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.