Monthly Archives: May 2009

The Menacing Media Pitch

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In the past month I’ve helped plan, organize and implement four large events for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. That’s right: four in one month. As you can imagine, the PR for these events involved loads of media pitching in a short period of time. As a soon-to-be college grad, I have learned a lot of PR how-tos in the last four years; however, media pitching was not one of them. Yes, I learned how to write a news release, fact sheet and backgrounder, but I hadn’t learned how to communicate properly with the media, pitch an event, or reach reporters. What I thought would be an easy news release, turned into an intimidating task.

I started with the basics: constructing media lists, drafting news releases, fact sheets and backgrounders, and preparing a standard e-mail pitch. Now, all I had to do was e-mail the media kits to the respective newspapers and radio stations. Not so fast. I quickly learned (the hard way) that media pitching is a process.

According to a blog post on UnderstandingMarketing.com, there are ordered steps to follow in the world of media pitching:

1. Create a newsworthy and interesting press release. This will eventually be used as background information for the reporter or editor. The news release should include all information about the event and usable quotes.

2. Write a short e-mail pitch letter telling the story in a conversational manner. Explain the news and why it would benefit their readers or viewers.

3. If the reporter doesn’t respond within 24 hours, call his or her office and have a 30-second pitch with talking points ready. Although you have talking points, don’t rely on those; it’s still important to sound conversational.

4. You will receive one of three answers: a not interested reply, a request for an interview, or a request for more information. If the reporter requests for more information, then you send the news release. According to PublicRelationsIdeas.com, it’s best to send the news release through fax. Avoid broadcast e-mails unless you already have a profound presence in the media market and trusting relationships with the reporters. As for snail-mail, don’t use it unless you have a story that needs a photograph to make it substantial, and if that’s the case, mail the photograph along with the news release.

5. If you send additional information out or the reporter hasn’t returned your call, follow up with another call a week after the initial e-mail pitch. This time, try to come up with a new twist to your story that could entice the reporter even more. Maybe you have a new interview set up or a development in the story; whatever it is, make your story that much more newsworthy and important.

As I said, I had to learn these rules the hard way. I didn’t think of media pitching as a process; I thought of it as a task. Although it may be a daunting process, if you follow the rules and pitch a newsworthy story, those reporters will be coming to you for their next big article.

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1-800-Twitter

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We’ve all been the frustrated customer on the other end of the extremely long “Will you hold please?” phone call. This phone call can entail jumping through 20 hoops before you get your problem solved– resulting in further frustration and an overall detestation for corporate customer service.

At some juncture, it’s understandable– we can’t expect a business to be at our beck and call every second– Or can we?

With the rise of social media, the expectation of good customer service has increased. The businesses that use social media to address customer concerns or questions have created an easy and direct two-way communication with their customers, thus evading the infamous “put on hold” experience.

According to Todd Defren of Shift Communications, customers have started to get “accustomed to Red Carpet Service” through the evolution of Twitter and company blogs. Defren says that big business has responded well to the effectiveness of Twitter and is properly utilizing its benefits. One major customer service Twitter account is @ComcastCares, which exists solely to answer questions and address concerns of Comcast customers. These responses come quickly and resolve many customer complaints.

Defren says that social media has made the customers feel like “stars,” whereas the usual 1-800 customer service hot line has made them feel like “shmoes.” The frustrated customer feels more important when he or she is directly addressed and heard. However, Defren notes, “you can’t be great at Social Media if your service sucks.” Meaning, although your business may be responsive online, that can’t make up for poor telephone service. Social media should serve as an easy starting point to re-vamp a business’ entire customer service system. Defren says, “I predict you’ll feel an overwhelming need to put a laser focus on all aspects of Customer Service.  The mandate will come from below, from the people you’ve impressed online.” The most effective customer service communication will stem from a business’ social media presence and response. From there, a total customer service makeover can emerge.

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The Media Takeover

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What would we do in a world without Google? Think of how many times you have asked Google for restaurant reviews, directions, news reports, or any other important yet random pieces of information. For most of us, the number is too many to count.

This is one example of the world’s reliance on new media. This reliance has affected all other aspects of “old media,” such as newspapers, magazines and T.V. According to Paul Gillin, a long-time technology journalist, old media has struggled with the harsh economic times.

Here are some “old media” statistics from Gillin:

  • Magazine newsstand sales fell 12 percent in 2008 and have dropped another 22 percent this year
  • TV Guide was sold in October for $1, which is $2 less than a single copy
  • 2009 TV station ad revenue to drop 20 – 30 percent (Bernstein Research)
  • NBC prime time audience down 14.3 percent in the past year
  • NBC and CBS executives have publicly entertained the possibility of becoming cable channels
  • Age of average network evening news viewer: 63

To compare and contrast, here are some “new media” statistics:

  • Teens watch TV 60 percent less than their parents and spend 600 percent more time online than their parents
  • Twitter membership grew more than 1,400 percent last year (Nielsen)
  • Facebook’s population would make it the world’s fifth largest country
  • 64 percent of online teens create some kind of published content
  • One-third of Americans under the age of 40 say the Daily Show and Colbert Report are replacing traditional news outlets

Gillin says that the media are a revolution in process, meaning the Internet is bound to take over many aspects of the traditional media models. Clay Shirky, an Internet technology writer, says, “When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be lied to.” A pretty harsh statement, however, it is a statement that rings true in this economic downturn.

Technology and media are continually and rapidly growing. Although social media and Internet news sources currently hold the title of “new media,” these channels will be replaced and re-vamped in the coming years.

Here is a great YouTube video showcasing the effect of technology and media in today’s society:

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The Pork Industry’s Beef with Swine Flu

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The swine flu cannot be avoided. Whether you’re watching the evening news, following The New York Times’ tweets, or delaying your trip to Mexico, the swine flu has inadvertently become part of your life.

With national crises come many misconceptions– some of which can hurt an entire public or industry. Without warning, the pork industry has taken a big hit from the misconception that pork products carry the swine flu. According to a New York Times article by Andrew Martin, the use of the word “swine” has produced global hesitation over eating pork. Martin says that several nations closed their borders to the importation of pork, which has caused extreme frustration within the pork industry. Not only have pork product sales declined, but the industry has also been unexpectedly hit with a bad reputation.

So, how does the pork industry take back its name?

First, the major organizations within the pork industry need to stake their claim in the media. Using credible twitter_logomedical sources, the industry needs to make it clear that pork products do not carry the swine flu, and furthermore, that they are safe to eat. This has been done, but not on every medium. The pork industry has not tapped into social media as much as it could. The industry needs to provide its PR staff with two or three key messages that should be repeated and tweeted wherever possible.

Second, the pork industry needs to communicate and emphasize the effectiveness of its disease monitoring programs. According to a blog post on food safety, in order to comfort its customers, Tyson Foods simply released a statement saying, “Our pork products are safe.” This is not enough to relieve the American public, especially in a crisis situation where people are actively attempting to protect themselves from the pandemic. If Tyson Foods released concrete evidence of the monthly testing or capabilities of its disease monitoring technology, it would put much of its public at ease. The organizations that speak up about the reality of the crisis will instill more trust in their customers and the swine-flu panicked public.

Third, focus on the front-line customers: the buyers at the grocery store’s meat counter. According to a Forbes.com article, this is where the “pork-is-safe campaign” begins. If the big supermarket chains don’t reinforce that pork is safe to their customers, the swine flu consumer perception will not change. The pork industry needs to be hitting every side of pork distribution (e.g. butchers, supermarkets, restaurant chains).

This may be a crisis, but this crisis is not the first of its kind. In the past few years we’ve dealt with peanut, tomato and beef scares (just to name a few). According to Forbes.com, this is a crisis of perception rather than reality. The pork industry needs to communicate quickly and take action.

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How to Prep for the “Big Show”

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Event planning is often considered a laid-back, fun job for an upper-class socialite. In fact, many people don’t even think of it as a job, but more as an extra-curricular activity. Well, I am here to tell you, event planning is a job!

In the last nine months, I have been prepping for what I like to call “The Big Show” or in other words, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Mike Bellotti Dinner Auction and Golf Classic. Yes, nine months is a long preparing period, but here is the catch with event mainpic01planning: It doesn’t matter how much you “prep” for the eight months before; the big explosion of stress will still hit about a month out from the event, and that explosion will only get bigger. Due to the nature of spontaneity, event planning can turn a laid-back person into an uptight worrywart. According to a blog post titled “Event Management High Jinx” by Paull Young, the planning and scheduling for an event is an important piece to the puzzle, but things will always change. Young says, “When working an event you need to be able to think on your feet and respond to situations as they come out.” In my case, this will be the 16th annual MDA Mike Bellotti event; however, every year, things change and adapt with the evolution of media, technology and the economy (or in this year’s case, the de-evolution of the economy). Although this event occurs every year, it still presents many challenges for the event planners.

One challenge may be the client. For an event to run smoothly, full attention and cooperation from the client is necessary. An event planner cannot do his or her job if the client doesn’t provide the necessary materials or information to do so. In my case, a major challenge has been dealing with last-minute additions, or “maybe” additions to the live auction. I understand this has to do with the involvement of the donating businesses, but it also has to do with a lack of communication with the client. According to a blog post from Kent State’s PRSSA Chapter, it is imperative that you, as the event planner, always check and double check the details of the event as it gets closer. Lately, I have found myself calling my client’s office daily to check in on auction items or sponsor changes. Communication is key in event planning. to-do-list-pad

Another challenge may be the event itself. As I said before, you can do all the planning in the world, and surprise will still ensue on the day of the event. Whether it’s something minor, like a missing tablecloth; or major, like a $3,000 missing auction item, these missteps will occur. As the event planner, you are the go-to person to fix these missteps. It is important to give yourself extra time on the day of an event to fix any mistakes or cover up a blunder.

With less than a week until the MDA Mike Bellotti Dinner Auction and Golf Classic, I am feeling the heat from the event planning stress. Although everything seems to be in place, I am not accustomed to last-minute decisions or tasks; something I have learned is inevitable in this industry. I guess that’s just the worry-wart life of an event planner!

Wish me luck as I dive headfirst into the event planning pool!

Oh! And for the Oregon readers, be sure to buy your morning latte at Dutch Bros. on May 8, 2009, as all net proceeds will be donated to MDA!dutchbroscup

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