Simplifying Public Relations

The Salvation Army Knows How to Relate On All Fronts - That's Good PR. Flickr credit: Tojosan

Yesterday I was interviewed by at third-year college student for an assignment in one of her public relations classes.  I do about a dozen of these a year for various students and I love how each one is always different. This particular student wanted me to define what public relations is…and so I threw it back in her court to answer first. She gave a very intelligent long answer about like its caring for a brand and communicating messages effectively through the use of journalists. But I told her my answer was in the title. Public Relations is just that. Public – Relations.


It’s all about how you relate to the public, the media, colleagues, companies…public relations is about relating in any form or fashion.  It’s really that simple.

Public relations professionals are only as good as their contacts and as good as their strategies for spreading a message.  And that’s why social media is the perfect complement to public relations. Success on that platform deals with how well a person can provide engaging content.

Sometimes when looking for an answer, its right in front of your face. PR people often forget that at the end of day that it is how well we are able to communicate to others how they should write about whatever we are representing.  Therefore, for anyone starting out in the PR field or for those who are responsible for that area in their job, they should heed these simple suggestions.


(1). Don’t ever assume people will write about your product. Great content will get covered if its story is told interestingly for coverage.

(2.) A press release on its own is never a good strategy for pick up. Distributing press releases over a wire will not garner top-notch results, because you need to send it to a targeted list of people whom you know that cover that sort of product. It’s a left-right punch.

(3.) Relationships are the key to any business. Therefore, build up your followers and fans so that when you need some help in starting a movement, you have a terrific base to start from and grow upon. Keep meeting people online and in person – every connection made does present some opportunity.

Yep, it’s that simple. If you know how to relate to others, then you are on your way being a success in public relations. That’s my PR tip for the day.

Cindy Keeps It Simple

Cindy Ronzoni is a public relations veteran who has been building media relationships her entire career. She often speaks to college students and provides seminars to train small business professionals. In all her efforts, she exhorts simplicity in all that she does.


How Not Improving Can Help Your Business

Why Mess With a Greatness

Did you happen to catch today’s Wall Street Journal front page feature on paper clips? Yes, I just wrote paper clips.

At first I thought this was an odd, boring choice for a story selection, and I pondered why this premier publication would devote prime real estate to such an ordinary product.  It didn’t take me long, a couple of sentences, to get its point.  I learned that a paper clip is rare because it has withstood its classic design for over 100 years. How many things can you say that about?

This thought led me to further thought about whether we should keep certain things that work well alone and stop slapping “new improved” stickers on just about everything that gets sold or consumed.


I mean we’ve all heard this statement before, if it ain’t broken don’t fix it.

I don’t like that statement – but, in this case it certainly applies. Paper clips are still as relevant today as they were the day they were introduced into the marketplace in 1903. Sure, you can add colors to them or designs or coat them in plastic. But at the end of the day is there any better tool to fix papers without leaving a mark, to un-clog glue bottles or clean under your finger nails in a pinch?

With that being said, are there things about your business or the work that you do that you shouldn’t improve upon because they work well?


Here’s what I would say about my PR business. No matter what new whiz-bang social media tool that comes out, I don’t want to lose personal connection and phone calls. My business success lies in having connections with real people, journalists, and I’ve built up those relationships through the years by having conversations with them over the phone or in-person. That’s really my business secret, my paper clip, if you will and one that I hope to never change.


How to Write Killer Blog Content-Timeless Advice from C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis' Advice is Timeless

C.S. Lewis never ceases to amaze me. For those of you who do not know C.S. Lewis, he was a renowned theologian who taught at Oxford and Cambridge Universities and authored more than 30 books in his lifetime, including the children’s Narnia series, Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters.

C.S. Lewis’ work is revered by many around the world. In fact, so much so that his life was portrayed by actor Anthony Hopkins in feature film “Shadowlands,” and his Narnia books such as “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” have been brought to the big screen. However, not only is his work memorable, he lived his life transparently and openly shared his thoughts and struggles through his powerful pen.

His work has had a profound impact in my life and I often re-visit his words when searching for answers about life circumstances. Recently I had such a time when I needed to heed his advice and as such, stumbled upon a jewel in regards to guidelines for creating incredible content.

Whenever I attend social media events, inevitably this one question comes up every time – how do you make content that others want to read? C.S. Lewis provides the answer.

In a letter written to a schoolgirl in America, who had written (at her teacher’s suggestion) to request advice on writing, here’s what he had to say. The letter is from December 14, 1959 and his advice is spot on for the 21st Century.


C.S. Lewis’ 8 Tips for Writing Incredible Blog Content (Source: The Essential C.S. Lewis, edited by Lyle W. Dorsett)

  1. Turn off the radio. (Today that also includes the TV, Pandora, iPod, X-box, etc.)
  2. Read all the good books you can and avoid nearly all magazines. (This one is tough for me.)
  3. Always write (and read) with the ear, not the eye. (Excellent point)
  4. Write about what really interests you, whether it is real things or imaginary things, nothing else.
  5. Take great pains to be clear. Remember that though you start by knowing what you mean, the reader doesn’t, and a single ill-chosen word may lead him to a total misunderstanding. (Brilliant point)
  6. When you give up a bit of work don’t throw it away. Put it in a drawer. It may come in useful later.
  7. Don’t use a typewriter. The noise will destroy your sense of rhythm. (I think he wouldn’t mind the computer keyboards now.)
  8. Be sure you know the meaning of every word you use.

So don’t take it from me on how to write content that gets shared…use these 8 points from the literary master C.S. Lewis. Who if he were alive today, I’m sure would be answering every Facebook and Twitter post personally.  That’s the stand up man he was.

Off to do a bit more reading.




Sorry Corporate Apologies

Why Are These The Hardest Words to Write and Say? Flickr Credit: ezzan yusop

Why does sorry seem to be the hardest word for corporations to say in statements?

I have to say I got schooled by Jason Fried’s Inc. magazine article on “How to Turn a Diaster Into Gold.” Mr. Fried’s article is an excellent case study of what to do when your business under-performs and you have to fess up to your customers through social media.  Mr. Fried is the co-founder of the software firm 37signals and as such, his company recently had some problems associated with its Campfire product, which is a real-time chat tool for small businesses.  Unfortunately, this product which has been stable and reliable, recently experienced some service issues bouncing between being online and offline. This wreaked havoc with some of their customers and boy, did they hear about it.


Mr. Fried provided some great insight in the article as to how he handled the complaints and in doing so, he embarrassed me as well for he pointed out that the worst apology that any person or company could ever provide are these nine words – “We apologize for any inconvenience we may have caused.” He caught me red-handed for I’ve used that numerous times in certain situations.  Here’s what he had to say about it.

If ever there was a non-apology apology, this is it. And just about every company uses it. I Googled the phrase We apologize for any inconvenience. It came up 41 million times.

Let’s break this statement down. We apologize… Come on—when you really mean it, you say, “I’m sorry.” You don’t say, “I apologize.” If you spill hot coffee on someone, you say, “I am so, so sorry.” “I apologize” is renting the problem. “I’m sorry” is owning it. Now, to the second part of the non-apology: …for any inconvenience we may have caused . What a cop-out. For any? How about for all of it? May have caused? Don’t say maybe—say yes. Own it.

In my defense of using that dry apology, I have to say that I was at the mercy of the legal departments.  For you see in corporate America, whenever there is a crisis, the PR departments cannot work on their own…they have to work in tandem with the company’s lawyers on an approved statement. Rarely, can a corp comm department go “rogue” and write what they would like to. Every word has to be scanned and filtered and scrubbed by the legal team.  I understand why this is necessary for its the legal team that has to defend the company in court and every statement and comment will be examined in that process. (Someone should tell Charlie Sheen that!)


I agree with Mr. Fried wholeheartedly and greatly appreciate that he wrote about this subject for its given me new freedom to be more transparent with dealing with corporate guffaws.  I also agreed with his further statements.  Mr. Fried went on to say…”we’ve discovered that the more honest we are, the better our customers feel.” I have always felt honesty is the best policy – heck that’s why I named my blog that!

Here’s my tip to all those who provide messages to the public –

-When writing an apology make sure that you are being as transparent as legally possible and see if it passes this test.  Think of yourself as one of the affected customers and see how your statement would sound to you. If it sounds too much like a cover up…delete it and start over.  Use words that are appropriate to the situation and if you’re stuck the best way to always start out is to simply say “I’m Sorry.”

May I never inconvenience you again.





Joy to the Media

Jobless since June, Brian and Salena Smith currently live in the garage of Salena's mother with their two children, Isabella, 4, and Nathaniel, 2, and what possessions they could fit. Photo Credit: Dan MacMedan USA Today

As a member of the media, I’m often having to defend its merits and at times, it is a bit hard to do so when sensationalism runs rampant and ethics are called into check.  But, last week, I got a great personal Christmas present – all due to the goodness of the media.  This post is for everyone out there who is a bit jaded about the goodwill of media. It’s for those who have turned off their evening newscasts and stopped reading the newspapers because they are sick and tired of hearing about horrendous acts of violence.  This is a story that you will love — so sit back and enjoy this delicious cup of egg nog.


A couple of weeks ago I was able to help Cathy Lynn Grossman, a reporter at USA Today, find interview subjects for a cover story she was writing about joblessness at Christmas time. She was specifically requesting to talk to a husband and wife who both had lost their jobs. She also wanted to speak to church pastor who is involved in helping those unemployed.  I was thankful that she called me for I was able to connect her with my church, Whittier Area Community Church and also with Tim Tyrell-Smith, a national career development expert. From there, she was able to create her piece about being without work during the holidays.


The cover story ran Wednesday, December 22 and you can read it here, however, this post is not about the article… it is about the power of the press. For you see, from that article, the featured couple, Brian and Salena Smith, were rewarded for sharing their story with the world.  Within hours of that paper’s delivery, calls were received at both the church and USA Today’s offices from compassionate readers who wanted to financially help the couple.  People specifically contacted these organizations and made personal donations to this weary family.  When I heard this news the following day – I cried tears of joy for I had forgotten how much good can come out of what we do. I think I too had become jaded for most of my past PR experiences have been centered on raising ratings for television shows.  I had never experienced helping to raise the spirits of those less fortunate.  How incredibly wonderful that some concerned citizens in states outside of California shared their wealth with this family of four during the holiday season.  All because of a newspaper article. How wonderful is that! These simple acts of kindness restored my media soul.

I needed this good news about the “news” and perhaps you do too.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to ALL,


Foursquare Needs Some PR and PC Cleaning

Foursquare is getting a potty mouth

How were you punished when your mom caught you saying a “not so nice” word? Did she make you wash your mouth out with soap? Did you get sent to your room or were you grounded for a week?


As I was using the geo-tagging, hyper-local service Foursquare today, my eyes stumbled upon names and words that I normally do not like to read – and I was offended.

I know some peeps will call me old-fashioned with this post – and I do understand freedom of speech – but I never expected to see what I read today and the volume.  For you see, I simply wanted to check into my local grocery store this afternoon on Foursquare and in doing so I had to scroll through so many crazy dumb names before I landed on Vons.  Such places were listed like “Whore House,” “Sexy room,” or the “Sex Cave,” etc., etc., etc. I even noticed that someone in my vicinity listed her home as “the town drunk lives here!” What’s wrong with people?

I’ve noticed this happening for some time, but it wasn’t as prevalent as it is now.  Try searching the word “whore” on Foursquare and you’ll be astonished what comes up! You will see what I mean.

There's Always Some Rotten Apples that Taint A Good Thing

With potty mouth taking over this platform, I would like to recommend Foursquare start to enforce some policies where certain terms (i.e., whore) are not appropriate and thus are banned from the service.  Other services do watch what’s posted, like Facebook and myspace. Sometimes we have to police people for themselves.

I do like Foursquare and have enjoyed it, but if it continues to get more and more vulgar, I will stop and recommend others do so as well.  It’s getting quite the potty mouth lately.  Have you noticed it too?


I have a been a giant fan of the application and think it is a tremendous service for businesses. I would hate for it to become a place where childish blue humor hangs out.  I’m all for creativity…but seeing ho and drunk and sex all over the place isn’t good for business. For what business wants to be listed being near “the town drunk?”

Note to Parents: In addition to checking in on your kids Facebook comments, also check about how they have listed your crib on Foursquare.  You may be surprised what they’ve labeled your lovely home as and more specifically, their bedroom.

I wish Foursquare would issue a badge for good behavior on Foursquare! Now that’s an idea I would endorse.



Social Media Conferences Provide Valuable Education

I’ve been asked to join a panel on Saturday at ProductCampSoCal addressing this particular topic: Social Marketing Panel: The Social Spectrum- Social Strategies for Both Large and Personal Brands. I am joined on this panel with some of the industry’s best brand practitioners, including Scott Schang of Broadview Mortgage; Stacey Harmon of Harmon Enterprises, Kirsten Wright of Wright Creativity and moderator Mel Alcaro, author of The Social Media Marketing Essentials Guide For Small Business Professionals.

In preparation for this panel, we gathered together last weekend to talk about what we wanted to address and as such I wanted to give you all a little precursor to what I would like to convey in the hour discussion.  I will be speaking from the point of view that public relations is an integral part in any branding process. That’s the hat I’ll have on Saturday and it’s one I’m comfortable wearing.  But, from what I experienced from our pre-meeting is that this is going to be an information-filled panel chock full of valuable take-aways. It will be a panel not to miss.

Did you know that if you participate in social media, then you are also doing the function of PR?

Yep, that’s absolutely true.  By putting yourself or your company out there, exposing it to the public (consumers) and allowing them to comment back…you have now opened yourself to handle customer service and public relations. Whereas, a few years ago, if a company wanted to advertise say either on radio or TV, an ad would run and it would be static.  The call-to-action was simply buy the product, not comment on its performance.  With social media, you are now giving your customers a pipeline to express their views and opinions about your efforts. And when social media is done right and people become engaged that’s when you need to ask yourself if you are ready to hear what they have to say, even when it isn’t nice or sometimes untrue.  However, once a comment appears that is negative against your company, that’s when you need to put on your PR hat and ask yourself questions such as:

  • How are you going to handle the complaint if its legitimate?
  • Will you take the comment offline?
  • Will you remove it completely?
  • What will you do if it becomes viral?

Social Media Isn’t for Everyone

I believe a company, nor matter the size, needs to take a hard look at whether or not it has the bandwidth to take on social media.  Social media isn’t just having a Facebook page and updating it occasionally. To do it well,  a strategy must be made, social policies need to be thought out (i.e., how you will handle off topic comments, trolls and negativity) and a staff must be in place to “listen” to what others are saying about your company online. It’s not something you simply can assign an “intern” to handle. It must be supervised by an employee who understands your product and one who understands messaging.

The Internet is Chock Full of Helpful PR and Social Media tips

If you are not prepared to start interacting with your customers online, then its best not to utilize this communication platform until you are ready.  By not entering into social media at the moment, it one of the wisest decisions you can make until you feel confident.

Social media isn’t easy and one that requires a learning curb. However, to help you understand if its for you there are workshops, meetups, clubs and camps like ProductCampSoCal that can help you navigate these waters and often at no cost.

It’s well worth the investment.

If you are attending the conference, be sure to say come and say “hi.”




Huff believes relaxed teams win - that's true for PR too.

No Job Is Worth Stressing Over

Since the best PR practitioners are those who can land a major media pitch, I thought it was fitting that today’s topic was a result of a Wall St. Journal article I read this morning about the thong-wearing first baseman of the World Series San Francisco Giants Aubrey Huff.  The article did get my attention because it was about a thong-wearing MLB player, but the “undies” issue was not what sparked my interest. It was this quote he provided.

Huff said, “I never really heard of an uptight team that wins.”

Huff’s statement is true in so many regards and applicable to many professions.

You can’t argue with the fact that people do their best work when relaxed. I know I do, don’t you?

With that being said, in the public relations field it is extremely valuable when a person is pitching that the pitch should be in a cool, even tone as opposed to a fast, rapid fire, loud breathless ramble. The latter is usually conceived as one of a desperation. And that’s not good for you or the reporter or the client you are representing.


We’ve all been thrown pitches that we are not familiar with from time to time.  This often happens when we’re helping out a co-worker who has a giant list of calls to make, and therefore, we innocently “pitch in.”  We have been prepared with a script of what to cover and we make our calls.  And usually, on these calls, we may come across as yes “reading a script.”  This isn’t good either.

And as I’m writing this I saying to myself that I must remember this tip as well.  The best service you can provide your client/company is when you are comfortable with what you’re communicating and can do it in a relaxed manner.  Even though you may have over 100 calls to make by noon – each call needs to appear fresh, enthusiastic, unique, interesting, etc.  You need to present an up beat tone throughout the entire phone process even when you hear that dreaded beep meaning that it goes to voice mail.  If it goes to voice mail, it’s a long shot if it will be get heard – but your chances of having a reporter listen to it greatly increases if you have a vibrant, welcoming pleasant tone.

How do you do in this area? Are you relaxed when you make your best sales? Or do you sometimes let the stresses of your job pressure your performance?

I think Huff’s on to something here. This calm attitude sure worked for his team in the first game against the Texas Rangers. The Giants clobbered them 11-7.

Can you guess which team was more relaxed?

A PR Act to Remember – Cirque du Soleil Media Relations

Blogworld Expo Updates (#bwe10)

Last week I attended Blogworld Expo 2010 in Las Vegas and although my intent was to gain knowledge and insight into the latest practical utilities for social media, I also was there to observe public relations applications.  I saw some interesting PR practices and integration at this conference and will blog about them in further posts, but today I would like to highlight one of the best. It came from Cirque du Soleil’s Social Media Manager Jessica Berlin (@jessberlin.)

Jessica posted the following information on the Blogworld blog prior to the start of the show.

It’s almost here, my favorite time of year in Las Vegas – BlogWorld! Personally and professionally, BlogWorld has been a wonderful event and I know this year will be even better. For the past two years I’ve loved showing off our Cirque du Soleil shows to attendees, we have seven shows in Las Vegas now! So again this year I would like to invite bloggers to attend one of our shows in exchange for writing a review. Whether you’re experiencing Cirque for the first time or the tenth time, your Vegas trip is not complete without hitting one of our incredible shows.

To see the complete sign up registration process, click here.

So I took her up on it. I had a couple hours free most nights before the late night parties and I have always loved Cirque’s events, so it was a win-win for me.  I went to two shows while in town, KA at MGM (I went as a guest of another blogger) and Viva Elvis at Aria.Awe-inspiring

Yes, the shows were magnificent, entertaining, memorable, show-stopping but, so was this promotion.  I wanted to go on the record pointing out the brilliance behind this astute “freebie.“  Blogging kudos to Jessica for recognizing the power of bloggers.  For a mere price of ticket, Jessica received press attention for her shows.  Jessica is one of the few media relations executives who understands that in this day and age bloggers are media members. Each has a distinct audience of followers (readers) and she knew the value that bloggers provide in increased awareness.

Story-telling at its BestNow, I don’t know Cirque’s social policy outside of the convention, but, Jessica understood that this conference is the only one in the world like it. Conference attendees are comprised of the top bloggers and podcasters in the world who each are dedicated enough to pay the pricey fee to attend Blogworld. This just wasn’t any conference, but the conference with the top mommy, non-profit, military, medical and tech bloggers.  This was very smart – congratulations again Jessica.

Also, I would be remiss to point out that with this practice reviews keep remaining fresh on shows that are pretty much evergreen.  Reviews normally only hit when a show is launched and after that, it’s pretty quiet in the media blogosphere.  But, by offering free media passes throughout the year, these reviews will keep the show fresh even though they have been in the running for years.

And if that wasn’t enough. Jessica made the whole registration process easy and unobtrusive.  We didn’t have to fill out lengthy forms or send several messages. She jumped on the comments immediately and gave us thorough instructions. It was painless.

A beautiful social media strategy which got this blogger to review two events and spread the good news about these two shows.

Well done Cirque du Soleil – even your social media is a class act.

PR and Social Media are Powerful Together

Actioned Packed Day at Blogworld Expo 2010

I truly witnessed something new in PR at the Blogworld conference.  It happened at yesterday’s keynote Blogworld Expo session featuring moderator Brian Solis and Content Producer Mark Burnett, the guy behind such hits as THE APPRENTICE and SURVIVOR.

Mark Burnett Productions is producing a new documentary series for Discovery’s TLC channel focusing on Alaska as seen through the eyes of Sarah Palin called SARAH PALIN’S ALASKA.  With that being said, I don’t which came first – Burnett accepting to speak at Blogworld or TLC pitching Burnett to speak.  I’m guessing Burnett agreed to speak and TLC found out about it and then took that opportunity to promote the new series at the conference.

Whatever the case, I thought it was brilliant.  Excellent work from a cable network’s PR department. Hats off to the executives who engineered this event.  It was a spot on tie-in and worked well within the session.

Burnett Stole The Show with Exclusive Footage

Burnett talked about his entire body of work and career and then at the end brought up this new series.  Moderator Solis told us that we were going to be given an exclusive. I’m used to this sort of thing since I am in the TV business, but the others thought it was a real cool moment.

The exclusive was seeing the first video from the series.  Since Blogworld is streaming its keynotes, they do not want attendees to stream live – for that reason and because it slows down the wi-fi.  So it arranged for @stevegarfield to post the first video of the show on his YouTube channel.  We were asked to all tweet it.

Here was the tweet – RT @stevegarfield: Sarah Palin’s Alaska on TLC from Mark Burnett #bwe10

My fascination with this story wasn’t the exclusive video, but was the statements Burnett said afterward. He said he didn’t know if he would be able to provide the exclusive for as you know, TV use vs. Internet broadcasts are entirely two different beasts with different rights issues. When he said that I immediately knew that he has been having a legal nightmare for weeks trying to promote the series on YouTube.  For you see, the music rights became the issue.  It’s extremely difficult to buy the global rights to commercial music.  And likewise, I’m sure TLC really wanted to break the video on their air. So I bet there were many lively debates inside TLC.

Stickers a TLC Rep handed out to the audience

Nevertheless, it happened and it was marvelous. Kudos to Burnett and TLC for taking the risk on this endeavor. It’s wonderful that a cable network understood the power of social media and the power of a roomful of bloggers.

Now that’s what I call great PR. Let’s hope more exclusives come to the web.

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