Friday, October 26, 2007

The Right Way and Wrong Way to Capitalize on Current Events

Robbie Kaplan, author of How to Say It When You Don’t Know What to Say: The Right Words for Difficult Times, knew she could help the friends and families of people affected by this week's tragic wild fires in California, so she used the media to help provide information on how to lend support following a natural disaster. Robbie sent a tip sheet on the topic to the media; it was picked up by a wide range of outlets.

Robbie understands that there's a "right" way and a "wrong" way for small businesses, nonprofits and authors to take advantage of current events. In this situation, your goal is not to advance your business but to provide help or assistance. When a crisis of this magnitude happens, ask yourself, "Is there anything my business can do to help?" If so, let the media know.

I provided counsel this week to a company poised to extend exposure that its product received on "The Today Show" when the product was cited in a segment on "things that will help you survive a crisis." I cautioned the company's marketers to focus on how it could help those suffering in California. Journalists are very good at sniffing out -- and ignoring -- those among us who are in this just for the quick buck, not for the service. This company could do a number of things to help and implemented a media relations plan to communicate that information.

There should be an award for companies that "do good" -- even at their own expense -- in these situations. If you want to start one, let me know. I volunteer to be a judge!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Animal Rescue Organizations: Capitalize on the Ellen Mess!

Dear Animal Rescue Organizations:

I hope you've been wise enough to capitalize on the Ellen DeGeneris/Mutts and Moms/Iggy situation. Your group provides the local angle news organizations coast-to-coast have been looking for.

Have they called you? And have you answered their questions thoughtfully, responsibly, and with an eye toward your own public image? You might want to take a moment to explain that adoption rules serve a necessary and important purpose. And you might also want to comment that while you appreciate the position of the founder of Mutts and Moms -- she is, after all, just trying to keep her animals safe -- there might have been a better way to handle the situation. What do you think might have worked? How else might you have handled this unusual situation?

If you opt to steadfastly stand by the founder, Marina Batkis, in Animal Rescue Solidarity, you might risk alienating supporters. Whether she's right or wrong doesn't matter. People have trouble understanding her heavy-handed, inflexible tactics. And people in your community will have trouble understanding you if your comments are supportive of the California woman. It's all about perception.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Here's a Formula for Instant Bad Publicity

For some strange reason, Ellen DeGeneres's televised meltdown over her dog adoption problems has made national news. It's hard to understand why the major network news programs would spend any precious time on this, but they did. And they're not the only major media outlets that seem fascinated with Ellen's failed pet adoption story.

Some of us are wondering why Ellen allowed herself to open her show with this sobfest, but all of us who are familiar with the story now know the name of a nonprofit organization we've never heard of before: Mutts and Moms. Under different circumstances, this would be a fabulous turn of events for a small, local charity -- national media exposure! Wow! Think of the contributions this could generate! Instead, after hearing Executive Director Marina Batkis's statement to the press about the Ellen DeGeneres Situation, I'm left thinking, "WHAT WAS SHE THINKING?"

And there's the answer: She wasn't thinking. And she wasn't thinking when she yanked the dog out of the home without first exploring if an exception to her rules might be in the best interest of the dog and the animal rescue organization.

Batkis allowed her spokesperson to tell the press: "She doesn't think this is the type of family that should have the dog. She is adamant that she is not going to be bullied around by the Ellen DeGenereses of the world ... They are using their power, position and wealth to try to get what it is they want."

Well, even if they are, is that what you really want to be saying to the national media?

Yes, DeGeneres made a mistake. But considering that she has a national pulpit for her opinions, wouldn't it have been wiser to try to find a reasonable compromise? If this had been handled differently -- if Batkis had managed to make a friend of DeGeneres instead of an enemy -- she'd be listening to the kaching of donations on her Web site instead of taking the site offline because of the backlash that has led to death threats.

What a sorry mess. The lesson? Some say there's no such thing as bad publicity, but I'll bet Marina Batkis would argue with that.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

NYC Area Nonprofits: Enter NYT Awards Program Now

November 30 is the deadline for the 2008 New York Times Company Nonprofit Excellence Awards. The awards, presented by The New York Times Community Affairs Department, the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York, and the New York Regional Association of Grantmakers, recognize excellence in nonprofit organizational management. There will be four winners from the metro New York city area. Learn more at the awards site. It's a wonderful opportunity to showcase your excellent work; good luck!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Make Your Web Site Media Friendly -- Please!

How easy is it for a journalist to find a media contact person on your Web site?If your site is like most of those I clicked around this week while gathering information for a magazine article assignment, you're making it harder than it should (or needs) to be. As soon as you make a journalist's job harder, you're increasing the odds that you won't get that valuable free media exposure known as publicity. Try these simple changes to increase the chances that you'll help a journalist do his or her job in a way that leads to free exposure for your business or organization:

  • Add a "media contact" name, e-mail address, and phone number to your "Contact" page. This is the person who is authorized to answer or faciliate media inquiries. When the organization is too small to have a public relations professional on staff, this is often the marketing director or, at a nonprofit, the development director.
  • Include a contact name, phone number and e-mail address on all of the press releases in your press room. It's surprising how many organizations large and small don't do this.
  • Get rid of the fill-in-the-box template for inquiries. At least give us an e-mail address. It doesn't matter how frequently you're checking the messages we type into those annoying templates -- we think they're a black hole and we don't trust them.

When I can't find the right person to contact quickly when I need answers, I give up and go to the competition's Web site. If they've done a better job of making their contact information available to me, that's who I call. And that's who gets the free exposure.

So...with just a few simple changes, you're not only helping me do my job more quickly and easily (and I will like you for that!), you're also helping your business reach its target audience through the press. There's nothing wrong with both of us coming out of this as winners.