May 2 2017

Earned Media: Why and How to Market Third Party Credibility

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Content marketing is attracting significant buzz at PR and marketing conferences and is the darling of owned and often paid media. Quality of content will range it very high, and when you unite it with likes supplier, you’ll get the winning combination. Yet, the heart of public relations and a solid strategic communications plan is earned media. Why “earned”? Because you can’t buy third party credibility.

press

Earned media comes in several flavors: an article placement in traditional media (e.g. Washington Post, CNN or CBS Radio), awards and speaking opportunities. While some speakers earn top dollar to keynote a conference, most professionals are invited to deliver a speech or participate on an industry panel to share their expertise – thereby earning credibility from the conference host.

Awards for personal or program accomplishments are earned by professional success as evaluated by your peers or an expert panel. Based on the strength of your narrative and completion of the application requirements, your work is critiqued to determine if it is worthy of recognition and reward.

Having a reporter tell your story brings credibility that you can’t deliver through sponsored content or video that you produced. Often times, media relations results in a single quote in a larger story. Sometimes, it’s a feature story about a product, executive or community investment. In each instance, there’s tremendous value to sharing the article or broadcast report with internal and external stakeholders.

In each case, the outcome of selling your narrative – a speaking gig, an award or an article – brings earned media to your brand. Many have tried to put a price tag on this third party credibility, but it’s difficult to quantify by traditional ROI measures. Therefore, it’s up to you to ensure maximum visibility for the success.

Here are a few common means to ensure the media story, speaking opportunity or award receives attention long-term.

  1. Post to your website with links and photos. Use a pull quote from the article or award citation to highlight the key message.
  2. Include in your email and content marketing campaigns.
  3. Add award badges to your website, presentation materials and collateral.
  4. Share on social media and include photos and video if available. You can also include sample tweets and Facebook posts in a social media toolkit for influencers who can help spread the good word.
  5. Use these earned accolades in paid media if appropriate.
  6. Highlight in your annual report.
  7. Ask influencers to help share the good news (bears repeating).

The best means to ensuring your audience knows about the great media coverage, heralded speech or much-deserved award is to spread the good news. In my agency days, we called this “merchandizing the results.” Today, it’s about using owned media to promote earned media. Paid media services such as Outbrain and Storify should also be considered to maximize visibility.

A well-rounded marketing and communications plan will address earned, owned and paid media. Each has its place in the PR/Marketing mix. Only earned media, however, carries third party credibility.

Note: This article was originally published on kurtzdigitalstrategy.com.



Mar 21 2017

Spreading Your News: Three Storytelling Basics

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In this post-fact era of fake news and alternative facts, it can be discouraging to rise above the noise and position your executive, company or association as a thought leader. However, the basic building blocks of public relations still apply. Here are a few tips to tell your story.

  • Color your narrative. It’s been true since the ancient Greeks, that pathos reigns supreme to logos. In today’s fragmented media environment, evidence needs an emotional connection more than ever. Personalize the facts so that readers and viewers understand the impact, not just the numbers.
  • Connect to current events. You can do this by writing an op-ed or Letter to the Editor to share your opinion on policy, your association’s research or recommendations. You can be a convener and host a policy briefing featuring prominent voices on the issue. Or send reporters a tip sheet of experts who can comment on the day’s news.
  • Tweet – thoughtfully. Sharing opinions and recommendations on Twitter should be part of your communications strategy. If you want your audience to know you, participate in the online conversation by sharing third party content as well as your own. Use Tweet chats to host a dialogue with issue experts, elevate your issue and engage a wider audience.

These are but a few best practices that you can employ to create common practice and build relationships with your audience and reporters alike.

This blog appeared on LinkedIn March 14, 2017



Sep 2 2014

Reporters Urge White House Transparency

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The Challenge is Access to Experts

Tension with the media is sometimes an unfortunate and unintentional aspect of public relations. PR and public affairs practitioners often face a delicate balancing act between providing accurate information in a timely manner to reporters and bloggers while managing confidential employer/client information. When a PR contact doesn’t return a call or email, however, it can look like stonewalling or withholding information.

When it comes to covering the White House and federal policy and regulations, the stakes for media and public affairs are high. President George W. Bush’s administration was often criticized for being the most secretive administration in history. With this background, President Barack Obama took office in 2009 promising to lead the most transparent administration in history.

But, transparency is not the same as access to information, government officials and scientific experts who can help interpret presidential decisions and administrative actions. To this end, President Obama has been criticized by the media for a myriad of offenses:

  • Limited access for photographers in favor of releasing official White House photos.
  • Justice Department reviewed private communications of Fox News reporter James Rosen to find a national security leak.
  • Justice Department secretly obtained AP phone records in an effort to find a government leak.
  • Administration denied or censored more Freedom of Information Act requests than it approved.
  • Politically-driven suppression of news and information about federal agencies (e.g. the Affordable Care Act, food stamps, Fukushima).

This last protestation was codified in a July 8 letter signed by 39 individuals representing media associations including the Society of Professional Journalists, Associated Collegiate Press, Association of Opinion Journalists, Radio Television Digital News Association, National Press Photographers Association, and The Poytner Institute. They argue that the Obama administration’s restrictions on press access to public affairs offices and government sources are a form of censorship.

Politico Magazine recently surveyed members of the White House press corps regarding their opinions on transparency. The resulting infographic narrative is an instructive take on the fourth estate’s view. For example:

When President Obama calls this the “most transparent administration in history,” my reaction is… “To groan. Depends on what your definition of ‘transparent’ is. This WH means it is putting its own version of pictures, video and readouts on its own website.” —Ann Compton, ABC News 

The primary take away from the letter and survey is two-fold.  First, journalists want – and need – access to experts to fulfill the role of media watchdog, the hallmark of a democratic government.  Government officials, both on the record and “leaked” information, deliver the news and provide analysis for interpreting complex policy issues. Public affairs officers are the facilitator between the media and sources – and sometimes are the source.  Like it or not, reporters need the public relations function.

Even when the news is bad, government has a responsibility to be accessible, factual and transparent.  In 2010, I had the good fortune of teaching a master class in political communications with former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino. She was fond of telling students to “own your bad facts.” In other words, don’t try to bury the news but acknowledge the facts, and do your best to present a positive and compelling narrative.

Second, journalists want to be treated with respect. For five years, I taught a graduate course in media relations at the George Washington University and hosted reporters throughout the semester. I was dismayed that most all commented on the amount of profanity used by public affairs officers in the Obama administration.  Even my PR colleagues in the administration admit that cursing is common place and sometimes encouraged. A “pro tip” in the Politico survey states: “Come on. If you can’t deal with a White House official swearing at you, it’s probably time to head for the exits of the profession.”

I must admit that when working in the tech sector, casual cursing was permissible – and a boss once told me profanity was an acceptable way to prove I had authority and knowledge. However, this is unprofessional behavior. It may be cliché, but I’ve found that a little honey goes a lot further to getting what you need – be it photo placement, a correction to a news story, or a follow up interview.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest responded to the most recent criticisms in the journalists’ letter on CNN’s Reliable Sources defending the administration’s record of transparency. He also acknowledged the sometimes testy relationship with the press saying that if the press corps didn’t push for more access, that “is the day that they’re no longer doing their jobs.”

The media need sources and report on conflict. These are the realities of their link with public relations. The responsibility of a practitioner is to be responsive, truthful and facilitate access to expert sources. For PRSA members, that also means adhering to our code of ethics. Among its values and provisions are honesty, free flow of information, and enhancing the profession through respect. If we make a concerted effort every day to balance the sometimes competing needs of the press and business goals, we can take a step toward building stronger relationships with the media.

This article originally appeared on the PRSAY blog.

 



Mar 9 2011

“Your Fired”

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The following post appeared in the Capitol Communicator, March 8.

Donald Trump’s foray into reality TV has made “you’re fired” an engaging melodrama. But in real life, that’s a very challenging pronouncement.

The recent firing of Kurt Bardella, deputy communications director for the House Committee on Government Oversight, is instructive to all public relations professionals.  From the most junior practitioner to the most experienced executive, we are reminded that we can only be successful if we are credible.

And what is credibility?  At its core, credibility is trustworthiness.  Are you a believable source?  Are you timely and responsive?  Are you honest – when sharing facts and insight – and do you have approval to do so?

For Mr. Bardella, his reputation took a significant hit after Politico reported that he might have inappropriately shared correspondence with a New York Times reporter for a book project – perhaps BCC’ing the NYT contact on emails with other reporters. We will never know specifically the nature of the information, but the Congressional office investigated and concluded his conduct was inappropriate. It was also unprofessional and unethical.

Once Bardella was dismissed from his position, his reputation was permanently damaged.  While I expect that he will, in time, recover from this personal crisis, it will forever be part of his professional history – and Google search results.

Please note, that I do not wish Bardella ill will.  I believe that he will able to demonstrate to future employers that he has learned from his mistakes, which will make him a better practitioner.

What can we learn?  Here’s a refresher on establishing and maintaining credibility.

1)    Honesty is the most important principle of our practice.  Provide information that has been approved for dissemination.  If you can’t disclose facts, say so. Provide a timeline, if you can, for when such information can be made available.

2)    Relationship building isn’t a quid pro quo.  Providing confidential information or sharing information without the owner’s knowledge to curry favor with a journalist isn’t a constructive way to establish a relationship with a journalist. Take time to learn what the journalist needs and be responsive when she calls.

3)    Trustworthiness is essential to provide counsel to senior leadership.  Once you lose the trust and confidence of an executive, you will have a difficult time doing your job effectively.

4)    Follow the PRSA Code of Ethics, which includes among its values the protection of the free flow of information and privacy.

Credibility is an essential part of professional development and advancement. With it, you are a trusted advisor and source. Without it, you risk the pronouncement – “you’re fired.”



Oct 1 2010

My Newspaper

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My newspaper is rarely read in paper format anymore. The iPad is my preferred device of choice for reading the news. I like the Sunday New York Times. I get the Washington Post delivered seven days a week.  I read for the news, not the coupons or sale advertisements, but for information.  However, every time I walk the pile of news print to the recycling bin, I threaten to cancel my subscription.

I’m not alone. Newspaper circulation has been declining, sometimes at double digit percentages, for several years. It’s a trend and reality that the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) continues to deny if their latest pitch to advertisers is any gauge.

The NAA is running an advertising campaign to validate that newspapers remain a valuable advertising medium.  While I haven’t seen the print ad, I did check out the 6 minute 20 second video. This video is an example of how NOT to produce a video pitch. Here’s my critique.

* SIX MINUTES AND TWENTY SECONDS? I was bored after about a minute.  I had to force myself to watch it twice.  In today’s fast paced world, two and a half minutes (2:30) is the best practice in video length.

* Use a boom mic. While it may seem like a minor detail, reader testimonials will appear more authentic if the microphone is hidden. The lapel mic on some readers in the NAA video looked hastily connected and thus sloppy.

* If you’re talking about the value of newspapers, please show someone reading the newspaper. A newspaper doesn’t appear until about  3:25 into the video. Reading by laptop is mentioned 2:25 into the video.  In both instances, most viewers likely would have stopped watching the video.

* Should it take more than a dozen people to tell why the newspaper is an important part of their daily lives? While the producers did capture a range of ages (save teenagers), they failed on ethnic diversity.  It seems only whites and blacks care about the paper.

* If this video is targeted to advertisers, why does the “Advertising Engagement” section begin 4:30 into the video?  My estimate is that about 85% of the overall video is about why people like the editorial content and printed format of the newspaper.  An appeal to advertisers about how readers use newspaper advertising would have been more effective with statistics to support the interest in coupons for cereal.

Less the NAA feel that I’m picking on them, I was also very disappointed in the PRSA National Capital Chapter’s video to promote the annual Thoth Awards.  The annual video historically explores the value of public relations counsel — often in a humorous or satirical manner.  This year, however, the “I’m a god” rap video did nothing more than spoof the name of the award “Thoth” (pronounced tot) named after the Egyptian god of communication. The video may have been creative, but it wasn’t strategic.

After all, employing a video as part of communications strategy should be connected to business goals. Sell more advertising. Sell more tickets to an awards program.

Finally, national newspaper week is Oct 3 – 9, 2010. The theme: Newspapers – the print and online connector for today’s communities. I bet they show the video at some point during the week.