Who Gives a Hit?

“They called you directly — so that is not like you did anything!”

“We better get the credit for that!”

“Man, can you believe it? They bypassed us and just called our client.”

These scenarios are ridiculous at best, but they happen all too often in PR. They are about claiming the hit as opposed to working together to stay razor-thin-focused on the strategy of a client (or boss). After experiencing the above for years, I now stand firm that this is wrong. The next person who asks me whether or not it is our hit … will simply get hit.

No longer debatable, this tug of war is over with no clear winner. Nowadays, when the self-important blogger, big-time media, local daily, or eager President of the United States actually gets what you are trying to say — no matter how she got the news — it means you win. No more tactics over strategy. PR is about everyone working together to make it work. Contests are out, like Katie Perry and Taylor Swift.

This seems obvious?

Liar.

You, like me, are still trying to hide who did what from your payee.

That is what this post is about, even with 12 quite understandable lines of preamble. I am asking for a new way to work that says everyone (me too) will play from the same rule book for the first time, starting on the page entitled, How the hell are we going to get this thing to work?!

I want to experience the calendar date when a CNN producer calls an agency because he heard something somewhere and everyone rejoices. This is not happening. All I get is, We have to say that person was on our pitch list, as if that matters.

If that is what matters, then we are mere order takers. Pushily put, I want my people and yours to practice in a PR community where we create compelling messages that get folks hopping excited … even, nay especially, the other media who see it out there.

Simply: Stop shouting from the rooftops about who did what; just get energized by the mutual work. Remember that media begets media — it is that simple.

Then there is offline versus online credit — the nonsense about who got any given blogger to report about some new press release. I hear it said that the release running on a site triggered a Google Alert or RSS-seeker and thus the hit. That is poppycock.

Then, reviving a 70s reference, what is all this fuss about bloggers handing our stories to the major media? Such logic baffles me — more AP and Christian Science Monitor stories are quoted on blogs than any dead tree columnist would take time to read.

Finally, a gripe that needs no introduction: IR versus PR. When did investor vs. media become the norm? Neither thinks the other does anything that valuable, so when an IR rep gets media to act, the PR dudes say Gee, wait a minute! That is our contact. Reads funny, right? Come on people now, everybody get together … try to love.

The client who cares only about tactical hits — or upper manager breathing down your neck for another inch-thick clip book — needs to be slapped down. Show him the value of COMMUNICATING the fiercest ever message to all constituencies, with all the support that is muster-able. During this period of shrinking media and rising tempers, let us get a little Rodney King and work for the same goal — exposure that moves needles.

The Pitch That Cried Wolf

There are only so many reporters and bloggers covering the field or industry you play in, whether it’s automotive technology, software, clothing, or architectural design. With time and experience, you will wind up speaking to them all one day—or their brethren. In a world of instant communication and shrinking inner circles, a PR person who cries wolf with a few off-the-mark pitches is blackballed in a hurry.

There’s nothing the media dislikes more than vapor (a non-story), so don’t pitch it. Click over to Business Wire, PR Web, or any of its ilk on a given day and you can count up hundreds of thousands of dollars spent propagating vapor news. “Small Company A Signs Agreement with About-to-Fold Company B” or “InterSliceTech.com Launches Bleeding-Edge Customer Tracking Functionality.” Find us a journalist who actually wants to write about topics like that (how do they affect anyone else besides the people who wrote the releases?) and we will tip our hats to that PR person (who has a reporter cousin, of course).

The danger in vapor is that it builds a name for you quickly. The wrong name. If you’re dabbling in handheld technology, say, and you pitch Jason Kincaid, well-known gadgetry guy from TechCrunch, on every software upgrade, he’s going to learn very rapidly not to take seriously any pitch you send his way. Who cares? The danger is that when you have real news, the kind that matters, such as the launch of your new device that makes the iPac shake in its boots, Jason will not pay attention because you’ve proven yourself to be a vapor merchant.

Before you blast out a cluster bomb of e-mails or send that release over the wire, consider long and hard what’s interesting about it. Is it fascinating just because you’ve spent three tireless months working on the content? Is it amazing because your latest noodling brings you one step closer to a competitor that no one’s ever heard of? If that’s the case, hold off and wait ’til you have something worthier of the presses; in other words, don’t believe your own story too much.

Larger public companies are especially guilty of pushing vapor into the press. There’s a theory out there, one we don’t subscribe to, that if you don’t have a steady, weekly stream of information crossing the wires—also known as “the machine”—your business’s progress has sunk to an uncompetitive pace. Remember that with public companies, their news unfortunately engenders an article or two (unfortunately, because it makes the firm think that what they put out is urgent, and so it compels them to keep the vapor machine oiled).

Yet when this non-urgent-news-pushing firm truly has something worth chatting about, the press may not bite. Everyone at the firm scratches their heads and wonders why. But reporters and analysts are glazed over from the hundreds of newsless missives shot through that PR cannon. And they are all too familiar with firms that cry wolf.

The take-away is that vapor works only rarely. For example, it did for the whole of Seinfeld. If what you desire is respected coverage continually, sit on the vapor (“CEO sneezed today!”), and don’t put it out. You’ll only numb the reporters who should care and who should notice that what you do is important. Being important is paramount.

For more topics like this, follow @laermer

Black History Month Brings Out Best & Worst Content

It’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times. So here is a tale of two pieces of content. It’s up to you, fine readers, to determine which one’s a best practice and which one’s a worst practice.

Match the Quote to the Black History Hero Who Said It
BuzzFeed quizzes can be a polarizing piece of content. Let’s face it, we work hard to get our content shared into ubiquity. Yet BuzzFeed can drop a quiz telling you which meat you are and it’s passed around like a 100% off coupon code.

But asking readers to match quotes to the hero from black history that said it? This is a wonderful example of edutainment. And it’s focused on a topic we could all stand to learn more about. It could only be smarter if a BuzzFeed staffer wrote it. But props to the community member that did.

Black Author’s Book Teaser Will Make Your Kids a Slave to Reading
The individual that alerted us to this news release wonders how it was even allowed to go out over the wire. And I must wonder the same exact thing.

We’ve talked about forcing a connection between your topic and a timely event before. But this example is worse than that. We’ll just let the headline speak for itself and simply note that book marketing is hard. But that’s no excuse for poor taste.

Lazy Hack Turns Lazy Flacks Into Story

Lazy Cat with Beer

The year ended with less of a whimper than expected in the public relations industry with everything from Uber and Sony missteps to smaller gems like GoGo Squeez and Play Doh.

In fact, this story from the New York Post almost went unnoticed. In his December 25th article, “A gift to all the p.r. people who were blown off in 2014,” business reporter John Crudele turns a dozen pitches into a story and outs the 12 folks that sent them his way.

Facebook comments ranged from the expected “he’s mean” and “these people are just trying to do their jobs” to the more snarky “bet they include this in their wrap reports” and a deeper comment noting the “mean generation of faceless relationship building” we’re forced to deal with these days.

Is the story, and Crudele’s approach, mean? I’ll leave that up to you to decide. But let’s remember two things before you weigh in.

1) Consider the Source: The New York Post notes it’s a “tabloid-format” newspaper. And we all know what tabloids tend to be really good at, picking a fight.

2) Target the Pitch: Based on his profile in Cision, you’d wonder why anyone of these folks are pitching Crudele in the first place.** He focuses on topics like stocks, finance issues and related topics. So why in the hell are pitches about beans and regifting being sent his way? Many of the pitches he singled out are clearly not related to his beat.

Do Your Homework

Let’s say your pitch does cross his topics of coverage. If I looked up a reporter and read that he has an aggressive writing style and thrives on issue-oriented controversy? I’m reading his last few articles, at a minimum, before deciding to send him something.

Crudele wrote the piece on Christmas Eve. And by wrote, I mean he phoned it in. So he was being lazy to be sure. But I’m not so sure he was being mean as he was simply being himself. And there are an endless number of ways these 12 pitches, and the people that sent them, could have avoided becoming the story.

Thanks to Traci Coulter for the NY Post link. She’s one of the good PR folks we like to highlight on this blog because they are most excellent professionals.

Kevin Dugan, @prblog

Will PR Automation Put You Out of a Job?

Ironman: "Did you get my press release?"

Nine months ago, robo-journalism was in full effect when the LA Times used its Quakebot algorithm to report on an earthquake — three minutes after it happened.

It’s ironic to note the math of an algorithm is being used to generate the words of a newspaper article — 108 of them in the above example. In another example, the AP uses a tool called Wordsmith to help fill their pages. According to Arik Hanson, “they’re using Wordsmith to auto-generate quarterly earnings stories — 4,400 stories every quarter.”

This all begs a bigger question.

“As computers begin replacing journalists, could they replace YOUR job?”

 

Welcome to the Machine

With apologies to Pink Floyd, it’s important to note that this trend is far from new. More than a year ago, researchers noted 45 percent of America’s occupations will be automated within the next 20 years.

If you’re anything like me, you’re thinking. “I’m creative! I’m a strategic thinker! They broke the mold when they made me and no amount of math known to man could replicate what I do!”

And I’m inclined to agree with you. But you should know that people are composing auto complete song lyrics and getting robots to write fiction.

Even more relevant is Google’s Primer App. It’s designed to help startups with marketing tasks like Search Advertising, Content Marketing and what it calls “PR and Media” read: media relations.

The app won’t replace anyone, but it doesn’t suck either.


 

Game Over or Game On?

This post is not to get you freaked out or to get into the weeds on the pros and cons around this topic.

But it is motivation to continually improve your craft. Increasing your relevance and differentiating yourself from others — be they humans or math equations — can only help you. So consider some small, medium and large ways you can improve yourself in the coming year.

Small: Under promise and over deliver, ask more questions, challenge your own thinking.

Medium: Learn enough about the areas of marketing outside your core expertise that it helps you do better work. Compare seemingly unrelated data sources like Google Analytics and customer service stats to mine a new insight about your audience.

Large: Add a completely new skill to the tool kit – personal or professional.

So you can rage at the machine like the Luddites did. Or you can dive into the many benefits the machine has to offer. But your future is not black and white. Your future is up to you. (cues Bluto).

Your Social Media Policy & the Nude Celebrity Photo Scandal

You’re thinking, “come on…this is headline bait. How can these two topics be even remotely connected?” This Venn diagram depicting Internet privacy (created by Dave Hoffman) is our answer.

No, you and your fellow employees are not celebrities. Celebrities are subjected to an unfortunate level of attention. And in this case, a hacker pulled the celebrity photos from password-protected iCloud accounts and not social media. But there are some relevant takeaways from this unfortunate scandal you can apply to you and your company’s social media policy.

1) Simplest Approach: If you don’t want someone knowing about it…don’t put it online. Snapchat is rendered useless via a screen grab. The Secret app isn’t really secret. Yet I always get “what if” questions from folks running through a Byzantine list of privacy settings that they think will keep them safe from prying eyes. Well, if it’s online, it’s just not 100 percent safe.

2) Short & Simple Policy: If you can say it to your Mom and your competitor, it’s probably safe to say online.

3) Go With Your Gut: If you’re asking, “should I post this?” Your gut instinct may be a red flag. So check first.

Training Must Follow Policy

And one more reason the nude celebrity photo scandal is related to your social media policy is training. A social media policy spells out everything you can’t do, but you better be showing employees what they can do. Many employees will not understand the subtleties of certain platforms. If you don’t walk them through the platforms you want them to use, and how you want them to use it, the odds are they’ll be used incorrectly, if at all.

Kevin Dugan, @prblog

3 Reasons Why You Should Love Data: a PR #protip

Early in my career, I’d declare I’m part of the creative class, in part, because of my dislike for math. Today, I still wouldn’t trade my career for anything. But I’ve learned to love math.

The silos between art and science dissolved long ago. And every public relations professional should love math and, more specifically, data. Here are just three reasons.

1) Inform Strategy: Since hugging it out with data, I’ve been able to show clients exactly why I’m proposing a specific editorial strategy. It’s all thanks to insights mined from search queries and social data.

Searches tell us what content an audience is looking for and social data tells us what content they’re talking about. This is just one way data can inform strategy.

2) Create Content: We’ve been talking about this for years. And you may love or hate infographics at this point, but they remind us how data can fuel very visual content. Data is everywhere, it doesn’t have to come from primary/expensive research.

Mappos is my all-time favorite example of how Zappos uses, without violating customer privacy, the zip code and item numbers from each order to create killer content.

3) Measure Success: Out of respect, I should just put a picture of Katie Paine here and call it a day. But first, I’ll remind everyone in this data-laden world, the key is not just measuring…it’s measuring success.

That requires agreeing on what success looks like before you get started. And there is a difference between progress metrics and success metrics. Progress metrics show a plan is working. Success metrics show the plan worked.

4) Optimize Content: A fourth reason? Hey, I told you I loved math, I didn’t say I was good at it. We’ve discussed the need to tap data throughout the research, plan, execute and measure process.

Data is available throughout the entire process and it allows us to iterate what we’re doing to help ensure our success. Take content marketing for example.

Once we publish our client’s (data-informed) content, we support it with paid discovery to drive audience to it more quickly than organic search. Performance data from this is layered with web analytics to see how the content is reasonating with our audience.

A follow-up check of search and social data makes sure nothing new has emerged. And each batch of content improves based on what you’ve learned from the previously published stories.

Art x Science = Innovation

When I started in content marketing, it was called custom publishing. And the big difference between then and now is how we’ve moved from 100 percent art-driven projects to projects driven by a mix of art and science.

Hopefully you’ve seen above that by tapping art and science, you’ll make something better than either side of your brain could create by itself.

Kevin Dugan, @prblog

photo credit: B Tal via photopin cc

Is Soft Language Killing Your Pitch?

We just paid homage to Ernest Hemingway for his support of simple, clear and effective writing. Add George Carlin to the list of talented individuals reminding us to write tight.

The infamously expletive-wielding Carlin could be the NSFW poster child. So does that make him the worst possible role model in this situation? Before you decide, consider the phrase he invented…soft language.

“American English is loaded with euphemisms — because Americans have a lot of trouble dealing with reality. So they invent a kind of to protect themselves from it. And it gets worse with every generation.”

To explain soft language, Carlin details the evolution of the term shell shock — in a way only he can.

Term / War Meaning Carlin
Shell Shock / WWI “A condition when a soldier’s nervous system has been stressed to its absolute peak and maximum.” “Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables.”
Battle Fatigue / WWII Same “Four syllables now. Fatigue is a nicer word than shock.”
Operational Exhaustion / Korean War Same “We’re up to eight syllables now! And the humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase. It’s totally sterile and sounds like something that might happen to your car.”
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Same “We’ve added a hyphen. And the pain of the condition is completely buried under jargon.”

 

The Best Intentions…Don’t Matter

Soft language can ruin your pitch regardless of how well-intended it might be. My favorite example of soft language is from a student’s resume I received for an internship. To dress up the description of a waitressing job, she noted she “excels in suggestive selling.”

I don’t know what suggestive selling is, much less if it’s legal. But more importantly, this word choice almost distracted me from the fact that this student helped finance her college education. This is a good sign that she is probably a hard worker who can manage multiple projects simultaneously.

Softening or inflating language may be used to present something in a better light. It usually does the exact opposite. Even Carlin noted it “takes the life out of life.”

Oh, and if you are up for some NSFW content, Carlin’s bit on soft language is here in its entirety.

Kevin Dugan, @prblog

Hemingway App Fights Bad Pitches

When it comes to media relations, the analogy about a chain only being as strong as its weakest link applies. Your media list may be solid, but if your pitch is ham-fisted it doesn’t matter. This applies to the entire cycle.

The Hemingway App is one tool you can use to make sure your pitch is as simple and clear as possible. As you’ll see below, it points out the readability of whatever you cut and paste into the site, or you can compose on the fly. It also tracks long, complex sentences, passive voice and other common errors.

Unclear writing is color coded and the app gives tips on how to improve each passage. If an adverb shows up, for example, the app recommends that a “verb with force” take its place. Papa would have wanted it that way.

The site is as smart as it is simple. We’re hoping in the future it can used with Word, Google Docs or Evernote. Until then it’s available online and for the desktop (Windows and Apple).

The app’s namesake possessed a writing style described as “lean, hard, athletic narrative.” The end result of this approach to writing is the ability to tell more using less words. And that will make this link in your chain as strong as steel.

We put this post through the app and improved it. Cut and paste your last pitch into the Hemingway App and see what it tells you.

Headline Clickbait: PR Science or PR Fail?

A scan of current events this morning brought me to a news story angering me enough that I didn’t need my morning coffee.

Couple Killed After Posting Sunset Picture to Instagram

To be clear, it’s not the (tragic, local news) story that aggravated me. It’s the misleading, headline clickbait that pulled me into the article. I’m interested in Instagram, and the odd nature of the headline lead me to believe it was being served up by The Onion. It’s not a parody story. So I’ve re-written it below for accuracy.

Couple Killed THREE HOURS After
Posting Sunset Picture to Instagram.

My re-write wouldn’t draw in readers. But it may make you wonder why someone would point out this ironic, but completely unrelated, fact in the headline.

The Headline That Cried Click (see what I did there?)

Sites like Buzzfeed, Upworthy and Viral Nova are pretty polarizing. They’ve even inspired spoof headline generators and entire parody sites trying to tap into the craze simply by mocking it.

Love them or hate these traffic-magnet, sharing-fueled sites, Google analytics proves that headline clickbait works. But even Upworthy is acknowledging its an issue. The site announced it’s “on a mission to cleanse the web of content that exists primarily to be clicked on or shared.”

No, I’m not suggesting you avoid proven best practices around headline generation. I followed three myself for this post’s headline.

I am pleading with you to consider the bigger picture behind any tactic. I’m willing to bet that whatever the goal is behind content you’re publishing, you’d prefer to establish an ongoing connection with the audience your content attracts.

Tricks for Clicks

Or ignore me and follow Time’s lead. This once iconic, news magazine’s Twitter bio reads: “Breaking news and current events from around the globe.” And they’re publishing headlines like “Watch a Baby’s Face Sour While Eating A Lemon” and “Here’s a Half-Naked Man Wearing 100 Pounds of Bees like a Coat.” It’s embarrassing to see them chase someone else’s success. And it’s costing them their hard-earned credibility in the process.

Tricks for clicks may get you a short-term increase in traffic. But it won’t build audience in the long-term. If you’re worried you won’t attract readers without headline clickbait? Either spend money on headline syndication or come to grips with the fact that your content might suck.

Kevin Dugan, @prblog

Image via xkcd