The Truth About Going From Journalism To PR

Journalists are making the transition to PR in greater numbers than ever before, with many joining PR agencies or taking corporate communications posts. It’s widely accepted that former reporters can be valuable additions to communications teams (some arguments notwithstanding). For PR, it’s important to be able to think like a reporter and to understand how the media works. Sharp writing skills, and knowing what makes a good story are other obvious strong points for ex-journos going over to “the dark side.”

But there are other factors to consider that are less obvious, whether you’re a professional making the shift (as I did), or a company considering what kind of communications professionals to hire to work with your brand. Here are three points to consider.

PR work is far more diverse than journalism. For a reporter in a newsroom, the job is pretty straightforward, as well as  somewhat one-dimensional: you report and write stories for publication. True, the range of story types can be very diverse. A journalist covering the same beat can interview a head of state one day and a homeless person the next. And while the work itself can be enjoyable and rewarding, the role of a reporter and the day-to-day tasks involved are pretty much the same.
In public relations that’s not the case. Communications people play the role of writers and editors, event planners, project managers, counselors, troubleshooters, and strategic thinkers. Activities can involve everything from writing pitches, press releases, blogs, bylined articles, speeches and quotes, to thinking through an organization’s business goals over the next year and coming up with a strategic plan to support those goals through multiple types of communications — and everything in between.

PR requires a strong business sense. This is probably where PR deviates most drastically from journalism. In spite of what some like to say, the news business is not about selling papers. But PR is undeniably and unapologetically linked to selling whatever clients want to sell, and the company’s overall business health. Good PR professionals are constantly thinking about clients’ business goals and the overall company direction, because business objectives inform the PR strategy. A good PR person will be one who is savvy about — and interested in — business.

 The people skills are completely different. Media and public relations is actually much more about client relations than one might think, and this, too, is a big departure for most journalists. While reporters are constantly dealing with people and benefit from possessing a certain amount of charm, it’s a completely different story when dealing with clients or potential partners, and when pitching new business. The communications professional is often called upon to play the role of counselor or adviser (often to CEOs and other top executives), and the journalist-turned-PR person must be comfortable filling those shoes.

Ultimately the transition is most successful when it’s fully embraced as an opportunity to grow into new and challenging roles. And that’s a perspective that serves to benefit everyone involved.

What PR People Know About Content Marketing

From PR agencies to corporate SEO teams, everyone’s doing content marketing – or more accurately, content creation. These days, it’s increasingly hard to make content stand out. The challenge has grown more acute with the advent of what Mark Schaefer calls “content shock” or the explosive growth of the content supply without a corresponding growth in its consumption.
Schaefer argues that the content war will be won by deep-pocketed companies who can pay to saturate specific markets or channels, leaving smaller operators struggling for attention, not matter how high the quality of their material.

Why Search Favors PR-Created Content
It’s a valid concern. But as communicators, there’s a lot we can do to stay competitive, and recent trends favor content creators who are trained in PR, journalistic writing, blogging, and multimedia. Here are some proven PR techniques that can be adapted to market the right content to the right people.

Collaborate. Brands that don’t compete, or brands and third-party resources, can work together to create a 1+1=3 outcome when it comes to service journalism or content that addresses topical issues or solves problems. For a financial institution who wanted to reach employers, we joined with a top-level human resources organization for a study on financial wellness. The result was a seminal piece of long-form content relevant to corporate recruiters and HR executives and branded by our client company. Best of all, we reached a “captive” audience of HR professionals through the group. This is classic PR strategy, of course.

Or, crowdsource a new piece of content by getting participation from every member of an industry team or each player in a trade association or group. Those featured have a natural incentive to promote the content.

Continue the conversation that someone else started. A topic like “content shock” is a trend that offers opportunities for ongoing conversations and iterations. Don’t worry about being the first to come up with an idea, just be sure to share your own experience or offer an original take on it, in classic interview or op/ed style.

Get emotional. I like to blog about what frustrates me, or to explode myths that PR people complain about, because I know I’m not alone. Others get excited about a new idea or learning, or an inspiration triggered by a conference or even an ordinary conversation. If you can get mad, get excited, or trigger curiosity, you’re halfway home. This study of most shared New York Times articles shows a correlation between emotion and virality. But you knew that.

Borrow influence. Borrowing interest from a better known person or entity has been in the PR toolbox since the age of the spokesperson media tour. Today, it’s more likely to happen through sponsored blog content or a YouTube video, but it’s extremely compelling and only growing in clout. For a crafts retailer, we created a series of branded DIY projects for design and parenting bloggers. The bloggers aren’t necessarily household names, but the access to a loyal audience of home-design-oriented shoppers has added a new dimension to our content plan.

Repurpose. Analytics tells us what’s working, which can inform future content efforts. The post that was widely shared two years ago can probably work again, particularly if tied to a new industry development or story that hit recently. Good content can be made newly relevant by linking it to what’s happening in the news, or to water cooler buzz. If your topic is crisis management, you’ll have fresh material nearly every week, from Zzzquil’s ads to ‘Deflategate’.

Focus on earning links, not building.  This will seem absurdly obvious to the PR professional; earned media content has value! Google algorithm updates over the past year have handed a giant advantage to content creators trained in PR and journalism, and who can generate those high-quality earned media placements with regularity. Keyword-stuffed press releases and spammy backlink scams are out; earning links to credible media outlets is back – even though it never left.

How To Make A TED Talk Part Of A PR Plan

For some in the PR world, TED talks represent the “holy grail” of thought leadership initiatives. But how should PR professionals approach securing this highly competitive opportunity?

TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). The organization began in 1984 as a conference and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages. There are also independently run TEDx events that help share ideas in communities around the world.

PR practitioners know that once they’ve booked someone for a TED talk, the publicity machine will be in full force to leverage the opportunity for increased name recognition and acknowledgement as an authority in a relatively exclusive and rarefied community. But one challenge involves how to tell whether a potential speaker has the right stuff to be a worthy contender for a TED talk. Here are some criteria.

Focus is on the idea, not the person. This is obvious, but it bears repeating. Some companies get hung up on nominating a key executive or industry thought leader, and it’s true that a great speaker adds to the experience, but the true goal of a TED talk is a new idea.

Novelty and relevance are key. Speakers needn’t be discouraged if their core idea isn’t absolutely novel; however, it must be presented in a new context and be relevant on a broad scale. When TED’s most popular speaker to date, Sir Ken Robinson, tackled what’s wrong in schools, it was clearly more about his perspective than the simple notion that worldwide, education needs fixing.

There should be potential to provoke “contagious emotion,” viral ideas, and above all, shareable content. Talks should “provoke a lump in the throat or butterflies in the stomach” or similar emotion that triggers audience reaction. One of the top TED talks of all time is that of Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain researcher who used her own brain tumor to further her research into creativity. Worth a listen!

Above all, storytelling matters. What many in the media call a “secular sermon” that will inspire people. Speakers are discouraged from presenting anything more than a brief mention of facts and figures and zero sales talk! There is emphasis on humanizing the piece as much as possible, ala this talk from Swiss author Alain deBotton, ironically on “the new atheism.”

It is also crucial for potential speakers to attend one or more TED talks and, like many exclusive opportunities, there is at least a year’s wait to be selected. Is there a top-secret, insider tip to securing a TED talk? No, say the experts, there’s no room for a slickly produced video or creatively packaged presentation. The TED talk application is a simple form and its up the to nominator (often a PR rep) to address the following:

1)    Why this speaker’s vision will change how community members approach their own work;
2)    How the idea will change and improve a field in significant and surprising ways;
3)    What experience and evidence the nominee brings to his or her topic; and
4)    How this approach or idea might be applied across varied fields and disciplines

Does your PR team work with any leaders who’ve got what it takes?

How To Make Content More Shareable (And PR-Friendly)

Creating content that is shared broadly is a great way to build good PR, whether it’s for yourself, your company or brand, or for others. And while there’s no way to predict precisely which posts, pictures, videos or articles will be most popular, there are some basic guidelines to improve the chances of your content’s being shared. Here are five guidelines to consider.

Be useful and helpful. The first rule about shareable content is that people share things that make them look good. Social media is a world where people create carefully constructed versions of themselves. So naturally, shareable content is anything that will make people look smart, witty, creative, or expresses a belief that’s an extension of who they are. If your post contributes to those goals, that’s a good start.

Create an eye-catching headline. Sometimes ideas for content start with a catchy title, sometimes the title is more of an afterthought. But it should be top-of-mind when creating content that’s share-worthy. After all, in most cases only the title and first line of the post is visible anyway, so if those don’t catch readers, nothing will. Grabby headlines tend to include mentions of lists (i.e. The Top 5 Ways to Share Content), something witty (try a pun, but only  if it works), or surprising.

Be inspiring. Life can be tough, and everyone needs a boost once in a while to keep them on the journey toward a goal or dream, whether in business or personal life. Share content that helps others see the bigger picture, remember what they’re working for, and be a better version of themselves.

Let your personality shine. Readers want to feel a connection with the content they’re reading, so writing with a strong individual voice — even in business, to a degree — helps create that emotional bond. We’re producing a content program for one client that includes frequent blog posts. SEO is the goal for them, so that’s top-of-mind for us as we’re writing, but at the outset we were (wisely) told by our client, “I won’t publish anything that doesn’t sound like a real human being wrote it.”

Be classy. Ever hear the advice, don’t put anything in a work email you wouldn’t want broadcast publicly? The same goes for whatever you publish via social media. It can be tempting to put less thought into a 140-character tweet before hitting the publish button, plus you know you can always delete it later, but it doesn’t take long for real damage to be done.

Optimize your share buttons. In general, it’s good to offer multiple share buttons, because readers are drawn in by choices. They should be uniform in size, and most importantly, displayed prominently where readers can’t miss them. For lengthier articles, place them both at the top and the bottom of the post to prevent readers having to scroll.

Why PR Agencies Should Work With Startups

Mark Suster’s “The Silent Benefits of PR” should be required reading for both tech PR firms and their clients. It got me thinking about the unique aspects of the client-agency dynamic when the client is a startup company. What’s most interesting about Suster’s post is that of seven benefits of a strategic PR program that he outlines, customer acquisition is dead last. That’s right, last. The ironic truth is that, while early-stage clients often bring on PR agencies to help promote a product or service, the “silent” benefits, from staff morale to visibility among VCs, may be even more powerful.

In a similar way, working with early-stage clients can be beneficial for a PR team, and not just for the obvious reasons that they can be young and cool. Here are the ways in which an agency team can find it rewarding.

You can make a real impact. I started my career working with packaged goods companies where the PR program was a subset of marketing or a stepchild to an ad campaign. Big-brand PR was exciting, but the glamor sometimes faded into frustration. In the world of technology startups, by contrast, PR often leads. The PR strategy drives how the company is positioned to employees, investors, and customers, and those who influence them. The upshot is you feel like a full partner in the growth and success of the company.

You deal with the CEO. It’s fascinating to work with entrepreneurs, because they’re often brilliant, restless, and driven individuals, and that can be inspiring (as well as exhausting.) But more importantly, things get done. There aren’t typically layers of management, a bureaucracy to work through, or endless meetings before a decision is taken. Green means go.

You’re accountable. The green light also means that you’re responsible, unlike at companies where decisions are made by committee, or the PR program is more directly tied to a marketing campaign or sponsorship. If the funding announcement falls short, the launch flops, or the speech fails, your reputation is on the line. This type of pressure isn’t always comfortable, but it keeps you on your toes.

The bias is toward action. It may sound crazy, but there are many companies that don’t reward initiative or risk-taking in their partners. In fact, they may tacitly discourage it. For the typical startup, by contrast, there is no greater sin than standing still. Particularly in fast-changing sectors like adtech, HR tech or location-based marketing, there’s a culture of trial, risk-taking, and continuous innovation. That’s an environment that can be very empowering for agency team members.

You’re constantly learning. In tech PR in particular, things are changing quickly, and there is absolutely no opportunity to be bored or complacent. For a career agency person, there’s nothing better.

Is Facebook Still Best For PR Campaigns?

Does Facebook still work for brand PR?  The answer depends on your audience, but it’s likely to be yes. Although teens may have moved from Facebook to Instagram, Facebook is still used by 71 percent of  U.S. adults aged 18 and older. Not only do nearly three quarters of this group have a Facebook account, but according to the Pew Research Center, around 70 percent check it daily. So, what are some current best PR practices to consider when leveraging the site for earned and paid exposure?

Keep posts short and visual, and post on Thursdays and Fridays? Yes, current research says photos get 53% more likes, 104% more comments and 84% more click-throughs on links than text-based posts. Emoticons boost engagement and engagement rates on Thursday and Friday are 18% higher than other days.

Take inspiration from top brands. Facebook can go beyond brand storytelling and customer service, although it’s useful for both. It’s also an ideal platform for crowdsourcing a new product idea, or even customer insights, like Bobbi Brown’s campaign to bring back “retired” lipstick shades, or Lay’s #DoUsAFlavor campaign.

Create and manage Facebook Groups. Facebook Groups are an excellent way to manage relationships for a group, organization or brand.  Consider posting all company/product and interesting industry news, an events calendar, networking benefits to members, and other ways to participate. We have watched the Facebook group for a health technology client of ours grow exponentially by using the “face” of the company to help personalize content and posts.
Let your audience do the work for you. Businesses can connect with thousands or even millions on Facebook with a single click. If posts are provocative and share-worthy, the audience will be happy to do the work for you by liking, sharing, commenting and re-posting to other sites. Figure out what your “friends” like and comment on; and give them more of the same! Additionally, the connections made are that much more personal since people trust their friends and their information, leading to future benefits.

Earned vs. paid or both? We believe in maximizing the opportunity of the medium, may the best methodology win! Therefore, post some great visual content – include a provocative question or contest offer –  boost that post and consider advertising around it. Test some very inexpensive Facebook advertising and see what kind of ROI you get. If paid messaging increases brand affinity and purchase intent, while keeping cost efficiencies manageable, we are all for it.

Explore tools that will improve your posts. Whether a brand is looking to spruce up visual content or make social media publishing and scheduling easier, there are some terrific tools to explore. Canva helps the design-challenged create beautiful graphics for use on Facebook or any other social site. Try Edgar to organize and maximize social media updates. Stuck for ideas? Get to know buzzsumo.

Five Ways To Come Up With Great PR Ideas

Much of successful public relations has to do with simply spotting good ideas, and recognizing their PR value. But generating good press for businesses and brands also means coming up with fresh concepts on a consistent basis — especially after the cool new product has been launched, or the buzz from a seasonal campaign has died down. Consider these ways to generate ideas for the times when things threaten to go dry.

Spot trends.  People who are great at PR ideas aren’t just naturally creative; they consume and analyze media constantly. While reading the latest pop culture story of the week or getting up to speed on international politics, look for common threads that seem to converge, and make the connections for brands. Is your tech startup’s growth on pace with small business data? Does a new product appeal to an emerging demographic? How is it part of a growing trend, or does it buck that trend? All are good fodder for visibility.

Borrow other brains. Ours is a collaborative business, so when in doubt, pull others in. Include people similar to you as well as those with a different orientation or bias. Make it fun and worth everyone’s time by throwing in treats and making it an official brainstorm; or, just pull in two colleagues at lunch. Above all, let the conversation flow, don’t object to any ideas (no matter how off-target), and write everything down. Even a random remark can lead to a great idea.

Use the calendar. I’ve never been a fan of “fake” holidays for PR (no offense, National Bobblehead Day!), though if you’re really clever, it can work for PR. But there are plenty of legitimate calendar events to work with if you think it through. There are the major holidays, as well as anniversaries, milestones, and the changing seasons. Then there are pop culture events — Superbowl tie in? Oscars angle? — school related periods, elections, and anything else happening, really. Make your angle relevant by pegging it to something timely, and it’ll become a natural fit.

Try something wacky and fun. Often when thinking up ideas for generating press, we tend to be serious, putting on our “smart” hats, which is good and necessary. But once in a while, let yourself think about what would be really fun to do with the business or brand. If your product is a food or beverage, come up with a creative contest and offer to stock a party for the winner! If it’s a B2B service, try a competition where the winning company gets the service free for a month.

Consider a stunt.  A successful stunt doesn’t have to be huge and expensive, although strong visuals can help. Think in terms of a limited-time offer, photo opportunity, or even a prank (remember when Taco Bell announced it had bought the Liberty Bell? Or when Burger King said it had removed the Whopper from its menu?) It’s even better and less risky if the execution results in people being helped, like this New Year’s campaign by a British company which offered to dry clean suits for free for anyone who was unemployed.

Why Writing Skills Are Still Crucial For PR Pros

How important is writing in public relations today? A PR Week editorial has sparked a fresh discussion about the value of writing skills in today’s PR agency or corporate communications department.  In the op-ed, University of South Carolina’s Shannon Bowen, Ph.D. argues that as PR has evolved into a management discipline, college communications curricula must shift to make room for the teaching of skills like critical thinking and ethics.

Strategy must drive communications tactics, and critical thinking is a vital skill in our business, but I take issue with the thesis that advanced writing skills are no longer crucial for “real-world” PR jobs. PR has surely evolved, but writing skills are more important than ever. Here’s why:

Writing is at the core of persuasion.  The creation of compelling content is a fundamental communications skill, and honest persuasion our goal. If you’ve crafted an op-ed about a business-critical issue or written a keynote speech for a C-level executive, you appreciate the power of the written word to convey ideas, evoke emotion, and build influence. Written and spoken words are still our number-one way for business and government leaders to communicate.

PR is content marketing. Bowen asserts that, “The days of writing news release after news release have given way to the cleverly-worded 140 character snippet.” But social media posts are merely the entry point into a whole new world of content marketing. Today’s PR campaign incorporates a much wider variety of written (and visual) content than in the days of press releases, much of which is longer-form content or brand storytelling. In a given day we may be called to write web copy, a white paper, or a strategy document.

PR ethics must be instilled in the workplace. Bowen makes the case that “PR writing style can be easily taught in the workplace,” but that ethics must be part of a core communications curriculum. But the reverse may be closer to the truth. The very diversity of today’s PR practice and the integration of paid, earned, and owned media means that there is no such thing as “PR writing style.”  Communications ethics, on the other hand, must be institutionalized in the agency and corporate environment, to ensure good practice and train future PR leaders.

Bowen is absolutely right about the high cost of university education and the importance of ethical decision-making for PR and communications pros. But excellence in writing is more than “wordsmithing.” The PR practitioners of the future will be far better prepared to support clients, counsel senior management, or marshall a cogent argument in the face of a reputation threat if they can master not just “PR writing style” but know how to craft and use language for clarity, authority, and impact.

Five Influential Thought Leaders In 2014

The PR industry doesn’t give an award for “Thought Leader of the Year,” but perhaps it should. Company execs (or their PR reps) who’ve done a masterful job at expressing important ideas and exerting positive influence ought to be recognized, particularly if the individual used traditional and digital media to change opinions or spur others to action.

We’ve therefore compiled our own list of those figures who stood out as thought leaders in 2014.

Jeff Bezos. As the Amazon honcho himself put it in a recent interview with Business Insider, “I’ve made billions of dollars of failures at Amazon.” He’s not afraid to take a risk, or to learn from failure, and in 2014 Bezos expanded boldly into “traditional” media by buying the venerable Washington Post, among other ventures.  And when did you ever expect to say the words Jeff Bezos and Golden Globes in the same sentence? This year, Bezos’ Amazon TV greenlit the bold new series “Transparent” which took home top honors at Sunday’s Golden Globes.

Malala Yousafzai. The survivor of a brutal attack for attending school in Pakistan, the 17-year-old activist for female education and youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate has transformed herself from victim to inspiration. A blogger since the age of 11, Malala is also a savvy speaker and author, leveraging her fame to continue fighting for women, children and education.

Bre Pettis, co-founder of Makerbot. Though Pettis recently stepped down from his role as Makerbot’s CEO, he launched a new initiative with Stratasys, the company that acquired his startup for $403 million just a few years after Pettis and two friends started the company in the Brooklyn equivalent of a tiny garage. Makerbot quickly became a standard-bearer for the future potential of the technology, thanks to the charisma and media prowess of Pettis.

Pope Francis. The Roman Catholic Church’s first Latin American pontiff has charmed the world, it seems, ever since taking the papal seat in 2013. From his decision not to live in the grand papal apartments, favoring more humble accommodations, to his groundbreaking statements and actions regarding the poor, birth control, homosexuality, and other issues of the day, Pope Francis has managed to walk the fine line between maintaining integrity and commitment to the faithful while conveying compassion and a progressive spirit in outreach toward non-Catholics. No wonder he has such high approval ratings!

Sophia Amoruso. For a community college dropout who founded the $100 million Nasty Gal online fashion empire, 2014 was an eventful year.  Her book, #GIRLBOSS, a combination memoir and motivational business how-to, became a bestseller, but the eight-year-old company suffered from slowing growth and laid off 10 percent of its workforce. Amoruso has also just stepped down from her position as CEO but something tells us this is all fodder for more interesting reflection and thoughts to share with her audience.

 Interested in some practical tips on how to maximize thought leadership in a PR campaign? Download our free tipsheet!



Technology PR Tips From CES 2015

When it comes to generating positive PR for technology products, the Consumer Electronics Show is the year’s first big battleground. CES 2015 didn’t disappoint. From the spectacular – robots, self-driving cars, and drones — right down to the tacky (belfie sticks!), it gave some of the year’s thousands of tech products their 15 minutes of fame or more.

But every CES sets off a struggle between stressed-out PR professionals and the equally harried technology journalists who try to cover the top trends in just a few days. What does the annual gadgetfest teach us about technology PR tactics?

We monitor an email box for a leading tech publication and know firsthand how important a well-crafted email pitch or timely phone call can be for story placement. Here are the team’s tips.

Don’t pitch, start a negotiation

Technology media in particular are transactional. They need to break news, even if it’s a fresh data point or an exclusive demo. A one-on-one with a CEO of a me-too company about the state of the industry isn’t going to cut it. Go news or go home.

Lose the jargon

Instead of leveraging the “unique, industry-leading disruptive solution”, try stripping the buzzwords out of the pitch and focusing on the human factor. Technology is developed by actual people, for other people. Tell that story in simple terms.

Organize your assets

Make sure you have the most concise press backgrounder, highest-quality images, and most well prepared executive spokesperson to do show and tell. There’s no time to scramble for materials and very little margin for error. Bulletproof your product demo to avoid the buggy software review or glitchy product story.

Be visual

Images are hugely useful, particularly when it comes to explaining a complicated service that isn’t a gadget. If the product isn’t physical, consider a graphic or animation. It will make a world of difference, and a strong visual is the best antidote to the tech jargon problem.

Solve a problem

Technology for its own sake can occasionally draw attention at a venue like CES if other elements are on display, but it doesn’t cut it in the longer run. The strongest technology stories are those that solve problems, save time or money, or help us glimpse an emerging trend.

Look at the bigger picture

All good PR professionals know to position their client as part of a broader trend, but the impulse can get lost in the heat of battle. The most compelling tech products or services are part of a larger story about connectivity, the Internet of things, our increasingly “smart” environment, or the very human struggle to master technology before it masters us.