Friday, December 26, 2008

branding your flip video camera

 I'm a big fan of the ultraportable Flip video camera, and now the camera itself is "designable" with your own logo, artwork, photos or available designs from Flip -- if you order directly from the company. Here's a great example of how that can look, from our colleagues at News Generation, where the camera served as a holiday gift to all staff members. Is there a catch? You'll save about $20 on the Flip Mino on, but can't get the customization unless you order direct from Flip. If you're going to issue your communications team branded Flip cameras--whether as a bonus, for identification purposes or branding purposes--make sure you attach an assignment to use it to advance your organization's social media outreach with new videos.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

local is the new news

Trends in the news industry--and its audiences--are converging to refocus on local news and issues. And while it's long been held that "all politics is local," competition in the news business has been all about the national hook, lead or trend. Not so much, anymore. The reasons vary from economic woes such as decreasing advertising support to a better-honed sense of what the audiences want, and those driving the trend come from a variety of sectors. Here are just a few harbingers of the shift in news focus, and how they might change your media relations efforts:
  • The demise of Washington news bureaus: You read about this trend here in 2007, and the bad economy has made a bureau in the nation's capital more of a luxury than every before. Today's New York Times reports on the scarcity of the Washington bureau, and notes what will change: "As bureaus shrink, they cut back on in-depth and investigative projects and from having reporters assigned to cover specific federal agencies." What that means for communicators: Fewer reasons to come to Washington for nationwide announcements...a bigger watchdog role for specialty and trade press and for nonprofits when it comes to uncovering issues related to federal agencies...more reason to pitch Associated Press and other wires covering Washington on issues related to your location.
  • Support for online "community news" sites: The Knight Foundation just announced support for four such sites in Chicago, Minneapolis-St.Paul, Saint Louis, and San Diego, sites that were the focus of recent New York Times coverage. What that means for communicators: You may want to consider credentialling such sites as you would bloggers and traditional media, and reaching out to them with your local leads--keeping in mind their specialized beats and the fact that many are not staffed at mainstream media levels.
  • Local media are going mobile--and multimedia: You read here recently about the local reporters whose newspapers have them out pounding the pavement--this time, with Blackberry and audio and video recording equipment. And with national coverage of local issues diminishing, expect more pressure on local news outlets. That may be one reason why Burrelle's/Luce is offering a free whitepaper on targeting local media when you sign up for its web 2.0 updates. What that means for communicators: Make sure your releases and other announcements stress place names and local connections whenever possible--and if you're announcing news nationally that has local ties, include a geographic index with the news materials to guide local reporters to their targets.
Need an audit of how your organization can shift to reflect this trend, a plan for moving forward or targeted media training? Contact us at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

using multimedia for science, health news

Complete video of a seminar last week on "Using Multimedia to Communicate Health and Science News" is now available here online, with demos, slides, handouts and full video of the panel of reporters and communicators speaking about online video, social media and more. The panel included:
Karl Bates, Director of Research Communications, Duke University News & Communications
Nils Bruzelius, Deputy National Editor/Science, Washington Post
Tom Kennedy, Managing Editor for Multimedia, Washington Post
Art Chimes, Producer-host of Our World, Voice of America
Jorge Ribas, Video Producer, Discovery News
The seminar was hosted by Eurekalert!, the online research news site from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Best advice from Karl Bates of Duke University: "Keep it short. Aim for 90 seconds...If you think people are ruthless with a TV remote in their hands, watch somebody with a mouse in their hands." Couldn't agree more...

travel gets creative with social media

Today, two travel-industry social networks came across my desk and I think they're great examples of putting social networking to use as a creative communications tool. The first--thanks to @guykawaski on Twitter--is a closed social network for guests who've reserved rooms at New York City's Pod Hotel. Designed for use in the pre-arrival stage, the network uses passwords for access and allows guests to connect with other guests, suggesting restaurants, meetups and events they can share. The connectivity has boosted revenues as much as 40 percent this year--with no additional public relations effort. Users lose their access once they register for their stay in person, but can re-enter once they make another reservation. I can see this concept -- a temporary network -- working for professional conferences or any other situation in which people will be gathering in person for a limited period of time. It also combines the best of the high-tech-plus-high-touch approach to social networking by helping people to meet in person, or just get more knowledgeable about their surroundings on a visit.

The second creative idea landed in my email in-box from Amtrak Guest Rewards, a frequent-travel program I belong to. The email offered that I could "make a snowflake" if I clicked through and opened my holiday card. When I did, I found this site (see screenshot above) with interactive tools to help you cut out an electronic version of a paper snowflake and post it with a message. You can search for specific creations or just click on any of the animated falling snowflakes in the landscape opens up another member's artwork and message; email your snowflake to friends and, by providing your email, get responses from other users to your effort; and see how many have been created. While this is just a game, it got my attention. Too bad Amtrak didn't make this part of its Guest Rewards website, so anyone could see it--even if only members can make a snowflake, the engaging animation might've attracted more memberships. But this promotion excels at drawing in consumers and giving them the chance to contribute and share content (can snowflakes be content?), two basic premises that drive social media as communications tools.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

using Twitter to learn reporters' needs

Thinking about adapting your media relations to meet today's social media norms? Former colleague and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute media relations manager Jason Gorss has a great post examining his experiments with a "twitpitch" to a journalist on Twitter. It's important to note that this example demonstrates good basic pitching etiquette: Gorss follows the reporter on Twitter and can see his posts, responded to one on sources, used his own message to share a relevant article and let the reporter know he had an expert, and followed up when interest was shown. That's also in keeping with social-media rules that frown upon spam--something reporters have long complained about. When you sign up for the don't get caught newsletter (see box at right), you'll get a free report on remaking your media relations in a web 2.0 world.

noon ET: charities & Facebook chat

The Chronicle of Philanthropy offers an opinion piece about how some nonprofits miss out on opportunities to add supporters to their cause when they forbid employees to use social media sites like Facebook in the office. The key example? The American Red Cross, which once forbade Facebook, but now uses it to raise money--and gets grants to do so. You can join an online chat on using online tools for activism at noon Eastern Time today.

let the audience plan your presentation

I just returned from a daylong training of nearly 100 geophysical scientists in basic communications skills at the American Geophysical Society fall meeting, part of a series of trainings convened by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The trainings always emphasize starting with the audience first, rather than what you want to say--and scientists at the training had lots of questions about how to do that. So I was glad to find that Olivia Mitchell's Speaking About Presenting blog has a presentation planning guide available that walks you through the process of thinking about what the audience will want to know--a process that offers a sensible way to plan your next presentation. You can get the guide when you sign up for Mitchell's free newsletter, which follows up with tips on getting the most out of your presentation skills.

Interview: Zappos CEO on Twitter

Editor's note: Until an Iraqi journalist threw his shoe at President Bush this week, online chatter about shoes kept veering back to Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. That may be due to Hsieh's presence on Twitter, the online service that asks you to answer "what are you doing?" in 140-character "tweets" or updates. Hsieh, who started as an investor and adviser to the online retailer before joining it as CEO, has fostered a creative corporate culture that gets results. From his bio: "Under his leadership, Zappos has grown gross merchandise sales from $1.6M in 2000 to $840M in 2007 by focusing relentlessly on customer service."
Twitter's become a part of how the company communicates under Hsieh's leadership. Employees are encouraged to use the service, and they and customers can follow Hsieh on Twitter here. He even offers a beginners' guide to Twitter on the company website. I follow Hsieh on Twitter, and used the service to request the interview below, which we conducted via email.

How long have you been blogging? Using Twitter? Who are you hoping to reach?

I don't really blog much, but I've been using Twitter for a year and a half now. I first learned about Twitter in March 2007, and used it with just my friends for about a year. I found that it was a great way to meet up with friends as well as keep in touch with friends in other cities, so we decided to introduce it to Zappos employees in spring 2008 as a way of helping build up company culture. We now introduce Twitter to employees during new hire orientation, and also offer Twitter classes. We have several hundred employees now on Twitter and we aggregate all of their tweets here. We've found that Twitter has been a great way of building a more personal connection with both employees and customers.

How many of your employees are on Twitter for business purposes?

We have several employees using Twitter but it generally isn't for business purposes. Our guideline for Twitter usage is pretty simple: Be real and use your best judgement. If you look through the employee tweets you'll see most of the tweets are not business oriented.

How does social media/blogging/Twitter fit into your core values?

We have 10 core values. Core value #6 is about being open and honest, so we strive to be as transparent as possible. Twitter is one way that we embrace transparency.

Does Twitter replace some activity you were doing previously? If so, what and why?

No, it's an additional activity. Or maybe addiction might be a better word. :)

You blogged about employee layoffs. Talk about how social media helps (or not)when you have bad news to share.

It's not really specific to social media. We believe in being as transparent as possible, so as soon as our employees were notified about the layoffs (November 6), I blogged and twittered about it to the general public as well.

What's the most interesting thing you've learned from using Twitter?

One of the great things about Twitter is the instant feedback. You can find out within minutes if something you tweeted out was interesting or inspiring to people. I'm still constantly surprised by what people find interesting or not interesting. For example, I once tweeted out about what flavor chapstick I was using (peppermint) and I got a ton of responses right away, including some of people saying they were going to try out that flavor of chapstick!

Have you been able to fix any customer or employee problems using Twitter? Explain.

Twitter probably isn't the best way to deal with customer or employee issues. When customers ask me about a customer service type of question, I generally encourage them to email or call instead.

What would you tell other CEOs about blogging and using Twitter?

It's really only going to be effective if you actually are interested in developing more personal connections to your customers. For example, a lot of companies hide their contact information on their web site, whereas we take the opposite approach. We put our 1-800 number at the top of every single page of our web site. So before trying to embrace Twitter, I would encourage CEOs to embrace email and the telephone first. And when they're ready to embrace Twitter, then I'd say just be real and use Twitter as a way to connect with people as opposed to viewing it as a marketing channel

Saturday, December 13, 2008

With bloggers at your news conference

It's clear many organizations are still adjusting to having blogs represented at their press gatherings. A hat tip to DCist blog for sharing this amusing exchange between U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and reporters at a "blogger's roundtable":
Moderator: Could you guys maybe just quickly identify yourselves so the Secretary can put a face with a name?

Question: I'm Dan Fowler from Congressional Quarterly.

Question: Rich Cooper, Security News.

Question: I'm Joel Johnson, with BoingBoing.

Secretary Chertoff: Boing Boing?

Question: That's it.
Maybe someone should pre-brief the Secretary: Boing Boing is the most popular blog in the world, according to Technorati. You can read the full transcript here.

Friday, December 12, 2008

New-media adapters: photo sharing

With the wealth of online resources available to you, do you ever go to a library? If you're visiting the nation's capital, do you put the Library of Congress on your list? Maybe not--so the Library of Congress has taken steps to meet you where you play online, and this week, early results of that experiment are in.

The Library has been using photo-sharing site Flickr to good business advantage. We told you here about the Library's posting of historic photo collections--most free of copyright restrictions--along with a request to help identify people, places and events depicted in the photos. Today, the Library released a report on its experiment, showing these results:

  • Some 10.4 million views of LOC photos on Flickr in just 10 months;
  • Almost 80 percent of the LOC photos have been made "favorites" by users, and more than 15,000 Flickr users have added the Library as a contact to stream LOC images into their own accounts;
  • More than 7,100 comments were made on some 2,800 photos, and a whopping 67,000-plus tags were added to LOC photos by users; nearly all of the photos were tagged at least once by the Flickr community;
  • For those who fear inappropriate comments, fewer than 25 "instances of user-generated content were removed as inappropriate" out of all those thousands of tags and comments;
  • More than 500 records in the Library's prints and photographs online collection were enhanced with new information provided by users; and
  • Average monthly visits to all prints and photographs web pages increased 20 percent in five months, compared to the previous year.
The report measures all sorts of useful data about its pilot effort, such as staff time spent each week in maintaining the experimental site, and shares this tidbit about letting the publicity develop virally, without a news release:
The decision to publicize this pilot solely via the Library and Flickr blogs rather than by the usual method of a press release tested a new model for getting the word out on Library initiatives. The reaction by the blogosphere was astonishing and resulted in thousands of blog posts picking up the story, prompting coverage in the mainstream media: newspapers, magazines, online news services, even television and radio began to cover the pilot (see Appendix C for a bibliography of the coverage). Most posts linked to the Flickr and Library of Congress blogs, which unexpectedly translated into significant visibility for the Library’s blog, in existence for less than a year at the time of launch.
What's useful and stunning here: The Library's full report details the mechanics of what it considered going into the experiment, what happened -- with data -- and what they intend to do next. At the same time, the report captures concrete examples of how ordinary citizens expanded its collection's depth, adding comments like "my grandfather took that photo" or details about who, what, when, where, why and how the scene occurred. In some cases, highly expert discussions took place online about makes and models of equipment--or users posted new photos to show what a site looks like today.

To learn more, read the DCist blog reports on the results of this experiment, the Library's news release about the results here, and the full report here -- the latter should be part of your "making the case for social media" file.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

new cancer survivor site: clients in action

don't get caught is proud to have provided content development for the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins' new cancer survivors website. The new site for the Michael J. Garil Leukemia Survivors Program includes useful features like a "late effects tracker" to help survivors identify symptoms and issues they may face years after their diagnosis and treatment, using either the type of cancer or the treatment they received. Information on ongoing support services, new research findings that affect leukemia survivors, insurance issues and more is included. It is just the latest work we've done for the center, which uses don't get caught for training, communications retreats, strategies and content development. Please share this new resource with any leukemia survivor you know!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

networking with social media

Registration details are now available for Power Networking Tips, Trends and Techniques, a January 15, 2009 Tech Council of Maryland panel that will mix advice on in-person networking and online/social media options. I'm speaking on the online social networking aspects, and will share an "e-handout" on this blog with my tips and advice, but before I do, tell me what you've found valuable about augmenting in-person networking with social media. You can leave your comments here, on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. I'd love to hear specifics about why the online version of networking (perhaps in combination with in-person or offline efforts) works for you.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

a symphony of social media

Today's Washington Post covers a social media experiment that may inspire you to reach beyond the edges of your communications box: the YouTube Symphony auditions, with plans to create a "mash-up" of submitted symphonic performances on online video, as well as a live performance of the same work at Carnegie Hall, with players selected on the basis of their video submissions. (Go here to see more about the YouTube Symphony Orchestra.) If your organization is, like the classical music world, "tactfully described as 'hungry for innovation'," this initiative is a wonderful example of how to go about it, because:

  • It invites participation from a largely amateur audience--those interested but not already in the club: If classical music's goal is to reach beyond its aging audience and seem more inclusive, this initiative does that by specifying that participants must be 14 or older and cannot have contractual obligations that would limit their participation, which means most professional musicians can't submit videos.

  • It lets the audience self-identify: Once videos are submitted, anyone will be able to see which young performers had enough interest and talent to participate--a self-identified audience with clear interest.

  • It turns its expertise over to the audience: Entrants get to practice and play with world-class experts, but ultimately, the amateurs will be the stars. That's a neat twist in which the amateurs become the sought-after group, rather than the experts. Where will you find yours?

  • It creates a level playing field to encourage entries, using a new work written for the occasion. Entrants can download the score; access special videos already online from the London Symphony demonstrating master classes in various languages and for various instruments in the standard symphonic repertoire; listen to interviews and encouragement; play along while composer Tan Dun acts as your "personal conductor" for various instrument parts of the work; and access other types of support.

  • It aims to generate new content, and, on the Web, content is king. The idea that there'll be new work, collaboration and an uncertain outcome adds drama and anticipation to this contest.

As you think about adapting your expertise and opportunities into social media communications, keep this model in mind. I'm predicting the sweet sound of success.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

social media=source material for reporters

With a hat tip to fellow bloggers at PR Newser, we see another survey showing that nearly half of journalists use social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn to source their stories, and a much higher majority follow blogs in their topic areas. Specifically:
Among the 160 print, broadcast, and online journalists who responded, 48% use LinkedIn, and 45% use Facebook to assist in reporting. 68% use blogs to keep up on issues or topics of interest. 86% of all use company websites, 71% use Wikipedia, and 46% use blogs to research an individual organization.
If you're lagging behind in using social media as a communications tools, I'm hoping these data help you build a case for changing that approach. Check out our new media adapters series for more ideas on how to retool your approaches using social media options.

Monday, November 24, 2008

adapting to social media? think like google

Facebook friend and client Kavan Peterson shared this psychologist's take on how to succeed in tough and uncertain times as an example of what people need to do when adapting to "new" and social media: Think like Google. Psychologist Douglas LaBier, writing in the Washington Post, describes what that looks like:
If Google were a person, it would be the model of a psychologically healthy adult. Its corporate culture and management practices depend upon cooperation, collaboration, non-defensiveness, informality, a creative mind-set, flexibility and nimbleness, all aimed at competing aggressively for clear goals within a constantly changing environment.

A psychologically healthy adult embraces the notion that all of us are parts of an interdependent whole, like organs of the same body. He or she learns to become proactive, innovative and creative, and wants to keep growing and developing within a changing environment. She values positive connection and is flexible in situations of conflict.
Beyond being useful in your work and life, those are the same qualities you'll need if you're adapting to using social media for your communications. You can read about good examples other organizations are putting forward in our new media adapter series.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

a parade of new online photo sources

This week, I learned about a parade's-worth of online photo resources you'll want to tap for your website or blog. First, Google announced it has uploaded an archive of 10 million photographs from the LIFE magazine archives, either produced or owned by the magazine; some were never published.

And share this with a graphic design colleague: From Idee labs, a tool that can search 10 million of the "most interesting" photographs on color. Click on the color spectrum map and choose up to 10 colors--or click one more than once to increase its prominence. All the photos have a Creative Commons license, and the search tool also works with a stock photography collection.

And speaking of licenses, the New York Times also offers this handy guide to using images that are in the public domain, to help you find eligible images and understand their copyright-free use. (Photo of the John F. Kennedy inaugural parade by Al Finn for LIFE)

flip gets a thumbs-up from Pogue

New York Times reviewer David Pogue reviews the Flip Mino HD camera--billed as the world's fastest, smallest, thinnest high-definition videocamera--and gives it a big thumbs-up, particularly for its improved images and sound recording:
It grabs really great-looking video. It’s not up to the quality of hi-def tape camcorders like the Canon HDV30. But especially when the light is good, the Mino’s video is incredibly crisp and the colors are true. Best of all, the Mino HD preserves its predecessor’s uncanny low-light abilities. The resulting scene actually looks brighter in the video than it does to your naked eye.

The audio is good, too, even when you’re interviewing somebody who is 10 feet away. Clearly, there’s a lot of engineering mojo going on in this little machine’s video and microphone circuitry.
I use Flip cameras in media and speaker training, to record audience questions when I speak, and to easily incorporate video into my websites. It's ideal for social networking media, because the contained software makes it simple to upload, email or share your results online. Check out the new HD version and post your comments below.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

when young markets change marketing

Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World looks at what's sometimes called the millennials generation -- young people aged 11 to 31 -- based on a $4 million research effort. Author Don Tapscott has an eight-part series in Business Week that focuses this week on how marketing needs to adapt to meet the very different views of this emerging market, whether you're selling soap, social change or services. Among the insights that set this "net generation" apart from those of us who precede it:

  • They spend little online (most lack credit cards) but do extensive online research before they buy;

  • They're better at "filtering, fast-forwarding, and/or blocking unsolicited advertising than previous generations were" and don't like over-the-top spin;

  • Even so, they influence a majority of family purchases, from cars to groceries to apparel; and

  • They're not "passive consumers of the broadcast model" and want to participate in branding so the items are customized for them.

To catch up with Tapscott, check out Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation, the first book to delineate the habits, likes and dislikes of this important, emerging audience. Whether you expect them to join your membership organization, enroll at your university or buy products from your business, this is essential reading--particularly if you're considering adapting your traditional communications with new and social media options. (Thanks @guykawasaki for pointing us to this on Twitter)

new web watchdogs change local coverage

If you're in New Haven, Minneapolis-St. Paul, San Diego, Seattle, St. Louis or Chicago, a new breed of watchdog is driving local news: Web-based investigative teams with low-budget operations and high-profile visibility. A look at the phenomenon in today's New York Times notes that many are staffed by either young or veteran journalists, and they drive news so effectively that local press are forced to follow their leads in many cases. But unlike traditional news media, they operate on lower staffing and budgets, often supporting their efforts with donations and nonprofit incorporation rather than advertising. It's a hybrid that takes cues from public broadcasting as well as blogging--some "newsrooms" happen in coffee shops--but one that communications directors and media relations mavens need to keep in mind as the media landscape keeps shifting. How will you credential this new breed of watchdog?

Monday, November 17, 2008

new: smallest HD camcorder

I'm a big fan of the tiny Flip video cameras (you can see all my related posts here) and wanted to pass on the latest version: The Flip Mino HD camcorder is billed as the "world's smallest" HD camcorder and costs $229. Most video cameras today are sold as components of mobile phones, and it's significant that Flip's made its cameras just as convenient and lightweight. Check it out...

Thursday, November 06, 2008

and the flip video camera goes to...

Yesterday, don't get caught sponsored the annual Washington Women in Public Relations PR Woman of the Year Award luncheon, with the honor going this year to Marilyn Deane Mendell of Win Spin CIC. I'm a former winner of the award, so I got to relax and enjoy watching the activity around our raffle donation of a Flip video camera --the small but powerful camera that's taken over 13 percent of the videocam market, and includes a USB port plug and all the software you need to edit, email and upload videos to the web. Colleague Susan Matthews Apgood, co-founder and CEO of News Generation, had the lucky ticket. Congratulations to Marilyn and to Susan, and to the benficiaries of our raffle, WWPR's pro bono client, Doorways for Women and Families. Want your own Flip video camera? You'll find the best price right now on Amazon--just use the box below or click on the links in this post to find it.

should companies blog bad news? yes

Yesterday's New York Times looked at the growing trend of companies blogging instead of releasing--or publicly ignoring--bad news like employee layoffs, offering some cautionary tales of firms that did nothing and let other bloggers have the first say. While it focuses on Silicon Valley and Internet startups, the article notes:
Every industry has Web sites that cover its companies and eagerly publish rumors, from the Starbucks Gossip blog to DealBreaker for the financial industry and for Ford Motor. Web sites like and also encourage workers to vent about their bosses.

“Today, whatever you say inside of a company will end up on a blog,” said Rusty Rueff, a former human resources executive at Electronic Arts and PepsiCo. “So you have a choice as a company — you can either be proactive and take the offensive and say, ‘Here’s what’s going on,’ or you can let someone else write the story for you.”
Another advantage? "A blog post also comes across as more heartfelt than a press release with canned quotations." It's just another example of how you need to change your media relations strategy in a web 2.0 world--the subject of our forthcoming special report. Email us at info[at] for more information or help on adapting your strategy.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

more tools for online video searches

In just the month of July this year, viewers in the U.S. looked at 11 billion online video clips, with five billion of those views on YouTube. But what if you're searching for videos online? Most searches rely on metadata--tags or keywords added by the poster--to find videos for you. This week, the Wall Street Journal looked at video search sites that go beyond tags and keywords, using new ways to more thoroughly identify the videos users want to see.

The new search features are important because searchers don't look too far--a big issue if you're looking for lots of views when you post a video. The article notes:
Viewers are fickle, says Frank Sinton, Mefeedia's chief executive. "Only one percent of people go to page two" of the search results when looking for video, he says, so it's important to have the relevant results on that first page.
Here are some of the sites the article notes, and how they're searching differently:

  • VideoSurf searches the actual content, rather than the tags;
  • CastTV searches publishers' video posts--like CBS or Comedy Channel--and presents an index of links for easy searching;
  • Blinkx looks for videos posted virally on wikis or social networking sites and "has 350 media partnerships and indexed 26 million hours of online video," plus specific TV show searches. Similarly, Mefeedia also looks for viewer-rated video, and "has indexed 15 million videos from 15,000 sources."
  • OvGuide (short for Online Video Guide) uses its reviewers to index "high-quality" online videos; and
  • YouTube and parent Google are trying out speech-recognition technology so you can search the actual words said in a video.
Communicators can use these sites in at least two ways: To better search the Web for video relevant to their organizations or subject themes when managing reputation, and for broader searchability for videos they post. Check out the new sites and give us your feedback!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

social media tools for PR pros and reporters

Mashable, my favorite site on social media, weighs in with a post on useful social-media tools for public relations professionals and reporters--some are well-established, others in beta, all worth trying. And stay tuned: Here at don't get caught, we're working on a special report on how the web 2.0 world should be changing your media relations strategies in areas that range from press credentials and media training to news "conferences" and online backgrounders.

new media adapters: annual report revs up

After reporting on how foundations are struggling with changing their print annual reports to web 2.0 versions, it's great to see one foundation take its annual report and rev it up--in more ways than one. The Missouri Foundation for Health has issued its latest annual report, titled "Paving the Way to Better Health in Missouri," using Flash, video and interactive features to let you drive through a "roadtrip" about its accomplishments from the past year. In fact, it's a format that can't be replicated on paper--no duplication here.

The report goes well beyond the current widespread practice of simply posting a PDF file of a printed report online--and the impact is immediate, with the roadtrip analogy carried throughout in graphics and text. The loading screen shows an animation of a fuel gauge filling up, and the opening screen features a roadsign with the report title and an immediately-loaded video introduction to the report--an engaging and brief overview. Click on the ignition key, and you'll hear a car rev up as the screen shifts to a driver's-eye view of a dashboard (your navigation device for the roadtrip) and the road ahead. As it rushes toward you, highway road signs highlighting sections of the report appear on the right--just as they would on the road--and video windows open to the left, showcasing grantees, with no video longer than a minute. The road signs also feature short text to amplify points: lists of grant recipients, key accomplishments or data points. Best of all, you're literally in the driver's seat, and can navigate, as it were, using the dash, a table of contents, or forward and back arrows.

The Communications Network in Philanthropy features the report here, sharing good insights from our colleague Bev Pfeifer-Harms, the foundation's director of communications, on cost and vendor issues, how the message was developed, and the internal support from the top for innovation--a key to making this happen. Pfeifer-Harms also notes this effort is prompting foundation staff to think of ways to promote its work all year, rather than once a year.

Looking through that windshield, here's what I see as the take-away lessons for communications directors contemplating the adaption of their annual reports for new-media formats:

  • Choose a message or analogy that reflects the medium: Because the automotive/roadtrip theme is visual and involves movement, it's the ideal underscore to the fast-moving pace of new and social media, not just in video, but in the features that direct the eye around the screen and allow the viewer to control the pacing. Engaging eyeballs--instead of just counting them--makes this a rich visual experience that makes the message stick, without being static.
  • Take the time to carry your message through: Sometimes there's a fine line between carrying a message through thoroughly and beating it to death, but that line isn't crossed here--and the carry-through is done on verbal and visual levels. Even the idea of the foundation "paving the way" is appropriate: It provides the infrastructure funding that allows you to move forward on the road to better health, so the analogy carries through in describing its own unique role.
  • Find ways to engage the viewer at every stage: From the loading screen's fuel gauge to the turn-key start and the dashboard, this report demands involvement and attention. The dashboard and videos make this close to the look and feel of a video game--a plus, compared to a long, dry report.
  • Keep it short and full of action: Those one-minute videos defy the notion that you can't describe something in that short a time--check them out! A tenet of my trainings is to entice viewers and listeners with a short summary to start, and have them curious about learning more, rather than dousing them with every fact you know. This report shows how to do just that.
  • Take advantage of the format to go viral: With an annual report in this format, the foundation is well-poised to extend its reach to new audiences by posting it on YouTube and Facebook, alerting readers to the URL via Twitter, repurposing each section on a blog, and more.
My hope is that the foundation takes advantage of this smart message and engaging format, carrying that message through in speeches and other communications to its core audiences, drawing attention to the new report--and helping to park its message firmly in the driveway of its audiences' minds.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

new media adapters: newspapers

The Christian Science Monitor's decision to go all-digital makes it "the first national newspaper to largely give up on print," according to the New York Times. And while it's not an exact model for others (CSM operates as a nonprofit, for example, and most of its revenue comes from subscriptions rather than advertising), the choice to go online on weekdays with a weekend magazine offers a vision of what future news organizations can try. Says the editor:
We have the luxury — the opportunity — of making a leap that most newspapers will have to make in the next five years.
The Times's David Carr pinpoints the issue for print media:
...newspapers and magazines do not have an audience problem — newspaper Web sites are a vital source of news, and growing — but they do have a consumer problem.

Stop and think about where you are reading this column. If you are one of the million or so people who are reading it in a newspaper that landed on your doorstop or that you picked up at the corner, you are in the minority. This same information is available to many more millions on this paper’s Web site, in RSS feeds, on hand-held devices, linked and summarized all over the Web.
And, he points out, print hangs on because 90 percent of a newspaper's revenue comes from the printed version, not the electronic one. (An advantage of reading the "paper" on my Amazon Kindle: No advertising.) The Monitor gets some advice on its transition from print to online publishing from none other than Mashable, the go-to website on what's new on the web and in social media. If you're considering converting a print publication to online formats, check it out--you'll note that Mashable recommends beefing up the social media options for the Monitor site, a move that will help them grow and engage readers better.

Buy the 6-inch Amazon Kindle

Sunday, October 26, 2008

don't get caught without an email update

We're now offering a feed with daily updates from the site. Enter your email in the box at right to subscribe, and get all the don't get caught news & info blog posts in highlight form sent directly to you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

social media adopters: 70 percent

It's waaaay too late to be an early adopter--a new study from Forrester shows that three in four U.S. adults are using social networking media in some way, by reading, watching or otherwise consuming it. Time to get into that pool! A hat tip to PRNewser, which has a great summary here. It notes that Josh Bernoff's analysis of the report includes these data points on how social media's gaining traction with older audiences:
Social activity is way up among 35-to-44 year-olds, especially when it comes to joining social networks and reading and reacting to content. Even among 45-to-54 year-olds, 68% are now Spectators, 24% are Joiners, and only 28% are Inactives.
The report confirms data found elsewhere, noting that "Ratings and reviews, 'voting' for Web sites, and peer-generated video experienced the largest growth, while blogs and tagging closely followed." The big change: Those who don't use social networking technologies dropped to 25 percent, from 44 percent last year. You can use this free tool to profile your audience and find out how it measures up--and contact us at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz to schedule a customized new and social media strategy session for your organization. Go here to order the full report (for $279).

in a campus crisis: your media strategy?

Will your university know how to publicly respond to--and help news media cover--a shooting incident or other emergency situation on your campus? Today's report of shots on a Kentucky campus is a timely reminder of an often-neglected aspect of crisis response plans. We've conducted customized media trainings and strategy sessions for campus officials who wanted to:
  • anticipate all types of potential emergencies and issues raised by their response plans as well as media relations needs in different scenarios. For example: If you're evacuating the campus or in a lockdown, can reporters come on campus to cover the situation?
  • discuss with campus police and media staff their assumptions about reporter access and procedures in a crisis. Will your campus security squad attempt to detain the news media? Will they keep the media staff updated in real time? Will the media staff work ahead of an emergency to train the security team in appropriate responses?
  • avoid unintended effects from doing what you usually do, like situating a live interview with the university president in front of a roaring fire while people are being shot outside. Where will you do interviews? Who gets access when?
  • think through practical ways to handle inquiries in a crisis, like reverting to a news conference so all news outlets get the same information at once, using Twitter for reporter updates or -- a small but important step -- making sure someone updates waiting reporters every 15 minutes or so, even if it's only to say "we have nothing for you yet and we'll be back in 15 minutes with an update," so they can plan their live coverage.
The New York Times breaking news blog, The Lede, posted this discussion of the confusion around today's announcement, in which university officials couldn't confirm any of the incidents. Before you find yourself in this place, contact us for a special strategy session and training for all officials who may face reporters in a crisis, at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Men: Online network connections stronger

Online social connections appear to be stronger for men than women, according to new data out this week from the Annenberg Center for the Digital Future. From the New York Times coverage:
[Men] are 13 percentage points more likely to report that they “feel as strongly” about their online communities as about their off-line ones, and they outnumber women three to one within the small pool of people who say that their online life cuts back on time spent with flesh-and-blood friends.
Can't point you to the full report: USC issued only this press release. But when you're planning to communicate with your audiences in online networks and social media, consider these gender preferences in targeting your audience.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

where a plan gets you in a down economy

A good communications plan makes sure you don't get caught whenever you embark on a public effort, by analyzing your goals, audiences, messages, and all the factors that can aid--or interfere--with your effort to connect with a public audience. But in an economic downturn like this one, strategic communications plans can help you make the most of your incredible shrinking budget, staff or calendar, and pinpoint the goals most important to you and your audience at this time of change. Maybe that's why so many of our clients are engaging don't get caught for strategy sessions and planning efforts. Here are a few of the ways we use a communications planning process to help you manage in tighter times:

  • To make tough choices about what to pursue now and what to put off: When uncertain budgets or staffing limit the scope of your communications efforts, a solid communications plan can help you decide the most fruitful options to pursue now--and those that might benefit from a delay. Plans can be fashioned to straddle two fiscal years or develop in stages to fit your calendar, and all good communications plans help organize logical steps in a process so necessary first steps precede later, more complex forays.

  • To find new low-cost options -- or more bang for the buck: Lots of our clients exploring social media options for communications learn quickly that they have dozens of free or lower-cost options that can help you save on printing, postage, phone bills, surveys and more. (No, you don't have to build your own version of Facebook!) Once your goals and audiences are established, coming up with creative solutions is part of the planning process. In some cases, we can achieve more than you expect with the same or less.

  • To understand and decide on all your options: Lots of communications efforts begins because someone wants a specific tool--a report, a news conference, a release. But in most cases, you have several options to consider, and may be able to accomplish your goal or reach your audience with one you haven't anticipated (or fewer, or with less cost).

  • Need to reconsider -- or re-strategize -- your communications in these uncertain times? Contact us at for more information. We offer strategy sessions, facilitated retreats and other options for helping you devise an approach that meets your needs -- and gets you to your audiences with the right message.
  • Tuesday, October 14, 2008

    this month's newsletter

    We've sent this month's free newsletter to our subscribers, but thought you might like a preview. The newsletter summarizes posts from this blog and from The Eloquent Woman blog; every month, we offer tips for speakers as well as note trends in communications. The newsletter also gives subscribers resources and offers not available elsewhere. Sign up using the box at right to receive future issues!

    Twitter for public relations

    Here's a great example of how new and social media tools work for public relations professionals: I follow colleague Debbie Friez on Twitter (Debbie's in several of my professional groups and is a reader of this blog). Yesterday, she used her 140-character "tweet" to pass along an article on how and why PR professionals should consider using Twitter. The free service is an open ground for experimentation in sharing information and communicating live events, news and more. And now I'm sharing the article, from the current issue of the PRSA publication PR Tactics, with you. It quotes social media expert Paul Greenberg:
    PR professionals not using Twitter really need to get out there...The days of just putting out great press releases are long past, and the ‘who you know’ aspects of business are now amplified. Twitter emphasizes the ‘how,’ and much like other social media success stories can lift an individual or client to higher stature.
    Relationship building, speedy response capabilities, live-coverage options and more are cited as Twitter advantages that give you a communications advantage. At the same time, a careful hand with anything that might resemble spam is advised. Check out the article and let me know how you're using Twitter. You'll find me there under dontgetcaught.

    Monday, October 06, 2008

    resources on communicating research

    I'm speaking next week to the annual meeting of INFORMS, the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences -- researchers dubbed the "numerati" by Business Week's Stephen Baker -- on how to communicate research through the news media. This post is their e-handout for the session, which takes place next Monday. The good news: There are lots of great resources available for numerati seeking to communicate more effectively with reporters. Here are some of my favorites:

    Dare to prepare: How should you work with your institution's public information officer? Or the one at your research professional society? What are the rules of the game when working with science reporters? Check out the National Association of Science Writers Communicating Science News to give you the basics. Then check out my post on "what to ask reporters" and "what to listen to from reporters," as well as one on getting a media relationship started. Also consult the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) website Communicating Science, for webinars, resources and workshops. Not sure who handles communications and media relations at your institution? Check out Science Sources, an online directory from AAAS.

    Care with numbers: Even the numerati need to take care with the measurements and numbers they report. See my previous blog post on the Wall Street Journal's "numbers guy" Carl Bialik and his cautions about using analogies to describe very large numbers; he also offers links to sites that help public audiences visualize numbers. Or, do what science reporters do: Consult the classic book News & Numbers: A Guide to Reporting Statistical Claims and Controversies in Health and Other Fields by the late Victor Cohn.

    Listen to what reporters want: Your job in an interview is shaped by the reporter's job--to get and tell a story--and by the rules of journalism rather than those of your profession. Reporters are the best sources on what they want from you. It's tough to get time one-on-one with a reporter outside of an interview situation, but handily, you can find interviews with reporters in all sorts of places, particularly science reporters. Start with AAAS, for whom I conducted interviews with top science reporters, including those at McClatchy Newspapers, Scientific American, Talk of the Nation: Science Friday, the New York Times and The Loom blog. Many news organizations, such as the New York Times, publish interviews with their editors and reporters; the Times's version is called "Talk to the Newsroom," and INFORMS members will want to check out the interviews with the science editor and business editor. Check your favorite news outlet web sites for similar interviews. NPR's syndicated "On the Media" weekly radio program looks at current events through the media's eyes; just last week, former NPR science reporter and physicist David Kestenbaum (now covering economics) was interviewed. You also can find out more about what science reporters do and how they do it in the Field Guide for Science Writers, the official guide of the National Association of Science Writers.

    Tuesday, September 30, 2008

    follow your audience: the chart cart

    While at the Communications Network in Philanthropy conference last week, I heard about the Commonwealth Fund's "chart cart," an online communications tool that's a great example of using technology in an interactive way to meet your audience's day-to-day needs--and, in the process, positioning your organization as a trusted source willing to share what you know.

    The idea's so simple and appealing, I'm wondering why I don't see it more often among Washington's policymaking organizations. The Commonwealth Fund's key audiences are health policy leaders, researchers and analysts, and the charts share data resulting from studies that the Fund supports, publishes or uses in its executives' speeches and testimony. Sharing the charts is a natural outgrowth of the Fund's dissemination efforts, and actually makes their job easier: There's no need to collect and respond to requests to share slides after a successful speech, yet they're putting data in the hands of people who want to share it with more audiences than they could reach. It creates opportunity for a wide range of secondary uses for presentation charts, from news media reporting on a topic to a ripple-effect created by researchers making presentations. Downloads are free, and available in PowerPoint or PDF formats; you can download a single chart, or create a customized collection of up to 40 slides at a time in the cart.

    How to take this to the next level? First, consider what data collections you have that could advance your communications if shared with customers or colleagues. Then make them available online--and take it one step further by providing links to your data on a blog, Facebook page, or even on YouTube, where plenty of presentations are appearing.

    Rx: online patient networks for health info

    I'm a longtime admirer of John Schwartz's reporting, and in today's New York Times, he looks at the 75 percent of Internet users who seek health information online--and how the majority of those with chronic health problems use what they find there to make decisions about their treatment. Schwartz points out, however, that:
    ...paging Dr. Google can lead patients to miss a rich lode of online resources that may not yield to a simple search. Sometimes just adding a word makes all the difference. Searching for the name of a certain cancer will bring up the Wikipedia entry and several information sites from major hospitals, drug companies and other providers. Add the word “community” to that search, Ms. Fox said, and “it’s like falling into an alternate universe,” filled with sites that connect patients.
    Schwartz goes on to explain that online patient communities have become a robust example of social networking media at its best, democratizing health care and sharing information widely among trusted networks. The article offers lots of links to oft-consulted sites, and follows one patient who used online communities, searches and even Twitter to advance her care--receiving from a Twitter follower a critical piece of advice on a possible drug side effect she was experiencing after surgery.

    Lessons for communicators? Make sure your online health communities can be found in patients' searches, for starters--and even if your work doesn't involve health as a subject matter, start investigating how your audiences are using social networks to get informed about your issues. (Who'd have thought of Twitter from a hospital bed--but it's happening.) This article offers a great, detailed example that should be part of your audience research as you think about adapting old-line communications to new-media options.

    what to watch for in social media this fall

    The Christian Science Monitor's doing some of the best observation of the Web 2.0 world, and today, it offers a take on why you should start taking social media seriously. In What YouTube's 'Charlie bit my finger' tells us about Web 2.0, Cole Camplese riffs on that video--seen by 53 million people, thousands of whom adapted, emailed or otherwise made it their own--and what it means for incorporating or adapting to new media. First, he addresses the people who, in my world, call LinkedIn "Facebook for adults:"
    It's easy to criticize the rise of participatory social media as a giant waste of time...But that criticism misses the point: This trend is setting the stage for greater long-term engagement. It's an indicator that people are working to find new ways to collaborate and to be part of something larger than they are individually. The sheer immensity of the participation is the story.
    Then he describes the teenagers who are driving this train, and are:
    ...driving new business models and shifting the way people connect, share, and collaborate across every node of the Web. They intuitively understand that participation requires promotion. When they post content, they market it aggressively via word of mouth, Twitter, Facebook, etc....In the next few weeks, pay attention as the big media personalities do the "real" reporting. And then watch how many iReports are cited, how many Twitter streams are mentioned, and how many YouTube videos turn into real campaign commercials. You'll be stunned.
    Participation requires promotion. Repeat that to yourself--it's a basic tenet of communication that too many organizations have forgotten as they aim to control the message and engage in "if we build it, they will come" thinking, whether it's about events, reports or issues. Facebook, YouTube, and blogging all make it easier for your key audiences to interact and participate in your goals and activities, be it a purchase or a policy initiative.

    Lots of our clients are on the cusp of considering how to re-tool their communications and adapt traditional methods to capture the Web 2.0 potential. Check out our "get your toes wet in the new-media pool" orientation/strategy sessions for your organization--we'll conduct a customized orientation and brainstorming to show you how to use these tools to your advantage. How are you adapting communications to Web 2.0?

    Monday, September 29, 2008

    more adapters: garage and gallery

    At the Communications Network in Philanthropy meeting last week, the authors of a new report on foundations' use of Web 2.0 technologies noted that -- no surprise -- grantees are ahead of foundations in adapting social networking applications to their work and communications, and foundations are wrestling with issues of control and transparency, as well as identifying where the conversations are that they should join. But a session on Web 2.0 yielded more examples of what I call new-media adapters, organizations that are retooling their communications using Web 2.0 tools.

    One such foundation is the Rasmuson Foundation, which has created a Second Life gallery to highlight the Alaskan artists it funds and to reach the "creative class" that populates Second Life's virtual world. Here's the description of the gallery from the foundation's announcement of the gallery opening, held in the real and virtual worlds on the same day:
    Located on a snowy hill, the Rasmuson Gallery of Alaskan Artists takes full advantage of the creative possibilities of building in a virtual world. Enormous paintings and photographs hang in midair around the outdoor space. Avatars can either walk around or fly around the exhibits to view the select pieces of Alaskan art. One exhibit, a poem, is mounted as words on a towering post which can be read by flying to the top and floating back down to the ground. There are three levels to the gallery - the ground floor will house art from some of the 2008 award recipients, the second floor houses additional artwork from grantees from previous years, and the third floor is a social gathering space for Second Life residents and Alaskans in Second Life.
    In addition, the foundation is using Facebook, MySpace and blogs to connect art collectors, artists and others with its Alaskan art resources, encouraging conversations with the artists as well as views of their work. (If you're a member of Second Life, you can see the gallery here.) It's a great example of using social networking tools to communicate from a remote location and increase your global reach, as well as a novel arts promotion tactic that's gaining wide acceptance: Second Life features more than 1,000 such art galleries.

    Innovation moves from the gallery to the garage at the Knight Foundation's "News Challenge," which gives away up to $5 million a year to innovative projects that bring news and information to communities. The Garage is an incubator of sorts, where prospective applicants can post their ideas before they submit a grant application, getting mentor advice, job applicants, comments from other applicants, and general help in shaping the proposal to advance its success. Live meetups are scheduled for applicants in various cities to augment the online experience, and frequent updating of the site with new submissions makes it a lively virtual experience. Previously, a foundation seeking submissions might issue an electronic and print call for proposals to people on its mailing list and website, and work individually with applicants during the review process. Opening up the "garage" opens up new opportunities--and challenges, as some applicants may hesitate to share their ideas publicly. But the Garage holds promise for other organizations wanting to publicize their contests and applications processes, while gaining new audiences and partners along the way.

    Sunday, September 28, 2008

    annual reports: overloaded, underused

    On the last day of the Communications Network in Philanthropy annual meeting last week, Mark Sedway of the Philanthropy Awareness Initiative shared results of a survey on annual reports as communications tools for foundations in a "group conversation" style plenary titled, "Is the annual report nearing extinction? Should it be?" Prompting the discussion: The ubiquity of annual reports as the primary communications tool for foundations--and the (perhaps not unrelated) low awareness of what foundations do. Here, some findings of the survey of foundation communicators:
      • 67% of foundations use print and PDF annual reports, but only 9% use "interactive" versions.
      • Harris Interactive data show news media are a more reliable source of information about foundations than annual reports for engaged Americans.
      • In fact, the annual report's the last thing read by people seeking foundation information--the odds are 4 in 1000 than an engaged American will read an annual report.
      • Little evaluation data exist to justify the ubiquity of annual reports: Only 3 of 20 foundations with $500 million or more in assets conducted reader surveys of annual reports.
    As one communications vehicle, annual reports have too many objectives--so foundation communicators say they are too dense, limiting, or long. The costs of printing, paper and postage have risen while annual report readership has declined, and while the corporate sector has moved to print-on-demand, the philanthropic sector overwhelmingly favors print vehicles in this case, even as they see annual reports as a major budget drain with little return on investment.

    The conversation included a variety of views from foundation communicators seeking to change that situation. One foundation communicator said, "We stopped doing an annual report in 2000 and the world didn't stop spinning," and another went to print-on-demand, only to find there was no demand. In at least one case, a foundation did survey a sample of its annual report readers and found they did want a print copy--an important reminder to follow your audience.

    As for new-adapter versions of the old print annual report, the Heinz Endowments reports that its quarterly magazine includes one "annual report" issue that seems to solve the problems noted above (see its online "library" here). And in a brainstorming session, the German Marshall Fund--which convenes many policy conferences and experts--suggested a podcast version of an annual report to capitalize on the hours of recorded material captured during those sessions. (GMF also has a blog that captures ongoing conversations by and with its experts, another good way to avoid loading all your communications goals into one single, overworked vehicle.)
    I'd go even further and suggest more interactive versions: A lookback at the previous year on your blog, including lookbacks from grant receipients, partner funders or other key constituents. Video and audio interviews with program officers to capture their best sense of progress made or barriers faced. A year-round blog that offers a series of lookbacks, with links to relevant posts from the previous year. Still not sure how to proceed? We offer new-media orientation and strategy sessions for organizations who want to know and understand their options before they transition away from a time-honored approach to new alternatives; contact us at for more information.

    state of blogosphere report offers insights

    Blog search engine Technorati's annual "state of the blogosphere" report's now fully out, with sections released over the past week covering who's blogging, what and why they blog, how they blog, blogging for profit, and the entry of brands in the blogosphere. There's a lot to explore in this survey of 1,000 bloggers if you're making the case for a business blog for your company or using it to promote yourself as an entrepreneur. Since I'm speaking this week to the greater DC chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners on using social media to promote your business, let's take a look at what bloggers say their blogs have done to advance them professionally:

    54% said they were better known in their industry
    26% have used it as a resume or for prospective hires
    16% have more executive visibility within their companies
    11% were promoted as a result of blogging
    And in the visibility department, here are results that show blogging can lead to other types of opportunities. Surveyed bloggers report that their blogs led to invitations to:
    Attend interest group event (27%)
    Participate in a blogger roundtable (24%)
    Be a reviewer or endorser (21%)
    Contribute to print media (20%)
    Speak or serve on panel at industry event (19%)
    Broadcast media appearance (17%)
    And as for brands, the report offers a reminder that bloggers have established themselves as critical sources of brand information and customer feedeback. From the report:
    More than four in five bloggers post product or brand reviews, and blog about brands they love or hate. Even day-to-day experiences with customer care or in a retail store are fodder for blog posts. Companies are already reaching out to bloggers: one-third of bloggers have been approached to be brand advocates.
    I'll be talking about those benefits and more Wednesday, October 1 for NAWBO. Hope to see you there!

    Thursday, September 25, 2008

    Ira Glass pitch advice: surprise me

    At last night's opening session of the Communications Network in Philanthropy annual meeting, Chicago Public Radio's Ira Glass, host of This American Life, talked about how his program does storytelling--and along the way, gave advice that many types of organizations can use to pitch reporters or communicate their messages more effectively. Known for quirky angles and deft narrative delivery, Glass recommends the following:

      - Think about what sound and visuals add or subtract from your story: On radio, Glass likes that the lack of visual keeps you from judging a teenage female gang member with black lipstick, and forces you to see her heart through her words. And the music that so often runs below the TAL narratives? Glass says: If you're talking over music, and then it stops, whatever you say next sounds really important. That got a laugh, but the point is sound, so to speak: use sound and visual--or the lack thereof--for emphasis, and to underscore your point.
      - Look for the pleasure, fun and discovery in the story you want to tell: Glass sees most news coverage as having "no sense of" those elements, and notes "it makes the world seem smaller and less hopeful." The universal elements of sucessful stories are the ones where we see (or hear) someone realizing a home truth we recognize in ourselves--and let us laugh at it, and ourselves, in recognition.
      -When pitching, pass on the corniness: Telling private foundations "your bigger problem [in storytelling] is the corniness of your stories" and that "the more do-good your mission, the harder it will be to get your point across," Glass said sometimes it's just best to give a reporter access to a program to let him or her see its intrinsic value, rather than trying to craft hifalutin language about how it fulfills its mission. Such language, while noble, "isn't hurtful, but it's just not relevant," said Glass.
      -When pitching, pitch the surprise: The twist in the narrative, the surprise ending, the unexpected narrator all can help your story move out of the crowd and forward in a reporter's line of thinking. (Check out TAL's "favorites" among its own programs here, and listen for the surprise in each story.) Glass: "You must be cunning to get attention."
      -Choose storytellers who can get their feelings across: The subject of your story has to be able to convey what happened with emotion and emphasis, or the story--no matter how good--won't reach the listener and hold her attention.
      Glass says his program finds its unusual stories in several key ways: occasionally they're emailed in by listeners or pitchers, and more often, the producers brainstorm what they're wondering about -- as in a recent show on the mortgage crisis -- and then go looking for stories that fit that topic or issue. In the latter case, they cast a wide net among their contacts--people who've been on the show, people who've pitched them successfully before, people they'd like to get on the show -- and say "we're thinking about this, what do you have?" They've also published this section on their website offering more concrete advice, including a manifesto by Glass and an essay on how to get on the show.

      Wednesday, September 24, 2008

      foundations: dive into the new-media pool

      So says a new report from the Communications Network in Philanthropy, with the encouraging title Come on in, the water's fine: An exploration of Web 2.0 technology and its emerging impact on foundation communications. Among its recommendations for how foundations should use new technology:
      • Provide their staff members with the skills they need to operate in the new digital world.
      • Reward creativity and innovation in using these new media internally and among grantees.
      • Build social networks that cut across sectors and institutions, to engage in ongoing dialogue among private, public, nonprofits and research stakeholders.

      Good ideas for any organization wanting to take the plunge--and they're among the recommendations I make in my "get your toes wet" orientation and strategy sessions on new and social media for communications. I'm at the Network's annual meeting in Chicago (and will be live-Twittering many sessions over the next two days under the hash tag #comnet08). At this conference, we'll have participants from all ends of the pool, from the MacArthur Foundation--an early player in Second Life--and the Mott Foundation, which reorganized its website around themes important to its audiences, rather than its own structure, to organizations still hesitant to employ new technologies due to a wide range of concerns captured in the report. My guess: This year's conference will get the group even further than last year's, in which we started a Network Facebook group that's actually done well keeping group members in touch between conferences. Check back for more updates: I'll be sharing innovations and good ideas here.

      Tuesday, September 23, 2008

      tiny interview = twitterview

      Think interviews are way too long? Take too long to do? Get overedited? Then a Twitter-view--a live interview conducted on, where questioner and respondent are limited to 140-character "tweets"--is for you. The popular TVNewser blog conducted a Twitterview, shown here in part, with CNN's Rick Sanchez, himself an active tweeter. (See the whole Twitterview here.) And while many of their readers disliked the form (based on their comments), I think a Twitterview makes for a useful real-time shared chat that can take its place alongside more traditional Q&A. As noted elswhere on this blog, the short form requires crisp thinking and writing, and the unedited/live aspect adds an appealing extra.

      This may become one more thing to practice in your media training, and a feature to consider (as just one example) when you have an otherwise hard-to-reach interview subject...want to interview a speaker at a meeting that's already being live-tweeted by attendees...or want to add to your own organization's or company's tweets about a conference.

      You can follow TVNewser on Twitter here.

      Monday, September 22, 2008

      the creation of op-eds: anniversary marked

      A hat tip to Fishbowl DC, which alerted us that the Writer's Almanac paid tribute yesterday to the 38th anniversary of the creation of the modern op-ed page. While they started in the 1920s, op-ed pages (short for opposite the editorial page) were originally reserved for the newspaper's columnists. Not until 1970 did the New York Times publish other-than-columnist long-format commentaries from readers--and then only after a 10-year effort by the Times's John Bertram Oakes. And he got the idea from a reader, who sent in a reasoned commentary too long for the letters column--so readers, push that envelope. Or get a blog, the modern-day equivalent...