February 2012

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I recently caught up with Doyle Albee, the President of Metzger Associates. We both know the pain of having to turn down good people and causes looking for pro bono help. So in this 4 minute video (and yes, as a matter of fact I do know that my hair looks awful), Doyle and I talk about some ways in which smaller organizations can approach their PR needs, both through traditional PR and through Social Media.

In the video, Doyle references the idea that Social Media is like a cocktail party, which we absolutely agree with. There is a book by that name that you might want to look at and also David Meerman Scott speaks and blogs about that subject too.


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Every week, I get calls from people who want to know how to gain publicity for their business or cause. Many are looking for a quick fix when what they really need is something much more strategic. I can’t blame them. After all, who wants to hear that a solid PR campaign takes strategy, planning and hard work? Or that it usually takes time. And it should always involve research.

But it does. And to tell you otherwise would be disingenuous. It’s a bit like weight loss. Who wouldn’t want to take a pill and have the weight fall off without ever having to break a sweat or reduce calories. It just doesn’t work that way.

Any one of my journalist colleagues can regale you with stories about the quick fix mindset sort of pitches they get daily. In the end, however, they hurt not help someone’s chances on the “how to gain publicity” front.

Imagine your inbox flooded with people who know nothing about what you do demanding, yup, demanding that you do something for them when you’re not even in the right business. But it happens to journalists all the time. Business writers are pitched entertainment stories, investigative reporters are pitched stories about fun fairs and, well, you get the idea. It’s no wonder some journalists have just stopped answering the phone…

Not every story is a media story. Some might be better suited to being told on your website or in your company’s newsletter or on a video post on YouTube.

Knowing how to gain publicity via traditional media channels means knowing if your story is newsworthy to the outlet and particular person you are pitching.

What makes a story newsworthy?

1. Relevance to the journalist and media outlet

The vast majority of pitches that journalists get have nothing to do with any kind of understanding of what the reporter or the media outlet covers. The one size fits all pitch doesn’t work. It never really did but it works less now than ever. Any pitch has to have immediate relevance to what matters to the end users of the outlet: its readers, viewers or listeners. Anyone who has information, advice or insights into a story they are currently covering is particularly golden.

2. Being topical

There are issues and topics that pick up steam in the media because their readers, viewers and listeners care about it. Know what stories are generating buzz.  Scour the news and ask your friends and colleagues what’s capturing their attention in the news. You may have a local spin on something that has been getting a lot of national attention. Or you may be part of a local phenomenon with national repercussions. Knowing what’s trending in media circles is crucial to topicality.

3. Scope

A story has newsworthiness if lots of people are or could be affected. You can’t fake this, and you can’t lie about it. We once watched someone try and position a disease as much more common than it was because she felt it gave it more punch. Some very red-faced journalists ran with the story but then felt duped when others within the medical community set them straight.

4. Proximity

Local media outlets don’t care so much about things happening elsewhere or that which is national in scope. They need local angles – people, places or things that make the story relevant to their readers. There are other sources for readers to get news about the world and community papers aren’t it. A community response to a world story, however, that may well be of interest. What a local community group is doing to respond to a disaster covered in the news may well be of interest.

5. Involvement of someone high profile

Like it or not, celebrity sells. But what constitutes a celebrity can change drastically depending on the situation. A local cause might find it useful to align itself to a higher profile institution or someone with name recognition who can act as a spokesperson or who can at least endorse the organiation’s work. Someone higher profile can be helpful as a spokesperson, active supporter or honourary patron. While honourary patrons are generally not paid, spokespeople often are, and the more famous the person is (rightly or wrongly), the more money they are likley to be paid. That said, you might find someone who cares deeply about your cause for personal reasons and who might help you by lending her name to it.

One word of caution. Just as it is important to make sure that the high profile person is worthy of the cause, it is also important to ensure that the cause or event is worthy of the person. I think of Prince Phillip, a champion of fine architecture, called upon to open the new annex of Vancouver’s City Hall. The original building is a beautiful work, and I imagine the Prince and his staff assumed that the annex would be as well.

Um, not so much.

Prince Phillip took to the mic and said: “I declare this thing open. Whatever it is.” Ouch.

6. The offbeat

Journalists are always on the scour for those who take a different path or turn what’s expected on its side. Doing or being the unexpected is a great media angle. Weird coincidences, things made out of unusual materials, anything where common sense or a common understanding of reality is turned on its head does very well.

7. Struggle

It is what makes us human. It inspires us to greatness, love, revenge and sometimes ruin. Where there is struggle, there is life and there is conflict. Conflict and scope make something newsworthy. I think of struggle as the wild card. Put it with any of the other six attributes and you get:

8. Human-ness

Big ideas are hard to understand theoretically. We may get them intellectually but until you’ve seen something through the eyes of someone who has lived it, its hard to really grasp it. Something can be newsworthy if it can help us to feel something profound. At Babble On Communications, we often say that to change someone’s mind, you sometimes have to go through their heart. Even sports and business sections and publications have room for stories that illuminate the human condition. We are all divided in so many ways, but we are all bound together by our humanity and our capacity to feel.

There you have it. These are big picture items, but they are crucial for anyone who wants to know how to gain publicity. Knowing whether or not your story is newsworthy or not is aboslutely critical before reaching out to any media. The goal should be to build bridges, not burn them.



You’ve probably heard the term but might be wondering just what are keywords? People use the phrase “keywords” to describe the words that people punch into search engines (usually Google) to find the information they are looking for.

Ric Dragon from Dragon Search prefers the term “key phrases,” which is actually more accurate since most people don’t type in just one word, but usually a phrase. Because there is so much content on the internet, trying to optimize your site for any one word is increasingly difficult and more often than not impossible. Effective keywords (or as Ric would call them, Keyphrases) are usually at least a few words long – sometimes several words long. Most emerging bloggers will have more success with what’s known as LongTail keywords, keywords that won’t pull as many searchers but will still pull a core group specifically looking for information you can give them and put you on the first page of Google for a lesser searched term. Enough longtail searchers will ultimately add up to a more robust website.

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You’ve probably heard the word but maybe you’re not sure – just what are hashtags? A hashtag looks like # and is used on Twitter to identify your tweet as part of a particular conversation. When Charlie Sheen was so famously at the height of his bad boy behaviour, he coined the term WINNING to describe his take on events. #Winning took on a life of its own on Twitter, although it usually indicated that the tweet had something of a joke in it, and often one at the expense of someone who seems somewhat divorced from reality.

Hashtags are often used during conferences and during Twitter chats (see definition) for two reasons:1. To make everything said in one conversation identified with a hashtag searchable and 2. To create a bit of buzz around a particular idea or event.

There is a site called Hashtag.org which lists the often used hashtags for more commonly used phrases, like “customer service” or #custserve in the Twittersphere.

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It’s hard to believe that YouTube has only been around since 2005. For a long time, it was lumped in with social media but, really, what is YouTube? As Ric Dragon talks about, it’s really more of a search engine than any kind of community building platform, except that it allows comments. But what a search engine it is. It is the 2nd most searched engine in the world eclipsed only by Google. Because of that, even organizations that would prefer a more polished and professional look of another video service like Vimeo feel it’s important to have a YouTube channel. Brands should build out their YouTube channels and make sure that all of their videos are tagged and optimized with keywords.

The average user can upload videos up to fifteen minutes in length, although preferred users in good standing can upload longer videos. Supported formats include .AVI, .MKV, .MOV, .MP4, DivX, .FLV, and .ogg and .ogv which include video formats like MPEG-4, MPEG, VOB, and .WMV. YouTube also supports 3GP, meaning videos can be uploaded from mobile phones.

YouTube videos are generally easy to embed on other sites and blogs. YouTube claims that 4 billion videos are streamed on its site daily and that 60 hours of content gets uploaded every minute.

YouTube has a rather insipid FAQ that really only lists the most basic of information and in generalities.

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More often than not when you see a celebrity wearing a particular brand or speaking on its behalf, they have signed what’s known as an endorsement deal. It means they lend their celebrity to a product giving it buzz, sex appeal, credibility or some other value that comes from being associated with them. Endorsement deals can come at a cost of millions of dollars or be much more modestly priced, depending on the deal. Even a smaller celebrity who appeals to a particularly important audience can command six figures and a multi-year deal.

Of course, there are downsides to endorsement deals as became apparent when Tiger Woods’ personal life upstaged anything he was doing on the golf course. Most endorsement deals have morals clauses now that allow for contract cancelations if the celebrity makes any one of a number of transgressions.

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You’ve probably heard the term but may have wondered – just what is a reporter’s beat? Some journalists specialize in a particular subject or area, the way a doctor or a lawyer does. They take on a specific area of interest or even geography and get to know it very, very well. When they do, they are known as covering a “beat.” Its origins supposedly come from the language of policing, as when a police officer walks a beat – his or her usual area of patrol.

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Journalists don’t have a lot of time to make decisions on story ideas, so PR people often send them a “pitch.” So what is a media pitch? Traditionally, it’s no more than a couple of paragraphs and contains everything that makes the potential story compelling. Better pitches inlcude a strong hook and additional information like links to more information, video, sound bites, art, graphics etc. You might consider pasting your media release or media advisory below it or attaching it (be careful of attachments though – some news outlets block them and you’ll end up bounced or in the spam filter) or you can wait and send that as a follow up if they are interested. Make sure you have your contact information in your pitch as well.

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By nature, people love to build communities. Twitter is no exception. So when likeminded people gather on Twitter to discuss things they care about, it’s not unusual for them to say “hey, we should explore this more indepth and maybe even regularly.” So what is a Twitter Chat? Generally, it’s a gathering on Twitter at a particular day and time (often recurring weekly) to talk about a particular subject of common interest.   That, in a nutshell, is what Twitter chats are: groups of people gathering at the same time and day each week to talk about something that matters to them collectively. Their conversations are no more private than any ordinary time on Twitter but the hashtag (#) is a way of distinguishing all tweets around a particular chat and making the content of that chat searchable after the fact.

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PR isn’t just offline anymore. It’s a fascinating mix of online know how and offline experience. I had a chance to talk to Ric Dragon, author of the Dragon Search manual of Online Marketing recently and he had some helpful advice about how you can make Google work for you and not just your competitors.

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