Prepare Thy Self: 5 Ways to Make Yourself a Better Media Trainer

Peter Piazza of Live Wire Media Relations, photo credit: Jay Morris

Peter Piazza of Live Wire Media Relations, photo credit: Jay Morris

By Nicole Duarte

To help your clients prepare for anything, you must first prepare yourself. In an April 9 reprise of a popular Independent Public Relations Alliance media training seminar, Peter Piazza and Angela Olson of Live Wire Media Relations, LLC outlined five ways PR practitioners can improve their training sessions.

  1. See what the reporter will see

It’s an often-skipped step, but research can make or break your training session. Before you meet with your clients, do a public record search to uncover any potential landmines. An ugly court case, embarrassing social media post, or past professional controversy may be just the ace a reporter will play to shake up the conversation or get the upper hand over your trainees.

  1. Shock and awe

Manufacture the anxiety clients will face in a tough interview to give them a chance to work through it. Managing anxiety and scrutiny is a skill like any other, and proficiency comes with practice. Trainers should use the first moments of their media training sessions to try to rattle interviewees, make them defensive or angry, and try to provoke them into saying something provocative or contentious. Hot lights, a live video camera, and some record of a prior embarrassing moment are all tools to unsettle your interviewees. Once you see them at their worst, you will be better able to help them get back – and stay – on message.

  1. Speak the truth

Your clients are relying on your expertise. Insist they hear it. Many staff media trainers pull their punches, hoping to keep the peace or avoid ruffling feathers, but it’s better if your client is embarrassed for a moment in your presence than humiliated on the Internet indefinitely. Be diplomatic, but don’t avoid telling your trainees if they have any distracting nervous habits, speak too fast, overuse jargon, come across as arrogant or defensive, or display any other behaviors that would make them look foolish or unprofessional.

  1. Play if Forward

Most media trainers do some form of practice or role-playing that simulates real interview conditions. However, media trainers need to apply their own news judgement to these conversations. Help your trainees refine their message points by asking tough questions and then pushing for clarity until you hear the quote the reporter should use. Questions like, “Why should anyone care,” “So what,” and “Prove it,” should elicit quote-worthy answers that move the story forward, and if they don’t, keep pushing.

  1. Add Value

Editors insert themselves to play up drama and tension. Reporters have a point of view and may be biased based on their sources. Both are outside your control. The best way to avoid surprises in how your clients’ quotes appear — or don’t appear — is to anticipate the reporter’s story and craft your message points to add value. Statistics and anecdotes can add context and color. Think about how your issue affects the heads, hearts, and wallets of the audience members, and illustrate your message points with examples and metaphors to which the audience can relate.

Just as organizations rely on their directors to lead with their expertise in their industries, your trainees will rely on your expertise to guide them through the news media landscape. You need to help your clients strategize how they might help reporters write better stories. Keep in mind how journalists do their job to think through how you can you help them do it faster and better. Your clients may be expert sources, but it is your chops and preparation that will ensure their expertise gets recognized.

For more information, see this refresher from Live Wire:  http://livewiredc.com/2013/08/a-quick-refresher-on-the-art-of-media-relations/ or check out the PRSA recap of the last Live Wire event: https://theprsanccblog.com/2013/10/30/teaching-old-dogs-new-tricks/

Nicole Duarte is Senior Communications Manager at the Center for Community Change.
Connect with her on LinkedIn at: http://www.linkedin.com/in/nicoleaduarte

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PRSA-NCC Sponsor Spotlight: News Generation by Kelsey Pospisil

Tell us more about your company and your role there?

News Generation is an issue-driven media relations agency specializing in using broadcast media to earn coverage for associations, non-profits, government agencies, and clients of PR firms. My role on the team is client & media relations associate. I love getting to experience many different aspects of the business and work closely with all of my fellow team members.


How long has News Generation been involved with PRSA-NCC?

We have been involved with PRSA-NCC in one way or another for 12 years – and counting! Susan Matthews Apgood started News Generation in 1997, and has been very involved with the PRSA-NCC by sponsoring the chapter as well as chairing committees such as Thoth, Professional Development and Sponsorship.

News Generation Sponsor Spotlight

News Generation Team

Is there anything you want to tell our members about News Generation that we may not know?

We LOVE Georgetown Cupcakes….literally…love them. Any excuse to celebrate a birthday, anniversary, or Tuesday…you can expect to see us carrying a pink box into the office. Don’t believe me? Just look how happy Susan is in the picture!


What do you like best about working with PRSA-NCC so far?

PRSA-NCC offers a wonderful opportunity to grow both professionally and personally. As a sponsor, we are able to help support the great programming of PRSA-NCC. As members, myself and my co-workers are able learn and gain professional development from that programming. It’s the best of both worlds.


How can our members learn more, get more information about what News Generation has to offer?

The best place to go for more about how you can earn broadcast coverage by partnering with us is www.newsgeneration.com. We also have a news site that reporters go to for great stories where we host all of our clients’ content. Check it out at www.broadcastnewsresource.com.

What’s Next at the Washington Post: Speaker Dishes to PR Indies

Change and experimentation are coming to the Washington Post, according to Chris Jenkins, who spoke the Independent Public Relations Alliance (IPRA) in January 2014. The October 2013 announcement of the Post’s sale to Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, sent shock waves through the DC PR community – and now that our initial surprise has worn off – many want to know what the sale means for the future of the Washington Post.Post-Photo

For those fearing that the sale means heads will roll – that’s not the case. “You will not see a bunch of 22 year olds come in and throw us out,” said Jenkins, who is an assistant local editor at the Post. The first year after the sale is a grace period and news editorial will not be changing.

At the same time, the Post is not a charity case, and Bezos definitely wants to make the DC area’s flagship newspaper successful financially, said Jenkins. As we all know, newspapers have struggled financially in the information age and  been under increasing monetary pressures as readers have flocked online and cancelled paper subscriptions.

According to Jenkins, Bezos wants to take a changing institution and make it successful. He is trying to take the long view and create what the 21st century newspaper look like. “There will be change and disruption. This is not all milk and cookies,” said Jenkins, in one of his more memorable quotes.

One of the ways the newspaper is changing is through creation of “nodes” that facilitate conversations between journalists and readers. In place for the last five to six years, these individualized verticals, such as Wonkblog,  focus on special topics and offer specialized content that allows the reader to get informed and discuss a topic. Jenkins said there are going to be more of these individual nodes, and if you have a client that is relevant and has something interesting to say, these verticals present new opportunities for public relations pros eager to score digital ink.

A vertical is structured more like a blog, with some analysis of a defined subject matter. So it offers opinion and is observational. The curator of the vertical may write  3-4 times a day. The tone may be a little less formal than traditional print reporting. And the curator may pose questions, ask for comments, make lists or share content. It is designed to foster conversation.

These verticals and social media  have opened up new ways to have conversations with readers. Jenkins discussed the education blog (The Answer Sheet) produced by Valerie Strauss and how a particular post about a teacher wanting to quit teaching went viral. While Strauss wrote only a few sentences to introduce the teacher’s original words – the story netted 8 million views.

Giving others opportunities to write something that can be shared is a key part of these verticals and builds their participatory nature. “We want to be the curators. They want more stuff, more content. It has to be useful, conversational, that people want to read and want to share,” said Jenkins.

Jenkins offered advice to help PR pros too. “Have a cheat sheet for yourself and update it. Know who runs each section. I can’t stress too much how dynamic things are going to be in the future for the Post. There will be surprises. Make sure you stay in touch with the changes we are making.”

In this new more entrepreneurial/experimental version of the Washington Post, things may be tried and then abandoned if they don’t take off or succeed. “We are experimenting. When one thing doesn’t work, they will change it. We should expect change. The spirit is that as we move forward as a news organization, we are trying to create a new thing that has never been invented before. There is going to be a lot of disruption in all of our lives,” said Jenkins.

It’s more important than ever, for PR pros to know who they are pitching when they are trying to suggest a story about a client. Is it a traditional reporter or a blogger? What does he or she write about the most? When dealing with bloggers, you may have to change your approach, advises Jenkins. They are often writing opinions, and not reporting, in the traditional sense. Bloggers are quick and speedy, but everyone at the Washington Post is operating under increasing deadlines to create copy for online dissemination. All reporters are being asked to post at least one story online every day, even if it is just a short piece.

Cultivating relationships with reporters will be even more important as changes disrupt work flows and content creation and dissemination become king. “Try to find the right reporter and strategically engage. Those personal relationships are invaluable even more now,” said Jenkins.

It’s also important for PR pros to realize that photos may carry more currency than a story.  “A photo gallery of an event you are promoting is more shareable than an article. It may not be a story but photos would be shareable,” said Jenkins.

When asked if reporters are getting story pitches from Twitter, Jenkins said yes, they do take pitches via Twitter, and he pointed out that reporters troll Twitter for story ideas at times. However, he added that not all reporters are Twitter-oriented (so if you are trying to pitch a story to a reporter who isn’t into Twitter, you need to try something else).

The audience also asked if reporters read all of the comments posted online for a particular story. Jenkins said that writers managing verticals do read their comments and that sometimes new stories result from comments. But some reporters don’t read them, even though they are encouraged to do so. Comments today are monitored more closely now than they were five years ago, and comments are removed if they are hurtful to the reporter or the subject.

IPRA is part of the Public Relations Society of America – National Capital Chapter. Our next IPRA lunch will be held May 1 and discuss the secrets to writing a winning proposal. Thanks to Rob Udowitz for sharing his photo.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites. Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

PR and the Multimedia Journalist

National Public Radio’s gleaming new headquarters was the appropriate setting for the recent Public Relations Society of America’s National Capital Chapter (PRSA-NCC) panel discussion, “Meet the Multimedia Journalists.”

Why? NPR gets nearly as many eyeballs on its rich website as it does ears to its signature programs, Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

media_relationsFive top journalists, including an NPR reporter, told a crowd of over 150 PR professionals what it is like to work with them in a media world where filing a story fifteen minutes after it breaks may be too late, and where reporters are expected to Tweet, shoot video and…oh…write crisp copy with a great deal of accuracy.

The one foolproof method to avoid having your calls go to voicemail and your emails to spam folders is to be trustworthy, knowledgeable, responsive and realistic about what is – and what is not – news.

The speakers, Scott Hensley of the NPR Shots Blog, Jayne O’Donnell of USA Today, Noam Levey of the Los Angeles Times, Greg Otto of the Washington Business Journal and James Politi of the Financial Times were frank in their description of their increasing responsibilities in the multimedia journalism universe.

Here are some key takeaways from the discussion:

Timing is everything: Reporters only have eight to fifteen minutes to get a breaking news story published, and will update it frequently throughout the day. If you have a source or information, help the reporter right away. The next day is too late.

Email (not phone) is the way: PR pros can and should be part of the solution for journalists who often perform two jobs at once. Send tailored, succinct individual emails and don’t beat around the bush. Reporters generally like talking with some PR reps on the phone (and it’s lamentable that others don’t) but their schedules frequently prevent it. Hensley noted that he gets 100-200 pitches a day and usually doesn’t answer the phone unless he knows the caller. He checks voicemail only about once a month.

Peg your pitch to current events: If you have a health care story, for instance, draw a direct connection to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Levey expects to be busy with the uneven rollout of the health exchanges for another six months, but reporters like O’Donnell may have room for other pitches.

Infographics? No thanks: The five panelists were unanimous on this point: they don’t want your art department’s beautiful infographics. Instead, they prefer raw data from which they can build their own charts, graphs and tables. That said, NPR’s Shots Blog might be able to tweet an infographic or post it on his Tumblr page.

National Peach Month is not news: The calendar is littered with commemoratives, and some, like Breast Cancer Awareness Month or Black History Month, have legs. But Politi and the others said stories need to stand on their own.

Be cautious with embargoes: Embargoes level the playing field and allow newsmakers to pitch large numbers of news organizations simultaneously. While our panelists are grudgingly accepting of their utility for articles in medical journals, reporters are wary of them because they inevitably get broken. Reporters like Otto recommend cutting a deal with a reporter on the embargo’s terms before you pitch to protect yourself and your organization.

Don’t Tweet a pitch: Use Twitter to research what reporters are reading and thinking about; you might discover a great conversation starter, and a winning pitch angle. Pitching over Twitter, however, is a no-no. Many reporters (not all) treat Twitter like their own personal whiteboard and don’t want it used to make transactions with PR pros.

What has your experience been working with journalists today versus a year or so ago? Leave a comment below or tweet me at @aaroncohenpr.

Aaron Cohen has over thirty years of communications experience and provides strategic counsel and tactical support to some of MSLGROUP’s largest clients. He is the incoming co-chairman of PRSA-NCC’s Professional Development Committee for which he moderates panel discussions on traditional media relations and social media. You can also find him on Twitter, where he’s @aaroncohenpr.

Colleen Johnson contributed to this post.

This first appeared on the MSL Group’s Beltway and Beyond blog. To see the original post please click here.

The future of America’s newspapers

Amy Mitchell

Amy Mitchell oversees the Pew Journalism Project.

If you spent some time reading a newspaper in the last 24 hours, you are in the minority. According to the Pew Research Center, just 23 percent of Americans surveyed said they read a newspaper the previous day. In fact, today more than half of Americans get their news online.

These trends and others were the topic of discussion at an Oct. 30 PRSA-NCC 20+ LeaderPack luncheon where Amy Mitchell of the Pew Research Center spoke about the future of newspapers. Mitchell oversees Pew’s Journalism Project, and she shared her insights with about 30 senior PR practitioners who attended the event.

We all know journalists who have lost their jobs as a result of newsroom cutbacks. Stagnant advertising revenue, failure to adapt fast enough to digital technology and a culture resistant to change—these are just a few of the reasons for newspapers’ decline over the past decade. Yet, amid the glum news, there may be a glimmer of hope for newspapers, Mitchell said.

First, the bad news:

  • Print advertising revenue continues to fall.
  • For every $1 gained in digital advertising, newspapers lose $16 in print advertising.
  • 72% of total digital mobile display advertising goes to just six companies, and none of them are traditional media companies.

Now, some good news:

  • Tablet and smartphone owners are using these devices to read news. Nearly two-thirds say they get news this way weekly.
  • 78% of tablet users read more than one in-depth article in a sitting.
  • 72% of tablet users read an in-depth article that they were not initially looking for.

According to Mitchell, consumers are reading as much news as they are emails on their mobile devices, and newspapers are having some success in charging for this content though paywalls. Newspapers also are earning income from other sources such as consulting, conferences, delivery services and packaging their content for technology companies.

Mitchell noted that for the first time, The New York Times has more circulation revenue than advertising revenue. The Times has worked hard to win readers to its mobile platform, and it was one of the first newspapers to institute a digital pay plan.

In D.C., all eyes are on The Washington Post and what changes Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos will make. Odds are, he will use his considerable technology acumen to transform the Post into a new kind of media company, one more focused on providing a service and less concerned about producing a product.

If you are interested in learning more about the future of journalism, Pew publishes an annual “State of the News Media” report. Here are six trends from this year’s report that are worth paying attention to:

  1. The effects of a decade of newsroom cutbacks are real—and the public is taking notice.
  2. The news industry continues to lose out on the bulk of new digital advertising.
  3. The long-dormant sponsorship ad category is seeing sharp growth.
  4. The growth of paid digital content experiments may have a significant impact on both news revenue and content. (Pew says 450 of the nation’s 1,380 dailies have started or announced plans for some kind of paid content subscription or paywall plan.)
  5. While the first and hardest-hit industry, newspapers, remains in the spotlight, local TV finds itself newly vulnerable.
  6. Hearing about things in the news from friends and family, whether via social media or actual word of mouth, leads to deeper news consumption.

Jay Morris is president of Jay Morris Communications LLC, an independent PR and marketing firm in Alexandria, Va. He serves on the PRSA-NCC and IPRA boards and blogs at waywardjourney.com.

Pitching Media in the Digital Age: Journalists from Huffington Post & USA Today Weigh In

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Arin Greenwood of Huffington Post talks for a packed lunch crowd while Gwen Flanders of USA Today looks on.

The Independent Public Relations Alliance held a packed house lunchtime program in April called, “Secrets to Getting Ink in Traditional and Digital Media” with journalists from the Huffington Post and USA Today. There was plenty of practical advice on pitching that will ring true for PR pros.Gwen Flanders from USA Today covers breaking news. She said pitches should be succinct and to the point (include the 5Ws and the H – who, what, where, when, why, how) and that pitching multiple people in the newsroom is frowned upon. Arin Greenwood  from Huffington Post’s DC page said that pitching multiple people is fine for them, so there is some wiggle room on this point, based on the outlets  being targeted.

Both Flanders and Greenwood prefer pitches arrive via email. Faxes don’t make it onto news desks, so don’t fax anything unless requested. Both recommend including the topic in the subject line (no teasing or coy headlines, no beating around the bush).

It’s essential that PR pros check their work and avoid type-os if they want for a pitch to be taken seriously by journalists. Flanders noted one public relations firm in particular, is notorious for sending out terrible press releases loaded with errors – she ignores anything the firm sends out.

Researching who covers a topic on the outlet’s website, is critical to making a successful pitch. Thankfully, because of the internet, doing this footwork is easier now than its ever been. “It’s your credibility and you should check your work,” said Flanders. “Do your homework and find out who the right person is.”

It’s important to note the perspective of the outlet when putting together your pitch. USA Today is a national newspaper that wants unreported national trends and does not want stories that have already appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post or other competitors. They love exclusives. USA Today especially likes trends that are popping up here, there and everywhere, but have not quite bubbled to critical mass yet. The Huffington Post DC page where Greenwood works is focused on DC based stories, not national ones (although they are routinely pitched national ones).

Deadlines for editors and reporters are constant now in this space. “If I’m at work, I’m on deadline,” said Flanders. She observed that she has double the duties she used to have and edits twice the number of stories she did a few years ago.

The digital world also means story enhancements – graphs, videos, photos, slide shows and interactive elements are more important – so mention these elemental possibilities when pitching a story. Greenwood noted that trying to call journalists at the end of the day is almost always a bad idea – as they are tired, grumpy, and generally trying to get things wrapped up so they can get out of the office.

The digital and print worlds have been on a collision course for a long time. In addition to ratcheting up the deadline pressure to a feverish and never-ending hum, the online world is also opening up new avenues for readership. Flanders noted that USA Today has 1.3 million print readers each day, but has double that number of readers online for its website.

For Huffington Post, readership is a key factor in decision making about a story. “The ‘clicky-er’ it is, the more likely we will write it up,” says Greenwood. Having a DC angle with a story line that stands out is critical for Huffington Post’s D.C. page. Greenwood said, “If it’s saucy enough, we will go for it. The less work you can make me do to figure out if we want to do a story,  the better.”

When it comes to follow-ups, both journalists expressed frustration with public relations staffers who do multiple follow-ups that intrude on their limited time. “Follow up once, not four times,” said Greenwood. And don’t be pushy, advised Flanders.

“Twitter is one more place to look for good stories,” noted Greenwood, when asked by audience members about how they use social media for news gathering. Stories featuring real and living people still reign supreme, said Greenwood.  Flanders noted that her reporters watch Twitter for story ideas, and that attempting to drum up artificial hype in social media is also noticed  (but not in a positive way).

Greenwood said she appreciates the work public relations professionals do and that she wants to hear from them with relevant story pitches. She also reminded the audience that Huffington Post allows blog posts that focus on issues (don’t be overly self-promotional) and op-ed submissions.

PRSA-NCC member and IPRA founding member Ami Neiberger-Miller owns Steppingstone LLC, an independent public relations consultancy working with nonprofit and association clients, with a special focus on supporting organizations assisting trauma survivors. This post originally appeared on her blog.

Message Development: Thinking Inside the Box

To start thinking about message development, consider the following questions:
• Your friend wants to try a new Italian restaurant for dinner. You’re craving sushi. How do you convince her to pick up the chopsticks?

• A CEO doesn’t see the value of starting a company’s twitter feed. What’s the best way for the marketing department to show him that tweeting can bolster the bottom line?

• A government agency wants to reduce the number of teenagers texting while driving. How do they convince “invincible” teens that this behavior is dangerous?
What do these questions have in common? The answer is the need for message development. Whether your goal to enjoy a sushi dinner or promote teen driver safety, the secret to success is developing messages that resonate with the audiences’ values and opinions.
How can you do that? Try using a message box. This tool offers communicators a framework for producing carefully-crafted messages that both respond to a particular audience’s needs and preferences while reinforcing how “the ask,” or desired action, relates to their values.

The messages produced can be used separately or together to achieve a desired outcome. Sometimes, several message boxes need to be created for a particular audience based on themes or ideas that resonate with them. For example, one message box for the CEO could be focused on the business case for twitter while another could focus on how participating in twitter would reinforce company’s commitment to customer service.

The Message Box in Action

Let’s go back to the question about the government agency and their education campaign about texting while driving. The following chart defines each element of the message box and shows messages that could be used for convincing teens that texting while driving as a dangerous activity.

Type of Message Definition Example
The Ask The desired action for the target audience to take. Stop texting while driving.  
The Barrier Message This message counters an audience’s key misconceptions about the particular topic. There should be a message to refute each barrier the target audience(s) may present. Statistics, analogies and quotes are powerful tools for overcoming barriers. Barrier:
I only look at my phone for a few seconds when I text. I can still see what is going on.  Message to Overcome It:
Sending or receiving a text message takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. That is the equivalent of driving the entire length of a football field at 55 miles an hour while blind. Is that a risk you’re willing to take?
The Value Message This message is used to connect with a value the audience has about a topic. Not texting while driving doesn’t just mean you will stay safe. It means you will keep your license and others on the road will be safer.
The Vision Message This message reinforces the value message point. It highlights the benefits audience members reap if they take the action in “the ask.”  If  you stop texting while driving, you can  enjoy the privilege of driving and staying safe at the same time.

Do you think that the message box could help you create compelling more messages for you and your clients? Let me know what you think.

Sarah Vogel is a Senior Account Executive at TMNcorp, a full-service communications company in Silver Spring, MD.  Follow her on Twitter @TMNcorp or connect with her on LinkedIn.