Monday, June 27, 2016

Don't be Steve: relationships in PR

Public relations is often about building relationships. Some smart PR people get this. Others don't. For example:

"I know you're the special kind of person who wants to help other people."

I'm not sure if Steve Harrison really knows that. Or knows much about public relations, beyond providing all sorts of advice on how to get the attention of TV segment booking producers. That's what he sells on his website.

What I do know about Steve Harrison: he hasn't Clue One about respecting his potential customers. The five come-on emails he sent me over a two-hour period told me all I need to know about Steve's mastery of public relations. (I signed up for a webinar, recommended by a colleague. Not spam that rivals the barrage I got from FTD around Mother's Day.)

In a five-day span: 10 emails from Steve. Each as relentless and self-promoting as the last.

A TV studio control room.
By Wing1990hk (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
I follow a few rules about public relations. Near the top: respecting the beleaguered editors, producers, and bloggers whose in-boxes are in the cross-hairs of every PR person looking to promote a product, service, or website. I'm not certain Steve's ever sat on their side of the assignment desk. But given the hay bale's worth of pitches he dropped on me last Monday, I'm betting he's pure pitch, and not too considerate of the hectic newsrooms most media gatekeepers must manager.

I told him as much, in a succinct email:

"The first rule of public relations is to earn the audience's trust. I've found that editors trust me, because I respect them -- and I don't carpet-bomb their email in-boxes.

"Four email blasts within one hour (from you) shows that you don't respect my time -- and may have trouble getting a message down to one new idea.

"Please be considerate of your audiences. I'm more likely to respond positively."

When I sent him these thoughts, I received an automated response:

"Hi ... Steve Harrison here.

"Thanks for emailing me.

"Unfortunately, due to the volume of email I receive I'm unable to respond to it all. A member of my staff does read all email and will respond if necessary.

"If you are writing about a replay of a call or webinar: I generally do not offer replays of these but on the rare occasion that I do rebroadcast one, you will receive an email inviting you if you are on my mailing list.

"If you are seeking more information about me and the various programs and classes we offer, the best place to start is my website..."

Steve's an "ABP" type of guy. Always Be Pitching. The sort of PR person who has no ability to listen.

But I'm not sharing Steve's website address. You can find it with ease, but I won't expend one electron plugging the website of someone with such disregard for my time, or for building relationships. 

That's not how PR works, Steve. Perhaps you need a refresher. If you are seeking more information about me and the various programs and classes we offer, the best place to start is my university's website. Because you have much to learn about building relationships.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Your best PR conference tip: try new experiences first

Last week, I attended the Public Relations Society of America's North East chapter regional conference (PRXNE 2016, if you like acronyms) in Boston. This created an opportunity to revert to Road Warrior driving mode, visit a Samuel Adams brewery on Germania Street, and explore the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum on the University of Massachusetts campus. (Free beer. Great Kennedy stuff, with a little Hemingway, too. No collisions. End of travelogue.)

Field research at the Samuel Adams Brewery, Boston.
Photo (c) DKassnoff, 2016.
At the conference, I learned about data-driven PR, information foraging, mobile PR, and -- my favorite -- harnessing the untapped power of belonging. (Kudos to Mike McDougall of McDougall Communications for a terrific presentation.) You can watch a presentation here, if you sign in.

Professionals should attend at least one PR conference a year. The industry evolves so quickly, but it's all about telling good stories for mission-driven clients and organizations. 

One important tip, however, didn't reveal itself in a cramped meeting room. (Really, UMass -- glorified closets masquerading as breakout spaces in the Campus Center? Real meeting rooms next time, please?)

A dozen or so PR colleagues from western New York attended, too. And I was happy to catch up. But after early coffee and chit-chat, I didn't sit with them for the rest of the day. 


Any professional conference or workshop should be about new experiences. So I joined PR practitioners from New Hampshire, Toronto, and Boston at most of the other gatherings. I likely missed some hometown PR gossip, but I came away with new contacts who shared ideas I hadn't heard before.

If you attend a PRSA chapter event -- or any networking opportunity -- my advice is to write down, in advance, three goals. And, when you arrive, don't make a beeline to familiar faces. Instead, find people you don't know. Introduce yourself, and dive in to a new experience.

Care to share a great conference tip? Please use the comment box below. Thank you.

Remember tronc? I'm not the only one.

By LuckyLouie at English Wikipedia
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In a prior blog post, I decried the jargon-packed news release that introduced "tronc," the befuddled new name for Tribune Publishing.

I wasn't the only one who thought: "What are these people trying to say?" NPR ran a story about it this morning. You can hear it here. 

The tronc CEO makes a point, I guess. But it's still not a brand strategy I'd embrace if I needed to promote my editorial content.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Michael Ferro and the Worst News Release. Ever.

To:  Michael Ferro, Chairman
      Tribune Publishing, a.k.a., tronc
cc: Blog Readers
Subject: Invitation: How to Communicate

Dear Mike:

I invite you and your communications team to drop by my office at the university. 

My schedule's
Chicago Tribune Building,
By Stuart Seeger [CC BY 2.0
via Wikimedia Commons
flexible 'til late August. But act fast. Because as your company transforms to some digital communications-moneymaking internet punchline, your recent news release tells me Tribune Publishing has lost its grasp of how to communicate in English.

Your June 2 news release, Tribune Publishing Announces Corporate Rebranding, Changes Name to Tronc, sets a new low in incomprehensible jargon. Experienced PR people write releases that readers will understand. The writer who pumped out this horrid excuse for a press release has no grasp of this. 

It's perfectly fine to re-brand a company. Gannett split into a print news media company called "Gannett," and Tegna, which focuses on broadcast and digital media (and sounds like a Swedish mouthwash). 

You may be in the communications business. But, your news release isn't. It's somewhere near the Andromeda galaxy:

"tronc, Inc., a content curation and monetization company focused on creating and distributing premium, verified content across all channels." 

Congratulations on completely baffling your readers. Content curation? I hope that means someone's going to write or film stories, then edit and post them. Monetization? I've flunked students for grafting "-ization" and "-ize" to nouns. Every business wants to make money, Mike. Monetization? Please, lose this befuddling excuse for a real English word.

Last time I heard this much techno-babble, I was watching an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

I'm not providing a line-by-line, buzzword-by-buzzword dissection of your news release in this space. That's unfair to readers, Mike. You remember readers, don't you? They're the ones you hope will pay for the "world-class (buzzword) content" your newspapers and media properties produce. Drop by, we'll grab a conference room, and I'll show you why this spewage* is viewed by experienced public relations professionals as top contender for the Worst News Release. Ever.

Never mind those lambasting your choice of the lower-case brand name "tronc." ("Tronic," as in electronic, might have been a wiser choice.) But, call yourself whatever you like. FerroLand. FerroNews. Be creative. 

Never mind that you've hitched your media star to a so-called digital visionary, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, whom 60 Minutes portrayed in 2014 as a billionaire entrepreneur who makes more than his share of grandiose claims. (Reminds me of a certain presidential candidate, but with less pouting.)

These are your issues to solve, Mike. Mine are different. I care about saving the English language from jargon addicted hack writers like the one who cranked out your news release. 

So, my door's open. The nearest airport for your Gulfstream is in Hinsdale, NY, 15 miles from the campus. Call ahead, I'll come pick you up.

But, do it today. Because the internet has had a week's worth of fun at the expense of your rebranding announcement. 

And I plan to use your news release as Example One of What Not to Write in the public relations courses this fall.

*I wish I'd actually coined "spewage," but others have beaten me to it