3 simple ways to prepare for media interviews and how they pay off

Many companies and organizations dream about getting a (positive) story about themselves on the news, splashed across the front page of a newspaper or featured on a popular blog. And there’s good reason why: It can be an effective way to reach your target audience.

To do it effectively, though, requires planning. Otherwise, you have a greater chance of mixing your messages, not being clear during the interview and/or confusing your audience. So before you pick up the phone or send an email to pitch the story, it’s important to sit down and prepare, whether it’s a single story or a comprehensive media relations campaign. Here are three simple things you can do and how they can pay off for you.Read more

How to avoid these 4 communications traps

In any organization, whether it’s a for-profit business or a nonprofit that makes an impact in the world, communications plays an important role on many levels. It takes effort and hard work to ensure that your audiences receive the messages, understand them and – most important – respond the way you want. Without that effort, you run the risk of falling into these traps.Read more

Public relations 101: What is PR?

PR image

From time to time, people will ask me what public relations is. To a certain degree, it surprises me because we live in an age when information is so readily available and businesses, organizations and individuals are all concerned about their image. That said, if you’re a small business owner or leading a small nonprofit organization, you might not have a public relations professional on staff –not to mention that you have more pressing priorities than public relations.Read more

How to avoid Brian Williams’ misstep

I have to admit: I have always liked Brian Williams. His manner as anchor of the NBC Nightly News was a steadfast at Tom Brokaw, and he made it his own with humor in his writing. In my opinion, his reporting seemed to be on target, and he seemed to care about the people and issues he was covering. But when he got caught in a lie in February, all of that unraveled to the point that I’m not sure what to think of Williams now. That’s one of the reasons I said then that I didn’t think his apology went far enough.

This is another example of the power of social media, as The New York Times reported Sunday. As we all know, it doesn’t take long for news like this to catch fire and go viral in this age of schadenfreude when people enjoy watching others, especially those in lofty positions, fall from grace.Read more

Public relations is a strategic race worth running

A few years ago, I lost a bunch of weight after working out on an ellipitical for about six months. To add some variety to my workouts, I started running again (after taking a 25-year hiatus when the the track season in my senior year of high school ended). While my ultimate goal was to remain fit and live a healthy lifestyle, I wasn’t satisfied with running a few miles a day at a moderate pace just to keep the weight off. I wanted to challenge myself, so I registered for the Hershey Half Marathon and began a training regimen that ultimately helped me beat my goal time by 5 minutes (I finished in 1:45:12).Read more

Why Brian Williams’ apology wasn’t enough

As parents, my wife and I are always looking for ways to teach our sons how to grow up to be respectable and respectful young men. So it was last year that my wife found some practical information about teaching kids how to apologize on iMom. I am reminded of it this week in light of the events that led the the 6-month unpaid suspension of NBC News managing editor and anchor Brian Williams.

In case you missed it, here’s a quick synopsis: Brian Williams made news this week for stretching the truth (tantamount to lying) about events that took place when he was covering the Iraq war in 2003. He was covering the delivery of bridge parts when a helicopter ahead of the Chinook in which Williams was a passenger was hit by a rocket propelled grenade. Over time, he began to say that it was his helicopter that was struck. On Friday, Jan. 30, it was repeated in another story, and veterans who were in Iraq said they did not remember that Williams was in that aircraft. For a detailed account of how Williams’ story evolved, I recommend this story from The New York Times.

Faced with criticism from veterans and the public, Williams did the right thing and apologized during his Feb. 4 NBC Nightly News broadcast.

From a public relations perspective, though, he missed the mark. While he did accept responsibility and sincerely expressed his apology, it didn’t go far enough. Listen closely to it, and you hear him apologize only to military men and women, “veterans everywhere who have served while I have not. I hope they know they have my greatest respect and, now, my apology.” That’s a problem because Williams sits in the anchor chair reporting the news to millions of people, the vast majority who are not military personnel or veterans. Don’t we deserve an apology, too?

From a PR strategy, it would have been the wise thing to do. It might not have stopped people from calling him a liar (after all, the memes about him are out of control), but all Williams has as a journalist is his credibility. To start winning that back, I would have advised him to add a statement apologizing to his entire audience. I don’t think that would have prevented his suspension because one does need to accept the consequences of bad decisions, but it would have put him on the right track.

Time will tell if Williams returns to the anchor desk. From media reports I heard today on NPR, if Lester Holt can maintain ratings and keep NBC as the top news program, the network might make the suspension permanent. But it could decide that Williams is worth the risk to try to bring the ratings back. Whatever happens, that’s a whole other PR issue to analyze in the future.


When PR pros throw a bad pitch

In my personal life, I am an elected official and serve on Elizabethtown Borough Council. In that capacity, I started a blog called Chronicling Elizabethtown about seven years ago with the focus of covering local news from my perspective as a member of Borough Council. Since my focus is on local news, municipal government and what’s happening in Elizabethtown, Pa., it serves its purpose well of getting the word out to the community. As a result, it gets the appropriate kind of traffic that I would expect (a few dozen visits per week).

Chronicling Elizabethtown has been around long enough now, and has apparently generated enough traffic, that it shows up on the radar of public relations professionals. For a couple of years now, I have received emails from many of those folks pitching products, reviews and ideas for their clients. As a PR pro myself, that’s a good thing to do.  The problem is the vast majority of these pitches have nothing to do with Elizabethtown, local government or any topics that I write about. Consider this pitch that I got just this week.

“Happy Monday! Just wanted to circle back around to see if you would like to set up an interview with our style experts to get the latest on bridal fashion for 2015! Also, please let me know if you are working on any bridal or fashion stories and would like hi-res images.”

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Using public relations superpowers for good: PRSA’s PR for a Day

My public relations career started in 1999 when I was hired to work in the press office at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. From there, I worked at the Pennsylvania Department of Education and later in the communications office at the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. During those jobs, it became clear to me that, regardless of the politics, using my public relations skills in government was a way to make an impact on people and society in general. In some small way, the work that I did in communications had an impact on the air we breathe, the water we drink and what was happening in kindergarten classrooms and college lecture halls. I got a tremendous amount of personal and professional satisfaction from that.

So when the time to came to pursue other job opportunities, I was drawn to working at HDC MidAtlantic, the largest provider of affordable housing in Central Pennsylvania. And when I started McCloud Strategic Communications in 2012, I worked exclusively for the Pennsylvania eHealth Partnership Authority to create a system for medical providers to share electronic health records with each other.

Recently, the Central Pennsylvania chapter of the Public Relations Society of America announced to its members that the chapter will be launching a public service project on April 24, 2015, next year called “PRSA’s PR for a Day.” The concept is simple: PR professionals will be partnered with a small nonprofit agency in the Capitol Region to donate their marketing and PR experience and talent to projects for which the agency lacks appropriate skills or resources. The chapter is encouraging us to spend at least three hours on site with the nonprofit. Prior to the event, PR volunteers will receive background information on the nonprofit agency, and their projects and challenges, to help maximize the time spent on-site.

This is an exciting project because it goes to the heart of why I do what I do. If you are interested in having your nonprofit participate, please contact me and I’ll forward the information to the Central Pennsylvania PRSA chapter. Perhaps we’ll have a chance to work together next April!

Four PR lessons I learned from my middle school cross country team

This fall, I took on a new challenge of coaching the Elizabethtown Middle School cross country team. As I’ve become an avid runner, and my family has taken to the sport, too, I wanted to instill my love of the sport in the next generation. It has been a rewarding experience on every level: My girls’ team was 17-4 for the season, and a 7th grade girl shattered an 8-year-old course record at one of the away meets. Meanwhile, my boys had a terrific winning season. Perhaps more important, one of the seventh grade girls, who had never done any running before, asked repeatedly during early practices about the more experienced kids, “How can they run so fast?” or “How can they run so far?” And now, she’s running without stopping and hitting times she never thought possible.

I’ve learned about myself as a person and an athlete being a coach of a school team. Little did I expect that it would be a great reminder about practicing basics in public relations.Read more

Anticipation is a PR skill worth acquiring

Image used by permission from the blog The Science of Coaching Squash.

When you work in public relations, part of your duties are responding to situations and questions that sometimes crop up without warning. At best, it’s a simple question from a reporter who is simply asking to clarify some information or to make sure she has her information correct. At its worst, the unplanned is a crisis, a la the Malaysian airliner that crashed earlier this year. As a PR professional, it’s also your job to anticipate and be aware of pitfalls for your employer or your clients. By actively anticipating, you can avoid or minimize negative news coverage and public perceptions about you, your organization and its programs or business.Read more