Feb 07

Things Anyone Teaching PR Should Know

Today's guest post is by Alicia Moore

The following guest blog was authored by Alicia Moore, a writer for OnlineTeachingDegree.com. I’d like to invite academics and students in particular to read Alicia’s Top 10 list and post your response. Note: I’ll provide extra credit for the best observations. Thanks.

With the evolution of technology, the press relations industry has changed significantly. However, the same basics still apply, meaning up and coming PR students must be taught these skills if they are to succeed as pros in their careers. The following is a collection of the ten golden rules of success anyone teaching PR should know.

1) Words wield power. Thus, it is important for anyone in PR to carefully choose their words, and only use powerful, relevant words to grab attention.

2)Target your pitches. It is equally critical to keep pitches short, or else you risk losing your reader's attention. Often, three concise sentences make more of an impact than a 400-word press release.

3)Utilize the tools of the new digital age. As Online Teaching Degree mentions, there are a number of helpful resources online for students and emerging professionals alike, and it is a mistake not to take advantage of them. Learn trending topics, and use Google Alerts to keep an eye on your name, your competition and new, hot issues.

4) Pitch and attend an interview for a client. Know the entire process, and hold your client's hand during the preparation for that arranged interview. Always be there for assistance, but know when to stop and listen.

5) Know how to stand up to reporters or clients firmly, but politely. Just like anybody else, reporters can be abrupt, testy or even completely rude.

6) Regularly generate valuable content. Learn to identify the lessons and trends that others can benefit from; this allows you to always be the best source of trustworthy and solid information.

7) Teach your own executives and clients on techniques to more effectively undergo interviews. This preparation allows them to feel better in front of a microphone or more comfortable on camera.

8) Make use of handheld cameras. Knowing how to record a breaking news story or a short interview is one thing, but the ability to grasp technology allows you to disseminate it to the great masses. Think about what kind of news breaks on Twitter, and strive to post the next lead you get on the site.

9) Skip the boring questions. Quality inspires quality, bad questions bring you bad information while good questions give you interesting and insightful information. Make sure the people you speak with are thinking, feeling and reacting to what you say.

10) Use links and keywords to give legs to your press releases. The world of PR requires doing your homework on what topics the public is interested in hearing or reading about. This critical information can either break or make your blog and website, and perhaps even your whole business.

Along with these teachings, make sure your students know the most important skill of all: Listen to a press conference, webinar, podcast or a speech. A good PR agent must be capable of pulling just three sound bits from a 30-minute rant or a 5-minute presentation. Not only does excelling in this area allow you to thrive when networking or speaking publicly, but being able to summarize a complex presentation with a single punchy quote is a priceless these days.


Dec 07

A leader showing playfulness? What IS this world coming to?

20111021135206-1It seems the most famous leaders are those who also possess the loudest voices, inspire the most fear and take themselves the most seriously. I'd include Yahoo's Carol 'F-bomb' Bartz, the late Steve Jobs and GE's legendary 'Neutron' Jack Welch in any list of notoriously nasty nabobs of negativity.

So, imagine my surprise when I received not one, but two, videos of Northeastern University's president Joseph Aoun, allowing himself to be playful, funny and, dare I say it, self-deprecating.

The videos were the brainchild of my alma mater's crack public relations team but, as Renata Nyul, director of communications at Northeastern, tells it, Joseph was the guy who took the original concept and incorporated improvisational steps that would make Will Ferrell, Steve Carrell or Amy Poehler proud.

Created to promote the university's ‘Profiles in Innovation Presidential Speaker Series’, the first video featured Joseph literally dancing with iRobot's legendary Roomba vacuum cleaner. Clearly, the man is no Fred Astaire. But, talk about an innovative way in which to hype iRobot CEO’s Colin Angle’s upcoming address!

Not content with cutting the rug with a robot, Joseph went on to record a second video that was even more obtuse. Its intent was to promote an upcoming presentation by Janet Echelman, a world-renowned ‘airspace sculptor’ who uses humongous nets to accentuate urban buildings, parks and public spaces (kind of a latter-day Christo, if you will).

Ms. Nyul says both videos have been spread far and wide on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube by the school's students, faculty and administrators. She says they've been genuine to Northeastern's commitment to innovation while also showing a human side to the leader of a top academic institution. So human in fact that undergrads are now routinely approaching Joseph to appear in their videos. Could you imagine trying that with your college president (or any Fortune 500 CEO, for that matter)?

But, Joseph's Amazing Technicolor Video Series has just begun. He has a third one scheduled for March with Dr. David Ferrucci, the principal investigator and lead creator of IBM's Watson.

I've checked with Joseph, and the school's PR team. They're cool with crowdsourcing the idea for the next video. So, here's your chance to suggest anything (and, I do mean anything) you think Joseph, president of Northeastern University, should do on video to promote the Ferrucci/Watson speech.

Personally, I think he should just riff on Watson's legendary Jeopardy TV show appearance. This time, though, I'd have the computer take on N.U.s three brightest students in a winner-take-all lightning round. As for Joseph? Why he'd play Alex Trebek, and come across as slightly patronizing, just a little bit smarter and a tad more sophisticated than Watson or the students. On the other hand, that wouldn't be Joseph's style, so scrap my idea.

What would you suggest instead?

I'll provide a slightly worn Peppercom baseball cap for the best idea (and I'm pretty sure Northeastern would be willing to toss in a clean, unused T-shirt). So, let the brainstorming begin.

Dec 01

A squeezed middle in the midst of a widening waistline

Fat-man-boatThe Oxford University Press just anointed the phrase ‘squeezed middle’ as its ‘word of the year’. The phrase, of course, refers to the financial pinch being felt by the American middle class in the midst of a never-ending recession.

I find it ironic, though, that the Oxford word wizards would choose ones that illustrate the exact opposite of what’s happening to the population’s collective waistlines. Two recent cases in point illustrate the dichotomy. The first appeared in The New York Times and told the sad story of America’s truckers. According to Abby Ellin’s article, an astounding 86 percent of the country’s 3.2 million truck drivers are overweight or obese! And, check out this tidbit provided by Brett Blower, director of marketing and development for the Healthy Trucking Association of America. A few years back, Blower’s group conducted a blood screening of more than 2,000 truckers at an annual truck show. “We sent 21 directly to the emergency room, and one of them had a heart attack on the way there,” he recalled. Talk about road kill. Wow!

At the same time truckers are dropping like flies (note: Ellin’s article blames the truckers’ sedentary lifestyle and the calorie-rich gruel served at truck stops as the chief cause of their obesity), Congress is fighting hard to undermine the Obama Administration’s efforts to take unhealthy foods out of our nation’s schools. I guess knowing that most Americans today are overweight isn’t good enough for Congress; they’re thinking long-term.

In fact, if Republicans get their way, the tomato paste used on pizza would be counted as a vegetable and they’d overturn efforts to limit the use of potatoes on the lunch line, put new restrictions on the use of sodium and boost the use of whole grains. It’ll be a huge win for potato-growers, frozen pizza makers and the salt industry, respectively; and a huge loss for the health and well-being of our kids.

So, while I wouldn’t quibble with the Oxford University Press opting for squeezed middle as the word of the year (after all, it’s the economy, stupid!), I would nominate a co-winner for the 2011 word or phrase of the year: ‘self-inflicted wound’. I cannot think of any other nation at any other point in history that has done more harm to itself than modern-day America. Of course, I missed Rome circa 476 A.D. and Athens about 800 years prior to that, but I can’t believe either society could compete with ours for sheer stupidity.

Oct 12

While my Blackberry gently weeps

SMG_Harrison_EgmondI highly recommend the new Martin Scorsese documentary about the late Beatle George Harrison. Called 'Living in a Material World', the HBO film is chock full of terrific interviews, rare photographs and outtakes and deep insight into the man known as the quiet Beatle.

It's a MUST see for anyone, young or old, who believes in lifelong learning. In fact, if there's one fundamental difference that set George apart from the other members of the Fab Four, it had to be his continual quest for spiritual enlightenment while battling his very real appetite for, shall we say, worldly pleasures?

Scorsese’s movie shows the many, many sides of a gifted artist who was, and always will be, overshadowed by John Lennon and Sir Paul McCartney. But, while Lennon focused on anti-war activities and McCartney continued writing 'Silly Love Songs', Harrison plunged deeper and deeper into the very meaning of life.

I must admit to having been somewhat alienated by Harrison during his Hare Krishna days but, having now viewed the new documentary, I understand it was just another stage in the man's unending quest to better understand himself and the world around him.

The documentary is well worth seeing and, for me, has added new insights to some of my favorite Harrison songs, including: 'Wah, Wah,' 'All Things Must Pass' and, in my opinion, his best love song of all: 'Long, Long, Long'.

As an aside, whenever I'm pressed by college and university students to name the key to career success, I always say, “lifelong learning”. In researching the song's origins, I found out that Harrison's quest for lifelong learning partly inspired him to write, 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps'. Mine certainly inspired me to entitle this particular blog, 'While my Blackberry gently weeps'.

One Harrison lyric from Guitar is more relevant than ever: 'From every mistake, we must surely be learning'.  We clearly weren't learning when Harrison first wrote the lyric in 1968 and, lord knows, we've learned even less in 2011. And that's why his guitar and my Blackberry still weep.


Oct 05

How NOT to make it in the Big Apple

Your name is Naomi Nitwit. You've held a variety of design and production jobs over the past two decades but, for personal reasons, moved away from the Big Apple a few years ago.

Now, though, you're refueled, recharged and ready to re-engage. And, gosh darn it, you're going to write the best, show stopper of a cover letter the New York advertising and design field has ever seen. Why? Because, you want to get back to the hot lights and late nights of the City, that's why.

But, there's only one problem, Naomi. You forgot to re-read the letter and resume before hitting the send button. As a result, each and every track change is visible. Just take a gander:
Slide1Ouch! In the first graph she writes "…this job seems perfect." And what exactly would that job be, Naomi?  BTW, I love the letter's penultimate line. It reads, “Need a sentence here saying you are interested in getting back in the industry in NYC, I think.” Safe to assume that came from a job coach?

Your resume also contains track changes and reveals such interesting items as date changes (so, did you leave the real estate gig in ‘07 or '08?).

I also found myself bemused by the word change from 'blast' to 'marketing' and the accompanying note that reads: “blast is a very negative concept”. I agree.

Naomi, I know you're trying your best. But, it's a cold, cruel world and you really need to take ownership of what I like to call 'The brand of you'.

You'll never make it back to the Apple with a cover note and resume that contain track changes. Maybe you should change your strategy and, instead, team up with the football playing college senior who sent me an e-mail blast? No, wait a minute. Blast is a negative concept!

And, a tip o' the mortar board to Jason Dodd for this suggestion.

Aug 29

A fuzzy future at 40

Xlarge_2010-11-17_145448Ken Makovsky's superb 'If you've never failed, you've never lived' blog made me think of my own  fear of failure and the fear of failure I see in far too many Millennials today.

First, me. Back in 1995, after 15 months of pure hell serving as president of Brouillard Communications, a division of JWT that, mercifully, no longer exists, I was asked to leave. I was devastated. I had just turned 40, was married with two kids, carried two mortgages, leased two cars and provided for two dogs (one of whom happened to be named Pepper).

Despite my previous successes, I was lost at sea as to my next move. I couldn't contemplate another holding company experience and I feared going it alone. Enter Edward Aloysisus Moed from stage left. Equally disgusted by the politics, bureaucracy and parochial culture of the large agency world, Ed had left Brouillard a few weeks before me. He suggested we give it a go on our own. We did. And, I've never looked back.

But, I wouldn't be a success today if I hadn't failed so badly in the past.

Which is why Ken's blog is a MUST READ for those Millennials who have been raised to believe they'll always win. (Note: if you have a chance, also read Ron Alsop's most excellent book, “The Trophy Kids Grow Up”. It nails the sense of entitlement and fear of failure endemic in most Millennials).

I see the fear of failure in my own kids. They're both doing extraordinarily well, but they struggle with adversity. That's because, like most other Boomer parents, we coddled them and, as Alsop's book title suggests, gave them trophies even when they finished dead last.

Failure is important. It paves the way for success, especially for those who are resilient and have the wherewithal to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and say, “OK. I just failed. What did I learn to ensure that I won't fail again?”

Oh, and if you have a chance, doubleclick on the video embedded in Makovsky's blog. I think you'll be surprised to see how many famous people were complete failures before they finally figured out that failure was a pathway to success.

Aug 16

An editor’s POV

Jimmy_Olsen059-30 There has been something of a tempest in a teapot of late as to the success of journalists who cross over to the dark side and become PR pros. Poynter said ex-journos didn't fare so well. PRSA president Rossanna Fiske, a one-time journalist disagreed.

As is my wont, I took a different slant and posited my views on the importance of a degree in journalism as preparation for a PR career.

Seeking the truth (as I always do), I decided to go to the horse's mouth as it were and asked Peppercom's editorial director, and former editor of Worth Magazine, Matt Purdue to weigh in. Here are his thoughts:

"In her recent blog post, Rosanna Fiske, CEO and chair of the PRSA, makes some great points about why journalists may not necessarily make the best PR professionals. As a former journalist now happily ensconced at Peppercom Strategic Communications, I’m fortunate enough to say that—so far—I’m an exception to her suggestion.

Sadly, I’ve seen some of my former journalism colleagues flame out when they tried to make the jump from reporting to PR. There’s the ersatz magazine reporter who made a client cry during a media training session when he asked, “So, tell me why no one in your industry likes you.” Then there’s the former newspaper scribe who would verbally abuse clients who didn’t understand why he typed “-30-“ at the end of every bylined article he wrote. And there’s the former broadcast journalist who thought our company’s P&L stood for “pistachios and liquor.”

But, with all due respect, I think Fiske is missing a key point that needs to be made very clearly: the difference between reporters and editors. I agree wholeheartedly that many reporters are going to provide limited value to most communications companies. Yes, they can sniff out news angles, write press releases and work their media connections. But few of them can really drive business for a PR firm.

That’s where editors come in. Editors tend to be reporters who have grown up. A senior-level editor at a legitimate news outlet is going to have all the skills of the reporter…plus the talents that can take communications companies to the next level: the ability to handle multiple projects and manage subordinates; the people skills to relate to clients at all levels, from interns to the CEO; a sense of how to package a story using traditional and digital media; and even a working knowledge of how business decisions affect the bottom line.

Many PR agencies hunt for reporters to buy themselves a competitive advantage. Fortunately for them, you can’t swing a dead cat today without hitting an out-of-work reporter. But smart PR firms are willing to trade up to editors. Yes, editors tend to require a larger investment, but, in many cases, can provide a much higher return…even if I do say so myself."

Do you agree? Could any editor with five year's worth of experience breeze through PR as Matt suggests? I have my views, but I'd like to hear what you think.

Aug 05

A journalism degree is far superior

News-Reporter This may upset more than one PR professional, academic or student, but I believe a journalism degree trumps one in PR when it comes to succeeding in my industry.

The thought occurred to me after reading a blog by Debra Caruso, a former journalist who now runs her own PR firm.

Caruso lists the following reasons why journalism majors and former journalists make the best PR pros:

  • They have a nose for news.
  • They craft press releases and other copy that is more clear, compelling and accurate.
  • They understand a journalist's life, know when to pitch or not pitch and will score more placements as a result.
  • Former journalists know how to follow a reporter, understand her needs and can help her put together a piece to sell to the editor.

That's good stuff. But, there's far more to it than that. I majored in journalism and had the good fortune to work as a newsclerk at The New York Times, a reporter at WGCH in Greenwich, Ct., and as a newswriter at CBS Radio in Boston. The jobs were part of my five-year co-op curriculum at Northeastern University.

So, at the tender age of 19, I rubbed shoulders with some of the greatest journalists of their generation at the Times. At 20 years of age, I was a sports and news personality who was on-the-air five times a day and hosted an hour-long monthly talk show. And, at the relatively advanced age of 21, I was writing copy for breaking news stories that was then read live by top CBS anchors.

I lived, ate and breathed journalism 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I understood what made news and what didn't. I mastered the art of meeting constant deadlines. And I was provided an invaluable sneak peek into a newsroom's quirks, eccentricities and demands.

So, when I washed up on the shores of Hill & Knowlton as a 22-year-old junior account executive, I knew exactly how to pitch stories and deliver results.

Today's PR graduates do just fine when they hit the agency or corporate worlds. But, there's no substitute for majoring in journalism or working in a newsroom. Both provide an intrinsic understanding of news and newspeople that no PR undergraduate or graduate degree can match.

A journalism pedigree also assures fewer typos, better writing and less reliance on mass e-mails to pitch a story. And, trust me, that's something every senior manager in a PR firm can appreciate.

Aug 01


Snooki-polizzi-trashy-outfitI was surprised the Institute of PR's recent statement that the public relations world is now    “dominated” by women and may be north of 70 percent female didn't draw more comment or analysis.

The same report noted that, as recently as 1987, males accounted for 80 percent of the PR workplace.

Neither percentage was, or is, healthy.

Lest I offend feminist readers, let me begin by applauding the significant strides made by PR women in the past two decades. That said, let me also push the alarm button.

Having too many old white men was bad for PR in 1987. And, having too many young white women is bad for PR now, and in the future. Here's why: our nation's demographics are undergoing a seismic shift. In many states, whites represent a minority while Asian and Hispanic populations are positively bursting at the seams.

At the same time, Hollywood has done a four-star job of depicting the average PR professional as a gum smacking, party planning, blonde hair curling young white girl. (“Um, like do you, like, think we have a chance of Gaga showing up at our Droopy Petals party tonight? It would be so, like, um, totally awesome, right?”)

The first scenario will limit our industry's ability to attract the best and brightest young men. The second scenario will limit our ability to attract the best and brightest people.

Advertising, digital, direct and other marketing disciplines don't suffer from the same disproportionate gender skews as PR. They've also undertaken a much more sophisticated job of attracting qualified minorities. Unless our industry attacks the diversity issue in a holistic way, we run the risk of losing significant business to more integrated, integrated marketing competitors.

Sadly, our industry trade groups and media seem to be overlooking this seismic challenge (kind of like Congress ignored the debt ceiling/budget balancing crisis until the 11th hour).

The PRSA is too caught up in flacking its useless APR credential while fighting a mutually embarrassing 'hacking' battle with Jack O'Dwyer. The other trade groups are laser focused on holding onto existing members while attracting new ones. And, the trade publications seem mired in covering news of the day and publishing hagiographic profiles of chief communications officers.

PR needs to do something about gender diversity before it becomes too late. The smartest initiative would be some sort of education program aimed at high school males. We need to convince Tom, Dick and Harry there's a career path for them right alongside Buffy, Lexi and Tiffany.

If we don't, PR may one day become SnookiNation.

Jul 08

Ignorance is gender neutral

Dumb-and-DumberEver take note of the steady drumbeat of male bashing in print ads, TV commercials, sitcoms and  movies? It's not overt but, like death and taxes, it's something you can count on.

Here's a quick case in point. Doubleclick on this current State Farm commercial and tell me what you see. What I see are three separate examples of absurdly stupid men who spend the savings from their low-cost State Farm policies on such idiotic items as falcons. Note how the clever, level-headed wife uncovers the mystery of the missing money, who spent it (her hubby) and on what (the bird).

I wouldn't be writing this blog if the State Farm spot had included even one dopey woman. But, it doesn't. All three morons are men. In fact, if Madison Avenue creative directors and Hollywood screenwriters were asked to describe the average American male, they'd use adjectives such as: clueless, idiotic, helpless, befuddled and overwhelmed. Ask the same influencers to describe the average American female and you'd hear such superlatives as: bright, engaged, sensitive and multi-tasking (re: the latter, journeyman comic Darryl Salerno likes to ask, “If women are such great multi-taskers, how come they can't have sex and a headache at the same time?” His words. Not mine).

Want another insurance sector example of subliminal male bashing? Look no further than Geico's brilliant caveman campaign. How come the tagline doesn't state, “Insurance made so simple even a cavewoman could understand it”? The answer is obvious: we've been programmed to just accept the fact that men are stupid. So, ipso facto, cavewomen were smarter than cavemen.

I've been around long enough to know there are just as many ignorant women as men. But, our entertainment gurus have decided otherwise.

It doesn't bother me. But, it SHOULD bother you if you're a mom or dad of impressionable boys and young men because it's reinforcing a negative stereotype in their minds. And, conversely, girls and young women are being told they're superior to boys and, aside from procreation, really don't need them for much of anything.

Feminists might argue that men have no one to blame but themselves for the negative stereotyping. But, for every Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer and Tiger Woods, there's a Casey Anthony, Tonya Harding and the former governor of Alaska. Ignorance is gender neutral. But, the perceptions of our nation's future leaders are being shaped to believe otherwise.

Too much of anything is bad. It's high time for some responsible (and balanced) marketing and entertainment content from what Ad Age used to refer to as the 'intersection of Madison and Vine.' Let's call for a cease-fire on male-bashing.