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The Press Release is NOT Dead. Two Key Reasons Why.

are-press-releases-deadSomeone asked me a few days ago what I thought of this Hubspot piece titled, “Is It Finally Time to Bid Adieu to the Press Release?,”, http://blog.hubspot.com/bid-adieu-press-release-oe
My answer was a massive eye-roll and an emphatic, “Shite.”  The article, by Dan Lyons, is actually fairly well-balanced, if you read it all the way through after the gratuitous headline. However, from my perspective, people have been discussing this for over a decade, but the reality is: A. Most exec teams at a company need a structure and forced exercise of prioritization to communicate well, and for real news, this format is still powerful. B. I have RARELY had an editor interested in a pitch who did not want more facts or a briefing materials before meeting my client or writing their own story. C. What needs to die are the following: Crappy press releases with no news value, and PR pitches to the wrong editors. See my blog post on that subject: http://vibrancepr.com/news-releases-are-not-magic-potions-are-you-overusing-them

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News Releases are Not Magic Potions. Are You Overusing Them?

A news release is not a magic potion for media coverage. image credit: iStock/Jason_V

A news release is not a magic potion for media coverage. image credit: iStock/Jason_V

News releases are not magic potions to cure media coverage ills, and they don’t work alone. Are you guilty of pumping out, “not really news” news releases on inexpensive wire services in hopes of improving your coverage or SEO? Sometimes there is a decent rationale, but please, please, be sure the traffic you get for doing that converts enough that it makes up for the cost, time and possible reputation hit to create and distribute that release.

If it is a truly drab release which everyone in your company knows is a turd, and a credible journalist does a Google search on you and finds that, you don’t get a second chance to leave a first impression. Is there a better vehicle for your message?

Also, be clear about what happens with news releases. Just writing one and putting it over a wire is almost useless to you. You must be pitching pertinent editors and bloggers in your space on the content of that news, and doing it well before you have the release hit the wire.  When you think of pitching that iffy news release to an editor, if you feel content shame–that may tell you this is better as a customer newsletter or a blog post!

Finally, does every release NEED a wire service?  If it is pretty “inside-industry,” maybe not. Maybe putting it on your own site and pitching it to your industry editors is enough.

What are your decision trees regarding news releases, when to write, how to pitch, and what service to use? Let’s discuss!

4 Ways to Prepare for Media Interviews with the Unprepared Reporter

Preparing for Media Interviews with Unprepared Reporters

How to Prepare Your Execs to Help the Unprepared Reporters image: iStock/philsajonesen

Once upon a time, I staffed a phone interview with a tech reporter from a coveted national outlet.  The reporter was late, and after calling a couple numbers, we finally connected. He was unfortunately stoned or at least on heavy medication and nearly incoherent the whole 12 minutes we managed to stay on the line for the media interview.  Luckily, our CEO had a good sense of humor, and just said, “Well, that’s a first and I hope he doesn’t write anything because I don’t think it would be coherent.”

More recently, my employee connected a client in an email conversation with a reporter. This reporter had responded to the introductory email, complete with links to the web site and a couple paragraphs about the client’s business, that he was very familiar with the client, followed their social feeds and would love to meet.

Then, in the 3rd email exchange with a vice president, this reporter stopped to ask what the company actually did.  Ummm. Hello?? You have an email full of working links and a brief description in an email from Vibrance. You jumped up and down and said you loved them. You have been chatting with this exec knowledgeably about the industry over email for two days. Today, you made an ass of yourself by asking that question. And, luckily, we have the email to prove we told you exactly what the company does.

The Bad Pitch Blog and the Non-Existent “Stupid Journalist” Blog

You have likely heard of various news reporters, tech outlets, or read The Bad Pitch blog, highlighting the stupidity of unprepared, over-green or just plain thoughtless PR folks. Trust me, I weep when I read the brainless things some people in my profession do, but the truth is, stupidity and unpreparedness cut both ways in the reporter/PR polarity—and you have to expect the unexpected when preparing for your next set of media interviews.

I searched and there is no “Stupid Journalist Blog,” because we all know that anyone submitting, “Real Stories of Bad Reporting, Names Included,” would never get another interview. You rarely see the truth that reporters and bloggers screw up, lose notes, are late and get their facts wrong, too.

Oh, sure, when there is a bright flaming star of a screw-up, like the spectacular Lauren Greene interview on Fox a week or so ago with the Muslim scholar who wrote the book on Jesus—the whole world crowed when she couldn’t get him to stick to her attack storyline.  Nor could she recover and ask him real questions or refute his claims of his scholarly credentials—which he clearly overstated, because she did not know. That’s what happens when you let the intern do your homework.

In reality, there are thousands of Lauren Greenes and worse out there, mostly very nice people and usually smart reporters having very bad days. You will eventually run into them, and they may write incorrect facts in stories that you will have to politely correct in order to save the relationship.

 How an Executive or CEO Needs To Prepare for Media Interviews

  1. Expect that the reporter has read nothing, and don’t be offended. Unlike you, your business isn’t the most compelling part of his day,
  2. Have grilled himself or submitted to a grilling by his PR team with a rude Q and A to respond to a negative line of questioning,
  3. Be able to kindly and calmly halt the reporter and suggest that there are stronger topics of discussion or to clearly state that the reporter has missed something and you need to back up. For a great example, watch President Obama kindly correct Elisabeth Hasselbeck on the View: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/15/obama-view-elisabeth-hasselbeck-gay-marriage_n_1518366.html
  4. Review the resulting article, and if there are factual errors, ask for a change. If the tone is not to your liking, just cool your jets. You are better off sticking to factual corrections. You are more likely to build trust with a reporter if he or she doesn’t feel you are whiny about an angle.

What You Need to Know About Good PR

For potential clients, let me tell you something about most good PR people. Unless you have hired a 24-year-old who never worked with any supervision, (and if you are paying a very big agency a very teensy, tiny amount of money that may be exactly what is happening), we bend over backwards to make sure every detail is right in a pitch and that reporters are fully vetted before having a media interview. Don’t assume that lack of knowledge on the reporter’s side equals lack of trying on your PR team’s side. You can trust but verify, of course, but we can’t make reporters read everything we send them.  Your best bet, like the Boy Scouts, is to “Be Prepared.”

Making Imperfect Circumstances Yield Good PR and Brand Awareness

Good PR can happen even if all elements aren't perfect.

A one-legged bird beats the odds and inspires me to better thinking on PR

No PR Campaign Ever Has All The Legs It Needs, But You Can Still Win

Yesterday, I was absolutely famished by 10 a.m., and having been working since dark, I decided to grab a bite near my Orange County, California office. I was mulling a particularly sticky client issue as I was digging into my scrambled eggs on the patio of a nice little café, and frankly, feeling a little grumpy.

I unplugged from technology and let my mind float. I was mulling options for creating news where there is none and ways to edge our customer engagement up, while occasionally shooing the greedy bird community away from my table.

Finally I noticed one of these little gray-brown birds looking me square in the eye and holding his ground more persistently than the others, inching quite close to my chair. I thought at first he had a leg held up to his breast, but quickly realized he protected just a strand of what used to be a leg. And yet here he was, proud as you please, getting more than his fair share of bagels and breakfast scraps.

I just began to chuckle out loud to no one, and I’m sure people thought I was a loon.

It took a real-life one-legged bird to remind me this morning that nothing in business or PR is ever perfect and the dedicated, persistent and bold ones get the goodies, the coverage, the brand exposure.

You always need more time, more details, a better image, more spokespeople, a better partnership. Even companies with multi-million dollar budgets rarely feel they have all the tools at their disposal for making “perfect” campaigns. But you know what? Just getting on with it, planning the best you can, with a realistic understanding of your shortcomings and how to compensate for them, combined with an attitude of persistence and resilience will yield great results.

The Practicalities of Working With Imperfection

So, what does this mean practically speaking?  How do we move from little bird analogy to the cold, hard reality of making your CEO thrilled? Sometimes, a solution will appear. And other times, frankly, it isn’t going to be easy. You are going to have to wear the big boy or big girl pants and tell your execs what is possible, probable, or a big fat stretch.

Here are a few examples of how you can work around your missing PR legs:

  • You’re not quite ready for business press. You can’t talk about your funding, your profit, or you don’t have a ton of customers yet. These missing legs always make those editors who get on average 150 emails an hour tougher to reach. But, just because a Wall Street Journal  story might not be likely right now does not mean that you can’t get profiles, interviews and bylines placed with core industry bloggers who then raise your credibility. Those guys will likely get you more sales than a glory hit.You should still pitch WSJ if you feel your story is pretty good, but don’t put all your eggs in that basket. And remember, all reporters search you via Google when they are considering interviewing your company, so the more written by or about your business, the better.
  • You are in a news slump. There is nothing on the horizon. Do you go quiet? Hell, no. This is the time to stop the impulse to churn out useless news releases and go head-down creating valuable thought leadership pieces and start blogging more regularly. Follow reporters more closely  and touch base just because. Brainstorm creative stunts and programs that will populate your blog or serve multidisciplinary marketing needs that will carry your brand for months to come.  And if you have to remind the C-suite that quiet doesn’t mean taking a nap, be sure to involve them.
  • Speaking gigs are big in your industry but your CEO is completely monotone and gets hives in front of a crowd. Is there someone else with a good enough title that can speak for him or her? Or can you make the case that ongoing speaker training is a good investment?
  • You’ve snagged a great partner, but they are too busy to do news. Keep nurturing the relationship, settle for a blog post, place articles of your own with pubs important to them, and return a few months later suggesting you pitch a byline or tutorial with you both.

Play to Your Strengths

The little bird eventually sought out more receptive diners, but his bold spirit reinvigorated my client brainstorm and left me smiling.  Full disclosure: (I walk with a heavy limp, and often forget about it, until I see myself walking in a store window, so I might be a little biased toward this tough bird.)

Although I felt really silly, my steps slowed as I walked out of the cafe. I realized sheepishly that I was looking for that little guy. For a few moments, I could only see “normal” birds. But just as I was stepping to my car, my feathered friend seemed to realize he needed to come say goodbye and alighted near the post where I stood, balancing perfectly on his one leg.

I looked him in the eye, we nodded at each other, and he politely posed for a  very long time until I got this picture.

He should remind us all that we can always make what we have more to work with than it appears in marketing and PR, even if it feels like we are missing a crucial piece.

And my client? Sticky issue solved. Two pieces of coverage and a great new editor interested. Thanks, birdie!

Research is Key To Great PR Strategy: An Intern’s Deep Dive

Siya Rajan

Siya Rajan, a junior at Chapman University in Orange, CA, learns how deeply strategy and research play into a solid PR plan at her internship at Vibrance PR in Orange County, Calif.

Today, we are featuring a post from Vibrance’s great new intern, Siya Rajan, a junior at Chapman University in Orange, California.  She has taken our Aliso Viejo, California  offices by storm. Siya is whip-smart, fun, and has a laugh that keeps us cheerful throughout the day. The majority of our clients are in tech, but that hasn’t scared Siya away. She is learning and growing every day. Her biggest insight, “You really have to do a lot of critical thinking about your client’s interests and needs and analyze the competitive space daily in order to track the right stories or help them to blog and respond more than I knew.”

From Siya: An Inside Look Into My Vibrance PR Internship

Public relations is a dynamic career varying from the entertainment industry to the technology industry. For my summer 2013 internship, I work here at Vibrance PR in Aliso Viejo, California, which is a tech-based PR agency. So far I can easily say that this has been the most productive and enriching experience. I am always eager to grow and explore new avenues and Vibrance PR has been the perfect environment for my pursuit in my chosen career path: PR. I ventured into this opportunity with very little knowledge of the tech industry, but indulged myself in conducting research for our clients and began to increase my knowledge in this field.

I share an office with my boss and owner of Vibrance PR, Kara, who is always teaching me new aspects about the career path that I have chosen. She wants me to grow and familiarize myself with this career and challenges my writing. I am continuously entrusted with social media work, coverage searches and media list gathering. I have been here only a month and have already heavily improved my researching skills and learned to strategically align my thinking  as to how to conduct efficient research.

To summarize, I am learning how to:

  • Master Cision for media research, editor and news media lists,
  • Carry out extensive Google news searches,
  • Curate articles for our clients to comment on,
  • Strategically post on social media

Along with work, I have developed a good relationship with Kara, and look up to her as my mentor. This internship will not be just another addition to my resume, but I will be taking back a lot of great, concrete experience which I can apply to my future jobs and be ahead of the game.

 

Great to have you, Siya! Thanks for all the hard work! Enjoy your off days at the beach! What else is Southern California for?

Paula Deen and Recovering Your Reputation

Apologia of the Week:

Apologia is defined as:

: a formal justification : defense

: excuse 2a
: an admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret <a public apology>

You may have seen this interview by Matt Lauer, who has many times cooked with  Paula in the Today Show’s on-set kitchen. Matt asked some pretty tough Qs of his Southern belle friend, and I’m pretty sure he wasn’t thrilled that she had bailed on him a few days previous for the same conversation, which any PR knows is a nightmare.

Regardless of your beliefs regarding Deen and whether she is racist to the core, or has been targeted by a disgruntled employee, how do you rate her performance in the apologies recently given and in her Today show appearance?

Personally I think her oft-quoted statement from this interview, “I is who I is,” is remarkably true in this clip. I see an uncomfortable, elderly woman who is used to being loved for her bubbly Southern hospitality, utterly shocked that she is the victim of a firestorm.

I appreciate that she has apologized several times now, and that she contends she used this word once many years ago while being held at gunpoint. The problem with her apologies is that racial discrimination is one of the most sensitive topics in this country, and regardless of all the backstory we might not know here, swift, sincere apology with no self-pity were what was called for here, and she couldn’t quite manage that.

The Road to Recovery?

CNN Money reports today that after the loss of 10 sponsors:

“In an attempt to stop the hemorrhaging, Paula Deen has hired Smith & Company, the crisis-management firm run by Judy Smith — the inspiration for the hit ABC show Scandal — according to a source familiar with the arrangement. Smith has served as a consultant for a host of high profile clients including Monica Lewinski, Michael Vick, Wesley Snipes and Jill Kelley, the mistress of former CIA director General David Petraeus.”

I am very interested to see how this plays out over the next several months. How will Paula’s tone change? What else will be revealed? What will come out about the disgruntled manager?

What happens now?

The bottom line? Integrity matters. And sometimes, when true remorse and redemptive action is shown, America forgives, and sometimes not. Tiger Woods is on the rise again after his much-publicized affairs,  and has sustained his Nike sponsorship throughout the last few years. Mel Gibson, not so much. Paula Deen’s integrity is now being tested. I have read that her new advisor, Ms. Smith, likes to believe in the goodness of people.  It will be interesting to see how far Paula Deen’s integrity and Southern charm can rebound from the events of the last three weeks.

What are your thoughts on public apologies and the possibilities of redemption?

The 2013 AP Stylebook is Out–Why it Still Matters

AP Style

The new AP Stylebook for 2013 was recently released. Do you use AP style?
credit: iStock/Pixsooz

The 2013 AP Stylebook was just released with more than 90 new changes. Do you find yourself struggling to explain AP Style to your managers or clients?

At Vibrance, we follow AP Style in our news release writing, but we find that some clients have no idea what that is, and they wonder why we are demoting their very important job titles to lowercase, or writing datelines in a way that isn’t consistent with the way the post office does it.

The reason is simple. We know social media moves at lightning speed and blogs should be far more relaxed. However, news releases should still be written for journalists first, and journalists follow AP Style. They respect PR people who follow the rules and they can use more of the news release verbatim. Ultimately you are making their jobs easier and showing them that you speak their language. Don’t you like it when someone does those things for you?

Don’t forget that with the Interwebs, those news releases live online forever. If a credible journalist is reading your news release and it is a bit of a mess according to her training, what impression are you leaving?

Get your new AP Styleguide here:  https://www.apstylebook.com/apbookstore/invoice.php

Tell us your AP Style challenges in the comments, please!