Monday, November 24, 2008

Don't Make This Common Press Release Mistake

I do a lot of press release makeovers, helping entrepreneurs, authors, and nonprofit organization communicators find and highlight the news in their announcement. More often than not, the biggest problem is that the news release writer puts himself at the center of the news, not the product or service. When this happens, the press release uses a format that goes like this: "I'm doing this, here's why I'm doing this, it's really interesting that I'm doing this, here's my life story."

The format you want to use is more like: "Here is the news. Here's why you care about this news. Here's some information about the person/business/organization behind this news."

When thinking about how you will approach your next news release, focus on what will be of greatest interest to those reading the news (your target audience), not on yourself. Sure, it's cool for you that after retiring from a corporate career you started a consulting firm. But that's common. It's not news. What is news, perhaps, is how your business model is built around the zen practices of Buddhist monks, that your office is in a treehouse, or that you specialize in consulting with military veterans.

In most cases, we are not the news. It's what our company does that makes news. I'll be posting more tips later on how to write a news release that works, so come back soon.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Did GM Execs Commit a PR Blunder with Their Corporate Jets?

It's almost too d-u-m-b to be true.

The three auto execs pleading in Washington, D.C., for a bailout traveled there in private jets.

I understand why they did this. They are busy men with huge paychecks and flying commercial is not good use of their time. I get it. But in this case, because they went begging for the public to save their industry, they should have left the private jets behind and flown on a commercial airline as an indication that they were doing their part to be frugal and fiscally responsible.

When it comes to public opinion and public relations, perception is everything. The decision to value their time more than their public image in this case leaves us with the perception that they just don't "get it." And that's a shame, because the jobs of the peple who work for them and their suppliers are at stake.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How to Hire a PR Firm

If you've decided that you don't want to do your own publicity and plan to hire a publicist, proceed slowly and with caution. There are a lot of great publicists but there are a lot who are "fabulous" at dazzling you with their fawning demeanor and razzle-dazzle presentations and facilities, but lousy at delivering results.

Here are tips for hiring a PR firm whether you're looking for small business, nonprofit, or book publicity:
  1. Ask around to find out who can deliver.
  2. Talk to those you’re considering, then send them a briefing letter that outlines your goals, needs and expectactions. Request a capabilities letter in return.
  3. Schedule in-person meetings with those firms whose capabilities fit your needs.
  4. Have a frank conversation about expectations. Clients don't always know what can be achieved and are attracted to publicists who agree with their publicity goals rather than giving them a reality check. You want somebody who is realistic and has the business sense to say, "This is not a good fit for Oprah but I'm fairly sure we can get you strong exposure in local markets across the country."
  5. Select an agency for the right reasons – their experience is relevant, their work is good, you feel you can work with the staff, and they’re affordable. Don't select an agency or individual because they are the best schmoozers. You can't afford to spend your budget dollars with anyone who doesn't have the skills and experience to deliver.
  6. Avoid surprises by putting everything in writing – who will do what and when, what it will cost, when they will be paid.
The key is to be realistic about what can be achieved and to find the best possible individual or team to achieve that for you. Get more tips in my posting on pay for placement PR (I am opposed to it).

What's the best tip anybody ever gave you about hiring a consultant like a publicist or a PR firm?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Watch this Fiction Book Trailer

One of my book promotion course students, Travis Heermann, created a book trailer (book video) for his novel, Heart of the Ronin, which will be released in February. I love his use of music, graphics, and sparce text.

Here it is.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

How Not to Pitch

Because I write on small business topics frequently for newsstand and custom magazines, I received a pitch letter with this opener:

“I have a great new client that i am trying to get some buzz on for a piece, can you please take a look at the pitch below?”

What’s wrong with this opener?

From my perspective…

  • It uses an approach that is too casual for a first-time communication with a stranger.
  • It’s grammatically incorrect.
  • To some of us, “get a buzz on” means getting drunk so this language is distracting.
  • The “i” flags the publicist as young, which equates with inexperienced.

The opener was followed by an article idea and signed with the publicist's initials. Just. His. Initials. No name. No phone number. No nothing else.

I am older than 23, so it’s not a good idea to be this casual when communicating with me for the first time. My assumption – right or wrong – is that this publicist will be a pain in the neck to work with should I decide to interview his client because he comes across as careless. Careless publicists make my job harder, not easier.

If you want to secure publicity:

  • Focus on what the journalist will get from the encounter, not what you will get from it. Do I care that he wants to “get some good buzz” out of this? Not at all.
  • Be professional and act mature -- even if you aren't -- when contacting a journalist. Use complete sentences. Use proper capitalization and punctuation. Avoid slang.
  • Include complete contact information.
  • If you have a PR firm working for you, require them to copy you on pitches so you can identify patterns like this and stop them.

What’s the worst publicist mistake you’ve seen (or done)?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Get Free Nonprofit Publicity Tips

I've just added more free tips to my nonprofit publicity Web site. Select the article link for "The 4 most deadly nonprofit sins" to learn more about why many well-intended publicity campaigns fail and how to make sure yours succeeds.

This is particularly helpful information for communicators at charities and nonprofits who don't have formal public relations training but are expected to execute flawlessly and with great success. When your job requires you to take on many responsibilities -- PR, marketing, Webmaster, fundraiser -- it helps to get some free advice here and there!

If you think the article is helpful and you'd like to share it with others, feel free to reprint it with proper attribution -- see the author box at the end of the article.