Tuesday, June 24, 2008

what else to ask reporters

Tomorrow, I'm moderating one of my favorite panels: the annual media roundtable of reporters for Washington Women in Public Relations. This year, we have a great lineup of reporters from USA Today, US News & World Report, and the Washington Post. Regular readers of this blog know that I recommend 10 questions you should ask reporters before and during an interview, but tomorrow, I want to give the audience the chance to hear how the reporters respond to a different set of questions--not tied to a particular pitch or interview-in-progress, but designed to elicit their preferences and pet peeves so WWPR members have a better sense of how to approach them when seeking coverage. Here's what I'll be looking to learn:

  • How has technology changed how you get--and want to get--information?
  • Are you blogging, in addition to your regular reporting?
  • Are you incorporating more images, video or audio in your posts?
  • How many deadlines do you have a day and when are they?
  • Do you monitor blogs as sources for your reporting?
  • Tell us about a story you wish you could write, or a source you wish you had.
  • What's an interview question we can always expect you to spring on a subject?
  • How do I get past your voicemail?
  • How are changes in the news industry impacting your reporting and writing?
  • Describe the kind of source you always want to hear from.
  • Describe the kind of source you never want to hear from.
  • What would you rather have instead of a news release?
I'm looking forward to the questions and answers, and will report on this year's findings after tomorrow's panel.

Monday, June 23, 2008

(stop) pitching to bloggers

That was the message from me and my fellow panelists at last week's "Pitching to Bloggers" session at the Washington, DC, chapter of PRSA...for some of us, aggressive pitching has never been the right model in media relations. What to do instead? Panelists Rachelle Lacroix of Fleishman-Hillard, Geoff Livingston of Livingston Communications and Vijay Raghavan of Qorvis Communications joined me in suggesting these approaches to a standing-room crowd, shown at left:

  • Converse or share with bloggers, instead of pitching at or to them: Instead of a one-way pitch, prepare to go back and forth--and publicly--when you share information with bloggers. Make it a relationship, not a data dump. Some bloggers suggest you come to meetups to speak with them in person, rather than send email or call.
  • Add value to the proposition: Many bloggers, like reporters we know, feel strongly that they can hunt down the facts they want. What do you have that they can't get elsewhere? Instead of a news release, consider beefing up information you make available on RSS feeds, offering uncut video or audio, graphics and charts, transcripts, audience reactions and more.
  • Remember that what doesn't work for reporters also doesn't work for bloggers. Off-topic pitches, misspelled names, way-too-large attachments and repetitive emails are not only dubbed spam by bloggers--but are published and shared with others. One angry blogger has started a PR Spammers Wiki to share the names of PR practitioners who've sent emails to addresses she has specifically asked them not to use.
PRSA plans to post the webinar version of this panel discussion on its website in a few weeks--I'll post the link once it's available.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

communications lessons from the trail

(UPDATE: Check out a post on our sister blog, The Eloquent Woman, on tips speakers can glean from John McCain's efforts to shift to a more formal speaking style.) Communicators don't need to take sides in the upcoming presidential election--but the savvy communicator will be looking for lessons to glean from all the political campaigns, which always push the envelope in use of new media and other techniques for getting a message across. Recent articles offer these insights you can adapt to your organization's uses:
*Let video tell your story--but leave out slick production. "Authenticity is more prized online than high production values - the only thing worse than being caught in a gaffe is being perceived as overscripted. For much of the first half of the campaign, analysts say, Clinton was overscripted," notes the San Franciso Chronicle article on video trends, recalling the campaign's launch video takeoff on The Sopranos misfired for just this reason. Instead, get ready to get caught in a more natural setting, and plan for audience interaction--not just a one-way message.

*Remember, the cameras are everywhere. Authenticity's a must for another reason: citizens now own the tools to record, broadcast and republish everything you say and do, no matter how small. This campaign, on all sides, found non-journalists breaking some of the biggest stories and missteps. NPR's roundup of e-campaigners' advice: "Unless you're the best actors in the world (which one could argue politicians are), you must be authentic because the Web is just that, a web of information, discussion, images - and if anything you do smells like a rat, millions of people will catch a whiff. " Being authentic also means being comfortable with this changing scene. NPR also notes that McCain--the first candidate to use the Internet for fundraising back in 2000--laughed off an online video of him parodying "Barbara Ann" with "bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" as 'joking around.' It worked to diffuse the gaffe.

*Offer your audience source documents and other ways to participate with information, not just news releases. The Atlantic looks at the changes an Obama presidency might make in how the government shares information with citizens: "What Obama seems to promise is, at its outer limits, a participatory democracy in which the opportunities for participation have been radically expanded. He proposes creating a public, Google-like database of every federal dollar spent. He aims to post every piece of non-emergency legislation online for five days before he signs it so that Americans can comment. A White House blog—also with comments—would be a near certainty. "
*Don't assume people can find you. Mention your website. Pundits are still debating whether the Obama campaign was more web-savvy, as this Atlantic article does, or whether the Clinton campaign's demographic base was just less web-oriented. Either way, the New York Times notes, it became essential --not just an afterthought--for Clinton herself to urge audiences to go to her website to donate, by telling them the URL. The result: A marked upturn in online donations.

Monday, June 16, 2008

can you pass the Russert test?

While we here in Washington try to wrap our heads around a town without the late Tim Russert, savvy interviewees out there will be vowing to live up to what became known as "the Russert test," the ability to survive his grilling interviews. Russert's techniques, now widely copied, centered on two things dear to our hearts here at don't get caught: preparation for interviews (they say no one prepared more than he) and turning the interviewee's own talking points into the questions, often before the speaker could blurt own his or her own points. His techniques prompted many--including President Bush--to assign a staffer to nothing but preparation for Russert interviews. And other leaders can look back on strong responses to Russert questions they may now regret (he famously tried to get Senator Hillary Clinton to say she might one day run for president, and she famously denied it categorically--even after he gave her options for answering the question another way).

What can you learn from the Russert test for your next interview?
  • Take those well-crafted messages you've been practicing and turn them into pointed questions. Russert made this into an art form, and it's perhaps the most-copied of his techniques. You may need someone to do this for you--someone with distance from your interview or topic.
  • Practice answering the same question, recast in different ways, over and over. When Russert wanted to smoke out an answer, he asked it again and again, often with minor changes. Can you stand up to that level of questioning? This takes role-playing with a trusted colleague for highest effectiveness.
  • Anticipate questions--those you want, expect and fear. We always advise that would-be interviewees spend time anticipating these questions -- and with Russert, you'd never walk on the set without having an answer for all of them.
  • Know what else is in the news. Even stories without an apparent link to your point may be fodder for an interview question. Russert, a former aide to Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, cut his eye teeth in a Senate office where he was expected to know all of the day's coverage by dawn--in a pre-Web age, no less. Take the time to anticipate angles that might lead into your interview, in ways you might not expect. (For example, if there's an issue in your company's past with similarities to a scandal, campaign or problem today, you can count on a question about your perspective.)
Want more practice? Get online and watch past "Meet the Press" shows. Observe the lines of questioning, and consider how you'd answer the question. You'll find a list of each show's guests and transcripts here; go to MSNBC's video page and scroll down to find "Meet" videos here.

Graveline to moderate WWPR media panel

Wednesday, June 25, is the date for this year's Washington Women in Public Relations annual media roundtable luncheon, and I'll be moderating the panel once again. This year, USA Today business reporter Sue Kirchoff, US News & World Report senior writer Nancy Shute, and Washington Post style reporter Rachel Beckman will join us to share tips, ideas and advice for effectively working with reporters in the nation's capital. The event takes place from 12 noon to 2pm on the 25th, and includes luncheon as well as a networking session just prior to the lunch. Go here to register--this event fills up quickly, so reserve a seat today!

AP cracks down on bloggers

Do you quote from news articles on your blog? Many bloggers opt to cut and paste entire articles from media outlets, or quote extensively to insert a particular view. Now the Associated Press is debating what constitutes "fair use" of its articles by bloggers--first suggesting that one blog remove quotes amounting to 30 50 79 words each, now retrenching to reconsider that early stance, according to this story in today's New York Times. AP says it will meet with members of the Media Bloggers Association as it develops a policy. The Times notes:
Even if The A.P. sets standards, bloggers could choose to use more content than its standards permit, and then the A.P. would have to decide whether to take legal action against them. One important legal test of whether an excerpt exceeds fair use is if it causes financial harm to the copyright owner.
You'll find a factsheet here on federal copyright "fair use" guidelines. Make sure your corporate blogging team reviews these--and its own practices--while we keep an eye on this prominent attempt to further define the guidelines.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

accommodating reporters in a crisis

Your corporation, nonprofit, university or government agency may have a crisis response plan that covers evacuating employees or locking down a facility. But how have you planned for accommodating reporters in a crisis of public proportions? As with any situation where you may find yourself descended upon--and living with--the press corps, consider these wise words from USC professor Ronald Steel:
[There is a] curious relationship between a candidate and the reporters who cover him. It can be affected by small things like a competent press staff, enough seats, sandwiches, and briefings and the ability to understand deadlines.
But more than that, consider that emergencies blur lines of responsibility. While you may control interactions with reporters day-to-day, the organization's team responsible for securing your site may have different ideas. (We've heard security teams discuss barring reporters from a site or arresting them, two non-starters for your crisis coverage.) Some suggestions to consider in your planning:
  • Orient your security and facilities teams to reporters' needs in a crisis. Beyond seats and sandwiches, consider ways to ease access to a crisis; whether they'll camp out onsite; and how you can offer them online and technical access. Aim for equal access for staff and reporters as a starting point, rather than viewing them as outsiders.
  • Plan for frequent updates for reporters in a crisis, news or no news. One of the major complaints we hear from reporters covering shootings, natural disasters and other crises is that they get no updates--even updates to say "we have nothing for you yet." Aim for updates every 15 minutes if you have an assembled press corps, even if it's to say "no news," and give them a 15- or 30-minute heads-up when you expect a major statement or press conference, to allow for planning.
  • Scout a variety of locations for a variety of situations. I like to think I can run a press room with my purse and a cellphone, but consider a range of crises and where you'll situate reporters who need to work onsite with more than that. Don't assume all your options will be open if a natural disaster strikes and puts rooms and floors out of commission. Consider remote locations, too.

I work with clients to strategize reporter needs in crisis settings--and offer team trainings that bring your entire leadership into the picture, so they, too, are ready for the spotlight a crisis brings. Contact me at info@dontgetcaught.biz for more information.

flip it--flip it good

If you've read my rant on moving beyond old Bob Newhart videos in your media training, you might wonder what comes next? I want to make sure clients don't get caught anticipating old technology. To do that, I've started using the Flip video camera in my trainings, in part to get clients used to the compact size of what'll be recording their movements in public. The Flip video camera fits in your palm, uses no videotape, includes a USB connector and all the software needed to edit, share or send videos within the camera; it's one of the only cameras you can use to display video on your laptop instantly. You can choose models that record 30 or 60 minutes, and they run on 2 AA batteries.

I include the image here, so you'll get used to seeing them...these days, you may not be able to see the cameras, so it's even more important to make sure you don't get caught in public without anticipating how you'll look and sound. Want more convincing? Today's New York Times looks at how Bill Clinton got caught by a citizen-journalist with a very small sound recorder in the last days of his wife's campaign:
While her digital audio recorder was visible in her left hand during that encounter last Monday, she says, she did not believe Mr. Clinton saw it. “I think we can safely say he thought I was a member of the audience,” she said in a telephone interview on Friday.
Start looking for your miniature monitors--and contact me for training that takes these latest technologies into account.

your branding challenge...or banana peel?

I was pleased to see the Food Network's new search for the "next food network star" began with a quick branding challenge: The would-be TV chefs were given a tableful of props (food, chef accessories and equipment) and asked to step before the camera to describe their cooking philosophy. You can see an abbreviated video of the results here, and keep in mind these lessons as you craft your own recipe for a short message, brand or tagline:
- Don't get too complicated. The final contestant chooses 4-6 props, crafts a long sentence with alliteration, special terminology and a pointed philosophy--and it gets lost in all the clutter.
- Be enthusiastic, but keep it short. Early attempts in this challenge gave their short viewpoint, then embellished it. Omit the extras--stick to your point.
- Choose a great visual. We loved the Indian chef who chose a super-large ginger root as her prop, and summarized her take on cooking in a short, spicy sentence.
Can you sum up your purpose, mission or message briefly--and show it with a compelling visual or prop? If not, contact me about help with developing your message.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

audioconference features our speaker tips

Don't get caught president Denise Graveline will tell you how to "Inject Some Life into Your Next Speech: Tips for Boosting Results and Revving up Your Audience" in an audioconference next Tuesday, June 17, from 1:30-3:00pm Eastern Time. Sponsored by the Briefings Publishing Group, publisher of American Speaker, the audioconference includes an opportunity for questions from participants; registration fees include either the conference alone or the conference plus a CD of the session. Graveline will focus on how speakers can liven up their talks with audience interaction, appearance and vocal variety, to stay current with ways audiences are changing, influenced by social media and other technology trends. Go here to register.

all kindled up for my next speech

I've promised to write about using Amazon's Kindle e-book reader for public speaking once I'd obtained one--they sold out in hours when first release, requiring the rest of us to wait a few months--and once I'd had time to practice. That time is now. I've had the Kindle for about two weeks, but it takes just minutes to learn, and even less time to order and download reading material.

That makes it handy for all sorts of uses (reading while on the go, for instance), but my hope is to use the Kindle to replace paper text when giving a speech, for myself and for my clients. Here's why I think it will work:
  • You can email documents, such as a speech text, to your Kindle. Equipped with a built-in, free access to a cellphone-style network, the Kindle lets you send documents to a special unique email address--which automatically loads them into the reader.
  • You can adjust the type size. In the photo at right, my bio has been emailed to my Kindle and displayed at the largest type size (there are 6 options). In addition, you can choose left- or full-justification, and even highlight areas of emphasis with a box. But make sure you or your speechwriter includes all the bold, italic or underlined type before the text hits your Kindle--it's not an editing device.
  • It's easy to "turn the pages" with one finger. For those tired of (or anxious about) shuffling papers during a talk, the Kindle's "next page" buttons, located on either side, make it easy to forward through a talk, whether the device lies flat on a lectern or is held in one hand. (I'm right-handed, but like holding it in the left hand, using the left thumb to depress the paging button.) And, unlike paper, this page-turning is silent--and can't spill all over the lectern.
  • It's as unobtrusive as reading from file cards, with less work. The device is small--10.3 ounces and the size of a thin paperback book--so you can hold it in front of you to read from. While it's a new look for the speaker, it's no larger than the largest file cards some speakers use.
  • The small surface aids in reading aloud. It's much easier, in my experience, to read from a shortened text--either on large cards, or on paper with large type and huge margins. (We've all seen speakers work their way down a long 8.5x11" sheet of paper--it's visible to the audience.) The Kindle's small surface allows you to look up more frequently from your notes, a more natural style that helps you connect with your audience.
  • The features, taken together, offer speakers other aids. Want to check a last-minute fact before your speech? Kindle connects to web sites, and you can store related reference books in it, too. Giving a series of speeches? The whole pile can be toted with you and will never weigh more than 10.3 ounces. Want to annotate the speech you just gave to note what worked and what didn't? You can insert notes and highlighted areas throughout the text.
All this will take practice, even for the tech-savvy speaker. So I recomment you try delivering a short introduction of another speaker, or welcoming remarks, or another brief message, several times before attempting a longer speech with these notes. I'll be testing the Kindle with my clients during speaker and presentation trainings, but I'm eager to hear your experiences using the device for this purpose--please leave a comment below!

Buy the 6-inch Amazon Kindle

Friday, June 06, 2008

vote: nonprofit tagline awards

I reported here on nonprofit marketer Nancy Schwartz's survey seeking nonprofit taglines. She's sifted through the results, and now wants you to place your vote today for the first Getting Attention Nonprofit Tagline Awards. More than 1,050 taglines were submitted to the survey, all eight words or less. Polls close Friday, June 20, and you're encouraged to spread the word to colleagues. As Nancy says, "the more votes, the more accurate the results. " We'll report on the results here. Let us know if you're a contest entrant!