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

You Don’t Need Client Approval to Pitch the Media (Well)

If you’re in business to business communications, you can empathize with the bane of my career’s existence…client/customer approvals to tell their story, more commonly known as a case history. If you’re in business to consumer communications, there’s a lesson here for you also.

For those who don’t know, case histories are simple stories stating the problem, your client’s solution and the results it brought their customer. This informational overview is the oil that helps the btob media relations machine operate seamlessly. Consider that the story is told by the media, from the customer’s perspective. If your client’s customer is a known brand, case histories turn into earned media more often than not.

The biggest issue in mining this black gold is usually customer approvals. But before we give you some tips on how to get that approval, here’s an example of why you shouldn’t let customer approval stop you from telling the story.

Take No For An Answer
Years ago, my agency turned a client’s issue with getting customer approvals to discuss case studies into an ad campaign. They designed brief case studies to resemble classified documents like the one above.

With details like the customer’s brand and other particulars blacked out, it eliminated the need for customer approval, it attracted the reader and made the ad even shorter to read. The only way it could have been a better campaign would be if I could take credit for it.

Creativity is a Universal Opportunity
This need for creativity applies to the business to consumer segment as well. Consider what the adult video website, Pornhub, is doing for a pending ad campaign. It’s asking the ad community to submit designs for a national, safe for work (SFW) ad campaign touting the site.

We’ve received porn-related pitches before. One of them ranks (literally and figuratively) as one of our worst pitches EVER. But the initial success of Pornhub’s approach, regardless of how we feel about the topic, is a reminder that PR people can talk about anything.

Five Tips to Get the Story Told
So here are some tips to keep in mind about getting your client/customer story told.

1) You Don’t Know Unless You Ask: The one time you don’t ask to tell the story is inevitably going to be the one time you’d be allowed to do so. Never skip asking.

2) It’s How You Ask: I start by telling my client’s customer what a case history is NOT. It’s not an ad or a testimonial, it is an informational overview of the project. And they get to see and approve everything before we pitch the media.

3) Mutual Benefit: How is a Fortune 100 brand going to benefit from a story about how it’s new toilet paper dispensers saved them hundreds of thousands of dollars? It’s probably not. But the person most closely connected with the story, the person approving your request, will benefit. It can be used internally to remind management this person did a good thing, it can be used to remind this person’s team they did a good thing and it can help their personal brand. It doesn’t hurt to tell them this as part of the ask.

4) It’s Who Asks: Who owns the relationship with the client or customer approving your request? This person can help you assess if it’s better for them to ask (with your guidance) or for you to ask or someone else entirely. If the relationship owner is worried it’ll have a negative impact, they either don’t understand what you’re asking or they have other issues in play with the relationship.

5) Ask Once: If this single approval will launch a tide of thought leadership, uh, ships, make that clear. If you ask to pitch the media, then ask to submit it in an awards competition, then ask to put it on your website, right before you ask to use it in a speaker’s proposal….yeah, you wear out your welcome.

Much like baseball, if you average .300, you’ll be a pro — and you’ll probably have enough stories to reach your broader goals.

Kevin Dugan, @prblog

Why You Should Read Spin Sucks: a BOOK REPORT

Spin Sucks by Gini Dietrich

Spin Sucks, is a much-needed, pragmatic explanation of the changing communication landscape.

The book’s author, Gini Diterich, dives into this changing landscape and clearly articulates how its changed — without hyperbole, fifty cent words or, of course, spin. The book is practical, clearly written and helpful as a result.

It’s no surprise Dietrich hails from the Midwest…we’re known for this kind of counsel. The fact that Spin Sucks is written for clients should encourage, not discourage, practitioners from reading it. This ultimately helps the reader better articulate how communication has changed to their own clients.

 

Spin Sucks Basics
As you can imagine, social media, content marketing and search are all topics of discussion in Spin Sucks. Each chapter includes plenty of explanation, how-to instruction and great examples to support its assertions. It is a quick read with 10 chapters, organized into four sections, comprising the just under 150 page book. And it’s written in a way that you can read it in the old-school, linear fashion or get all millennial up in here and jump around based on your interest or needs.

A Point of Contention
The only thing I disagree with in Spin Sucks is Dietrich’s classification of social media as shared media — a fourth silo along with paid, owned and earned media.

Social media has disrupted our industry. Social sharing has become so critical to what we do, it’s becoming a seamless part of communication. And there are examples of paid, owned and earned on nearly any social platform today. This and the fact that technology convergence has been eliminating media silos for years, something I’ve promoted for some time, is the basis for why I do not carve out social media separately.

In her defense, Dietrich notes in Spin Sucks that consumers are distinguishing less and less between “the four types of media.” And that “the lines between communication, marketing, ads, sales, customer experience, product development and human resources will become blurred.”

The bottom line is I think the lines are already blurred and this assumption didn’t change the validity of anything Dietrich proposes in her book.

The Hybrid Skills Trend
One topic Spin Sucks touches on, a trend worthy of its own book, is how changing technology and consumer habits are pushing the need for more hybrid skill sets (inclusive of traditional and non-traditional communication skills).

“Today, public relations professionals have to be knowledgeable about web development, search engine optimization, mobile marketing, content marketing and more.”

Work culture is shifting to address this trend. But things are changing so rapidly the academic world still has some work to do. As the pace of change continues to accelerate, we must be willing to test, learn and iterate what we do more frequently and consistently than we have done in the past.

Dietrich speaks to this as well, noting “your culture must be about experimentation, and you must be willing to take some risk.” This is critical because more than ever as an individuals biggest skill may become the ability to “tolerate failure, quickly pivot and try again.”

It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
Dietrich’s mantra throughout this book is to “remember, it’s a marathon and not a sprint.” And our industry needs to be chanting this mantra.

The key is to be able to show clients why  it’s a marathon, and to ultimately follow up with the results this approach will yield.

Click here for a video about the book. And for more Spin Sucks in general, click here to dig into the community.

 

Kevin Dugan, @prblog

Twitter Civics 101: What It Is & Why You Should Care

The most common question we hear from clients these days is, “How can we maximize Twitter?” Many giant companies went the route of letting the kids (literally) handle arguably their most visible and direct public face this summer, some with disastrous results. But that’s just not the way. The lesson is simple: Twitter is a communication vehicle. It is relatively new, but it is not a flash in the pan. It’s not just for the kids and Lady Gaga or Yoko Ono. And it isn’t just about what you had for breakfast. Just as one would never staff engineering or sales departments with interns alone, treating social media (more on Facebook in future but same rule applies) as a quantitative proposition alone is a sure path to disaster. To understand a communication vehicle, we need to come to grips with what it is and how it works—then figure out how to use it to support business objectives. We’ll address the first one here.

Twitter is Public

The single most important element everyone in your organization needs to know about Twitter is that almost everything on it is available to everyone in the wide world. What your brand—and that means your management—say on Twitter therefore affects your whole company. Some folks—journalists and those working in politics are perfect examples—try to get around this by having employees put in their profiles that their posts are personal rather than professional. This can work for some, but not for the people listed on the Management page of your website. Make no mistake: As a communications professional, it is your responsibility to understand Twitter and (take a seat for this revelation) make sure everyone in your organization does, too. If you don’t get how this works, for the love of whatever you believe in, ask for some advice!

Twitter is Mainstream

With social media, numbers are always tricky. Number of registered users? Active users? Visitors? Impressions? Twinkies? Twitter’s numbers don’t matter. Let me repeat that: Twitter’s numbers don’t matter. By any measure, there are a few more than millions of people on Twitter. Name a media outlet with a reach of more than a million that’s not important to your brand. (Crickets) Exactly.

Twitter is Two-Way…if you want it to be

The best way to understand the interactions on Twitter is to think of it like walking into your family doctor’s waiting room. By definition, you have something in common with everyone there and yet the specifics are likely entirely different. You might be there for a regular physical while the person next to you is suffering from acute appendicitis. But you’re both there for a reason related to health. Just because you’re in the same waiting room, though, doesn’t mean you necessarily want to talk with anyone—or everyone. You can read that fascinating article about Bennifer from the August, 2003 issue of People or you can choose to strike up a conversation either in response to something you overhear or because you like someone’s shoes. If you do start chatting, just about everything you say will be audible to all your co-waiters. If you start that conversation and the guy across the room over-listens and wants to participate, he’ll jump right in. Just like Twitter.

Twitter has its Own Language

Sure there’s Twitter jargon—hashtag, stream, @ reply, DM, auto-DM, feed—but keep in mind that specific communities within Twitter have their own language as well, necessitated by its 140-character format. For example, I read a lot of crime fiction, and I interact with lots of others who do. We talk about our TBR pile and #fridayreads.

Twitter is All Free

This is not a duh. Its nature is such that it is tempting to put Twitter in advertising terms, but this is as problematic as reading The Communist Manifesto to comprehend democracy. Or trying to understand American government without reading the U.S. Constitution. Have you noticed I still haven’t told you how to get more followers? Yeah, and I’m not going to—not today. I want you to keep anticipating what I say next…just like on Twitter. Oh and for the record, anyone who tells you there’s a formula for Twitter success is a fake guru and is just as misguided as those who suggest that pay-for-play is a viable model for effective media relations. On that, I step down from my box. Questions? Email or tweet @erinfaye.