bites (or "phases") as:

1. Before. 2. During. 3. After.

Before: This is a preview that promotes the event, to encourage attendance by media and/or interested individuals. It also lays the groundwork for a follow-up.

Here is an example from this week's media outreach by Inside Edge PR, on behalf of DivorceIllinois and its Feb. 4 meeting in Oak Brook.

During: This is when you can secure coverage of the event itself, via the presence of one or more media representatives. Serving as an "In-House Journalist," Inside Edge PR often plays the role of pool reporter for those media outelts unable, or uninterested, in attending.

After: This is typically a news release, often accompanied by video and photographs, that highlights significant developments at the event. It represents an opportunity to break new ground, so should go beyond a re-hash of the preview with a mere revision of verb tenses.

All along the way, too, you should be buzzing things up on social media, through communication portals such as YouTube and Facebook.

Inside Edge PR's website has a bevy of other resources to help you secure media coverage, including "To Get the PR You Want, Focus First on The Media's Need.'

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Bad News-to-Good News: Income-Tax Hike in Illinois Presents PR Opportunity for Businesses

Yesterday, the Illinois legislature approved an income-tax increase for individuals and corporations.

What do you suppose that has to do with life insurance salesmen, sports marketers, a wealth advisory consultant and restaurateurs?
At minimum, two things:

1. All are affected by it.

2. All can--and should--parlay our lawmakers' lazy and gutless (yeah, I'm steamed) decision into news that turns the spotlight on their business and their industry expertise.

An op-ed piece,a news release, a pitch about the impact of the change on their field--all are fair game as responses to the governmental money grab.

I mention those four business categories because over the past three days, I've met with prospective clients in each of them. To each, I've sung this same tune.

It's one way to turn the legislature's lemon into lemonade. There's no law (at least not yet) against parlaying really bad news into good profits that flow from raising an organization's profile in the media, social media and via any other platform.

Search Engine Optimiziation, that holy grail of online attention-getting, flows more abundantly when your content is current and relevant. In another word: news.

So what are you doing right now to ride the coattails of the state's income-tax grab and offer up actual newsworthy material to the media? The clock is ticking, and the media spotlight usually shines most brightly on those who make the first move.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Driving Home the Lesson of the Red Sports Car: Command Attention with Your Next "Top 10" List

Can you picture a sports car?

How about a red sports car?

With that little, colorful adjective, the image becomes much more vivid. It catches your attention in a way that a generalized statement did not.

It's the same with "Top 5" or "Top 10" lists, which were everywhere we turned as 2010 drew to a close (year-end reviews of this, that and every other thing). Compilations along those lines should be in decent abundance as 2011 gets rolling here, too, as we learn how to get smarter, thinner, wealthier, safer and savvier.

So if you're in the attention-getting business and are thinking about developing a "Top" list, remember the lesson of the red sports car. Be different, be flashy, be memorable--or risk winding up in someone's "Top 10 List of Hum-Drum Top 10 Lists."

Anyone can come up with a "Top 10 Weight Loss Tips." Be someone who goes the extra half-ounce, steps out on an edgy ledge and offers counsel on "10 Steps to Quit Being A Fat American."

My favorite recent "red sports car" example is from Dave Ramsey's financial e-newsletter: "11 Ways to Be Weird in 2011."