Posts Tagged Public Relations

Times change, but skills remain key

Think about the changes an 80-year-old has seen. Growing up, the family’s primary sources of news and events were likely the daily newspaper and word-of-mouth from family and friends. Then came the telephone, radio, and television. That generation witnessed a shift in the methods and speed of communication greater than any group prior.

Now we have the internet, email, social media, smart phones, tablets, and apps that will do everything from paying bills to creating a talking Santa cartoon.

Staying in touch has never been easier — while being an effective communicator has become increasingly difficult.

The following tips will help increase the odds your audience will pay attention to your message:

Be clear and concise
Regardless of your field or message, your writing (or speaking) should be direct and to-the-point. If your readers have to look for key message, you’ve likely lost them. Make your point without lengthy introductions, then follow-up with details.

This is particularly critical when targeting younger generations that are accustomed to more direct communication.

Consider your audience
A NASA engineer speaking to her peers would likely use very different language than when addressing a group of high school students on the same topic. Ask yourself what you audience knows about the topic, how much detail is appropriate, and if they’ll understand terminology associated with the subject. If’ I’m chatting with another photographer, I might mention shooting an image with my 135mm at f2. However, if speaking my aunt, I’d simply say I adjusted the camera to blur the background out of focus.

Be objective
Passion is a double-edge sword. It’s what makes you good at your job, but also makes effectively communicating about it much more challenging.

I’ll explain. You want to tell people about a project, and assume they’ll share your excitement. You begin to tell them the specifics of your work, and before you can know it, they’ve lost interest, either because they can’t follow the details or the story ran too long.

A programmer friend once told me a story about a project she was working on. As much as I tried to follow along, I was lost within 3 minutes. The story continued, with me struggling to keep up. It’s became jokingly known as the “Flat File Story.”

Be timely and time sensitive
Readers are incredibly busy, so you have to reach them where they want to hear the news, and then present it in a way that they’ll want to read/hear.

In my early years, we often drafted newsletter articles or messages from executives that were fairly long, and people seemed to read them. Now there’s great competition for readers’ attention, and you run the risk of losing them with a message that’s too jam-packed. And given the speed at which news travels, by the time you craft your detailed message, it might be old or outdated.

Follow Twitter’s lead
Twitter, with its 140 character limit, provides a great exercise in good writing. It forces you to be direct, clear, and concise. Give it a try.

Your turn. How do you reach your audience?

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What makes an item newsworthy?

I’m often asked to pitch stories to media. Some are terrific and easy to promote; others are a stretch.

So, what makes a story worthy of media attention? It could be a number of factors — sometimes the topic is enough to draw reporters, other times you have to create news around it to gain coverage.

Be Objective
The biggest tip I offer is to be objective and look at the topic from a reader’s or viewer’s perspective. Just because you or I think the latest widget is extraordinary doesn’t mean the media or public will agree. Ask yourself: Will people find this information interesting?

Consider the impact
How many people are affected, positively or negatively, by your product or service? Cancer impacts more people — and more seriously — than hair loss, for example. A new procedure that offers hope for breast cancer patients is more newsworthy than a treatment for baldness.

An often overlooked impact is the number of jobs created by a new product, location, expansion, etc. So, if you’re opening a new gas station, talk about the jobs you’ll create, not the additives in your gasoline.

Cool is good
Apple has built a reputation — and loyal following — because of the wow factor of its products. Every new launch brings anticipation, creates buzz, and stirs lots of talk at the water cooler. You may not have the allure of Apple, but your product could be interesting to many. For example, selling a new type of shovel isn’t that exciting, but suppose you learned a local doctor recommended it to her patients with back problems.

Newsmakers make news
Well-known people are often good media draws. The list ranges from local Olympians and university presidents to the governor or mayor. If you can create an event and incorporate a celebrity presence, your odds of coverage increase.

Pictures tell stories
This is important. While you may be able to secure some coverage in newspapers without any visuals, good images are required when working with television news. In the manufacturing field, identify employees the camera crews can film making your product. If you’re a chiropractor, reporters will want to record you working with a client. Think of “action” shots that help tell your story.

Be nimble, be quick
Remember, the first three letters in news are N-E-W. Unlike the tortoise and hare, speed does matter. Be ready to act (or respond to calls) on a moment’s notice. Reporters generally call more than one contact, and the first one prepared to respond usually lands the interview. You’ll also build a reputation as being a reliable resource.

If a newspaper already reported on a new service offered by a competitor, you’ll need to come up with a different topic to pitch. It’s not enough that you do that service differently or better. The story is done. It’s old news.

What else is going on?
When thinking about the newsworthiness of your story, consider what other items are in the news. Late October and early November means elections, winter brings blizzards, etc. Are there legislative battles in your state, or a big court case that’s a priority for media? If you can tie coverage into these, great, but if not, you might face a much tougher pitch and may want to wait a bit.

Find a local angle
Let’s say a fire in Boston destroys a historic building. Media in Delaware might be interested in speaking with your fire department or an owner of a hardware store about checking smoke detectors, replacing batteries, etc.

If you own a bike shop in Ohio, and a bike helmet saved the life of a national personality in New York City, call your local media and offer to speak about bike safety.

Focus on people
Viewers like stories about people. For example, celebrating your antique store’s 20th year in business is certainly exciting to you, but would that be newsworthy? Probably not. But, if you had the same group of employees for all 20 years, and perhaps two of them married, and their twins girls now work at your store in the summer … that’s a good story.

Another good pitch would be a small-town woman who overcame cancer to sing the national anthem before a Red Sox game.

Know when to say when
Too often, I see people trying to force a story. Media relations is about building relationships, and that means accepting that one story doesn’t work, but keeping the door open to another. If you push a story idea too far and lose credibility with the media, your next pitch will be that much harder.

Your turn. What tips to you have for people who want to pitch stories?

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