Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks


So here’s the challenge: could someone who has provided media training for 30 years learn more about it? Yes, they can.

At the IPRA October lunch program, Chryssa Zizos, Live Wire Media Relations, LLC, provided 45 lunch attendees with a “train the trainers” media training workshop. Chyrssa has trained member of Congress, CEOs and a president (yes, of the U.S.).With a direct and humorous style punctuated by anecdotes, Chyrssa shared the following information.

The five sections of media training are messaging, preparing the client, training the client to look the part, prepping the client to use body language to their advantage, and creating a strong concluding statement.

According to Chryssa, people try and make messaging complicated but it’s really about these three questions: “Who are you?” “What are you doing?” and “Why are you doing it?” The answers to these questions form the basis for your key messages.

To determine whether your story is newsworthy, think about FUBO–is your story First, Unique, Best and/or Only. If the story contains these elements, it’s newsworthy. Once you finish messaging and determining whether your story is news, you are ready to media train your client.

Chryssa starts her training by putting her clients into a “tailspin”–hitting them with hard questions and poking holes in their answers. The remainder of her media training prepares the client to handle a tough interview. She uses two journalists in her training–they help grill the client and one journalist writes an article off the trainee interview, while the other reporter critiques the client. The journalist’s critique includes whether the client spoke clearly, provided anecdotes that rang true, and how the client’s words would look in quotes.

During the training Chyrssa stressed that the most important thing to impart to your trainees is that nothing is off the record. If it’s off the record, just don’t say it.

Another helpful hint–the fastest way to kill a story is to have your client say to the reporter, “You know three reporters have asked me that, but no one has asked about this yet.”

Here are a few more pointers:

  • Encourage the trainee to be 100 percent his/herself
  • Leverage the passion your client has for their subject and use it to their advantage
  • Have your client use notes for radio and print interviews.

Good interviews are where the interviewee has confidence, knows the content, is organized and has the skills to respond to the journalist clearly and directly. And as PR professionals, we can help our media trainees be their best and represent their organization to the media in a positive way resulting in great press.


Sheri Singer, Singer Communications, PRSA-NCC Board of Directors member, IPRA Board of Directors member.


Please Take The PR Pro Pledge With Me

Taking oath.Media relations. Sigh. For many PR people, it’s the core of what we do. For many others, it is but just one strategy out of many we use to get the job done. I am in the latter camp. I use it sparingly, when it is the right strategy for what my client or company is trying to accomplish. I believe that too often, media relations – the practice of working with members of the print, broadcast and digital media, to place a story – is the “go to” strategy companies use when they want to get the word out about something, or raise their profile in the public’s eye. Rarely is it the right strategy for them. For one, it’s like hoping you’ll get hit by lightning while in line to buy a lottery ticket. The chance of placing a story, due to the incredibly vast competition for air space and ink, is so slim; it’s often not worth the time invested. But more importantly, it’s usually not even the right strategy for the client or company. By that I mean, in most cases, the target audience comprises only a tiny fraction of the audience of the media outlet, so the return on that invested time spent getting the story placed is not great.

Alas, many PR people still try. Boy, do they try. Many will stop at nothing. They hound reporters with their calls. They make long boring pitches. It’s embarrassing, quite frankly, for all of us to be in the same camp. With client demand to be in the news so often and cohorts killing the game with bad practices, what’s an intrepid PR professional to do?

I used to think that the Universal Accreditation Board’s accreditation (APR) for PR people was the answer. I had originally thought more than ten years ago when I became accredited, that this for sure was the answer. If we all followed the right school of thought, the right approach and strictly adhered to a code of ethics, then we could tamp down on the reckless use of media relations. Through this we would improve our success with clients and bosses, and improve our reputation with journalists. But I’ve found, unfortunately, that the APR is not the answer. It just hasn’t taken off within the PR community the way I had hoped. Not enough of the good folks have it. Many that don’t have it can’t earn it because they don’t have the right foundation of learning to pass, and many that have it still aren’t playing by the rules.

The best I can come up with is a pledge. For simplicity, I am calling this, The PR Pro’s Pledge. It lays out all the things I will not do for a client or boss in the name of smart and savvy PR practice. My thinking is, if enough of us sign this, and share it with each other, and more important, share with clients and bosses, than we may have a real chance at success, whether that success is for our clients, or our own reputations. United we stand against bad PR. Please join me. Sign this. Present it when asked to violate these rules and refuse to violate them. We can’t do it without each other, so let’s do it together. Take the Pledge:

The PR Pro’s Pledge

I, (insert your own name), being of sound and strategic PR mind, hereby swear before all my PR and journalism colleagues, to abide by the following rules for best practice public relations. Should I violate any of the rules contained herein, let me be shamed in a public forum of my peers, with nary a media call returned to me, so long as I shall practice PR:

  1. I will not spam journalists by sending multiple journalists the same, generic release or pitch in the same email or in separate emails.
  2. If I have to send a generic release or pitch because time is tight or there’s a gun to my head, I will at least hide all the addresses in the BCC line or send them separately with a personalized salutation.
  3. I will not call a journalist on deadline to see if they got my email.
  4. I will not try to pitch a journalist a story after the journalist has become a victim of an email blast where all other media outlets were visible in the email TO line.
  5. I will not turn off my cell phone after sending a release or pitch on a Friday about a weekend event.
  6. I will not pitch a story about a client or boss receiving an award, unless my client or boss is an A-list celebrity, a high ranking authority, or a truly remarkable individual.
  7. I will not pitch a story that is not news to anyone but my client or boss.
  8. I will not lie, stretch the truth, or even white wash information to make my client or boss appear better than they are.
  9. I will not purposefully hide information from, or circumnavigate questions asked by the media.
  10. I will not buy advertising with a media outlet in attempt to garner more coverage for my boss or client. I won’t even suggest it as a strategy.
  11. I will not pitch a journalist that I am not positive covers the topic I am pitching.

Samantha J. Villegas, APR

Samantha Villegas, APR, is the President of the National Capital Chapter of PRSA. She is the owner of SaviPR and is an accredited PR consultant with 20 years experience in agency, corporate and government settings. A version of this story first appeared on her blog Savithoughts and PR Daily. She can be reached by Twitter at @samanthajvilleg.

State of the Black Press

George Curry, Journalist, Keynote Speaker & Media Coach introduces panelists.

George Curry, Journalist, Keynote Speaker & Media Coach introduces panelists.

Last Friday, I attended The State of the Black Press Luncheon and Rountable event in collaboration with Black Press Week 2013. The week’s event was hosted by the National Newspapers Publishers Association (NNPA) and the panel included advocates of black media, activists and former journalists. I was in a room full of seasoned journalists, including publishers of black-owned newspapers, black photographers and local communicators. The luncheon kicked off with a delicious meal and good table conversation. As the moderator hit the podium, the discussion was on and we, the audience, were left to help solve the problem. What is left of the black press?

Moderator George Curry, Journalist, informed the panel that he wanted short but straight to the point answers. Meaning, he didn’t want a fluffy headline or some unknown jargon that would leave the crowd confused. He wanted simple answers.

The panel included: Dr. Ben Chavis, Co-founder/President & CEO of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network; Kevin Lewis, Director of African American Media for the White House Communications Office; Charles Ogletree, Professor of Law at Harvard Law School; Jineea Butler, Founder of the Social Services of Hip Hop and the Hip Hop Union. All agreed that the black press will and could only stay relevant if the community demands it. I could understand that. I think to my own daily reading. I hardly ever include black-owned publications for my news; I rely on mainstream media to provide me the good, the bad and the ugly of what’s going on in my community. As an African American Public Relations professional, I have to do better at my own job when pitching media. It’s rare that I consider the black media when brainstorming possible media outlets. It’s not that I don’t think it’s relevant to the black press, maybe I’m like others who have perhaps just forgotten about the black press.

Through the luncheon, the panelists continued to make an argument that the black press also has a job to do. With new technology, they have a duty to stay current. I would agree with that. Also, the panelists pointed back to the audience, to take the charge that we make the black press more inclusive.

So do we still need the black press? Of course we do. The panelists would agree. I came across an article on Huffington Post that said today’s black press provides a valuable service to a community that continues to be underserved by the mainstream media, Could this be true, again, how could I possibly forget?

The next day, I wrote a note to my boss stating, I need to do more pitching to black press and he supported that decision. The black press is here to stay!

About The Author

Tiffany Young is the manager of public relations for American Public University System. She has more than seven years of experience in media relations, event management, and public relations. She earned a certificate in Public Relations from the University of Virginia School of Continuing and Professional Studies and received a B.A. in Mass Communications from Virginia State University.

4 Things Notre Dame Should Do about Manti Te’o’s Online Hoax

University of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o certainly had a horrible end to 2012 and his New Year is shaping up to be no better.

First his online sweetheart Lennay Kekua succumbs to cancer on Sept. 12—the same day his grandmother dies. Then he finds out that neither the disease nor the girl was real and that he’d fallen in love with a figment of his imagination.

This situation wouldn’t have been so bad for Te’o if the story had remained among his immediate circle of friends. They’d tease him into infinity but he’d eventually get over it. Thanks to Deadspin.com, the whole world knows Te’o loved empty words and another woman’s stolen photo, and they think he was involved in the lie.

In his interview with Katie Couric, taped Jan. 22, Te’o admitted that someone posing as Kekua called him on Dec. 6. Though he knew something wasn’t right, he continued the ruse anyway to save face.  We don’t know for sure if he was in on the hoax the whole time or not (the levels of he-said she-said here are amazing). But if he wasn’t, how does he deal with massive embarrassment while trying to be a normal college student and athlete?

Notre Dame is probably wondering what they should do in this predicament, too. After all, the media refers to this debacle as the “Notre Dame hoax.” Is this a PR nightmare? Maybe not.

As head of Notre Dame’s public information office, here are four things my staff would do to mitigate the situation:

  1. Ask Te’o if he’s okay and offer him our support. The statement the university issued on Jan 16 was fine, but this story is just a student’s personal dilemma. The fact that he spoke publicly about his “girlfriend” while wearing a school football uniform doesn’t make this a university-wide issue. All we have is his word that he was truly a victim. The university’s first responsibility is to the student. We’d meet with Te’o, find out how he’s holding up and support him however we can—especially when dealing with the media. Perhaps we’d help him devise a crisis strategy, choose what media outlets to speak to and provide him with media training. Maybe we’d even suggest he appear on MTV’s Catfish to solve the peculiar mystery. We’d also answer any media inquiries that come into our office—including through social media—supporting Te’o’s official statement.
  2. Provide him counseling resources and have a mental health professional contact the student. Te’o could tell us he’s okay with everything going on, but we never know for sure what’s going on in his mind. We’d give him the names and numbers of a handful of counselors—or a counselor at the university—just in case. We’d also have one of these counselors call him to open the communication line.
  3. Make sure the football coaches offer their support and address the issue to the team. Te’o’s coaches should make sure he knows they have an open door policy and are there if he needs them. The coaches and players should also talk about the situation briefly as a team.
  4. Organize an online dating discussion on campus and tell Te’o beforehand that this is happening. There are probably other students on campus experiencing similar situations. Help a campus organization organize a forum about online dating and invite experts to answer questions and encourage discussion.

Angie Jennings Sanders is chief content architect at aiellejai, a boutique content creation consultancy specializing in marketing communications project management, social media engagement, writing instruction/tutoring and book writing/publishing strategy. aiellejai is a subsidiary of esolutions360, a digital solutions agency that marries the creativity of content creation with the fundamentals of software engineering. Follow her on Twitter at @pronouncedALJ.

When the Media Gets It Wrong: Why Language Matters when Writing about People with Disabilities

Text reading "Disabilities" above a drawing of an umbrella with the text, ".Visual, Hearing, Learning, Autism, Physical, Emotional, Cognitive" written in the folds and "Speech or Language" on handle

Image: iconshut.com

A few years ago, I was reading an article in the Washington Post that mentioned several political appointees with disabilities. All of them were intelligent and accomplished, according to the article, but I remember cringing when the columnist used the term, “wheelchair-bound,” to describe them. This was not the first time I’d seen poor word choices used to report on people with disabilities in mainstream media, and it would not be the last.

You may be asking, “What’s wrong with the term wheelchair-bound?” Well, first of all, it is not accurate. Bound, in this context, means “confined to.” This is not the case for people who use wheelchairs. Many people who use wheelchairs transfer out of them to sit at restaurants, drive, bathe and do all kinds of other things. Some of them only use wheelchairs on certain occasions, or also use other mobility aids. For example, one of the appointees mentioned in the article, Tammy Duckworth (who was recently elected to the House of Representatives, but at the time, was an Assistant Secretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs) also uses prosthetic legs.

Even people who cannot transfer out of their wheelchairs by themselves are not “bound” or tied to the chair; rather they use it as a means to get around. If you rely on your car, because there is a lack of public transportation in your town, are you “car-bound”? Why not simply write that a person “uses a wheelchair”? (For more about language and disability, check out Emily Ladau’s excellent blog post, “Reflections on Language through the Lens of Disability“).

This is not a matter of “political correctness” or people being “overly sensitive.” There is a reason language about certain groups of people (e.g., women, minorities) has evolved over the years. Some words are no longer acceptable, because they are offensive or hurtful. Any woman who has been called “honey,” “sweetie” or “dear” in the workplace by an older male colleague can attest to what it feels like to be demeaned by words, even if that was not the intent.

Disability advocates have been fighting the battle to get the media to use appropriate word choices when writing about people with disabilities for decades. Judging from what I’ve read recently, while there has been some improvement in this area, there is still work to be done. It should not be difficult to stop using antiquated phrases like “wheelchair-bound,” which re-enforce old stereotypes that people with disabilities are victims, and yet sometimes it feels like members of the media have been slow to adapt the way they write about people with disabilities. I believe these changes do make a difference – that they go a long way to altering perceptions of people with disabilities – so I will continue to fight for them, both professionally and personally.

The push to advocate for word choices that are respectful to people with disabilities isn’t limited to members of the media. Special Olympics has been leading a very successful and important effort called, “End the R-Word,” for the past several years to spread public awareness about how offensive and demeaning using the words “retard” or “retarded” in a derogatory manner is to people with intellectual disabilities, their families and friends. One young man in a video on the site illustrates the point perfectly when he says, “I’m not retarded. I’m Eric.”

Special Olympics and many others involved in the movement were very vocal with their criticism when political pundit Ann Coulter used the “R-word” on Twitter to describe President Obama following the third presidential debate. There has also been public outcry over the use of the “R-word” in movies, such as “Tropic Thunder” and “The Descendants.”

Thanks to the “End the R-Word” campaign and others, progress is being made. Recently, film director Adam McKay agreed to nix the word from the upcoming sequel to “Anchorman,” CNN reported positively on the campaign and last year, when comedian Rick Younger used the R-word on The Today Show, host Kathie Lee Gifford immediately told him, “We don’t use that word here.” Perhaps the most effective part of the campaign, however, is the “Not Acceptable” public service announcement, which compares the “R-word” to slurs used against other minority groups.

Some recommendations for writing about people with disabilities include:

  1. Using the word “disability,” rather than “handicapped”;
  2. Avoiding the use of the words “normal” or “normally” as a comparison to people with disabilities (e.g., People who speak with a stutter often experience more difficulty on job interviews than people who speak normally.);
  3. Avoiding terms that project a negative connotation (e.g. wheelchair-bound); and
  4. Not overusing the word “special,” as in “special needs” or “special populations.”

A note about person-first language: The use of person-first language (i.e, “people with disabilities” rather than “disabled people”) is preferred by some people with disabilities, but not all. Many people with disabilities, particularly in the deaf and autistic communities, prefer identity-first language (i.e., “autistic” or “autistic person” rather than “person with autism”).

Writing about people with disabilities (of which there are nearly 57 million in the U.S. alone) in a respectful, positive manner isn’t difficult. Simply following the guidelines above and advocating for members of the media to do the same will go a long way in helping to change perceptions about people with disabilities, so they are fully included in their communities and the workforce.

Diana Zeitzer is the communications director for Disability.gov. She is a proud Penn State alumna, who enjoys running marathons and performing improv comedy.

Updated October 2015

Media Relations in the Digital Age

Media Relations in the Digital Age

In today’s Digital Age, almost every public relations professional wants to see their client or organization’s story placed with journalists at prestigious and influential media outlets, as well as in prominent new online media outlets. The PRSA-NCC Professional Development seminar on June 8, 2011 held at the Navy Memorial provided a diverse group of journalist speakers that addressed many of the issues involved in media relations within their various reporting beats and media outlets. About 80 participants were on hand to listen to speakers from Al Jazeera, The Huffington Post, Bloomberg News and the National Journal, who related methods of accessing information for their news cycles, and how to pitch information for their news articles, broadcasts, or blogs.

Considering that most journalists have entered the Digital Age, the speakers related examples of some tried-and-true methods of getting information for their news reporting, such as talking to top officials as well as direct quotes and access to pre-interview press releases, but depending on the news topic and media outlet, they may or may not include the use of social media. Tony Capaccio, Pentagon Correspondent of Bloomberg News mentioned that although readers/followers might read Twitter for events coming up, it is usually only top officials who can provide information that he is seeking for his reporting for the specific information needed in Bloomberg’s Pentagon news. “I’ve only used social media twice to talk to defense officials, such as the Admiral in charge of NATO, and only because he was a reader of Facebook,” said Capaccio.

For those who are more tech-savvy, Maggie Fox, Managing Editor of Technology and Health Care, said that many PR professionals need to refocus how they appeal to journalists, because “most journalists have to wade through 600 email messages per day. It takes up all my time.” She stressed “knowing who you’re pitching and why, so that the journalists and you don’t waste your time,” Fox said. “Only pitch if you can offer something no one else is doing, and be quick, topical and concise. Don’t be one of the PR types who bug people all the time.”

The bottom line, according to Jeffrey Ballou, Deputy News Editor of Al Jazeera, is that “journalists are tired from all of the world’s major upheavals, and if you don’t watch the media you pitch, you are not aware what is being covered day-to-day, so your pitch will be irrelevant.” And delivering the actual newsmakers to the journalists is something all speaker panelists agreed on. “You must be able to offer a speaker that has current experience in the news topics covered, such as diplomacy in foreign relations in the case of Afghanistan.”

Social media plays a big role too for many media outlets now, such as Al Jazeera and The Huffington Post, who say most of their reporting is done on social media, i.e. blogs, Twitter or Facebook, which were also the main outlets cited by panelists. Jennifer Bendrey, Washington Correspondent for The Huffington Post, said “We think about the audience and their niches, and we do welcome pitches, but know who you’re talking to before you call, and it helps to offer a couple of knowledgeable sentences for the journalist to get a flavor of the story you are pitching.”