Archive for February, 2008

Media Relations 101

February 29, 2008

At a recent CNW Group breakfast meeting, David Akin, Parliamentary correspondent for CTV News National News Ottawa, revealed his four biggest complaints about PR. Jill from the inmedia Public Relations blog was at the meeting and posted a summary of what David said. He made some great points and they motivated me to share some of my own tips about basic media relations practice.

When I began my career in non-profit PR about a decade ago, a trusted resource was a book by John Longhurst, called Making the News: The Essential Guide for Effective Media Relations. The book, updated in 2006, provides great, basic step-by step advice with a focus on non-profits and religious groups wanting to increase their media coverage.

Most small to medium non-profits don’t have a communications/PR professional on staff but with a basic understanding of how media work and what journalists need from you to cover your non-profit, you can increase the chances of getting media attention considerably.

For a complete grasp of good media relations practice, read John’s book. For my top four tips, read on:

1. Understand what makes a story news – Your non-profit might be very excited about a new program or service but unless you know how to “package” that story in a way that makes it newsworthy, it will not get the attention you want. On the other side, many non-profits have great stories to tell but they don’t recognize that they are newsworthy so they miss out on some great media coverage.

Start tracking non-profit news stories in your local paper to see what’s getting coverage. When you’re thinking of making a pitch, be sure that you have the people directly affected by the program or service available to speak to the media about it. This was the subject of another post I wrote if you want to learn why this is important.

2. Learn how to write a good media release – There are lots of resources out there (including John’s book) to help you out. Learn how to make your release compelling, concise and in a format that makes it easy for journalists to quickly understand how great your story is.

There has been a lot of discussion in the blogosphere about revamping the format of the traditional media release to reflect the Web 2.0 landscape but for your average non-profit looking for local news coverage, learning good writing technique for the traditional media release is the place to start.

3. Be prepared for media coverage – Don’t send out a media release the day before your designated spokesperson is away at a conference or day long meeting. This sounds like a no-brainer, but I’ve had the experience of sending out a release only to learn that the person who agreed to be the spokesperson on the story was scheduled to be away, or tied up in a big meeting the day the release was going out.

Media releases have a short shelf life. If you’re not prepared to respond to media requests right away, journalists will quickly move on to another story. You also risk frustrating them–making them less likely to take your next pitch seriously.

Along the same lines, if you get an unsolicited media call, make sure someone gets back to the reporter as soon as possible (i.e. at maximum within a couple of hours). Even if you know what the journalist is calling about and you don’t have all the facts and figures prepared, call back to say that you received the call and are working on pulling together the details. Find out what the reporter’s deadline is so that you can try to get him/her what’s needed within that time frame.

Reporters are under huge time pressures and if you don’t respond quickly you risk missing out on a chance to clarify the information. Even worse, you could be labeled in the media story as “unavailable for comment”, which always hints at being evasive.

4. Have background materials ready to go and accessible – This was mentioned by Akin but to expand on it a bit—make it easy for reporters to find out what they need regarding the issue or program you want them to cover. Reporters have to know a little bit about many things. Chances are, they won’t have comprehensive knowledge of your issue.

Have easy, point-form backgrounders that provide the detail that isn’t in the media release. Provide other outside resources (e.g. related websites, articles, fact sheets) that will offer a compatible but different perspective on the story. In short, make it easy for the reporter to get it right.

John’s Tip
I asked John Longhurst for his top tip and he replied, “Send news. If your press release contains information that is relevant to readers, viewers and listeners, reporters will gladly consider using it.” Good advice. Media relations is mutually beneficial. Media need good stories to tell and non-profits have lots of great stories that need telling.

Are you working at a non-profit with questions about media relations? Send me your question in a comment and I’ll endeavour to answer it in an upcoming blog post.

How to do a blog search

February 26, 2008

As mentioned in a previous post, I think the best way to begin to get more comfortable with social media is to “stick a toe ” into the blogosphere by searching for topics that relate to your cause. Searching for your organization’s name is also a must.

Thanks to the Social Media University, Global (SMUG) blog for a great post entitled, Blogging 102: Blog Search Engines that explains how to use the most popular, free blog searching tools. Check out this post to learn everything you need know to get started. It’s easy—give it a try.

English translation not 5 star at Cuban resort?

February 18, 2008

Like a number of other fortunate Canadians, I managed a week-long winter escape recently at a beautiful resort in Cuba. It was outstanding. The five star resort my husband and I stayed at was magnificent. The weather was wonderful and the beach appeared almost computer generated in its perfection. Cuba is trying very hard to appeal to North American and European visitors as tourism is a staple industry in the country. The one area where the resort fell short was in its written English documentation and instructional brochures. There were several humourous typos and mistranslated instructions that made them unclear.

It made me wonder how important perfect translation is when travelling in a foreign country. After all, it is a Spanish speaking nation and the fact that virtually all resort staff spoke English, French and Italian left me constantly amazed. How much more should a traveller ask for?

I was able to figure out that “cuked ham” on the menu was “cooked ham” and that “dards” and “boke tours” (listed as “byke” elsewhere) listed on the activities roster really referred to “darts” and “bike tours”. Instructions for towel service were a little harder to decipher. “Beach towels are delivered in our Club Info. Compensation should be paid in case you lose your towels.” “Club Info.” was a bit of a misnomer as it was a towel stand near the pool. I also thought that I’d have to pay a deposit up front in case I didn’t return the towel but what they really meant was that if I didn’t return the towel, my room would be charged $15.

I overheard a few other tourists laughing at the translations on various occasions and it made me feel a bit defensive on behalf of our host country. They tried, and succeeded, on so many other levels to make the resort a luxury experience based on North American standards—cut them some slack.

It reminded me, however, of a news story I heard about the upcoming Beijing Olympics and how China is making every effort to ban Chinglish. China, of course, is legendary for poor English translation that often results in hilarious signage and instructions. Officials see Chinglish as an embarrassment at a time when the country wants to put its best face forward. It has gone as far as setting up Chinglish reporting hotlines in an effort to stamp out bad translations once and for all.

The bottom line is, no one wants to be ridiculed—no matter how good natured the ribbing is. In an age with few technological barriers, it should be easy to secure good translation and copywriting services regardless of language and location. It does leave the impression of “less then perfect” and in a very competitive tourism industry, that’s an edge you don’t want to lose.

What do you think? Should resorts and other services catering to visitors that don’t speak the local language be criticized for faulty translation and bad copywriting?

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Maybe social networking isn’t right for your organization

February 8, 2008

With so much written about social networking and its myriad benefits, it’s good to see some discussion that examines the question of whether every organization should jump on this bandwagon. Brett Bonfield of IdealWare shared his thoughts on this subject in a piece that appears on the TechSoup site.

Brett lists six signs that social networking isn’t for you and then goes on to discuss the opportunities that social networking can provide.

A couple of points Brett makes stand out for me. He cautions that jumping into social networking takes a considerable investment in time, both in terms of learning the culture and functionality of social networking, as well as to maintain the activity. Slapping up a group page on Facebook without examining your goals and how this platform best works is not going to result in a successful outcome. Organizations need to invest the time to immerse themselves in the social networking space to see what others are doing and how they are doing it.

Somewhat related is the point Brett makes about the culture of social networking—it’s very open, participatory and egalitarian. Using this tool is different than traditional communication vehicles. Brett states,

“People who use social networking tools are not interested in promoting your brand or following your message guidelines. When you get involved with these sites, it’s hard to control the context in which your organization shows up. “

So organizations need to be prepared to give up some control. Those in your social network might not talk about your organization using the terms you’d prefer or they might have opinions that don’t exactly align with your organization’s mission. To me, this is what makes social media so exciting. It provides an opportunity for the free flow exchange of ideas and a more genuine experience between organizations and its supporters. Where some see a threat, others see an opportunity.

While social networking might not be right for every organization, there are significant potential benefits that warrant exploring the medium. The biggest mistake is to discount social media/networking out of hand. It’s worth every organization’s time to evaluate this tool and reading Brett’s article is a good place to start.

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