Study: The Press Release Is Not Dead

Despite the glut of information available to almost anyone, many journalists still rely on the press release and PR professionals for story leads. One communications pro shares some tips on crafting an effective release and the art of media pitching.

No news is not always good news, especially when you’re trying to generate some much-needed publicity for your association. But getting reporters to cover your event, study, or new CEO may not be easy, especially as newsroom staff and other resources dwindle.

A new survey of journalists by Business Wire sheds some light on how reporters, editors, columnists, and bloggers prefer to be pitched or informed of news in order to effectively cover a story.

For example, the wire service’s “2014 Media Survey” found a heavy reliance on press releases. Almost 90 percent of respondents had referenced a release in the previous week, and 62 percent had used one in the last 24 hours.

When evaluating a press release, the most important information journalists look for is:

  • breaking news (77 percent)
  • supporting facts (70 percent)
  • interesting story angles (66 percent)
  • quotable sources (52 percent)
  • company background (50 percent)
  • trending industry topics (49 percent)
  • supporting multimedia (29 percent).

“The first question you need to ask is why would reporters care about this,” Sheri Singer, president and CEO of Singer Communications, said of writing press releases. “Is it newsworthy?”

While journalists at major consumer publications may not always care about your news, smaller trade publications may pick it up. This is an important consideration when directly pitching media regarding news about your organization, Singer added.

“Should it go to all reporters? Or is it inside news that you’ve got a new CEO, which, unless you’re a big trade association, that’s probably most important to trade press and press in the CEO’s hometown,” she said.

When contacting journalists directly, you may want to forgo a standard press release in favor of an email alert, which is preferred by 69 percent of survey respondents, as opposed to 22 percent who prefer a standard press release.

Given the fact that journalists receive hundreds of emails in any given day, one way to cut through that clutter is to personalize your outreach and include contact information, Singer said.

“Don’t make the reporter work. Don’t make them go back to your website to find out how to get in touch with you,” she said. “You need someone’s name and phone number in the email, and that phone number needs to be a cell number because reporters work 24/7 now. You can’t rely on the fact that you’re going to be in the office when they call.”

– Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now

The Cost of Doing Business: ACA Can Raise the Cost of Hiring an Intern or Freelancer

Whether for PR or other functions, adequate staffing is a challenge all managers grapple with. Now they must consider the cost impact of the Affordable Care Act, even when using interns, freelancers or temps.

To the government there are no interns or temporary employees; the only categories that exist for the purposes of the health insurance law are Full Time, Part Time, Variable Hour and Seasonal. In 2015 – just a few months away – employers with more than 100 full-time equivalent employees will need to provide coverage for 70% of their full-time employees. By 2016 employers with more than 50 full-time equivalent employees will need to provide coverage to 95% of their full-time employees.

So, bringing in anyone for 30 or more hours per week will mean examining whether the organization will be responsible for the individual’s insurance.

Many PRSA-NCC members are freelancers who work on-site in their client’s offices, supplementing staff or filling in for someone on leave. Now client organizations must consider the impact of adding that professional to the team, even short term, to their health care costs, depending on their role and the work arrangement, and whether that individual has insurance of their own, independent of a subsidy.

And if an intern works more than 30 hours a week and isn’t covered by his or her parents’ plan or other source and signs up using a subsidy on a public exchange, the organization hiring that intern could be hit with a penalty.

For organizations bringing on temporary staff through a temp agency, it is important to be sure that they are contracting with the firm, not an individual associate, and that the associate is an employee of the firm. That way, the temporary staffing agency is the employer of record and the client organization is not liable for the individual’s insurance.

Kate Perrin, CEO
PRofessional Solutions, LLC

Writing a Winning Proposal

When I’m asked to respond to a request for a proposal (RFP), I have mixed feelings. On the plus side, there’s a chance to win new business. On the negative side, I’m going to spend at least 20 hours meeting the potential client, conducting research, brainstorming, writing a proposal that essentially gives away my intellectual property when I have little information whether I can win the business–or even if there is business to win.

According to Richard Belle, president of Belle Communications, there’s good news and bad news in today’s competitive proposal world. The good news is that your firm probably has the qualifications to perform the work; and the bad news is so do most of your competitors.  Belle talked about how to write a winning proposal to 25 IPRA professional development lunch attendees at the May 1 event.

“Clients know this,” continued Belle. And in fact, he added, when judges first evaluate proposals, they typically put them into three piles: no, yes and maybe. Most proposals end up in the maybe pile. Why? Because most PR professionals write a “good” proposal that only demonstrate their competence.

“Good proposals,” said Belle, “show that you can perform the work; great proposals win the business.”

So how do you go from good to great? Here’s Belle’s advice:

  • Follow the RFP format. Most RFPs ask for specific elements. Belle suggests making absolutely sure that you respond to each RFP section.
  • Distinguish yourself from your competitors. Belle suggested taking your elevator speech and weaving it into your proposal. This might include information about cost, past accomplishments–basically why they should hire you over your competitors.
  • Know yourself, the client and your competitors. Belle said know yourself and your strengths, the client and what they are looking for, and your competitors and their strengths. Ask the client who you are competing against or conduct your own research and then write your proposal illustrating how you differ from your competitors.
  • Write an original proposal. Ok I’ll admit it–I cut and paste some sections of my proposals. Belle says this is obvious to those evaluating the submission. He suggests writing an original proposal each time that addresses exactly what the client is seeking.
  • Back up claims with facts. As PR professionals, we steer clear of making “claims.” This is critical in a proposal. If you say you will complete the work 2 weeks ahead of deadline according to Belle, you need to make sure you meet that deadline. In other words, don’t make unrealistic promises or ones you can’t keep.
  • Win or lose, request a debrief. While most of us request a debrief only when we lose a bid, Belle says you should request a debrief win or lose. He says it’s important to know why you won so you can be sure to focus on those points that helped you win the business.

Following these suggestions can help your firm go from writing good proposals to writing great proposals–and increases your odds of winning business.

Submitted by NCC board member Sheri L. Singer, president of Singer Communications a PR firm designed to save clients time and money while delivering stellar services. She is a charter member of IPRA, has served on the IPRA board for 10 years (chair in 2009). She also is the Education Chair of ASAE’s Communications Section Council.

Mark Schaefer: How to Avoid Content Shock and Win the Future

The storm that beat down the Mid-Atlantic on April 30 brought rain but no lighting. Still dozens of marketers and PR pros walked away shocked and awed after Mark Schaefer’s presentation at Google’s Washington, DC office.

Mark-Schaefer-Content-ShockAs a lead up to Vocus’ Demand Success PR and Marketing Conference on June 5-6, Schaefer, the author of “Social Media Explained,” discussed the past, present and future of marketing, including the impending Content Shock.

First adopters reap the spoils, Schaefer says, that’s why it’s so important to have a solid grasp of where we were, where we are and where we soon will be.

“Every time we get to the end of one of these revolutions, it gets more difficult for businesses,” Schaefer says.

Let’s take a look at his insights:

Past and Present Digital Revolutions

The Internet: A lonely place

Schaefer fondly recalled the day he sat down with his computer, plugged in the phone jack, heard the screeching modem and downloaded a picture from NASA in five minutes.

He described the Internet of about 20 years ago as “a lonely place.” The first adopters simply treated their websites as brochures and often included the same content and pictures.PRSA_Ad_DS_208x165_v2-01

Time to get found

As websites became ubiquitous, people learned they needed to stand out, and Google was the answer.

The people who mastered SEO (or temporarily reaped the benefits by gaming the search engine) ranked at the top of search results, appearing in front of customers.

Today’s challenge – Content pileup

Most every business is piling onto the social web and producing content, but the amount of data created is expected to increase 600 percent by the year 2020. Seventy-five percent of that data will come from consumers and businesses.

“We’re getting to the end of this epoch and things are getting harder. It’s going to be a challenge for us until the next thing comes along,” Schaefer says.

“Right now, in America, we consume 10 hours of content a day,” he says. “Are we getting filled up? What is the limit?”

Once people hit their limit (whatever it may be), there will be a Content Shock, making it difficult for brands to reach customers.

The answer to the problem isn’t to create amazing content. That solution only works until your competitors do the same thing, resulting in an amazing content arms race.

Content-Shock-Mark-Schaefer-Audience-e1398952359252Here are Schaefer’s four ideas for succeeding as marketing in this epoch becomes tougher and tougher:

1. Shock and awe

The key to the shock and awe strategy is to be first and to be overwhelming. Find an unsaturated niche within your industry and populate it with content that will help you win the discovery battle.

Schaefer used the example of a cosmetic surgery facility. They dominated by answering all the questions people had about their clinic.

They hosted Facebook quizzes, created videos where doctors answered questions, started blogging, produced ebooks and eventually gave away a hardcover holiday cookbook to anyone who interacted with their brand.

A holiday cookbook? When people would ask about the recipe of a tasty dish, the cook would invariably mention the cosmetic surgery center.

“They were owning part of the local conversation even at Christmas dinner,” Schaefer said.

Their efforts produced a 19 percent increase in revenues, a conversion rate that jumped 20 percentage points and a top ranking for many relevant search terms.

2. Borrow a bigger pipeline

“If your pipeline is getting strangled, maybe you should borrow someone else’s,” Schaefer said.

By that he meant using sponsored content, newsjacking or influence marketing.

When it comes to influence marketing, widespread access to high-speed Internet and access to free publishing tools like social networks and blogging platforms “democratized” influence.

Schaefer told the story of Robert Scoble who became a powerful tech blogger by writing blog posts regularly during the mid 1990s. What separated Scoble was his ability to create content that moves and gets shared among a targeted audience.

As Scoble grew his following, businesses that once wouldn’t hire the college dropout realized they could use him to reach crowds by, for example, sending him products to review.

Another example is Listerine. The brand found the “Robert Scoble of oral care” and went from a small piece of the overall conversation to controlling much more of the conversation. This proves that the strategy can work for all brands, no matter how sexy they are.

3. Atomizing content

Bigger isn’t always better. People’s interest in consuming pictures, infographics and short videos have helped Vine and Pinterest burst onto the scene.

Creating atomized content can help you connect with consumers.

4. Be R.I.T.E.

R.I.T.E. is an acronym for Relevant, Interesting, Timely and Entertaining.

“If you create content that’s R.I.T.E….over time you will be creating shareable content,” Schaefer says. “Of these four, I think the big one is going to be entertainment, and the most challenging.”

Schaefer used Chipotle as an example. It created entertaining Claymation videos that people loved to watch and share and even added an iPhone game.

What’s Next?

“The next revolution is going to be about wearable technology, augmented reality and filters,” says Schaefer, who predicted that it will hit critical mass by the end of 2015.

The key is going to be in creating immersive interactive experiences, but there are challenges in the way.

People are getting bombarded with content and are starting to create physical and digital filters to keep out irrelevant stuff.

He used the example of Zite, an app that learns from the content that you interact with to deliver more of the same. That’s bad news for brands unless…

“We need to create something that’s so compelling, that’s so interesting that we invite people out of their filters.”

Immersive interactive experiences, through the use of wearables and augmented reality, will make people want to spend time with us.

No one has successfully done this yet, but the one who does will win.

“We’re on the brink of a digital world that surrounds us like the air we breathe,” Schaefer says. “There’s a first mover advantage. If you’re creating immersive experiences for your customers, there’ll be an advantage.”

Final Big Idea

How do we stand out? The answer is three words: Be. More. Human.

“People want to buy from people the same way we’ve wanted to buy since the medieval times,” Schaefer says. “We have this amazing need to connect and be social. We want to buy from the people we know. That awareness leads to trust. That trust leads to loyalty. That loyalty trumps everything…even blogs, filters and content shock.”

by Brian Conlin, originally appearing on The Vocus Blog »

Plan B for 2014: Your Antidote to Reality’s Punch

Reality Punch

You say you don’t have time to plan ahead. You’re overloaded. Have too much to do to launch 2014. Let’s take a look at the results that can happen when an organization doesn’t consider all the options and plunges forward without a Plan B in case of disruption. Key excuses for neglecting to plan ahead1:

1. No time.

You remember the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico? Containment took twice as long as expected–4 million barrels of oil were released. The cost to BP by the end of 2010? $17.7 billion, a 29 percent drop in its stock price2 and a tremendous hit to the company’s reputation. Certainly the company had a basic operating plan—a working theory—about what needed to be done to achieve the desired results. But when the initial plan went dramatically off course, what then?

 2. Why plan when things change so fast?

If you don’t know where you are now–don’t have a baseline– how can you be fully aware of best strategy to pursue when tossed by threatening circumstances? In turbulent times it’s even more important to know True North, so you can rise with the tide, not drowned.

Certainly elements of the automotive industry have repositioned to blaze ahead until they hit a speed bump. Between Oct. 2009 and March 2010, Toyota recalled 8.5 million vehicles.  A dealer improperly installed all-weather floor mats from an SUV into a loaned Lexus sedan. As a result the vehicle’s accelerator stuck on the mat, causing a tragic, fatal accident. In addition to the loss of life, this incident cost Toyota well over $2 billion in repairs, recalls and lost sales.3

While nonprofits and agencies might not place themselves in the same situation as the auto industry, they can relate to the lingering impact of the 2013 Sequester on businesses in Washington area–pointing to the need for a Plan B to cushion against future challenges.

 3. We get paid for results, not planning.

This focus on doing—tactics— can provide the satisfaction that activity can bring without providing true results. When spending money to research long-term goals is seen as nonessential, how does an organization know whether it’s selecting the right path? What is the baseline—the starting point—from which progress is assessed? How do you know when a project is in need of a course correction?

4. We’re doing OK without a plan.

Without a contingency plan, how can you set a course if the company suffers a dramatic setback? What if you lose major funding? What if despite your financial checks and balances you find serious discrepancies? What if a leader dies or leaves unexpectedly?

In the Enron fiasco, top executives were selling their own stock while assuring employees that the company was not losing value. Employees lost their retirement nest eggs in addition to the severe financial setbacks for the company, their industry and the public they served.  Bankruptcy proceedings revealed losses of $13.1 billion for the parent company and $18.1 billion for the affiliates. Thousands of people in Houston, the energy hub, and elsewhere lost their jobs.4

If you think about the “horrible what ifs” that could make life miserable in the year ahead, taking time now makes more sense and it will prepare you and your team to roll over the unexpected reality punches ahead. You’ll have a path to center your communications program as you set a course for 2014.

1 Cutlip & Center’s Effective Public Relations, pp. 266

2 Ibid. p. 344

3 Ibid.p. 344

4 “The Fall of Enron,” Bloomberg Businessweek, Dec. 16, 2001.

To read more:  Jeffrey Liker, “The Toyota Recall: What Have We Learned” The HBR Blog Network

(Feb 11, 2011), http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/02/toyotas-recall-crisis-full-of.html (accessed Aug 2, 2011)

Thoughts On Our Profession, Past and Future

Judy Phair, president of PhairAdvantage Communications, LLC and a former president of PRSA National, was inducted into the National Capital Chapter Hall of Fame on September 18 during the annual Thoth Awards Gala. Below is an excerpt from her acceptance speech. She can be reached via Twitter and LinkedInAJ4A1052-2775787939-O

The National Capital Chapter Hall of Fame is one of the most esteemed in our profession, and I want to express my deep and heartfelt thanks for this honor.  With your permission, I’d like to take just a few minutes this evening to share some thoughts on our profession, past and future.

The members of the Hall of Fame have inspired me with their accomplishments, their integrity, and their advocacy for our profession.  Looking at their names leads me to reflect on what a difference their accomplishments and those of many others in our profession have made – and how much more there is to do.  Here are a few examples:

Equality and diversity – As a woman who was a teenager in the Mad Men era, I benefitted from wonderful parents who instilled in me the belief that it was possible to pursue and succeed in the career of my choice.  That was very different from the experience of many of my friends.

Bill Novelli Judy Phair Samantha VillegasWomen have come a long way since then, but, while there are more women than ever in our profession, they are still scarce at the very highest levels – and continue to make less money than their male peers.  Ironically, while men may predominate at the highest levels, fewer and fewer men are entering our profession – and that’s not good, either.

In addition, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans are underrepresented – and we suffer from it.  So, we also have some work to do in this area.

  • We must all be ambassadors for our profession – I think the reputation of public relations – our brand, if you will – has improved. However, I still hear the term spin-doctor more than any of us would like.  All of you in this room have helped build a better reputation—and will do so in the future.

PRSA offers us one important way to work together for our profession.  Like so many in my generation, I came to public relations from journalism. I’m not sure that I really knew much about the profession then, but I quickly fell in love with public relations and its potential to make a positive difference.

I connected with PRSA, and found a special community of others who shared my passion for our profession.  I believe even more today than I did then that this is indeed a higher calling.

PRSA has helped me advance my career, work with an incredibly talented group of colleagues, and learn the joy of mentoring others.  I’ve also come to understand that recognizing what you don’t know is always more important than what you do know.  Education is a lifelong process.

  • Every one of us must speak up when the practice of public relations is misused and work tirelessly for the highest standards of ethics and excellence in our profession.   In today’s fast-paced world, where information – accurate and inaccurate, beneficial and harmful – can circle the globe in seconds, we must conduct our work in an environment defined by ethics and excellence.  It is crucial to economic progress and human rights.
  • I hear a lot about how much public relations is changing, but I wonder – it seems to me the technology and the tools may be different, but some things remain the same. Developing an effective strategy, based on research and understanding, remains at the core of our craft.  And no matter what technology we use, relationships – built on trust — are the currency of public relations.

We must effect and enhance all communication – whether it’s a blog, a tweet, a Facebook post, an op ed, a You Tube video — in an atmosphere of respect and trust for our audiences.

  • We are an increasingly global profession.  Some of my most exciting work in the past 15 years has involved learning about new cultures such as India and China – and also learning that the same basic tenets apply to effective communication in these regions.

You can’t communicate if you don’t take the time to know and understand your audiences. For example, in helping some colleges in the Midwest attract more students from India, we did some research that reinforced some pretty basic principles:

  • Personal contact is more valuable than electronic outreach
  • Generic doesn’t work
  • Messages need to be targeted for specific audiences and cultures
  • And, authenticity and transparency are non-negotiable.

Whether in Mumbai or Baltimore, the audiences we are trying to reach want to be served, not sold – involved, not told.

  • A few other observations:
    • If I were entering the profession today, I’d grab every international opportunity I could – we really are in a global marketplace.
    • I’d be sure I knew sound business principles and practices – we need to speak the language of our employers in order to effectively communicate with them.
    • And if I were just starting out I’d probably be a whole lot better at touchscreens than I am today.  When you begin your career with a typewriter, it’s hard to get over the need to pound those keys!
    • Finally, perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned is that no one succeeds on his or her own.  Each of us owes so many others for what we are able to accomplish, and I strongly believe that each of us has a responsibility to give back to our profession – through volunteer work in PRSA and other organizations, through mentoring, through sharing our passion, our knowledge, and our connections.

In fact, becoming a member of the Hall of Fame makes me feel that I have an added responsibility to work harder for our profession, and to help future leaders achieve their dreams.  Our daily work offers us all an opportunity to make a difference.  I hope that we all grab that opportunity.

Okay, We’re All Busy. Is That Really a Good Excuse?

Image

In my April 9, 2013 blog, I spoke of how Mickey Kennedy, founder of eReleases, commended the field for its embrace of codes of ethics. What I hope didn’t get lost in his message is that he also suggests we actually use those codes in our work. Our own organization’s Code of Ethics is one of the most widely recognized in the industry. Our website’s ethics area is expansive and includes case studies, professional standards advisories and a rich resource area.

Kennedy suggests the vast majority of us are good, ethical professionals trying to help our bosses and clients tell their story. I agree. I think the vast majority of us are good people. However, as Alison Kenney recently blogged, there are shades of gray in the ethical lifestyle we lead as PR professionals.

The problem I’ve always had figuring out “ethics issues” is that I don’t always see the ethical dilemma until its almost too late. At that point, all I can say is, “I’m sorry,” which of course is never good enough. At what point am I supposed to say, “That’s it! That crosses the line!” How am I supposed to know I’m there? And, once I’m there how do I know what I am supposed to do about it?

What conditions existed that allowed Penn State to cover-up the Jerry Sandusky scandal for so long? How could leaders at the IRS not see the impact their operational decisions would have on public opinion about their organization?

Can the resources we have available to us at http://www.prsa.org/ethics (and other places) help us? Let’s start with our Code of Ethics. Have you looked at it lately? It’s not really all that long and boils nicely down to six concepts called our “Statement of Professional Values:”

  • Advocacy
  • Honesty
  • Expertise
  • Independence
  • Loyalty
  • Fairness

Six concepts that are easy enough to remember.

I’ve had many discussions over the years about the concepts of advocacy and loyalty. Don’t they contravene the other four points? In my mind, there is not an inherent conflict among these six values. We are charged not just with advocating on behalf of our organizations or just being loyal to them. Rather, our Code charges us to advocate in a responsible manner and to be “…faithful to those we represent, while honoring our obligation to serve the public interest.” The information we provide into the marketplace of ideas is supposed to be accurate and truthful and further public debate on the issues. And, sometimes, loyalty to our organization means admitting we can do a better job of serving the public interest. Look to the Coca-Cola Company’s recent campaign about their—and their competitor’s—efforts to introduce reduced calorie soft drinks in schools. The campaign has taken some hits for being disingenuous, but if you take a look at the likes and dislikes and the comments at the YouTube page where the commercial resides, I think you will conclude that the campaign is furthering honest debate on the issue.

While the “Statement of Professional Values” is important, it doesn’t really provide the kind of guidance that can help you recognize when an ethical issue is about to hit you. I think the real meat of the Code lies in the next section, the “Code Provisions of Conduct.” It is here that you find the core principles upon which the Code of Ethics is based. These principles are:

  • Free flow of information
  • Competition
  • Disclosure of information
  • Safeguarding confidences
  • Conflicts of interest
  • Enhancing the profession

I will be discussing these code provisions in upcoming blogs. Hopefully, we can discuss them in a way that helps us find a way to internalize them and use them as triggers that will better arm us to recognize ethical dilemmas before they become ethical issues.

 

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Mitch Marovitz is the Treasurer and Ethics Committee Chair for the Public Relations Society of America’s National Capital Chapter.