Wednesday, May 28, 2008

pitching to bloggers: June 19

On June 19, don't get caught president Denise Graveline will join a panel on "Pitching to Bloggers" at the Public Relations Society of America-National Capital Chapter. The breakfast event takes place from 8:30 to 10:00 a.m. at Fleishman-Hillard's Washington, DC, offices. We'll focus on how public relations pros can best reach the burgeoning blogging community: Are these pitches different from those you make to mainstream reporters? Join us to find out answers, ideas and tactics to avoid.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

join to "help a reporter out"

I love reading the queries on the Help a Reporter Out listserv, a three-times-daily email we get from Peter Shankman. Reporters post queries and Shankman collects them and sends them out to his list of sources (you can join at the HARO link above). I especially like his warnings not to spam reporters, and when we've sent targeted responses to the reporters who post queries, they're responsive and grateful. (Shankman's live blogging at a social media conference this week, and you can find him and HARO on Facebook as well.)

This week, Shankman's working on a new goal: I said that I'd dance a jig with one of my cats and put it on You Tube when we hit 10,000 members. I keep my promises. Let's do it. Readers of don't get caught news &info, how can you resist? Sign up with Help a Reporter Out and watch for an update on the YouTube video to come!

the view from your local reporter's 'desk'

...could be the yellow lines in the middle of the road, as more newspaper reporters go "mojo" (short for mobile journalist), according to this Editor & Publisher article on the trend. Equipped with backpacks containing laptops, cellphones, video cameras, audio recorders and lots of cables, print reporters have moved increasingly into more immediate filings of stories, augmenting online posts with still or moving pictures or extra audio in what one editor terms "radio-style reporting." In many cases, they file from the scene--and find stories simply by driving past a site, event or landmark. The industry's moved from "man on the street" to "man at desktop computer" and now, "on the road." What does this mean for your organization's media relations--and media training?

  • Stop seeing "print" reporters as a single-medium outlet, if you haven't done so already. Their needs are closer to those of broadcast reporters today. Are you offering them audio and video, as well as print-oriented material?
  • Skip the press kits. Reporters who work from their cars won't be using your printed matter as the basis for a story. Make sure your website content for reporters is optimized to reflect the needs of reporters on the go. Then...
  • Make sure your web site works well on mobile devices. A "dot-mobi" (.mobi) extension on your URL ensures your site is optimized for users who get there on mobile devices, with smaller screens that fit a variety of devices, among other features. (Give your webmaster this set of mobile web best practices as a starting point.)
  • Train your spokesfolks to expect on-the-street encounters, and how to stay alert to potential coverage. In an age when anyone with a cellphone can take still and video pictures and record sound, it's more important than ever to prepare your executives for this widening of media opportunities. (E&P notes that, just like everyone else, roving reporters can be found in wi-fi hotspots like hotel lobbies and coffeehouses, filing away.)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

are you bold enough to let users take over?

No magazine is an island seems to be the feeling at Budget Travel magazine, which has just published an issue generated almost entirely by its readers, according to Folio magazine. Editors posted calls for ideas for specific articles and got 2,800 in-depth pitches from readers; eventually, more than 300 readers contributed and only one article was staff-generated. In a blog post, BT's editor-in-chief called the experiment "neither cheap nor easy," adding:
But the limitations also brought out our creativity. For 20 Tips, we normally have an illustrator illustrate a few of the tips; for this issue, we got readers’ kids to do the drawings. For the Budget Travel Upgrade, we tracked down our longest running subscriber—William Herndon of El Paso, Texas—and brought him to New York for a night at the opera. Instead of the standard service Q&A, we turned the tables: Readers answered our questions. Better yet, we took their advice (with photos to prove it).
In the Folio article, the editor notes, “In the it or hate it, an editor’s role will be to lead a conversation, not deliver a monologue.”BT offers a great case study for organizations and companies that do their own publishing: What can you usefully turn over to your customers, constituents, donors or readers? How can you do it in ways that expand interest and, perhaps, give you new information you couldn't otherwise collect from that audience? Can grant recipients write an application guide for a foundation, or customers help a product line brainstorm new uses that will bring in new buyers? Might longtime donors explain what earned their commitment? Can the recipients of your services talk or write about what they get from it? Capture that content and share it!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

weekly writing coach: introductions

This week's assignment: Write a suite of introductions--for yourself or a prominent speaker in your organization--that are suitable for a wide range of situations. Grab the long form of your subject's biography or resume, then rework it as follows:
- a 25-word introduction, suitable as the tagline at the end of an op-ed or as the shortest of introductions,
- a 50-word introduction, just expanded enough to emphasize a particular theme in your subject's background.
- a 100-word introduction, enabling you to introduce a specific item or two.
- 250-word and 500-word introductions, more substantial. Here, you can hammer home a theme or tailor the introduction for a particular audience.
While the word counts are challenging, this array of introductions would give any speaker what she needs when someone says, "Can you send your bio?" Want to challenge yourself further (and prepare your speaker even more)? Write several 250-word introductions that target specific audiences frequently addressed by your speaker, mining her biographical information for points relevant to different genders, industries, specialty areas, and more. Extra points if you can summarize biographical details with humor and brevity, and if you read these aloud as a test--most of them will wind up in the hands of an emcee or moderator who needs to speak them, rather than reprint them.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

great quotes: working on the railroad...

I like to say I worked in journalism back in the Pleistocene era, so my ears pricked up this morning when a railroad CEO had fun with a great quote during a National Public Radio interview, one that made him sound approachable and reasonable. When Morning Edition co-host Steve Inskeep asked Wick Moorman, CEO of Norfolk Southern, how long he'd worked in the railroad industry, Moorman deadpanned, "Since the Earth's crust was still warm," adding he actually started in 1970. Inskeep, a great wag who's not to be outdone, immediately rejoined with a note on how hard it'd be to lay track under those conditions. Moorman's light touch with that answer underscored his longevity and personality, perked up an early morning economic report and helped him to come across relaxed and sure of himself--just what you should strive for in your next interview.

Monday, May 05, 2008

say how-do to how-to: tips are content king

Everything old is new again: Turns out that nuts-and-bolts how-to instructional content is as sought-after on the web as it has been in magazines, books and less interactive media, if not more so. Sometimes called "service journalism" in print, instructional content on the web may take the form of downloadable documents as it does on, a new venture of Barnes & Noble. (Note that Quamut publisher Daniel Weiss is quoted as saying “We actually don’t believe in the wisdom of the crowd...This is the old-fashioned publishing model.”) For those who want more action, online how-to videos are attracting viewers by the millions (and making money for some of their producers) on topics as diverse as folding towels, chilling a Coke in 2 minutes or feeding poisonous dart frogs.

The common element? Expertise, and easy access to it, driven by the user. If you haven't mined your organization's content for ways to demonstrate your expertise, take a look at customer-service questions from consumers or members, product sales or returns, applications, even repair manuals or FAQs for content you can recast as a how-to product. At a minimum, consider using this approach to help your customers better complete applications or forms. Already posting how-to's online? Make them come alive with simple, bulleted tips or a helpful short video. Extra points if you use social media sites like Facebook, MySpace and YouTube to cross-post your next instructional content.

follow the audience: for communicators

I'll be speaking Thursday, August 14, to the Washington, DC, area chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators on "The (Social) Medium is the Message." Here's how I describe the session: Registration details are forthcoming, but the IABC chapter usually features a networking reception and dinner at the Tivoli Restaurant in Arlington, Va. Stay tuned for more information.
We should probably stop calling it "new" media: Blogging's well into its second decade, and even Facebook hit its fourth birthday this year. While you were debating whether to join LinkedIn or poke someone on Facebook, these "new" media options have exploded, led by the audience rather than the communicators. A look at the creative ways "new" and social media are shaping communications today, with or without the help of professional communicators. A lively discussion of areas where communicators lag behind the audiences will be encouraged.

By the end of the talk, communicators will be able to take away:
- enduring trends in so-called "new" media
- how to "follow the audience" to adopt new and social media tools
- creative ideas for using new and social media in everything from media training and public speaking to publishing and media relations

weekly writing coach: habit-forming

If you doubt your ability to learn new writing styles and skills -- or just improve the ones you have -- try learning new methods of developing new habits first. In "Can You Become a Creature of New Habits?" in the New York Times this weekend, consultants working in an executive change suggest "the more new things we try — the more we step outside our comfort zone — the more inherently creative we become, both in the workplace and in our personal lives."

Apparently, it's the exploration of new habits that helps to re-form your brain and, ultimately, expand your creativity. The problem? Many people stop at the point, early on, when trying something new seems difficult. Here's a simple example the consultants use:
“Try lacing your hands together,” Ms. Markova says. “You habitually do it one way. Now try doing it with the other thumb on top. Feels awkward, doesn’t it? That’s the valuable moment we call confusion, when we fuse the old with the new.” AFTER the churn of confusion, she says, the brain begins organizing the new input, ultimately creating new synaptic connections if the process is repeated enough.
Check out this valuable article, which also includes hints about discerning your own learning style, another key to creating new habits. Then try to apply these methods to a writing task you want to tackle or improve.

Friday, May 02, 2008

get a photo perspective on media relations

As many reporters will tell you, today's media relations are all about the visual: Have you got one for them? What used to be the province of print came into its own with the web. Now broadcasters, bloggers and print reporters get their stories on the web with additional photos and video. Keep up your perspective on choosing images to accompany news: Listen to this roundtable discussion among newspaper photo editors, who say your choice of photo can influence how your audience sees world events. The photographer's perspective is one you should adopt when pitching stories with strong visual appeal.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

two views into our recent workshop

You don't need a microscope to get a virtual look into what goes on in my workshop trainings. Check out these two recent articles about the "Communicating Science: Tools for Scientists and Engineers" workshops in San Jose, Calif., and Raleigh, N.C., that I facilitate. See perspectives from both workshops in this recent article in the journal Science (scroll down to the workshop coverage) and extensive coverage of the Raleigh workshop in Environmental Factor, the newsletter of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, which sent several scientists to the workshop. The newsletter captured our exercises in message development this way:
Attendees practiced crafting a concise three-part message to convey the bottom-line significance for the audience and details that support the value of their research. According to Graveline, mastering the approach can be especially challenging for scientists. It reverses the order of their usual communications in papers and presentations and forces them to be selective in ways they don’t have to be when talking with colleagues about their research.
That communications challenge was met by many of our participants, one of whom reflected it in saying it was useful to learn "how counter-intuitive some of this is" as well as learning "we can do it." The workshops are part of the American Association for the Advancement of Science's efforts to help scientists engage with public audiences, and are funded by the National Science Foundation and AAAS. Let us know about your workshop training needs by emailing me at