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Preparing for a Media Interview: Ten Tips to Get Ready

It’s important to be well-prepared for a media interview so you can convey your key message and represent yourself and your organization or business well. Some people might get nervous or feel like their old “test anxiety” from school is surging back when they are getting ready for a media interview. Others may be cocky or over-confident and think they don’t need to prepare at all (spoiler alert – this is not the way to approach a media interview). You want to do your best, so get ready for a successful media interview with these ten tips.

Research the media outlet and the reporter. Look at the website for the media outlet. If it’s a television station or radio station, watch or listen to a few stories to get a feel for them. If it’s a newspaper or online media outlet that publishes stories, read a few stories. Obviously, if you are a coach giving an interview about your team, it would help you the most probably to look at sports stories. If you are a business owner talking about your business for a standard profile they always run, look at the business section and previous profiles. If you are a nonprofit or association leader, use the search function on the media outlet website to see if there are stories involving other organizations similar to yours.

It’s especially important to review stories by the reporter who will interview you, Check to see if the reporter has social media accounts and look at what types of things the reporter typically posts (approach not in a stalker way, but in a “let met get to know this person and how they approach their work” kind of way). Note what types of questions the reporter typically asks and the stories that seem to interest the reporter the most.

Get specifics on the interview. Confirm the date, time and location for the interview with the reporter. Will the interview be live or recorded? This matters because the stakes are higher when an interview is live. If you flub an answer and want to take a second pass at answering a question you can do that if the interview is pre-recorded.

It’s very important to know what the story will be about, and what angle the reporter is taking. Who else will be interviewed? Will it be someone you know? Someone you oppose? Will you be on-camera or having photos taken? Is it s talk show where you will need to be a guest for a set period of time and engage in lively banter, or a 10 minute stand up interview outdoors? The details matter as they influence how you will prepare, what you will wear, and what talking points you review.

Don’t think you can wing it. Many people think that because they are an “expert” they don’t need to prepare for an interview or they can “wing it.” This is not a good idea. Even if you know your topic inside and out, you should still prepare before an interview. You can be a great expert, but if you give long-winded responses, you may not be happy with the short segment the reporter opts to use.

A little practice might help you get your talking points in order so you can be succinct and convey your key message. Metaphors are important for radio because they help listeners visualize the point, so think ahead about how to illustrate a tough concept with words if you are doing a radio interview.

Know your talking points. Given you know the topic for the interview, you should be able to write down 1-3 core messages that you want to relay to the audience that will watch the story. It’s important to keep these talking points simple and clear. You should avoid jargon and what you say should be understandable to a lay person who knows nothing about the topic.

Remember, you are the expert. That’s why you were asked to be interviewed. Do not just memorize your 1-3 points and then repeat one of them verbatim every time a question is asked, especially if this doesn’t really answer the question. The ideal response to a question is one where you work in the talking point while you are answering the question.

Stay in the right mindset. Media interviews are successful when subjects are clear, concise, and interesting. This happens if you practice, are confident with the topic, and have your head in the right space when you do the interview.

Practice before the interview. Delivering great quotes is good for you and for the reporter. Reporters love good sound bytes. Action words, descriptive metaphors, statistics, and emotion all can make for great sound bytes. Draft some sample questions and rehearse how you will respond to each question. The best way to rehearse is with another person who can pose the questions to you, and then for you to respond aloud. Friends can be very forgiving. Time yourself if needed to see if you are pithy enough in your answers.

Practice how to deal with a “pregnant pause” – if you have finished answering a question, wait for the next question patiently, rather than continuing to talk to fill the silence. Sometimes people make mistakes or talk too long when they insert additional information during a pregnant pause.

If you are concerned about a hostile question, plan a bridging strategy. You never want to repeat negative comments back in a response. So if asked something that takes a negative tack, use a bridging phrase like “That’s an interesting question, but the real point to consider is….” or “We find the most important issue is…” or “Here’s the real problem…” or “Let me emphasize that….” or “With this in mind….”

Conquer your nerves. If you are truly nervous, it may help to rehearse with a friend or colleague, or to hire a media relations coach (like me) to help you get ready.  It helps if you can get at the reasons why you are nervous and address them. We find clients are nervous about a media interview because: they’ve never done an interview before, they don’t understand how the media works or how journalists think (it’s not as scary as you think), they are worried about being mis-quoted, they fear they will get something wrong, or they worry they won’t present themselves or what they represent well.  All of these things can be addressed through education, training and practice with a public relations professional.

For some people, visualization is helpful. Try rehearsing your talking points and responses to possible questions in front of a mirror. Put on the clothes you plan to wear for the interview. Practice with a friend or media coach. Remind yourself why you are being interviewed. You are the expert, the spokesperson, and the right person for this interview.

Occasionally people are nervous about an interview because they are in a bad situation – perhaps something tragic happened to them and they are the subject of unwanted media interest, or they have a complex prior history and want to advocate for something good now, but they’re worried their past will damage their credibility now. Perhaps their organization or company made a mistake and now they need to answer to the public and others for it and the stakes are high. My advice is if you are in a difficult situation, seek out the help of an experienced public relations professional who can help you prepare for the interview.

Avoid being overly self-promotional. It is not the reporter’s job to do an “ad” about your business or organization. It is the reporter’s job to create a story on a topic and you were asked likely asked to be interviewed not for your organization to be featured, but because you have expertise to share about the topic at hand. You should avoid being overly self-promotional. Even so , it is often ok to wear a shirt, pin, or name tag from your business, nonprofit organization or trade association.

Consider the optics if the interview is taking place in your home or business. Ahead of time is when you should tidy up and get ready to show your best to the world.

Plan what you will wear and how you will style yourself. You will need to pay more attention to your body language and how you look if you are doing an on-camera interview or having photos taken. As a general rule, avoid loud or busy prints. Lean more conservative in fashion if in doubt (unless of course, your brand is to be way out there). Focus on being neat and tidy. Avoid logos and sayings on clothing that don’t relate to the topic at hand. If makeup is offered to you for television, plan to accept in our current era of high definition television.

Make plans to arrive a little early. Make sure you know the location and figure out how you will get there. Set an alarm to remind you what time to leave. Plan to arrive a little early. The last thing you want to do is show up flustered and late.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven

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Building Success in Social Media: Tips to Help Nonprofits

You probably rely on social media to engage with supporters, volunteers, client alumni, and the community.  You may have a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, or an Instagram account. What practical steps can you take to improve your outreach and engagement?

Advance schedule posts. Facebook allows you to schedule posts for up to six months into the future. If you know that you are going out of town or super busy – this can be a huge help. I use Hootsuite to advance schedule Twitter and Instagram posts. If something changes and I want to run something else, I can always hop into the accounts and change the schedule.

Always use visuals. People pay attention to images and videos. You should never post on your page on Facebook without an image of some kind. Twitter also favors photos more now and photos make or break an Instagram account. You can find free stock image sites if you need photos (one of my favorites is Pixabay).

Get your social into motion. Video is now favored by Facebook’s algorithm and getting more traction on Twitter, so share videos to get more eyeballs. Video doesn’t have to be fancy to be successful. It just needs to be sincere and real. Ask a staff member, volunteer, or mission alumni to talk for a couple of minutes or respond to a question. The best thing you can do to get quality video is invest in a stand for your smartphone. If you have funds available, add a quality microphone. Eliminate distractions and odd background noises and you’ll be amazed at what you can produce on your own.

Launch your events into social media. Facebook’s algorithm currently favors pages that plan events. Setting up an event for volunteers– can result in broader reach and engagement. Even if you require volunteer registration on your website, you can still set up a Facebook event. Use a hashtag to collect photos, comments and videos from your attendees. Tag cooperating organizations to say thank you and share photos and videos after the event.

Use evergreen content (and set up a social media calendar). You might need to talk about some programs or needs (volunteers, supplies, donations) year-round or seasonally. One way to plan these out is to set up a spreadsheet (I use Excel) to organize evergreen content. For example, write 3-5 different posts for recruiting volunteers. Then write different versions for each social media platform (paying attention to word counts and adding hashtags where appropriate). If you want to be more organized, add a date column and convert this spreadsheet into a calendar, sprinkling evergreen content over time.

Look at analytics to improve your outreach. Facebook insights is free and provides a wealth of data on your page and its followers (available to Page managers in the menu bar on any page). Look at page views for the month. I like to download as a spreadsheet all my post activity and look at which posts did well for the month, and which ones didn’t. You can also use Insights to figure out the best time of day to post. Twitter offers free analytics too – log in via the web and in the menu for your profile, click on More, then Analytics.

This post first appeared in Instigate magazine, published by the Citygate Network. Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven

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A Successful Website is a Secure One

Imagine this. You log onto your computer or go online with your phone or tablet, and type in the URL for your nonprofit organization’s website. Instead of seeing your well-organized home page and graphics, a red backdrop and warning messages tell you that this is a potentially dangerous website. Your home page is nowhere to be found. You panic – wondering what your donors, supporters, volunteers and clients are all thinking.

For one of my nonprofit do-gooder clients recently, this scenario was all too real. Their site was attacked and went down. After two weeks of hassle, phone calls to their hosting service, and angst, they finally got their site back online. But it happened only because their website manager rebuilt much of the site from scratch. Why did this happen? They had initially used a web hosting service that didn’t include a security package or backups (these services were sold a la carte), because it was cheaper.

It was an expensive lesson to learn. While their site was down, thank you emails to donors didn’t go out, because there was no where to refer donors to see photos or learn more. Discussions for a new fundraising and volunteer partnership with another nonprofit organization ceased while the site was down too. The loss in potential volunteers, donations, and awareness were huge.

Keeping your website secure is one of the most important things website managers can do. Think of all the functions your website carries out for you. It’s your public face to the world. It’s where you share your story, invite people to help, highlight your programs, raise funds, and manage schedules, events and more.

Don’t think that just because your cause is a good one, that your website will be immune to an attack. Here are a few things you can do to beef up your website security:

  1. Use secure passwords. Make sure everyone uploading content who has access to your site is using a secure password. Pick something that is tough to figure out. Do not use words that can be found in a dictionary and add numbers and special characters to your password. Change passwords regularly (every month if possible) so they stay secure.
  2. Get a secure website hosting service. Talk to your hosting service about the security protocols in place and subscribe to security packages if you are using an a la carte service. Make sure they include a backup option. If your site is hacked, you can lose valuable information if your web files are destroyed. Having a backup means you can restore your site to the time period before it was hacked.
  3. Consider using an SSL certificate for your entire site. The letters in https stand for “hypertext transfer protocol secure.” Any web page using this protocol is secure. Any web page asking users to login or asking for payment information should be on an https. You can even set up your entire site on an https if you want.
  4. Lock down your website folder permissions. Your website files live in folders on a server. Anyone with the right skill set can crack into those folders and cause havoc. You can stop this from happening by assigning security permissions to those files and folders on your back end.
  5. Update website platforms and scripts. Check your plugins and tools for updates and make sure you are using current software. Update the software used on your website platform. If you use WordPress (like my client), it’s very important you run the most updated version of WordPress to avoid potential threats (and install the security plugins too).
  6. Lock down your site where vulnerabilities emerge. Hackers can insert malicious code in something as simple as a blog comment or through a search box. You can limit some attacks by inserting a Content Security Policy (CSP) into your website code. This limits the amount of Javascript on your site. Setting up parameterized queries and using secure forms can make your site safer too.

Securing your website is important. If your website gets taken down by hackers, you will lose more than just some nice copy and photos. You may also lose potential clients, volunteers, supporters, and donors.

An earlier version of this post first appeared in Instigate magazine, published by the Citygate Network. Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven

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Connect with People by Using Video

With the rise of smartphones and do-it-yourself quality video, how do you maximize your video reach for your nonprofit organization?

First, realize the promise that video offers for reaching people. Video content is immensely popular. Forty-five percent of people watch more than an hour of Facebook or YouTube videos a week. Nearly one third of internet users use YouTube, which has become one of the most power search engines online.

Producing quality video can help you stock your social media accounts with interesting content. It can help you connect with people who may be hundreds or thousands of miles away, but help them understand the heart of your nonprofit’s mission.

Second, take the time needed to learn about how to produce good video content. Yes, anyone today can make a video using a phone that fits in their pocket. But can everyone make a video that touches hearts and minds? No.

One of the best (and cheapest) improvements you can make to your videos, is to buy a basic tripod or desktop stand for your phone or video camera. The tripod or stand can give your footage stability and help you avoid awkward jumps and sways.

Understand how your phone or camera works. Know what types of video files it will make, and at what resolution. Generally speaking, you want to get the best (largest) resolution possible.

And this is no time to settle for the video editing software that came on your phone. Invest in some decent video editing software. Apple iMovie and Apple FinalCut Pro are rated among the best but CyberLink PowerDirector and Adobe Premiere Pro CC also get high marks from PC Magazine. Free software includes Magix Movie Edit Touch, Movie Moments, Movie Maker and PowerDirector Mobile.

Third, organize your plans for the video. A good video tells a story. Make a clear outline and list the key points you want to make in the video. Decide what background information is really needed to understand the story. A common mistake is to try to “shoehorn” too much content into the video.

Another common mistake is “talking head syndrome.” Don’t rely on just one person to talk for the entire video. Try to have a dialogue. You might continue a voice, but try to “show” something to viewers instead of just “telling” them about it.

Editing can be tedious and time-consuming. Budget plenty of time for editing so you don’t have to rush and can focus on doing a quality job.

If you need to hire a video crew to help you, be prepared for sticker shock. Get quotes from at least 3 companies before hiring one and insist on seeing samples. You can save money sometimes by hiring a college class or an intern, but you may also get hit or miss quality.

An earlier version of this post first appeared in Instigate magazine, published by the Citygate Network. Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven

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Building Relationships with Reporters: Be Not Afraid

Sometimes when I talk with nonprofit staff and suggest they talk with reporters about the good work they are doing, I discover that they are worried – about how reporters will view their agencies, and how they will find the time to manage “one more thing.”

You don’t need to be afraid of reporters. In any community, journalists can be found covering local government meetings, talking to people about what matters to them, and covering the big stories that impact lots of people.

Definitely scandals get lots of hype and press attention – and if you’ve never interacted much with reporters, that may be all you think they do. Most journalists are ethical and want for what they produce to be accurate, and the media play a vital role in distributing information during emergencies, and covering the day in and day out dream beats of community life. They can amplify your story for you.

It’s important to have your facts right. You should respect reporters – and remember that anything you say to one should be considered “on the record.” This means it can be used in reporting, fact checked, and published.

That’s why preparing before a media interview is so important. Know the answers to basic questions like, how many did we assist last year?  Refresh your memory for a testimonial you want to share with them.

It’s often helpful to keep a fact sheet on hand to help you remember key points. Some organizations update key statistics annually or make little wallet cards with key information to remember. These make it easy to refresh your memory.

Designate who should talk with the press ahead of time. It’s often the executive director or a communications manager who is designated to talk with reporters.

If you are going to ask someone who has been served by your program to talk with a reporter, be sure to clear it in advance with that person. Talk about what will be shared with the reporter and make sure they are comfortable. Be sensitive to confidentiality, and make sure any personal information shared with a reporter is approved beforehand.

Pitch a story, not a program. This is one of the biggest mistakes I see nonprofit staff make. They say to a reporter, “if only you would do a story about our group, more people would know about the services we offer.” Unfortunately, a story profiling your nonprofit, is not a story for most journalists.

Occasionally a community access television station will have a nonprofit spotlight type of feature that does profile area nonprofits, but these programs generally don’t attract many viewers and air during the graveyard shift.

What is a great story that attracts attention? A great story might be “a day in the life” of your nonprofit with a photo spread showing how day-to-day services and programs assist people experiencing homelessness.

A great story might be a profile of a client served by your program. It may be a story offering tips on how ordinary people can help your organization at the holidays, or a story on how your organization is assisting the community during a crisis (cold weather, disaster). It could be a story that looks at a national report about an issue, but that uses your organization to paint the picture of what the big numbers mean locally.

You can also be an expert, so reporters know to call you when covering what you know best. Introduce yourself to a journalist interested in subjects you know a lot about. When a big opportunity comes along – they’ll remember you!

An earlier version of this post first appeared in Instigate magazine, published by the Citygate Network. Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven

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The Power of Storytelling: 7 Tips to Help

You may have grown up captivated by bedtime stories as a child, but stories still hold power over us throughout our lives. Storytelling can be a powerful tool in sharing the story of your nonprofit organization with volunteers, supporters, the media, influencers and the public. But how do you put together a compelling story?

First, you start with a person. If people can understand how your organization has touched one person, they can understand how you help dozens, hundreds or thousands. You need a protagonist, a leading character. Think of the person you saw touched, changed, or moved through your work.

Tell a story about this person. Talk about how they got involved. Talk about what they brought to your program. The person might be a client you served, a volunteer who was deeply impacted by an experience, or even yourself.

Next, you add a place. Every great story happens somewhere. Your organization or program is the stage. Be descriptive. Talk about the place, the smells, the temperature, and the feel of the place. These details should not over-burden the story. Rather, they should add small tinges of memorable details for the listeners or readers.

Get to the point. Talk about a moment when a reality hit, change happened, or a realization was made. Talk about the hopeful small step, the giant leap forward, or the quiet moment of reflection. Make that the focal point.

Be conversational. A story should flow easily on the eyes or the ears. The audience will pay attention more easily if you keep words simple and clear.

Use data to fill out the details. If numbers or statistics can be used to illustrate how widespread a problem is, a trend you are describing, or how impactful a program is, add them to the story. But don’t add too many or you will bore the audience to tears.

Know your audience. Know the audience you are sharing your story with. The church missions moment, the Rotary club speech, the volunteer orientation pep talk, and the pitch to a reporter, are each different environments.

Tailor the story for listeners. Trim or expand to fill time limits. Adjust details to the interests of the audience. That doesn’t mean you are dishonest. Pick the most relevant parts of the story for the audience to hear.

This post first appeared in Instigate magazine, published by the Citygate Network. Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven

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NFL Smacks Down Brewery: They Still Get Great Publicity

When the owners of Hysteria Brewing announced that they were planning to make a tribute beer to their favorite Baltimore Ravens football player and posted a picture of the beer label and packaging showing a likeness of his jersey, it only took 2 days for the National Football League to send a cease and desist letter warning the brewery that it was not allowed to use the images.

The planned label and packaging Hysteria Brewing announced on December 3, 2019. 

The Baltimore Business Journal, CBS Baltimore and WBAL had intially covered the brewery’s announced plans to preemptively name quarterback Lamar Jackson #MVP (most valuable player) and issue a tribute beer. This positive news coverage is surely how the Columbia, Maryland brewery got on the radar of the NFL, which like all big corporate brands has a small army of people like me monitoring their news coverage on a daily basis.

Instead of crying uncle, Hysteria Brewing has ridden the tidal wave of litigation threat, all the way to public relations gold. Several news stories have run as a result of the NFL’s cease and desist letter, and millions of people have found out about the scrappy little brewery through the publicity. I heard multiple stories about this on WTOP yesterday, and here’s some more examples:

A Columbia brewery is putting Lamar Jackson’s likeness on a beer. Is it legal? Baltimore Sun, 12/08/2019

NFL Sends Hysteria Brewing Company Letter Saying Lamar Jackson-Themed Beer Is ‘Unauthorized Use Of NFL Marks’ CBS Baltimore, 12/07/2019

Ty Kreis, Hysteria Brewing Company’s director of sales and marketing, struck a contrite tone in his comments published by Fox Business saying, “We are currently working on a new version of the label to remove any potential conflicts by removing any and all NFL markings requested by the NFL. We honestly thought the label was vague enough, but have no problem working on it to make sure we adhere to the requests and remarks from the NFL.”

The cease and desist letter Hysteria Brewing posted to their Facebook page.

Legitimately, the NFL has a point. As a copyright and trademark holder, if they don’t respond severely and immediately to potential infringements on their marks, they risk their trademark being put in jeopardy. Reality is – anything involving an NFL team can get into licensing issues and should be carefully scoped out before proceeding. My spouse and business partner is a graphic designer, and he asks people constantly if they have permission to use images and artwork that they provide. I do too. Because we know how severe the penalties can be for infringement or mis-use.

Now one could argue that Hysteria Brewing did this as a stunt, knowing the NFL sledge hammer would smack down once a little buzz got out about their planned brew. But given how many often we talk with clients about images, trademarks and copyrights, and how frequently people appear to be completely unaware of such concerns, I wouldn’t be surprised if Hysteria Brewing was at least taken aback by how quickly the NFL responded.

Lessons to learn here:

  • Failure does not mean total ruin. The brewery got additional publicity out of this and still got to say how much they love their favorite player.
  • When you are in the thick of it, show who you really are and keep talking. There are times companies get letters like this and they clam up, deferring to lawyers to respond to other lawyers. Hysteria Brewing kept talking, and it worked, because they said the right things. The brewery and its brand came through in these stories and through their social media posts.
  • Address problems quickly. Hysteria Brewing made public comments right away saying they would address the NFL’s concerns.
  • Hire good creative services vendors to advise you on packaging and design. Before you invest money in having product packaging professionally designed, talk with the graphic designer /and listen if they tell you certain images will be problematic.

While they do have to change the label and packaging plans, Hysteria Brewing has recruited new fans who want to root for the underdog. Hopefully, it translates into some great sales for them and more customers.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven

 

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Getting Publicity Through HARO: The Definitive Guide

One of the best (and free) tools for connecting with journalists who are seeking sources is HARO (Help a Reporter Out). Originally begun as an enewsletter by Peter Shankman, more than 800,00 subscribers get 3 HARO emails per day listing topics journalists are seeking sources for. Major national media outlets, including Fox News, Time, the New York Times, Mashable and many others have quoted sources found through HARO. I’ve subscribed to HARO for years, gotten stories for clients through responding to HARO queries, and also listed some of my writing projects with HARO when seeking sources (so I’ve been on the receiving end of HARO responses too).

Here’s my thoughts on how to maximize using HARO to get publicity and stand out from the 800,000 subscribers all hoping for just the right query:

Subscribe for free to HARO. Sign up for HARO is free and only takes a minute. I had a problem where suddenly I was only getting one of the three HARO messages per day. Even after contacting tech support, I had to switch to using a different email address for HARO queries.

Scan HARO queries three times a day. They distribute queries Monday through Friday at 5:35am, 12:35pm, and 5:35pm. The staff at HARO are also great about sending out their holiday schedule so you can plan accordingly. When the email arrives, look for journalist queries that REALLY relate to what you do , know and can talk about.

Select only the queries you best “fit” to respond to. This is where you need to be both thoughtful and strategic. It can be very easy, especially if you are a new subscriber, for lots of queries to look like matches for you. It is like a smorgasboard of media requests! It is tempting to respond to everything you find, but consider carefully which ones really are the best fit for your business, nonprofit organization or association.

Speed research the media outlet and journalist.  If you’ve found a possible query to respond to, do a quick google if you aren’t familiar with the media outlet or journalist that is making a request (fyi – those anonymous listings are often large media outlets). Consider if this is the type of media outlet you want to be in. Will potential or current customers, supporters, members or others, learn about you in this media outlet? Save yourself some time by responding to only those outlets and journalists that you feel are a good fit. I’ve noticed many content writers for blogs and large brand websites are now submitting HARO queries. If you don’t want to be quoted on a blog and really do only want to be in a traditional newspaper or media outlet, then filter out the requests that don’t work for you.

Do not contact the reporter via their personal email (or phone) when responding to a HARO request. Every journalist I know is completely inundated on their work email address with pitches and press releases, in addition to the real work they doing. Journalist names are often listed with HARO queries and thanks to your cyber sleuthing skills, it’s often not hard to locate their current email address or phone number. Resist the urge to respond directly to their personal email address  or phone number, and instead use the email address provided by HARO. If they wanted to hear from you on their regular email address, they wouldn’t have used HARO.

Be thorough in your response. HARO says, “Include answers to the journalist’s questions, any specified requirements and a bio with you or your client’s contact information. If the journalist is interested, they’ll reach out!” Journalists will often specify what they are seeking in their request. If they want a book title, a URL, and an author quote of 1-3 sentences then that’s what you should provide.

Directly respond to questions and don’t be vague. Saying “Would like to talk to you about this” or “I have a great source for you” with no details is completely unhelpful.  If a journalist asks for source information or responses to questions, then your response should be thorough. Don’t hold back your best quotes in hopes of getting a phone interview. Often, I’ve seen solid client responses to HARO queries printed verbatim. So this is a situation where you need to BRING IT and deliver up your best quotes. The reality is that journalists today are busy. If 3 people with great credentials fill out the query questions correctly and provide interesting quotes, the journalist probably won’t waste time calling people who didn’t. Many journalists receive dozens of responses – anyone who doesn’t follow directions is just deleted.

Value story over bio. I’ve done some reading about HARO and one mistake that I think people can make, is they overly emphasize the biography of the person they are pitching (or themselves) and they rely on this to carry a HARO response. But you have to remember – the response you are crafting is all about informing a story – of which you as the source – are only one part. Beef up your response where you can and follow journalist directions. It is not just about selling the person. It is about selling what the person will be in the story.

If you need to send background material, use a link. Attachments are not allowed on HARO, so don’t attach photos, logos, press kits or fact sheets. If you have a resource that is relevant that you think the journalist should know about because it relates directly to the story topic, then send it thru Dropbox, Google Drive or another service if it’s not online.

Respond promptly. The number one factor in achieving media placements through HARO is reaching out quickly to a reporter with a response that is on point,and makes it clear you fit the bill as their source for THIS story. This means you can’t have a cumbersome approval process, and everyone in the approval chain needs to be on board with generating an on target and pithy response. If you are representing a client, then you should have some pre-approved quotes on a variety of topics in a file that you can use, or you should have really great access to them and be able to call them on a dime for a fresh quote

This is no time for hopeful “Hail Mary” passes. I used HARO to look for sources for some magazine writing, and I was amazed at how many responses I received that were completely off-topic, even from people who clearly worked at large public relations firms who should have known better. Responding to queries you are not the right fit for can get you booted from the subscriber list and HARO has rules that it enforces. HARO uses a system to shield journalist email addresses from subscribers. Journalists receiving your responses can now rate your response for “usefulness” – get too many dings from journalists as an irrelevant spammer and HARO can boot you off their subscriber list. Their rules allow for only one warning.

Wait and watch for a response from the journalist. Unfortunately, following up is not something I recommend usually with HARO queries. If a journalist is interested in what you have to say, he or she will be in touch with you. You should not try to re-contact them via email or phone if you don’t hear from them. Often, journalists receive so many great and thoughtful responses, that they have a tough time choosing who to quote. Sometimes journalists will use what you sent in their story, and not let you know in advance. You may just be surprised one day to see your name or client in print!

Remember that HARO is often a low touch medium. Let the reporter set the tone for engagement, even if he or she reaches out in response to you. If he or she prefers email over a phone call, then respond via email.

Be ahead of the deadline. You should try your best to reply well before the deadline, as many journalists using HARO are time-crunched and often choose rapidly who to quote in their story.

Share HARO requests. HARO encourages people to share queries on social media and to forward them. If you’re not the right fit but know someone who might be, send some good karma out into the world and forward the request along to others.

Follow HARO on social media. Quick turnaround HARO queries are sent out on hashtag #URGHARO by @helpareporter on Twitter. They publish a HARO email account for responses. Because these are short and on tight deadlines – it’s even more important to respond quickly and clearly.

Evaluating a HARO Query: One Example
There’s a query on HARO today (12/4/2019) from a writer seeking a registered nurse or doctor to weigh in on best and worst store-bought smoothies. Just being the kind of smoothie maker your family adores won’t cut it for this one – you need to meet the requirements. The journalist asks for source credentials and throws out a bone, even saying you can mention your book if you’ve written one. She lists 6 questions about your opinions on store-bought smoothies (who knew it was so complicated? Clearly she’s trying to get the details!) and is looking for very specific responses to her questions. This is likely a situation where the responses will end up verbatim as quotes in her write-up, so what you send needs to be what you’d want to see published. You should be thorough in your response if you want to be successful. The author clearly has gotten some off-topic responses in the past, because she added to her request: “Don’t tell me you have someone great for this. SIMPLY SEND REPLIES if you’d like to be considered.”

Sample HARO Response

Email address: HARO provided email address

Subject Line: Responding to HARO Query [Topic]

Hi [First Name],

I’m [Name], and I’m [title/role] of  [name of company or organization].

I was pleased to see your query on [subject]. I can talk about this topic because [List your experience/credentials but be brief. This should be a sentence or two. not a soliloquy.].

Respond to the query here.
Note: This is where you need to shine. If they say they want someone with particular knowledge on a topic, this is where you should write a paragraph or two. If they have listed questions that they want responses to, list the questions and answer them here. If they have asked for tips on XYZ topic, then list 1-3 tips (figure 2 sentences per tip) and call it a day. You may end up quoted just doing this.

Thanks for your time and consideration. If you would like to contact me to discuss this further, please email or call me at

.

Sincerely,
[Name] [Title, Business/Organization/Association Name] [Phone number] [Email address]

Ami Neiberger-Mille{Title, Business/Organization Namer is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven

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Evolving Tools: Text Messaging & Public Relations

In the last decade, public relations professionals have become accustomed  to giving clients advice about text messaging for fundraising campaigns and customer relations. A 2008 text messaging campaign conducted by the United Way raised less than $10,000, and just a few years later, the American Red Cross raised $32 million for Haiti.  For those creating and managing events, text messaging can be invaluable – helping you relay information to attendees. The tools we advise clients to use have changed dramatically, but how is text messaging impacting our profession and how we work?

For those working in media relations or advocacy, text messaging is invaluable if trying to meet a reporter at a coffee shop or restaurant, or if you need to send a private note during a hearing or meeting. The fast pace of PR work can mean that we use text messaging to find our way when GPS fails us, or to drop a private note during a conference call, or to coach a client who needs help.

One of the best uses I’ve found for text messaging is for real-time event communication. When working with a group of public relations professionals at an event where the team is actively managing a group of reporters, having a text messaging group means we can quickly sort out logistics, find each other, and make sure all of the reporters get the information, interviews and materials they need.

I’ve also found text messaging helpful for dealing with certain clients. For one client that did a large event which attracted significant press attention, incoming requests were triaged via text message and discussed among a small group of people tasked with coordinating interviews. I was the only PR person in the conversation, but it was important to talk about these requests and prioritize them in real-time.

And how we work is constantly changing. I was initially not a fan of Slack, an app that communicates like text messaging around a project that is segmented into channels. But I’ve gradually gotten used to Slack and realize it has some merits. For one thing – I can always tell when I log in, where I need to be updated.

In terms of client relations, I appreciate getting appointment confirmations, meeting changes, and updates via text. Text messaging has contributed to that feeling of needing to “always be on” and available for clients, even if their texts arrive after hours. So it falls on the PR pro to decide how to manage these messages. If someone texts me about a non-urgent matter after hours (e.g a text comes in during dinner with my family asking if they can call me at that moment about what appears to be a non-urgent matter), I might text back and suggest talking during working hours, or just avoid responding until the morning.

In 2012, communicators were still very skeptical of texting and worried that it would ruin communications as we know it. I think you have to accept texting for what it is – a rapid way to communicate with people – and you have to meet people where they are at.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven

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Sharing Your Story of Recovery: Change Hearts and Minds

The way a story is told within the recovery community – in the context of support groups and AA meetings – is very different from the way a story should be told in the public eye. In this session at RISE19, organized by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP), Ami Neiberger-Miller talked with treatment court graduates about how to structure their stories of recovery. She discussed how to select aspects of your story to share, prepare for an audience, and structure your story for maximum impact. She also talked about providing privacy for your family and special considerations treatment court graduates should consider when sharing their stories publicly.

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Crisis Communication: Preparing for a PR Nightmare

Think associations can’t face PR problems? Think again. The mayor of the city hosting your association’s annual meeting is accused of a horrible crime and still wants to give the opening address at your conference. A program run by a member has put lives at risk and someone died. Your members openly ignore the best practices you recommend and now face a public drumming down, including a funding cut. How do you anticipate a public relations problem before it happens? What planning can you do in advance to make managing a PR crisis easier later? What materials should you have in a folder ready for use? How do you pivot when a real-life scenario surprises you? Review real-life case studies from associations and get tips on how to prepare for a crisis. Attendees for the Association Media & Publishing 2019 annual meeting walked out of this session knowing how to assess risk, put crisis plans in place, and be confident communicators.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven

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Steppingstone LLC wins Ragan’s PR Daily Award

Our work on behalf of Teens for Gun Reform supporting their White House protest after the Parkland tragedy won an award from Ragan’s PR Daily. In only 30 hours, we were able to issue a press advisory, do follow-up, and support an avalanche of media attention at the event. The resulting photos and interviews were seen worldwide.

Read the Ragan PR Daily announcement about the award.

Learn more about our winning project in this post in our portfolio.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven

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Presentation: Copywriting in the Digital Age

Much of the advice in this presentation is “tried and true” but there are a couple of surprises – including the suggestion to read your copy backwards. This was presented in a roundtable discussino format for “Issues of the Day for Associations & Nonprofits” organized by the Public Relations Society of America – National Capital Chapter in Washington, D.C. in February 2019..

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven
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Publishers: Get More Content Shared on Social Media

We help clients think strategically about building connections with core audiences, and our advice often includes sharing content from within their industry, not only  information they’ve generated on their own. After all, you can’t talk about just yourself, all the time. That’s boring. You need a good mix of news and information from yourself, coupled with news and information from other partners and industry leaders on your social media feeds.

Curation, creation and humanization should be the guideposts of a social media content strategy. Some companies and organizations try to follow the 5:3:2 rule, and it’s very helpful in thinking about how to set up the mix and interplay of industry and organizational news. For every 10 posts on Facebook or Twitter:

  • 5 posts should be curated – they should be content from other sources that are relevant to your audience.
  • 3 posts should be content you’ve created, that’s relevant to your audience.
  • 2 should be personal, fun content that humanizes your brand.

With half of those posts are coming from other sources, you likely need to pull from a variety of publishers to keep a steady diet of news relevant to their core audiences pumping out on those social channels.

But sometimes there are problems and we can’t share some of the content we’d like to on all of the social channels. Why? Because their websites are not up to snuff. And even worse – these are all problems that site publishers could fix on their own. Here are the common problems we encounter in trying to share content on client social channels from others.

Problem #1: Publishers don’t always include images with their content. If you don’t include an image with your content, even if it’s a wonderful article, we probably won’t schedule it on Facebook. Images are just too important! No image = no share. Sometimes I’ll schedule content on Twitter without an image, but never on Facebook. Facebook used to allow us to insert an image so we could fix this problem, but right now it doesn’t let us do that.

Problem #2: The images the publisher offers don’t auto-feed to Facebook. Some websites are simply not set up to share images to Facebook. Even if an image shows up on the web page, it may not be “scraped” by Facebook.

Problem #3: The images the publisher offers look truncated or fuzzy on Facebook. This is icky. No one wants to share content that looks bad.

Problem #4: The content is password protected. Unfortunately, we find this occasionally with articles we might want to share from smaller newspapers or smaller trade associations, who are still padlocking their information gateways. It makes no sense to share their content if no one can read it.

Problem #5: The content is posted online but in a format that is difficult to share socially. We find this problem sometimes with magazine content. A publisher will have a gorgeously designed print magazine displayed in ISUU and won’t publish the article we are interested in sharing separately on their website. Or it takes a LONG time for them to publish that article individually on their website.

A few publishers may say so what – who cares if my content can’t be shared on some organization’s Facebook page. You should care. Because your competition is way ahead of you.

Unfortunately, all of these problems prevent social shares of your content. But thankfully, there are solutions.

Embrace using up-to-date technology for your site. Unfortunately, some publishers are still using older technology to run their websites. Their sites aren’t optimized for mobile users, and are not set up for successful social sharing. If this is your site, prioritize an upgrade.

If you own the website that is having problems with social shares,  try out the Facebook debugger tool. Figure out what’s going on with your content and why social sharing isn’t working for your site. See this page for more advice on debugging problematic Facebook shares. If you are publishing content online, the best advice I’ve seen is to set  Open Graph tags for each piece of content you publish on your site.

Publish your content so it can be shared. If you wonder why no one is reading the quality content in your magazine or the article brief issued by a trade association, it’s often because the content is not shareable. Maximize shareability and produce great content, and you’ll see improvements. You’ll also win more allies and friends online, establish more partnerships and see references and link backs to your organization or company improve.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven

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Social Media Usage & Nonprofits: Are You Using It Like a Billboard, or to Build Relationships?

Many nonprofit organizations have now been on social media for more than a decade. New start-up nonprofit organizations can easily set up a Facebook page, Twitter feed and Instagram account to share their work, attract donors, and engage volunteers. But what value do nonprofits really get out of social media? And how are they leveraging limited time and resources to engage in social media?

Are they using social media more like a billboard yelling out “hey look at us!” at anyone who passes by? Or are they using social media strategically to build and nurture relationships with core audiences that matter to them and their work? Some recent studies shed light on what nonprofits are doing.

A 2017 survey by Bloomerang, found that nonprofits want to use social media to share organizational news, promote events, and share organizational success stories. Sharing news and information ranked #4 on their list of goals, with fundraising at #5. The social media platform of choice was Facebook with 99% of respondents on Facebook and 90% considering Facebook to be their primary vehicle for social media engagement.  Respondents said success was tracked by examining engagement.

More than half (55%) said social media was “very valuable” for their marketing efforts (they are really busy hanging those billboards!). Yet the survey also revealed that many struggle with strategy. Sixty-seven percent don’t document their social media goals. And more than half – 58% – don’t document their social media strategies (posting schedules, content types or target audiences). Nearly three-quarters of respondents (73%) did not have a documented strategy for responding to negative comments. In other words – the billboard hangers are more often than not, winging it when it comes to what they put on the board and how they hang it.

Many of the survey respondents were also missing important connections that could have been nurtured through a social media engagement. Only 13% were tracking the social media accounts of constituents in their donor database. This is a key gap for nonprofits seeking to communicate with donors and raise funds. And other key audiences – volunteers and supporters – ranked eighth seventh, respectively, when it came to overall goal-setting for nonprofit social media presence.

A 2018 study Kansas University on international nonprofits and social media usage concluded that nonprofits were more effective in using social media if they received clear support for social media engagement from organizational leadership. The allocation of resources – people power and funds to support social media engagement – made a big difference.

Researchers noted, ““Strong organizational leadership support of social media efforts was the most significant factor in predicting the organization’s social media involvement. A lot of people say, ‘Social media is free.’ But it’s not free,” Seo said. “It takes people to develop content and share it, and that takes time, resources and leadership commitment.”

A 2015 study known as the Nonprofit Social Media Scorecard  noted that nonprofits often don’t nurture sharing and relationship. About half (49%) don’t respond to questions on Facebook and 55% don’t respond to questions on Twitter either. When donors posted a comment or asked a question, only 28% within 24 hours on Facebook and 8% responded within an hour on Twitter. In many cases, all that might have been needed was a simple thank you!

Only a quarter (24%) give donors tools to share about a donation on social media. The authors note a study by the American Red Cross which found that 40% of donors would share or be likely to share about a donation they made on social media. They also noted that 18% donated because they received an email from a friend and 17% donated because they read a social media post. By not enabling social sharing and not commenting and engaging with donors and supporters through social media, many nonprofits are losing opportunities to engage and nurture relationships.

If you just discovered you are a billboard hanger and not a relationship builder when it comes to social media – you can make a change today. Here are a few steps to help:

Suggested Action Steps:

  • Identify social media as an important engagement strategy for your organization, with clear support for it from the leadership of your organization.
  • Write down your goals for social media engagement for your nonprofit. Review your goals regularly and consider how they can be measured and improved. Write a social media policy for your organization and a clear policy on how negative comments (and positive ones) are responded to.
  • Draft your social media tactics and content.
  • Allocate staff time and resources to foster more engagement on social media.
  • Respond to comments and questions on social media platforms. Pay particular attention to donors and supporters.
  • Turn on social sharing tools for donors and supporters. Praise those who share and carry your message as an ambassador to others.
  • Periodically measure the effectiveness of your social media efforts. Modify what you are doing based on what you learn.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven

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When a Press Release Typo Becomes News: Tips to Recover

It’s every public relations professional’s worst nightmare – a press release typo becomes front page news. So how do you recover?

The Women’s March issued a news release this week attacking President Donald Trump’s new Supreme Court justice nominee, but there was one problem.

The space for the nominee’s name on the release was still filled in by XYZ in the first sentence, and the nominee’s name was misspelled further down in the release. Clearly someone had used the wrong version of the file or completely forgotten to add the name of the nominee in the rush to distribute information quickly. USA Today and other media outlets covered the gaffe, and conservative social media was of course, all over it.

To make it worse, the gaffe played into fears that Democrats and their allies planned to oppose anyone nominated by the President. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted, “So many groups on the Left were declaring War on President Trump’s nominee — even before they knew who it was!” As a PR professional, you never want to be in a situation where a typo in a press release makes news.

So how do you recover when a mistake in your release becomes a big story all by itself? Here’s a few tips to help.

Fix the release. Immediately. Right away, the Women’s March corrected the error. An updated message with the errors corrected was sent out minutes later. So often when I talk with people who have made a mis-step in the media, they have not taken efforts to correct it quickly and stumbled in their response. Then they torture themselves about it for months. The approach the Women’s March took was decisive, speedy, and immediate.

Respond directly to criticism and get back on message. The Women’s March responded with this direct remark to Senator Graham within an hour and a half of his original tweet criticizing their release. They said, “Senator Graham is right. We did prepare a press release in advance because we knew that all the people on Trump’s nominee list would strip protections for almost every marginalized group in the United States for years to come.”

Call a typ0 what it is. A typo. The announcement of a new Supreme Court justice by a controversial president, was planned in advance and well-publicized. Groups on all sides had time to prepare news releases. The nominee’s name was speculated about in advance. Of course, groups on all sides were putting XYZ in their draft news releases as placeholders. It’s common in PR to do this, and  even to have a version that you trash or don’t use, based on the outcome of an event. The Women’s March did a good job at using their mistake to talk about their message, and they didn’t belabor the point. They didn’t blame an intern or staff member for the mistake. They simply got back on message right away and used the extra attention the mistake generated to talk about their views.

Make sure you don’t make the same mistake again. Review your procedures and systems for approving a news release before it goes out. Even if staff are rushing to get something out due to a breaking news event after work hours (which this was), there should be some type of check to ensure it’s correct. A second set of eyeballs can be a huge help to avoiding a media relations problem.

I think every PR person in Washington, D.C. will be doublechecking their releases for a while.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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Managing PR Volunteers for Your Nonprofit: 8 Things to Know

When you work in nonprofit public relations, you often get asked to help with pro-bono projects, where you assist a nonprofit agency free of charge. This is often a great public service, allows a public relations professional to volunteer for a cause that he or she cares about, and provides a cash-strapped nonprofit organization with public relations support.  But it’s not always a rosy experience.

If you want to keep your PR volunteers happy, there’s a few things you need to do:

Share with them accurate information and keep them informed. Keep PR volunteers informed and engaged. Let them know what’s going on with your organization and be clear about how they can help. Be judicious about inviting them to lots of meetings if they have limited time available.

Ask how they want to be involved. Find out how they want to be engaged with your organization. Is it support for a one-time project like publicizing a special event? Or a longer-term project like assisting with messaging, media training, a longer term campaign, or branding?

Give them professional materials. If someone has offered to help you, give them good quality professional materials to issue on your behalf. I have sometimes offered to issue a press release for a project, but when the organization I am assisting sends me the release – it’s loaded with type-os, inconsistencies, and problems (e.g. the time for press to show up is not clear, the copy is too long, etc.). It might take me 3 emails and calls with back and forths, as well as a couple of hours to fix a really   messy release. If I really care about your organization, I might fix this and stay involved. I also might interpret a messy release as a sign of sloppy organization and be wondering if I should continue to assist you or not.

Fact check your event or program information before it is publicized. There’s nothing worse for a public relations person who offered to share information with the press about an event, to realize that some of the information provided is wrong. For example, I was assisting  an organization with publicizing a community event, and the address they had printed on the event fliers was wrong. Unfortunately, this was discovered after I had already contacted area press. This meant I had to go back and correct the information.

Change the event details after the event or program is publicized. Because so often community calendars, newspaper event listings, and press deadlines are well ahead of an event, last minute changes can really hamper publicity. If you asked for a professional to publicize your event. then you need to run your event like a professional. This is one of the worst things you can do because it means additional work for your public relations volunteer – they have to go back out to the press and let them know things have changed, or adjust on the fly if you are surprising them during the event with these changes. You should not change information about the event that has already been distributed to media outlets without a good reason.

Respect any boundaries they have set about time, tasks or future involvement. If the volunteer has set up some boundaries about how much work they can do, in terms of time, what they will do, or how they will be involved in the future, respect that. This level of respect will be returned, and they may volunteer with you again.

Be clear on timelines and your own availability. I once had a group of public relations students volunteer to assist a nonprofit that I managed publicity for. They were wonderful and had great ideas, but their professor structured their project so that most of the execution of their ideas was near the end of the semester. So the last week of school was really stressful not just for them, but for me, as I had to approve copy and materials in a very limited amount of time. Fortunately, I was able to make myself available to do all of this, but it was not easy. Being clear on the timeline up front (this was really the fault of the professor, not the students) would have made things move a bit smoother, and shifting their time frame to spread out execution of their ideas a bit more could have really made things a lot smoother for everyone and likely yielded better results too.

Ask how it went. Talk with them about what volunteering for your organization is like. Thank them for their help. Ask for what could be improved and find out if they will volunteer again.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

 

 

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Presentation: What Does Success Look Like? Measurement & Evaluation in PR

I enjoyed co-leading today a great session with Brigitte W. Johnson, APR, MSM on what does success look like for PRSA-NCC‘s 7th Annual Public Relations Issues of the Day for Nonprofits and Associations. We had some wonderful discussions about measurement and evaluation – and how it really works in the field. The thing I love about this event is that it operates on a round table format, so each discussion group is only 5-6 people. Attendees get to select 3 topics to attend.

At our table, we discussed the issues with measuring earned media and how to get away from vanity metrics like impressions or number of articles placed. We discussed doing message point analysis of media stories to see if key messages were delivered (or not), and how to do competitive research and sentiment scoring. We talked a lot about the importance of defining objectives up front and determining what you will measure before starting a new project or program. At the same time, we also assured people that it’s better to start late with measurement and evaluation, than to never start at all.

We also talked about the many tools available to assist with measurement and evaluation, getting a request to do focus groups after the fact on an already deployed campaign (been there), dealing with territorial issues inside organizations that make attributing success difficult (many people had this sticky situation to navigate), and the need to involve stakeholders in agreeing to what should be measured up front. We also talked about how challenging it can be to attribute a measurable action or input, to a particular outreach effort or tactic – for example, did those new donations come in because of a media interview or a mailing by the development department? Do we know if more donations came in from a particular part of the country than another? Where are web hits coming from and why? Do we know the demographics of our site users? We also talked about social media advertising and using A/B testing to look at ad performance, as well as gathering data from lots of sources and creating streamlined results reports for “the boss” that emphasize key achievements but not busywork.

I suggested we need to take a holistic view of measurement and evaluation, looking at many data inputs – from media relations to social media to member relations, fundraising or other types of engagement.  We also discussed that “success” for a given campaign could look very different based on what your objectives are. For example, if you care about raising money, then an ask for donations (and actual resulting donations) might be very important to your organization and to your definition of success. If your objective is greater public awareness, then a clear description of a program and what it does,  might be more important to you in a news story. Growing an email list might be more important to you right now, or connecting with long-term donors could be more valuable right now. Whatever your objective is, is where you need to measure. There is no one size fits all automated solution, as much as many people will try to sell you systems that do lots of great things with bells and whistles. Brigitte also mentioned the Barcelona Principles, which reject ad value equivalencies, and embrace a broader interpretation of how we define success in PR.

We had great discussions with all 3 rounds of attendees at our table and I was thrilled to catch up with some old friends and colleagues as well. See our slides below. They were just a jumping off point to the discussion – which was fast and furious. Contact me if you’d like to talk further about comprehensive evaluation and measurement for a communications program or campaign and how Steppingstone LLC might help.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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Stock Images: 21 Sites For Free Photos & Where to Buy When You Have To

The demand for stock images is going up for nonprofits, trade associations and small businesses. More images are needed for social media channels, videos, publications, and other materials. We all need to get stock images or artwork to jazz things up and vary what people are seeing. Sometimes, you need to hunt for just the right image that resonates or expresses what you want to say.

One way to get yourself into trouble, is by going to Google Images and helping yourself to whatever comes up. Your organization or business can open itself up to legal liability by doing so. The solution is simple: stock photography. Stock images are a great option for the time-crunched or when you just need one photo to crank out a project.  You can also build up a library of images to select from when you have a big project or need choices.

A few tips on looking for stock images:

  • Think about photo orientation and your needs. Many photos used in social media formats look best in horizontal orientation. Website layouts and needs may require horizontal or vertical photos. Consider your need before you hit download.
  • Expect to be registered. Whether it’s a free site or a paid one, expect that you will need to set up an account. A few of the free sites do not require registration, but many do, especially if you are downloading a lot of images.
  • Read any subscription, credit, or purchasing choices carefully. Make sure you know what you are paying for. If you need a lot of images, a monthly subscription might make sense. If you just need one or two, a few credits or pay as you go may be more practical. If credits expire or you need to cancel a subscription before a renewal date – set a reminder in your calendar so you don’t forget.
  • Watch where you click on the free stock image sites. Many of these sites are sponsored by a site with subscriptions and they will advertise other photos (usually labeled) that are for sale to you.
  • Always check the licensing options tied to the photo. Some licenses will not allow images to be featured prominently on merchandise without the purchase of an extended license. Others may only allow up to a certain number of views or downloads.

Here’s my list of places to get stock images:

21 Places to Get Free Stock Images

Many of these photographs are free from copyright restrictions or licensed under creative commons public domain dedication. This means you can copy, modify, distribute and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission. But you should always check the license associated with the photo, even on the free sites. Some photos may be free, but will require attribution.

Burst – has some nice photos in certain niche fields. I like browsing their collections to see what’s available. I’ve not had a lot of luck for certain subjects.

Freestocks – artsy photos in a handful of categories.

Death to Stock – every month they send you via email 10 “not” stock photos. Easy signup. Gotta love their pluck.

Foodies Free – more than 800 free stock photos of food.

Gratisography – offers stock photos in bundles that you can download. Love their animals bundle. For some of my stock needs for particular objects, I’ve not found them helpful, but they have some pretty stuff.

ISO Republic – bills itself as free stock photos for creatives – and they have some great ones!

Kaboompics – Great quality on the images and their search engine tool is better than some of the other free stock sites – allowing you to search by photo orientation. One unique thing they do – they add a color palette with free graphics for download to images (you can also select the quick download option for just the photo).

Life of Pix – beautiful and artistic images. They also offer free video at Life of Vids.

Makerbook – offers a package of 71 free photos for download.

MMT Stock – free photos organized in collections.

Negative Space – images organized by topic. For personal or commercial projects – all Creative Commons Zero (CC0) licensed.

Pexels – All photos are licensed under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license. This means the pictures are completely free to be used for any legal purpose. I find the library to be a bit small, but if you just need 1 or 2 images, it works.

PicJumbo – Offers 1500 photos for free. For free images, they do not require registration before downloading. It sells access to premium images.

PikWizard – Offers 100,000 free photos (no log in required to download, but there is a pop-up you have to close every time you download) with 20,000 images exclusive to the site. Free to use without attribution. Organizers aim to reach 1 million images (that’s a great goal).

Pixabay – this is my all time favorite free stock image library. They have some great materials, and you can even buy them a cup of coffee! The image featured with this post is from Pixabay and is one of the 410,000 images they offer.

Shot Stash – you can sign up to get new photos every week. Images are organized on the site in 8 categories.

Skitter Photo – public domain images. I haven’t found objects that I need, but lots of other choices.

Stock Free Images – they bill themselves as the largest free image site online with 1.7 million images.

Stock Snap – Check out their trending feature to see what is most popular. They will send you a weekly email with their most popular photos if you sign up. I find their images to be nicely curated and good quality.

Styled Stock – stock photos made with female entrepreneurs and marketing to women in mind.

Unsplash – lots of interesting images and no registration required for download.

Paid Stock Images: Where to Buy When You Need To

Adobe Stock Photo – allows you to download 10 standard license images per month on their basic $29.99 plan.  They have a library of 90 million images and offer templates and video as well. If you need an extended license for an image – expect to pay a bit more per image.

Big Stock Photo – allows you to download 5 images per day on its cheapest $79 monthly subscription (that’s 150 images per month). Their library includes 57 million photos. If you need to bulk up your personal collection quickly, this may be a good route if the images fit your needs. They offer a 35 images free promotion.

Brown Stock Imaging – if you need images to represent or reach out to a diverse audience, this is a great site for you and costs are reasonable, often only $25-$45 per image.

Deposit Photos – this is one of my new favorites. Offers a library of 60 million images and their monthly subscriptions start at $29 for 30 images, and you can buy additional images for just $1 a piece.

Dreamstime – sells credit packages that you can use for downloads. While they typically run a five images free introductory offer, their packages rapidly go up in cost – with a one month package for 750 images per month for $197/month.

iStock photo – images in the essentials collection are as low as $12 each but prices go up from there with Signature images going for a premium. The library uses credits that you purchase. It also sells high-definition video. A month long subscription for signature images (10) is $99 and a month long subscription for only essentials images (10) is $40. This library is built by Getty Images.

MegaPixl – they bill themselves as offering a no monthly downloads limit subscription plan. However, it’s pretty much impossible to view the subscription options without giving them your email address, which I personally find to be a turnoff. Hopefully they will change this soon. They offer a one month free subscription.

Shutterstock – is an industry standard with plenty of vector, photo and video available. Subscriptions start at $29 per month for 10 images and go up from there. They say their library includes more than 100 million photos. There are on demand download and team subscription options too.

Storyblocks – offers 400,000 images for download and purchase, as well as video and audio. They offer up to 20 downloads per day. Pexel users can get 7 days with free access. Their Marketplace section gives photo sellers 100% of the purchase price (many of the major stock sites only pay photographers pennies on the download). They offer 115,000 HD videos, 400,000 images, and 110,000 audio tracks. An annual plan is $99/year and gives you rights to their 400,000 image library. Annual plan members get a 60% discount on marketplace photos, making them often $3.99 apiece.

Talk to Us
What free or paid stock image sites work for you?
What do you look for when selecting a stock image?

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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Writing a Letter to the Editor: 9 Tips for Success

I once spent hours going back and forth with a client over a letter to the editor. They wanted it to be just right for their president and CEO to sign. They littered clean copy with jargon and industry insider language and I kept taking out all the muck, and made the message simple and on point. Finally, we reached final draft form and I was delighted to declare the letter “done.” Then they told me that they had their CEO sign it and that they put it in a mailbox with a stamp and mailed it.

I wanted to pound my head on the wall. Because I knew their letter would never be published. No newspaper in its right mind was going to re-type that letter and publish it.

Because the deal with letters to the editor is – more letters are submitted than will ever fit in the publication in any reasonable time period.

The truth is – even good letters to the editor can be rejected because there is not enough space for them. While a handful of submissions are delusional screeds written by potential serial killers on cereal boxes, many submissions are thoughtful, make a point and address a matter of public interest. And sadly, many will never be published.

Thankfully, that incident with the printed letter to the editor was a few years ago. And I hope that client is wiser today and would not make the same rookie mistake.

If you are serious about getting your letter published, you should do everything in your power to not only write good copy, but to also make it as easy as possible for your letter to be chosen. Not submitting your letter electronically creates a barrier to its publication. A printed letter gives an over-stressed op-ed staff a reason to say no.

Instead, you need to give them every opportunity to say yes. I’ve written letters with clients that have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and many other publications. Here are my tips on how to write a great letter to the editor and up your chances for publication.

Tip: #1: Respond to something the newspaper published. Some of the best letters respond to an article or column published by the newspaper – offering a new insight, big reactions, or something of value that moves public discussion of an issue forward.

Yes, if you have an important issue to bring up that you feel the newspaper has ignored, by all means bring it up in a letter to the editor.

Tip #2: Be timely. Many people find it easier to write a good letter to the editor when they are fired up about the topic, so don’t delay. This is no time to take your time. If you see an issue referenced in the newspaper that matters to you or your organization, small business, or association, you only have a couple of days to get a letter to the editor drafted and submitted.

In larger organizations – a cumbersome approval process can introduce delays. Do yourself a favor and streamline your approval process for letters to the editor internally (before you need it), so you can get strong copy drafted, approved and submitted quickly.

Tip #3: Stick to the topic at hand with great enthusiasm. This is no time for verbosity. Be pithy.  And interesting. Express outrage, alarm, concern, dismay, sadness, joy, or praise as needed.

Address the topic squarely. Spout evidence in support of your position. Include research and statistics if you can. Pose a question or angle not considered in coverage.  Say something that forwards knowledge or discussion on the topic. Clarify a point that was muddled or ignored previously.

Tip #4: Tie in your credentials or expertise. Don’t overdo name-dropping (and definitely don’t include your CV or resume), but your opinion carries more weight if you have a degree, experience, or other credentials that relate to the topic at hand.

Work in professional titles, degrees, or organization affiliations if possible. If you are writing about something you know a lot about – reference your experience in the letter. Many newspapers will list an organization or title after your name if your letter is selected for publication, so this can also be great visibility for your organization or company (just realize that your opinion will be linked to your company if this happens, so be sure you are comfortable with that affiliation).

Tip #5: If you are trying to hold a mirror up to someone (positively or negatively) – use their names. Whether it’s a corporation, an organization, an elected official, or someone else in a position of influence or power, mention their name in your letter.

The person or company you are referencing will be more likely to read your letter if you reference them by name. Many larger companies and personalities use a daily google news search or a media monitoring service to track coverage of an issue. So even if they are a major entity not based in your community with a heavy presence, they may see your letter after it is published.

Tip #6: Respect the word count. Most newspapers post word count limits for letters to the editor. If the word count limit is 200 words or 300 words, do your best to not go over the limit.

If you have great ideas, but write too much, you are still unpublished. If the limit for letters is 200 words and you submit a 600 word essay and they don’t have space but like your idea – they will to cut down your letter dramatically. Do you want for them to decide which points are most important and which ones to cut? Or would you rather make that decision? A time-strapped staff may not have time to trim your letter down. Nor will they have time to negotiate with you about its shrinkage. Instead, they may opt to run a letter that is under the word count limit. Do yourself a favor and trim the word count down below the guideline listed before you submit your letter.

Tip #7: Proofread your letter. Be merciless. Read your draft out loud to yourself. Does it make sense and get to the point? Does it offer new information, clarification, something interesting or unique? Is every sentence needed? Is every word necessary? Are your points clear?

Ask a friend or colleague to review your letter if possible and provide feedback.

Tip #8: Follow any other directions for submissions. Many newspapers will require submissions to include a street mailing address (not to be published) because they want to know where you are in relationship to their coverage area. They also may request a daytime phone number, an after hours phone number, and an email address. Just make sure that you provide only your authenticated data to avoid inconsistencies from stirring up later. Why take the risk when you can send certified mail? They may want to call you to confirm that you wrote the letter and discuss any possible edits or clarifications with you.

The newspaper staff cannot do these things if you do not include the address they requested, or do not list the contact information they want. Do not give them another reason to say no. Follow the directions.

Tip #9: Submit your letter to the email address specified.  Sometimes clients think they are gaming the system by emailing the editor for the op-ed section instead of the generic letters@ newspaper account (even if the generic address is specified in submission instructions).

This strategy can work and get your letter in front of the corrects eyeballs, but it can also back fire. Often assistants are empowered to review anything coming into the general account and move it along faster. Sometimes head cheeses with decision-making powers are out of the office and not reading their email. The letter may be overlooked in a a personal inbox. Do yourself a favor and follow the directions.

Resources to Help You
How to Submit a Letter to the Editor (New York Times). Note the 150-175 word count.
Tips for Writing Effective Letters to the Editor (Berkeley Media Center)
Writing Letters to the Editor (Community Toolbox)
Writing an Effective Letter to the Editor (Union of Concerned Scientists)

Talk to Us
What is your experience with submitting a letter to the editor? What strategies have worked for you?
Do you have any tips or experiences you can share?

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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Embargoes & Exclusives: The Ins & Outs of High Stakes PR

In journalism and public relations, a news embargo or press embargo is a request that the information or news provided not be published until a certain date and time, or before certain conditions are met.

Typically, an embargo is set up by emailing a news release to reporters with “embargoed until date/time” written on the release near the top and in bold (often right under or above the headline). It is also usually noted in the email subject line of the news release. And it is sometimes just offered verbally over the phone.

Some journalists view embargoes as helpful tools that give them a head start on a story. Journalists attending trade shows where many major product announcements may be made, can use embargoed releases to get ahead on their coverage.

Reporters trying to digest a complex report or research study may also benefit from an embargo – getting time to review data and information. In health and science journalism embargoes are common, as journals and news services distribute research findings in advance so journalists have time to review the materials, conduct interviews and write stories.

There is even a blog called “Embargo Watch” that delights in sharing what happens when am embargo is broken in the science field. It also poses a bigger question – asking if embargoes contribute to building more informed journalism or not (the jury is out on that one). Nature publishes its views on embargoes for authors, as does the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). Of special note to those worried about embargoes causing leaks, NEJM notes: “A reporter may share an embargoed study with a source for comment. If this occurs, the reporter is responsible for ensuring that those with whom the article is shared agree to uphold the embargo.”

It’s important that the playing field be fair for all the media outlets participating in an embargo. You might brief some outlets ahead of others – but when it comes to publishing, everyone should have the same opportunity to publish the information after it is made publicly available.

I have occasionally gotten calls from reporters seeking an embargoed report that is rumored to be out on the grapevine. Some journalists view embargoes warily. They worry about competitors publishing before they do. And they know that public relations professionals have little recourse once a story is out. The offending journalist who broke the embargo can be excluded from future embargoed release lists (and so can their media outlet), but the reality is that if the reporter works for a media outlet that is valuable to the organization or business issuing the news, they may face no repercussions for breaking an embargo.

Other journalists simply find embargoes annoying. It can be a lot of trouble to keep track of an embargo and deal with the hassle of it. Occasionally news outlets will have policies on embargoes and their willingness to abide by them. It doesn’t help either when PR staffs use “embargo” for things that really are not time-sensitive or significant – every piece of news you issue cannot be under an embargo.

“Herd embargoes” where releases are emailed under embargo to literally hundreds or thousands of journalists – can be particularly despised. With many outlets involved, it’s too easy for a story to break early before the agreed upon time. The pressure to publish first online can be extreme and the more outlets involved in an embargo – the more likely there will be a leak.

Some outlets have responded that they will no longer respect embargoes. In the technology field, broken embargoes became such a problem in 2008 that TechCrunch vowed it would not observe embargoes any longer. In 2009, PR News reported that the Wall Street Journal would no longer honor embargoes unless it was granted an exclusive, because breaking embargoes was becoming too common. Embargoes are still used today but it’s smart to research in advance what an outlet’s policies are.

I advise clients to research the outlets they want to send information to in advance and to talk about why they really want or need an embargo. Do not just use a huge list pulled out of Cision/Vocus or Meltwater. Go through the list line by line and pick carefully. Plan ahead so you can give reporters enough time to get information ready before the embargo day and time. The goal of an embargo is to generate informed coverage – so 24 hours in advance may not be enough time – unless your tidbit of information is so juicy (or short so it’s not a hassle) reporters will instantly drop everything to create a story.

The exclusive. Sometimes it makes sense to issue select information early to just one reporter at a media outlet. This is known as granting an exclusive. For the reporter given an exclusive, you might also make select people available early for interviews before the news is issued, or offer a draft report or other information to aid the reporter working on an exclusive.

People have lots of reasons for giving exclusives. Perhaps you are convinced that only that reporter at that media outlet can do a good job on this particular story. Or you know that people who need to pay attention to your story will be more likely to notice if, it’s in that particular outlet or publication. Perhaps you are trying to cultivate a good relationship with the reporter and want to give him or her extra time ahead of competitors because you want to work with the reporter on something else down the road.

If you are the subject of a scandal or a matter of public interest who just wants to talk to one person (and get it over with), an exclusive may help you and your situation. For a subject of intense media interest, an exclusive can burst the bubble of interest by having your story show up once. If it’s done well, then it deflates the other outlets who might pursue you. But the media outlet must be big enough for it to matter, and the reporter should be someone you trust. Timing is key – if it’s too long since your story became public – this strategy can backfire – drawing more attention to you now – than you want.

I have used this strategy in the past when advising people in difficult circumstances, and while their situations were so challenging they had no truly positive options or choices available to them – in one case, doing a major front page exclusive with a top five newspaper deflated media interest in their terrible situation and gave them a year of privacy to deal with the things that had happened to them that shouldn’t have. It wasn’t perfect, but it was enough to buy time.

Setting up an exclusive is typically best done by phone or in person, in the morning (or early in the reporter’s shift when they are less likely to be on immediate deadline). You might offer the information “on background” (read more about what this means) and stipulate that the news cannot be broken before a certain time.

There are some risks with embargoes and exclusives – and the stakes can be quite high. Here are a few of the challenges involved.

It only takes one mis-timed report – to mess up your neatly scripted public announcement plan. Realize that if one media outlet breaks the embargo or somehow gets ahead of your promised exclusive and publishes first, your news will be out early. Other reporters will likely break the embargo too, if someone else publishes first. The more news outlets involved, the more likely this will happen. Expect a few annoyed calls from journalists. And if someone publishes ahead of a reporter you had promised an exclusive (perhaps they got information from another source or a leak), then you can expect for that reporter and his her outlet to be very upset.

It can either strengthen, or completely devastate your relationship with the media. Executed well and according to plan, embargoes and exclusives can deepen your relationships with reporters and the outlets they serve – these relationships bank in trust. A bungled embargo or exclusive can strain those relationships.

Be cautious with bloggers. Bloggers who do not have backgrounds in journalism may not know what an embargo means and may not abide by requests for information to be held in confidence until a certain date and time. Be even more cautious with an exclusive.

Timing is key. For an embargo and an exclusive, you want to release the information early enough that reporters have time to do their work, conduct interviews, review materials, etc. At the same time, the more people who know about something, the more likely the beans will spill. Ideally an embargo should be issued at least 2-5 days in advance. An exclusive may involve days, or even weeks, of advance work

The cat can be let out of the bag – to other organizations and even adversaries. Reporters who are writing about the topic under embargo may talk with sources to get quotes who are outside of your organization or business. On some issues this may not matter, but for some it really can be a problem. If you trust the reporter(s) you are working with – and calling a source is really going to be a problem (e.g. the potential source could quickly maneuver in a day or two to make your about to be filed lawsuit irrelevant) make that concern known to the reporter.

Other voices may chime in. The involvement of other agencies or organizations may be a positive for the organization issuing the embargo, or a negative. It can take attention away from you, add a chorus of critics, or bolster support for you.

If your organization is impacted by an embargoed report or an impending announcement being issued by someone else, getting a call from a journalist in advance, gives you time to formulate a response before the news is out publicly. This can be a major public relations advantage, as you are now ahead of the curve (by a little bit) instead of behind it when the story breaks.

In closing, my feeling is that success with embargoes and exclusives – all boils down to good old-fashioned public relations: relationships with journalists. Research carefully who you involve in an embargo or offer an exclusive to. Always work with reporters you trust and know well. It’s also important you know the publications you are pitching. Know what their deadlines are and what their publishing cycle is. These issues may influence your embargo or exclusive and its success.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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Press Release Timing: When Should You Send Out Your News?

You can have the most well-written and newsworthy press release in the world, but if you send it out on a bad day or at the wrong time, you may hurt your opportunities for news coverage. The day and time you issue a press release matter.

The key questions to consider are:

  • When will editors and reporters reading their email be most likely to see my release? (probably 8am-9am)
  • When will editors and reporters most likely be too busy to pay attention to what I am sending out?
  • If I am holding an event to make a big announcement, what is the best time to issue an invitation to media to attend, and what is the best time to issue a release sharing the outcome of the event?

It’s important to think about work flow. Most people check their email when they first arrive at work. So if your news release is in the digital pile (and near the top) in the morning, you have a better chance. If reporters need to pitch a story from your release in a 10:00 am editorial meeting, they will need your release before then. Journalists are like many other workers – they take time off on the weekends and holidays to see their families and friends – so certain days and dates are best avoided.

In an ideal world – your news release should make the job of the journalist easier. Not inflict stress. So schedule your press release accordingly. Here’s the best advice we have (take with a grain of salt, today’s 24/7 news cycle moves at such a frenetic pace that we are seeing reporters working super crazy hours and some releases are going out at crazy hours and not the ideal times):

Best days of the week to issue a press release: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. A 2013 review of MarketWired releases found that Tuesday was the busiest day of the week for press releases – meaning your release is competing with lots of other news traffic for attention. You might fare better on Wednesday or Thursday, but try out a few options and see what works for you.

Moderately ok day of the week to issue a press release: Monday. Yes, lots of releases may come out that day, but there is something to be said for your release being at the beginning of the week and the top of the pile.

Worst days of the week to issue a press release: Friday (afternoon/evening especially), Saturday, Sunday

Best time of day to issue a press release: 8am-9:30am (most likely to be seen when people clear their morning email before news editorial meetings. At the same time, there is some flux in this. At this time of day, you are also competing with many other releases on the wire services (if you use one).

Dates to avoid: April Fool’s Day (April 1), Labor Day, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving Day (and the days before and after), Christmas (December 25, but avoid 3 days before and any day through January 1).

Should you issue a release later in the day? Sometimes you do have to issue news later in the day. The world is not going to end if this happens. But use commonsense. If you expect actual interest from a television news outlet and the story is time-sensitive, then don’t issue your release an hour before they go on the air or during their news show.

If you expect newspaper coverage – issuing a release in the late afternoon when reporters are on deadline is traditionally bad. HOWEVER, with journalists increasingly asked to produce more content (especially for online purposes) – this also means that there is opportunity for a well-written release to be used by a reporter or blogger any time of day (work/life balance is squeezed on many fronts, including in journalism). If you release information later in the day – make sure your work is top-notch and clear as day – reporters may not have as much time to follow up and be stressed to produce copy.

Realize that news outlets plan coverage in advance. Even if reporters like a story idea, they may need to run it past an editor or assignment manager. An interview may need to be arranged by phone or in person. The reporter may need to locate other sources. All of this takes time. It take an hour, a day, a week or months.

Get your ducks in a row in advance before sending your release out. Make sure key spokespeople are available right after the release goes out. Have numbers, background materials and suggestions for other sources ready. Don’t muddle up the process by being ill-prepared. Sometimes circumstances force you to go out with a release without some key supporting materials – scramble to get this information organized as fast as possible in case you need it.

The Friday night news dump – it’s a real thing. If you have unflattering news about yourself that you are required to issue, the traditional advice given out by public relations professionals is that you should release it on Friday afternoon or early evening (known as the Friday night news dump), when it is least likely to be noticed. While there is some debate over whether this is a good strategy for company earnings reports (see report on this matter), it remains a well-used strategy for many other types of news, such as product recalls.

For example, on Friday, August 25, 2017 late in the day, the White House formally issued directions for a ban on transgender members of the military, and later in the evening, U.S. President Donald Trump issued a controversial pardon. The fact that this was done while a major hurricane was closing in on the Texas coast meant there was plenty of distraction in the news media space. It was still covered, but perhaps not to the extent it might have been.

Contacting media on the weekend – Is it ever ok to contact reporters over the weekend? Yes, if you have real breaking news of high interest to reporters, you should send out a release and make calls (to news desks). This happens sometimes for government agencies who are coping with a threat to public safety, or for organizations or businesses that have had something truly catastrophic happen to them that is of high interest to the media and can’t wait. If you have important information that impacts public safety or breaking news that is highly likely to be covered by the media – you should send it out as soon as you can. Very, very few news releases meet these requirements – but if yours does – send it out when it needs to go out, even if it’s the weekend.

Resources

Market (In)Attention and Earnings Announcement Timing

Talk to Us: What do you think is the best time or day to issue a news release? What has worked for you and your nonprofit organization, association or business?

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven

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Media Relations: “Off the Record” and “On Background” Explained

Should I go “off the record”? It’s one of the most common questions I hear from clients I assist with media relations training and support. Even just curious people who find out I work in media relations often want to know how going off the record or “speaking on background” works. What “off the record” means has been in the headlines lately, because former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci disputed whether he was “off the record” in an obscenity-laced tirade to a New Yorker reporter. In Washington, D.C., we even have a lovely upscale bar at the Hay-Adams Hotel called “Off the Record.”

I’ve talked with journalists “off the record” and “on background.” I’ve advised clients on navigating confidential information sharing many times. Using “off the record” is not a tool to be used by a novice. You have to know what you are doing and be clear.

You must be intentional about what you do and don’t want to share. Absent an “off the record” or “on background” agreement, anything you say to a journalist or captured by a recording device they use, can be reported on. In media relations training, we always warn CEOs, interviewees and spokespeople that anything they say in front of or to a journalist could be used in a report. We tell them that even if a camera, phone, microphone, or recorder does not appear to be recording, anything said near one should be considered “on the record.” If you don’t want to see the information you have in print or on the airwaves, do not say it, allude to it, or hint about it. Keep your lips zipped.

Why people go off the record or on background. So even though people like me tell you it’s safest to be “on the record” or to keep your mouth shut – why would you go “off” the record? People I’ve met and assisted have a variety of reasons for doing this. Sometimes they work for a large government agency or have been hurt by something or someone.

Sometimes people go off the record or on background because they have come across information or wrongdoing that they feel should be publicized, because it is the only way to reform or fix a system or process that affects other people. Sometimes they have been mis-treated and been retaliated against for trying to fix the problem – and they want to see the wrong righted, but they also want to protect a job, family, organization, or reputation.

The information itself may be of compelling public interest. It may reveal corruption, crime, falsehoods, mis-management, problems in government, or something else. Information shared off the record should relate to a current news story, or be so unique, scandalous, of public interest, or unusual – it should be something that a journalist would salivate to cover. Absolutely, it must also be accurate and true information. This is no place for falsehoods.

The Associated Press defines “on the record” and “off the record” in these ways and I like the clarity they give to the terms, which can seem murky when you look at other sources:

On the record. The information can be used with no caveats, quoting the source by name.

Off the record. The information cannot be used for publication.

Background. The information can be published but only under conditions negotiated with the source. Generally, the sources do not want their names published but will agree to a description of their position. AP reporters should object vigorously when a source wants to brief a group of reporters on background and try to persuade the source to put the briefing on the record. These background briefings have become routine in many venues, especially with government officials.

Deep background. The information can be used but without attribution. The source does not want to be identified in any way, even on condition of anonymity.

In general, information obtained under any of these circumstances can be pursued with other sources to be placed on the record. This is a key point. Don’t be surprised if you tip off a reporter and they come up with a way to cover the story without you – if you told them about a good story and didn’t want to be quoted or alluded to.

Information should be verifiable and accurate. If you choose to share information off the record or on background, you should expect for your information to be vetted and corroborated by the journalist. While there is a tendency to sometimes see “unnamed sources” in reporting about the White House or political topics, the information is often verified by using multiple sources. Skilled reporters are savvy at verifying information without revealing their sources.

You should only tango with someone you trust – this is not a dance for the faint of heart. My feeling is that you should never go “off the record” or “on background” with someone you don’t trust. It is a big deal to put your reputation, career or even freedom in the hands of a journalist and his or her ethics. So you need to trust the person you talk to.

Journalists have a code of ethics (this one is from the Society for Professional Journalists) and as a group, they pride themselves on protecting sources. News outlets often have a code of ethics for their journalists and requirements for “off the record” and “on background” or anonymous sources. It’s helpful to look this information up online so you can understand the boundaries the reporter you want to talk to might be operating within. NPR addresses anonymous sources in its code of ethics. In NPR’s case (and at many other media outlets as well), editors are involved in decisions to grant sources anonymity and go off the record.

ProPublica’s code of ethics is a good example of how a news agency approaches using anonymous source. It gives you a good idea of the perspective they bring:

We strive to identify all the sources of our information, shielding them with anonymity only when they insist upon it and when they provide vital information — not opinion or speculation; when there is no other way to obtain that information; and when we know the source is knowledgeable and reliable. To the extent that we can, we identify in our stories any important bias such a source may have. If the story hinges on documents, as opposed to interviews, we describe how the documents were obtained, at least to the extent possible. We do not say that a person declined comment when he or she is already quoted anonymously. Editors have an obligation to know the identity of unnamed sources in our stories, so that editors and reporters can jointly assess the appropriateness of using their information. Sources need to understand this practice.

This is no time for flights of fancy. No reputable news outlet will allow you to speak under a false name or pay you for information. So keep your feet on the ground and focus on being truthful and accurate. The stakes are high. The one trump card journalists have in this crazy game is public interest. They will do their best not to throw you to the wolves and I’ve seen journalists go to great lengths to protect their sources.

Know the reporter and outlet you want to talk to. You may not know the reporter personally, but you can get a sense of a reporter from his or her work. Research who is covering the topic or issue you want to share information about. Do they work for the publication that the powers-that-be will pay attention to? Who has a reputation for listening? Read what he or she writes, or watch or listen to what he or she produces. What is the reporter’s style in reporting? What is the news outlet’s policy on reporting with anonymous sources, “off the record” information, or “on background” remarks? Much of this information can often be found online.

Prepare before you call or set up the meeting. You need to get your head straight. I sometimes work with people in challenging situations. Inevitably the person in this situation is aggrieved, distressed, wronged, traumatized, and wrapped up in so many details and emotions – they’ve been on such a journey to get to this point – that it’s hard for them sometimes to be clear and focus. But clarity is important. Jot down your key points and think through what you want to say. Be clear about how you feel about being referenced (or not referenced). What about your story makes it compelling? What hard evidence do you have or can you point the journalist to?

If you need help preparing, work with someone you trust. The best way to keep something quiet is not to tell anyone. Secrecy is important if you are really serious about staying “off the record” or on “deep background.”  That means you can’t discuss this with very many people. Ideally you should discuss it with no one. But sometimes people need help getting ready. The more people who have the information and know the source, the more likely the information will leak and be out of your control. If you need public relations counsel to prepare and get your head straight, seek it out with someone you trust. This is not a job for the junior communications staffer, but a seasoned  public relations practitioner with experience. If you hire public relations counsel, make sure there is a confidentiality clause in the contract.

Having an upfront agreement with the journalist is important. There is no “off the record” in hindsight.  Here’s how it should go: You say to the journalist or reporter over the phone or in person (do not do this by email) – is now a good time to talk? Wait for an affirmative. Then you say, “I’d like to talk off the record (or on background) about something with you.” Because not everyone agrees on what “on the record” or “on background” means, you will want to clarify what the term means to you (use one of the definitions above). You might say something like “To me that means…” Wait for the journalist to agree verbally to having a conversation that is “off the record” or “on background.” You are now “off the record” or “on background” and can spill the beans. If the journalist does not agree, say thank you for their time and get off the phone or leave.

Be cautious. I typically recommend first talking verbally or in person. Do not hand over documents before you have an agreement about going off the record or on background in place. After the agreement is in place, if you have inside knowledge, you can tip off the reporter to research or sources. You may be able to tell the reporter to ask for information via FOIA or public records requests that he or she might not have thought of. Some media outlets (see the Washington Post’s page) have information on their websites about how to share information with them safely and confidentially. Sites like https://www.checkpeople.com/public-records can often help in these cases as well. Just make sure that you’ve done your homework and know your rights.

Talk with the reporter about how you might be referred to in reporting, if at all. If the reporter is interested in the story, talk with them about how your identity will be protected. Even if you are “off the record” the information you share could point a finger back to you inadvertently. Typically, someone quoted in a news story as speaking on background is identified as ‘a source,’ ‘an XYZ department official,’ ‘a government office official,’ ‘a senior administrator,’ etc. The reporter will often try to couch how they refer to the source in a way that illustrates their credibility, but without giving away the identity of the source. Reporters also will want to set a context for why you are not identified.

If a reporter asks you to speak on background about something, consider the ramifications. Occasionally, I have had reporters ask a client to speak “on background” about a topic that the client was knowledgeable of, but not seeking attention for. In these situations, I talk with the client about the request and we decide whether or not to participate. These conversations often lead the reporter to new reporting angles and allow the source to speak candidly.

Is it safe to share information off the record or on background? There is always some risk to sharing sensitive information, but there can also be great rewards. Typically, reporters value their sources and will go to great lengths – some even risk jail – to protect their sources. They won’t yield to bullying and newspapers retain lawyers on staff for a reason – to protect the rights of a free press. Reporters are also fierce about protecting their sources because they don’t want to lose other sources (word can and will get around). They won’t want to damage their reputation among their colleagues either. Bungling an anonymous source can mean a journalist even loses his or her job. And they don’t want to cause harm to their sources.

There can be real risk. A young government contractor who leaked information on Russian interference in 2016 in the U.S. election system to The Intercept is currently in jail and awaiting trial, because she printed out documents on a color printer (color printers put tiny unnoticeable dots on documents that can identify when they were printed) and mailed them to a media outlet. In verifying her story, the reporter sent snapshots of the pages to a government source, who reported it up the food chain. She also emailed the media outlet from a personal email account on a work computer. Don’t do these things if you really don’t want to be caught. The publication is assisting in her legal defense and has re-evaluated its policies on anonymous sources and news gathering because of what happened but the reality is – she is in a big mess.

Listen to your gut. Sharing information “off the record” or “on background” is not a decision to be made lightly. Your intellect and logic play a role – but so does your gut. Consider the risks, but also the rewards. Listen to your intuition and do what feels right to you.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven

 

 

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Presentation: Make Headlines for All the Right Reasons

Media relations can be challenging, even for those working in criminal justice or law enforcement, who interact with journalists regularly and rely on them to inform the public about information. In this July 2017 presentation at the annual conference for the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP), Ami Neiberger-Miller offers an overview of media relations and how to build positive relationships with journalists that can benefit drug court programs.

 

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven

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Media Relations: Press Releases Don’t Beat Good Conversations

As a media relations expert, I am routinely asked how to craft pitching angles or get a story placed with a blog, publication or broadcast outlet. Of course, if you have news – something that is timely, breaking, uniquely interesting, or of great public value – you can often achieve coverage and placement. But what about when the story is softer and you are trying to stand out in a sea of others?

Perhaps you are a company that wants to highlight your CEO. Or a nonprofit that wants to share its good work. Or an association with a membership base that wants focus on its issues.

Inc. editor Jane Berentson recently wrote, “A press release will never beat a good conversation” and she’s got a great point.

But how do you have those conversations? Public relations professionals calling media after a targeted distribution often get dumped into voice mails and can’t have those conversations. I’ve talked with junior staff at major firms who talk about making call after call, not because those calls earn ink or conversations, but because the firm wants to report numbers to the client.

But how do you get to conversations with reporters and editors if you don’t know them? You get there by being authentic and focusing on relationship-building. Here’s a few tips.

#1 – Abandon your notions of what media relations outreach has to be. It can’t all be about numbers. When you are focused on churning out numbers and not authentic relationship-building for your client, organization or business with the media – you have lost sight of the goal.

#2 – Don’t treat your media relations like content marketing. In this day and age with content marketing – organizations are sending out pre-written stories that get picked up by bloggers and smaller newspapers who need to fill space. But the mass distribution methods we use for placing pre-written stories, don’t work when we have a softer story that needs one-on-one attention from a reporter or editor.

#3 – Set clear expectations with the boss, the client or whoever is above you and cares about the pitch. Talk with the powers that be and make sure they understand – authentic media relations is about being real and targeting – not mass blasting. This means they will need to accept that stories take time to place. Yes, we can score helpful tips on a lifestyle issue or product in smaller publications – but the in-depth feature they would love to see will take time to pitch and place.

#4 – You begin with finding the right reporter or editor for the story you want to share. You start with targeting the right reporter or editor for the story you have. This might require reviewing similar news on the topic, cyberstalking research, and looking over work they’ve recently written or produced.

#5 – Craft a solid pitch that is authentic, not fake. Reach out to the reporter or editor and indicate you’ve read something they’ve written, what your story idea is, and say something interesting about why it’s important/unique/different/special/offers lessons for others/relates to some bigger pressing issue in the headlines now. So often sample pitches I review from communications staff are lackluster and lack pizzazz, shine or any degree of a story hook. Don’t use generic terms like “your publication” in your pitch (a dead give away that you mass blasted your pitch). Don’t make grandiose claims that won’t hold water. Talk about people, not just programs or initiatives. Especially on a softer story – reporters need a voice or person to help carry the story – otherwise it will be too dry. Don’t include references to their personal lives if you happened to stumble across them while doing your research. Do include brief references to the availability of statistics (fodder for graphics or story content) or photos or video. Do be real. And don’t write too much.

#6 – Follow up with the reporter or editor and try to have a conversation. Try to call at a convenient time (mornings are often best, near broadcast times or press deadlines in late afternoon is bad). If you get them on the phone, be prepared to verbally pitch your story again – you may want your original email pitch out in front of you so you can easily reference it. Then listen. Really listen to what the reporter says. If you’re lucky and the stars align -you may walk out of this with the story you are hoping for. You might even suggest a face-to-face meeting or getting together for coffee (yes, these things do still happen even in this time-sucking crazy age).

#7 – If the reporter doesn’t respond: wait, and then cut your losses and move on with the story – but focus on relationship-building. Forward your original email and add a note at the top saying you are following up with them. If you just don’t get traction, move on to another reporter or editor in a week or so. If you really feel this is the right reporter for your topic or issue, keep him or her on your media list. Reporters are inundated with email and information today. You (or your organization or client) might still end up on an experts list they keep or land on a list of future potential story topics, even if now is not the right time. Don’t blow it by acting rudely.

#8 – Be persistent about selling the story. Do not allow discouragement to dampen your enthusiasm for the story.  If what you have on your hands is a great story, someone will want to cover it. It just may take time to find the right publication or outlet and the right person to champion it. Reporters and editors today are maxed out for time and running a few thousand miles an hour, so getting on their radars can be tough. If you are starting from no relationship, you have to take it slow. Media relations is a bit like dating – and you do sometimes hear “it’s not you, it’s a great story – but I’m covering XYZ for now and into the foreseeable future, so it’s not a good fit for me.” If you get a no and they seem friendly and like the story idea, ask if there’s someone else they can recommend. And don’t give up.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven

 

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