Thursday, May 29, 2014

You're supposed to yell "Fore"

By Keith Allison (originally posted
 to Flickr as Michelle Wie)
via Wikimedia Commons caption
Not a golfer. Never have been. If there's no tiny windmill on the course, you won't find me.

But I worked behind the scenes at a few LPGA golf tournaments in Rochester, NY, doing the PR and community relations thing. In a temporary building with air conditioning. Next to the microwave fries table. As I said, I'm no golfer.

When the LPGA announced this morning they were abandoning Rochester for the greener (as in cash) greens of metro New York City, after 38 years in Rochester, I had a few observations:

  • LPGA's timing sucks. Really? Announce a 2015 move to NYC two months prior to the 2014 tournament in Rochester? Why not just set fire to the ticket booth at Monroe Country Club? Waiting to make the announcement after August 2014 would still sting, but it would not have insulted the upcoming Rochester event.
  • Rochester's corporate community has backed away from this annual tournament for years. When I arrived, it was the Sarah Coventry International. After their bankruptcy, other sponsors funded the purse, including a former employer. All saw limited value in the relationship; the return on investment kept fading. (Kodak, then a major photography brand, was a five-figure sponsor -- but fans were forbidden from taking photos of golfers from the gallery.)
  • Who interacted with corporate sponsors in that temporary building? Mostly older golf fans and retirees. They wanted free product samples, whined about the cheap plastic goodie bags, or complained that sponsors weren't doing more for the tournament.

Wegmans Food Markets stepped in and kept it alive for years. That was a gift, especially from a regional company that owns better than 50 percent of the grocery market -- and didn't need to spend the money.

In Rochester, LPGA were once-a-year visitors, focusing more and more on events in Japan, Korea, Malaysia, China, and other fast-growing overseas markets. More golfers came from Asian and Latin American cultures. Rochester has some global brands, but few on the massive scale of Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Airbus, and Yokohama Tires -- all tournament sponsors.

LPGA wanted bigger visibility, and even a small slice of the metro NYC market and a new TV deal will eclipse what they got in Rochester. So, off they go.

It was fun. Although I wonder if a league with at least nine tournaments each labeled "Championship" really has its act together.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Great PR photos: it's not about the camera

The most important tool to get usable PR photos isn't a $5,000 digital SLR camera. Or a camera phone. Or some in-between device, like a point-and-shoot digital camera.

It's your brain. The thinking machine between your ears. 

Yes, I can tell you about tiny imaging sensors that capture grainy, disappointing photos. Or how any bright light source you see on your smartphone's screen will trick the camera into under exposing the shot, making faces dark and unrecognizable. Or how that tiny flash won't light up anything further than six feet from your lens.

But you won't care. Or won't remember. So, instead, let's talk about your brain, and how it ought to think about PR photos. It should ask three questions, well before you decide that photos of a PR event would be good to have:

1. How quickly does the world need to see these photos?

2. Where will these photos be used?

3. What message will the photos say about your brand?

First, how quickly? Ninety percent of the PR photos we capture don't qualify as breaking news. So there's no need to rush them on to Instagram or Twitter without first editing them. Any tablet capable of shooting photos can run apps that correct them. Free programs like Picasa can remove red-eye. Even if you aren't using Photoshop, you should adjust lighting and crop the photo before catapulting it into social media.

Second: what's the destination? Facebook or an annual report? Facebook is ephemeral, temporary, and quickly forgotten. Grip-and-grin handshake photos may be fine here, and you can squeak by with snapshots. Corporate newsletters and annual reports require better, publication-quality photos, with highly controlled lighting. 

And a good PR pro should make a case for hiring a professional photographer who uses real cameras. And who can edit photos for flawless results. In these circumstances, only use your smartphone to call a professional. 

Third: how will the photo impact your brand? When you see a bad photo in a story about a business, do you think: "Boy, they're too stingy to spend money on decent photography"? That's what I think, and it's worse if the brand has anything to do with image capture: smartphone makers, colleges offering photography degrees, manufacturers of inkjet printers, etc. Your client deserves not to have his or her brand tarnished by crappy photos. 

My advice: plan ahead. If there's any chance of a photo from your next PR activity appearing anywhere beyond Instagram, you're better off trusting the photography to someone who knows which equipment will deliver quality images. 

Save your smartphone for family snapshots, not client events.

Monday, May 12, 2014

All the news we'll let you print

Public relations pros once loved weekly newspapers, for several reasons:
  1. They often had more space for feature stories and were open to running accompanying photos. Eager young journalists wrote long stories about our clients.
  2. Many were delivered free or at modest cost.
  3. Unlike a daily paper, they lived in our home for a week. The daily, once read, was recycled in anticipation of the next day's edition.
Most of this has changed. Weekly papers haven't fared much better than dailies as ad dollars have left the newspaper industry in favor of internet content. Dailies responded by trimming editorial staff and beefing up their online media presence. Weeklies rely more upon local advertisers and have a more modest business model, but their websites aren't a big destination for local news.
By noebse via
 Wikimedia Commonscontent. 

We have two weeklies in our town. One has been locally written and published for years. Its design is a little dated, but I credit the ownership for maintaining a skilled editor and writers.

The other weekly is part of a regional chain owned by a media conglomerate called Gatehouse that's swimming in red ink. It recently scuttled every staff reporter. A couple of editors now produce a set of cookie-cutter weeklies that are nearly 100% submitted content. In my community, most of the "editorial" content is submitted by the school district and town government.

Why wouldn't a PR person love the idea of a weekly running almost every news release it receives?

It's about credibility. Journalism is the fourth estate, holding government decision-makers accountable for their actions. Weekly No. 2 doesn't do that. It's an ad-filled version of the school district's newsletter. (Makes me wonder why the school district continues to produce and mail their own newsletter.)

As a PR person, I prefer the legitimacy of objective journalism. It serves as a halo for stories I generate. Weekly No. 2, now written mostly by the school and town PR managers, has no journalistic halo.

Weekly No. 2 and its sister publications no longer can boast about a commitment to objective journalism. They have ads and submitted articles. They don't serve their readers as they should, and most understand that the product has become unspectacular.

I began my career writing for a weekly paper. It paid more in mileage than in salary. But I learned how to interpret and de-cloak the balderdash of public officials. People liked to read the paper, and called to complain when they didn't receive it.

Who complains when they don't get Weekly No. 2?

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Is social media biased?

I read about a women's electric vehicle team at the Kate Gleason College of Engineering at Rochester Institute of Technology. I thought it was interesting, and used Shareaholic to post it to Twitter and Facebook.

Here's what appeared on my Facebook timeline:

Notice anything? Facebook defaulted to the second image on the RIT news story, showing the men's team. The women's team (see the second screen shot below), while visible in the original story, wasn't promoted when shared via social media.

Why did the second photo appear in my timeline, and not the first?

There may be a coding trick or algorithm that easily explains this occurrence. I'd love to hear more about it.

But from my side of the screen -- the side most of us see -- this feels a bit biased. Men in engineering? Run the image. Women in engineering? Not interested.

Which is baloney. Especially if the women aren't getting equal recognition. If Facebook arbitrarily selects photos of people in bright orange clothing, this is good news for RIT (orange is a team color), the Cincinnati Bengals, and first responders. If Shareaholic or Facebook opts for males over women, that's another issue. 

(For me, orange coveralls say: airport ground crew workers, or Battlestar Galactica deck crew personnel. But, I digress.)

As a PR person, what are your options?

The more intriguing news angle, for me, is the women's team. So I'd create a single web story focused on the women's team, and only use one photo. This gives Shareaholic  and Facebook fewer decisions to make. There'd be only one photo, and that's what they'd promote.

The men's team story could have a separate page and photo, and a link on each story's page would promote the other team.

This circles back to a basic tenet of PR writing: "Leave the reader with one new idea he or she didn't have before. Not two. Not five. One new idea."

In today's short-attention-span media space, trying to pack more than one idea into a story -- let alone multiple images -- isn't always the best solution. Especially as we count on social media to carry our stories along.