Monday, June 25, 2007

weekly writing coach: short headlines

Inspired by the panel of reporters who urged an audience of PR practitioners last week to shorten news release headlines to fit their Blackberries, this week's practice involves writing and editing headlines to keep them brief.

Try this exercise: Choose one news story currently on the wires -- say, today's coverage of the Supreme Court decision to reverse campaign law and allow pre-election campaign advertising by major unions and corporations. Check out these variations from, in order, the Washington Post print edition (9 words); the Post online edition (5 words); the New York Times print and online editions (same headline used at 8 words); the Associated Press (6 words); and Reuters (7 words):
5-4 Supreme Court Weakens Curbs on Pre-Election TV Ads
Court Eases Restrictions on Ads
Justices Loosen Ad Restrictions in Campaign Finance Law
Justices Loosen Limits on Campaign Ads
Court Allows Certain Issue Ads Before Elections
Can you create a headline shorter than 5 or 6 words, the record set by the Post and AP? If you're an observer of headline words -- extremely short synonyms handy for fitting a lot in a small space, like "mull" instead of "ponder," "review" or "consider"--you can substitute a few here. In the examples above, "eases" beats "loosen" or "allows," and "court" is shorter than "justices."

Similarly, consider using punctuation as a substitute for extra words. A colon placed after the source name in a headline always suggests what was said, and uses fewer marks than even quotations--often, it allows you to omit a verb for precious space. In this example, you might write "Court: Pre-Election Ads OK" to indicate what the court said.

Next exercise: Take the last three headlines you've written and see how short you can make them without losing the point. Five to six words will fit in an email subject line or Blackberry with ease

Saturday, June 23, 2007

press credentials for bloggers

We've covered this issue before, but, as with anything to do with blogs, it's evolving rapidly. Today, we'll attempt to summarize the available precedents for providing press credentials for bloggers, based on the experience of a wide range of organizations...and remind you to make sure you don't get caught without creating a thoughtful policy for admitting bloggers to your events, press rooms, and online offerings, a process we can help you through. Here's a sampler of learnings to get you started:
* Major newsmaking organizations that have credentialed bloggers include the United Nations, the White House, and, for the recent trial of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the federal court in Washington.

*PBS will credential a limited number of bloggers for next week's forum with Democratic presidential candidates in Washington, DC, on June 28. (Both Democrat and Republican parties credentialed bloggers at the last national political conventions.)

*The National Press Club has agreed to extend associate membership to bloggers, a step short of full "reporter" status.

*Some state legislatures have begun, slowly, to credential bloggers, notably California. The U.S. congressional press galleries, which apply a "newsgathering" (versus opinion) litmus test for admitting reporters, have thus far ejected a website reporter/blogger for when his existing credentials expired; read that site's coverage here. Currently, the periodicals press gallery handles credentialing for online journalists, but this recent article in The Hill advocates a specific congressional press gallery for online journalists.

*Among corporations, Chrysler, which has its own blogs, has issued a press pass to this blogger.

*And major sports leagues vary widely, but have led their governmental and corporate colleagues in admitting bloggers to the press box. A good summary can be heard in this National Public Radio discussion from yesterday, about the ejection of a blogger from the Louisville Courier-Journal from the College World Series. Note that he was ejected not due to his blogger status, but because he did live play-by-play coverage during the game, against the conditions of his credentials. Listen all the way through to hear a great summary of which leagues admit bloggers; some are even considering a separate "bloggers' box" to sit alongside the press box at games.
Will you apply a "newsgathering" litmus test for bloggers who want to cover you? Treat them like constituent groups rather than press? Provide early and embargoed access, and offer free materials? These and other questions need to be considered in your communications plan for blogger press credentials. Email us at for help and ideas.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

what to listen to from reporters

Today, I moderated a panel of reporters for Washington Women in Public Relations' annual media roundtable luncheon. A sign of the times: Not one panelist represented a traditional newspaper, though the Washington Post's website and daily commuter tabloid, Express, both sent reporters to the panel. (Fox News and Public Radio International rounded out the panel.) Reflecting the pressures of the media business and the new media options -- RSS, blogs, podcasts -- that all news outlets must juggle, we heard some telling don'ts from the panel:
*Rewrite your email subject headings and content to fit my Blackberry.A meandering headline, "READ THIS" or "news release" with no other information will get deleted. "Joe Biden speaks on immigration 2pm today" will get opened. In the email body, don't start with "for immediate release" and your contact information, a leftover from the pre-online days. Get your point, and your lead, into the first two lines--and remember they're shorter on a Blackberry.

*Don't call me repeatedly--and call back when I ask you to. Calling to check whether material's been received, calling numerous times when you haven't heard back, and failing to return a reporter's call, especially in time to meet the deadline are don'ts. (They reported callbacks that came two days after a deadline.) Ditto the repeated emails. Reporters pointed out that the more time they have to spend sorting through emails and voicemail, the less time they have to consider your story. The winner in the email contest? Heather Dahl, Fox news senior producer for story planning, who fields 1,200 emails a day.

*Skip the press conferences and webcasts. Unless your topic is a major breaking news event, don't bother scheduling a press conference or inviting reporters to watch a webcast of same -- their time for attending has disappeared, for the most part. And if you are breaking news, locate your news conference centrally, make sure you have adequate feed options for broadcast outlets (and specify those in your announcement).
The good news: While you may not get a call back immediately--or even within a year--you can win points by emailing when you have nothing to pitch, but to ask "What do you need help finding?" and by demonstrating your credibility with a targeted pitch that shows you've read, watched or listened to their coverage. What we noticed: Reporters report having much less time, thanks to all those emails and voicemails, and have developed severe methods needed to manage their time. The loser is the face-to-face meeting, a rarity for those seeking to cultivate reporters.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

young farmers grow a blog

The American Farm Bureau, another alumnus of our blogging workshops, has launched a blog authored by young farmers and ranchers. We've long advised membership organizations to train and engage young members in communications, and this blog offers another great example. Thirty farmers and ranchers participate, representing views from 17 states from New Hampshire to California. And while some of the posts are long ones, you quickly realize that these bloggers have their hands full with lots of other tasks--and probably want those blog posts to count. They're tackling topics that range from legislative issues to giving readers a window on life on the farm. Check out this ambitious group blog as another example of how the form can work for your membership organization.

new board post for Graveline

Don't get caught president Denise Graveline has been elected to the board of directors of Safe Shores, the Washington, D.C. children's advocacy center. Established to provide a coordinated and child-friendly approach to the investigation and prosecution of civil and criminal child abuse cases in the District of Columbia, Safe Shores provides a warm and welcoming place where children and adolescents can feel safe and supported while waiting for forensic interviews, therapy, court appearances, or placement resolutions -- and coordinates legal, police, social service and mental health agencies so that they come to the children in one place. Children receive supervision, meals, clean clothes, crisis intervention and other emergency victim services during the joint investigative process.

We encourage you to find out how to volunteer or donate to Safe Shores, particularly if you are a public relations or development professional who can contribute skills on a pro bono basis. Join us in getting involved with this important service!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

no punts, no pants, just puns: headlines

Here in Washington, a judge is in DC Superior Court, suing a dry cleaner for $54 million in damages because they returned the wrong pants to him (no, we are not making this up). Amidst the worldwide coverage, the blog DCist took the time to delight in the irresistible headlines with puns that resulted, here. Scroll down to read the comments that its readers added, some with their own headlines.

great quotes: bootleggers & Baptists

This one's courtesy of NPR's Peter Overby, reporting this morning on some of the seemingly unholy alliances created as corporations lobby Congress to get a piece of the action as new environmental protections are considered. Overbye captured this quote from an economist to describe the odd matchups:
Economist Bruce Yandle, dean emeritus of the business school at Clemson University in South Carolina, calls it a union of "bootleggers and Baptists." Yandle refined the "bootleggers and Baptists" theory of government regulation years ago. He named it in honor of those most dedicated to closing small-town liquor stores on Sundays.
The message here works in several ways: It's brief, alliterative, saucy and memorable to both the speaker and the audience. When you develop a message to get your points across, make sure you consider those factors. Read the full story here.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

does your audience sit forward or back?

These days, it pays to know: Sit-back audiences represent the radio listener or TV viewer of yore. Sit-forward audiences use the Web. Two interesting articles note the catch-up game that television and radio play these days to compete with the web. In some cases, the networks compete with their own websites--and the websites are winning. This Advertising Age article grabs you with its opening line, quoting Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons: "I worry about CNN more than I do about" Check out the numbers reported in the article:
CNN's ratings have been on a steady decline since 2003, when it regularly got 689,000 households to tune in each day, to a low of 383,000 last year, according to Nielsen Media Research. For the first six months of this year, it's up to 431,000...Traffic continues to climb over at, however, with unique users up nearly 25% to 26 million in April compared with the same period last year. That, coupled with the 90 million worldwide subscribers to CNN Mobile, suggests that CNN's breaking-news model fits in better online among sit-forward viewers than it does in the sit-back environment of America's living rooms.
Radio's no different. Today's New York Times includes Jeff Leeds' look at how major radio networks are moving into the more-interactive world of Internet radio, a world that will require them to work harder to hold listeners' attention:
Confronted by a slow erosion of listeners who are turning to iPods, podcasts and other sources for entertainment, the radio corporations are trying to merge their over-the-air music and D.J. chatter with the Web, adding online streams of their broadcasts and features already found on many independent Web-based stations. These include live chat rooms, blogs and MySpace-style social networking features.
If you're acting as a source to broadcast outlets, think about how your information can expand and interact with their expanding, interactive audiences -- and don't neglect to offer photos, video and audio to radio outlets, for example, for their web pages. Can your audience interact with theirs? Those with creative information solutions will be able to tap into this burgeoning market.

Monday, June 11, 2007

instead of a news release

If you're a communicator--particularly one who works within an organization--it may seem as if the only thing your clients request is a news release, regardless of intended audience, media interest, likelihood of coverage or content issues. In many cases, the "news release" is wanted to reach non-media audiences, like members, trustees or supporters who can be better reached in other ways. Clever communicators, of course, know they have many tools to use in making known programs, people and products. The next time your clients push for a news release, don't get caught without our list of useful alternatives, and a discussion about which one best fits the client's needs:
- a letter to the editor
- an op-ed article
- a phone call to the reporter most likely to cover the topic
- a blog post
- an email or letter to members or constituents
- a speech before the target audience
- an advertisement or public service announcement
- a quote or soundbite, offered in relation to breaking news
- a background briefing online, on the phone, or in person
- a list of useful expert sources on the topic
- a background interview
- a website notice or update
- a media advisory or photo opportunity notice
- a note to editors to clarify a point
- sending a technical article with a cover note
Many more alternatives exist -- feel free to post your ideas in the comments -- but these offer a good start, along with no action at all. Be sure you've discussed all the possibilities, and the wisdom of whether to act, before proliferating more news releases.

weekly writing coach: radio pep talks

Every writer needs a pep talk now and then--usually, that means talking to yourself, or anyone except your editor. Nowadays, you also can get your pep talks on the Web or via email, here from two radio sources:
-The Writer's Almanac, a daily radio feature from American Public Media, offers a poem, the author birthdays of the day, and some background on each writer, her challenges and inspirations. Garrison Keillor narrates, and you can either listen to the Almanac on the local public radio stations shown here, or sign up for its e-newsletter for a daily shot of hope.

-If reading other writers inspires, try National Public Radio's Book Notes. Sign up for an email newsletter here, and view a recent sample here. NPR also offers a weekly "book tour" podcast with authors reading from their works, here.
And if you want inspiration to go back to your computer, listen to this recent NPR story on an effort to see whether a single number two pencil could last long enough to transcribe To Kill a Mockingbird, some 90,000 words long.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Next WWPR Media Roundtable

Don't get caught president Denise Graveline will get to practice her own list of what to ask reporters when she moderates Washington Women in Public Relations' very interactive annual Media Roundtable luncheon June 20 in Washington, DC (register here).

When you RSVP, send your top 3 questions for the panel to or; attendees also may bring questions to the event and join the conversation.

Panelists reflect a mix of national, local, print, broadcast and online journalists, and include:
Nancy Kerr, Features Editor,;
Heather Dahl, Senior Producer/Story Planning for Fox News, national desk;
Chad Pergram, Chief Correspondent for the Capitol Hill bureau of Public Radio International; and
Kristen Page-Kirby, Section Editor/Features, The Washington Post Express.
The event will take place at the Arts Club of Washington, located at 2017 I "Eye" Street, NW, from 12 noon to 2pm. This is one of WWPR's best-attended and most lively events...don't get caught missing it!

communications officer position open

A communications officer position is open at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, DC, in the AAAS Office of Public Programs. Director Ginger Pinholster tells us the position -- which disseminates public information about AAAS programs and meetings -- reports to veteran journalist and senior communications officer Earl Lane, so it's a great chance to learn the ropes of media relations and public information. Major duties include coordinating the AAAS Science Journalism Awards and the newsroom at the Association's annual scientific meeting. They're seeking someone with a bachelor's degree, preferably in communications or journalism; 3-5 years of media relations experience; writing and verbal communication skills; and database management, HTML and Dreamweaver experience are preferred. It's requisition 1581; for more information contact recruiter Dawn Graf at 202-326-7064 or Monica Canty at 202-326-6479.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

entitled to know...about a new blog

Entitled to Know is the smart name for a new blog on the so-called entitlement benefits of Social Security and Medicare, launched in February by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. It's the result of learning in our blogging workshops, and reflects just what a strategic blog should do. Bloggers include the group's president and CEO and former Congresswoman Barbara Kennelly (who hails from our home state of Connecticut), a move that's fast becoming a best practice in business blogging. A nice feature: Policy analyst Mary Jane Yarrington's "Ask Mary Jane" posts that answer consumer questions on the two benefits (here, whether you should take Social Security benefits early). Photos and bios are embedded throughout--you never wonder who's speaking or where they're coming from.

A real strength lies in the sidebar, where you can see the committee's expertise displayed in links to current news coverage and opinion articles on the topic, links to related blogs and sites, email signups and search boxes, and -- ideal for its target audience of aging Boomers -- a prominent pair of buttons that decrease or increase the blog's type size. The committee's communications team got its blogging start in our workshops, and have produced a well-thought-out, comprehensive resource. Learn from them!

weekly writing coach: essay an essay

A while back, we asked "Who inspires you?" to get you to collect samples of writers you admire, so you could emulate their efforts. Now, the Smithsonian's asking the same question in an essay contest (enter here). They want to know:
Who fills you with enthusiasm, makes your imagination run wild, or gives you the confidence to reach for the stars? It could be your grandmother, a president, your next-door neighbor, your best friend, an actor, a scientist, a writer, or your sixth-grade teacher. It might be someone you see every day or someone who lived long before you were born.
Essay contests like this one offer you great practice opportunities--and 250 words, the contest limit, will force you into self-editing like nothing else. You have until noon Eastern Time on June 15 to enter.

where to find photos for your blog

Want attractive blogs without legal trouble? Look to your photo sources. Sure, it's easy to copy photos from the Web and paste them into your blog. It's also illegal, and photographers are starting to pursue copyright infringement cases aggressively. We recommend you check out these sources of free or inexpensive photos for your blog:

- Try a nontraditional source. Today's New York Times reports on new "microstock" photo sources that publish stock photos done by amateurs, with fees far less than traditional stock photos:
“Maybe a $300 photo for a pamphlet distributed to 300 people is not worth $300,” said Jon Oringer, the founder of Shutterstock (, a four-year-old microstock agency.

Shutterstock customers, who pay a monthly subscription fee beginning at $199, can download up to 25 pictures a day of the site’s 1.8 million photos, at any resolution. For those who download the maximum, that amounts to 27 cents per shot. Shutterstock photographers are paid 25 cents for a purchased picture; the price rises to 30 cents once $500 worth of their work is bought.

In addition to Shutterstock, other microstock photo agencies include Big Stock Photo (, Fotolia (, Dreamstime ( and iStockphoto (

- At photo website Flickr, look for photos with "Creative Commons" licenses that allow a variety of publication options. For many, you just need to publish with attribution to the photographer, as in this shot by Petteri Sulonen.

-Think historic. Photos published earlier than the 1900s are typically free of copyright restriction. Check out the Library of Congress's extensive holdings, but be sure to check the photo that interests you--not all of these holdings are in the public domain.

-Best of all: The photos you already own or take yourself. Get in the habit of bringing a digital camera to your next speech, event or trip -- we like taking photos of audiences to whom we present.

Monday, June 04, 2007

weekly writing coach: copyeditor's guide

By now, you know we think of editing as a vital part of your writing process--and one that few writers practice. Here's a guide, ostensibly for the copyeditor, that any writer can use to brush up her skills: The Copyeditor's Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications, which includes several exercises in which you edit text to practice. But before that, the book walks the reader through a useful, and unusual, exercise: You read a selection that needs copyediting, then the author walks you through the steps, judgment calls and considerations that the copyeditor must make, including her rationale for each decision. It's a mix of hands-on practice and exercises in developing sound judgment skills -- something many of our clients are seeking in writers and editors. For writers, it's another way to develop your writing process; for editors, a true step-by-step guide.

Buy The Copyeditor's Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications

book publishers start speaker bureaus

In a move that takes advantage of the demand for authors to speak in unconventional settings--corporate offices, for example--the New York Times reports today on book publishers that have established their own speakers' bureaus, booking appearances for authors on their rosters. The hook? The focus lies in paid appearances, adding as much as $35,000 a year in income for a 'middle-tier' author. (A top author like Anna Quindlen might get that much for one appearance.) Some worry that authors will need to be even more presentable than before:
Sara Nelson, editor in chief of Publishers Weekly, said she was worried that it put too much pressure on authors to hone their presentation skills, potentially at the expense of their literary development. “If whether you’re able to sell yourself as a speaker is part of finding a publisher or not concerns me,” she said.
We disagree (and have met plenty of presentable authors, thank you). At don't get caught, we believe that speakers can go from zero to 60, so to speak, with practice and presentation training. To find out more about our one-on-one coaching, go here or email us at

Friday, June 01, 2007

down to the wire

A must-read for media relations mavens is the new history on the Associated Press, titled Breaking News: How the Associated Press Has Covered War, Peace, and Everything Else.

If you're in Washington June 25 at 6pm,you can learn more about the book at a reception, panel discussion and signing at the National Press Club. Panelists include:

- Tom Curley, AP President
- Walter Mears, Pulitzer Prize-winning former political correspondent for AP
- Kathryn Johnson, former Atlanta reporter for AP, now retired, whose coverage of the Civil Rights Movement was both moving and authoritative
- Darrell Christian, sports editor of AP for many years
- Ron Edmonds, Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington and White House photographer
- George Esper, famed Saigon AP bureau chief
- Joe Urschel, Newseum executive director, moderator

It's open to the public, but reservations and free tickets will be required. A reception from 6pm to 6:45pm precedes the panel discussion. Email or call 202-662-7129.

And, aside from the wire itself, one of our favorite AP resources is its media news page -- a fast way to stay abreast of personnel changes, policy issues and those times when the media becomes the story.

Buy Breaking News: How the Associated Press Has Covered War, Peace, and Everything Else