• 22Apr

    You are probably familiar with the story from Exodus about Pharaoh punishing the Jews by forcing them to make bricks without straw, a difficult if not impossible task. Sometimes I feel I get the same instructions from my clients. The phone rings or you get e-mail from a client with very exciting news that they can’t wait to turn into a news announcement. And when you dig down to gather the facts, you find there is no real news and no legitimate news hook. Of course, your client is not a media expert; it’s your job to educate your client about the ins and outs of reporting and what the press consider newsworthy. But sometimes it’s just hard to tell your client that their news release subject stinks.

    That’s when the real creativity kicks in. Sometimes you have to find a way to uncover or even create the news hook, even when there doesn’t seem to be one. I find these kinds of “non-news” release the absolute hardest to write, but I also understand their value. These days you often want to use a press release to tell a story designed to reach an audience other than the press. You may want to reach prospects, or customers, or employees, or the board of directors, or simply put something out on the wire to attract web traffic and pump up your keyword or SEO strategy (remember that press releases almost always rank higher with search engines). And even though this may seem to be a bastardization of the press release format, a news release is often the best format to instill some urgency and legitimacy into a story that really doesn’t have much news value.

    So how do you approach this problem (other than with fire tongs)? Well, you use the same steps as you would with any news announcement, but with a few nuances:

    1. Reverse engineer the story – The best place to start is with the desired outcome. Think about how you would want the final story to read? What’s the big idea you want readers to take away with them? What’s your headline? Once you grasp the main theme it will be easy to build a story around it.
    2. Suspend your news judgment – Remember that this kind of announcement is for general readership and not necessary for the press. That means you can bend the rules a little, especially in the use of adjectives, superlatives, and elements you might not include in most news announcements. Your objective here is to imbue enthusiasm as much as to impart information.
    3. Research helps – You often can shore up a poor press release topic with facts, facts, and more facts. Do some digging and find research and numbers that will legitimize your release. If someone has statistics, the topic must be important.
    4. Practice good journalistic style – Just because you may think the release has little or no news value doesn’t mean you should be sloppy. Use good journalistic techniques. Open with a lead and use the inverted pyramid to build your story. Follow AP style. It all helps to lend credence to the tale you have to tell.
    5. Review, revise, and optimize – The best writing is about rewriting, and when you have a tough assignment writing a non-news release, it’s even more important to review your work for style and tone, as well as errors. Also optimize your press release for SEO, Twitter, Facebook, and other uses. This kind of press release is usually written to help build awareness, and that means building in key search terms and phrase to promote SEO.
    6. Distribute appropriately – Don’t undermine your own credibility by trying to sell a bad news story to the media. Instead, use alternate distribution strategies to promote online presence and support Web search. Use the paid wire services and post it to the free news sites that will accept it. But don’t make the mistake of trying to pass it off as legitimate news.

    The rules of public relations are changing with the Internet, and how we use the tools of the trade has to evolve as well. The press release is still an incredibly valuable tool when it comes to getting hard news to journalists looking for information they can print or post. It also can be a useful tool to build a market presence. The most important thing to remember is who is your target audience and what format and information will best meet their information needs.

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  • 13Apr

    Thanks to Lori Gama

    My wife just came back from a trip visiting her daughter at college and offered an interesting observation. The up and coming generation lives online. Okay, this is not a real revelation, but my stepdaughter and her friends seem obsessed with continuous connectivity. They are simultaneously chatting, texting, Facebooking, e-mailing. The objection that mom has is that multitasking is socially unattractive and her daughter can’t pay attention during a dinner conversation or even walking down the street because she is glued to her iPhone. (The solution, of course, is to text her while standing next to her, but this is not behavior we want to reinforce.) I have even caught my stepdaughter on Skype in the wee hours of the morning so clearly, this new need for ongoing Internet-driven access is becoming all-consuming. 

    And just as everyone under 25 considers himself or herself indestructible, they also consider their online activities immune from extrenal judgment. You can post those frat party pictures on Facebook because you know your mom won’t see them. Right? Wrong! 

    Here’s the perception: Microsoft commissioned a new Online Reputation Research study that show that fewer than 15 percent of consumers in the U.S. and U.K. think that information posted online will have any impact on their getting a job. Only 7 percent of U.S. consumers believe information about them online has affected their job search; in the U.K it was 9 percent. 

    Here’s the reality: 70 percent of recruiters and HR professionals have rejected candidates based on information found online. While recruiters indicated they are somewhat concerned about the authenticity of the information they find online, recruiters in all countries indicated that the importance of online reputation will increase over the next five years. And 85 percent of US recruiters and HR professionals say they were positively influenced by favorable information found online. 

    Some of the smarter consumers are trying to manage their online reputations using multiple personas. They also frequently search for information about themselves,  they set up Google news alerts to track online mentions, adjust the privacy settings on social media sites, and they are cautious about posting information that could damage their online reputation. All of these steps are helpful, but they aren’t foolproof and are no substitute for common sense. 

    Whether you think it appropriate for a potential employer, or partners, or client, or romantic partner should check you out online, you know they will. And the Web has a very long memory. Those drunken spring break photos you post on Facebook today could come to haunt you after graduation when you look for a job. And more importantly, your conduct online once you are working could affect your employer as well as your employment if you don’t use good judgment. 

    These days, we all live in glass houses, and the Web focuses a lens on all our personal activities. So while there is tremendous value on social networking to promote connections and build your personal brand, understand that the same power of the Web can disseminate your faux pas just as rapidly and aggressively. So if you are going to live your life online, don’t do anything that your mother (or a potential employer) would be ashamed of.

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  • 01Apr

    I know I have noted in this blog in the past that FaceTime Communications is a client. And they are doing genuinely cool stuff. They are securing online conversations, making it possible for companies to filter and record your activities on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Skype, and other public social media sites, assuming you are accessing those sites from within your corporate network.

    Some consider such activity as being akin to Big Brother, logging your every move online and trying to track down corporate time wasters. But consider that every move you make online is a reflection of your employer, and the watchdogs are watching the corporate watchers,  so they need to track your activity online in order to protect their business. These days, everything has to be tracked, logged, and recoverable in the event of an audit. And your innocent posts to Facebook or LinkedIn could contribute to the downfall of your employer, whether you like it or not. Consider the ambitious sales rep who asks his LinkedIn contacts for help with a secret competitive bid, or the excited guy in the mailroom who posts to Facebook that the head of sales for his publicly traded company just left the company. Seemingly innocent posts that actually can be harmful data leaks. Someone has to monitor the public conversation to make sure that private information remains private.

    Not long ago I spotted a most insightful example from Ted Ritter of one of my favorite analyst firms, Nemertes Research. Here’s the scenario Ted paints, which is not so farfetched:

    You’ve just arrived in Melbourne for a business trip. While heading to the hotel, you update your MyLinkedBook status page to announce your arrival. Pretty innocuous, right? Well, it turns out that one of your followers is a TechTarget reporter who suspects you’re involved in M&A activity, and this seemingly innocent update has just fueled the rumor that your company is buying Spaceley Sprockets out of Melbourne. Welcome to the world of social networking! It is the next wave of enterprise online collaboration, and the best way for HR and compliance to get out in front of the wave is with a risk-based approach.

    So you have to be careful about your online activity because whatever you post online is very public. Remember that you what you post is not only a reflection of your personal brand, but also your employer. And the Web has a long memory. (It amazes me that today’s teenagers don’t realize that those drunken Facebook pictures they post today will follow them to their next job interview.)

    So when promoting your online brand, practice common sense and self-restraint. Think before you post. Even if your company is not watching your every move online, you should be practicing self-censorship and remain wary of what you blog about or what you post as your current status. You never know when what you post online could come to back to bite you, or someone else.

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