‘Media Relations Writing’ Book Available Now

Penning Kindle Front CoverFor two reasons I have written my own textbook.

First, students and I were not happy with the variety of textbooks about public relations, PR writing or media relations writing available now from academic and other publishers. They didn’t find them useful, and they weren’t reading the assigned book.

Second,  I am often asked by professionals–in public relations or in other roles who sometimes need to write a press release or do some other form of media relations—if they can pick my brain, have me give them some advice, or otherwise tell them about how to work with journalists.

So I turned my lectures into a book that could be useful in a college classroom, a PR department at any organization, or as a guide for anyone working in other professions who nevertheless have to try to gain publicity for something and they are not sure how.

The result is “Media Relations Writing: A Guide for PR Pros (or anyone who just wants publicity). Yes, it’s a long title and subtitle but it covers the market.

I’ve been field testing it on students in my media relations writing course this semester. They are reading it, and they like it for its clarity and practicality. They also like the price–free!

For others, the price is also right. It ranges from $4.99 to $14.99 depending on format (e-book or paperback) and the platform. The book is out now on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Apple Books.

To find out more, see the books page on my Penning Ink website.

Who Should Be Your Spokesperson?

imagesJust recently, a client of mine was in the news. The story was not something we had pitched, it was just some journalistic enterprise stemming from a public meeting.

It just so happened that the CEO and COO were both across the country at a conference. So the VP of Finance took the call from a reporter and answered the questions. This was appropriate, given that the story was financial in nature. The reporter needed to verify and clarify some numbers and then ask for a quote. The resulting article was clear and positive and the finance expert had gained some media exposure.

I bring this up because people often wonder who their client or organization’s spokesperson should be. Some assume it should always be the CEO. Others think that’s the role of the PR person. Often in times of crisis it is a lawyer stepping up to the microphone (not always a good idea because of the implications of a lawyer speaking looking defensive as opposed to transparent).

The reality is, the best spokesperson depends on the subject matter and context.

When I did media training several times over the years for the client I mentioned, I always did it for not just the CEO but everyone on the management team, including finance, human resources, and other specific business area management leads. This is because everyone should be ready to give a clear interview that is both helpful to journalists and consistent with company objectives.

That is the purpose of media training–to make sure everyone who might do an interview is not mystified, afraid of, or antagonistic toward the media. They should know how to speak for print, radio, or TV–live or recorded–in a way that provides accurate and useful information that sounds genuine and not generic jargon.

In previous PR jobs where media relations was the focus, I often connected reporters to people other than myself for interviews. The idea was to shine a light on more people in an organization to show its depth and diversity, but also to have more insightful comments closer to the subject at hand. Reporters were always appreciative of the access to sources most suited for the story.

Here are some simple considerations for setting up a spokesperson on a given story:

  • authority/accountability–who has the power or made or will make a decision relative to the story? This could be the CEO, but it could be another member of management. Think in terms of who the public would want to hear from to justify themselves for the actions to be reported in the story. (This also is something to think about if debating whether someone from a PR agency or someone in-house should be the spokesperson for a story);
  • knowledge–who can really answer a reporter’s questions in detail in a way that can enlighten and educate an audience? This may be a scientist, a teacher, an accountant, an engineer, a safety officer or anyone who deals with the subject of a reporter’s story daily as the focus of their job;
  • accessibility–who is available right now or very soon? Reporters work on deadlines. Sometime there is a long lead time to set something up, but often the story is for tonight’s broadcast or going up online for the next app or email update. In this case, the PR professional may be the one to speak for the sake of efficiency.



Measuring Media Relations: More than ‘Word’ and ‘Awareness’

My colleagues and I cringe and roll our eyes when clients or others speak of their public relations goals as needing to “get the word out” or “raise awareness.” At first blush, those goals sound obvious and appropriate. But the problem is that they are too basic and don’t seek the true value public relations can offer.

The other problem, relative to an earlier post I wrote, (and someone reading that asked  for my perspective on this) is that such a view of publicity or earned media is not a complete view of public relations. The measurement goals of publicity should be consistent with the broader objectives of the big picture PR that goes well beyond getting yourself in the news.

Public relations is all about measuring objectives, and those objectives should be about the whole organization, not just the PR function. The PR industry has worked to derive standards for measurement of PR impact globally, resulting in a set of seven standard evaluation guidelines called the Barcelona Principles. PR measurement guru Katie Paine has a good summary of them on her own blog.

Given that broad background, let’s take a look at the ways to measure the publicity or earned media–again, just one aspect of public relations work–in the enlightened way consistent with measurement standards. In order of importance from least to most meaningful, measuring earned media includes:

  • Production. These are simply the copies of news releases, pitch letters and other media relations tactics produced by the PR professional or team. They show you have done something, but not the result.
  • Exposure. The old-fashioned clip reports, either hard copy or digital, that show actual articles, blog posts or transcripts of broadcast stories that result from the media relations tactics. This shows you got some coverage, and maybe even millions of impressions, but it says nothing about the quality of it.
  • Content analysis. Taking a bit more involved approach, this method looks at sentiment–positive or negative–as well as whether or not intended key messages of objectives were included in the resulting coverage. Negative coverage, contrary to the alleged statements by PT Barnum that “all news is good news,” getting negative media can damage reputational objectives quickly and broadly. Also, you can get lots  of coverage but the focus is not your intent and all that media is a fail. As an example, I once publicized the fact that the governor was speaking at a client event but the media only came to ask her about state budget issues, not at all about her purpose or speech that day for my client.
  • Competitive analysis. CEOs and others in management must grapple with how the organization is doing relative to competition. It’s how THEY are measured. So good media relations measurement should look at the “share of discussion” resulting from your efforts. If you get 50 media mentions in a month in targeted media, that’s good if the next closest competitor in your industry got 20, but bad if one or more competitors are yielding 75 or 100 articles or stories in the same period.
  • Response. Just as digital analytics looks for ‘conversion goals’ (people clicking on and doing things in response to digital PR, media relations measurement should include noting a causal response. This means after information is published or broadcast is there a corresponding increase in requests for information, attendance, voting, sales or other organizational objective?
  • Engagement. In the social media era in particular, media efforts that result in dialogue and conversation with key publics is important. So if media relations move conversations to your own blog, web site, and social platforms, as well as offline interaction, this is an important metric to plan for and measure.
  • Outcome. As the Barcelona principles note, this is the gold standard of all PR measurement and should be for media relations as well. Basically, do the publics  who see your publicity respond the way you intended in your stated objectives? This could mean a positive change in awareness, a depth of understanding, an attitude formed or strengthened and ultimately a specific action taken in response.

There are firms to help with large-scale measurement of media relations, including the PRTrak software by Burrelle’s Luce, Cision, and Meltwater. But much of this can be done by professionals in house with good planning and attention to these details.

Blind Men, Elephants, and Public Relations

UnknownThere’s an old proverb about  blind men describing an elephant. One strokes a leg and says “it’s a tree.” One touches a tusk and says “it’s a spear.’ A third grasps the trunk and declares “it’s a snake.” And so on.

All are offering somewhat correct descriptions of what they experience. But they don’t see the big picture. No one points out they are touching only a part of an elephant.

Such is the nature of describing and defining the field of public relations.

The problem has existed for years, but I’ve noticed it in increasing instances recently:

  • a dialogue with a practitioner on LinkedIn who characterizes public relations as pitching reporters;
  • a New York Times article about Facebook’s “PR firm.” But upon upon careful reading  the firm, Definers Public Affairs, is NOT a PR firm but a political opposition research firm. They do talk about earned media, but even so it’s only a limited aspect of PR.
  • An article in Forbes that purports to predict the future of PR, only to characterize the profession as merely media relations and the future as digital storytelling. Most professionals and academic programs are well into the digital future, and storytelling is one aspect of what PR professionals do.
  • a business publication article characterizes PR as “putting your organization in a positive light,” which is cringe-worthy for its unethical implications and the ability to be synonymous with “spin.”

In short, characterizations of public relations–by the news media and, sadly, even by some who work or claim to work in the profession–either demonize what we do as dishonest or minimize what we do as mere publicity. They are blindly describing the only aspect of something huge, the one thing they touch.

What is really frustrating about all of this is that we are 100 years beyond PR being hucksterism or mere publicity seeking. I wrote a journal article about this some years ago, recounting how early practitioners like Edward Bernays, Ivy Lee, and Arthur W. Page proclaimed they were beyond news releases and focused their time counseling management about their relationships with their publics. This was in the 1920s!

We still have a media-cultivated view of PR. The articles I mentioned above are bereft of any reporting that seeks out a comment from a PR professor or a professional organization such as the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), the Arthur W. Page Society, The PR Council, the Institute for Public Relations, or others. These organizations would provide a much more accurate and complete characterization of the profession of public relations. They would describe the whole elephant, you might say.

So what is PR? It is many things. That’s the point. But here’s the key–don’t define “PR” by a tactic, but by the publics and the objectives. Public relations is essentially about relationships between an organization and ALL of its publics, also called stakeholders. “Stakeholder Theory” is a model taught in many public relations programs to stress the ethical nature of public relations being responsive to all people affected by an organization.

So public relations could be called any of the following focused on specific publics–consumer relations, investor relations, employee relations, donor relations, and yes, media relations–the media are both a public and a channel to other publics.

Public relations also involves all aspects of communication tactics, including but not limited to media relations or ‘earned’ media. Many in PR discuss the PESO model to emphasize that a PR campaign could use any and all tactics available–Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned. PR writing classes in the curriculum where I teach cover all of them.

Here are some more body parts of the elephant:

  • PR is a management function, all about counseling the CEO and others in the C-suite about the organization’s relationships with its various publics, all in keeping with organizational  mission and objectives.
  • PR is two-way–it is more than “getting the word out” or “raising awareness.” It involves emphatic and ethical listening to publics and adjusting to maintain mutually beneficial relationships.
  • PR is strategic. See above bullet. Many communication theories are vital to not just informing but developing understanding, positive attitude and motivation to action among publics with whom PR professionals communicate.
  • PR is inherently ethical. There is growing research that asserts that many PR professionals embrace the role of the ethical conscience of their organization, because PR is the one management function that considers ALL publics in terms of mutual relationships.

I could go on. But suffice it to say that PR is–and has been for a century–far more than many journalists and even current practitioners make it out to be. It’s not that hard for self-proclaimed gurus in the industry to take off the blinders of their solitary experience and see the whole elephant. My hope for the future is that people who don’t will be laughed at, or stepped on.

LEA Wins Two Bulldog PR Awards

Lambert, Edwards & Associates (LE&A), a Grand Rapids public relations firm with offices in Lansing and Detroit, received two 2012 Bulldog Awards (see full list of winners), which recognize excellence in public relations and media campaigns.  

The firm received a Gold award in the Best New Product Launch-Consumer category for its ‘A Better-for You-SNAK’ campaign on behalf of Phoenix-based Inventure Foods, Inc. The campaign created awareness for Inventure’s new Caribbean Passion® flavor of Jamba® “at home” smoothies and its Boulder Canyon™ line of Totally Natural snack chips. During the 12-month span of the 2011 campaign, LE&A earned an estimated 65 million impressions, including national television segments on Food Network and Rachael Ray, magazine features in Men’s Health, Women’s Day, Good Housekeeping, Health, Rachael Ray Magazine, etc., and an Associated Press feature that ran in more than 120 newspapers nationwide.

LEA also received a Bronze award in the Best Education/Public Service Campaign category for its ‘Movers for Moms’ program for international moving company Two Men and a Truck. The Movers for Moms program aims to support moms in need on Mother’s Day. LE&A effectively expanded the Michigan-based program from working with fewer than 10 shelters to a semi-national program supporting 50 shelters in 14 states. LE&A generated more than 3,100 unique media hits for Two Men and a Truck and more than 65,000 items were collected and distributed to women living in shelters.
The 2012 Bulldog Awards honor campaigns in 35 various public relations and media relations categories. The Bulldog Awards are the only awards program judged exclusively by journalists and bloggers. LE&A’s accomplishments will be recognized in the Bulldog Reporter’s Daily Dog online trade journal and The Bulldog Awards “Hall of Fame” online magazine.