Thursday, November 30, 2006

My Report Card for Learning New Technology

I’ve been in a reflection mood lately. Perhaps because it’s the end of the year when we review the past year and plan for the next. Or perhaps it’s merely because I was in a car for 12 hours over the holiday. But one thing I’m amazed at is how much I’ve learned about using technology. It was kind-of a goal I set for myself, and I had no idea where it would take me. Here’s a summary and a key lesson in each area.

New web site
After four years of work and evolution of ideas and with the help of a technology genious, my organization launched a new web site this summer. I was in charge of the content, the structure and the process in general. The site uses a cascading style sheet and is database-driven. As a result, it is much more optimized. It has at least 950 pages and 11,000 links.

Lesson so far: A new web site may seem “so last century,” but even now-a-days it is critical to our work.

Goal for 2007: Train employees to use the CMS so they can create content.

Social Networking
I’ve taken a look at sites like My Space and Linked In, and, to help me in my work, I have referred to wiki sites developed by others. More deeply, I have dabbled with using Delicious for specific purposes.

Lessons so far: It doesn’t take a big investment of time to learn about social networking online, but there is a lot more for me to learn. The best way to learn this stuff is through hands-on experience.

Goals for 2007: Set up Delicious and wiki sites for work-related purposes. Train employees to use Delicious in their work.

I didn’t start out the year planning to learn much about blogs. I had some pre-conceived notions that turned out to only partially be true. I’ve been monitoring conversations about my organization. But the biggest change occurred when Kami set up this group blog and I joined the group.

Lessons so far: Not many bloggers are talking about my organization. Blogging is addictive. PR bloggers are really supportive of each other.

Goals for 2007: Write more and less – more often, less words. Leave more comments on others’ blogs.

Media Relations via Social Media
First, when we set up our new web site, I revamped the press room section. We’ve also added a feature for reporters to receive news via RSS. And second, of course, I have been blogging recently about my foray into using the new social media release. I don’t do enough media relations to get much practice. But I’ll keep working at it.

Lesson so far: There are a ton of details to learn to use the social media release. But it’ll be different, way into the future – meaning in the next week or so.

Goals for 2007: Improve my use of the social media release. Use other social media to be a better resource to reporters.

This is my best success. When the year started, I had never listened to a podcast. But I got an iPod and subscribed to the main PR-related ones. Then I participated in a webinar by Shel Holtz on the subject. I put together a plan and launched a podcast series at work, with the excellent assistance of a consultant, Bryan Person of the New Comm Road podcast. We already have our first three episodes online.

Lessons so far: “Low barrier to entry” is relative. You still either have to know how or find someone who does. And you still have to plan for your audience and your organization goals.

Goal: Continue to improve and promote our podcast series.
Stretch goal: Start a local PR-related podcast. Hmmm

When I look at this whole list, part of me thinks: no wonder I’m tired! But really, this has been fun. It has helped me do my job better. And it hasn’t really been so time consuming that other things suffered. (I also built a house with my husband, moved my kids into new schools, took care of my geriatric puppy, planned birthday parties, volunteered with church, PRSA and the March of Dimes, read bedtime stories, balanced the checkbook, and did the laundry.)

If you’re wondering where to start, my suggestion is to pick one thing and focus on that for a while. At least that’s what I did. I explored certain technologies but focused on podcasting because that was the most appropriate for my situation.

And naturally, the more I learn, the more I learn how little I know.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

100 Years and Counting for the News Release

Speaking of the status of the news release, it just turned 100 years old. On October 28, 1906, Ivy Lee created the first news release. He was working as a consultant with the Pennsylvania Railroad when an accident occurred that killed at least 50 people. The same day, he urged the company to release a statement with facts before the rumor mill took over. He also invited reporters to the scene and provided a rail car to transport them there. Impressed by the tactic, the New York Times printed the release in full. This new approach was highly praised by media and public officials.

A few months later, another incident with another client led to much criticism of the news release. One biographer says critics called them “ads disguised as stories sent to manipulate news coverage.”

So Ivy Lee issued a Declaration of Principles, which stated: “This is not a secret press bureau. All our work is done in the open. We aim to supply news… In brief, our plan is, frankly and openly, on behalf of business concerns and public institutions, to supply to the press and public of the United States prompt and accurate information concerning subjects which it is of value and interest to the public to know about.” This is just one of the reasons Ivy is regarded by many as the father of modern public relations.

Greg Jarboe provides more info about the first release.

Karen, who writes the Teaching PR blog, has supplied the full text of Lee’s principles.

All this discussion about the new media release (aka the social media release) in the context of this 100th birthday has led me to wonder. In addition to re-evaluating what elements ought to be in a news release these days, perhaps we can re-look at our principles for the news release.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

I am a Railroad Conductor?

Salt Lake City (Nov. 10) This afternoon I attended the Chapter President’s Leadership Workshop that was presented by the executive director, public awareness initiative of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Dell Galloway. When I attend sessions, I tend to get more out of them if the presenter is engaging and truly interested in getting their audience involved. Dell Galloway is that type of speaker.

The session started with the attendees voicing what qualities they felt effective leaders possessed. The list included being: passionate; general interested in the organization; appreciative; intuitive; confident; encouraging; a good listener; able to laugh at yourself; able to have a strong moral compass; authentic; tenacious; and understanding. Out of all of these, I found myself lacking in one major area. I am not the best listener. Let me clarify, I am often not the best listener to other’s ideas. I form my opinions or response to those ideas while they are being suggested to me, instead of just shutting down the cogwheels of the brain and focusing on the speaker only.

The attendees discussed their own choices of effective leaders, which were FDR; Martin Luther King, Jr.; and someone even mentioned Adolph Hitler. Some effective leaders that Galloway had influenced him in the past were Winston Churchill, his eighth grade biology teacher, and his former supervisor at AT&T Corporation.

We all have had those supervisors who were railroad conductor leaders: This means their way was the best way and they just did everything to push through. I came to a horrible conclusion. Since becoming the Chapter President of the PRSSA Chapter at the University of Texas at San Antonio, I have been a ‘railroad conductor leader.’ While sometimes this tactic has worked, I have also faced harsh criticism and almost had a mutiny of our executive board. I sit at the head of the table at all meetings, this can be a huge mistake. By doing this I am giving the impression that I am the almighty and that things should be my way. I am not almighty and going forward I will be listening much more.

Galloway suggested that there is a greater way to lead than the top down. This is the coach facilitator method. This method is key in pulling all of the potential out individuals. The coach facilitator leader helps individuals to develop their own strengths. The way this is done is by nurturing relationships with those in your organization. Galloway suggests that relationships are like bank accounts. Things you do as a leader that are positive are considered deposits. As you lead you build on those deposits, however, sometimes as a leader you also make withdrawals. These come in the form of poor decisions, and not pulling from one or more of the above mentioned qualities.

I took quite a bit away from this session, which includes many things such as the fact that the purpose of PR must include being harmonious with your organization and the client. The three Ls: They are Listen to other’s ideas and suggestions; Learn from those in your organization and other professionals; and Lead your organization to success by implementing what you have learned by listening. I also learned that along with my passion I have to be authentic in everything I do, even when I make mistakes. Sometimes it does not hurt to eat a little bit of crow every now and then. It only proves that you are human.

“Are You the Faculty Advisor for Your Chapter?”

Salt Lake City (Nov. 10) Hello from Salt Lake City, where I have come to ‘Make the Ascent.’ I and two other members of the PRSSA Chapter at the University of Texas at San Antonio have come to the 2006 PRSSA National Conference. I planned for months for this trip, thinking how great it would be to mingle with other members of PRSSA and PR professionals from across the nation. I also thought how great it would if it snowed while I was here, being from San Antonio the only snow I ever see are those flurries that melt before they hit the ground.

I arrived in Salt Lake City at 11:30 a.m. today and will be staying for the entire conference, which ends on Tue. November 14. I chose the title of this posting because of an interesting thing that keeps occurring. I have mentioned in a previous posting that I am a non-traditional student who is 40 years young. I obviously do not look like I am in my twenties. While on my way to the Sheraton City Centre, one of my fellow conference attendees asked me, “Are you the Faculty Advisor for your Chapter?” I did not know whether to take that as a compliment or be sad that my age shows so much. I responded, “No, I am actually the President of the PRSSA Chapter at the University of Texas at San Antonio.” I thought, okay that is over with. Not by a long shot, I counted at least 15 other individuals today that asked me that question. I have embraced this question as a compliment, because with age that shows come wisdom that is demonstrated through actions of leadership.

Continue to look for additional postings throughout the rest of the weekend.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Lots of Answers to My SMR Questions

Early this week I shared questions I faced when I was setting up my first social media release. There is a lot of activity currently to create standards for this new form of news release and to help public relations professionals understand how to use them. I posted my questions hoping to inform these conversations.

And wow, I have had many people provide answers and offer assistance. I’m actually overwhelmed at your generosity! I am going to sort through all of the suggestions and try them out in a real-work situation and will share how that goes in the coming days. In the meantime, I want to share with you the wonderful responses and resources that have been offered.

In “Basic Answers to Some Basic Questions re: Social Media News Releases,” Todd Defren gave very useful answers to each question.

Shannon Whitley suggested using PRX Builder (developed by Todd Defren) to create Digg and buttons without worrying about the coding.

Brian Solis also pointed me to his brief guide on “How to Write Social Media Press Releases” (which had actually been very useful to me when I was putting mine together).

Bruce Prochnau, Kelvin Jones and David provided very detailed suggestions on the New Media Release Google Group. If you are interested in learning more about the social media release I highly suggest you join this group.

The biggest news in this area is the release of the requirements (or elements) of a social media release developed by a representative working group of professionals. The requirements are on the new blog on the subject.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Questions About Using the Social Media Release Format

For my organization, I only do one big media campaign a year. And it’s roughly the same story every year. Sometimes, I really do something creative with it and hardly get a bite. Other times, I’ve barely lifted a finger, and something happens that results in tons of good coverage.

A few weeks ago, I was at it again. But this time, I tried using the new social media release format. Now, diehard SMR experts will criticize me because it’s not the full-blown deal. For example, it doesn’t include a DiggIt feature or links. But hey, it’s my first attempt. And I put it together by myself with the resources of a small non-profit.

I did some homework first. I listened to a few of the SMR podcasts (but they were more chatty and techie-speak, than instructive). I joined the discussion list on Google Groups. I referred to Shift Communications’ terrific online PR 2.0 Guide. I went to the DiggIt web site to learn how to create the link. I studied SMRs recently distributed by other firms. Etc., etc.

Still, I have questions, very practical questions…

Once you figure out how to set up the DiggIt link, how can you test it? I don’t want to put anything on a news release that may not work. But you are not supposed to Digg your own stuff. And you sure don’t want to Digg something that you’re not releasing yet.

How do you set up a purpose-built page or tags? I know this is an amateur question, but tons of PR folks are amateurs at this.

What are the pros and cons of using a purpose-built page or tags? I need to know what to expect and how it will help reporters and my organization. I don’t want to do it just because it’s a standard part of a SMR.

If you don’t have a blog but you do have a web site, do you still need to include a list of tags on the release? If so, how? I include keywords and other optimization things in my web site. How are tags different, or are they just for blogs?

If you distributing your release yourself rather than using a wire service, do you really e-mail the whole thing? Once I created mine, it was more than two printed pages. I never send that much to reporters unless they request it. I typically only send a few sentences with a great subject line.

These are just a handful of the details that stumped me. Most of the blog posts and resources I found assumed a higher level of understanding of social media and technical jargon than I and many, many PR folk currently possess.

On a related note, Todd Defren and company have developed PRX Builder which is a “Social Media News Release Builder.” Of course it came out one week too late for me. And so I haven’t tried it out, but what a wonderful contribution to the field this is likely to be!

Unfortunately, I don’t know if the response we’ve gotten in this campaign is due to the content, the timing or the methods. It’s probably a combination. So, I’ll keep trying. I would really be interested in hearing about others’ SMR trials.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

PRSSA at UTSA Shows Appreciation

It was a good showing from members of the PRSSA Chapter at the University of Texas at San Antonio for the November PRSA Luncheon Program. Dr. Steven Levitt, Faculty Advisor; Gregory L. Frieden, President; members Sarah Ceballos, Mayra Soto, Aaron Brooks, Elizabeth Noyola, and Priscilla Sanchez were in attendance. The reason for the good attendance, the Chapter was on a mission.

Recently the Board of Directors of the San Antonio Chapter of PRSA voted to give the PRSSA Chapter a $1,000 scholarship to offset the expenses of the Chapter delegates that will be attending the 2006 PRSSA National Conference in Salt Lake City, Nov. 10-14. The three delegates are Gregory L. Frieden, Sarah Ceballos, and Mayra Soto. The delegates will be submitting two essays each upon their return from the conference, with a possible presentation at an upcoming luncheon in early 2007.

Gregory L. Frieden presented Paige Ramsey Palmer, President of the PRSA Chapter of San Antonio with a Certificate of Appreciation from the PRSSA Chapter at UTSA. The mission was to show the Chapter’s appreciation to not only the Board of Directors for the scholarship, but to the Chapter’s current professional advisors Anne Keever Cannon, APR, PRSA Liaison and Cassandra Miranda, PRSA Liaison Assistant. Since May the PRSSA Chapter has been guided and assisted in many endeavors by these two exceptional advisors. The San Antonio PRSA Chapter has shown exemplary support for our PRSSA Chapter and we look forward to continuing our excellent working relationship with the Chapter.

Local Magazine Coverage Can Be Yours

(Nov. 2006) There is a myriad of local magazines that feature news about people, places, and things we know and love in our beloved city of San Antonio. Attendees of the November PRSA Luncheon Program had the opportunity to hear from the editors of two of these magazines. The guest speakers were Eliot Garza, Editor of NSIDE San Antonio, and Beverly Purcell-Guerra, Editor, San Antonio Woman. Both speakers spoke of the human-interest stories that most captivate readers and how you can develop story ideas to increase the chances of seeing your client covered in the pages of these publications. Moderator Lorraine Pulido-Ramir├ęz posed three important questions to the panelists and then opened up the floor for a few questions.

The first question was about the publication, the target audience, and the number of locations where the publications can be found. San Antonio Woman, celebrating its fourth anniversary, has a publication of 30,000 per issue. The target audience includes young career women, with women of all ages enjoying the insightful articles that cover many of the topics that are salient in the minds of San Antonio women. San Antonio Woman can be found in most H.E.B. stores and other selected businesses.

NSIDE San Antonio, currently in its first year, focuses on different aspects and topics geared toward the business community in San Antonio. There tends to be a focus on those who might be considered underdogs in business. NSIDE San Antonio is currently at 15,000 in publication and can be found at approximately 220 different business locations. While both of these publications offer subscriptions at very reasonable prices, it is great to know that they continue to remain free to the public due to their revenues being earned by advertising.

The second question targeted what the process is for deciding who will be featured on the cover of the respective magazines. Both Eliot and Beverly agreed that there is no particular formula for deciding who will be featured on the cover. Basically profile decisions are based on the pitches or ideas sent to the editors by their audience and others in the business community.

The third question was geared toward how the PR professionals of San Antonio might be able to make the jobs of these editors easier. Beverly and Eliot agreed that one way to do this is to research whether a story has been done by the publication, or whether it is appropriate for the particular publication. E-mailing profile ideas are encouraged because with e-mail an idea can be saved for future use. This is important because these magazines are on a bi-monthly basis so they beginning working on an issue three to four months in advance of the issue’s publication. Another area of agreement was the amount of time prior to an event should it be submitted as an idea for the magazine. Both felt that the sooner the better, for example an event being held in May should be submitted in December or January.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Follow the Money -- PRSA Encourages Financial Ed for Kids

PRSA member and former San Antonio chapter president, John Worthington, has penned a great article in the October 20, 2006, edition of the San Antonio Business Journal (pg. 31). In the article titled, “Teach your kids about managing money before they leave the nest,” he discusses five basic money skills children need to learn before graduating from high school:

  1. Basic budgeting
  2. Credit card costs
  3. Savings basics
  4. Car financing and ownership
  5. Checkbook balancing

Now clearly John’s position as senior vice president of communication at Security Service Federal Credit Union had something to do with the opportunity to pen this article. (On the accompanying page there is an article about financial education, “Texas teens to get a healthy dose of Rx in the classroom,” by Tim Haegelin, president and CEO of the San Antonio City Employees Federal Credit Union.)

But anyone who knows John, knows that this topic is one of his passions. Just a few weeks ago, he was talking to me about helping my own kids learn about saving by opening a savings account. And my youngest is only 3 years old!

Great job, John! I for one will be taking your advice.