It’s not about the press (news) release

by Tony Scida

(Editor’s note: BTW, I always refer to it as news release.  The old TV guy in me. -JN)

This inside joke greets folks at THP's front door.

This inside joke greets folks at THP’s front door.

Late last month the intersection of technology, journalism and public relations was sent into a tizzy when a number of news sites fell for a phony press release posted to PRWeb in an apparent attempt to game the stock market. While other postulate whether this is a nail in the coffin of PR, journalism, Google News or all of the above (and what’s next), I wanted to talk a bit about the document that got this whole mess started and how we think about them here at The Hodges Partnership: the press release (or news release, if you prefer).

We certainly produce our share of press releases around here, usually in close collaboration with our clients, and they have their uses, including securing approval from corporate legal departments, satisfying federal regulations and highlighting basic facts about a company or campaign. In fact, we create enough press releases that we put a press release pun on our doorbell sign. But, at least for the way we practice PR, the news release is not usually the center of our media relations strategy.

Media relations, stated as simply as possible, is about:

  • Helping journalists understand what our clients do, so they can decide whether to write about them
  • Helping our clients hone their message or generate newsworthy content that supports their business goals

In some cases, a press release may be the right tactic to achieve those goals, but more often it requires a pitch targeted to specific journalists. If all goes well, we help the journalist do their job and help our clients get their message out to the world. And of course, as important as media relations remains, it is only one tactic in a company’s public relations and social media programs.

 

10 Tips for Mastering Your Television Skype Interview

(Editor’s note:  Cam is one of The Hodges Partnership’s media relations superstars. Much of his recent work has been focused on international media for clients like ChildFund International.  This post is a result of his recent success.) -JN

by Cameron McPherson

One of the neatest things about technology advances is how it lets news organizations connect with sources and experts more quickly. With Skype, Google+ and other video calling tools, news networks like CNN and MSNBC can get an expert on the air in a matter of minutes.

ChildFund’s Mark Dasco does a Skype interview with CNN International after last year’s tsunami in The Philippines.

ChildFund’s Mark Dasco does a Skype interview with CNN International after last year’s tsunami in The Philippines.

A video interview via Skype or Google+ is much like a traditional studio interview. There are some extra things to keep in mind though. When we’re coordinating Skype interviews for clients, here are some of the tips we share:

Do not look at your screen: You will look weird. Instead, look at your computer’s camera, so it appears to viewers that you are looking at them. Put a bright sticker or another marker to draw your eyes to the camera.

Know your talking points: Just because you’re behind a computer and not in the studio, does not mean you can cheat by including notes on your monitor. This is broadcast television – the big leagues! If your eyes are reading from the screen, it will look awkward to viewers.

Turn off notifications: Remember how I told you to look at the camera? Turn off email and other desktop notifications that may pop up and distract you during your interview. Also, silence cell phones to avoid unwanted background noise.

Create a backdrop: This sounds like common sense, but if you’re doing an interview from your office, be sure to clean up. It’s also an opportunity to include organization signage in the background. If you have a poster or sign with the organization’s logo, put it behind you.

Practice: Don’t wait until you’re live on CNN to see how you look on the video feed. Practice with a friend or coworker to make sure you and your surroundings look top notch. Test lighting to make sure it’s not too dark or bright. It’s also a chance to practice looking at the camera, something that may not feel “natural.”

Wardrobe: The safest color to wear for television interviews is blue. In general, do not wear white, black, red or patterns, and avoid colors that blend into the background.

Headphones: Ideally, you’ll be able to hear the anchor without the use of headphones, but have them around just in case. Use a pair of discreet, white or black headphones, if needed.

Reduce background noise: Turn the television off. Not only will it create background noise, but the short delay can distract interviewees. Additionally, be aware of other outside sounds that could interfere. Closing your office door is always a good idea.

A Professional Skype username: While it’s unlikely your username will be displayed on the screen, the producer will need to connect with you beforehand. Nothing takes away from an expert’s credibility like “BarbieGirl99.” I suggest a username with your full name and organization.

Keep IT on standby: This is technology you’re dealing with – it will break when you need it most! Make sure you have someone around who can fix any issues that pop up.

Producers will often call and do a sound check before broadcast to make sure the connection is solid. Feel free to ask any questions or concerns you may have at this time. But, remember: you’re an expert and you’re going to do great!

Do you have any tips for the perfect Skype interview? Please share in the comments below.

Non-profit events: A PR recipe for success

by Cameron McPherson

(Quick editor’s note: There are few better at getting the word out about events than Cam.  Great ingredient list below. -JN)

I’m fortunate to work at an organization that encourages employees to volunteer and give back to the community. As a guy who loves to work with nonprofits, this makes me so happy. Throughout the year, in and outside of work, I help nonprofits publicize their events to the public. It’s not only an opportunity to fundraiser for a cause, it also gives the nonprofit a chance to tell their story to the community.

I just finished helping with PR for the Cookies for Kids’ Cancer bake sales in Richmond and thought some of the best practices would be helpful to other organizations. So, without further ado, here are 10 tips for getting the word out about your event:

  • Create a storyline: This isn’t just an event, it’s an opportunity for you to explain to the community why your nonprofit’s work is so important. Leverage facts about the issue and localize as much as possible – and then shout it from the rooftops!
  • Do some digging: Community news organizations have engaged readership and often love getting the word out about local events. You’re probably familiar with local TV and the daily newspaper, but don’t forget about blogs.  Do some Googling and ask Facebook friends, “where do you get community news?”
  • Look for interview opportunities: Flip through your radio dial for a week and listen for local drive-time programs that interview guests. Skip nationally syndicated programs, and focus on programs with local DJs. When it comes to TV, look for local newscasts that do in-studio interviews.
  • Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery: Have you seen a nonprofit in your area get great press for their events? Google search and see what outlets covered them. It’s a good way to pinpoint outlets that could cover your event.
  • Facebook, it’s free!: You might not have the financial resources to create a website dedicated to your event, but creating a Facebook event page is free.  Not only is it a great way to get attendees energized before the event, but you can use it to find volunteers and provide updates before the event. Even better, a lot of news media have Facebook pages with huge fan bases that will often link to your event.
  • Develop a variety of angles: Ever notice how news organizations sometimes cover a story differently? If you’re pursuing interviews or pre-event coverage, develop different angles. Find how the problem your nonprofit is trying to fix affects various local people. Or, maybe a local program has a cooking segment. Is your event catered? You could offer the chef as a guest on the program as an alternative way to plug the upcoming event.
  • Don’t forget a news release: Some say the news release is dead. For nonprofit events, it is very much alive and one of the best ways to ensure consistent messaging. There are tons of resources online on how to write a release. Make sure to include the basics: who, what, when, where and, most importantly, why. It is important to tell people why they should support the cause and how will it help the community.
  • Award buzz: Will you be honoring someone at the event? If so, contact your local newspaper about the why the recipient is receiving the award. It’s an opportunity to get positive exposure for that person’s work, while also getting the word out about an event.
  • Radios PSAs: Good news! Some stations are required to donate a certain amount of airtime to nonprofit causes. However, submission requirements for PSAs are different from station to station, so your best bet is to call and ask for someone who manages the PSAs. It’s a free way to create a “commercial” for your event.
  • At the event: Do certain outlets include event photos? Give the publication a big enough heads up (at least three weeks) and see if they would be interested in sending a photographer. Don’t be let down because the editor told you “no.”  Often times this is due to a lack of resources, ask if you can submit hi-res photos after the event.
  • Long term vision: Is your event annual? Be strategic with your media relations outreach plan. Every outlet can’t cover your event every year. If your daily newspaper did a feature on the event this year, try looking for other PR opportunities.

Those were just 10 tips, but there are many more ways to promote your event. Please share your ideas in the comments below.

 

PR pros should “dance with the one that brung you”

by Jon Newman

OK, here we go.  Time for your daily dose of blasphemy on this Thursday.   Hold on to your hats but this is something that’s been bothering me for a while especially as a personally stand one foot in each bucket.

Are we spending too much time focusing on social media when good old-fashioned public and media relations still works just fine?

Before you say Jon, we can and should do both, I will quickly agree with you but add that maybe we should prioritize the time spent on both so we meet all of our clients goals.

Is it summed up with a question I recently asked my PR/social media class at VCU as they were wrapping up their semester-long social media projects.  “Given the choice would you rather have a smooth and successful social media campaign for a client, or get them a media relations hit on Good Morning America or The New York Times?”  To a person (and they are pretty plugged into the changing PR landscape) they choice the big national media relations hit.

I can’t say that I disagree with them.

I haven’t changed my thinking about social media and what it can accomplish, I am saying we may be hitting a slight plateau.  Given the continued struggle to prove ROI and the fact that EVERYONE (ad agencies, marketers, the guy on the street corner) is offering what they claim to be as comprehensive social media consulting, maybe we in PR need to re-look at our core competencies and what we can still offer.

Sure the media pool is shrinking, but it’s not dead by a long shot.  And clients eyes still get really wide when they see their products or companies on TV, online and in print.  As it gets harder to “break through” on the internet interstate that Facebook has become and as we try on the fly to figure out if Pinterest is going to be the next big play or big fail, let’s not forget what has worked for us for the last century or so.

So while we blog and slog it out to see who will comment or share our next post, we may have clearer sailing and a larger “ROI” by making sure we still reach out to national media who still know and can report a good story when they see one.

No, I haven’t changed my overall thinking.  Yes, we at Hodges are still defining best practices for social community management and have three Facebook contests going on for clients simultaneously.  But we also just completed some very cool New York media tours that will bear tremendous fruit.

As Darrell Royal, the patriarch of University of Texas football used to say, “Don’t forget to dance with the one who brung ya.”

It’s gotten us this far.

Got Millions? New magazines are betting on you…

by Alissa Pak, member of THP’s “lux” team

The next time one of the recent Mega Millions winners happens to breeze past a newsstand, they certainly won’t have a shortage of reading materials to flip through. Though some may call the current economic outlook uncertain, for four magazine publications it’s anything but as they launch their new titles. Not exactly aimed at the populist sect, these magazines won’t be everyday reading material unless you count yourself among the 1 percent of society.

Are you a subscriber to the Bloomberg Terminal at an annual fee of $20,000? If yes, then be sure to check your mailbox for the next issue of Bloomberg Pursuits. Introduced earlier this year, Pursuits is distributed twice a year to an audience with an average annual household income of more than $450,000. The premiere issue profiled a solar eclipse-viewing Bloomberg subscriber traveling via icebreaker. Now how do you book that trip?

Bloomberg isn’t the only one jumping on the luxury magazine bandwagon. Niche Media which already publishes regional luxury titles such as Hamptons, Ocean Drive and more will unveil Du Jour this upcoming September. Their typical reader will have a net worth of more than $5 million and average home value of $1.5 million.

Time Style & Design sound familiar? It should. After a three-year absence, parent company Time Magazine thought it the perfect climate for its comeback for the twice published luxury title. A commonly spotted phrase in the issues return is “price upon request”. ForbesLife, a spinoff made available only to Forbes subscribers is hitting the stands, literally. For the first time, the latest issue of the luxury lifestyle title can be picked up by anyone wanting to read about your average billionaire’s Manhattan’s Upper East Side pad.

So what gives?

With slumping newsstand sales and disappearing advertising pages, it’s pretty common knowledge that the mass-market magazine industry has seen better days. But its luxury counterparts the likes of Departures and Financial Times’ monthly luxury magazine How to Spend It have all grown, both in revenue and subscribers. A recent article on this very topic by industry trade publication, Women’s Wear Daily, happened to put it best. “As middle-income consumers get pushed to the bottom of the hourglass, the brands succeeding are those that target low-end and high-end consumers.”

So next time you pass a newsstand, flip through these newbies and pick up a lottery ticket while you’re at it.

PR story of the day: Game wars? UPDATED

Duke Nukem

While this cautionary tale (click below) seems to end well, it is interesting how some feel they can and should try to control access to products or news to gain favor of journalists or in this case to avoid negative commentary.

Blacklisting in various forms has been used as a marketing tool for years, rarely to this extent though.  Click here for story from arstechnica.com

UPDATE:  Within the hour, this tweet was released by 2K Games, The Rednar Group’s client…

“2K Games does not endorse or condone the comments made by @TheRednerGroup and confirm they no longer represent our products.”

Obviously they paid the ultimate price for their frustration with the give and take of journalism.

Would love to hear if you have every been a victim of blacklisting and how you may have overcome this issue.

The #PR gamechanger.

With apologies to my friends in the satellite media tour/video news release world, I’ve been silently waiting for years for the time that technology would catch up and allow just about anyone to “broadcast” news using inexpensive devices and technology.

The time has come.

Today BBC announced that it’s working on an iPhone/iPad app that will enable reporters to shoot, edit and feed stories (and I’m guessing live video) from their Apple device on both 3G and wireless networks.

The implications for broadcast journalists are staggering.  For the last few years we’ve seen the integration of Skype-quality video into newscasts where they are now commonplace and the video quality is more than acceptable.  The cost savings associated with this new technology are great as the need for satellite trucks and satellite time will now shrink dramatically.

For PR and social media pros, we are now a step closer to direct feeding/broadcasting soundbites and interviews at extremely low costs to any broadcast journalism outlet.  That is if we can maintain some level of video and audio quality.  Our ability to become PR/SM utility players who can learn how to shoot, edit and at least hold an iPad still will become more important as this new application becomes more mainstream in the news room.

Our ability to produce our own iMedia tours is also one step closer as well.  With basic audio, lighting and shooting skills our mobile devices will soon become more important that we ever would have realized in the practice of our craft.

We’re not quite there yet, but it’s time for us to get ready.  The technology will continue to evolve.  We better as well.

 

PR story of the day: Pay to play.

Interesting story in the New York Times about network morning shows shelling out the big bucks for exclusive newsmaker interviews.

What do you think about this practice?  Is it a sign of the times given they have fewer staff members working on stories?

What are your thoughts/

 

The Daily from the PR perspective

Some quick thoughts on The Daily, News Corp’s new iPad-only newspaper.

I love it.

Not because the content is great or the design is tremendous, remember people ragged on the first issues of USA Today when it come out.

I love it because, it represents the future of what dynamic, interactive, freshly delivered content CAN be.

I also love it because at a time when daily news delivered in a “news-a-zine” format is dying, here is a new fresh source of information.

Finally, I love it because as a media relations professional it is the equivalent of “cool fresh meat” for folks like us to pitch to and to get coverage for our clients.

Don’t judge The Daily by its debut yesterday, wait a year and lets talk.  I have a feeling it will be an interesting conversation.

The birth of Hodges Digital Strategies

This is a blog post that is more than two years in the making.

Past posts have alluded to growth at The Hodges Partnership, mainly focusing on the new two-story addition to the back of our Shockoe Bottom home.  But I have hinted at something more, and here it is.

Today I’d like to announce the creation of a second business under the Hodges umbrella, Hodges Digital Strategies.

HDS is the product of a two-year journey we’re taken with a number of folks including our new business partner in the venture, Sonali Shetty and a number of clients who have jumped into this new digital and social world with us with both feet.  Some of those clients include AMF Bowling, SnagAJob.com, Carpenter, Virginia Farm Bureau Insurance, ChildFund International and CarMax, all of whom at varying levels are exploring way to reach audiences online, create community and broaden their communications strategies to include digital, social and mobile platforms and everything in between.

As I have written before, I am a big believer that PR firms are well positioned to guide clients through this newer world because we have a great history of content creation for communications programs. Some PR firms have struggled because while they know what should be done to communication on platforms as diverse as Facebook, Twitter, websites, and iPhones, they lack the design and technological development capabilities to handle the entire assignment for clients.  This is where we hope to succeed with HDS by marrying the power of public relations and technology and providing seamless strategies under one umbrella.

Through our communications, design and development capabilities we can create “digital outposts” for a brand with strategies born out of our public relations experience, delivered across all online and digital platforms.

Specifically HDS will:

  • Build custom websites and web applications
  • Build custom experiences on social media platforms, like branded custom landing pages on Facebook and use contests, games, etc. to leverage its viral nature.  Among our team is one of the first third-party Facebook developers so we have the experience needed to deliver.
  • Build iPhone, iPad and Droid apps for smartphones.  We’re in the beginning stages of building an iPhone/iPad app for Rutgers University athletics.
  • Provide analytics to see how successful your program is.
  • Counsel on social media strategy including everything from initial listening programs, to ongoing monitoring for reputation management issues, to providing advice on how to grow and interact with communities and consumers including social commerce and geo-location programs with Foursquare, etc.
  • Provide strategy and counsel on online video projects.

The combination of all these specialties will help a client leverage their potential audience and engage and interact with them wherever they are.

This coupled with The Hodges Partnership (no the traditional PR side is not going away by a long shot), will allow clients to reach consumers through traditional media (media relations/communications), online (through media relations/communications, social media platforms and web development) and on their mobile devices (through media relations, social media platforms and mobile sites and apps).

All under one Hodges umbrella, which provides one consistent communications strategy and of course, lower overhead and costs.

Speaking of which, we are also offering a small business/non-profit product for Facebook based on feedback we’ve received from a number of folks as well.

So there’s the news.  I know it was a little “salesy” but we’ve been holding this in for so long we wanted to make sure we told our story effectively because as we tell our clients, “you only have one time to launch, so you better communicate effectively.”

We’re very excited about this and we’re happy to answer any questions or provide initial consultation.

Again, we think that PR is perfectly positioned to lead in the digital world, and we’re putting our money where our opinion is.

Thanks for all your support these past eight years and we hope the Hodges brand of companies is around for a whole lot more.

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