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
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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.