Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Balloon Flies High, Turns Left: Hoaxes do no favors for media, newsmakers

Certainly by now everyone has heard about the balloon boy fiasco. On Oct. 15, the seemingly real-life drama of a boy stuck in a runaway balloon captured the attention of media and its viewers as well as the time of first-responders and military for the span of two hours and counties. When the balloon landed, no boy was to be found. Eventually, he was found to be hiding in his parent’s garage.

In the days that followed, an even more bizarre tale has unraveled – the whole fiasco was a premeditated publicity stunt. The Henne family, two-time participants on a prime-time reality show, hatched the plan to gain attention for a new reality show that they were pitching to networks, and now they face criminal (and possibly federal) charges.

Even as I write this, yet another example of “stupid PR tricks” has surfaced, as an activist organization posing as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce staged a fake news conference and issued a counterfeit news release that seemingly reversed the organization’s controversial stance on climate change policy. Their hoax was so convincing that major news outlets not only attended the conference but also ran reports based on the release!

As a communicator, I am bothered by the erosion of accuracy in reporting and honesty from newsmakers.

One of the side-effects of living in an era where information moves at the speed of 140 characters a second is that reporting is becoming more inaccurate, as media outlets rush to break each story. Instead of checking facts and vetting sources, reporters go with the quickest answer. From the other side of the desk, we always stress the importance of carefully reviewing and preparing responses to media inquiries to ensure accuracy. We should follow the advice of CNN's Wolf Blitzer, who commented with regards to the fake Chamber of Commerce event: "When a story sounds too good to be true, you've got to check, recheck and check again."

I have seen the label “PR stunt” used in conjunction with these farces. While no one will mistake the Henne family as PR professionals, they still violated one of the basic tenets of PR – always tell the truth! What does a fake news conference do to further the cause for climate change policy? The adage of “no publicity is bad publicity” is obsolete. In these days where audience feedback and participatory journalism permeates even traditional media, the prospect of a backlash is too great to risk on tricks or pranks. These hoaxes undermine the credibility of the individuals involved and the causes that they support.

If these types of events continue, we face the continued erosion of the credibility of the media/PR dynamic. What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Building a Green Brand

When an international cement company was presented an opportunity to purchase a landmark piece of property, they didn't have to think twice.

The property had historical value and had been passed down through a family in the small town where one of the company's major plants was located. The purchase would allow the townspeople a recreation venue and eventually be home to a nature preserve with LEED certified buildings, sure to attract visitors from thorough out the region.

All of this because the company wanted to responsibly license a new quarry and would need to mitigate wetlands. It could have easily chosen to do just that---and only that. Instead, it listened to the creative solutions put on the table by the small group of consultants hired to work on the project who saw the potential. A simple brainstorming session turned into a full-fledged project.

The results were stunning.

Blue Spring Nature Preserve is becoming a reality because of a company's commitment to do the right thing. It provided the seed money for the initial funding, formed a 501c3 and assembled a team of community leaders, civic volunteers, elected officials and others as part of a steering committee. It then engaged a company to create a master plan for the project.

In an effort to bring the Blue Spring Nature Preserve plan to fruition, Panorama Public Relations has developed a campaign to engage stakeholders and raise additional funds through grants and corporate donations.

First, Panorama Public Relations built an identity for Blue Springs Nature Preserve as a brand. The central effort in this stage was to develop a logo. Panorama commissioned a logo that featured a single tree overlooking a stream. The logo pays tribute to an iconic tree on the Blue Springs property as well as the diverse ecosystems found therein. In addition, Panorama developed style sheets that prescribed font faces and colors to be used in all communications.

Next, Panorama prescribed a series communications avenues that would keep stakeholders informed regarding the project. The key channel is the web site, which showcases images that demonstrate the beauty of the site along with captivating history of the site and the stated mission of the preserve. Panorama also publishes an e-newsletter on a quarterly basis, which gives stakeholders the latest news and features about the site. In addition, Panorama has been instrumental in conducting media outreach activities, which have resulted in coverage in local publications and industry trades. In fact, Business Alabama named Blue Springs the “Best Conservation Development” for 2008.

Lastly, Panorama recommended capital campaign materials for use in fund-raising. In addition to the use of the web site, Panorama specified a series of presentations, posters, pamphlets and donor cards. These materials would give steering committee members the tools they needed to solicit private donations and sponsorships.

For more information on Blue Springs Nature Preserve, click here.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Optimize Your Way to an Effective Online News Room

They say good news travels fast and bad news travels faster. Today it can travel almost instantaneously, and if a crisis occurs involving your company, you can expect the media to come calling (or with the current popularity of Twitter, tweeting). What this means is: prompt response during a crisis and to the resulting attention it brings is more critical than ever.

When a crisis breaks and information is scarce, the Internet becomes a primary source for a reporter looking for facts. A quick Web search will reveal past stories and issues about an organization. It will also lead to the company’s Web site where reporters look for factual information about the company’s key executives, FAQs, products and services. They’ll also look for an online newsroom. They’re on a deadline, so make it easy to find and navigate.

Another important tool for the online newsroom is a crisis microsite designed to be activated at a moments notice. A crisis microsite is developed in advance of an occurrence, using much of the same information that is in your online newsroom. Other information could include a media hotline number, company media contacts, the vetted press release and prepared statements. The microsite allows the flexibility to post specific information in the event of an incident, maintaining the integrity of the primary website and positioning the facts in a streamlined format.

So, how do you streamline access to your online press room and what information should you provide reporters in your offering? Here’s our top ten tips:

Tip # 1
An online newsroom should be easy to find, so give it a prominent position on your landing page reached by just one click. The same applies for company media contacts. One click should allow reporters access to names, numbers and e-mail addresses.

Tip # 2
Prepare a crisis microsite in advance of an occurrence to direct media to event specific information, and test it with your crisis team. When a crisis hits, you will not have the time to develop communication tools.

Tip # 3
Optimize your company’s presence on the web by building key words into your news page architecture; use terms to attract search engines like “media” or “press” in conjunction with your company’s and CEO’s name.

Tip # 4
Leverage online tools like RSS feed options to keep reporters updated on company news or crisis updates as they occur.

Tip # 5
Make your online newsroom interesting. Use video to tell or enhance your story.

Tip # 6
Multi-media offerings are necessary in today’s news environment. Provide photos in a variety of formats and sizes and include b-roll (stock video of facilities and executives).

Tip # 7
Likewise, providing graphics and charts (in a variety of formats) are key to illustrating important stories and also helpful for reporters under deadline.

Tip # 8
Reach out in advance to media in your industry before they need the information. Let them know about your newly-designed newsroom.

Tip # 9
If you want to reach outside your industry to mainstream business reporters, try Reporting On; Help a Reporter Out (HARO) or PitchEngine.

Tip # 10
Remember other than for the convenience of the media, the number one reason you have an online newsroom is to provide a way to keep company information current and front and center of key stakeholders. Optimize to your advantage!

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Whether you’re an entrepreneur establishing a name for an early stage company or a fully mature company looking for new avenues to promote your business, integrating social media and networking into your public relations strategy makes good sense.

Why? Social media is the wave of the future in mass communications, as sites like Facebook and Twitter command more and more attention from consumers. Recent studies show that 20 percent of online ad impressions come from social networking sites. We are already seeing successful marketing and public relations campaigns that utilize social media as a key component.

Even traditional media are realizing that they must embrace social media now in order to remain competitive. As a result, social media has become an efficient way to establish new relationships with reporters and strengthen existing ones. Already, we have been successful at pitching reporters via Twitter. By adding reporters that we know as friends on Facebook, we are able to get to know them better.

Three of our favorite social networks that we use effectively for our firm and on behalf of our clients are ReportingOn, Help a Reporter Out and PitchEngine, each with unique attributes and all worth knowing about.

ReportingOn is a media tool that PR professionals use to identify and pitch stories to reporters. ReportingOn gives a reporter the capability to discuss their beat, or seek expert sources or information on stories they’re preparing to write. As PR practitioners, we use ReportingOn to pitch stories to targeted audiences, network with reporters to establish valuable relationships, and at any given time see what member-journalists are writing about, which provides us with ideas on stories and trends. www.reportingon.com

Help a Reporter Out (HARO) is another social media network that is an outstanding resource for journalists looking for story sources and PR types looking to place stories. Once registered, you will receive three daily emails from the source-site (Peter Shankman, self-proclaimed entrepreneur and adventurist) each with anywhere from 15-30 queries per email. www.helpareporter.com

Lastly, we have PitchEngine, which is best described as an evolved wire service. PitchEngine provides a platform for creating social media releases that enables PR strategists to effectively package stories and share them not only with journalists, bloggers and influencers worldwide, but also directly with their audience via the Web. Social media releases can include images, video and tools for sharing news via social sites such as Twitter and Digg. www.pitchengine.com

For an entrepreneur with a new or recently-funded product or service, getting the word out to the right audience, with the right call to action, is critical. Now’s the time to embrace the new media options that are right for your company and gain that competitive edge.