Thursday, December 27, 2007

Does your media trainer use Bob Newhart?

I had fun watching the PBS 'American Masters' program on comedian Bob Newhart last night--but what came to mind were the dozens of media trainings we've seen in which one segment from the Bob Newhart Show in the 1970s was shown. This staple of trainers shows Bob squirming through a local television talk show interview in which he starts naively thinking the interviewer means well, but learns on the air that he got caught by her pleasant off-air style.

Trainers use this episode as a quick lesson in interview don'ts: Bob doesn't know the real topic, tries to answer leading questions and trusts the interviewer. The exaggerated style works, as any viewer can recount what Bob did wrong--and feel comfortable about it. Fun as it is to watch, it's now overused and outdated for training purposes, and takes up valuable time that your trainees could be using to learn skills.

How many trainers use this video? Newhart's website notes that its most frequently asked question is how to get a copy of the video for this episode. (For the record, it's called "Who Is Mr. X?" and is episode #81, released on a 2-video set called The Very Best of the Bob Newhart Show: Hi Bob!). Get one for your own viewing pleasure (VHS only), and ask your media trainer for an updated training that takes into account today's realities instead.

weekly writing coach: technical terms

Blogcritics offers a review of the new Webster's New World Telecom Dictionary by Ray Horak. Intended for those in high-tech industries, it appears to be equally useful if your writing includes more technical terms related to telecommunications, the Internet or computing:
It contains networking terms such as DHCP, DNS, and TCP/IP. It contains security terms such as spoofing, phishing, and pharming, as well as the more traditional terms relating to telecommunications like DSL, VoIP, and SONET.

While, by definition — pardon the pun — Webster's New World Telecom Dictionary is a technical book focused toward professionals yet written in a plain-English style that anyone can understand. Many of the entries are encyclopedic in that they not only define the item, but also expand on the issues entailed, including the technical aspects.
Smart writers stock their bookshelves--whether virtual or made of wood--with specialty dictionaries like this one. What's on your technical terms bookshelf?

Buy Webster's New World Telecom Dictionary

new media's next wave

UPDATE: Registration details for this event are now available here). "New Media's Next Wave: What to Expect in 2008" will be the theme for the Washington Women in Public Relations' annual meeting, set for February 10 at the Arts Club of Washington. Denise Graveline, don't get caught president, will join Scripps-Howard chief technology officer and American University professor David Johnson and David Weiner, emerging media specialist at PR Newswire, to foresee 2008 trends and answer members' questions about applying new media and social networking to communications efforts. In "Facebook is so last year," Bobbie Johnson, technology correspondent for the Guardian newspaper in London, gets a jump on the topic, looking at such sites as:
  • Twitter, less as a means of telling everyone what you're doing and more for extremely short posts (called 'microblogging') and easy ways to text-message a large group of people--say, your clients and customers, or your Facebook group;
  • Etsy, an Internet retail site for handcrafted items. This site takes to a new level a trend we've long observed in blogging: Handcrafters--especially knitters and crocheters--have taken a low-tech, high-touch effort and embraced its potential on the Web. (For a laugh, check out the 'What Not to Crochet' blog, which takes a unique viewpoint on the topic.)
  • Dopplr, a social networking site for frequent travelers. It's one of many Facebook-style sites that extend the trend to more focused and targeted audiences. Watch for more existing groups--professional associations and other member groups--to take the plunge in 2008. Johnson also cites Moshi Monsters, a site that combines virtual pets, networking and games for 7- to 12-year olds.
  • Seesmic, still in preview (you can sign up to join the alpha version) as a video diary site with webcam "conversations." Johnson notes another trend we've observed: This site plans to feed into Facebook and MySpace, rather than replace them, in a "don't beat 'em, join 'em" strategy you'll see more in 2008.
Post your questions about 2008 trends here, or join us on January 10 for a live, real-time conversation.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Web videos attract more TV viewers

A Harris Interactive poll of 2,455 American adults reports that about 65 percent have watched a YouTube video--a jump of nearly 20 percent from this time last year. And YouTube remains predominant in Web video, according to today's Reuters coverage:
Apart from YouTube, which most people favored because they felt it had almost every video they could find, 43 percent said they have watched a video on a TV network Web site, followed by 35 percent on news sites and less than 30 percent on search engines such as Yahoo and Google. Social networks such as MySpace and Facebook as well as music site iTunes also had a lower share of online viewers.
It's useful to note that respondents were less interested in amateur or user-generated videos in this survey. And with a writers' strike on network television, 2008 could see even more increases in Web video viewing.

copyright this for your next speech

A couple of months ago, I saw this LinkedIn question: "I'm doing a presentation to students about my industry... what do they want to know?" The speaker noted his competitors would be present, so he didn't want to disclose proprietary information, and that, if pressed, he couldn't recommend many of the courses in the curriculum for his specialty area. I answered:
The answer to your question is "ask them questions." It's one of the most effective tools a speaker can use to engage the audience from the start of--and throughout--a speech. It also helps you avoid disclosing too much....start the speech by taking a poll of the audience. How many tinker with video on their own time? How many have internships? How many have studied it in class? How many want to work in the field? Then ask them what they want to know from you.
You'll find a good example--and the lessons the speaker learned from it--in David Pogue's piece about copyright in yesterday's New York Times. He asked audiences for his speeches about what they think is right or wrong about copying digital information -- music, DVDs, and more -- and found a striking generational divide, all with a show of hands. Taking a poll of your audiences not only gets their attention and engagement, but helps you shift on the fly, if necessary, so your remarks hit the mark. For more presentation and public speaking tips, check out our sister blog, The Eloquent Woman, on women and public speaking.

weekly writing coach: your conditions

Find yourself blaming your surroundings for your inability to write? I've coached distracted writers to turn away from the window, close the door, silence the talk radio, increase the lighting and send calls to voicemail in aid of focus and finishing a piece. In today's "Writer's Almanac" from American Public Media, find your inspiration in one writer who needed no such pampering:
It is the birthday of the man who wrote the longest novel in the English language, Anthony Powell, (books by this author) born in London (1905). Despite being a successful author, he wrote his million-word book, A Dance to the Music of Time, on an ancient typewriter at a card table squeezed into his bedroom.
Now, take a moment to appreciate your computer, your voicemail button, your closed door, your ergonomic chair....and get to work.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

the incredible shrinking reading audience

Who are the readers in your audience? Chances are, they're a shrinking--but active--group, according to a recent National Endowment for the Arts report and coverage of same in the New Yorker magazine. The New Yorker article, which contrasts reductions in reading habits with the rise of high-tech and television viewing, notes:
...the N.E.A. reports that readers are more likely than non-readers to play sports, exercise, visit art museums, attend theatre, paint, go to music events, take photographs, and volunteer. Proficient readers are also more likely to vote. Perhaps readers venture so readily outside because what they experience in solitude gives them confidence. Perhaps reading is a prototype of independence. No matter how much one worships an author, Proust wrote, “all he can do is giveus desires.” Reading somehow gives us the boldness to act on them.
The report itself takes care to note "no causal relationship" between reading and other activities. But the data should give sports, fitness, arts and nonprofit volunteer organizations a new window into their active audiences and their reading habits. And for the rest of us, the report serves as a reminder of the changing attention span of Americans in relation to books, newspapers and traditional print media.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

weekly writing coach: guns for commas

The next time you insert a comma or two in a sentence, will it take the Supreme Court to figure it out? That's what Adam Freedman wonders in a New York Times op-ed article on the forthcoming decision on the District of Columbia's ban on handguns, the first Supreme Court case to consider the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights in nearly 70 years. The author of The Party of the First Part: The Curious World of Legalese, Freedman notes that:
...little is known about the justices' views on the lethal device at the center of the controversy: the comma...The official version of the Second Amendment has three of the little blighters: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
The op-ed is titled....wait for it..."Clause and Effect." It notes that previous Second Amendment cases have called the commas in question "unusual," but Freedman explains:
In the 18th century, punctuation marks were as common as medicinal leeches and just about as scientific. Commas and other marks evolved from a variety of symbols meant to denote pauses in speaking. For centuries, punctuation was as chaotic as individual speech patterns.
He recommends taking away all the commas to see the sentence's grammar; in Freedman's view, what's visible then is a causal link between militias and the right to bear arms. His op-ed walks you through that rationale, and you can fall back on this guide to comma usage from the Online Writing Lab of Purdue University if your commas are becoming, well, fodder for a legal case.

Buy The Party of the First Part: The Curious World of Legalese

Monday, December 10, 2007

shining a light on nonprofit communications

Today's Wall Street Journal includes an opinion article that suggests that charities and foundations should share more information --and no surprise, they call for more information on nonprofits' websites. Fair warning: You'll need a free 2-week subscription or a paid one to see the full article, which calls for the following:
Specifically, charities and foundations should provide detailed information on their Web sites--everything from board members and their bios to an open discussion about problems they've encountered while trying to achieve their goals. Charities should also explain to donors how they measure their effectiveness--and stop flouting existing efforts at self-regulation. Finally, more charities should embrace rigorous forms of evaluation and report their findings to the public.
Two new efforts underway at the Communications Network in Philanthropy will help meet the need described in the article. They include a yearlong study of how foundations are using new and emerging digital media "to improve communications and advance organizational objectives," and developing a toolkit to help foundations evaluate their communications efforts.

how do you spell publicity?

Today's New York Times looks at a trendlet among dictionaries declaring a "word of the year" as an effective way of getting attention. Most recently, the New Oxford American Dictionary declared "locavore" its WOTY, and a staffer explains why:
“There are very few good ways to get publicity for a dictionary,” said Erin McKean, a lexicographer at Oxford. While publishers can rely on coverage for new entries in just-published dictionaries, some reference books go for as long as a decade between revisions. “We are constantly surveilling the language to see what new words people are coming up with,” Ms. McKean said.
From TIME's "person of the year" to the local sandwich shop's employee of the month, these self-declared weekly, monthly or yearly events nearly always come in for some reporter criticism--after all, there are more than 12,000 special days, weeks or months already on the calendar. (Today, December 10, has almost 30 separate designations, for example, including the Nobel Prize ceremonies and Human Rights Day.) My advice has always been to check key calendars to see how crowded the field is in your chosen day, week or month--and consider whether your special designation will really achieve the attention you seek.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

your blog's mini-me: try a blidget

Some of my clients worry that if they start a blog, they'll be scattering seeds in a field of dreams. "If I build it, will the readers come?" they wonder. Not without some effort to promote it -- but today's new tools and applications make it easier than ever to put your blog before potential audiences and draw them in. Widgets--easy-to-create windows to the Web that can be incorporated into your blog or website--offer just such a tool.

Widgets let you add counters, calendars and content generated by others to your website. (A popular example, Daily Puppy, lets you add a box to your website in which a new puppy picture will appear each day.) Now you can create a widget that features your own blog. That's called a "blidget," and if you have an established blog, you might create a blidget in these situations:

  • To share content with your customers, members or subscribers: A nonprofit membership organization might offer blidgets to local chapters with updated membership information from its blog, while an auto manufacturer could do the same with dealerships, whose websites might benefit from new-model updates. If your publication's editor also blogs, her insights might be offered in blidget form to subscribers for their websites; a textbook publisher might offer one to teachers and schools.. In this scenario, your blog becomes a value-added proposition for your audience: They get faster access to your material, and can offer it to their readers as free web content that's frequently refreshed. (Of course, you'll need to let them know the option is there for the taking.)
  • You just want to expand your blog's audience. Blidgets let you take advantage of one of the great phenomena of Web 2.0: the serendipity involved when people start exploring and finding sources they've never heard of before. Just by creating a blidget on sites like Widgetbox, your blog's "mini-me" is posted to a completely new set of readers. Widgetbox lets you tag your blidget to help its site's visitors find it in topical areas of interest to them.
  • Your audience is already on Facebook or other social media sites. Many widget- and blidget-creation sites offer options to create a Facebook application so your blog can be added to participants' pages, whether they're your "friends" or not. The option makes it easier for the active Facebook participant to see and share your blog without having to leave Facebook to do it. Think "reader convenience." (Search for "The Eloquent Woman blog" on Facebook and you'll find our Widgetbox application that you can add to your own page.)
Blidgets allow your reader to download the application while changing its format (say, to show only blog post titles, or titles with pictures, or titles and some text), color and size to better fit their own sites. From the readers' viewpoint, this is true customized publishing, and it's a big part of the appeal.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

tagline, you're it: take a survey

Nonprofit marketer Nancy Schwartz wants to know how you apply your skills to your nonprofit's tagline with a new survey. Here's what she's seeking:
In today's competitive marketing environment, nonprofit taglines must be strong enough to get attention and provoke questions. Effective taglines complement an org's name, convey the unique value its delivers to its community and differentiates it from the competition. (Americorps' "Getting Things Done" is a great example of a tagline that works on all three fronts.) But more often, nonprofit taglines are vague, ambiguous, over-reaching, too abstract or simply non-existent. Unfortunately, there’s little available guidance for organizations striving to strengthen their taglines. That's why I'm making a special effort in 2008 to help nonprofit orgs craft better taglines.
If you respond to Schwartz's survey here, she'll send you a report on the results on request, including trends, best practices and tips. I'll report on it, too.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

weekly writing coach: shorter headlines

Google has informed Business Wire that the outer limits for headlines are shorter than you thought:
Google alerted us this week that press release headlines should not exceed 22 words. That’s eight words shorter than what we were told months ago. “An ideal headline should be between two and 22 words,” advises the search engine giant.
The penalty: Missing the chance to see your news release posted in Google's search engines and on Google News, not an option I like to consider. Based on what's in the news, headlines of five to seven words seem to be "all the headline that fits." Take your last ten headlines and make them shorter. Stumped? Try these self-editing tips, or refer to the The Dictionary of Concise Writing: More Than 10,000 Alternatives to Wordy Phrases

Buy The Dictionary of Concise Writing: More Than 10,000 Alternatives to Wordy Phrases

Monday, December 03, 2007

don't disappear: wear a dark suit

Whether your next appearance is before the television cameras or a ballroom full of listeners, consider your coloring when choosing an outfit. Those of you who with light hair (red or blonde), white hair or no hair should be wearing a dark suit to bring your facial features forward. Women can get the same effect while avoiding black and navy by choosing darker shades in many colors--from garnet to purple. You may love that winter white ensemble or the khaki tan suit, but save them for a day when you're not front and center with a crowd or a cameraman. If your facial features are fair, consider dark-rimmed glasses and eye makeup to further draw focus to your face. Want to enhance your skin tone, no matter its color? See our tip on wearing blue close to your face, in a shirt, blouse or jacket.

weekly writing coach: holiday greetings

'Tis the season for organizations to send holiday--or new year--greetings to their supporters, members and donors. Today's exercise: Choose one of these options and write it in 20 words or less, including the cover copy, as if it were for your organization's most important audience. Ambitious? Try all of the options:
1) A year-end greeting without a holiday emphasis that highlights 2007's most important event, accomplishment or issue for your group. "As we look back on the year, your support during the spring flood remains the finest example of our community support" helps highlight an unusual cause and special efforts to meet an unanticipated need.
2) A new year greeting that anticipates a 2008 goal, event or theme. Want to highlight a goal in your strategic plan or a new CEO initiative? This is the place to try. If you plan to ask for support, hold meetings or seek volunteers for the effort, say so--briefly.
3) A winter-themed greeting that uses the seasonal conditions--whatever they may be in your geographic area--to highlight your cause. A community theater group in a mountainous area could get humorous with a line about "packed powder," referring to makeup rather than moguls, for example.
You'll do better at this if you come up with up to three versions for each example. Then share them with colleagues and get feedback. Which ones stand out? Which ones stick? Which ones take advantage of unique timing--say, sent in January, rather than during the December rush? Finally, set a time limit on this exercise. Keep it short, just like the greeting card.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

the CEO's publicity clothes offer clues

Much as with bad publicity, "It's easy to spot a bad chief executive once the damage is done," writes Clemson University management professor Terry Leap in a leadership column this week in the Wall Street Journal. And, no surprise to us, an over-the-top yen for publicity is among the clues Leap offers to hiring committees if they want to avoid hiring a "dysfunctional CEO:"
A reputation for shameless self-promotion. Executives who constantly seek publicity, are always looking for a better job or trumpet their successes while quickly distancing themselves from setbacks are sending strong signals that their egotistical ways may eventually cause major problems
So choosing a CEO may become a smart part of your organization's communications planning. We'd love to see search committees interview prospective leaders in the for- and non-profit sectors about their communications skills and expectations. Smart leaders are forthcoming with bad news as well as good, take the time to build their public and interpersonal communication skills and listen to good counsel that encompasses a variety of viewpoints--including "we're not that desperate for publicity and can take a pass on this opportunity."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

weekly writing coach: author vision

Do your eyes have it--that glazed-over, squinty, tired look? Every writer we've worked with winds up with glasses and experiences eyestrain at some point. This week, your coach wants you to add a vision protection plan to your daily writing routine. Take the time, as advised in these tips from an eye doctor, to adjust your screen, chair, desk and font size. Make sure you give your eyes a frequent break from looking at your computer screen (it's a good excuse to print out and hand-edit your work for a while). We'd even suggest you shut your eyes and imagine a great ending for the project you're working on--as long as you make sure others' eyes don't see that as napping at your desk. Finally, get your eyes checked annually and make sure you have the lenses and help you need.

don't get caught hiding a photo op

This NPR interview with AP senior White House photographer Ron Edmonds offers insight into "photo opportunities," those posed chances for press photographers to see leaders not quite in action that were created by Reagan aide Michael Deaver in the 1980s. The resulting images are picked apart as signs of enthusiasm or dismay by politicos, but you can find a few practical lessons in Edmonds' observations of this week's Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, where the photo-worthy handshake between world leaders happened behind the lectern--and had to be moved into view by President Bush for the cameras to catch it. Don't get caught hiding that signature photo, and do plan ahead for just such an opportunity.

seeking cause-supporters on the web

Count the venerable Ad Council -- the coordinator for pro bono public-service ad campaigns by advertising agencies -- among those looking for supporters of nonprofit causes on the Web, a topic we covered for Maryland Nonprofits' annual conference earlier this month. Today's New York Times documents the Council's plunge into the new-media pool:
Not surprisingly, the changes in media choices have put more of the council’s ads online, in forms that include banner ads, sponsored links in search results, so-called buddy icons on AOL and commercials on video-sharing Web sites like YouTube. The council even has its own YouTube channel.
The Council's gone to the Web for two solid reasons: It's where the hoped-for audience gets information, and it can benefit from serendipity--those who stumble upon a message, allowing it to reach an unanticipated supporter. Good reasons for you to consider when pushing your cause.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

kindle your next speech?

I'm cross-posting this from the Eloquent Woman blog to let our DGC readers weigh in on this discussion: My speaker trainings help you learn how to speak eloquently and without notes where possible, but for many speeches, a text is essential...and creates more problems for speakers. Pages get dropped, make noise, look awkward when you're toting them to the lectern and occupy your hands when you might be gesturing. That's why I got excited this weekend reading about the new Amazon Kindle. This new e-reader device is sold out at the moment, so I haven't tried it yet. (I'll review it in a future post, and welcome comments from early adopters below.) But this latest entry into electronic books offers new features that have great potential for speakers. With it, you can:

-Display your speech--not just books with speeches: Its wireless access allows you to email your own documents (think speech text) to your Amazon Kindle and display them just as you would books; because the wireless access is built on cellular phone signals, it's available more widely (and it's free).

-No more shuffling pages: The page "turning" controls are large keys on either side, allowing easy movement back and forth; you'll use your thumbs to page through the text. This lets you avoid dropping pages, shuffling noises and carrying your very obvious printed documents to the lectern. (The Amazon Kindle is the size of a small paperback.) Looks to me as if you can page forward with only one thumb or finger, leaving another hand free to gesture.

-See your speech text in sunlight or indoors: No-glare screens that lack a computer backlight make it possible to read your text in any setting.

-Adjust to large-type settings: Six font sizes allow you to create the display you can best see.

I'm looking forward to testing the Kindle with our trainees and for my own upcoming speeches, and will report back here. In the meantime, if you've tried an Amazon Kindle, use it for displaying your speech text or talking points and give us your feedback in the comments below.

Buy the 6-inch Amazon Kindle

your nominees, please: 2007 DGC don'ts

We're looking for your nominees for the most notable examples of organizations--companies, government agencies or nonprofits--that got caught unprepared for a communications crisis. Give us the context, your reasons for nominating them, and what good communicators (and CEOs) can learn from these cautionary tales. We'll compile the examples and turn them around to offer lessons learned from these 2007 "don'ts." Feel free to add your nominees to the comments below, or email us directly at

Monday, November 26, 2007

to tube, or not to tube for business

Today's Wall Street Journal looks at using YouTube effectively to communicate about your small business or product, with tips that work for many kinds of organizations, from nonprofits to corporations. The examples fall into five groups that long have been staples of good communications -- such as be funny, tap into current events, be useful and get your customers involved. The fifth, "find a partner," tells us that YouTube (like blogging and social media) is still an awkward or foreign fit for many businesses; in that case, a lifeguard or life preserver may prove useful. How are you using YouTube to communicate, and with whom? Let us know your answer and, in the meantime, consider this review from the New York Times' David Pogue that explains why you may want a DV-tape camcorder instead of a disk version.

Monday, November 19, 2007

weekly writing coach: vocab edition

Last week, the The New Oxford American Dictionary announced that locavore is its "word of the year," along with such runners-up as bacn (desirable email -- think opposite-of-spam) and aging in place (growing old in your own home, versus a nursing home). But why learn just one new word a year? Your coach advises you dig deeper on the Oxford site and subscribe to the RSS feed for the "word of the week," which includes three words weekly: the dictionary's official word of the week; a "weird and wonderful" word; and an American slang word. This week, they range from 21st century high-tech (wrapper application), delightfully arcane (chelidonize) and fusty American (magoo). Sorry, you'll have to go to the link to get the definitions--then subscribe to the feed to have them served up for you weekly.

Buy The New Oxford American Dictionary

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Graveline speaks on new media at IABC

Don't get caught president Denise Graveline will speak to the Washington, DC, chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) September 11, 2008 on "The (New) Medium is the Message," a look at how new media are changing the way we communicate, and how communicators are adapting traditional techniques to new media. Check the IABC-DC calendar here for details to come.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

sticky messages for nonprofits

Before speaking about new media options at yesterday's Maryland Nonprofits annual conference, I listened to keynote speaker Dan Heath -- coauthor of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die -- walk the crowd through the two sticky concepts he felt are most relevant to nonprofits: expressing ideas in ways that are emotional, to move people to action, and concrete, so that audiences can understand and embrace them. The problem? "Nonprofit language ain't concrete," said Heath, who'd analyzed mission statements of nonprofit organizations in the audience and showed them to the group. Those with missions to help "people everywhere" or "all citizens" are doomed to fail, Heath said, urging the group to make their organizations known to "the people that count" rather than the vague crowd. His take on why nonprofits cling to "boring, mushy messages?" Fear of turning people off, a risk he thinks worth taking. We carried that message forward in the session on "Energizing Your Communities of Support" by suggesting ways to use new media options from Facebook to blogging to find the people that count for your organization.

Buy Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

weekly writing coach: descriptive powers

Want to polish your descriptive powers? Try challenging your senses: Describe something you see (the view out your window), hear (chatter in the hallway), taste (that sandwich you brought to work) or touch (your keyboard?). For more inspiration, listen to the Vocal Impressions series, now in round 8 on National Public Radio. They play soundbites from famous speakers, actors and singers -- round 8 included Johnny Cash, Ethel Merman, Willie Nelson and Roy Orbison -- and ask listeners to send in their impressions of the emotions and sounds evoked by these well-known voices. The link includes sound from the voices of the next round of subjects: Fred Astaire, Joe Cocker, Katharine Hepburn and Janis Joplin. Be sure to listen to the audio of the report, as winning entries are read on the air--and will give you wonderful examples of using simile, comparison and just plain verve in description.

Monday, November 05, 2007

keeping your blog in the public eye

A hat tip to DC Blogs for pulling us to this Washington Post article on how to get your blog noticed -- a mix of promotion (entering contests), frequent posts, writing comments on others' blogs and creating a blogroll or list of other blogs that you post on your site to show what you recommend or read. Like anything else, blogs need standard publicity tactics to draw readers, so make sure you're using all your other options for communicating about your blog: links on your website and in your email signature, a menion on your business cards and stationary, inclusion in your ads, and yes, a news release. Driving traffic to your blog also depends on your content. Which keywords are you incorporating in your text? Those will lead to search engine entries that help readers find you based on the topics that interest them. Make sure all roads lead to your blog!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

boost your support base with new media

Post no bills when you're looking to round up or energize volunteers and supporters. Take your quest online instead. We're speaking -- along with nonprofit marketing guru Don Akchin -- later this week at the Maryland Nonprofits annual conference on using new media to energize your communities of support. Whether they consist of members, subscribers, donors, volunteers, board members, or informal advisors, your supporters form a community -- and so do many new media options. Here are some case studies we'll be sharing with the crowd on Friday at this sold-out conference:
  • Join any online communities your fans have started. National Public Radio host Ira Flatow learned that a college student had started a Facebook group called "Science Friday--the best day of the week." So he joined it himself, posting questions to the more than 800 group members, asking them to post videos on the Science Friday website, polling them for questions they want to ask the scientists featured on the show, and more. Participants have posted a video of Ira's first program on virtual worlds like Second Life--another new media community in which Science Friday participates--including footage of Ira meeting his avatar, Ira Flatly. And they post questions, discussion items and reactions to the show. It's a combination fan club and test market for new ideas, and an extra way to connect with listeners, Flatow tells us. (If you're in Second Life, your avatar can go to the SciFri simulcast and ask Ira Flatly a question that gets relayed via email to Ira while he's on the air--listen and you'll hear him pose Second Lifers' questions during the show.)

    • Use new-media privacy options for select support communities. Most blog platforms (like Blogger) now offer options for subscription-only blogs. Your selected group gets an invitation, registers with Blogger, and uses that login to access the blog; you decide whether they can add postings or just comment on your posts. You can set up such a blog for a member committee, contest judges or advisory boards to deliberate privately. And one smart private foundation executive we know is thinking of using a private blog so donors can share ideas with one another for results of their donations or for directing future gifts.
      • Use easy-to-publish video and photos to engage supporters in your events. Don't just blog about your executive director's speech -- be sure she takes a photo of the full audience and posts it with information about the questions that were asked. Take a video camera to your next alley cleanup, cancer fundraising walk, or gala fundraiser and post clips to YouTube; better yet, turn the camera on your legislative testimony on a key issue or interview your volunteers about a story that got them involved on your issue. Let them explain why they're passionate about your cause and give the bug to others. (Look here for more on how the Skoll Foundation's video posts helped a social entrepreneur connect with a donor.)

        • Get your current community to join an online group together--then add new members from that online site's other like-minded users. LinkedIn -- a professional networking site -- as well as Facebook and social activism sites like ThinkMTV offer you the ability to email your entire group, share photos or videos, or send out a call for information, changes of schedule or notices of new events. Most of the services are free, so why build your own system? In many cases, these messages go right to users' primary email box -- but because they know it's from a select community and not spam, your message may get more attention. And because you're not just using a private email system, others can learn about your group and cause, and join you.
        • A good first step: Survey your community and ask which online communities they belong to and why. You may find volunteers willing to help you set up a presence with one of these new-media options, or get insight into which option would yield the most benefit to your organization.

          Saturday, November 03, 2007

          get your toes wet in the new media pool

          For every cutting-edge experimenter who's using new and social media to communicate to key audiences, we meet 9 more who are holding back, because:
          - I don't have time to blog/use Facebook.

          - I don't want to add one more project.

          - The people I want to blog for my organization have doubts. I don't know how to get everyone on board, and I can't answer their questions.

          - I have enough trouble with my first life--forget Second Life.

          - I don't understand how it would make a strategic difference, but I feel we should decide.
          Instead of diving in -- or swimming by holding on to the edge of the pool -- let us suggest you get your toes wet by convening one of our customized strategy sessions on new and social media. You gather the decision-makers, naysayers, potential bloggers, leadership and assorted questioners. We'll facilitate a customized half-day or full-day session, depending on the number of participants and issues to be covered, that will:
          • orient you and your team to options that suit your needs, from blogs and Facebook to YouTube and Second Life. You decide which options you're curious about, and we'll show you examples relevant to your mission, along with data and metrics to show you what results you can expect.
          • review the policy decisions you need to make for effective use of new media, from time and costs to staffing and managing interactions with your audiences.
          • suggest solutions you may not have considered, like member-only blogs seen only by your invited participants or using blogs or Facebook to replace publications--or at least reduce your printing budget.
          • help you think about driving traffic, promoting your new blog or page and other practical matters to ensure you reach the right audience.
          • answer the questioners and naysayers, to eliminate the wondering and get you closer to an informed decision, yea or nay.
          Want to wade further in? We can add a half-day training for those ready to learn, or incorporate the training throughout the orientation. You may never have an avatar, a Facebook friend or post to a blog, but if you're curious -- or challenged by others' questions -- this combination orientation and planning session will help you get strategic about new media. For more information, contact us at

          grantmakers grab new media options

          We've just come from the Communications Network in Philanthropy annual meeting in Miami, where the group got its hands around options for using new and social media--not just to replace traditional communications, but to engage applicants, field-test ideas, network with key constituencies, and more. After a video tour through YouTube, MTV's, and other sites being used to engage volunteers and donors (from a 21-year-old intern at the Knight Foundation), we heard what's already in play. Perhaps boldest are the MacArthur Foundation experiments with Second Life, where they've created meetings on philanthropic issues and hope to get feedback on new funding ideas; these Second Life forays grow out of an initiative exploring digital life and its impact on young people. Covered here by the New York Times, and here on the foundation's website, the initiative is described with care by the foundation, which emphasizes it's experimental, and notes:

          ...we are cautious about claims that technology can solve longstanding social problems. The unintended or negative consequences of virtual worlds may demand the attention of foundations as urgently as any exciting benefits. MacArthur’s digital media and learning blog has already been discussing such unexpected consequences as girls’ career choices. In virtual worlds, it is reasonable to expect that some social concerns may quickly benefit, while others may face new challenges.
          The Skoll Foundation's Social Edge site combines blogs, discussion threads, YouTube video interviews with social activists, iTunes podcasts and more. Storytelling is key, we were told by the foundation's Victor d'Allant, who showed gripping video interviews from Global X, a series of 3- to 7-minute video interviews with leading social entrepreneurs talking about stories that had a significant impact on their lives and their view of the world in 2017. They're consistently ranked at or near the top on iTunes podcasts, and some have resulted in direct calls from funders to the entrepreneur on the video, offering funds.

          New ways to reinvent annual reports, outreach to youth audiences and other uses for new media also were covered, but the proof that new media have caught on came when some of the group created on the fly a Facebook group for the network, to encourage meeting participants and network members not present to continue the discussion online, by way of practicing use of social media.

          Monday, October 29, 2007

          what makes a press conference real?

          In use by U.S. presidents since Woodrow Wilson's day and first televised live by President John F. Kennedy, true press conferences by most folks other than administration officials have fallen by the wayside in Washington. Until last week, we'd have said you could blame that on two factors: too much information all around, and the demise of news in the news conference. Reporters have too many new duties--blogging, web reports--and too little time to come across town just to fill a room.

          Then FEMA threatened to kill press conferences altogether when it staged one populated with staffers and called too late for reporters to attend, except by one-way phone line for "listening in" purposes. Decried as "dumbest" by senior agency officials and the White House, the move already has had repercussions for those involved. It's especially sad, since the federal government has more reason than most organizations to ask reporters to show up for a press conference. FEMA has come up with "new" procedures for its press conferences in a memo issued yesterday:

          These changes include providing reasonable notice for press events, permitting reporters who participate in press events telephonically to ask questions, and transcribing press events when possible for public release. Finally, under no circumstances will anyone other than media be allowed to ask questions at press events.

          Yes, indeed, and, we might add, reporters must be present--no matter how few--for a "press conference" to qualify as such. This week, while FEMA discovers how much more coverage you can get for a blunder than for the original announcement, make sure you don't get caught losing the forest for the trees when it comes to choosing a press conference for your next announcement. Bear in mind how rarely they're used these days. Ask yourself who's the real audience. If it's internal--and the event is just a chance for folks to feel engaged and important--find an alternative. (See our "instead of a news release" list for ideas. Trust us, you have lots of options.) Finally, consider the utility to reporters: Will it make sense for them and aid their coverage? These aren't "new procedures," or shouldn't be. Please, communicators, make sure you're not part of the erosion of a useful media relations tool.

          get our blidget and see our blog on yours

          "Blidgets" are widgets--small windows that display selected Web content feeds on another web page -- that encapsulate a blog, and we've developed one so you can post updated content from the don't get caught news & info blog on your website. Go here on the Widgetbox site, or click on the black button at right to add our blog to your blog or website, ensuring you and your readers don't get caught without out tips, ideas and advice. We look forward to seeing how you put this new tool to use!

          Monday, October 22, 2007

          blogs reach up in government, ed boards

          Blogging at the top's the province of a few CEOs and university presidents, but recently, Cabinet secretaries and even the New York Times editorial board have gotten into the act.

          In the federal government, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's using his blog as many businesses do, to respond to articles and op-eds, report on speeches and highlight work of the agency; two other DHS officials also contribute to the "Leadership Journal." Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt blogs on current health legislation in Washington, but also on a University of Utah winner of this year's Nobel Prize in Medicine (Leavitt is former governor of Utah). He's vowed to write his own posts, and includes an evaluation after one month, based on reader comments ("My postings tend to be too long").

          Two more government blogs -- GovGab from the General Services Administration, and DipNote at the Department of State -- take a group approach, with several career government specialists posting. GovGab focuses on consumer information you can get from the government, while DipNote -- slammed by many bloggers for its name alone -- also includes questions of debate and personal insights from career foreign service diplomats. Comments are accepted on all these government blogs, and while the pace of posting needs to increase, it's clear the government's decided to blog. (Many citizens' comments revolve around "aren't you busy? when do you have time to do this?")

          At the Times, the editorial board retains its anonymity, signing most every post "The Editorial Board," though some signed posts are promised in this introduction to the blog. It takes some unusual steps, like this call to readers to lobby members of the House of Representatives who voted "no" the first time around on the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or S-CHIP--going so far as to publish the list of "naysayers" (a rather long list for a blog post) to help readers find their representative's vote the day before another vote was scheduled. That's part of the "raw material" the board promises to include, along with updates on visitors to the editorial board, more commentary on issues of the day, and personal perspectives. For ed-board-watchers, it's a useful learning tool and an easy way to gain insights on how to approach the board.

          Saturday, October 20, 2007

          weekly writing coach: cut it in half

          We learned -- the hard way and on deadline -- the value of self-editing when an article assigned at 2,000 words needed to fit a 1,000-word space. (Given the chance to cut our own writing, we did.) This week, take one piece you've written recently and imagine you need to do the same: Cut it in half. Some options you might consider:
          - Summarize rather than describe. Can lists turn into bullets? Will an added link to more information handle the detail in a word?
          - Omit needless words. This famed instruction from the original version of William Strunk's The Elements of Style demands "that every word tell." We say you can start by omitting adverbs and adjectives, using active verbs and more descriptive nouns to carry the point.
          - Consider the content. If you're covering more than one topic, might you limit this piece to one subject, saving another for a different format? Can your letter work as two short emails, or your article become a series of shorter pieces?
          Make the pain less painful, and do this exercise in less than an hour, the editorial equivalent of pulling off a bandage quickly. Speed will help you identify repetitive patterns that can be cut.

          Friday, October 12, 2007

          weekly writing coach: punctuation

          Sharpen that red pencil, settle those office arguments -- or discover the point you're too embarrassed to ask about -- with the help of The Associated Press Guide to Punctuation. It's organized by the marks, from commas and question marks to slashes and parentheses. Anxious about ampersands? Never! This brief guide (just 112 pages) is the type of tool we recommend to writers for a simple reason: The more you can edit your own work, the more your editor will like it. We promise...

          Buy The Associated Press Guide to Punctuation.

          TV with its tie loosened, for the Web

          Today's New York Times takes a close look at how ABC's "World News Tonight" network broadcast is reshaping itself on the web as simply "World News" in an afternoon webcast. The article lets journalists and their sources in on the changes to come when you appear on the air, on the web. Those changes include new ways of telling stories, new methods of delivering the news, and often, far longer pieces than any network television broadcast would include -- some nearly 4 minutes long. Instead of soundbites and tight writing, there are in-depth conversations and spontaneous moments. The shifts are worth keeping in mind if you're going to be filmed for a webcast, versus a broadcast.

          The story quotes Jason Samuels, digital content producer, on how one medium changes the other:
          Mr. Samuels started overseeing the Webcast in April and said he has tried to push correspondents and producers to escape the package formula that dominates television news. “Do one long stand-up, do much longer sound bites, play an interview,” he said, summing up his advice to the staff. “Produce a story in any way you think is engaging — there are no rules.”
          "World News Sunday" anchor Dan Harris also weighs in:
          “I feel less pressure to wear a tie, sit up straight, and make sure everything I say is perfectly enunciated,” Mr. Harris said. “I have an opportunity to be much closer to who I actually am, instead of the TV version of myself.”
          If you're a source for television news, start thinking about how you can get creative: What resources do you have that might work better for webcasts than for traditional broadcast? If you have more time to demonstrate something, how will you use it?And how will this change the ways you prepare for a webcast interview versus a broadcast interview?

          Thursday, October 11, 2007

          welcome the eloquent woman blog

          We've launched a sister blog, so to speak, at The Eloquent Woman, with "Inspiration, ideas and information to help women speak in public settings, from a conference room to a convention." On it, you'll find such features as:
          - a poll to gauge readers' views on issues related to women and public speaking. The inaugural poll quizzes you about your public speaking fears.

          - a newsfeed on eloquent women, and women and public speaking, so you can keep up with the latest headlines--it goes well beyond a woman candidate for US President, trust us.

          - searchable, practical public speaking tips, so you can easily navigate to find the news you can use to improve your skills.

          - coverage of role models, past and present, to inspire you. We've started with the two most influential First Ladies, Lady Bird Johnson and Eleanor Roosevelt. And if you want to join our current discussion on Linked In about the most eloquent woman you've heard or seen speak, go here. The nominees so far range from Palestinian scholar and spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi to the late U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, and include poets, politicians, leaders of small nonprofits and schoolteachers. Join the discussion!

          -new research on gender issues in speaking, with advice on how to navigate the challenges and opportunities that women face when speaking in settings large and small.
          Comments are welcome on the new blog,and we hope you'll add your questions, experiences and ideas!

          Wednesday, October 10, 2007

          Graveline to interview woman CEOs

          Don't get caught president Denise Graveline will help the National Capital Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners to kick off a new series of interviews with women CEOs on Wednesday, November 7. The "CEO Insights" interview series will feature Julie Lenzer Kirk of Path Forward International. Kirk is the former CEO and President of Applied Creative Technologies, Inc. (ACT), an IT solutions firm which she founded in 1995, taking it from her basement to a multimillion-dollar company with Fortune 100 clients. She's also the author of the just-published book, The ParentPreneur Edge: What Parenting Teaches About Building a Successful Business. The one-on-one interview program will be preceded and followed by networking and a reception, with registration starting at 5:15 p.m. on November 7 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC. For more for more details, go here.

          Monday, October 08, 2007

          press club potential member event

          XM Satellite Radio host Bob Edwards will make brief remarks at a National Press Club reception on Thurs., Oct. 11 at 6:30 pm; the reception is open to Club members as well as journalists and other professional communicators interested in exploring NPC membership. During the reception, tours of the Club's new Broadcast Operations Center also will be offered. If you apply for membership during the month of October, the Club will waive its initiation fees, a savings of up to $350. Membership in the club is open to active journalists, former journalists, government information officers, and to those considered by journalists to be regular news sources. Find directions to the Club here, and validated parking is available nearby at PMI Garage, 1325 G. St. NW. RSVPs are required to

          Wednesday, October 03, 2007

          weekly writing coach: aphorism rules

          Quick: what's the recipe for an aphorism? If you don't know, turn to the new book Geary's Guide to the World's Great Aphorists. Author James Geary calls the aphorism the world's "oldest and shortest literary art form." To help you craft your own, he offers five rules or tests that an aphorism must pass in order to be successful, described here in text from NPR's interview with him yesterday:
          "It must be brief. It must be definitive. It must be personal — that's the difference between an aphorism and a proverb. It must be philosophical — that's the difference between an aphorism and a platitude, which is not philosophical," he says. "And the fifth law is it must have a twist. And that can be either a linguistic twist or a psychological twist or even a twist in logic that somehow flips the reader into a totally unexpected place."
          Geary cites a number of eloquent women among his collected aphorists. They include Mae West, who, he notes, wrote most of her own material ("It's not the men in my life it's the life in my men") and Eleanor Roosevelt ("A woman is like a teabag — only in hot water do you realize how strong she is").

          Where can you use aphorisms? They're apt in speeches, if not overused, and in shorter, more personal communications, such as letters, essays or blog posts. See whether you can craft a few using the five rules that Geary notes above.

          Tuesday, October 02, 2007

          reaching youth audiences

          Editor and Publisher columnist Steve Outing pushes his colleagues to consider "What's Your Facebook Strategy?", an article that spells out the Facebook rationale simply enough for any organization that wants or needs to reach a youth audience. Noting that users in their 20s and below prefer social media sites to communicate (as opposed to the email of older generations), he adds:
          And that's the issue that news executives need to understand. Facebook represents where the coveted younger demographic is hanging out. They're not spending tons of time on newspaper websites. (And most of them definitely are not reading the dead-tree edition.) Ergo, news organizations need to get their content and services to where the young people are. That Facebook allows you to do this (while MySpace, as yet, does not) should be viewed as a huge favor bestowed on you.
          Another site, New America Media, reflects the multicultural nature of today's younger generations. (Called Millennials, they are the most ethnically diverse generation ever.) News is arranged by ethicities: African, African-American, Asian, South Asian, European, Indigenous, Latino, Middle Eastern and "intersections." If you need to keep tabs on youth audiences, check out the "special beat" section of coverage of youth culture here. The site, a collaborative effort of ethnic news organizations, offers for sale a directory of ethnic news organizations here.

          national press club: join in October!

          If you've considered joining the National Press Club in Washington, DC -- where both resident and non-resident members are welcome -- do yourself a favor and join in October, when the initiation fees are waived. Don't get caught president Denise Graveline is a member of the Club's new media committee, which is developing a Club blog and investigating social media options to benefit resident and non-resident Club members.

          Monday, October 01, 2007

          shifting audience sands

          Does your audience seem scattered, like grains of sand on the beach? Is your message searching for a bottle with a GPS system? You're not the only one, and the shifting sands of modern audiences are prompting new approaches in two of the most traditional media: big newspapers and national opinion polls. In "Why Big Newspapers Applaud Some Declines in Circulation," today's New York Times notes that many newspapers are limiting their delivery zones and stopping ads, calls and other promotions designed to recruit new subscribers. Why don't they want you?
          Most of the customers recruited with promotions and cold calls drop their subscriptions when the discount expires, so the cost of pursuing them and putting the news on their doorsteps can exceed what they pay for the paper. And despite falling ad sales, most American papers still make more money from ads than from circulation.
          And advertisers haven't been shy in letting the papers know they'd prefer a more targeted, loyal audience.

          In opinion polling, NPR notes that the trend toward replacing land-line phones with cellphones only could mean that major opinion polls are missing a key demographic: young people. By the 2008 election, cell-phone-only voters are estimated at 15 percent, which could skew exit polls--and less political surveys as well. Add to that more mundane issues: Calling interviewees on cell phones leads to a higher refusal rate, as they could be driving, dating or otherwise occupied -- and because of federal laws against automated dialing to cell numbers, they're more expensive to reach for a poll. In the story, Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg says:
          "In the long run, most pollsters and campaigns are going to have to figure out how to reach younger people," Greenberg says. "Because as they age and become a bigger and bigger part of the election, their technological communication habits are different from older votes. And we are going to have to completely rethink our technology for communicating with them."
          Both trends mark a shift in measurement that communicators need to watch over the next several months. Will you change which newspapers you target for media relations based on their new demographics? And how will you measure attitudes and opinions in youth audiences effectively, despite cellphones? (Think blogs, online surveys and Facebook.) In either case, remember that when you report results, you need to know the policies of the polls and papers you're citing.

          Friday, September 28, 2007

          your message: urgent. short. life-saving?

          Five months after the shootings at Virginia Tech, another campus faced a gunman yesterday -- and avoided disaster with a campus-wide text message. Today's New York Times coverage offers a step-by-step view of the challenge for campus communicators. The article describes how St. John's University's chief operating officer weighed which medium would work for emergency messages:
          After the crisis at Virginia Tech, “everything from bullhorns to texting was considered,” said Dr. Pellow, who is also the university’s executive vice president. “How do you communicate instantly? Because the expectation now is instant communication.”
          A text-messaging option at the Manhattan campus drew just over 2,000 student subscribers--about 10 percent of the university's 20,000 population. And it was tested yesterday when a gunman, masked and armed with a rifle, walked on campus:
          That was at 2:20 p.m. At 2:30, Mr. Hiraman had been apprehended, but there were reports of a second gunman. Within minutes, Thomas Lawrence, the university’s vice president for public safety, had dictated this message: “From public safety. Male was found on campus with a rifle. Please stay in your buildings until further notice. He is in custody, but please wait until the all-clear.” An information technology specialist pressed the “send” button at 2:38.
          What we noticed: The 18-minute turnaround for a carefully crafted message is impressive, and while it's longer than a typical text, it avoids confusion through shorthand. The episode makes clear that you should check your assumptions about how and whether your audience will react to such a message; in this case, students said they hadn't subscribed to the text service because they didn't want spam, or thought it would alert them to schedule changes, such as snow days. Can you count on those receiving the message to share it with others? (After yesterday's incident, subscribers to the text alert system more than tripled.) Best of all: add these scenarios to your crisis communication plan. A fast and responsible response can only happen with preparation.

          Thursday, September 27, 2007

          weekly writing Coach: e-cites

          Your copyeditor knew this was coming: Now that we have blogs and websites aplenty with content worth quoting, writers are more confused about citations, with some reverting to bad habits used in days of yore to refer to other, non-electronic entities and publications. (We refer to citations that take the easy way out, by referring to the entire organization as the source of a quote, as in "the university said today.")

          The awkward transition to e-citations in mainstream media is highlighted by Robert Niles in a commentary on the USC Annenberg Online Journalism Review website, here. Noting that "the newspaper model doesn't always apply online," Niles highlight a case first raised on the Daily Kos blog about a story in the Wall Street Journal that attributed a position to the blog, when it really belonged to someone publishing on that Web community. Confused? Niles explains:

          On DailyKos, a reader signs up for an account and, after a one week wait, can start posting diaries (i.e., a personal blog) to the website. One of the site's editors might then read it in consideration for linking to it from the site's heavily-read front page, but there is no other staff editorial review of the diary. DailyKos doesn't assign topics to readers and doesn't pay anyone other than a handful of editors and fellows for diaries, according to the site's FAQ. Unless a diary contains copyrighted material or otherwise violates the site's rules for posting, it will remain on the site, even if it conflicts with the owner's political beliefs.
          Niles' specific recommendations, which appear in his commentary, urge good-faith research on who speaks for whom, and offer useful suggestions for how to write the citations in different situations. Your coach suggests you add these to your organization's style manual.

          Tuesday, September 25, 2007

          Video news release fined by FCC

          The Associated Press reports this week that a $4000 fine has been issued by the Federal Communications Commission for cable television network Comcast, which aired parts of the video news release about unnatural sleep aid, without disclosing that the tape was paid for by the maker of the product. The Center for Media and Democracy brought the complaint, and said it marks the first time that a company has been fined for airing a video news release. As the story notes:

          A video news release is a sponsored public relations video that mimics actual news reports. Such programs are common in broadcasting and are usually offered to news shows for free.

          The Center has produced two reports, Fake TV News and Still Not the News to document a sampling of video news release usage and local television stations around the country. Read the FCC notice of liability here. It's important to note that the FCC rules say that cable broadcasts must identify the sponsor when the cable operator accepts “money, service or other valuable consideration" in return for airing material. Because VNRs are provided free, a coalition of public relations VNR producers argued they should be exempt from the rule. The FCC judgment disagrees, noting that the cable operator has a duty to identify the sponsor "when there is too much focus on a product or brand name in the programming."

          Health news media seminar Nov. 2

          (Update: Registration link is now included.) EurekAlert!, the science and medical news portal convened by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a don't get caught client, will present "Communicating Health News across the Media Spectrum," a seminar for public information and public relations professionals on Friday, November 2, from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the National Press Club. Registration is $40 per person for EurekAlert! subscribers, and $65 per person for nonsubscribers; you can register here. A top panel of journalists speakers will lead the seminar, including:

          • Glenn O'Neill, health and medicine assignment editor, USA Today;
          • Sally Squires, nationally syndicated "Lean Plate Club" columnist, and nutrition and health writer, Washington Post;
          • Ed Tobias, assistant management editor, Associated Press Broadcast;
          • Adam Voiland, health, medicine and nutrition reporter, US News and World Report; and
          • Michael Waldholz, managing editor, global health, science and environment, Bloomberg News.

          For more information, call 202-326-6716 or send an e-mail to

          Friday, September 21, 2007

          getting media relationships started

          A recent question on LinkedIn came from a first-time communications director who'd done no media relations, but needed to establish relationships with reporters in her new job. Here's our advice to her for getting her toe in the waters of the news coverage pool:
          A smart way to approach this--and one that will make you stand out-- is to take the preparatory steps that reporters will expect you to do:

          1) Figure out who your relevant audiences are. If your issue is education, that might include state officials, local officials, parents, teachers, students, voters/taxpayers, etc. Use these to determine which media outlets are relevant to your organization.

          2) Read, watch and listen to all the relevant media covering your organization or issue. Do that for national outlets -- even if you don't anticipate coverage from them -- as well as state and regional media. Observe them routinely, to understand who's covering what, their interests, what's already been done, what hasn't been covered and why, which issues are hot right now, and more.

          3) Figure out reporters' deadlines -- most have multiple deadlines during the day or week. Start by observing when stories appear and how frequently, or ask the reporter directly. (A newspaper reporter, for example, may have to file a web story, a web update, a radio interview, a TV piece, and finally her story for the next day's paper, all in the same day.) Don't call close to deadlines, and if you do call, always start the call by identifying yourself and your organization, and asking immediately "Are you on deadline?" as a courtesy.

          4) Before you ever contact a reporter, figure out what you have that they might want: experts? data? access to interviewees? special reports? a particular viewpoint? images? sound? Determine which reporters want what--again, start by observing closely--and be ready to describe it when you speak with them. Make sure your resources for reporters are ready: get training for your spokespeople, have fact sheets ready on your issues, know where your images are and whether you own copyright to them.

          5) Understand formats that reporters need, and those that don't work. For example: Don't attach huge files of images to an email, but do indicate that high-res images are available. Make sure your news release format fits a reporters' Blackberry--it's a completely different format than the traditional release.

          6) When you finally do get hold of a reporter -- and I prefer to do that by phone -- ask them what they're working on, what they need that they can't find elsewhere, and what they need from you. It may be nothing at this point, but you need to start where they are to build the relationship. You'll learn much more useful information that way.

          weekly writing coach: un-hyphen?

          The BBC reports this week that hyphenated words are on the wane, and email takes the blame: Our need for speed in communicating has spread from text-messagers yearning to save money to emailers seeking to save time. As if to confound writers, proofreaders and copyeditors, however, some formerly hyphenated words will split in two while others become compound nouns:
          The sixth edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary has knocked the hyphens out of 16,000 words, many of them two-word compound nouns. Fig-leaf is now fig leaf, pot-belly is now pot belly, pigeon-hole has finally achieved one word status as pigeonhole and leap-frog is feeling whole again as leapfrog.
          That sure sells dictionaries. We especially like the comment from Hugh Payne, of York, England, on the BBC story: "Indeed, it is a mistake to make a fuss about punctuation unless clarity or actual meaning is at stake. As the house-style guide of Oxford University Press used to say, 'If you take hyphens seriously, you will surely go mad'." The Shorter OED offers writers lots of online help: You can download code here to put an "Ask Oxford" search function on your website, access their "ask experts" page with frequently asked language questions here, and see their resources for better writing here.

          Thursday, September 20, 2007

          let bloggers be bloggers?

          From the presidential campaigns to professional meetings and conferences, organizations continue to grapple with how, when and whether to issue press credentials to bloggers -- or create new policies just for them. In our ongoing coverage of the issue (see our previous posts here), we've found two recent examples of how the struggle's unfolding. The New York Observer suggests that political campaigns have begun reshaping their relationships with bloggers, now more numerous and diverse:
          That’s why the smart campaigns are building a different model. George Allen’s “Macaca” moment last fall confirmed the power of the Internet to rapidly and widely spread breaking political news, whatever its source. So in the wake of Macaca, the presidential candidates have figured out that it makes more sense to treat blogs as news outlets—if partisan ones—to be used to disseminate a message, rather than as constituents to be courted. That strategy subtly puts them, not the bloggers, in the driver’s seat.
          At the same time, campaigns have largely abandoned seeking bloggers as supporters and spokespeople for their cause. Blogger-only access to candidates and their breaking news means the campaigns have begun cutting out mainstream reporters on certain stories, the article notes:
          “There might be times when I see something on a blog and wish that they had called me,” says Dan Balz, The Washington Post’s veteran political reporter. “I’ll call and say, ‘That’s something I’d like to have known.’” Still, he adds, “there’s too much else to worry about. There’s so many moving pieces in this campaign. There’s food for all.”
          Not so fast, says a column in the September-October issue of Communication World, the magazine of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). (IABC members can access the full article here.) What about "live-blogging," in-the-moment reports from your conference or meeting? Should those bloggers get press credentials, or should you boot them out for videocasting your speech live? The column notes the issue didn't exist years ago, due to the inherent time lag in reporting from a conference site:
          Today, the time lag has all but disappeared because of some nifty developments including speech-to-text (making it easy for a slow typist to dictate posts to a blog) and unobtrusive blogging via a smart phone with a QWERTY keypad. It is even possible for a blogger to train a high-resolution web cam at a presenter and stream a multimedia presentation to an outside web site.
          To its credit, the article quotes the shocked and the savvy, reflecting views that range from angry to accommodating -- and indicating that the issue's far from settled in most organizations. We recommend you:
          • amend your current press credentialing to accommodate bloggers for what they are: bloggers with opinions, or journalist-bloggers. If you accommodated journalist columnists before, won't you accommodate opinionated bloggers today?
          • consider access you can offer bloggers that will make your communications efforts more efficient and reflect their needs -- and whether that changes what you offer mainstream reporters, many of whom also blog.
          • remain aware that any participant may register for your meeting at full price and blog while sitting in a session.
          • make clear your policies in advance of meeting registration, and brief your speakers and their organizations about any policy changes, particularly when it comes to live broadcasting from the meeting room.