Monday, December 28, 2015

Taking a break

After two straight years of weekly PR Architect blog posts, I'm taking a break this week.

I hope you'll return in January, when I plan to resume this blog.  

Happy New Year.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Avoiding your biggest PR mistake

By Theud-bald from Paris, France (Galerie Lafayette -
Christmas decoration 4) [CC BY 2.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
What's the biggest mistake a public relations practitioner can make?

Misreading the target audience. Pitching your story to the wrong individual.

And I'm not about to do that.

It's the last few days before Christmas. You're last-minute shopping. Wrapping gifts, roasting chestnuts, shipping packages, or tipping the postal carrier.

You're not chasing down PR tips. Whatever modest audience this blog attracts isn't wondering about some company's PR blunders just now.

So, this week, I'm respecting my audience. 

Go celebrate your holidays. Hug your loved ones. And Happy Christmas. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

PR wisdom from a CEO named Steve

No, it's not Steve Jobs. 

I'm referring to Steve Ells, Chipotle's CEO, whose company has been having the worst weeks ever. Maybe the worst quarter. Unexplained illnesses linked to Chipotle's fresh-food menu have resulted in more than 120 customers taking sick, and the temporary closing of 44 restaurants in Boston and the Pacific Northwest.

By Aude (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons
To his credit -- and at some professional risk -- Ells took to the morning TV news circuit last week, and took full responsibility for these problems. On the TODAY show, the first words out of his mouth? "I'm sorry."

No royal "we're sorry." No PR aphorisms along the lines of,  "We regret..." He took responsibility. And explained in very plain English what the company's doing to sanitize the restaurants and make them safe.

And, even when asked about the impact of the bad news and closings on Chipotle's stock price, Ells stayed on message. He told Matt Lauer: "That's not what we're thinking about now. We're thinking about the safety and quality of our ingredients. (And) to put in place practices that will not enable this to happen again."

No outlandish promises. No placating messages to Chipotle's stockholders. Just plain speaking. A prompt, direct apology. No criticism of Chipotle's suppliers or employees. Just what they're doing to make sure this never happens again.

Hell, I'd work for this guy.

Ells' on-target, take-responsibility candor -- both at the start and finish of the TODAY Show interview -- should be a required viewing for anyone looking for crisis communications strategies. Chipotle's recovery from this issue won't be quick -- and may be costly -- but fast-food contamination history suggests the company will do better than Jack In The Box did in the wake of its foodborne illness crisis.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Is Snapchat a storytelling tool?

I'm struggling to figure out how Snapchat fits in a public relations strategy. This may be akin to
By Snapchat, Inc. (
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
asking your grandfather to join Instagram.

Admission: I'm in learning mode with Snapchat. The app peered into my device's address book, and served up two names of contacts with Snapchat accounts. I haven't spoken to these individuals in more than a year. And neither are people with whom I'd want to share images from my daily life.

(Aside: while writing this blog, I had to force my fingers to type "Snapchat" and not "snapshot." Old habits die hard.)

But a colleague tells me Snapchat is a viable marketing communications platform for her needs. She works in undergraduate admissions, and is using a version of a university mascot to promote followers for the university on Snapchat. In the battle for hearts of prospective young enrollees, a plush-toy animal might be a differentiator.

I'm over 50. For me -- at the Neptune end of Snapchat's demographic solar system -- the phone-only app is a little baffling. Temporary photo posts? I get that. I don't sext, never have, so if that's still part of Snapchat's milieu, I'm not interested. Especially since anyone with even modest smartphone skills knows how to capture a screen image that could acquire a 100-year afterlife online.

Can we use Snapchat for storytelling, the heart and soul of PR? 

Last week, I read that Snapchat is now venturing into news, assembling content from users on a hot issue. Last week's devastating attack in San Bernardino, CA was captured in a collage of content from Snapchat users. So it won't take long before other newsworthy events -- and later, PR-worthy announcements -- find audiences on Snapchat. (Whether this is competitive with news that breaks on Twitter or Facebook, however, is anyone's guess today.)

I'm going to need to dig deeper into this. Look for my Snapchat user name: davekny57 and tell me a story. Opinions welcome. Stay tuned.

Monday, November 30, 2015

What about Amazon's need for speed?

Perhaps the one memorable line from the weakest Star Trek film -- Star Trek V, The Final Frontier -- was uttered by William Shatner's Captain Kirk: "What does God need with a starship?"

I asked a variant of that question last week, when online retail juggernaut Amazon demonstrated a re-usable rocket that, after completing its mission, returned safely to its launch pad. I'm not sure who's ordering Adele CDs on the moon, but it's impressive to know that Amazon's been thinking about this.

Jeremy Clarkson, By Ed Perchick (flickr) ,
 via Wikimedia Commons
Then I asked: What does Amazon need with a rocket ship?

Next, over the Thanksgiving holiday, Amazon posted a video of ex-Top Gear bad boy Jeremy Clarkson, using his wry sarcasm to provide an update on the Amazon delivery-by-drone technology, called Prime Air. Looks like it'll be a hit, assuming you have few trees or overhead electrical feeds. (Clarkson, along with Top Gear alumni Richard Hammond and James May, are filming a new automotive adventure show for Amazon Prime Video.)

Now, Amazon's increasing benefits to employees (after the New York Times' August expose of a supposedly brutal corporate culture at headquarters). And Amazon opened a pop-up physical bookstore in Seattle, not far from its headquarters.

Clearly, Amazon has plenty of PR firepower. But not aimed at driving sales. Not one of these innovations, no matter how tech-sexy, will goose the company's online sales in 2015. Or, for that matter, affect the company's stock price -- which has climbed steadily since August to nearly $675 a share. Without drones or rockets.

What do Clarkson, rockets, drones, and Amazon have in common? A need for speed?

Best guess: Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder and CEO, is repositioning the company. Sharply differentiating it from any other retailer. Wal-mart, for example, has thousands of employees and hundreds of gigantic stores -- but probably doesn't have a re-usable rocket.

We may need to get more curious about a Bezos universe of products and services; think Richard Branson's Virgin Group empire of airlines, telecommunications, music, etc.

Because when we see this kind of showmanship from a company that's dominant in selling stuff, we ought to start asking: why does a retailer need a rocket ship?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Job search before the turkey calls

Thanksgiving's around the corner. I don't wish to stand between you and your Butterball. So I'll be brief.

I often tell students that public relations is "doing the right thing and getting credit for it." Other times, I say -- with apologies to Leonard Nimoy -- that PR is "a wreath of pretty flowers which smells bad."

But, no matter what I say about PR, says it worse. Much worse.

Try searching for a public relations job on This is what you'd find in Buffalo, NY:

Of the "public relations opportunities" served up in this message, only the "Sr. Marketing Analyst/ Communications Specialist position could reasonably include PR duties.

(The Public Relations Director job at Superior Group is a paid ad that's been up for weeks, which means Superior Group -- a contract employer -- may have filled it already.)

The others? Who knows? The Infant-Toddler Specialist position? The restaurant manager? Each may call for dealing with a certain constituency -- unhappy parent, unhappy diner, unhappy employee, reeeallly unhappy baby. But that's not public relations. 

[Bizarro Interview Moment: "I have considerable binkie expertise, both right and left handed."]

Whoever writes the code that gurgles up's search results needs to get his or her act together. Public relations isn't running a restaurant. It doesn't involve running a Presbyterian church. If I were job-searching and sent my resume in to the restaurant manager job, they wouldn't hire me -- despite my considerable PR experience. Because the job requires experience managing a restaurant. 

You want real PR job opportunities? PRSA's website and the IABC's career center list real PR jobs. No experience with toddlers required. 

Although you might want to pack a binkie, in case you meet a nap-deprived hiring manager.

Good luck with your search, and Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Combating the doorbuster mindset

A few retailers recently gained some media praise for deciding not to open for pre-Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving Day. Nordstrom, A.C. Moore, Barnes & Noble, and Costco are among those choosing to pass up quick-buck opportunities and rampant doorbuster-ism and allow employees to celebrate Thanksgiving with their loved ones.

Bravo to them for choosing family over profits. But REI did them all one better.

Recreational Equipment Company -- REI, the big sporting goods retailer -- took it even further: they won't be open on Friday, Nov. 27, actual Black Friday. They earned national TV coverage, telling NBC News among others, that employees would be paid for Nov. 27, even though the stores would be closed. "We're paying our employees to go outside," they said.

A great move, earning REI plenty of free publicity. Except when the CEO took his message to social media via the "Ask Me Anything" forum on . While Jerry Stritzke, REI's chief executive, at first earned praise during his A.M.A. session, The New York Times reported that REI employees chimed in afterward, claiming the company didn't promote employees who didn't sell enough memberships (like a BJ's Wholesale Club membership).


Stritzke, to his credit, took ownership of this dialogue. He promised publicly that he'd take a closer look at the questionable employee practice.

The PR lessons here: in a retail-frenzied season, it can pay to differentiate your business by stepping back from the crush of unbridled doorbuster-ism. And earning recognition for passing up Black Friday is one way to strengthen your reputation. (As of writing this blog, REI's site says some 860,000 customers have signed up to "go outside" on Black Friday, rather than shop.)

But taking your message too far -- in this case, to the wild frontier of Reddit's "Ask Me Anything" forum -- invites criticisms from unexpected vectors. It's a social media channel that, to some PR people, resembles a box of snakes.

Could even the best public relations executive predict the employee gripes that REI's CEO encountered?

Monday, November 9, 2015

Are you a visual carpet bomber?

By Greg Rakozy (,

More than one friend of mine likes to post photos to Facebook. Photos of their travels. Snapshots from their parties. Lots of photos.

Every. single. photo.

Like a sky full of stars, that's too much to absorb. What's worse? Often, they're near-identical images -- group shots of three or four people, taken moment by moment, with little change of gesture or expression. Or the dreaded BOH (backs of heads). Not action photos, which might call for a rapid-fire sequence of images. Just group photos. People grinning for the camera.

Do we need to see four, five, or six iterations of the same snapshot? No. That's unfair to everyone who follows you.

Sure, social media is a visual medium. Visual communications, from infographics to vlogs, are the common currency of the internet. And, one outcome of citizen journalism and the proliferation of smartphone cameras is that people take countless photos. This isn't a judgment of whether they're good or not. They simply exist.

Too few of us pause to edit our photos before posting them on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. One-hundred fifty-three photos from whatever event they attended is 150 too many.

You need to edit. Even if they're not PR photos, an avalanche of relentlessly similar photos speaks to your personal brand. Post them all, and you're saying: "I can't help myself. I'm a compulsive sharer."

Except it's not sharing. It's more like visual carpet-bombing.

In our era of citizen journalism, we need to learn to self-edit. One good photo says much more than 20 mediocre ones.

It's not hard to edit photos. Every smartphone comes with photo editing functions. Deleting the less-satisfying ones (blurry or BOH shots) requires the swipe of a finger. Free photo editing software is available for laptops, phones, tablets, and desktops. (I use Picasa for basic editing; it's free and does a good job.)

If you need more motivation, also consider: every photo you share via Facebook grants Mark Zuckerberg -- as well as other Facebook users -- a license to re-use that image, without compensating you.

Why would you give the social media universe a right to every single photo you shoot?

Monday, November 2, 2015

Well-worn ruts in the road

When a newspaper gives you a soapbox to comment on business trends, aren't there better topics than revisiting the decline of once-dominant manufacturers who long ago lost their edge?

When I read Patrick Burke's column, "Tough times for Rochester's former Big Three," I thought: "Great opinion piece. For 2010."

Kodak's in financial trouble? Tired old news. The company struggled with digital innovation, and hasn't yet regained its footing. Xerox is having trouble? Surprise -- it's tough when you're elbowing against nimble system integrators. Bausch & Lomb's parent company, Valeant Pharmaceuticals, has earned scrutiny for questionable financial practices? Those behaviors pre-date Valeant's 2013 purchase of B&L and its move to New Jersey.

Xerox's Gil Hatch Center, Webster, NY. Photo by
DanielPenfield (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons
Big companies now compete in a global arena. They aren't always adept at great execution. That makes it easy for bloggers and columnists to point fingers at them for mediocre performance.

Mr. Burke's observations travel well-worn ruts in our business landscape. The Rochester region has fresher success stories in small- and medium-sized companies, the emerging photonics manufacturing initiative, surging real estate, and its largest employers: the University of Rochester and Wegmans.

As a former Kodak employee, with friends employed at Xerox, B&L, and Kodak, I wish them all a resurgence and success. But more than this, I wish newspapers would let go of the "former Big Three" mindset. None of these companies will likely return to the dominance they had in a pre-global economy.

(And it's more than convenient to overlook the fortunes of another former big player: Gannett Corp., which hosts Mr. Burke's column.)

Please lose the preoccupation with a Big Three that hasn't been "big" for years. And start looking forward.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Zombies and news releases

Every few months, someone's predicting the demise of the press release.

Photo by Dustin Lee via
See more at
And, if they're an editor or blogger or journalist, I think: baloney.

My colleague Denny Wilkins shared with me a "press releases are dead" post from Medium. The writer argues that issuing news releases is a zombie activity. Something PR people do automatically. A practice that cannot be killed. 

And, like most who call for an end to news releases, the writer bemoans the flood of releases that clutter most editors' email in-boxes. He praises videos and Tweets that tell an organization's story digitally, and therefore "better." Because Tweets and videos don't clutter his in-box.

Stop whining. You receive an over-abundance of releases because your employer gutted the editorial staff. You're now receiving releases those departed editors no longer read. Because they're selling Kias across from the Galleria.

In the PR world, the news release is akin to the atom. It's the basic building block of most public relations messages. It serves as a foundation for most other PR tactics: social media, media advisories, fact sheets, talking points for executives. Tweets and videos don't just materialize; they're based on someone's writing, and may have their genesis in a news release.

A news release is a starting point where you organize facts in a compelling, concise narrative. Write a headline with strong keywords. Craft a fact-based subhead or two. Keep it close to one page. Now you've got a cornerstone for the rest of your PR activities.

News releases aren't dead. Many news outlets still use them, even if they're pained to admit it. 

As PR pros, we need not apologize for producing news releases. However, we need to own our news releases, start to finish, and not send them scattershot to ever editor's email address we find. That's what earns well-deserved editorial scorn.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Awareness, buzz -- what's next?

Do you wear pink in October? This is the designated month and color for breast cancer awareness.

And part of me asks: what does awareness do?

Angelina Jolie by Georges Biard [CC BY-SA 3.0
via Wikimedia Commons
I was aware of breast cancer when a friend was diagnosed. The planet went on Global Celebrity Alert when Angelina Jolie disclosed her double-mastectomy because a test had identified a gene linked to breast cancer.

I'd say we've got awareness covered.

What I'd rather see? Not "awareness." But a campaign that asks me to take action.

This surfaced with a client's request to create a poster promoting a medical process. I asked: "What's the call to action?"

Client's response: "There's no call to action. We're just trying to grow awareness."

Awareness? Or its hipper step-sister, buzz? Please, not again.

How many ads do we encounter every day? Estimates vary. Best guess: more than 350 per day. Add in "brand exposures," and the number increases to upwards of 5,000.

Too many messages compete for your attention each day. Your awareness message will get trampled. Or ignored. (After several NFL games where the players wear pink accessories in support of breast cancer awareness, the pink Nikes lose their punch.)

Awareness without a call-to-action accomplishes too little. Many workplaces are littered with flyers and posters preaching awareness: "Keep Your Password a Secret." "Be Quiet in a Hospital's Recovery Area." "Only You." (Sorry, Smokey.)

Consider this Rule of Communication: every message should ask someone to do something. If the poster doesn’t tell readers to visit a website, work toward a goal, share a link, ask a physician, call a phone number, use a hashtag, or make a donation, it fails to engage or motivate the viewer.

It leaves them asking: why is this here? Why should we care? What’s in it for me/us?

Monday, October 12, 2015

A house is not a museum

Your house is part of a community. A museum is a place you visit to see art and artifacts.

That was my reaction last week when the leadership of George Eastman House announced a rebranding of its facility and website, rechristening itself the George Eastman Museum. The announcement said "museum" helped differentiate the place for European visitors, for whom "house" meant "institute."

Eastman's house? Viewed from East Avenue, it's a stunning mansion built by the founder of Eastman Kodak Company, who died in 1932. A more-modern museum, film archive, and research department is attached to the back of the original mansion. 
Drawing Room, George Eastman House, Rochester, NY. (c) DKassnoff, 2010.

I'm debating whether the name change means more than a PR move. "House," to me, meant more than "museum." It says that George lived there -- made his big decisions about business, life, and death. (At an advanced age and in poor health, he took his own life in his bedroom.) Rochester and New York state have plenty of museums, but few visitors assume the historical figures whose works are on display ever lived there.

The Eastman house's director apparently isn't a fan of such dwellings. In his first months at the helm, he took on a very public joust against a local developer who bought property adjoining Eastman's. The developer wanted to build apartments and had zoning laws on his side. The developer won, and the director spent some political capital before getting stakeholders on his side.

He doesn't care for apartments next door. He doesn't care to call Eastman's place a house. But perceptions often are reality. It's a house with galleries, gardens, and archives, and it sits next to an apartment structure. That sounds like a neighborhood to me.

I hope I'm wrong about this, and George Eastman Museum gains a larger following. 

In my corporate life, I spent hours explaining to journalists that George's house was not "the Kodak museum." This name change isn't going to alter that perception, either. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

The social media excuse

I didn't get the job.

I was reminded about this when Facebook notified me that a company I'd "liked" had changed its name. They didn't hire me. That's life. I love my current job.

But, in 2014, I interviewed twice with an auto parts manufacturer in a rusting town. They wanted someone with deep expertise in internal and external communications. Someone experienced in winning over skeptical old-line workers with union ties. Someone who'd done internal videos.
Photo: KarleHorn at German Wikipedia,
CC BY-SA 3.0 or CC BY-SA 3.0 de
3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

Me? Not quite.

They didn't hire me, and I politely asked what skills I needed to win that job. They said: "We wanted someone with more experience in social media."

That hurt. I had social media experience, creating Facebook and Twitter accounts, podcasts and blogs for clients. Maybe I could forgive them for not reading my resume, where I'd documented my many social media wins.

It bothered me because they were liars. "Social media experience" was code-speak for: "We want someone younger."

Too many employers believe that candidates over age 50 can't grasp social media, or its power to help businesses grow internal and external relationships. Or maybe those companies simply practice discriminatory hiring. Either way, they're not being honest. They're practicing age discrimination.

And today, I teach a course in social media.

Why did this come up now? Remember, Big Auto Parts Company announced a name change on Facebook, prodding me to visit their page. What did I discover?

Yes, they'd changed their name. Other than that? Nothing. Their page -- the one they'd claimed they'd hired a social media whiz to help refresh -- remained frozen in time, with no new posts or comments since mid-2014. Except for a few caustic consumer complaints over failed products, from 2014.

How's that social media working out for you, Not-So-Big Auto Parts Company?

Friday, October 2, 2015

2015 PR Apprentice is underway!

College students from across western New York are now brainstorming creative ideas to promote an early childhood literacy program as part of the PRSA Rochester chapter's 2015 PR Apprentice competition. Check back for details.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Road to resurrection runs through 30 Rock

While Pope Francis led a spiritual resurgence of faithful Catholics in Cuba, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City last week, a different resurrection was taking place a few steps away from St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Brian Williams went back on TV Thursday to deliver news of the Pope's visit, working out of studios at 30 Rock. Except he's on MSNBC, the cable news channel that has fewer viewers than any other NBC-Comcast-Universal property.

By fimoculous from Seattle (Flickr), via Wikimedia Commons
Mr. Williams, you may recall, fell off the NBC News' anchor desk seven months ago, after sharing tall stories about his exploits in Iraq and New Orleans that proved inaccurate, to put in kindly. Williams -- affable, credible, and a good front man for NBC's news product -- had fibbed. He was suspended, and only through the graces of new leadership at NBC News, was given an opportunity to resurface at MSNBC, where he began his network career a few decades ago.

Major news competitors gave reserved approval to Williams' return. The New York Times framed his resurrection as part of a broader effort to revitalize struggling MSNBC.  Huffington Post and the New York Post also reported on Williams' comeback, but the Post dwelled on snarkisms about Williams from Twitter.

I believe the media should spend more time covering news stories, not airing random social media remarks from people with excess data plan minutes. News outlets large and small dwell too long on Tweets from casual netizens, instead of reporting facts from knowledgeable sources.

As for Williams: he's one more proof point that Americans love a second act. If he succeeds, his presence may shore up a cable news operation that's struggled to maintain a foothold. I like Lester Holt at the helm of the NBC Nightly News on the parent network. But Williams has a shot at rebranding himself and the sibling cable channel. 

But you'd hope NBC News has learned not to pin its hopes on one charismatic news anchor to lift an entire network.

Monday, September 21, 2015

My Big Data headache

One of the classes I teach involves helping students understand the concept of Big Data. And it gives me a headache to think about it.

Big Data describes all the digital transaction information organizations acquire about us. Our health records (supposedly safe) are part of Big Data. When I buy kosher hot dogs, orange seltzer, and Tums (don't ask) at Wegmans, the loyalty card I carry tags my purchase in some data file. That becomes part of Big Data.

By Thierry Gregorius (Cartoon: Big Data) ,
via Wikimedia Commons
Taken together, an immense database contains our online purchase histories, our health histories, our online tussles with Microsoft, and so on. Most companies struggle to sift and manage this trove. And few can explain how hackers get into their computer servers and swipe it.

In 2013, Target experienced a major data breach. They were hacked. The chief information officer resigned. A few months later, after Target experienced an awful fourth quarter, the CEO quit, too.

Earlier this year, the second-larger U.S. health insurer, Anthem, got hacked. Seventy-eight million customers' personal data, by some estimates, was placed at risk. Joe Swedish, Anthem's CEO, is still in place, at last report.

You'd think these high-profile examples of mismanaging Big Data would have cued other organizations to check and reinforce their data safeguards. Sadly, Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield in Rochester, NY didn't lock the gates in time. Ten million personal records -- including mine -- may have been stolen in their August 2015 hacking.

What do we get, as customers? Precious little. Two years of free credit monitoring. And assurances that don't reassure us.

There's no public relations aspirin to cure this headache. I couldn't even suggest one. Maybe a video public apology from CEOs like Anthem's Swedish or Excellus' Christopher Booth. They would be more credible than press-release promises such as ""Protecting personal information is one of our top priorities and we take this issue seriously."

Not seriously enough, I'm afraid.

Because for all the talk about Big Data, there's no public face. No leader at the corporate or government level who's truly accountable for protecting the public's private information. And in this day and age, shouldn't there be an officer at Department of Homeland Security whose job is safeguarding the public from corporate hacking failures?

As for my students, I have mixed feelings about extolling the marketing potential of unlocking Big Data. Because, so far, the people actually unlocking Big Data have been thieves and scoundrels.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Don't call us, we can't decode news releases

You've got to admire an online news release distribution channel called 24-7 Press Release.

They're honest about their service: they take a news release you write, and distribute it to media outlets via a newswire-style service. What they won't do is also pretty clear:

"Please do not attempt to contact 24-7 Press Release Newswire. We are unable to assist you with any information regarding this release."

In other words: "We aren't the writers or people quoted in the news release you're reading. We're not set up for media relations."

Honest? You bet. Helpful? Not so much, at least if you read releases on 24-7 Press Release -- in this case, "Fresh Design Studio is the First Millennial Agency in the Midwest"

Millennials, I guess.
The release's lead was a head-scratcher."Fresh Design Studio, LLC, a leading creative agency, announces its shift to a Millennial agency, thereby painting an indelible mark in the digital marketing landscape. The move to reposition the agency's focus was driven by the need to effectively capture the interests of the Millennial generation, which is now the main driving force in all areas of every industry."

They talk about landscapes. The digital marketing landscape. The consumer landscape. Everything except actual landscapes. 

Lots of words, but Do you know exactly what Fresh Design Studio does? They use 'millennial' with abandon, although it's easy to challenge the idea that the Millennial generation is "now the main driving force in all areas of every industry." (Plumbing or locksmithing, for example, aren't exactly catering to Millennials.)

Is Fresh Design really the first agency to say they're good at reaching Millennials? In Chicago, the ad capital of the Midwest? If they are, they should point to a winning campaign that demonstrates their expertise. But they don't. (For thoughts about Millennials, look here.)

Picking apart a release that dances around the exact services you offer is easy. Fresh Design actually talks about their services in boilerplate copy at the end of the release. But since you've got 2.7 seconds to grab an editor's attention, saving these details until the final paragraph is burying your value proposition.

Small wonder, then, that 24-7 Press Release wants little to do with such home-brewed releases. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

Burger wars won't bring Peace One Day

Burger King earned itself a moment of PR limelight with its recent invitation to McDonald's -- yes, that McDonald's -- to collaborate on a joint sandwich, later this month on Peace Day (Sept. 21).

McDonald's' response? "No, thank you."

McWhopper, as seen on NBC's Today Show. Full segment:
From one perspective, Burger King's armistice in the "burger wars" helped it gain some visibility, albeit at the cost of full-page newspaper ads, a Twitter account (#McWhopper) and a clever-ish website. The strategy borrows a little of McDonalds' luster to portray Burger King as a near-equal.

The reality is different, however. According to QSR magazine, McDonald's is still the reigning champ, with annual sales around $35 billion. Burger King clocks in at No. 5 -- $8.5 billion -- behind Subway, Starbucks, and Wendy's. McDonald's is shuttering restaurants, paring back its menu choices, and experimenting with larger Quarter-Pounders and all-day breakfast in a move to spark tumbling sales.

Is this a PR win? Earning two minutes on NBC's Today Show can't be viewed as a loss. At the same time, students in my Public Relations class at St. Bonaventure University said the campaign -- win or lose -- trivializes the idea of battle. "Burger wars" are fine from a marketing perspective for two mature fast-food brands. But our students reminded me that war -- real war -- means suffering, death, refugees, and much worse.

Burger wars, like cola wars, are a trade magazine's contrivance. One that, from a different perspective, bends our perception of real conflict. And this campaign designed to promote Peace One Day seems way into the weeds.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Postscript to "Stopping the Barbie mentality"

A few weeks ago, I chided pen make Bic for its sexist ads. I'm not the only one. 

Here's an amusing take on what others did with the Bic ad campaign:

Monday, August 31, 2015

The PR Apprentice, 100% Trump-free

Now and then, I have the privilege of leveraging the craft of public relations to do some real-world good. In a few weeks, that opportunity comes around again with our "PR Apprentice" competition -- where we'll ask college students to dive in to the deep end of the PR pool.

It's a sink or swim event.

This year's program (Oct. 2-3) involves members of the PRSA chapter in Rochester, NY and local media representatives serving as coaches and judges of teams from several colleges and universities in Western New York.

Over a 36-hour period, the teams of students will strategize and pitch their best plans to promote a dual-language awareness campaign for Ibero American Action League's Early Childhood Center. View a video and full details on PRSA Rochester's website.

Engaging undergraduates in this competition gives them both exposure to a real-world PR challenge, and helps them demonstrate their skills to agency, not-for-profit, and corporate practitioners who may help them network and find career opportunities. It also helps them engage with a diverse audience, and try to wrap their heads around engaging audiences they might not encounter on a college campus.

Did I mention that the winners will also have opportunities to put their great ideas into action? They'll be writing content and blog posts and capturing video for actual media consumption, not a college class.

And, we hope, they'll move the needle on awareness for Ibero's program.

(Full disclosure: we adapted the program's "PR Apprentice" name in an earlier iteration a few years ago, before the TV series' star entertained notions of political campaigning. Thus, we have zero connection with Mr. Trump.)

Check back here in a few weeks to see how we did.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Deciphering the "Shop Your Way" approach

Kmart talks "asset light" and "member-centric" while removing services

I stopped in at Kmart to buy a shirt.

And I discovered they'd removed the walk-up electronic price scanners that helped shoppers verify item prices and discounts. I now needed to wander the floor, hoping to uncover an employee with a pricing gun. Good luck with finding floor personnel at any Kmart.

Really? At a time when retailers should be doing everything to build engagement with consumers, Kmart is removing most of its ways to deliver value to customers. Seems counter-intuitive to a retailer that touts a "Shop Your Way" connection with customers. 

No store generates more paper at the register
than Kmart. (c) DKassnoff
At the checkout, the cashier announced to a fellow clerk, "I'm clocking out at five," before handing me a wad of auto-printed coupons and promotions. Five slips of junk for products I'd never buy.

If there's a PR strategy behind this, it's very well hidden. 

Edward Lampert, the Kmart/Sears CEO, is quoted in recent news releases, talking about the effort to "transform (Kmart/Sears) from a traditional, store-network based retail business model to a more asset-light, member-centric integrated retailer leveraging our Shop Your Way platform." 

"Asset-light" means closing and selling off low-performing stores. Removing most of the consumer electronics department. And ripping out fully-amortized price-checkers that helped consumers make purchase decisions. 

"Member-centric" means extracting data from customers in exchange for inane slips of paper that reflect zero regard for customer relationship management.

I bought the shirt. But whatever "Shop Your Way" means to Lampert, it's unlikely to get me back into that store anytime soon.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Stopping the Barbie mentality

Two companies recently took steps to change how they approach the female demographic. Target took a step forward. BIC took a step backward.

Target announced it would remove in-store signs that categorize products as gender-specific. Good move; it should be up to the parents and their kids to determine which toys sons and daughters prefer. While a minor issue -- no one had filed a lawsuit over the "girls' building sets" signs -- it's a simple change that shows the big retailer's listening to its customers. The company earned positive media coverage for it.

BIC's faux pas was a hastily launched and withdrawn online ad tied to Women's Day in South Africa. You can read about it here. Bad form, BIC. Objectifying women and telling them to "think like a man" insults every woman who's ever had her suggestions batted down by a lame-brained male executive. 

BIC, you'll recall, launched a line of pink and purple "BIC for Her" pens that earned scorn and mockery from consumers, who plastered with sarcastic comments. In the PR universe, BIC has a tin ear about what women want in a pen. Or a disposable razor. Or an ad campaign.

Every consumer-focused business thinks they know their audience demographic. Common corporate wisdom says that women make the majority of purchase decisions in most households. So women should, and do, call foul over gender pandering when companies slap a pink logo on a product and call it "Just for Her."

Regardless of gender, communications professionals can also offer insights that may prevent a company from making repeated BIC-like mistakes. I once had to tell a client not to do a news release promoting the client's first outdoor ad campaign to feature black models because critics would ding the company for not having done it years earlier.

You'd expect someone at BIC has enough insight to warn managers about Barbie-dolling women in their campaigns. But you never know.

And while we're at it -- why is there no Women's Day in the U.S.?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Banging the drum for active voice houses a wealth of executive-written news releases. If you're a CEO with a do-it-yourself gene, you'll find plenty of friends here. Their writing's not brilliant, but someone at appears to edit them.

The weakest element of the writing? Most rely on passive voice, or over-dependence on “to be” verb phrases. Unless you're auditioning for Hamlet, I'd excise any use of the "to be" verb phrase. A simple example:

By Stephan Czuratis (Jazz-face)
(Own work), via Wikimedia Commons
Passive Voice:  “It was announced today that a new ergonomic drum stick is being launched by Chicken Percussion, Inc.”

Active Voice:  “Chicken Percussion today launched a new line of ergonomic drum sticks.”

A reliance on weak to-be verbs kills any energy in your news story. “It was announced…” and “is being launched” sounds as if everything’s after-the-fact. Remember, news releases should deliver news – and in today’s 24/7 news cycle, immediacy (or conveying a sense of immediacy) is essential.

Speaking of voices, I found a good example in a news release from Voicebrook, Inc. Consider two versions of the lead paragraph for a news release:


Lake Success, NY, August 06, 2015 --( Voicebrook, Inc. is sponsoring Cerner’s 2015 Laboratory Learning Workshop. This two and a half day educational opportunity will be held at Cerner’s World Headquarters campus, in Kansas City, MO. The Workshop is being held on August 10th through the 12th. A Voicebrook representative will be available to answer questions and discuss seamless speech recognition reporting solutions for laboratories using Cerner’s Anatomic Pathology solutions.


Kansas City, MO., August 6, 2015 --(— An Aug. 10-12 Laboratory Learning Workshop exploring speech recognition reporting solutions for labs takes place here at Cerner’s World Headquarters campus in Kansas City. The workshop, sponsored by Voicebrook, Inc., will include a Voicebrook representative to answer questions and discuss seamless speech recognition reporting  for labs using Cerner’s Anatomic Pathology solutions.

The shift in tone makes a difference. Removing passive-voice phrases such as “is sponsoring,” “will be held,” and “will be available” focuses the reader's attention on what’s happening. Active verbs such as sponsored  help add a sense of immediacy to the release.

One minor quibble: use the location of the event – Kansas City, in this case – as your dateline, rather than the location of your company (Lake Success, NY). A business editor in KC scans for local datelines, and may skip a release that talks about a business from another state.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Angle adjustments: $7. Scintillating prose is extra.

I was feeling a little blue the other day. So I looked online for something to amuse me. A news release with poor prose usually brings a smile to my face.

I didn't need to look far. At, I found sentences like these:
  • "The advancement in science and technology has escalated the living standard of the people to far greater heights." 
  • "Thousands of customers have already made it the integral part of their life and many more are on the verge of getting it soon."
  • "Why is the reason that this USB Adjust Angle has received such a substantial response within a short period of time? Well, many people still wonder; however, the users have already got the answers."
These aren't the observations of a drunken platinum futures salesperson in Des Moines. They are all direct excerpts from a news release for a "Conveniently Adjustable Mini USB Adjust Angle for Night Book Reading."
The product is a run-of-the-mill USB-powered lamp that a user can plug into a port on a laptop. This enables you to view the keyboard in the dark. It costs $7.

About as much as the company spent on writing its news release.

I'm not certain how an 8.5-inch bending lamp can illuminate a book for nighttime reading. The news release isn't crystal clear on this. The headline itself never uses the words "lamp" or "light."

When you find the lamp online, you'll notice that the "substantial response" consists of eight five-star ratings on Some of which may not be from actual purchasers of this LED wonder.

Be warned: MyPRGenie is in the business of taking customers' money and allowing them to publish their own badly written news releases. I have yet to meet the news editor who can attest to using a news release generated by MyPRGenie -- a company that might be taken more seriously if it edited its clients' news releases.

Or told them to hire a real writer.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Free milk and Band-Aids

This is not a tale about grade school kids, despite the headline.

Camille* and I began a conversation at a professional dinner. We hadn't met previously, but I knew the not-for-profit agency she headed. She liked a few things I said about strengthening their external communications, took my business card, and promised to call.

Image by Kaz, from Pixabay,
via Wikimedia Commons
Reaching out to Camille over the next few weeks yielded no response. Then, one night, about eight weeks later, she phoned to ask for ideas to better market her agency's new counseling service. I shared a few thoughts in writing -- it took about an hour -- and she indicated we should meet soon and move toward a working relationship.

Nothing happened, even after multiple follow-ups from me.

A few months later, around 8 pm on a Friday, Camille called in a panic. An ex-client of the agency was frustrated with its policies, and his unhappy friend posted disparaging remarks on the agency's Facebook page. Camille didn't know how to respond, if she should respond, and was worried about negative fallout or unwanted media attention.

I counseled her, and offered to help develop a PR strategy to deal with similar social media issues. Camille promised to get back to me in a couple of weeks.

You know what happened next. Silence. Nothing.

Most executive directors of not-for-profits are busy. I get that. So, too, are PR people. Especially those of us trying to be responsive to clients and potential clients -- and run a business. At some point, a client needs to buy -- or at least rent -- the cow, instead of trying to get the milk for free.

Camille's problems aren't with her not-for-profit's branding or Facebook page. It's her inability to take a longer view, follow up, and do what she says she'll do.

PR is about relationships as much as media relations and persuasion, but Camille's more interested in snagging short-term remedies as "band-aids." And not paying for them.

Inevitably, the work Camille's agency does will earn headlines, some of which may trigger controversy. She'll need a PR counsel to help strategize and execute their key messages.

And when that happens, Camille will find she can't get the milk for free.

*A pseudonym.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Yogi Berra, Public Relations, and Twitter

Had enough of the content tidal wave yet?

The web offers more than "stream of consciousness." It's scream of consciousness -- a term I attribute to the artist Carolyn Kassnoff around 2001 -- but it's more accurate than ever. Every thought, idea, wry observation, or snarky Kardashian slap finds its way into the torrent of social media.

And no place is it more evident than Twitter.

PR pro David Ericson recently blogged about many ways to use Twitter for public relations. It's a good read, describing how Twitter's alliance with Google helps the social media site reach casual web consumers who aren't (yet) Twitter members. So, if you're a PR pro who's working to get recognition for a client's services and products, there's value to including a well-planned Twitter strategy.

Yogi Berra, C. 1956, via
Wikimedia Commons
But there's another way for PR people to leverage Twitter, although you need a registered Twitter account. It's called listening. Or eavesdropping, if you prefer.

To paraphrase Yogi Berra, you can learn plenty about how to find and pitch journalists and editors just by listening. (Actual Berra-ism: "You can observe a lot just by watching.")

Virtually every journalist is on Twitter, posting about issues, industries, and stories they cover. A few journalists and editors are essentially addicted to social media, posting with astonishing frequency about matters grave and trivial.

We're not talking about monitoring for mentions of your client on social media. That's statistics, and while it may provide useful data points, it doesn't help change attitudes or behaviors, which is what PR tries to achieve.

When I talk about listening, I mean using what we hear to better understand the interests and behaviors of reporters in a given market, industry, or beat. For example, if I'm helping a paddling center promote its business, I'm going to pay close attention to the reporters who Tweet about their outdoor recreation activities -- as well re-tweet the positive experiences of my customers who've enjoyed a day of kayaking.

Yes, there's a scream of consciousness on Twitter -- but it's also a fountain of media insights for PR practitioners willing to spend time listening to what's said.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Decoding Microsoft's code-speak

You can go anywhere on the Internet to hear pundits expound on the travails of public figures: Cosby. Trump. Ariana Grande, the so-called singer named for a coffee cup size.

I'm not biting. Not this week.

Instead, let's  look at the technology universe, where last week, Microsoft announced 7,800 employees would lose their jobs. 

Most of those jobs were associated with the mobile phone business Microsoft acquired from Nokia. Windows Mobile-powered handsets are not selling. Last year, they laid off 18,000 employees, also tied to the mobile phone business. That's two straight years of downsizings tied to phones. 

By David1010 (Own work),
via Wikimedia Commons
Pretty soon, Microsoft's mobile unit will have all the credibility of Radio Shack.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft's CEO, explained the strategic shift in an email to employees: "We are moving from a strategy to grow a standalone phone business to a strategy to grow and create a vibrant Windows ecosystem that includes our first-party device family."

How's that again? Microsoft writes and sells software. Most of the time, it works. With the exception of the Surface tablet, however, they haven't done well in devices. Their prototype HoloLens headset looks interesting -- especially to Star Trek enthusiasts -- but I'm not saving my bitcoins to buy one.

Microsoft has a strong PR apparatus, but its communications are hobbled by a simple truth: they can't tell us what they do that adds value to our lives. Recent Windows iterations have confounded even experienced IT pros. Zunes died. And then there's the phone business.

Someone needs to decode Microsoft's communications. Maybe that "Windows ecosystem - device family" blather means they're going to add smartphone functionality to the Surface tablets. Or turn out baby Surfaces (Surfettes?) that can function like smartphones.

In other words: Microsoft may copy Apple's iPad mini strategy. (Insert yawn here.)

Hey, Satya? Want me to believe in your business and buy your product? Don't spout about "ecosystems" that have nothing to do with ecology. Don't prattle on about "sparking innovation."

Tell me what you do, and why I should care. And how it will help improve my life.

Monday, July 6, 2015

How to know when you're being baited

I seldom venture into politics or commentary about candidates for political office. This is a brief exception.

News editors, I'm talking to you.

Do you realize that when Donald Trump says something incendiary about some non-U.S. nationality, he's baiting you? When you keep re-playing his offensive comments about Mexican citizens, you give him more exposure than, say, ANY CANDIDATE WHO'S ACTUALLY GOVERNED?

Substitute image to be used in place of any
photo of Donald Trump. P.T. Barnum wasn't available.
When you report on corporations backing out of deals with Trump, that's only slightly newsworthy. Companies end business dealings all the time. When Kodak collapsed into bankruptcy, major deals with Target, Wal-mart, Disney, and the PGA Tour went away. The backlash over Trump's remarks made his torn-up contracts mildly more interesting, but not deserving of the air time and web content you're handing over to him.

Donald Trump is a very expensive empty suit. He has no experience in public service. He's P.T. Barnum with a black helicopter and some real estate holdings. In other words: Mitt Romney-style money with no policy experience.

News directors: please start holding vanity candidates like Trump accountable. Demand his policies and plans to govern. Assuming they're not written on an Etch-a-Sketch. 

Decision-makers in newsrooms need to figure out when they're being baited into covering a fringe candidate as if he had legitimate leadership credentials. In some cases, it's easy.

Every time Trump steps up to a mike, you're being baited.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Do you know who I am?

The county's PR guy had a county-owned car, which he and his wife drove to a wedding in a neighboring county. Alcohol was served. The wife was charged with DWI. The county PR guy -- who tried to strong-arm the traffic stop by playing the "do you know who I am?" card --  got a seven-day suspension, and can't touch his fleet car for 30 days.

Not the actual DWI stop.
By Highway Patrol Images (BN 201 VE SS
 traffic stop), via Wikimedia Commons
It's fair to say things didn't end well.

That's all we really know about Justin, his wife, and the unnamed third person in the car at the time of the arrest. The Monroe County Executive -- herself a former TV journalist -- has labeled this a personnel matter, and sealed the details from voters. So much for transparency.

But it's not about the county executive, who's ending her term-limited stint in the job. It's about the PR guy, and what should pass for judgment when your paycheck comes from local taxpayer's wallets.

Full disclosure: about 20 years ago, I worked for a different Monroe County Executive in the very same job. My "perks" consisted of a parking spot next to the county office building. Where I could park my five-year-old Ford, because no one offered me a county-owned vehicle.

I never thought to ask for a county car. I wasn't a law officer, nor was I directly engaged in emergency preparedness. My role was to offer strategy and counsel, write speeches and news releases, photograph events, pitch story ideas, and respond to reporters' questions.

Today's county PR guy pretty much has the same responsibilities. None of which require a county-owned car. Which the rules say shouldn't be driven outside the county.

Speaking of rules: the county PR guy has more of a legislative/political science background than deep public relations experience. So he might want to consider adopting the following:
  • Nothing positive ever comes of telling any police officer, "Do you know who I am?" Ever. Especially when you're far from the county where someone really knows who you are. 
  • The 24/7 media circus never stops, even when you're off-the-clock. So managing your personal brand is a more than a full-time job.
  • Don't do anything to tarnish your boss' legacy. Because she may be headed for higher office, and now it's less likely she'll ask you to tag along.
  • Don't drink and drive. Or allow someone who's had one less than you to drive. Especially when neither of you own the damned car.
Happy Motoring.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Visual storytelling? Forget your smartphone

Our local PRSA chapter held its award ceremony last week. Many great public relations campaigns, agencies, and practitioners were recognized. And deservedly so.

My Canon camera. By Mohylek (Own work),
 via Wikimedia Commons
I'd share photos, except I wasn't there. And most of the photos posted on social media by the event's attendees were uniformly awful. Poorly lit, under-exposed snapshots -- the incriminating fingerprint of a smartphone camera that uses a tiny sensor and fires a tiny LED to produce a feeble flash. Or has no flash at all.

(I'd link to their pictures, but it's unfair to show colleagues in less than flattering photos.)

Footnote: this isn't specific to the Rochester, NY PRSA chapter. I've now seen shots from the Buffalo PRSA Excalibur awards event; they aren't any better, and in some cases, look no better than any after-party selfies you've seen.

Listen, I get it. People don't want to carry two devices. A stand-alone digital camera has to be charged, and adds weight to a pocket or purse. It's one more thing to bring along. And a smartphone allows you to upload photos to Facebook immediately. (Without editing. Bleh.)

As a literate culture, we are increasingly dependent on telling stories visually. PR people know this, because every winning PR strategy relies on YouTube, Vimeo, or another way to share still or moving images. Audiences expect visuals, and often skim past content with visual content.

And poor visuals really stink. They tell the viewer: "We didn't care enough about this story to include a picture."

So, for events and occasions that demand visuals, organizations need to hire a photographer with a camera designed for low-light photography. Or enlist an experienced volunteer with comparable equipment to help document the events. (In a town like Rochester, NY -- home to a university with a very strong photography school -- this should be simple.)

Most days, I carry a four-year-old compact Canon digital camera in my briefcase. It isn't the latest, and doesn't pack 20 megapixels. But it does an infinitely better job of visual storytelling when used correctly. In the right hands.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Pay attention to canal tourism

Our canal boat. (c) DKassnoff, 2012.
A couple of years ago, I rented a boat and cruised for a few days on the Erie Canal. Some of the communities we saw on our voyage were charming. Others offered all the allure of a miniature Rust Belt refinery.

There's more to the Erie Canal than most people realize. Communities like Fairport and Brockport in upstate New York have built substantial attractions around the canal. Others have more modest setups: a small park or a boat launch.

But if your community has invested anything in its waterfront in hopes of drawing tourism, you'd be wise to tell someone about it.

Here's an example:

This is what has to say about things to do in Newark, New York:

Even at full size, it doesn't say much. There was a movie theatre, but it apparently closed in 2014. And nothing else.

When I visited on my voyage, however, here's what I found:

A comfortable, clean canalside park with moorings, free WiFi, and a laundry facility. Short walking distance to a few cozy restaurants, a charming public library with a remarkable museum devoted to clocks, and another museum run by the local historical society. Friendly people.

It was a relaxing place to spend a couple of days on the water. My son, an emerging filmmaker, shot a film parodying scenes from Apocalypse Now, and we had fun.

Newark's not everyone's idea of a getaway destination. But you wouldn't need to expend many hours of energy to post information about the town's charms on TripAdvisor or other travel and tourism web sites. Portions of Wayne County's tourism website haven't been updated since 2014. A little basic public relations effort would go a long way.

And overlooking websites like TripAdvisor is a big missed opportunity.

Monday, June 8, 2015

My chosen people are a little too choosy

It's just me, I suppose. Or maybe not.

I am Jewish, and I'm a little disappointed just now with our cultural tendency to talk about inclusion while failing to practice it. As a culture, you'd think we'd know better.

The other day, I received an e-mail blast (with a few details obscured) -- and was asked to help spread the word of an event:

By Fast Forward Event Productions,
via Wikimedia Commons
Dear Library Moms,

Please join us at “Moms Make It, Take It, Over Chocolate and Wine” on Thursday, June 11, 2015 at Temple Beth Zion from 7 – 8:30 PM. The event includes making Jewish summer activities, a presentation on turning regular moments into Jewish ones, and lots of good wine and chocolate!

What’s wrong with this message?

I'm a Jewish dad. And I'm not invited.

The message assumes that Jewish households in our community rely on moms alone to ensure a heritage-rich upbringing. It infers that the fathers have a diminished role in providing a Jewish life. Or that there’s no father figure involved.

Or maybe they just want the wine and chocolate for themselves.

Why does this trouble me? I was very engaged in my children’s religious lives. Together with my non-Jewish wife, we made sure the kids experienced many Jewish and non-Jewish activities. I drove my kids to Hebrew school on Sunday mornings, even when no one wanted to go. My wife was very involved, to be certain. But I’m the Jewish parent, and I took it as my responsibility.

The organizers of the “Moms Make It” party seem to disregard fathers like me. Would it ruin this event to open it to parents of both genders? (Or explain, for that matter, exactly what they're making and taking?)

It's a confusing message, at best: "Moms, come indulge on chocolate and wine. We'll talk about Jewish activities. Don't bring dads."

If the event’s organizers exclude dads, they risk alienating dedicated parents. Or they’re simply not thinking of their broader constituencies. Either way, it’s no way for a non-profit organization to build support for their program.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Make your news ready to read

As a kid, I loved Alpha-Bits, the cold ready-to-read cereal consisting of all 26 alphabet letters. (That's not a typo. I think it helped develop my love of reading and writing.)

So when I read this news release:

Modernizing Medicine and Miraca Life Sciences Debut EMA Urology EMR System | Business Wire

-- I had a flashback to my Alpha-Bits days.

There are four acronyms in the lead paragraph. And they're easily confused by a business desk editor. Especially if it's Monday morning.

"EMR," for example, is the stock symbol for Emerson Electric Co., as well as Electronic Medical Records. In addition to the company's use of EMA for "electronic medical assistant," it's also widely used as an acronym for European Medicines Agency, the Environmental Media Association, a significant ad agency based in Syracuse, NY., and MTV's European Music Awards. Also, MLS abbrevates the Multiple Listings Service used in real estate.

News flash: people don't talk this way. Unless they want to confuse their audiences.

Acronyms can help an editor or reader wade through long, technobabble-filled releases. In moderation. If you want to lose an editor, however, just keep tossing EMRs, EMAs, and MLSs around as if he or she speaks in the same internal jargon you use in your office.

My point: back off on the acronym hailstorm, friends. You're asking editors and readers to work too hard. Whether it's Monday or any other day.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Sounding off on weighing in

Every day, at least one of the news sources I follow on Facebook posts a link to a non-local story, accompanied by the invitation: WEIGH IN. Or SOUND OFF. Or the ever-popular: WHAT DO YOU THINK?

And I think: Go enterprise a real news story. The internet has enough rude, unmoderated comments.

The best reporting requires a little hustle on the part of reporters and editors. Ambition. Moxie. The best reporters do this, time and again. But in a Facebook world, it's not enough to report news.

TV news affiliates -- and some print-based media online -- now try to augment the good work of reporters and goose their Facebook traffic numbers by inviting followers to "sound off" or "weigh in." This is less vox populi than it is a blanket invitation to banter.

Media consultants tell TV and radio outlets they need to "engage" their audiences via social media. Thoughtful online discussions would be one way. But asking viewers to leave under-informed opinions on Facebook isn't engagement. This is simply filler. It upholds the tenets of news reporting not one iota. It neither informs nor enlightens. 

And the coarseness and veiled bigotry that often surfaces in viewers' comments -- often unmoderated -- cheapens the media outlet's brand. The comments at left came from a Facebook post about President Obama's taking part in a Memorial Day observance. Few of them reflect thoughtful discourse. More than a few are obnoxious. And there are far more repulsive comments to be found elsewhere on Facebook.

Should readers debate news stories in a public forum? Yes. Letters to the editor and public forums were the way it was done, 'til opinion sharing became the domain of Facebook. 

But "weighing in" doesn't deliver thoughtful dialogue. It often devolves into name-calling or worse. So asking viewers to weigh in reflects badly upon both the respondents, and the media outlets who resort to this form of engagement to boost their social media visibility.

We'd all be better served if they focused on reporting the news. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Relationships or data?

I have genuine admiration for anyone who's succeeded in public relations for 30 or 40 years. My colleague Ray is one of the best.

So I read his blog on the new golden age of PR with authentic interest. Yes, the profession has a new look -- very digital, and often data-driven. 

But as I read Ray's comments, I noticed an absence of the most important word in this profession: relationships. He mentions it once, in the context of creating deeper relationships between marketers and PR professionals, and their audiences.

In an age where you can swap online analytics with anyone, I'd argue that we're not in a golden age of PR -- because relationships are dwindling. Emails and voice mails are a poor substitute for live, face-to-face conversations.

At Cedar Point, OH., "Gatekeeper" is a roller coaster.
By Jeremy Thompson from United States of America
 (Cedar Point 105  Uploaded by Themeparkgc)
via Wikimedia Commons
It's important to know the editors or news producers you're trying to reach, beyond knowing their e-mail addresses. They are the gatekeepers between your client's story and the audience. Even if you're creating a blog for your client, you need others to find it, read it, and share it. Social media-savvy journalists do that, too. Among my online friends are several editors and producers who are de facto gatekeepers.

So how do you build a relationship today?

If you get them on the phone -- and it happens, now and then -- the first thing you ask is: "Are you on deadline?" 

This shows you have a sense that they're busy, even if they aren't on deadline. It shows that you're thinking from their side of the desk, rather than just pitching your client. If you're smart, you'll listen carefully to what that editor or producer has to say, so you'll only pitch stories that meet his or her needs.

It's not easy. It takes time. But if you deliver what you promise, when an editor needs it, you're building a relationship that no Google Analytics traffic report can provide. And, if you're ever in a tight editorial spot, there's a chance you could reach out to that media person and ask: "What do you think?"

Yes, Ray's right about integrated marketing communications. Connecting actions with analytics is wise. But we can't skip building relationships -- with clients, colleagues, and any media professional. 

Because you can't buy a friend when you need one.