What’s All the Buzz About? Public Relations 101

If you’re not a public relations (PR) or communications professional, chances are you likely clump PR in together with advertising, marketing, and event planning, thinking they are the same. And it’s OK if you do. A lot of people make this common mistake.

What exactly is PR anyway?

A critical element of your marketing mix, PR involves persuading an audience to take action, change a behavior, support a cause, or attend an event. Most of the time, this is done via an unpaid, trusted source such as the news media.

We say “most of the time” because today’s PR landscape involves a balanced blend of paid, earned, owned, and shared media known as the Integrated PESO Model.

The PR website Spin Sucks provides the following definitions:

Regardless of the medium (paid, earned, shared, or owned), PR is all about persuasion. It is about ensuring that your audience take the desired action.

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) says this about PR:

PR professionals are storytellers

At the end of the day, public relations professionals are professional storytellers.

Always on the hunt to find positive messages about your product or organization, they are looking for story ideas to help generate positive press.

And when news about your organization isn’t so great, PR professionals will work to come up with the best response to minimize possible damage to your reputation.

These professional storytellers usually provide one or more of the following functions:

  • Corporate communications
  • Crisis communications
  • Executive communications
  • Internal communications
  • Investor communications
  • Marketing communications
  • Integrated marketing communications
  • Media relations
  • Content creation
  • Reputation management

So, when might you need PR? 

There is a time and place for everything, including PR. Here are some situations when bringing in the PR cavalry can be paramount to your organization’s success:

  • Announcement of a new product, service, or opening a new venue – You absolutely need to call in the PR troops when you launch a new product, service, or open a new venue. Letting the public know about something new to buy, eat, try, or visit is a critical piece of your overall promotion strategy. Creating buzz, particularly with traditional media (newspapers, magazines, TV shows, etc.), is a sure way to get the word out.
  • Noteworthy personnel announcements and awards – If you’ve recently named a new executive to your C-suite team or just won a major award, you may want to consider pushing out some type of announcement, mainly to trade publications specific to your industry.
  • Crisis communications – If you don’t utilize the power of public relations for anything else, use it when you find your company in a crisis. Please do what you can to call on your PR expertise early on, so they have a firm understanding of what has occurred and how best to mitigate the damage. Your PR team should be able to steer you, providing you with key messages and talking points, as well as counsel on how to communicate with all of your stakeholders, not just the media.
  • Support of an event – If you’re a nonprofit organization, you may be looking to sell seats to a gala or charity concert. Infusing PR into your marketing mix can give you a much-needed boost, not only with your event but also in creating awareness about your cause.
  • Overall brand visibility and awareness – There is so much traffic and noise out there that it’s sometimes difficult to stay top of mind with your consumers, constituents, donors, or advocates. Consistent and ongoing PR efforts help keep your business or organization top of mind all year long.

The PR Toolbox 

https://www.pexels.com/photo/tool-set-on-plank-175039/

PR is much more than writing and distributing press releases. It’s about creating strategic communications and relationships that benefit your business or organization.

In addition to a news release, PR professionals may use one or more of the following tools to achieve their overall goals:

  • Key messaging
  • Fact sheets
  • Pitches
  • Bios
  • Speeches
  • Blogs
  • Social media content
  • Newsletters
  • Brochures and other publications

All of the above require specialized writing to communicate your messaging effectively, thoughtfully, and strategically.

Measuring PR’s Effectiveness

It’s been a long-standing debate in the world of PR: how to measure its effectiveness.

Did it move the needle in terms of getting people to take the desired action? How do you tell?

When you first set out to launch a PR campaign, it’s critical to decide how and what you will measure.

Your PR objectives should state precisely what you want to achieve, how you will achieve it, and by when. You should also address who, specifically, your target audience is.

Here’s an excellent example from the Las Vegas Valley Chapter of PRSA:  

“To decrease deaths from the failure to use seat belts among teen drivers by 30 percent by the calendar year 20xx.”

Having your objectives set up front will help you better measure after your campaign if you hit the mark.

Back in the day, PR professionals would use ad equivalencies, or the estimated cost of the editorial placement had it been an advertisement, to measure a PR campaign’s success. Over the years, the industry has shifted away from calculating a numeric value to media hits.

Instead, you may want to consider the following metrics, according to CoverageBook.

Patience and Perseverance Pay Off 

In most cases, you won’t see PR results happen overnight. A successful campaign requires a concerted effort, tenacity, perseverance, and mental toughness.

But your efforts will eventually pay off, and you’ll one day understand why Bill Gates once said, “If I was down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on PR.” 

Everything You Wanted To Know About Generating a Technobabble-Free Press Release But Were Afraid To Ask

Imagine yourself in the following situation: You’re the chief engineer of an up-and-coming technology company, and you’ve just led the launch of a ground-breaking systems control software package. You’re excited. You know your new product can meet a wider range of needs for industrial operators than competing solutions. You’ve published a detailed press release, and now you’re waiting to hear back from the tech press and trade publications.

And … crickets. Your big announcement does not seem to have drawn any attention or comments. You ask your team members to look into the matter, and they tell you sheepishly that only a handful of newspapers and blogs have taken note of your announcement. Moreover, they inform you that these outlets have either run the company’s statement in full or have condensed it into a brief blurb that uses exactly the same wording.

You’re disappointed – and not sure what to do next. You’re proud of your new product and confident that it can find an audience. So far, though, your audience seems to be yawning. What happened?

Perhaps you’ve fallen victim to technobabble.

That is, perhaps you – and your communications team — have spent enough time in the company of your fellow engineers, coders, systems architects, and other technical experts that you’re defaulting to the jargon you use with each other in the office. And as a result, the message you were trying to send out to potential buyers, not all of whom have the same level of familiarity with technical terms that you do, has been lost in a thicket of acronyms, abbreviations, and neologisms. Luckily, you aren’t alone.  Many, many other companies have written press releases that are all but incomprehensible to the average reader. Take, for example, this statement from Borealis:

This press release is a difficult read for several reasons:

  • The headline, “Borealis inaugurates EUR 15 million investment project mtm plastics GmbH,” gives few details about the topic at hand.
  • The first paragraph devotes more space to describing the companies involved than to explaining what exactly is happening.
  • The text is heavily loaded with technical terms.
  • Most of the results of an internet search for more information on the topic consist of articles that are slightly reworded versions of the press release.

Press Releases: Like Doing a Root Canal

But how much does it matter if your press release is a difficult read? And if technobabble is truly a problem, how can you avoid it in press releases? To answer these questions, The Writers For Hire spoke to Joel Alpert, the founder and strategic and creative director of MarketPower, an Atlanta-based branding and marketing consultancy.

Alpert, who worked for multiple weekly newspapers in the New York City market before moving into consulting, pointed out that press releases have their own problems even if they’re light on technobabble. “Most press releases are like doing a root canal,” he said. “They’re incredibly painful to listen to [or] to read. They’re terrible. They do the wrong things … Just in the course of [working in journalism], you learn to hate press releases.”

Journalists and editors are in a better position than most to critique public statements from businesses because they see so many of them, he explained. “Years ago in New York City, we certainly worked with press releases,” he said, referring to his past experience. “We got hundreds each week. You’d go through them; you’d throw most of them away. You’d edit them, and then you’d publish [them] in some form. When you do that often enough, you develop a sense of taste – of tolerance – for what you’re willing to put up with.”

Your takeaway here? 

Journalists get a ton of releases, and many are poorly written.  So make their job easier, and they’ll be more likely to pay attention to you. Tweet this

Telling Your Story

Unfortunately, the communication problem is not limited to interactions with the press. Companies that struggle to draw the attention of journalists and editors are also likely to have difficulty making a good impression on potential clients and customers. According to Alpert, the best way to avoid boring copy is to tell a story.

When telling that story, a strong start is crucial, he remarked. “The first thing to do is to make the story interesting. And it’s got to be enjoyable, preferably fun,” he added. “The lead has got to be very strong [and go] right into a story that really engages the reader. Otherwise, the reader will probably throw it away immediately.”

To achieve this aim, he said, companies may need to move beyond describing their newest products and services in a straightforward, just-the-facts-ma’am manner. Potential customers – even those who are looking for technological solutions to complex problems – may respond more positively to a different approach, he said.

“You might not tell a story about the brand or about the company,” he said. “[Instead], you can tell something that expands on your brand or your interests by telling something that’s interesting. It could be a customer experience. So while that doesn’t seem, at face value, to be about the brand, it really is because you’ve told about how a customer interacted with the brand.”

HelloPackage seems to be thinking along the same lines, if its press release dated September 14 is any indication.

The package management system platform’s statement succeeds on several fronts:

  • The headline and first paragraph draw attention to an easily relatable problem – namely, that of keeping track of more and more packages thanks to the expansion of delivery options.
  • The second paragraph provides data to support the company’s argument without leaving readers to drown in a sea of numbers.
  • The overall tone is collegial and engaging – and non-technical, despite the technical nature of the product.
  • The statement explains clearly how the company can help resolve a real-world problem.

If Borealis had taken this approach, the first paragraph of its press release might have read as follows: “For both manufacturers and consumers, plastics are cheap and convenient. They are also disposable – and piling up around the world, creating environmental hazards. Borealis, a leading provider of innovative solutions in the chemical industry, is contributing to clean-up efforts through the expansion of a plastics recycling facility in Niedergebra, Germany.”

The Eyes Have It

Hitting these high notes may seem like a tall order for companies involved in complex, high-tech operations. But there are concrete ways to optimize the content of press releases to help them reach laymen and experts alike, Alpert told The Writers For Hire.

One technique is to keep press releases and other marketing materials brief, he said. “Keep it short because if you’ve got something that can be told more [succinctly], you’re getting that story published the way you want to have it, [rather] than getting it sliced to bits because someone feels like they have to take a pen or cursor to it,” he said.

Another helpful strategy is to seek out striking imagery, he said. “There’s something you can do that really helps a lot, and that is [to be] visual,” he said. “Instead of saying something like ‘we’re growing quickly,’ you say ‘we’re growing in leaps and bounds.’ If that happens to [catch the reader’s eye], it’s a little more visual.”

Even companies involved in heavily technical projects should make use of striking imagery, Alpert asserted. “Everything has an angle that can be made interesting,” he said. “I worked for a client in insurance compliance consulting, which is pretty dry stuff. And we had a whole theme of getting through the jungle of insurance compliance that was very visual, with all kinds of illustrations about escaping from the paper tiger in the jungle and cutting through the jungle with machetes. Everything became a way of cutting through the bureaucratic clutter that this industry is known for, and we made that interesting. And this particular client’s business started growing radically once we started doing this kind of stuff because it has a way of gaining the attention and interest of the target audience.”

He continued: “[Something] that’s more engaging and more entertaining and more interesting will gain the attention of your audience – wherever it is, every single time, no exceptions. There’s no industry that can’t create some interesting thinking or analogy.”

Borealis would probably have benefited from this approach. For example, the German company could have tweaked its statement to include a more evocative headline, such as “Borealis to scoop up more litter with EUR 15 million push to expand plastics recycling facility.”

Likewise, with a few modifications to the original text, it could have offered a clear and succinct explanation of its investment program. More specifically, it could have used the following as its second paragraph: “The company is set to spend EUR 15 million on the expansion of a plastics recycling facility that it acquired through the acquisition of another German firm, mtm plastics GmbH, in 2016. The project aims to boost the capacity of the plant, which is located in Niedergebra, Germany, while also improving its ability to navigate the high-end market of plastic re-granulates.”

Maintaining Credibility

When reworked in this fashion, press releases can do a better job of capturing readers’ interest. But if the topic at hand is technical in nature, will an overhaul really do justice to it?

According to Alpert, avoiding technobabble doesn’t have to entail a loss of credibility. “Sometimes a company has something that’s highly technical and it’s a big innovation, and you have to explain to [readers] why this big innovation has value,” he said. “That can and should be able to be done. That can also be made interesting and engaging.”

He explained: “Sometimes in the cases of a technical product, you can be a little more technical in what you do because you want to gain some credibility … [Your press release] may be seen by a CFO as well as a CTO, or it may be seen by a programmer or someone in customer service, and [those] audiences are really different. They have different tolerances for what they want to read.”

Even so, he said, the desire to cater to expert readers is no excuse for a badly crafted press release. “No matter who it is, even if they have a technical background, they still want to be able to read it like a normal sentence and not [have it] sound like they’re sitting in a science class looking at the periodic table of elements,” he commented.

This target is not out of reach, as the organizers of a technology conference in Wuxi, China can demonstrate.

In this press release, the Organizing Committee of 2018 World Internet of Things Expo has accomplished several important goals:

  • In the headline and first paragraph, it uses evocative phrases such as “pivotal leap,” “great breakthrough” and “years of cultivation.”
  • It presents readers with a striking visual image by referring to the event as the “pearl” of Wuxi.
  • The statement explains how consumers can benefit from the technologies showcased at the event.
  • It references new technological developments without taking refuge in technobabble.

Borealis would have done well to adopt a similar approach. For example, it could have played up the positive environmental impact of its plans by playing up the theme of cleaning up litter along the following lines: “The expansion project will add value to mtm plastics GmbH, which is already in the vanguard of efforts to recycle items that might otherwise be sent to landfills, including mixed post-consumer plastic waste and as one of Europe’s largest producers of post-consumer polyolefin recyclates.”

Cross-Fertilization

In any event, companies should certainly aim to stand out, given that media markets have changed so much over the last two decades. “I don’t think it’s a secret to say that press releases have been fighting for their survival for years,” Alpert said. “In electronic media, there are so many places to go for information, and social media tends to dominate over press releases. So press releases are not as popular as they used to be.”

Even so, companies can attain the best of both worlds by writing press releases that bear more resemblance to social media posts. Alpert explained: “A press release tends to have a more corporate style, and social media tends to be more conversational. I would argue that press releases should be more conversational, or if not conversational, then minimally they should be engaging and absolutely interesting and readable.”

The press release mentioned above serves as a good example of this informal approach. In similar fashion, this September 13 statement from MyRepChat strikes a friendly note:

Instead of listing the software’s technical features at length, it uses brief summaries and quotes from its CEO to highlight the ways that the software helps its users.

By contrast, Borealis uses a quote from its acting CEO that comes across as plodding and overloaded with buzzwords: “This investment in our mechanical recycling capabilities at mtm is key in realising our growth ambitions in the circular economy, and it underlines our continuing commitment to mtm. We need stepwise expansion projects to minimize down time, but also need to maintain existing facilities and business.” The company might have done better to preface this statement with something more descriptive, such as: “Borealis’ acting CEO Alfred Stern emphasized his company’s dedication to expanding its activities in the area of plastics recycling – and doing so without forcing mtm plastics GmbH to take a break from the important business of responsible handling of post-consumer waste.”

Content Management

In short, according to Alpert, avoidance (or judicious use) of technobabble is valuable for any company looking to bolster its bottom line. Clear communication “absolutely leads to sales,” he said. “That’s why we have so much marketing communication [and] so much chatter across every imaginable medium, from email and Twitter and Facebook on your phone to electronic billboards and ads in elevators.”

As noted here, good writing skills are a crucial part of the solution, especially for companies involved in complex and technical industries that are not easy to describe to laymen. But they do not have to be the only tool in use. Indeed, technology – in the form of content management systems (CMSs) – can play a role.

CMSs are software packages or apps that allow their users to collect, store, manage, and publish information, including text, graphics, and other materials. As companies accumulate collections of press releases and other public statements, they can use CMSs as an archive that stores older material: as a smart index that tags text and graphics so that they can be used in the most effective context, as a template that generates new material and calibrates it to specific audiences, as a sounding board that allows staff members to update and comment on press releases and other public statements, and as a publishing solution that formats material attractively.

Pimcore, a German open-source software vendor, has pointed out that these systems help companies access the technological resources needed to streamline the process of composing and releasing marketing materials: “You don’t need to know HTML or any other programming language to build a website using a CMS. All you really need to know is how to use Microsoft Word and you will be able to create (using) your CMS to create web pages, blog posts, news articles, landing pages, and press releases.” (hyperlink to https://pimcore.com/en/resources/blog/why-you-should-be-using-a-content-management-system-cms_a981)

In other words, CMSs can be a helpful complement to good writing skills. They can streamline the process of drafting press releases by helping companies to draw on their most successful marketing campaigns and statements of the past. Through tagging, they can help companies tailor their press releases to different audiences with different tolerances for technical information, while ensuring that the final product is well formatted and visually appealing.

Don’t Let a Crisis Freeze Your Business-Blue Bell’s 2015 recall is a lesson in crisis management

When it comes to customer loyalty and crisis response, communication is key.

And a little planning can go a long way toward repairing the damage.

Blue Bell is a great example of how a company can bounce back from a potentially reputation-damaging event.

For ice cream connoisseurs living in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and a few surrounding states, Blue Bell isn’t just a brand of ice cream – it’s THE brand of ice cream.

Known for its nostalgic packaging and down-home personality as much as for iconic flavors like Cookies ‘n Cream, Dutch Chocolate, and its original Homemade Vanilla – Blue Bell is a beloved Texas institution with a die-hard fan base.

But in the spring of 2015, “The Little Creamery in Brenham” – which is actually a $600 million-dollar corporation with manufacturing plants and operations in several states – was linked to a Listeria outbreak that originated in the company’s Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, factory.

Three people died, and at least ten people were hospitalized.

For the first time in its history, Blue Bell recalled its products from store shelves.

A temporary shutdown – another first for the company – followed, as Blue Bell brought in outside specialists to clean and sanitize every piece of equipment used in the manufacturing process.

As the cleanup efforts got underway in the company’s plants, a different kind of cleanup began in Blue Bell’s Brenham, Texas, headquarters.

Blue Bell executives hired a public relations and crisis communication expert to help them craft a response and manage their interactions with customers and the community.

 

Hesitation isn’t an option

In the event of a crisis – whether it’s a Listeria outbreak, a defective product, or even a data breach involving sensitive customer data – you can’t afford to hesitate.

At best, your silence and inaction is interpreted as evasiveness; at worst, you’re opening the door to rumors, speculation, and accusations.

Blue Bell hired Gene Grabowski, a self-described “Crisis Guru” and public relations expert, to help them re-establish consumers’ and retail partners’ trust in Blue Bell ice cream.

Grabowski has seen this dynamic firsthand, and he has worked on crisis management campaigns for companies ranging from toy manufacturers to pet food companies to national restaurant chains.

The company’s efforts paid off.

With Grabowski’s guidance, Blue Bell survived the recall with its reputation largely intact.

Rather than pointing fingers or voicing criticisms, loyal customers rallied around Blue Bell and took to social media to voice their support, creating fan pages like “We Stand With Blue Bell Creameries.”

 

 

When the company released a limited selection of products post-recall, fans took triumphant midnight selfies in front of newly stocked shelves.

The lesson? When people really love a product or company, they’re willing to forgive and forget. Tweet this

Of course, not every company in crisis has the advantage of a big-name PR guru.

We interviewed Gene Grabowski to learn more about responding to a crisis with your reputation and your customer base intact.

 

Build your team

Grabowski says that effective crisis communication does not start with a plan.

He’s quick to point out that plans are important, but a good strategy should begin with people.

It’s critical to have a team already positioned when there’s a crisis--one that’s been carefully assembled beforehand, because it’s impossible to do that in the midst of the chaos.

There are too many variables in a crisis that can never be planned for – like looking up and seeing CBS on the doorstep.

Your plan can predict what 100 questions could be, but remember, there could be that 101st question that you weren’t expecting .

It takes creativity and experience to know how to answer that one as well.

-Gene Grabowski

 

For some companies, it might make sense to look in-house and build a team of creative, smart people who can remain cool under pressure.

Other companies – like Blue Bell, for example – may prefer to seek outside help from a consultant or company that specializes in crisis communication.

Either way, Grabowski’s advice remains the same: Build your team first.

From there, if you want to sketch out a rudimentary crisis response plan, that’s fine.

But remember that a plan can only take you so far, especially in a crisis where, literally, anything can happen.

 

Assess (and plan for) risk

Once you have a crisis team in place, it’s time to think about worst-case scenarios.

Grabowski recommends creating a matrix of high-risk, highly problematic scenarios.

The list will vary depending on the type of company, product, and customers involved.

For retailers and financial institutions, for example, data breaches and hacking might be at the top of the list.

For food companies, Grabowski says,  “It’s likely that sooner or later, contamination will become an issue.”

Once you have a list of potential crisis situations, think about how you’ll respond.

While every situation and company is different, a basic plan should cover a few broad areas like:

 

  • How are you going to notify your customers of the crisis? How will you ensure that people hear facts, not rumors or theories? Will you issue press releases? Sit for interviews? Who will be the point person for media inquiries?

 

Grabowski says it’s important to send the message that the company understands the problem and is completely focused on finding a solution.

He added that this is how Blue Bell managed to maintain its relationships with its customers and retailers during the time of the crisis. “We spent a great deal of time communicating directly with them about how we were resolving the problem, so that they would trust us enough to keep the product on their shelves when the recall was over,” he said.

Blue Bell made a point of communicating with customers early and often, issuing press releases every time they expanded a recall or learned more about the source of the outbreak.

 

  • Recalls and regulations. This is where an experienced team is critical, says Grabowski. Whether you’re working with in-house executives or an outside consulting team, you’ll want to make sure that you have people on your team who know the rules, inside and out. These are the folks who will help make key decisions — such as Blue Bell’s decision to issue a voluntary recall of their products, rather than waiting for a directive from the FDA.

 

  • Admit your mistake. And then apologize. Don’t underestimate the power of a sincere apology. Rather than sidestepping the issue, admit that you made a mistake – and let your customers know that you’re working to make things right. The company’s CEO and President Paul Kruse released a video apology, saying that the incident had left him “heartbroken.”

 

  • Media (and social media) coverage. “The rumor mill has to be nipped in the bud as soon as possible,” Grabowski said. “You have to react to rumors in real time. Correct everything that’s incorrect and set the record straight immediately.”

 

The best way to approach a media outlet that has published erroneous information is to be direct. “Contact them and say, ‘I know you want to be accurate, so please set the record straight.’ You can’t let rumors grow; they’re like weeds in a garden.”

It’s equally important to pay attention to social media.

Blue Bell made a point of communicating with its customers through social sites like Facebook.

And, not every company has been around as long as Blue Bell (the company is more than 100 years old).

Advantages aside, though, there are a few important lessons that business owners in every industry can take away from the Blue Bell crisis – and its well-crafted response.

We interviewed Gene Grabowski to learn more about responding to a crisis with your reputation and your customer base intact.

 

Build your team

Grabowski says that effective crisis communication does not start with a plan.

He’s quick to point out that plans are important, but a good strategy should begin with people.

“It’s critical to have a team already positioned when there’s a crisis–one that’s been carefully assembled beforehand, because it’s impossible to do that in the midst of the chaos,” Grabowski said. “There are too many variables in a crisis that can never be planned for – like looking up and seeing CBS on the doorstep. Your plan can predict what 100 questions could be, but remember, there could be that 101st question that you weren’t expecting. It takes creativity and experience to know how to answer that one as well.”

For some companies, it might make sense to look in-house and build a team of creative, smart people who can remain cool under pressure.

Other companies – like Blue Bell, for example – may prefer to seek outside help from a consultant or company that specializes in crisis communication.

Either way, Grabowski’s advice remains the same: Build your team first.

From there, if you want to sketch out a rudimentary crisis response plan, that’s fine.

But remember that a plan can only take you so far, especially in a crisis where, literally, anything can happen.

 

Assess (and plan for) risk

Once you have a crisis team in place, it’s time to think about worst-case scenarios.

Grabowski recommends creating a matrix of high-risk, highly problematic scenarios.

The list will vary depending on the type of company, product, and customers involved.

For retailers and financial institutions, for example, data breaches and hacking might be at the top of the list.

For food companies, Grabowski says,  “It’s likely that sooner or later, contamination will become an issue.”

Once you have a list of potential crisis situations, think about how you’ll respond.

While every situation and company is different, a basic plan should cover a few broad areas like:

 

  • How are you going to notify your customers of the crisis? How will you ensure that people hear facts, not rumors or theories? Will you issue press releases? Sit for interviews? Who will be the point person for media inquiries?

 

Grabowski says it’s important to send the message that the company understands the problem and is completely focused on finding a solution.

He added that this is how Blue Bell managed to maintain its relationships with its customers and retailers during the time of the crisis. “We spent a great deal of time communicating directly with them about how we were resolving the problem, so that they would trust us enough to keep the product on their shelves when the recall was over,” he said.

Blue Bell made a point of communicating with customers early and often, issuing press releases every time they expanded a recall or learned more about the source of the outbreak.

 

  • Recalls and regulations. This is where an experienced team is critical, says Grabowski. Whether you’re working with in-house executives or an outside consulting team, you’ll want to make sure that you have people on your team who know the rules, inside and out. These are the folks who will help make key decisions — such as Blue Bell’s decision to issue a voluntary recall of their products, rather than waiting for a directive from the FDA.

 

  • Admit your mistake. And then apologize. Don’t underestimate the power of a sincere apology. Rather than sidestepping the issue, admit that you made a mistake – and let your customers know that you’re working to make things right. The company’s CEO and President Paul Kruse released a video apology, saying that the incident had left him “heartbroken.”

 

  • Media (and social media) coverage. “The rumor mill has to be nipped in the bud as soon as possible,” Grabowski said. “You have to react to rumors in real time. Correct everything that’s incorrect and set the record straight immediately.”

 

The best way to approach a media outlet that has published erroneous information is to be direct. “Contact them and say, ‘I know you want to be accurate, so please set the record straight.’ You can’t let rumors grow; they’re like weeds in a garden.”

It’s equally important to pay attention to social media.

Blue Bell made a point of communicating with its customers through social sites like Facebook.

 

  • Think prevention. All companies have issues to manage — but Grabowski said that when a problem becomes a full-blown crisis, it’s often because the company didn’t deal with it before it got out of hand. Does your organization have any current problems that have the potential to spiral out of control? Make sure you don’t ignore present issues while planning for the future.

 

Crisis recovery—Blue Bell and beyond

Grabowski is the first to admit that Blue Bell has bounced back remarkably well from its listeria crisis. “Their case is very different from most other companies,” he said. “They had the benefit of over 100 years of brand loyalty . . . and they had successfully cultivated a family-owned, family-run image with good old-fashioned family values. That’s how they’ve survived this.”

Of course, that’s not to say startups or companies with a more corporate or edgy image can’t survive a crisis.

As Grabowski is quick to point out, accidents happen to everyone – and the key to surviving is preparation, plain and simple: “You get through this by keeping an open mind for solutions, by having the best people on your team, and by demonstrating that you’re ready to do whatever is necessary to prove the product is safe to be on the shelves again.”

 

Inventor Magazine

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Every writer – yes, even a professional, published writer – can benefit from a third-party review. Our team of expert editors and experienced proofreaders are efficient, exceptional, and we know how to not waste your time. We have a combined 100 years of experience providing rock-solid technical editing and proofreading services across a huge range of topics, and we’ve provided editing and proofreading services on nearly every type of writing project, including web copy, blogs, 100-plus page manuscripts, RFPs, whitepapers . . . you name it.

Editing vs. Proofreading: What’s the Difference?

The terms “editing” and “proofreading” are often used interchangeably. But, really, they serve very distinct purposes and occur at different times in the writing process.

Editing and proofreading business or technical content requires the ability to review complex documents about highly specialized topics. We use our expertise to check for English language errors and content issues, including verifying (or questioning) that your writing provides an appropriate level of complexity for your target reader.

The language aspect covers traditional copyediting and production editing concerns; the content aspect involves substantive editing to address the accuracy and completeness of the technical information and to ensure that it is intelligible to the intended audience.

Editing:

  • Reviewing your copy to improve the flow and overall quality of your writing.
  • Correcting errors or inconsistencies.
  • Revising sentences and paragraphs for flow.
  • Making the copy cleaner and clearer.
  • Guaranteeing that your copy follows your style guide.

Proofreading:

  • Reading your final draft (after it has been edited and approved) to remove any last errors.
  • Examining the layout and/or formatting.
  • Double-checking any dates, URLs, page numbers, or pertinent details.

Style Guide Creation

For our long-term clients with multiple projects, we automatically institute a client-specific style guide to maintain editorial consistency across every piece. This style guide is actively shared with you, so you can share with the rest of your in-house team, as well as any other writing teams you may leverage.
Of course, if you already have your own style and branding guidelines, we will strictly abide by your current guidelines.

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Inventor Magazine

Inventor Magazine

How to pitch an article

By Jenny Higgons

Companies and individuals often wonder how to get press coverage in magazines, newspapers, and other media outlets. I’ve spent many years on both sides of that fence — as a freelance writer, and as a writer and editor at both national and regional magazines and a major daily newspaper. Here’s a primer.

It all starts with “the pitch” to an editor or writer. (For brevity’s sake, I’ll use only “editor,” but you should think “editor and/or writer.”) Your pitch should quickly and succinctly summarize the main focus of the story you’re trying to get published. Its mission is to pique an editor’s interest and explain why the story you’re suggesting would be of a good fit for that publication’s readers. This is your story’s unique angle.

Two examples:

The pitch: Eric Kuhn was just promoted to the CEO of Jackson Electronics, Inc., which is a Fortune 100 company.

The angle: Eric Kuhn never went to college.

The pitch: Joe Smith, the president of Katonah Gas & Oil, just set the world record for the fastest ascent of Mount Everest.

The angle: Joe Smith has only one leg.

HIT THE MARK

darts_front_pageTarget your story to the appropriate publication(s). Be certain that your topic is in sync with the publication’s theme and readers. Trying to get a story about your company’s break-through dental drill into Popular Mechanics or Travel & Leisure is a waste of time and effort.

Starting off a correspondence with “Dear Finance Editor” is akin to the dreaded “Dear Occupant.” Scour your social and business networks for anyone who could introduce you to an editor with the publication you’re targeting. Even if she’s not the correct editor, she could tell you who the correct editor is (including his/her name, phone number and email, thank you very much). If not, present your story to who is, or at least seems to be, the most appropriate editor for your topic.

Study a magazine or newspaper’s masthead. If the publication has a health editor, she’s your target for that new dental drill. If your choices are only a few editors with ambiguous titles, go for the features editor. Use Mr. or Ms. when addressing him/her.

Customizing a cover letter so it dead-on targets a specific outlet can work in your favor. For example, mention that you noticed that the outlet had covered a particular topic in a past issue, and you thought that your related topic might be of interest. The downsides to this approach are that it may take quite a bit of time to find a related topic, and even when you do, the editor may say, “Thanks, but we’ve been there, done that.”

So is customizing a cover letter to various outlets worth it? It is if you are limiting your efforts to three or four of them. But if you target more than that, then all of that time and effort you put into the project may very well not pay off. You’ll have wasted time and be quite frustrated.

THE PHONE PITCH

Get straight to the point. It’s obvious that you called because you want something. Your first words should be, “Hello, Mr. Jones, my name is Tom Willard. I work for the Welles Corporation in Dallas. My company has just invented a tool that will change the face of oil drilling. Do you have two or three minutes to hear about it for possible story consideration?”

Convey as much with the fewest possible words. Saying “two or three minutes” assures him that you’re not going to drone on. Give the editor something that will make him say, “Wow, I never knew that” or “That’s a great story angle.” All editors appreciate when their job is made easier.

Avoid getting flustered by writing down exactly what you want to tell the editor, but don’t make it sound like you’re reciting it from a piece of paper. You don’t want to hem and haw your way through the conversation. Cold calls are tough, but this will make it easier. I’ve done it many times. It works!

Be enthusiastic. This will show you have confidence in your story idea and maybe even up the editor’s interest.

The editor might ask you to tell him more about your story topic. Don’t be one of those people who make pitches that aren’t fully developed. Be prepared to smoothly expound on your pitch. If you feel the need, write that down, too. (Again, no hemming and hawing.)

If the editor says he’s too busy to speak with you at the moment — especially if he’s on deadline — ask him to suggest a better day and time to call back, adding that you’ll send him a press release in the meantime. If he immediately says no to your pitch, respect his right of refusal and move on.

THE EMAIL PITCH

email_subjectlineMagazine and newspaper editors’ email inbox’s are jammed. Which of those messages editors read and which they automatically delete can depend on the subject line. Simply type: “A story pitch.” Editors are constantly on the lookout for new stories. Their jobs depend on it, and they need to please their bosses. So, you’re actually helping them out.

Format the body of your email it as a regular business letter. Demonstrate that you mean business. You and the editor aren’t instant pals. Many business emails these days are too casual.

Place no more than three paragraphs in the body of the email, and include any additional information — a press release, relevant back-up material, a full press kit — as Word attachments. As with a phone pitch, convey as much as you can in the fewest words possible.

And about those press releases … Some editors recoil in horror at pieces that are 900 words long. “They expect me to wade through all of that?” they mutter to themselves. They want a press release to pique their interest, not shut it down. A short, succinct release that’s formatted with paragraphs and bullet points is their friend.

While they’re the exception, some editors like a super-long press release. If it’s written well enough, they can copy and paste the information they choose, and violà — they have an instant story.

So how do you figure out which editors prefer which? My suggestion: Send the short ones to consumer-based outlets and the longer ones to trade and business outlets. And as with all press releases, make them reader friendly by having each paragraph no more than six sentences and using 1.5-line spacing.

Don’t attach gifs or jpegs of your company’s logo or other branding images. The editor will click on them, see that they have no pertinent value and get annoyed.

Sign the email with your name, phone number, and email address. Make it easy for the editor to contact you in case he doesn’t want to respond right away. Include your company’s full address and website URL.

Thinking about snail-mailing your pitch? Snail-mail it only when a publication’s submission guidelines call for it — or your pitch has more than just paper components, such as product samples or fun promotional doodads. Who doesn’t love getting free stuff?

A PACKAGED DEAL

Magazines and newspapers are big on “packaging.” A story package is a main story that has added components, such as a sidebar, graphics, or other breakout boxes that enhance the main piece.

Example: The main story is about a new concierge daycare service for dogs in Manhattan. Sidebar 1 is the names of and contact information for upscale pet-supply stores in Manhattan. Sidebar 2 is a map of Manhattan’s best dog parks. Sidebar 3 is a chart of the most popular breeds of dogs. Put your sidebar ideas in the body of your introduction email.

DO IT YOURSELF?

Thinking of submitting a pre-written story? There are pitfalls. It’s possible that the story:

• Won’t be in that outlet’s “voice”

• Has a slant the outlet doesn’t like

• Will look like it obviously wasn’t written by a professional journalist

• Will make the recipient wonder if the story is “waiting for a bite,” simply being passed around in hopes that somebody, anybody, will express interest.

But as with a long press releases and their chances of an editor being able to easily turn them into “instant articles,” your best possibilities lie with trade and business outlets. And as for consumer outlets, 99 out of 100 of their articles are written by their staff and professional freelance writers. So in the end, unless you’re aiming at trade and business outlets, stick with the press releases and don’t bother submitting a pre-written story.

BEFORE YOU HIT “SEND”

Check the document(s) for errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar and usage. English is a tricky language; it’s easy to get tripped up by even the smallest things. No one is immune! Try to get one or two other people to proofread it.

THE FOLLOW-UP

Whenever you call an editor, even if you spoke to him for 15 minutes three days ago, remind him of your name, company and the topic of your story pitch. Sorry, but you’re probably just one of 20 or more people who’ve called him in the past few days. You’re doing him a huge favor by resetting the story, and you’re getting another valuable chance to push your story to the forefront of his mind.

If you’ve sent an email and gotten no response within three days, follow up with a phone call. “Hi, Mr. Jones, this is Bill Weiss from Jericho Industries. I’m following up on a story pitch I sent to you three days ago, and I’m wondering if you’ve had a chance to read it?” If you get his voice-mail, say the same thing, add that you’ll call back in a day or two, and provide your phone number. If the editor has left a cell number for urgent matters, don’t call it. Your matter may be urgent to you, but it’s not to him.

No response after a week? Make the same call every other day for about 10 days. =Still nothing from him? He’s probably not interested. Move on. If he does call you back after your third or fourth voice-mail, it may be out of guilt (guilt does work!) or just to get rid of you. Nonetheless, you’ve got his ear! Continue your pitch!

LASTLY

The unfortunate state of our economy has forced many editorial staffs to be downsized. Some editors now do the work of three. This makes them ultra-busy (and occasionally, crabby). If your phone calls and emails get brusque responses, don’t take it personally. Remove the emotion. Business is just business. On to the next publication!