Friday, December 28, 2012

The weekend read

Let me light the way to the weekend--and the new year, coming soon. But first, focus your lights on the great jobs, reads, finds and wonders I shared this week on Twitter. Here's your final weekend read this year:
Employment light orchestra: Northeastern University is looking for a visual content manager...the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies wants a director of communications and engagement.

I'll be shedding light on the experts, scientists and policy wonks you work with at Be an Expert on Working with Experts, January 10 in Washington, DC. In addition to learning how to work with experts' default communications styles, rather than against them, you'll get to meet the top communicators who've already registered, coming from all over the U.S. But hurry: Registration closes next FridayThursday, January 3, or when all seats are filled.

What a year it's been! Thanks, as always, for stopping here to get your communications and social media smarts on and your weekend started. You're the bright lights in any week for me.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The blog's top 10 communications and social media posts for 2012

2012 had a presidential election, waves of new social media options and plenty of opportunities for the famous and others to get caught in the news media--so it's no surprise to me that posts on media strategies and social media savvy were the most popular on the blog this year. Kick back during the holidays and take a look at what my readers spent the most time with this year on the blog:
  1. Instead of a press release: Options to add to your press release diet: The press release diet itself appears later on this list, but a follow-up post noting what else you can offer your clients was far and away this year's most-read post. Here's to more variety in your media offerings for 2013.
  2. 17 things you can pin on Pinterest that are not pillows or dresses: I admit it, I was getting tired of the glib dismissals of Pinterest as a women's site, and wrote this popular post to help you brainstorm ways to use it for more than just catalog shopping.
  3. Embargoes or anything goes? 10 big myths about embargoes: Popular with both reporters and communicators, this post uses real embargo snafus chronicled by the blog Embargo Watch to illustrate and correct the mixed-up methods communicators are using to manage embargoed news releases.
  4. Etch-a-Sketch tests for your next analogy: 3 fixes to use took a political analogy that worked not wisely, but too well, and used the occasion to remind you how to check your great analogies to see whether they're working for or against your message. 
  5. Media interview smarts: Why you can't check your quotes like the campaigns do explains why you shouldn't ask reporters to let you review your remarks before publication, following the disclosure that some major news outlets were giving that license to the presidential campaigns. Sure enough, after the disclosure, many news outlets changed that policy.
  6. Data and dashboards to help you reconsider how you use Pinterest: 2012 was the year most of us tried to make sense of Pinterest as a communications tool, and this post rounded up a few aids for making that more manageable and measureable.
  7. The guest who came to Twitter: Hand over your social accounts: When it came to letting someone else take control of your social media streams, it felt like all the kids were doing it this year, from governments and foundations to companies. Some models and discussions about what various organizations are thinking when they turn over the social reins are included in this post.
  8. Can you go on the press release diet? A 12-step program: Communicators were debating this post even as many institutions decided to give it a try. The call to use your own organization blog to announce your news, rather than glutting reporters' inboxes with releases, has had a lot of love from reporters and from the brave PR folks who've already put it to use.
  9. Sparkwi.se: Easy dashboards of data help tell your story shared a visually captivating tool that also collects your social and other data in one place, making it useful as a type of annual report or ongoing update.
  10. Considering camcorders to replace the Flip, from cheap & easy to wi-fi capable came early in 2012 and is still consulted, as communicators start replacing the longtime favorite ultralight camcorders. The good news: You've got good options, so start ordering now.
If you're a communicator who works with experts--scientists, policy wonks, subject-matter experts--you can start the new year right in my workshop on how to Be an Expert on Working with Experts, January 10 in Washington, DC. At $350, it's a great and inexpensive way to begin your professional development and lay the groundwork for more effective partnerships with the smart folks you're helping. Registration stays open until January 3, or when all seats are filled, and we have a great group of communicators coming from all over the U.S. for the January session.

I won't get caught letting 2012 end without thanking you for reading, contributing to and sharing this blog. Let's work together in the new year! Thanks for all your support, and happy holidays to you and your family.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The weekend read

We'll need something to get through this Friday: Caffeine, for one thing, and a big pour of finds, reads and leads from my Twitterstream. Sip your way through the news that was on my menu this week:
Jobs with cream and sugar: Futures Group needs a health policy technical writer/editor...our friends at the German Marshall Fund of the United States are seeking an online communications specialist...the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research needs a illustrator...the A.J. Fletcher Foundation wants a director of online engagement...and my clients in the AAAS Office of Public Programs are looking for a senior-level writer.

Better than a Starbucks card. Really: Today's the last day to grab the $50 discount on registration for Be an Expert on Working with Experts, my January 10 workshop for communicators who work with scientists, policy wonks and other smart people. You can still register until January 3 or when all seats are filled, but the discount ends at midnight Eastern Time tonight. Are you in? I'd love to see you there, so help me save you a seat.

I hope your holidays are as warm and wonderful as a coffee drink, and that you get to linger over them with the people you love. Thanks for spending the holiday and weekend run-up with me here, as usual. Next week, you'll get a serving of the 10 most popular posts on this blog from 2012, and the very last weekend read of the year.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

From the vault: 10 Top Chef-inspired "quickfire challenges" for writers

From time to time, my clients ask me to coach writers in their communications operations, and part of that process involves coming up with challenges that limit the amount of time or tools they can use to prompt some learning.

Although some suggest you should kill rules in order to boost creativity in your work environment, retreats and training sessions are different, a microcosm where we have to jump-start creativity in a short time period. Under those circumstances, this tactic is a great way to help writers learn how to jump into a task, or to find out what they can do in a short amount of time. I'm inspired, often, by the "quickfire challenges" I see on Top Chef, where the chefs have to cope with ingredients from vending machines or cans, or other liabilities, while preparing something fantastic in five minutes. Here are some quickfire challenges you can use with your team of writers, or just another writer you want to pair up with so you both can improve:
  1. Mise en place writing relay: On Top Chef, this is the preparation nightmare: Two relay teams have to decide who's fastest at several basic prep chores, like chopping a bowl of onions in fine dice or breaking down a chicken or separating eggs; the team to accomplish all those chores satisfactorily and fastest wins. Get creative with this one: Your mise en place might put teams through the process of finishing the microcontent that accompanies a news release or article, with the first person writing a headline, the second person finding an appropriate photo, the third person writing the summaries for the web and the keywords, the fourth person writing Facebook and Twitter updates. In that case, it should be a release they haven't seen before. Or, choose another writing task that involves a lot of prep, break it down and give it to the relay teams.
  2. Pacesetter practice: Get the fastest, strongest or most senior writer to set the pace by producing a short piece of writing as fast as she possibly can. You'll want to choose a format in advance. Run a timer while she does it; when she's finished, that's the time to beat--everyone else has to do the same writing exercise in her time, or less. When chef Tom Colicchio did this on Top Chef All-Stars, the chef contestants had to beat his time of just over 8 minutes preparing a complete entree. They all had a chance to see and taste his dish before their timer began.
  3. Canned-content challenge: Everyone gets a different stock photo and has to write a caption for it in 5 minutes--in a way that would allow it to work in one of your publications or websites. The chooser of the photos can have some fun with this.
  4. The missing ingredient test: Write a document (speech, letter, invitation, news release, quote) using no adjectives. Or, no use of the words "the," "new," or the common word of your choice. In one communications shop I worked in, that would have been the word "major." A variation: Give everyone the same document and tell them to edit it so that certain words don't appear, but are replaced with better alternatives. Don't let them use a thesaurus, and give them 10 minutes.
  5. Throwdown challenge: Draw names to pair up with another writer in the office. Write down something you write better than anyone else, then swap: She has to produce your special skill, you have to produce hers--in 15 minutes.
  6. Out of your box challenge: Write down three things: a) one format you don't like; b) one type of content you've never produced (or have not yet produced well); and c) your favorite style or writing trick. In 15 minutes, write something that combines a) and b), but omits c). Get a panel to read it and rate it.
  7. Pairings practice:  The leader chooses three existing written items about disparate topics--say, an event announcement, a news release about a new research study or product, and an award or promotion. Writers get 20 minutes to figure out a theme that will tie all three disparate items together, and to write the transitions that will make that flow through the three-item piece. How can you make them go together when they don't match?
  8. Writing mistakes bee: Have the entire team crowdsource a group of tough-to-spot writing errors and mistakes (grammar, spelling, formatting, you name it). Make a list of 25-50 items and get the team together. One person starts by identifying the error and its solution correctly; if she makes an error, she's out and the next contestant steps forward until only one person is left standing. (If someone can't identify the problem in 10 seconds, he's out.)
  9. MacGyver challenge: Create a news release without access to a computer or smartphone. If it has a battery or a plug, you can't use it. Or, do it with one hand tied behind your back. You have 15 minutes for this one.
  10. Divide and conquer challenge: In 30 minutes, using just a news release and its contents, write as many other types of content as you can: letter, tweet, Facebook update, speech, etc.
You can get more inspiration (or a great appetite) from Top Chef: The Quickfire Cookbook. And if you like these challenges, they're among the tools in my toolkit when I facilitate training sessions or retreats for communications teams, like these 5 creative communications retreats to get your team sailing forward on blogging, social media and more. Email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz to start planning your communications or writer retreat today.

This post updates one I published in 2011.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The weekend read

On the road that was this week, there's an exit and a rest stop up ahead, I promise: It's the weekend. To help you hang on till we get there, here are my best reads, leads and finds this week from the roadside diner that is Twitter:
Exit here, job-hunters: Ohio State University is looking for a media relations director for its cancer center...the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism seeks a temporary senior/writer editor...and the Pew Research Center Forum on Religion and Public Life wants an assistant editor. I'd skip this job opening, but you will want to read the description. It'll make you feel good about whatever you're doing right now.

Exit through the workshop: You've got one more week to get the early registration discount for Be an Expert on Working with Experts. Your $50 discount allows you to register until December 21 for just $300; after that, the price goes up to $350. This day-long workshop will take place January 10, and all registration closes January 3 or when all seats are filled. It's a present you and your professional development deserve.

Let's close the exits on this week and head to the diner together, shall we? I'm always happy to hang around with you on a Friday. Thanks so much for enjoying the weekend read with me.

*The very best stage direction in Shakespeare, from The Winter's Tale.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

For the job-hunting communicator: Gifts from my blog

This isn't a blog about job-hunting, but because so many of my readers need to keep an eye on the market for one reason or another, from time to time you'll find information here that's useful to communicators seeking new opportunities. And many weeks, I get several emails saying "If you know of anything that might suit me, please let me know." Since the Wall Street Journal reminds us that the holiday season is a good time for job-hunting, here's a start at answering that question:
  1. Everyone works on Fridays: Every Friday, this blog includes my "weekend read" of the best items I shared on Twitter, including a small selection of currently open communications jobs that I think would most interest my readers. It's not at all comprehensive; that's the point. But it does contain the job openings that come across my screen, including those my clients wish to share. You'll also get a roundup of current news about social media, media relations and communications issues--a great way to look smart in your next interview. Want to check past editions for recent jobs? Here's the feed for all the weekend read posts.
  2. Stay up-to-date on today's comms issues: Those weekend reads are good for more than just jobs.  They're my weekly repository of the best news, ideas and finds I made on Twitter about communications and social media, so you can look smart by the time of your next interview. You can follow the blog several ways, including RSS, Facebook or by following me on Twitter.
  3. Rethink your online profiles, 7 ways: This is one of the blog's most-read posts, and I hope it will help you rethink how you present yourself online. I've updated it with this post on one of the web's most popular places to be found: Pinterest, where you can pin 12 different career attributes to make an online portfolio. And if you're not convinced about online profiles, think of them as curating your own best work.
  4. Early-career communicators, these are for you:  If you're new to communications, check out my crowdsourced advice for the rookie public information officer and advice for the rising communicator, both good ways to get started and figure out where to head next. Then check out these stories from communicators on how they got their starts.
  5. Considering the independent communicator life? Lots of communicators want my take, and you'll find it here in Should I take the leap? ask would-be indie communicators, with the questions I'm most frequently asked, and the questions I think you should be asking yourself.
  6. Introverted job seekers, rejoice: You may want to consult one of the books I recommend to my introverted public speaking clients, such as Networking for People Who Hate Networking: A Field Guide for Introverts, the Overwhelmed, and the Underconnected, the well-titled Self-Promotion for Introverts: The Quiet Guide to Getting Ahead, and Network Like an Introvert: A new way of thinking about business relationships. They're quiet and useful ways to rev up your job hunt.
If you're looking for a new opportunity, good hunting to you...and I hope I'm first on your list of consultants and trainers when you get to where you're going. Are you about to launch a search for a great communicator? Email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz to find out how I can help you amplify your search using social media strategies.

If you're a communicator who works with smart people--or wants to--come sharpen your skills at my January 10 workshop, Be an Expert on Working with Experts. Sign up by December 21 to get a sweet discount, or sign up until January 3 or when all seats are filled. You'll meet some interesting communicators at all levels and get a new outlook on working with experts.

Friday, December 07, 2012

The weekend read

Let's hope a chandelier need not fall on your head to make this crystal clear: The weekend is nigh. And I've got a chandelier's worth of illuminating, glittery, and occasionally breakable insights, reads, data and leads culled from my Twitterstream and shared there (and here) for you. Check out these gemlike finds:
Let's shed some light on these jobs:  The Department of Defense seeks a writer/editor at Fort Meade, MD...  the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Office of Public Programs wants a web manager and a new media and public relations assistant...the United Methodist Church's General Commission on Religion and Race needs a strategic communications director...a communications fellowship is open at the Hitachi Foundation.

Glittering training opp: Communicators already registered for my January 10 workshop, Be an Expert on Working with Experts, are coming from all over. At last count, smart participants from Arizona, California, Connecticut, Maryland, and Louisiana will be attending. And you? The unbreakable early registration discount ends December 21, and I'll keep reg open till January 3 or when all seats are filled. Is that clear? Crystal? Today, I'm welcoming more communicators to my lunch-and-learn about making the case for training your experts, a smart precursor to the experts workshop.

I love the way you look under the chandelier that is the weekend...somehow happier, since it's Friday. Thanks for gathering here with me again this week!

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Adjusting when your favorite social tools disappear

You fell in love with some wonderful tool in social media....and now it's gone, the victim of a change in corporate ownership or outdated technology or fierce competition or changed policies.

I've felt that way about Flip cameras, the most popular ultralight HD video cameras, and more recently, about Twitter's API changes that prevent third-party sites from using actions on Twitter to trigger their services. Twitter's policy change messed up a series of triggers I created on IFTT.com (If This, Then That) to automate saving my retweets and favorites so I could write the popular weekend read posts I do on this blog every Friday. Flip cameras were a great tool not just for me, but for trainees in my communications workshops, where I needed cameras anyone could learn to use in a few minutes. And then Cisco killed the Flip after acquiring it.

In both cases, however, my ability to adjust has benefited from a few strategies I've long had in place for my social media habits--and have been able to rebound quickly to keep my systems running well. Here's what stands me in good stead no matter what changes in social media:
  1. Redundant systems: In the case of Twitter, IFTTT let me know ahead of time that actions triggered by Twitter wouldn't work. But some time ago, I subscribed to the RSS feed for my own tweets, so I've re-routed that action using my Twitter RSS feed through IFTTT, putting my tweets into an Evernote notebook; unfortunately, it saves all my tweets, not just my RTs, but it works for now. That will last no longer than March 2013, when RSS support disappears from Twitter. (Honestly, I'm seeing it disappear now, so use that as an ultimate end date.) I'm also back to using Reader tags and IFTTT to share items in my feed to Twitter, after which they get put in an Evernote notebook, and using favorites on Twitter to collect what I want to save in one place.And I'm experimenting with Twilert, a relatively new service that will take my search terms and send me a once-a-day email with all the tweets containing those words; those emails get sent to my Evernote notebooks.
  2. An ear to the ground: As annoying as notification emails can be, I generally subscribe to them when I'm using a new service--a move that pays off when policy changes are announced. Most of the time, between my reading and staying on those mailing lists, I know about what's coming ahead of time, so I'm less surprised by it. You also could choose options like following your favorite services on Twitter, Facebook or other social sites.
  3. An eye on the options: I use surprisingly few social networks on a regular basis, but I try dozens of them to see options my clients might need. That helps me understand the competition and what else is available, a key to not feeling high and dry when the tide goes out on my favorite services. Keeping an eye on options also helped me learn that the folks behind the Flip camera's software have created a free social iPhone app called Givit that will make your iPhone much better at taking video--including 5GB of free storage, great editing tools and the ability to socially share or email your videos. Yes, I'd love an Android version, but at least there's an option out there. I've also thought through why I liked Flip cameras in the first place, and have come up with reasons to get two different types of replacements. You may need a different strategy, but check out my options in this post on camcorders to replace the Flip. The good news: You can come close to replacing it, or go way beyond it in capacity and function.
  4. The willingness to try new things: Along with that comes the willingness to keep my toe in the water with new services, at least long enough to test drive them. It's a good muscle to keep strong in social media. 
  5. A sense of when to say goodbye:  Flip had one of the longest goodbyes I've ever seen for a product. First the prices went rock-bottom and Cisco, the parent company that shut the brand down, was giving them away to nonprofits by the dozen. But the cameras still worked fine, and mine didn't need replacing immediately. When I noticed that support was disappearing for a feature I use--the ability for my trainees to receive and download the videos via email-- I was ready to put alternatives in place. That's when I sold my old Flip cameras, still in good shape, to Amazon's electronics trade-in program, which gives me a credit in the form of an Amazon gift card. By the way, go check prices on Amazon for Flip cameras. Now that they're no longer for sale from the manufacturer, I've seen prices as high as $300 for a new Flip camera (minus manufacturer support, of course) -- a far cry from their much lower prices once upon a time.
I'll get to test my own resilience soon, as it's being put about that Google is starting to neglect Feedburner, the source of my RSS feeds for this and other blogs I publish. I've got lots of feeds set up on Feedburner and haven't yet experienced a problem, which might suggest another rule: Don't panic too soon. Fortunately, my ear-to-the-ground approach means I'm already forewarned and am reviewing my options.

What's been your toughest loss in terms of social tools and sites? What do you miss most?


Monday, December 03, 2012

Do your experts blow off media interviews? How to avoid a no-show

A few years back, I was directing communications for a national group and a university communicator invited me to visit her campus and see the work of my group's members there. The media relations guy was tasked with taking me around to meet their experts, and in one lab, we met with a chemist I already knew as a longtime member and research powerhouse.

"Do you offer members media training?" she asked me. I said we offered certain kinds of training. What did she want to accomplish? "Oh, I get these messages to call reporters all the time, and I just throw them away," she said. "I'm not confident about talking to reporters and I don't feel prepared, so I just don't do them, even though I know I should."

Yikes. The media relations guy turned three shades of green, and we wound up having a useful discussion about the help she could get. But I wasn't at all surprised. Even if your information is newsworthy and timely, you've done the right things to get it to the right reporter, and your heart is pure (or even if it isn't), all it takes is an expert who blows off the interview to result in no coverage. When I train scientists and physicians, I like to note that, in my experience, the biggest barrier to getting media coverage of their topics is whether they show up for media encounters.

That's because I hear complaints all the time from reporters who've been pitched with access to experts, only to find their calls don't get returned. In many more places, you'll find experts who just won't talk to reporters at all.  And I've written before about experts who want do-overs, via checking interviews before they go out--a practice reporters have started to note right in their articles. One tactic PR pros have developed, as a result, involves sitting in on interviews--but reporters read that as a desire to control or intimidate the research subject. So what else can you do? Try these tactics:
  • Don't assume agreement: There are plenty of arguments against doing interviews, from an already busy schedule to colleagues who'll talk your expert out of participating. Don't lob interview requests, let alone pitch an expert to reporters, until you've established her agreement to be responsive. 
  • Read the signals correctly: Sometimes, blowing off a call, a media training or some other pre-arranged appointment isn't about being busy. Instead, it may be your introverted scientist's escape hatch from a stressful situation, or the reaction of a highly organized type who feels out of control in this setting. 
  • Make it clear that missing an interview request diminishes reputation: Turn to your well-worn copy of Aesop's Guide to Modern Public Relations and read "The Expert Who Cried Wolf" to your sources--and make it clear that you'd rather they declined to you upfront, rather than blow off the call.  This may work well with experts who blow off the call to show it's not important to them. The best cure: Outing the bad behavior and explaining why it's damaging to your expert's reputation as well as your institution.
  • Understand your corporate culture: In many companies and organizations where I conduct trainings, management or colleagues actively discourage experts from giving interviews--which means no amount of pleading from you will make it happen. In some especially sharp-elbowed places, those who give interviews and get coverage are shunned. That kind of culture requires you to work from the top to gain leadership approval--and from the bottom, to build a grass-roots desire to play. It's a longer path to success, but better than pitching folks who don't ever intend to answer those calls.
  • What's in it for them? Can an interview help your expert get closer to meeting donors, collaborators or more and better exposure? Find out what her goals are, then make sure she knows what the interview can do to get her there.
  • Divide and conquer with friendly competition:  Faced with several different sources of surly subject experts, choose one group that's willing to try and focus your media relations efforts on them--being sure to widely share their successes internally. I guarantee this will raise complaints along the lines of "What about us?" in a useful version of reverse psychology. Just be careful what you wish for, here.
  • Make sure they know you're there: Wince all you want, but I encounter subject experts every day who don't know that they have a communications/public affairs/marketing/media relations shop that can help them with media requests, let alone why they should respond to your messages. A little gentle internal promotion can work wonders.
  • Find out which barriers you can help surmount: One of my best experts used to say, "Media interviews represent 10 percent of my calls and they take up 80 percent of my time." That's a fixable problem, much of the time, and you know how to do that even if your expert doesn't. Let your expert know about the resources you can offer to help make the interview happen. This particular in-demand expert wound up doing regular phone briefings, so he could brief several reporters at one time. Ask what isn't working for them.
  • Give experts the basics about reporter interactions: There's no reason experts should understand even the most basic ways in which journalists operate. Must they call back right away? Should they be ready to be interviewed immediately, or can they set up a more convenient time? How can they avoid misunderstandings without asking to see the story before it runs? Those sound obvious to you, but they're also the most common questions I get when conducting media trainings. Share with your experts my list of 11 questions to ask reporters, many based on reporters' suggestions, so they'll be ready.
  • Offer practice time and training: The best way to make interviews familiar is to practice. Offering to run through tough questions or train your expert on what to expect in an interview can let them work through their worst fears and most dire concerns in practice--with less risk. 
Want more insights like these? Sign up for my popular workshop, Be an Expert on Working with Experts, designed just for communicators who work with smart people like scientists, engineers, policy wonks and more. The workshop takes place January 10, 2013--but you get a great discount if you register sooner, by December 21 at midnight, Eastern Time. Bring members of your media relations team with you...many smart communicators do. The workshop also works for government relations and development pros.

This post updates and expands one I published in 2011.