It’s time for a refresher course. We’ve written way too much on controversial topics lately, so here are a few tips and tools rounded up to help cut the B.S. out of your press release.
You probably think that last press release you wrote was a masterpiece. Well, you might want to think twice because more than likely -- you just fed a bunch of B.S. to a reporter who saw right through it.
If you're still not convinced, plug it into this new free tool. We wrote about it, so you can get all the details here.
It will give you a grade and tell you what your release is and isn't missing. And if you filled it with B.S. words, AKA "gobbledygook," you'll be advised to change those words. Your CEO or client might like them, but a reporter could care less.
Another way to test your B.S. meter is to learn from a PR pro based in Dallas, Texas. Here's a few tips from Scott Baradell, who leads the Idea Grove.
Don't give vague claims. We're a leading company. We outperform our competitors. So what? Tell me something I don't already know. What's unique about your company or product?
Stay away from technical jargon. "This communicates that what you're announcing is so inside-baseball that only about three reporters on the entire planet could possibly care about it," Baradell says.
Don't be lazy. Use e-mail wisely. And use the recipient's name. Baradell advises to "practice this consistently, and reporters will be less likely to give your announcements a one-way ticket to the recycle bin."
Editors at The Chicago Tribune are facing the same problem corporate editors began tackling years ago: how to integrate print with online.
Seems Tribune editors are struggling with integration—perhaps downright ignoring it— as they plan a reportedly drastic redesign of the paper. Someone at the Tribune told a Chicago columnist that no one overseeing the redesign has even mentioned print and Web integration.
Corporate editors are deeply concerned with integration, so much so they have an acronym for it, IPO. In fact, creating a quality print publication that works seamlessly alongside a strong intranet is the goal of most, if not all editors. And many of you are reaching that goal.
Maybe you should work for Sam Zell, the billionaire real estate mogul and owner of the Tribune Company.
Zell is laying waste to Tribune-owned newsrooms and slashing the amount of actual news in his papers. To accommodate the diminished news, he ordered redesigns at his papers.
The bright side is he’s letting newsroom staff from each paper handle the redesigns. No meddling from the front office.
At the Chicago Tribune a team of about 30 editors and reporters are mapping out the redesign with an eye on Great Britain’s The Guardian, explained Michael Miner, a columnist for the weekly Chicago Reader. His column focuses primarily on the Chicago media world.
Miner’s information comes from an anonymous source at the Tribune. This paragraph appears near the end of Miner’s July 10 column on the Tribune redesign:
“‘The most troubling thing about this process,’ my contact added, is why no one’s ‘talked about how this new print product will integrate with the Web. These committees are focused solely on the paper, which I think is a futile exercise, because in order to survive we have to figure out how the two complement each other.’”
Scary, isn’t it? In 2008, editors and reporters at one of America’s largest newspapers are not focused on how to integrate their print newspaper with their Web site.
If Miner’s information is correct then I’d advise selling your Tribune shares, but don’t worry, Zell took the company private. He’s the one who should be worried.
Maybe corporate editors should lend a hand—for a reasonable fee, of course.
Have you ever played a sport marred with bad officiating? The referee, umpire, line judge—pick your sport—constantly botches calls.
Then recognizing he has missed a penalty, the official starts blowing his whistle at the slightest hint of contact. These are makeup calls. The official is overcompensating—making up—for the calls he missed earlier in the game.
Makeup calls ruin a contest.
The media are bad officials who rely heavily upon makeup calls. Just look at poor Tony Snow. His death made headlines. He was, after all, White House Press Secretary. Many media and PR pros insist he was even one of the best.
But his death couldn’t rival that of Tim Russert, who, I think was sainted—or was it martyred? I can’t remember. The media did this hilarious thing with Russert coverage. They broke it as if it were news the moon had exploded.
A couple days later the backlash arrived. And the press were backlashing themselves. Too much Russert coverage, they screamed. As if they never give meaningless events—at least in terms of the world—too much coverage.
And Tony Snow is the victim. He was a makeup call, an easy one too. Coverage of his life and death would be respectful, but pundits and columnists wouldn’t spend too much time on it. They don’t want the Russert rap again, plus Snow was just a shill for Bush, right? And Bush is so 2003 anyway.
If only Snow had some connection to Obama—or that new Batman movie.
Poor, poor Tony Snow, I don’t even think I remember who he is anymore. Isn’t he that motivational speaker with the big smile? That guy died? Man, I loved that guy.
Co-workers chide my “man crush” on Barack Obama, and it’s true—I’m a fool for this candidate. His suits and stoic eyes, oration style, lean stature, the timbre of his voice, largesse of his ears, hope, change, blah, blah, blah.
But lately Obama’s inept and shady communications team is souring my infatuation, and endangering his candidacy. Here’s the most recent—and obvious—example of this ineptitude.
You’ve all heard it. Bill Burton’s response to The New Yorker cover depicting Obama and his wife as Muslim extremists:
“The New Yorker may think, as one of their staff explained to us, that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Senator Obama's right-wing critics have tried to create. But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree.”
Wow! This is a PR disaster, cleverly obfuscated by the press. The New Yorker “may think” it is satire? So Burton, and in turn Obama, believe a venerated magazine that firmly supports the candidate actually believes he and his wife are Muslim extremists.
Burton just lent credit to every e-mail string and news commentator’s suggestion that Obama is a Muslim extremist. Instead of chuckling at it, or having no reaction, the campaign tucked its tail between its legs, cried foul and tried to get the public whooping mad and horribly offended.
Reminds me of allegations of fear-mongering that Obama’s camp leveled against President Bush, John McCain and Hillary Clinton.
With the cartoon, Obama’s communicators tried to shift public skepticism of the candidate onto The New Yorker and its tasteless cartoon—stupid move guys. Seems like you can’t take a joke.
Here’s what the response should’ve been, according to Jon Stewart.
“Obama is in no way upset about the cartoon that depicts him as a Muslim extremist, because you know who gets upset about cartoons? Muslim extremists, of which Barack Obama is not. It’s just a f****** cartoon.”
Blame a perfect storm of publicity. This summer and fall you will notice—if you haven’t already—a renewed interest in virtual worlds.
Despite what you hear, remember: The idea that real companies will conduct business in virtual worlds like Second Life is utterly ridiculous.
My opinion runs contrary to that of many intelligent, forward-thinking people; in fact, it runs contrary to some Ragan.com articles. But I cannot, in sound body and mind, think that we will one-day live part of our lives in virtual computer worlds.
Think about that. Living part of your life in a virtual world. Did anyone else just feel real, real creeped out? The idea is so utterly ridiculous it falls somewhere between the marketing disaster that was Coke II and the human disaster that was Terminator II.
Rest assured my conviction goes beyond gut feeling.
Last summer, many brick-and-mortar companies with Second Life presence shuttered their virtual shops. Communities without viable economies often get overrun with sex and drugs. Welcome to Second Life, a hive for sex and drugs. Of course, that duo actually precluded its economic downturn.
Before the stores shuttered, a Second Life terrorist organization—yes, you read that correctly—was carrying out virtual penis bombings. Uh-huh, you read that correctly as well.
And then there’s the proposed federal legislation to protect kids from possible pedophiles in Second Life.
Sex and drugs … fake penises … pedophilia … are there any rational-thinking people out there who really—and I mean really—believe this will take-off?
I hope not.
Unfortunately, attention will fall upon virtual worlds this summer and autumn thanks to a perfect storm of publicity. Here’s what I mean:
• Second Life celebrates its fifth birthday July 20 and Linden Labs will launch a PR blitz.
• Recent news of a breakthrough allowing Second Life avatars to teleport, or transfer, to an IBM created virtual world will continue its slow ripple through the media and blogs.
• Google quietly launched its own virtual world called Lively. When Google does something people notice.
• $345 million was invested in virtual worlds in the first two quarters of 2008 combined as more worlds are burbling to the surface.
Journalists, bloggers and Silicon Valley reps will insist we are at the dawn of the virtual Web; that we will soon browse the Internet using our virtual selves, called avatars.
But that’s a crock.
Despite the hullabaloo, virtual worlds will never have widespread appeal. They are too weird for Main Street, too explicit for children, too risky for corporations.
I met Tony Snow in the kitchen of the FOX News bureau in Washington, D.C. He was wearing jeans, a T-shirt and white tennis shoes.
His typical work attire fit his personality – laid back and relaxed.
I immediately thought – oh, this guy won’t talk to me. I’m low on the totem pole and he’s a big shot radio host and TV anchor.
But he turned and smiled, introduced himself and shook my hand.
When he left FOX for his dream job as press secretary for President Bush, I was sad to see him leave the bureau.
He really stood out in the TV world of ego and uptight personalities. He was nice to everyone – from the cleaning crew to producers to visitors touring the bureau. He had that unique charm that made you feel like you were special.
When a friend of mine called me on Saturday to tell me that Tony Snow had died, I couldn’t believe it. Snow, 53, recently joined CNN as an analyst and photos showed him looking healthier, on the road to recovery from battling the same cancer that took his mother’s life when he was 17.
I turned on the TV to prove my friend wrong – but it was true. He was gone.
And now, as I think back to the kind man I met in the kitchen years ago, I realize how lucky I am to have known him.
Finally… a political win for Burson-Marsteller’s Mark Penn
PR powerhouse Burson-Marsteller picked up a political heavyweight by hiring a longtime former adviser to President Bush. Karen Hughes joins the team as global vice chair (AKA advising corporations in crisis) with a boss who has ties to the left side of the aisle.
Who's the boss? Burson-Marsteller CEO Mark Penn. He's the same guy who admitted to contributing to Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton's failed bid.
This PR mastermind says in the release that “Karen is one of the leading communications strategists working today,” and goes on to say “she brings enormous strategic insights.”
Whatever that means... just a bunch of garble in a press release. But hey, now they're joining forces to conquer the bipartisan consulting world!
While the match-up raises eyebrows in political circles, Penn assures The Wall Street Journal that “we agreed that we won’t let politics interfere in our business.”
It seems like a good deal for Hughes. She'll be based in Austin, near her family, and likely earn a fat paycheck.
This news comes a few weeks after Penn tried to spin his way out of Clinton’s camp by blaming the loss on being outspent, not in delivering the message.
Penn might have lost out with the Clinton campaign, but picking up Hughes will surely attract some high-profile conservative clients.
You might want to brush up on your vocab before your next night out. The latest edition of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary offers more than you could ever need to showcase your inner foodie. With about 100 new words, including a few from the food category like prosecco (an Italian wine).
Check out the latest new words in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. I"m not sure I'll actually use any of them, but it's worth a read.
A few others to boost your vocab: Dirty bomb, norovirus, such as the Norwalk Virus, and mondegreen, which comes from misunderstood phrases or lyrics.
What a catch!
Watch this video of a ball girl's catch. Is it real? Scroll down for the answer.
Sorry to disappoint, but it's not real. It was part of an ad campaign by Gatorade. However, Gatorade canceled its contract with the ad firm but it somehow landed online. Gatorade denies posting the video but it has picked up more than 3.5 million hits, a Gatorade spokeswoman told the LA Times. No ad campaign and 3.5 million hits? I wouldn't be complaining, either.
Update: Vanity Fair Facebook PR plea
I wrote about editorial assistant Bill's desperate ploy for PR recently. His boss told him to make 10,000 friends on Vanity Fair's Facebook page or he would be out of a job. Well, the deadline is fast approaching and he's barely half-way there.
With nearly 4,500 fans on Vanity Fair’s Facebook page and five weeks until his deadline, Bill should take drastic measures to stay employed and make 10,000 friends on Facebook.
In Bill’s words: “Be part of the gimmick and join here, please. And if you have any ideas about how I can be more lame and attract more fans, please ... The job you save could be mine.”
The New York Times stole my Ragan.com story. I can prove it.
On the Times Web site Monday, Bob Harris wrote this blog post: “Isn’t It Ironic? Probably Not.” On Friday, Ragan.com ran my story, “You understand irony, right?”
Interesting coincidence, eh? Perhaps you’re thinking, “Surely Harris’s article, published a full weekend after yours, discusses something other than how irony is abused and how it should be used?” Afraid not.
Harris defines irony in simple terms; so did I — three days before him.
He highlights other forms of speech mistaken for irony; so did I — three days before him.
He mentions Alanis Morissette’s song supposedly about irony; so did I — three days before him.
Have I shocked you yet?
Well my co-workers remain unconvinced. “The Times piece only appeared three days after yours,” they claim. Exactly, I tell them, it was a blog and those take less time to write and post than a newspaper article. Harris clearly read my article on Friday and whipped something together for Monday.
“Irony is a universal topic — evergreen really — plus the post appeared on the paper’s blog about books,” my co-workers say. And my article appeared on a Web site for corporate communicators, I reply. What’s your point?
They insist: “Morissette’s ‘Ironic’ is, like, the most talked about song on the topic, because her examples of irony are anything but.” Uh-huh, whatever.
Tell us how you manage unrealistic expectations, meet reporter needs, churn out news when there is none, deal with a client you can't stand, and what you say to people that slam PR. Or anything else that's on your mind.