Thursday, July 31, 2008

are you missing 20% of your audience?

If your communications vehicles don't match current best practices for accessibility for people with disabilities, you might be missing 20 percent or more of your audience, says VSA arts, which conducted an informative workshop on the topic for Washington Women in Public Relations. VSA arts knows the need to review your practices firsthand: The group began as "Very Special Arts" in the 1970s, and, as the years passed, standards changed. "Special" is no longer used when referring to people with disabilities. The initials today stand for other principles that reflect the organization's mission to create a society where people with disabilities learn through, participate in, and enjoy the arts.

The good news: Many of the changes bring us back to sound writing and graphic standards that work for everyone in your audience, including the 1 in 5 people self-identifying as disabled in census data. VSA arts shared these tips and resources with the don't get caught news & info blog so you can check your own practices:

  • Build current awareness. We love the Disability Awareness Guide VSA arts offers in a free download as a starting point for understanding the issues and translating them into good language and practices. There's a short overview of specific disabilities, with audience data and guidance on how to improve access and positive interactions with people with disabilities.
  • Find out more about your disability audiences. VSA arts often holds conferences or workshops for educators, artists and the public, as well as performances, art exhibits and other events. Their registration forms ask participants to self-identify access needs, so that they can plan for access on-site: When theatrical events take place, buildings may be considered accessible for audience members, but don't work well for performers who use wheelchairs and need backstage access, for example. Asking your audience to identify its needs will speak volumes about your corporation, nonprofit or educational institution, and help you plan a more successful event or campaign.
  • Use "people first" language that talks to, not about, the people you're writing about. Avoid hyperbole, depicting disabilities as suffering or victimhood or heroism. Someone isn't "wheelchair bound," but "uses a wheelchair," for example. People-first writing tips are included in the disability guide download noted above, as well as in the "Sticks and Stones..." paper from the Research and Training Center on Independent Living, and its Guidelines for Reporting and Writing About People with Disabilities. It's important to note that the Associated Press stylebook has already incorporated many of these changes--have you?
  • Graphic design for web pages and print vehicles should use the free downloads of accessibility symbols from the Graphic Artists Guild (in this post, we used symbols for sign language interpretation, access for people who are blind or low vision, and audio description availability). Check out the guide to creating accessible PDF documents (including a "read out loud" option) to be sure you're formatting and tagging your documents in ways that enable access, and ask vendors like American Printing House for the Blind about Braille transcription services. Consider raised printing as well as Braille in your print publications--VSA arts uses the technique show people with low vision or blindness can experience print reproductions of visual art, for example.
  • Work over your website by knowing the new standards for text email newsletters, federal standards for Web and information technology, and evaluate your own site with free accessibility evaluators like The Wave and A-Prompt, or the paid evaluator previously known as Bobby.
VSA arts can offer your company or organization a similar training workshop on writing about people with disabilities, people-first language and accessible communications, for a fee. You'll get the current standards, practical tips and advice from their experienced people-first writing and graphic design team, suitable for print, web and other applications. For more information, contact VSA arts Vice President for Public Awareness Rachel Maleh at 202-628-2800 or RMaleh[at]

Monday, July 28, 2008

"Pitching to Bloggers" webinar available

Missed the recent "Pitching to Bloggers" panel at PRSA's National Capital Chapter? My panelist's take on the panel is here, with links to resources on bloggers and press credentials for them. And now you can download a webinar of the entire panel from PRSA here. The download costs $20 for PRSA members, $40 for non-members--but if you attended in person and wish to download it free of charge, email info[at] to inquire.

stop calling it the paper, or the tape

I've been wondering when the official change in the lexicon will come, that day when we can't call it a newspaper any more, because it's not conveyed on paper. (My alternative: Let's just call it news, and not focus on the least for the user.) Today's New York Times signals another step toward that day, as a wireless company begins offering an easy way for local newspapers to publish their work for cellphones. From the article:
People are increasingly using their phones to surf the Web. Of the 95 million mobile Internet subscribers in the United States, 40 million actively use their phones to go online, twice the number of two years ago, according to Nielsen Mobile. After portal sites and e-mail services, newspaper content — weather, news, politics, city guides, sports and entertainment — is most popular among mobile users.
In the same issue, you'll find this fond obituary for the cassette tape, or nearly so, based on the experience of book publishers and others. And while the article notes that there are plenty of old cassette tapes lying around consumer's homes and offices, do you want to be playing to an ever-shrinking audience, or the growing one? As usual, we remind communicators to rethink what they're sending to traditional media, or training their sources to do, as even newspapers begin reformatting for that ringing thing in your palm.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

better ways to Twitter your meeting

Want to send live updates from your next meeting, event or corporate gathering to your students, donors, members or employees? Here are tips from Amy Gahran at Poynter Online about how to use Twitter to update your audience of followers about a live event. One great tip: set up a separate account for live updates to keep from overwhelming your typical followers, but do let your Twitter crowd know where to see live updates--and come up with a "hashtag," a special handle for meetings, preceded by a # symbol (like "#bizjamseattle08). The hashtag lets many attendees at an event tag their posts so readers can follow along easily. Don't limit this to conferences you convene: Consider Twittering from these routine business events:

  • retail buying trips
  • Congressional or statehouse visits, especially if a large group is visiting many representatives
  • sports events, whether charitable or corporately sponsored
You get the idea, and now you can follow me on Twitter, under the handle "dontgetcaught."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

HARO's a social media triathlete

 If you're just getting your toes wet in the new media pool, or are stuck high and dry wondering what it can do for you, consider the case of PR maverick Peter Shankman. He started Help A Reporter Out as a Facebook group where public relations types could learn about reporter's queries and searches for sources, products and research....for free. (Same for the reporters.) Today, it's a PR phenomenon, having grown to more 16,000 members, prompting its move beyond Facebook and threatening a paid service, PR Newswire's ProfNet, according to this article in The Industry Standard. Shankman sends 3 to 4 emails to his list daily, with dozens of queries in all topic categories and rave reviews from all types of users. (Business owners as well as communicators can join.) Shankman keeps us entertained with updates on his cats, triathlon training, and outings of users who spam reporters with off-topic pitches.

Shankman has only recently begun to accept sponsor ads in the emails, and doesn't charge the users. How does he grow the list? Classic word-of-mouth marketing merged with social media. Here's a sample of what he does:
  • posts frequent updates on his travels on Twitter;
  • uses Twitter and the email to alert readers to which cities he's in, to encourage face-to-face meetups;
  • asks users to organize HARO happy hours in other locations he's visiting (announced on the list, of course);
  • keeps up the Facebook presence and the now-current-home, the HARO website;
  • asks happy users to use Digg, Twitter, their own blogs and more to encourage new users to sign up; and
  • asks his user community for their ideas on promoting HARO--it's in everyone's interest to do so--and offers prizes. A recent winner had all of us posting the same short signup message on all of our update sites, from LinkedIn and Facebook to Twitter.
Clearly, it worked on us. Even if you don't sign up (and why not?), it's worth studying Shankman's approach as a model for using social media to promote your business.

Monday, July 21, 2008

are audiences ahead of you?

That's what we'll be talking about in a session on social and new media at IABC Washington's August chapter meeting, featuring don't get caught president Denise Graveline. (Register here for the dinner event, to be held August 14 from 5:30-8:30 pm in Arlington, Virginia.) Here's the session description:

We should probably stop calling it "new" media. Blogging is 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. Denise Graveline will 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
Plenty of trends and case studies will be offered to give you more ideas for using these tools in your communications efforts. Note that there are special discounts for students, guests of members and those who register early, as well as a "join and go" option for joining IABC and enjoying member rates right away. If you've got a question or issue you want to see addressed, leave it in the comments, below.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

12 nonprofits get tagline awards

Colleague Nancy Schwartz, publisher of the Getting Attention marketing blog for nonprofits, has announced the 12 winners in the 2008 Nonprofit Tagline Award Competition . From the small to the large, these nonprofits got the nod for crisp, short summations that evoked their cause, mission and role in the community. Two of our favorites: Stay Close...Go Far, the tagline for East Stroudsburg campus of the University of Pennsylvania, and Where Actors Find Their Space, the tagline for New York City Theatre Spaces, a clearinghouse for rehearsal and performance spaces. Some 3,000 nonprofit professionals voted on the candidates. Stay tuned for a full report analyzing the entrants and winners, coming in September.

tech writer alert

With a hat tip to reader Frank Blanchard, here's an opening for a technical writer at SAIC in its Intelligence, Security and Technology Group. From the posting: "Qualified applicants must have: at least three years’ experience in journalism, corporate/employee communications, or public relations/marketing, or related field; excellent editorial skills to take stories from concept/initial draft to publication readiness; ability to assimilate new knowledge quickly and write and rewrite material to comply with defined standards; demonstrated ability to perform research and conduct interviews; excellent copy-editing and proofing skills; a working knowledge of Associated Press style; exceptional organizational skills and attention to detail; ability to work independently and as part of a team; ability to work in a collaborative, poised and tactful manner with staff at all levels." There are more requirements. Check it out and apply!

Monday, July 14, 2008

congress all a-twitter over Twitter

Maybe I've been in Washington too long, but we find the Congress most interesting when it debates its rules for...itself. The surprise this week: One current debate has members of Congress saying they're gonna fight for their right to Twitter, sending 140-character text-message updates or "tweets" to constituents. Yesterday's New York Times framed the debate, which stems from a proposal to prevent members from using public funds to communicate on outside web sites with commercial or political advertisements; it would extend, potentially, to their use of sites like YouTube, as well as some blogs and social networking sites. The Times's look at the debate gives you a sliver of what's happening on the Hill in terms of new and social media: Members blog, attempt to interview other members using the video function on their smartphones (for later posting online), send tweets to their constituents, get suggestions for proposal changes on Twitter from citizens, post video chats on YouTube, organize pages on Facebook and more.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

reporters say: bury that followup call

Last month, when I moderated the annual media roundtable for Washington Women in Public Relations, I opened asking the group to raise their hands if they were still calling reporters to see whether their emails, packets, or other information had been received--a practice reporters abhor, and one I've always avoided. One brave soul raised her hand, but as the questions came from the audience, the panel (reporters from the Washington Post, USA Today and US News & World Report) and I could see that, in fact, many in the audience not only continue the practice but wanted to defend it. Here's what we heard the media pitchers say about why they pester reporters with followups--and how the reporters responded:

  • My client really wants feedback about why the article idea didn't work. All three reporters agreed: That's not their job. I'd add that's exactly the role of a public relations adviser, who should know enough about the media outlet to have a few good ideas about why a pitch wasn't successful, including damaging a potential relationship by following up too much.

  • I don't think I'm doing my job well if I don't follow up to see if the information was received. This met with a lot of blank stares from the panelists, but the consensus was that reporters wouldn't call this a 'job well done.'

  • The editor told me this story would be assigned if he just had someone to cover it. Again, all panelists agreed: That editor was just saying no, nicely. If the story was worth doing, someone would be assigned to it.

Reporters have never liked these followup calls--typically, an attempt to get a 'foot in the door' to further a pitch. But with additional demands placed on reporters due to industry layoffs and expanding roles that include blogging and mulitmedia stories in addition to filing print reports, this panel tried to make the case that they'd have more time for creative brainstorming and even coverage if they weren't sorting through lots of messages about whether emails had been received. Made me think they'd have been almost resentful of the "Pitching to Bloggers" panel on which I spoke the week before, where all the panelists recommended not pitching to bloggers.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

corrections: another campaign change

Chalk up another communications change that's emerged from the Internet and been swept up by the political campaigns: Correcting the record. You know from our previous posts that fewer than 2 percent of newspaper errors get corrected by the papers themselves these days. But on yesterday's Diane Rehm Show on NPR, two observers of the political scene discussed the pluses and minuses of the Internet, where misinformation may blossom. Michael Cornfield, Professor at the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University, noted:
I actually think this is an optimistic development...In the old days, when something came out of journalism, that was its final form, and if it was wrong there were horrible reverberations and horrible consequences, so there was a primacy on...making sure you got it right when it hit public view. In the age of the Internet, the editing happens after publication not before, by which I mean bad information comes out. But now, we have a chance to go to the websites, to have journalists go to the websites and society corrects bad information.
Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project took the thought further, explaining:
...Barack Obama has turned political conventional wisdom on its head by essentially endorsing what Mike is talking about. He has created a portion of his website that allows people to document...what they believe are smears against him and the campaign will help provide information that can defeat those the pre-Internet days, the conventional wisdom was don't ever respond to rumors, don't ever respond to misinformation, because you give it more airtime, you give it more credence, you allow your critics even more attention to something that they don't want. Barack Obama has changed that.
This New York Times article details more about that strategy, noting that Obama's supporters:
...have already taken up five rumors, including that Mr. Obama was not born in the United States (a birth certificate was displayed) and that he does not put his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance (the site links to a YouTube video of him doing so).
Many companies and organizations have used their own blogs or social media networks to stand as the record--or response mechanism--rather than waiting for mainstream media to make corrections. How are you using these new tools to correct your record?

Eloquent Woman test-drives the Kindle

Our sister blog, The Eloquent Woman, includes this recent post on my recent live test-drive of the Amazon Kindle e-book reader as a speaker's aide--in this case, carrying a script for introducing a panel I moderated recently for Washington Women in Public Relations. Check out my recommendations for preparing text, managing the device, and venue considerations keyed to the Kindle. Have you tried using an e-book reader for your scripted talks and remarks? Let me know your experiences, questions and ideas in the comments, below.

Buy the 6-inch Amazon Kindle

Monday, July 07, 2008

DGC interview: author Carl Zimmer

We like watching how award-winning science writer Carl Zimmer keeps finding ways to use social and new media options to promote his books, the latest of which is Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life. An observer of life's origins, he has a website, a popular blog hosted by Discover magazine, and cross-posts items from his blog on his Facebook page, adding videos, speaking engagements, Twitter feeds and more. You'll find Zimmer's writing in the New York Times, Discover, National Geographic and many other places, in addition to his books and blog, and you can go here to find a summary of a panel on book publicity that we did together for the National Association of Science Writers. Here, we pick his brain about how authors—and others—can use new media options for added exposure, interacting with an audience, and more.

DGC: How did your use of new media evolve?
Zimmer: It started with a website so I could have a clip file—I put all my articles online and I can just direct an editor there. I put the books on there, so when people Google the books, they wind up there. Then, I started to think where’s the software going? Blogs started coming out and were free self-publishing, so I started fooling around with that. The next stage is this social networking stuff. And again, it’s free. I don’t think it takes much time—you can keep a window open to Facebook and LinkedIn and when you have a free moment, if someone wrote a nice review of your book, you press one button and it’s all loaded in there.

DGC: What about using these sites for publicity?
I also was trying to understand how I could promote books beyond what the publicist would do—it seemed pretty clear that anything I could do on my own would be a benefit. It used to be that we would promote books in other ways—people would schmooze people at parties. I remember once buying a mailing list and having postcards printed up—it was expensive and yielded very little return. I was blown away when you could embed a video in a blog post. Now, it’s really simple for me to make a video, and so I made a video about my book, put it on YouTube and embedded it in my blog. Then someone embedded it in his blog, and that didn’t cost anybody anything.

DGC: What do you use today?
I still have my good old website, the old warhorse that keeps on going. I have my blog. I do Facebook fairly frequently. I had a MySpace page, but I pretty quickly abandoned it. It’s not easy to use and it doesn’t let you do a whole of different things. I have LinkedIn—I use that to be connected to people. It’s good because people can find me and I can find other people easily. That keeps my social networks up to date. I’ve been fooling around with Twitter. It’s fun, but I find it hard to believe people would want to keep up with my minute by minute movements. What I do now is Twitter, and that automatically goes into my Facebook profile. If it takes you five minutes to set it up, you might as well do it.

DGC: Is it a plus or a minus to be interacting with an audience?
I am finding it useful. I think people expect that now, so if you don’t have that relationship with book readers or potential book readers, then they’re going to look elsewhere for authors who are. When I asked my blog readers to compete for the best question about e. coli—the topic of my latest book—I got 250 responses. The prize was a copy of the book. And the reason I got so many responses, in part, is that I make myself part of a network of readers and writers and bloggers. A lot of those people came over from other blogs that posted an item about the contest. Some came to ask questions, some came to see the answers. Seems like an indispensable way of reaching people.

DGC: Sounds like a change from the image of a solitary writer.
I think that’s a myth. While people were writing books in their pre-web days, they’d write and then go out to bars with other people and talk and talk and talk and talk…and people would say you should talk to so-and-so. That watering hole has been turned into this online community. I’m not going to dump my whole manuscript into a blog, but I will discuss things I’m writing about. There are things in the book I didn’t know about until someone on the blog would say 'if you’re going to write about e coli, you need to do this.'

DGC: What works best for you?
It’s still the blog right now. My blog may not get huge amounts of traffic, but some people read it and comment on it and things ripple out. It’s all having some benefit. I get an absurd amount of traffic from the science tattoos [a regular feature on his blog that's evolved into its own blog]. I’ve gotten so many of these that I can be picky now. I’ve got a backlog actually. I’ve been featured in a tattoo magazine.

DGC: How did that start?
It started as a question I just asked. I noticed a friend of mine at a pool party for my nephew. He had a tattoo of DNA on his shoulder, and he said it’s my wife’s initials in genetic code. He studies genetics. Then I recalled someone who had a big tattoo on his arm of a fish he studied, and I started to wonder are there a lot of tattoos out there on scientists that I haven’t seen? I posted that as a question on the blog seven or eight months ago and it has a life of its own, I’m just managing it. Five years ago, someone might have seen a tattoo like that and would have done a photo essay that would’ve taken forever. Now, here is a photo essay that is basically self-assembled and continuing to grow-- it’s like an organism, we’re up to 200 tattoos now. The other day some website in Poland linked to it and 20,000 people showed up to look at it.