Friday, April 30, 2010

Help Journalists Do Their Jobs

Publicists exist to make sure their employers or clients are portrayed favorably in the news. One of the easiest ways to do that is to be responsive when a journalist requests information. It's too bad more publicists don't know this.

I had a frustrating experience with a nonresponsive publicist this week, but it wasn't nearly as annoying as my colleague's experience today. She writes for a custom (sponsored) publication that requires that her non-expert sources be customers of the sponsoring company. It's a huge, nationwide company, so that's not much of a challenge.

One of her approved sources for her current list of assignments is a public relations firm. "Great!" we all think. They know how this works, right?

Hahahaha. Not so much.

She e-mailed her request to the firm's owner, asking if he could address one of several topics she's writing about for a series of articles. His response didn't answer her question, but he did make it clear that he wanted to talk about getting his clients interviewed for the articles, too. After an exchange of several e-mail and voicemail messages, he still hasn't answered her direct question: "Can you talk about one of these topics?" She also doesn't know if any of his clients are customers of the sponsoring company -- again, a requirement. So she's moving on to other sources who aren't (a) making her job harder than it needs to be and (b) trying to manipulate the situation.

I know, I know. He owns a PR firm so he's more interested in getting publicity for his clients than he is for his own firm. I get that. But it would have been much wiser for him to say, "Yes, I can address that first topic on your list, or "No, I don't have experience with any of these situations" and THEN added, "I'd also like to find out if any of my clients can help you. Would you mind if I asked a few if they are clients of Sponsor XYZ? Even if they're not right for your current list of assignments, they might be good sources in the future."

It's not that hard to be helpful. Publicists who understand this will be earning their fees, while those who don't won't be delivering the results their employers or clients think they're paying for.

Do you have a favorite publicist? Offer a shout out here in the comments section.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Has Facebook Replaced Forums for Conversation?

After attending the American Society of Journalists and Authors annual conference on Friday and Saturday, I went online Monday morning to plug into the conference chatter on the forums at Freelance Success and ASJA sites. I had attended a few excellent workshops and wanted to congratulate and thank the speakers publicly so that those who order the conference recordings had input from an attendee about the sessions that were "worth" purchasing. I also wanted to learn more about the quality of the panels I couldn't attend so that I knew what to listen to when the recordings become available.

Usually, by the time I get around to this, there are a few "what did you like about ASJA?" threads already in the works. This year, there were none. N.O.N.E. One showed up on Freelance Success later in the day, but I still can't find anything on the ASJA site where members are talking about "good" panels that will guide those who want to listen to the recordings.

But there's a lot of chatter on Facebook among those who did and didn't attend, with people asking about conference highlights, insights, tips from the panels, and so on. So I'm wondering: Has Facebook replaced forums for conversations? Are those of us who have become accustomed to networking with colleagues in a forum environment shifting our chatter to Facebook? It's certainly working that way for me. And based on what seems to be a decline in volume of threads on the forums where I've been active in the past -- and this is an anecdotal observation only -- I think I'm not the only one who is doing less professional chatting in forums and more on Facebook.

What about you? Are you using forums less to ask questions, learn, and share information and using Facebook more instead? Why or why not?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Connect with a Nonprofit for a Win-Win

Businesses that support a cause can gain exposure and boost their revenue while making a difference. Eastside Cafe, a small neighborhood restaurant with a heart, knows that supporting nonprofits is not only good for the community, it's good for business and employee morale. The restaurant recently raffled off donated art to raise funds for Haitian orphans. Past fundraisers have benefited a local hospice home and the community's animal shelter.

Interested in doing something similar? Here are tips:
  • Select a cause that resonates with you and your life experiences, that has a relevant connection to your business, is important to your employees, or is favored by your customers. If there's no logical connection to the business, its employees, or your customers, you'll have a harder time maintaining enthusiasm and support.
  • Start with a small project or activity so that you aren't overwhelmed.
  • Use as many communications vehicles as possible to generate interest and support -- your Web site, customer newsletter, Facebook fan page, Twitter, press releases, and so on.
  • Involve employees in the planning. They'll be more committed to the activity -- whatever it is -- if they feel some sense of ownership.
  • Announce the outcome. Did you raise money? Collect donated merchandise? Recruit volunteers? Give us closure by telling us about your success.
Connect with your community, as Eastside Cafe does, and do well while doing good.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

How Good is Your Media List?

How did you compile your media list? Do you know who's on it and why they're on it? Is everyone on your list likely to be interested in your news or in a position to give you publicity? While we often want to share our news with as many media outlets as possible, we also want to share it with the right people. When we extend our reach too far, we waste time and money and dilute our publicity efforts.

Case in point: A UPS package I received this week. The box was sent to "Frances Cerra Whittelsey, Small Busi Freelancer" at my address (sorry, Frances). I'm a freelance writer who writes frequently on small business topics, but I'm not Frances. The box included an invitation to a mail order clothing retailer's fall/winter collection preview in New York City and a small gift from the catalog. (Thank you, Retailer I Will Not Embarrass By Naming, for the luggage tag.)

I got the impression from the 3x5 card with 4-point type that small business writers are invited to the event with the expectation that they will write about how businesses can order custom garments embroidered with the company logo from this new collection. It's a stretch, but I appreciate the logic.

But why would they invite a freelance writer who lives seven hours by car from Manhattan to a press event there? Because, as I learned during the many years I lived in the Midwest, lots of people outside New York State don't realize there's this whole big state north of New York City. It makes me wonder: Do publicists who live outside California invite everyone with a California ZIP code to a press event in Los Angeles or San Francisco, in spite of the size of that state? If you're doing an event in Dallas, do you invite journalists from Houston?

In any case, publicists, please note: N.Y. does not equal New York City. Reduce your UPS budget by checking a map or ask your media list provider to do it for you. Remember: It's not always about the quantity of your list -- it's about the quality, too.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Teleseminar Playback Link; Answering More Questions Here

I did a free teleseminar on April 7, 2010, answering callers' questions about how to build book buzz. If you missed the call but would like to listen in because, as one listener told us afterwards, "Ms. Beckwith oozes with information," here's the link where you can listen online or download the audio file.

Because we had so many people on the call, we couldn't answer all of the questions submitted as part of the registration process. I thought it might help to answer a few more of them here. I received several versions of the questions below. Please note, too, that with so many different book categories out there, it's hard to offer a "one size fits all" answer:

Q. How long before a book launch should I begin promoting my book?

In some situations, you should be laying the groundwork while writing the book by establishing relationships with key influencers. When it comes to straight publicity and promotion -- getting the word out -- you should have your detailed plan in place at least six months before your publication date. You'll need to be doing certain activities (depending on your situation) that far in advance -- maybe even earlier than that.

Q. How useful are "meet the author" book signings in generating buzz?

I wrote an article about that; you can read it here. I always encourage authors to put their efforts into reaching as many of the people in their target audience as possible, and book signings don't generate the numbers that you can get with publicity (getting the word out through the news media).

Q. How can I connect with the most people about my book without going face-to-face and without spending a lot of money?

It depends on the book and its topic, but publicity is very cost effective. So is reaching niche audiences through blogs.

Q. My book was released March 19 and the press release is out. How do I generate media interest other than the press release.

Again, depending on the book, there are many, many things you should be doing to get the word out about your book. Sending out a book announcement release is just the beginning. There are too many to list here -- plus some of the ideas I might suggest won't be appropriate for your book -- but I teach authors how to do this in "Book Publicity 101: How to Build Book Buzz." The next course runs from May 31-June 25, 2010.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Collaborate to Reach Your Publicity Goals

When Anthropologie opened its first store in New York State outside the greater New York City area at Eastview Mall near Rochester, N.Y. earlier this year, its low-key publicity staff let the mall's marketing director take the lead with the local media.

The results were outstanding. It was, after all, big news not only for the upscale mall, but for area Anthropologie fans, who have long asked the mall to deliver their favorite store. Shopper enthusiasm for the store's quirky interior and unusual merchandise bubbled over to the local press, which gave the grand opening impressive -- and priceless -- air time and exposure.

While the retailer's corporate publicity department established parameters, it allowed the mall's marketing director to act as its liaison with the press. The marketing director made the "pitch" to her media contacts, coordinating telephone interviews with the chain's corporate staff.

What smart collaboration! In many cases, when multiple entities are involved, each puts a lot of energy into trying to control and influence communication with the press. In this case, Anthropologie provided the framework while leveraging the media relations expertise and contacts of someone in the market who works with these journalists continually. The local liaison absorbed the chain's positioning and messages and executed the publicity portion of the grand opening in a way that respected Anthropologie's preferences.

This is a case where, as Aristotle said, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.