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Bowling for Business: The Sky’s the Limit

How to get your company in the news.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on August 1, 2010, in the Press Enterprise on August 7, 2010 and in the Business Press on August 16, 2010.

The first time I saw my photograph in a newspaper, I was mortified. I was eight years old. My brownie troop produced a float for the Christmas parade in Englewood, Colorado. And after dutifully decorating for weeks, I was chosen to ride on top of the float instead of walking next to it.

To prepare me for the cold three-mile route, my mother insisted I cover my beautiful fairy princess costume with a humongous white down coat and a giant furry hat. When a picture of the event landed on the front page of The Denver Post, I looked like a tiny Russian immigrant who had been swallowed by the Michelin Man.

So it’s somewhat ironic I would enter the field of public relations, which is all about generating media coverage. In the early days as an intern, I wrote press releases in long hand, using felt tip pens on yellow legal pads. Once the copy was approved, I submitted it to the office secretary, who would type the document to be mailed to media outlets.

Since press releases were directed to newspaper staffers, the only way to successfully solicit exposure was to curry favor with members of the media. In the glory days of the newspaper, editors had the luxury of tossing aside submissions that failed to follow the right formula. Releases had to be written using an Inverted Pyramid and Five Ws. At the time, the most a media relations’ manager could hope for was to catch the attention of an editor, who would assign the story to a reporter. By the time any given story made it to print, creative control was lost.

To the dismay of the newspaper industry, times have changed. The Internet has effectively stripped publishers and editors of their roles as gatekeepers and given it directly to anyone with a word processing program and access to the Internet. That’s good news if you are a business owner or nonprofit director who has a product or service to promote. Instead of laboriously searching for a newsworthy angle to pitch, you can write and publish just about anything you want. Here’s how:

For Free—

To create a Social Media Press Release, start by setting up a free account with an online distribution service such as PR Log, PR.com or Free Press Release.com. Requirements vary depending on the service you use. But, generally, here is what your press release should include:

  1. Headline—interesting, relevant information to attract your target market. Grab their interest with the headline and deliver what you promise in the body of the release.
  2. Subheading—further details relating to the headline
  3. Summary—press release contents in short order. This can be written in narrative form or broken up into bullet points.
  4. Body—the meat of your release. Here is where you can use the Inverted Pyramid and Five Ws if you are a traditionalist. But even if you opt for a more conversational style, make sure all essential information appears in this section.
  5. Multimedia Links—directs Internet traffic to photos and videos. The surefire way to generate lots of interest is to attach a video link. If you don’t yet feel comfortable creating media of this type on your own, point visitors to one of the millions of videos already available on YouTube.
  6. Relevant Hyperlinks—Internet links that relate to your article. Include your company’s website, social media accounts and other relevant information.
  7. Tags—often neglected, this step is probably the most important for generating traffic to your release. Whereas old school press releases were written for editors, social media releases should be directed to end users.

On a Limited Budget—

If the above list overwhelms you and your budget will allow, hire a professional writer. Most freelancers charge between $35 and $125 per hour. But bear in mind that, at this price point, distribution will fall to you.

Full-service social media release agencies are pricey but effective. So, if you can swing about $500 per release, use a service like PR Newswire, Business Wire or Marketwire. These companies produce, distribute and store social media press releases. But since they specialize in making anything and everything buzz worthy, be prepared to see your image splashed across the Internet…whether you like it or not.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

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Bowling for Business: Confessions of a Professional Spinster

All effective public relations is based firmly on the truth.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on February 28, 2010

While I was growing up, my best friend, Lori, and I used to play in the woods near her home in a small rural suburb of Denver. We would leave her house in the morning and stay out all day, trying to make it back home before dark. But sometimes, our vivid imaginations would carry us away, causing us to lose track of our play-time curfew. On such occasions, when we finally arrived at Lori’s house, we were greeted by her very unhappy mother, who had quite a set of lungs for a woman of such an advanced age. (Everyone seems old when you’re in grade school. At the time, Judy was all of 28.)

To try to ward off the lectures, Lori and I manufactured elaborate cover stories on our way back to her house. On one such occasion, we told her mom that we had been kidnapped by factory workers at the abandoned DuPont factory in Louviers. An impressive sleuth, Judy somehow saw through our tall tale and promptly called my mom to ask her to pick me up. Lori and I learned a valuable lesson that day. No matter how creative the spin, a lie is a lie.

As a public relations practitioner, I try to disassociate myself with unscrupulous folks in my field who have yet to learn the message. Popular culture portrays us in shades of gray, with television shows like Spin City and SPINdustry and movies like Thank You for Smoking and The Hoax. The prejudice can probably be traced to our predecessor P.T. Barnum who had a knack for finding and exhibiting people, animals and a range of oddities, many of which were hoaxes, such as the infamous Feejee Mermaid.

But leaders in our field know that the only way to successfully pitch anything is to make sure all promotions are based firmly on the truth. Wikipedia defines Public relations (PR) as the practice of managing communication between an organization and its publics, which gains an organization or individual exposure to their audiences using topics of public interest and news items that provide a third-party endorsement.

What sets PR pros apart is our knack at taking any given company or individual’s reputation, activities or incidents, and reinterpreting them from the Point of View (POV) of the client to the POV of the intended target market. A timely case study of this is the recent public relations’ nightmare faced by SeaWorld Orlando. Global news coverage started shortly after the attack when an animal trainer drowned after being dragged underwater by a 12,000-pound killer whale during a show called (of all things) Dine with Shamu.

Further complicating the incident is the fact that Shamu is the name generically used for the killer whales at the theme park, according to Steve Baker, president of a theme park consulting and management company called Baker Leisure Group.

Shamu is the SeaWorld icon. Shamu is SeaWorld.

So how do you convince potential park guests that Shamu won’t dine on them? I believe the order of the day for SeaWorld is honesty. Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services, Inc., a management consulting firm, concurs,

The big task (for SeaWorld professionals) is to be honest with the public and the media as they conduct their forensic study on why the accident happened, because that will determine how SeaWorld is perceived in the future.

If I were on the public relations team for SeaWorld, the first order of the day would be the prompt removal of the tagline currently posted on the Dine with Shamu section of the theme park website. “It’s exclusive. Intimate. And unforgettable.” no longer seems appropriate. It will be interesting to watch the actual SeaWorld PR team in the weeks to come. No doubt they’ll be pulling out all the stops to get SeaWorld back on track. Tools at their disposal include the same ones your company or non-profit group can employ.

For Free—

Dust off your phone book and call an editor to introduce yourself. If you take time to get to know their editorial needs (without wasting their time in the process), they might give you an idea or two for potential coverage. The most important advice I can give you about press relations is to learn to be a resource instead of a pain in the neck.

And, on June 15, the Public Relations Society of America’s-Inland Empire Chapter, is hosting a free event, Speed Consulting at the Speedway, for businessmen and women in need of pro-bono PR.

On a Limited Budget—

Hire a freelancer to write a press release about a new product or event you want to promote. Then, subscribe to a free or low-cost electronic press release service such as E-Releases, I-Newswire, BusinessWire, PR Log or PR Newswire. The social media releases we post get clicked an average 215 times. Those clicks lead to valuable press coverage.

The Sky’s the Limit—

Hire an agency. Only a trained public relations professional will be able to skillfully speak on your behalf, work with the media, handle crisis communications, manage social media and oversee effective employee communication. And that’s not spin.
Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business.