Friday, December 14, 2007

Attention editors & customers! – Media relations at a tradeshow

By Robert E. Sheldon, APR, Public Relations Director, Creative Communications Consultants, Inc. (and PRSA San Antonio president elect)

Power Gen International, Days 2 & 3

Making sure you get key editors to the show booth is a straightforward matter of inviting them and then making sure that their time and attention will not be wasted. Getting customers to visit the booth is much the same problem: you need to extend an invitation to key customers who will be attending the show and then make their time worthwhile.

Other exhibitors at the show also try other methods of getting people into their booths. Not far from the Cummins booth, another generator manufacturer has stationed very attractive female models (known in the business as “greeters”) at the corners of the booth to attract attention. They DO attract attention – but I observe that it is mostly furtive glances from men as they pass by in the aisles. They’re pretty, but they are not the technical experts the customers are looking for.

At another large booth, a card-shark magician puts on a display of slight-of-hand that is quite amazing. He draws a large crowd of people throughout the day, entertaining them with humor and skill. Like the pretty women in the other booth, the ploy attracts attention – but for all the wrong reasons. In much the same way that pretty women have nothing to do with generators, card magicians have nothing to do with them either. The lesson seems clear: you’ve got to build booth traffic for the “right” reasons – and yet manufacturers continue to confuse sex and entertainment with substance. Of course, the trick is finding interesting and exciting ways of drawing attention to a client from the right prospects – and that includes editors.

Handling surprises

On the final day of the show, I have four editor visits scheduled and several unconfirmed meetings. The editors show up and the meetings go well as they did the day before. Towards the end of the day, a publication editor from the UK stops by. At the end of our brief meeting, he asks whether he can return in an hour with a video crew and interview a Cummins expert on the new products. The publication with the intimidating title – Cogeneration and On-Site Power Production – is a very important global magazine in the power industry that also has a good web site. The web site is now featuring short videos in addition to editorial content, and the editor wants to shoot a two and a half minute segment on Cummins for their site.

Luckily, one of the top Cummins experts is in the booth and I convince him to submit to the impromptu video interview. After quickly reviewing key messages with the expert, we shoot about 10 minutes of questions and answers for the segment. My expert does a wonderful job and I make sure the company logo also appears in the background on several of the shots.

YouTube for techies

The lesson here is that the Internet is opening up new and exciting ways of communicating with narrow markets and audiences – it’s like YouTube for the techie set. Only, the payoff will be greater awareness of my client and its products. Additionally, the details are still important -- putting your best foot forward, supporting the brand and the marketing messages. This is the value we bring to our clients.

By the end of the show, I had met with 13 key editors and had gathered a handful of article ideas for future follow-up. I will summarize these for my client after I get back from the show.

In general, trade shows are very expensive communications mediums for companies. The investment in space rental, booth graphics, materials and manpower is substantial – which makes it doubly important to get the most you can out of the opportunity. This means making as many customer contacts as possible and enlisting the help of key publication editors to leverage publicity in the months following the show. In the week after the show, we will mail out the press kit to key editors who did not attend the show and follow-up with the attending editors to answer questions and encourage use of the materials we distributed.

Katrina’s legacy – where are the people?

There were two large conventions in town this week, but I could tell immediately that the city was not crowded or as vibrant as I remember from the recent past. It’s already been more than two years since the devastating hurricane that flooded New Orleans, and yet the “recovery” is still trying to get started.

My downtown hotel faced empty office buildings in the front and the back. Through the dingy windows I could see that most of them had been gutted, leaving visible empty ceiling tile grids and dangling wires. The problem, according to the hotel people, is that so many people have permanently left the city that there is no one to rent office space to. Restaurants were doing an okay business, but many are still closed or have reduced hours because they can’t get employees -- because there is no housing.

The French Quarter, untouched by the flooding, was nonetheless almost barren of people the few nights I ventured there. I remember Bourbon Street flooded with people in the warm evenings in years past, but not now.

The recovery will happen, of course, but apparently not as soon as everyone would like. Everybody you talk to agrees is it simply sad – a bittersweet backdrop to an otherwise successful week.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Thinking like an editor

By Robert E. Sheldon, APR, Public Relations Director, Creative Communications Consultants, Inc. (and PRSA San Antonio president elect)

Power Gen International, Day-1

Any kind of media relations is an exercise in getting into the mind of the editor – understanding what he wants, understanding what his readers want, and knowing the kind writing that is appropriate for that publication. Most of these trade publications are aimed at educating and informing their readers about the latest products, latest technical and market trends and how various problems are being solved in the field.

The material we provide to these editors can never be a blatantly commercial for the client – unless it’s a simple announcement for a new product. Features or application stories need to have substance that transcends the client’s identity and provide a lesson in engineering, design, problem-solving or analytical skills. News releases need to be objectively written with facts clearly stated and opinions or analysis attributed to a company spokesperson. Materials that don’t follow these simple precepts end up in the “round file” instead of the editorial columns.

One-on-one meetings

On the first day of the show, I have visits scheduled for six editors representing such publications as Power Engineering, Utility Products, Consulting-Specifying Engineer, Worldwide Independent Power, Modern Power Systems and Distributed Energy. While these titles may seem boring to the average lay reader, these trade publications reach important niches in the power industry and are read by tens of thousands of design engineers, consultants and building owners who own or operate on-site power systems. In addition, each one of these publications also has a web site which is an equally important outlet for content. In fact, the web is even more content-hungry that printed publications – a fact that is becoming clearer with every passing month. Getting into their editorial columns on a regular basis assures my client of a steady stream of inquiries from potential customers, as well as all-important brand name reinforcement.

What you want editors to do is to have their editorial columns fairly represent your client in the marketplace. There is no way to prevent an editor from giving your client’s competitors their due, but without a proactive public relations program and a steady stream of suitable editorial material, your competitors may be the only companies mentioned in publications. Through inaction on behalf of your client, you will create an editorial vacuum that the editor will fill with somebody else’s news and information. Gone are the days when editors had staffs that actually went out and got news!

When an editor arrives for a meeting, I first of all thank him for all the editorial coverage my client has received that year. Next, I hand off the press kit and then preview the four new product announcements and draw their attention to a new technical feature in the kit that explores the topic of noise control of generator sets. If the editor expresses interest in any one particular product or topic, I introduce him to one of several experts in the Cummins booth to help answer technical questions.

Staying on-message

As the Cummins expert explains a topic, I listen carefully in order to insert leading questions to the expert so we can be sure that the key marketing messages get mentioned. The engineers are experts on their topic, but they usually need guidance in staying on-message. That’s an important part of my job – helping to interpret or translate all the high-tech information for journalists while making sure that our intended marketing messages are conveyed.
There is often no predicting what editors will be interested in – and it often depends on what they are thinking about for their next issue. Before the day is out, I have gone through this routine for all six editors and reaction to the material has been very positive.

Customer traffic in the booth is light on the first day because many attendees are still registering and are busy standing in long lines outside the hall. But, by later in the day, we get busier. In addition to wanting to find out “what’s new,” customers also bring questions about their individual power problems and there is a constant scramble to find this right Cummins expert to handle the questions.

The first day goes very well and I even have some spare time to walk around the show floor in search of other potential clients.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Media Relations Power-Play

By Robert E. Sheldon, APR, Public Relations Director, Creative Communications Consultants, Inc. (and PRSA San Antonio president elect)

December 10, 2007 – New Orleans, LA

For about the eighth time in as many years, I’m off to a trade show called Power Gen International, the premier world conference for utilities, industrial power users and manufacturers of power generating equipment. This time it’s being held in New Orleans – the first time I’ll have been there post-Katrina.

As in the past, I’m attending the show on behalf of Cummins Power Generation, the world’s largest manufacturer of diesel engines and the number-two supplier of power systems based on reciprocating engine technology. Caterpillar is number one in reciprocating engine power systems in terms of number sold, but Cummins excels at so-called mission-critical power systems – systems that provide standby and emergency power for hospitals, data centers, banks, fire and safety and government facilities.

My purpose for going to the show is to hold one-on-one meetings with key engineering trade editors who will also be attending the show. I primarily do “marketing public relations” for Cummins – which uses the news and information value inherent in products to gain editorial space, generate inquiries from potential customers. By getting editorial coverage of Cummins products, customer applications and technical topics, there materials also educate readers and build credibility for Cummins as experts in the field.

The number of editors attending this show (that draws up to 35,000 visitors from around the world) varies from year to year. One of the primary sponsors of the show is a magazine called Power Engineering – a techie but much-respected publication that draws engineering readers from the utility, electrical, electronic and industrial manufacturing market segments. As is the case with other trade shows that are sponsored by media, some competing publications are barred from attending. But, by and large, the media covering the power industry are well represented at the show each year.

Getting Ready

In preparation for the show, I first met with my client to get an overview of what was going to be introduced and displayed at the show. It turned out that several new generator products and generator control systems were going to be featured. These new items were not earth-shaking enough to deserve a press conference, but they did inspire a press kit that I would be handing out in my editor meetings.

Editors are busy at these shows with more than a thousand exhibitors seeking to get publicity for their products or services. Which brings me to the invitation letter that sent out to nearly 40 editors about three weeks before the show. The personalized e-mail letter invited editors to stop by the Cummins booth during the two and one-half days of the show and view and discuss the new products. The letter included brief (and hopefully tantalizing) summaries of the various new products in an effort to emphasize that we had information that would be of special interest and importance to their readers.

Editors are looking for “what’s new” at trade shows and don’t care much about what’s old. If the publication is product-oriented, the editor’s interest will be focused on new products. If the publication is more issue-oriented (say, those directed at upper management at utilities or industrial segments that use a lot of power), the editors will be interested in my client’s take on industry trends or how technology is changing the search for solutions.

The editor’s looking for new product information are the easiest to satisfy. Those looking for industry trend information have to be dealt with specially by usually arranging an interview with an appropriate representative from my client. While such interviews don’t inform readers about new products, they do raise the awareness of my client as an industry leader, which, in turn, builds credibility for my client in a very competitive marketplace. When you sell power systems costing millions of dollars apiece, it helps when your potential customers have confidence that they are dealing with an industry leader.

Of the 40 invitations that went out, I received prompt responses from about ten editors – which is about normal. As Cummins is a major player in the power generation industry, even editors I didn’t contact will tend to find the booth and seek out any press information that may be available. By the end of the two and one-half days, I expect that I’ll have met with somewhere between 10 and 15 editors.

Tomorrow will be the first day of the show.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Marketing to College Students who are "Clueless" about Marketing

There was an interesting article in AdAge recently about 10 things college students don’t know about marketing. The article was titled, “Millennials: Clued In or Clueless” (Nov 19, 2007, registration required). According to the author, Carol Phillips, college students don’t know that the “average household income does not support a cleaning lady” or that “retailers, not manufacturers, set the price.”

The article describes each of the 10 briefly and provides – in one or two sentences – the implications for marketers. It’s a useful piece for a 101 on marketing as well as for getting a better glimpse of today’s college students.

The only one I raised an eyebrow about is the one that says college students don’t know “it’s illegal for ads to lie.” Granted, I am a GenX and am thus highly skeptical of ads. And I majored in advertising – knowing I would never be an advertiser. But come on, no lying in advertising? No stretching the truth even a little? No misleading claims? No pretending the blue blade cuts better or that the right beer can get you girls?

Well, I feel so much better now. I can keep my finger off the mute button when the TV commercials come on. I can even let my kids watch them.

So that’s why the sun was shinning brighter today (cue sappy background music).

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Here’s why PR folk aren’t up to speed about social media

I think I’ve figured it out. PR folk have not jumped on the social media train as quickly as we could have because learning about social media for PR purposes takes time, a lot of time. It takes resources. It takes learning about how to apply certain tactics to certain strategies. It takes learning about the ethical implications of using social media. It takes money and other resources. It takes learning how to use the technology.

I know, I know. We’re not supposed to focus on the technology. But you have to know something about it. You have to know how to use certain tools yourself. For example, it’s easy to set up a Twitter account (I just did last week, yeah!). But how do you use it for a larger communications effort? In another example, it’s easy to create a Delicious account. But how do you create a separate ones for particular PR efforts. I’ve attended several workshops, but none were hands-on.

Then there are the biggies: How do you know which blog platform to start with? How do you edit audio for a podcast? How do you set up a new RSS feed on your company web site?

There are places you can go to take a class on how to use word processing and graphics software. There are designers you can hire to create a web site for you. And there are generous bloggers like Todd Defren and Bryan Person, who provide detailed steps on certain topics.

But for some things, we need more direct instruction. When I started my first job in D.C., my boss paid for a designer to spend three hours teaching me to use PageMaker. That was all I needed to get going. Of course I learned more as time went on. But that initial, focused instruction changed the learning curve dramatically.

So that’s my first point: Technical how-to (here’s a business opportunity for anyone who’s looking).

My second is about the time. I coordinate a podcast for my organization. Here’s what I had to do to get it running (based on my own estimates).

• Take two multiweek webinars = 16 hours
• Buy and read or scan three books = 6 hours
• Listen to podcasts about podcasting = 20 hours
• Write a plan, build a staff team, hold meetings about goals, get approval = 30 hours
• Work with internal IT folk about technical needs and processes = 10 hours
• Figure out web site features, designs, SEO, etc. = 20 hours
• Research outside consultants = 15 hours
Total = 117 hours

In the end, we hired a consultant to help us with other technical details like setting us up in iTunes and registering us with directories (in addition to editing the podcasts, working with music, and recording intros and outros). If we hadn’t done that, we would have had to figure out those details too.

My organization was willing and able to spend resources and staff time for this learning process. But if I worked for an agency, how would that be done? Much of this legwork would have to happen prior to connecting it to any particular client project. How would that be billed?

As much as we like to say social media has a low barrier to entry, this just isn’t true in using it for public relations. Time is money. And if you don’t take the time to do your homework, you can screw up royally -- on your client’s dime.

So, we either have to all become like the early adopters and spend much of our free time and our work time on trial and error, or we can be deliberate about providing hands-on training for our PR employees. That will require seeking it out when it’s not knocking at your door.

When something is important to your business, you do what it takes to make it happen

Monday, November 05, 2007

PRSA San Antonio Senior Practitioners Breakfast

If you are a PRSA San Antonio member with more than 15 years experience in public relations or a past chapter president, I hope you will plan to attend this breakfast on Thursday.

The topic is: The Fight Against Fake News

Description: In the context of FCC fines for use of video news releases on the one hand and fake news conferences on the other, how do public relations professionals build trust in our profession? How do these news stories affect our practice?

Date: November 8, 2007 ~ 7:30 a.m.

Location: Mama's Cafe #2 on Loop 410 and Nacogdoches, San Antonio

Even though this event is free, RSVP so we can reserve your space.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Co-Blogger Kami Interviewed for Podcast

As you may have heard, our own PRSA board member Kami Watson-Huyse, APR, was instrumental in integrating social media into the PRSA international conference last week. She and Eric Schwartzman gathered up a team of heavy hitters to live blog the event, post photos, record videos and produce podcasts during the conference. It was a pretty impressive feat. If you couldn’t attend the conference, you can still get a taste of it at the conference blog.

What I am really excited about, though, is the series of interviews conducted at the event that Eric will be releasing. I’m sure you can find them somewhere on the conference web site. But I know you can hear them through Eric’s On the Record Online podcast (which is a good one to stay subscribed to).

The first interview he released is of Kami to boot. And it is a really good interview. (Yes, Kami is my friend, but I really mean it.) Among other things, she talks about the importance of using social media as a tactic in ways that tie it to the overall goals of the program.

So click over there now and listen!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Rock star bloggers and bylaw amendments

By David Snowden, Assembly Delegate for PRSA San Antonio (and former chapter president), October 20, 2007

At today’s assembly, I had the honor of sitting next my fellow San Antonio chapter delegate and a social media rock star – Kami Watson-Huyse, APR. While she was busy “tweatering” with her motley crew of hot shot blogger friends, I tried to figure out the real issue behind Bylaw Amendment #1, which would have changed the way PRSA national board positions are determined.

Today, the majority of the positions are aligned with various regional districts. The proposal would have done away with the district representation and turned the majority of the board positions into “at large” positions. There was actually a lot of debate on the issue. Some say the new model will allow for a greater pool of talent to be considered. And others, well, I’m not sure exactly what they were trying to say, but there was a lot of debate on the issue.

Here’s what it looks like to me… It looks like the contingent who’s advocating for the new bylaw really wants to run the PRSA national board like a corporation with all directors working on behalf of all members. The old model is almost like a form of representative government where most of the board members are there to first represent the interests of their districts, and second to work on behalf of the entire membership. Is one model really that much better than the other? I don’t know. But, to tell you the truth, I like the idea of having a representative from my district on the board. And since the bylaw amendment didn’t pass, I guess that’s how it will be in until next year when this issue comes up again.

Of course, there were lots of other issues discussed. Military PR practitioners were honored and so were the PRSSA board of directors, but the most informative time for me was getting rock star blogging advice like:
• “You can’t hire a 20-year-old to run your social networking program just because he knows how to navigate Second Life.”
• “Big companies should start their social networking programs by testing the waters with small projects.”
• “The biggest challenge for big companies wanting to participate in the social networking space is overcoming the internal culture that often wants to control the messages.”

The list goes on and on… thanks Kami.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Lesson Five: Online Social Networks – A Review

Lesson Five Review: Next Installment of Learn About Social Media from Your Desk

Here’s a review of what we’ve covered to date about online social networks.

Social Networks: Lesson 5 in Learning About Social Media from Your Desk (Sunday, August 05, 2007)

Data on Social Networks (Wednesday, August 08, 2007)

ABCs of Facebook (Sunday, August 26, 2007)

Business Use of Online Social Networks (Wednesday, September 05, 2007)

Some Social Networks Are Bad for Your Reputation (Tuesday, September 11, 2007)

A Social Network Just for Communicators: (Monday, September 17, 2007)

If you’re fairly new to this blog, let me explain that I started this series of “lessons” about tools of social media in January. I had planned on doing a different subject each month. But most subjects simply required more time. Below are links to the summarizing posts for each topic:

• January: Exploring Newsfeeds and Webfeeds (RSS)
• February-March: Getting Acquainted with the Blogs
• April-May: The World of Podcasting
• June-July: Using Delicious (I forgot to do a summary post for this topic)
• August-September: Online Social Networks (this post)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Headlines Must be Descriptive or You Lose Readers

My husband is stopping his subscription to Entrepreneur magazine. The main reason he gives is that when he reads the story headlines, he can’t tell what the story is going to be about. He’s a normal busy person. He doesn’t have time to solve mysteries just to read a magazine.

Here are some samples from the September 2007 issue:
• Tuned In
• Buh-Bye
• Come on, Defense!
• On the Rise
• All They Need
• So Long, Big Guys

Print magazines and newspapers can use images, photos and other design elements to draw readers into a story. But times have changed. In today’s world of RSS feeds and online news that link headlines to stories, cryptic and teaser headlines just don’t cut it.

I even find the puns in AdAge irritating. If I can’t tell in a few words what it’s going to be about, I’m gone.

You’d think Entrepreneur would have figured this out by now.

Here’s what the stories were about by the way:
• Tuned In: “alpha moms” (which I find is an offensive term)
• Buh-Bye: firing employees
• Come on, Defense!: securing your web site
• On the Rise: employment and salary growth
• All They Need: Blackberry users
• So Long, Big Guys: handbag designer

Thursday, September 20, 2007

PRSA Launches a Conference Blog: '5 Reasons to Launch a Blog'

Tuesday, the Public Relations Society of America published a blog post by Paul Gillan, Remind us again why you aren't blogging, to kick off its 2007 International Conference Blog, PR|Evolution.  The conference will be held October 20-23, 2007 in Philadelphia.  You can register by clicking here

In the first post, Gillan gives five reasons for launching a blog backed by examples of companies that have capitalized on each.

Influence policy: General Motors, Google and the National Association of Manufacturers

Reinforce an image: Southwest Airlines' frothy, fun Nuts about Southwest blog

Support customers: Intuit, Microsoft, Dell

Give advice: Kodak, Extended Stay Hotels and Owens Corning

Educate: English Cut custom-made suits and The Tinbasher sheet metal artistry

The blog will have two or three posts a week from conference presenters as we lead up to the conference and Paul Gillin, Katie Paine, Josh Hallett, Peter Himler, Eric Schwartzman, and myself will be live blogging during the conference. 

We plan to use Flickr, YouTube and Twitter to catalogue and communicate with those of you that are there and those that aren't.  We also plan to include a few podcasts.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Happy Birthday Smiley!

Whether you love them or hate them, emoticons are celebrating 25 years this week. Happy Birthday Smiley :-)

How does one person take credit for "inventing" such a pop-culture phenomenon? And how did he know it was important enough to remember when he sent the first smiley?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Looking for a job in a new city? Network, network, network! And also? Network!

After living in San Antonio for nearly a decade, I made the decision to move back to my hometown of Corpus Christi in February of this year. It was a hard decision to make personally (I love my friends and having access to more than one Target) and professionally (I loved my work, my colleagues, and an active PRSA chapter). Besides those very important reasons, I also wasn’t looking forward to the job hunt in a city where I didn’t have many professional contacts.

Most of the things about looking for a job in another city are very similar to looking for a job in the place you live in now. The things like looking at the city’s Chamber of Commerce, looking at the city’s economic development corporations, etc, those are the same. So, for the purposes of this post, I’ll talk about the most important part of looking for a job in a new city: making friends and influencing people.

I had exactly two professional contacts in Corpus Christi when I decided to make the move. Even though I grew up here, and had childhood friends, I had one friend in our area of work and one contact I had made 10 years before when I graduated college. So, I did a lot of calling friends and colleagues from around the state (and even one in California) to find leads on jobs; and I reconnected with people I only spoke to every few years to see if they knew of openings.

Until my current position, I’d never gotten a job in our field that didn’t have some connection with PRSA. Whether it was a PRSA friend making an introduction, or interviewing at a PRSA luncheon, or linking up with a PRSA colleague who told a friend of a friend about me, my PRSA connections have been invaluable. I think the PRSA folk in San Antonio are especially awesome. I’ve never seen a group of people more willing – and able – to help someone find a job or make a career change.

Network outside public relations. Especially in small communities, you’ve got to be flexible, so go to groups that aren’t strictly public relations. Visit with human resources groups, advertising groups, philanthropy professionals, etc. You cannot afford to have a close mind when you are moving to a new place. Time to put your creative skills to use!

Informational interviews, ask for them! I’ve had a couple of jobs now where there wasn’t really a position open, but one was created for me after talking with the person who became my boss. I went on informational interviews wanting to get to know the industry or area and ended up getting hired because a position was created for me. If nothing else, you’ll get some good networking from it and get your name out there.

Oh, and sometimes the most important part of looking for a job in a new city is plastering said city with your resume. If everyone in the city recognizes your name, you’re bound to find a position. Remember too, that the number one guarantee for finding a job is to quit looking for one. Give up. As soon as you do, you’ll get 18 offers and one of those will be perfect.

Happy hunting!

Monday, September 17, 2007

A Social Network Just for Communicators:

Learning About Social Media from Your Desk

By far, the online social network that I’ve found most useful is

Like other social networks, you sign up for free and create your own profile page. But it’s also easy to join topical forums to discuss common issues. (Facebook is so big, it’s really hard to find groups that you might be interested in. And there are a lot of creepy groups.)

In MyRagan, I’ve answered some folk’s questions and have had my own answered. It’s easy to navigate. There are also free downloads and links to useful resources.

Before this, I hadn’t used Ragan services, publications or conferences. They seemed targeted to really big corporations and were way too pricey for this non-profit employee. But doesn’t have those limitations.

I strongly suggest you try it out.

For the record, there is another online social network for communicators that launched a few weeks after MyRagan. It’s Melcrum's Communicators' Network. But I’ve not tried it out yet. If you have, let us know what you think of it!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Some Social Networks Are Bad for Your Reputation

Learning about Social Media from Your Desk

During this lesson about online social networks, I’ve listed several that I think are worth trying out, depending on the type of network you are looking for. But there are some that are best avoided.

The latest new one is called Quechup. And it is apparently a front for a spam service, at your contacts’ expense. Read more at “WARNING: Do NOT load Quechup” by Robert Scoble and stay away.

One great thing about social media is that you and I are finding this out through our online networks mostly made up of people we’ve never met.

Remember when your favorite teacher finally said that it’s not about knowing all the answers; it’s about knowing where to look? We’ll never know all the technology, not even the types used most in our industry. We just won’t ever catch up. What matters today is having networks (online and in person) to draw upon and to share with.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Redesigned San Antonio PRSA Web Site Launched

I am happy to say that our chapter was finally able to launch our redesigned web site last week. I was in charge of the site last year (and previously), and one of my goals was to upgrade its look and functionality. But I just didn’t get to it.

We first went online in about 2000 I believe. We used a free Yahoo account and Front Page software. It was not attractive and not easy to update. But at least we were online. The world was different then.

Then we got a new volunteer to create a real design and set up a real domain for us. That’s when we moved from Yahoo to We used a web-based editing software for updating called Web Edit Pro. It was a bit cluncky and limiting. But it worked for us.

That is, until it died this past December. Had I done my job and gotten us upgraded like I was supposed to, the fate of Web Edit Pro would not have affected us. But I didn’t, and it did.

I set up a Google web page to get us by while we looked for a professional designer. (There’s more to this part of the story that I will share later.)

That’s when we found Gray Graphics, who was happy to set up a partnership agreement with us. Gray Graphics specializes in web site design, web site development and content management.

They listened to our needs and developed several options for us that were all consistent with PRSA’s branding requirements. When we picked a design and provided the content, they went to town.

The other part of the picture though is the system we will use to update the site. At the suggestion of Gray Graphics, we are using a CMS (content management system) called SiteFinity. It’s easy to learn and will help us keep the site looking professional and up to date.

So at our luncheon, we had a little celebration. We finally have a web site that accurately reflects the professionalism of our membership.

But the best part is: I’m done!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Business Use of Online Social Networks

Learning About Social Media from Your Desk

The eMarketer Daily newsletter reported in June that “nearly two-thirds of U.S. business professionals use personal and professional social networking web sites, according to the Social Network Practitioner Consensus Survey from the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), conducted in conjunction with”

The survey found that social networks are used in large proportions to:
• keep internal staff and remote employees connected,
• connect with potential clients and showcase skills,
• job-hunt,
• share best practices with colleagues, and
• get answers to issues they were currently facing.

eMarketer quotes Jay Jamrog of i4cp: "We expected to see a number of respondents utilizing social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook for personal reasons, but we were intrigued at the high percentage of business professionals that use social networking for professional purposes."

New pic for Christie

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Great things happening with the PRSSA Steven R. Levitt Chapter at UTSA

When I was asked to be a student contributor, I was excited. I hoped to be able to post at least twice a month, maybe more. That has not happened. Last week I began my final semester of undergraduate studies at UTSA as well as my final semester as the Chapter President of the newly named PRSSA Steven R. Levitt Chapter. Our Chapter is well on its way to a greater semester than it has ever seen. Below is a list of upcoming events that we are planning:
  • On September 5, 11 a.m. - 1 p.m. we are hosting the Annual Fall Pizza for Poverty Fundraiser at the UTSA 1604 campus under the Sombrilla. The spring event raised enough cash and food to provide 750 meals for the needy serviced by the San Antonio Food Bank. This was done with the generous donations of CiCi's Pizza, Dominos Pizza and Wal-Mart.
  • September 24 and 25 we will be taking nominations for the executive board positions being vacated due to upcoming graduations.
  • October 5; 6:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m we will be hosting the 10th Anniversary of the UTSA PRSSA Chapter and Roast of Dr. Steven R. Levitt at the UTSA 1604 Campus' Laurel Room (UC2.01.28). The evening is shaping up to be a great networking opportunity for our members. The night kicks off with a non-alcoholic mixer for the students and PRSA professionals. Will include a look back at the Chapter with raffle drawings throughout the evening. Dinner will include herb crusted chicken, roasted rosemary potatoes and a house salad. It ends with a Roast of Dr. Steven R. Levitt and the official announcement of the new name.
  • October 9 we will elect the 2007-08 Executive Board and begin the transition period.
  • October 14 - 18 and 21 - 26 in a joint collaboration with the San Antonio PRSA Chapter we will be enjoying the Fall '07 PRSSA/PRSA Shadow Days. This is an opportunity for our student memebers to be mentored by a public relations specialist at their place of business. If you would like to host one or more students or have further questions, please contact PRSSA Liaison, Robert E. Sheldon, APR at (210) 828-1880 or (210) 241-5139 (mobile); fax (210) 826-9974; email:
  • October 19 -23 a delegation will be attending the 2007 PRSSA National Conference in Philadelphia.

As you can see We will be very busy over the next couple of months. I want to mention that over the summer I was picked to serve on the 2007-08 PRSSA National Subcommittee for Internships/Job Services. I have been assigned the states of Alabama. Kentucky and Nevada. My responsibilities include contacting public relations businesses in these states and providing them detailed information on PRSSA JobCenter, a FREE tool for employers seeking public relations interns or PRSSA recent graduates. I am asking that if you know specialists in these three states that would benefit form utilizing PRSSA JobCenter, please have them contact me at (210) 639-8800 or by e-mail at They can also contact our subcommittee chair Denise Kreft at

Sunday, August 26, 2007

ABCs of Facebook

Learning About Social Media from Your Desk

While Facebook was originally designed as a tool for college students to network online, today, more than half of its 35 million active users are not college students, as reported in the August 20 issue of Newsweek, “Facebook Grows Up.” The growing population of Facebook users are above college age, and many are professionals.

Two things occurred in the last year to stimulate its dramatic growth. First, registration was opened to everyone. It no longer requires that you be invited by a current user. Second, developers started filling Facebook with tons of applications that people can use within Facebook. Many of those applications are rather silly, but some are quite practical.

So how can you use Facebook in a communications function? Interestingly, in many companies, employees are using Facebook to connect with each others in ways that they need but their Intranets won’t facilitate. In fact a few companies didn’t know this was going on until their IT departments banned use of Facebook at work and were met with huge outcrys from employees who were using Facebook to get their jobs done better.

Several of the podcasts I listen to have created fan groups in Facebook. I find it an interesting idea, though I think each is still toying with ways to make their groups more useful to everyone involved.

For more on this subject (and as your homework), listen to the New Comm Road episode #033 “Building Facebook Communities” by Bryan Person.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Top Media and Marketing Blogs Ranked by AdAge

Earlier this month, the folks over at Advertising Age kicked off a real-time ranking of media and marketing blogs. There are almost 400 on the list called the “Power150,” even though the list has quickly grown beyond 150.

Todd Andrlik created the list and automated it, as Ad Age reports, using three objective measures: algorithmic metrics based on Google PageRank, Bloglines subscriptions and Technorati ranking. There is also one qualitative measure of some sort.

So if you are looking for something to read, check out the list at Some of the ones I’ve recommended are there – as are many that I’ve never heard of.

What I find interesting is how frustrating it is to want information on how you’re doing (your web site, your blog, your podcast, your whatever), to have access to reams of data and still to just be able to get a general idea.

For example, using Bloglines subscriptions is verifiable data. It is based on something real. Yet, just because someone subscribes, doesn’t mean they read.

The same is true for my organization’s podcast. I can count page views and certain kinds of subscriptions. I can even count downloads of each audio file. But I don’t know if any of my downloaders are listeners.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Become a Byline Blogger

Our chapter established the San Antonio PRSA Byline blog in February 2006 in order to
• provide and experience professional development for public relations professionals,
• advocate the profession of public relations and its ethical practice,
• conduct outreach to professionals and students (particularly in the San Antonio area), and
• foster an exchange of ideas regarding public relations and related topics, including use of social media.

If you are interested in writing for the San Antonio Byline Blog, here’s your chance. No blogging experience is required. In fact, pretty much all of our current bloggers had never blogged before.

The chapter will provide a brief training session to get you started. Bloggers in our group are asked to post at least twice a month – though work and family can come first. This is a chance for you to dip your toe into blogging without a huge commitment or risk. Plus, it’s fun!

Contact Christie Goodman for more information. Office team bloggers must be members of the chapter. The training session will be held on August 31 at noon (brown bag lunch) at the Northside ISD Learning Center, at Bandera and Grissom Road, Building D (on Bandera north of 401).

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Data on Social Networks

Learning About Social Media from Your Desk

In June, Advertising Age reported on the growth of online social networks (June 11, 2007, page 14). Here are some key points they made.

MySpace = 57 million unique visitors
Largest and most diverse of the social networks. Audience is still growing. Unique visitors up 49 percent in the last year. Airs Fox TV shows and is a partner in NBC-News Corp. joint venture.

Facebook = 14.4 million unique visitors
Opened up membership last year. Unique visitors up 152 percent over the past year. Claims 85 percent of market share at universities, but more than half of users are out of college. Fastest growing group is 25 and up. Founder built the site while at Harvard. Recently started allowing developers and advertisers to create applications and widgets for use in Facebook.

Bebo = 1.7 million unique visitors
Unique visitors up 109 percent since last year. Has a younger audience than the previous two sites. Popular in Texas and the U.S. Midwest. International expansion is expected.

Gather = 1.7 million unique visitors
Average age is 42 and 72 percent of audience has a college education. Grew 11 percent in May alone. Trying to become more portal-like with content from Harvard Medical School and soon-to-launch partnership with

Friendster = 1.3 million unique visitors
Ad Age says this was the original social network (though Wikipedia gives the honors to Classmates). Experiencing a small resurgence. U.S. visitors doubled in the last year. But time on the site and page views are down. Still carries some kind of stigma.

Flixster = too small to count
Median age is 18. Focuses on movies. Currently trying to grow the audience before tending to making money.

Ad Age states that while MySpace is in front of them all by far, others are growing faster.

Note: Ad Age did not report on Zooped, which was mentioned by a commenter to my previous post. I had never seen it until tonight. It has quite a variety of features, including business networking. But I have to admit, I was a bit creeped out by someone’s raunchy profile photo on the home page.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Social Networks: Lesson 5 in Learning About Social Media from Your Desk

So far in this learning about social media series we have covered RSS, blogs, podcasts and Delicious. I was going to talk about something else this month, but social networking has seen a surge of interest of late.

First, what is a social network? In this context, it’s a way of networking online. When you go to a PRSA meeting, you catch up with people you know and you meet new people. The same thing happens online. In social networks, people tend to find others with similar interests.

According to Wikipedia, the first social networking website was, which began in 1995. Many others have sprung up since then. Some are focused to a particular demographic or industry. Others, like MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn are more broad.

When you join a social network – typically for free – you will be able to set up your own profile page and start looking for “friends” who are also in that network.

LinkedIn’s profile pages are designed mostly for resume-type information. It’s designed for professionals to find each other.

Facebook has garnered much attention lately because it has opened up its infrastructure to allow for users to bring in non-Facebook applications, like to-do lists, Twitter posts, maps and movie ratings. (Though I did find it a little creepy that the sign up page asks if you are interested in men or women and if you are looking for a relationship, dating or random play. Hopefully, that will change as more and more professionals are using Facebook.)

Homework: Your first assignment this month his to ask three to five people you know if they are using a social networking site. Find out what they like and don’t like. Share it in the comments to this post. If you are using one, share what you like and don’t like.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Ethics of Photo Manipulation Blasted Again

It feels like it should be obvious by now that magazines and advertisers “edit” photos of attractive people to make them impossibly attractive. It’s been going on for years. They tell us they have to do it so we will pay attention, so we will buy the thing, so we will trust them. Everyone knows it’s misleading. Everyone knows it furthers the myth that perfection is possible.

But it’s one of those things you know in your head but not in your heart.

Take the recent Redbook cover with Faith Hill. The folks at got their hands on the original photo that was used for the doctored-up cover. On the cover, Faith is missing some blemishes. OK fine. But she’s also missing body parts. Her arm is thinner without the traces of natural flab that were there before. And that part of you that bunches up around a waistband has disappeared.

I look at the cover shot and think, wow, she’s in shape. How does she do that – especially after having kids? I never could. But I should. And so it goes.

And it’s worse for kids who don’t know the secret yet.

The ironic part is that Faith Hill is really attractive without any adjustments. So why do they do this?

The Today Show covered the story (which you can view online). The Redbook editor-in-chief Stacy Morrison had the audacity to say: “In the end, they're not really photographs. They're images.” Uh huh, and I have some swampland for sale.

One of the guests also said, “That’s what women want to buy.” Which is total *%#. It always has been but it is especially so in today’s world of reality and transparency.

They way I see it, making people appear better than is humanly possible is a deception. Rationalizing doesn’t take away the lie.

And this lie is harmful.

It’s harmful to adults – men and women both – in terms of our self concepts and expectations of each other.

And clearly it’s harmful to kids and teens. come said it well: “In a world where girls as young as eight are going on the South Beach Diet, teenagers are getting breast implants as graduation gifts… it's __ing wrong.”

As a parent of daughters, as a woman, as a consumer, as an advocate of media literacy, I’m grateful to the likes of and Dove.

Shel Holtz recently shared that he uses the Dove "Evolution" viral video campaign as an example in his presentations. One of those days, a participant slipped out during lunch, went to his hotel room and e-mailed the video to his daughter. She’d been having serious problems and was even suicidal. He later told Shel that the Dove video changed his daughter’s life.

Media images have an impact. Each of us has to decide everyday if we want that impact to be good or bad.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

PR Podcasts up for Podcast Awards

The third annual podcast awards are now open for listeners to submit their votes to recognize the best podcasters in the world. More than 335,000 podcast listeners and podcasters this year submitted more than 6 million nominations with 4,097 submitted shows.

Two podcasts that I’ve recommended on this blog are up for awards in the business category: For Immediate Release and Inside PR.

If you are a listener to one or both of these podcasts, you know how good they are and how deserving they are to be awarded. Please go to and vote. You can vote every day in fact.

If you have never listened to For Immediate Release or Inside PR, I encourage you to check them out. You can listen from your computer if you don’t have an Mp3 or iPod. I learn something from every show.

There’s one more podcast I want to pitch for that’s up for an award in the education category (mine was nominated but did not make the cut). Pediacast is a podcast by Dr Mike, a board-certified pediatrician. He is entertaining and highly informative. If you have kids at home, this is a great podcast to listen to. Try it out, and then go vote for it.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Don't Miss Our Local Teleseminar on Integrating New Media Into Mainstream PR Campaigns

PRSA is hosting another teleseminar on Tuesday. Our chapter will be hosting a viewing site to save you money. It normally would cost $150 for PRSA members and $250 non-members.

But at the San Antonio-sponsored location, it's free for members and only $20 for guests.

But who care's if the topic is relevant and if the speakers aren't good.

Well I can vouch for this one. I've heard one of the speakers (Katie Paine) and the moderator before. They are excellent speakers and they are practical and very helpful.

Here's the description of the teleseminar:

In the age of citizen journalism, businesses can no longer hide behind a veil of secrecy; they are naked to the public eye. One false step can have devastating consequences for a company’s online reputation.Spurred by the advent of online publishing tools like blogs and podcasts, organizations are circumventing the news media filter.

Forward-thinking PR practitioners are telling their stories themselves, and they’re utilizing search engine optimization, web content management, audio and video on demand, RSS, social bookmarks, social networking and virtual environments to do it by engaging their constituents in a constructive, mutually beneficial dialogue. Find out from these PR thought leaders how they successfully integrate new media into mainstream PR campaigns, and how you can apply their techniques, in this latest “Meet the Media” teleseminar.

You will discover:
• Why PR professionals are best situated to capitalize on social media.
• How to win internal and external support for new media initiatives.
• The benefits and drawbacks of the various enabling technologies.
• How these subject-matter experts create a compelling business case that wins budget approval for social media initiatives that take organizations and clients into uncharted waters.

Moderator: Public relations executive and new media pioneer, Eric Schwartzman, founder and chairman of online newsroom provider iPressroom and managing director of Los Angeles public relations firm Schwartzman & Associates. He also produces the PRSA award-winning PR Podcast “On the Record...Online.”

Phil Gomes, Vice President, Edelman
Greg Jarboe, Founder, SEO-PR
Katie Paine, author of KDPaine’s PR Measurement Blog

Tuesday, July 24, 2007 1:45 PM - 3:00 PM
American Red Cross, San Antonio Area Chapter, 3642 E. Houston St.

So come on. It's not that much time out of your day and you'll learn useful information. Plus it won't cost much -- especially if you are a member.

Register now!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Cool New Use for Jott

I have discovered a really cool use for Jott. In case you haven’t heard of this tool, it’s a free web service that lets you call a toll-free number and leave a message. The service then transcribes your message and sends it by e-mail. The transcriptions aren’t perfect. But they’re pretty close. It takes about 60 seconds to set up an account. And they don’t ask for personal information except your name, cell phone number and e-mail address.

I heard about Jott on Bryan Person’s “Tools of the Trade” segment on his NewCommRoad podcast.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been sending myself reminder messages, like “Postpone dentist appointment” and “Buy calamine.” That’s been really useful for this working mom of two little tykes.

But I’ve just come up with a use that is even more valuable to me. You know those cute little things children do that you don’t want to forget? I keep a MS Word file of little stories like that. It serves as a journal in a way. I used to be real good at updating it back when I was e-mailing photos of the kids to family members. I’d include a little story too. But now, I post those photos online. So I’ve gotten behind with the updates.

Enter When I’m away from my computer and I think of a cute, funny or touching story about one of my kiddos, I just Jott myself. Then when I get home, I can copy it into my master file. Like this one:
I was reading a story to [my 4-year-old]. There was a drawing of a dairy cow. She said, “Look Mommy. There’s a pig coming out of that cow’s bottom!”
Que cute!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Using Delicious in Public Relations

Learn About Social Media from Your Desk

In this set of lessons, I introduced readers to Delicious and talked about the value of using it to share your bookmarks. But what I find fascinating is how many ways there are to use Delicious in your public relations work.

One thing is to come up with a special tag for a particular topic, and then you and others can start building a set of bookmarks related to your topic. The advantage is that your searches will filter out items you are not looking for. For example, the folks who have been coming up with the social media release formats are using the tag: hRelease. I don’t know how they came up with that particular tag, but they’ve been using it, along with any other relevant tags.

You also can set up an account for a client or your organization and tag related items. For example, let’s say you are about to have some major announcement to media. You could create a “purpose-built” Delicious page that already has a set of bookmarks for web pages and related news stories on your topic. Include a link in your news release. Todd Defren of SHIFT Communications wrote more about this in his blog post, “Tagging: ‘Crowdsourcing’ vs. ‘Purpose-Built.’”

But why limit this to when you have big news announcements. You could do the same for topics that you deal with consistently. By creating a Delicious account for such a topic and tagging new items regularly to keep it updated, you are helping journalists in their research, but the information can seem more credible because it’s not always created by you. More on this too by the insightful Todd Defren in his post, “Daily Servings of Delights.”

Of course, you can use Delicious to help you keep track of trends in your industry or to see how your issue is being covered prior to your big announcement – along with your other media and web monitoring tools.

Some excellent tips are available on the Information Age Education blog post, “5 Things You Need to Know Before Using, a Social Bookmark.”

For those who are feeling brave and a little geeky, Web Worker Daily provides some useful suggestions at “8 Tips for Better Bookmarking.”

If you haven’t started using Delicious, give it a shot. This is one social media tool that is really easy to jump into.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Social Media: Facebook Friends Compile Summer Reading List

I have been using social networks a lot lately to keep up with stuff.  A fun exercise started a few days ago when Geoff Livingston used a new question feature on Facebook to ask his network to help him compile a list of recommended books to offer as additional reading on social media for his upcoming book, "Now is Gone."

22595657.jpgHere is the the list of 25+ must-read social media, marketing and PR books. This list was compiled by Chris Abraham, Toby Bloomberg, Eric Eggertson, Susan Getgood, Kami Huyse, Ike Pigott and Geoff Livingston

In addition to listing the authors alphabetically by name, we've linked their blogs or home pages (you can get their books via Amazon, or any other preferred book seller). Thus, they are designated Great Blogs of Fire, too (fulfilling my weekly round-up column). By all means, comment and add to the list.

Do you have any to add to the list? 

tags: , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Goin’ Postal Company’s Response a Good PR Lesson

I recently posted about my dismay that someone would name their company, Goin’ Postal. A couple of days after I sent my letter, I got a response by e-mail. They could have said: "We’re sorry you got offended. We didn’t mean to. We were just trying to be clever."

But they didn’t.

The full response is below. (I did check with them before blogging this. Sorry it’s so long, but there’s good reason to share the whole response.)

Dear Christie,

Thank you for taking the time to write to us. The name “Goin’ Postal” describes what we do, as we offer a variety of shipping and mailing options to customers.

To date, we have received 14 correspondences from folks who felt our name might be deemed offensive, but we explained that quite the opposite is true. We are firm believers in karma/the golden rule and the power of positive thought. If you believe in your heart that you can change negative conditions, and if you are willing to expend the energy to effect that metamorphosis …that positive change will make the world a far better place. We hope that Goin’ Postal will soon become a household name that is synonymous with family values, low prices and old-fashioned customer service, and that the former, negative connotations associated with that phrase will be shed and long forgotten.

Our chain is a family oriented network of locally owned and operated stores, and GPFC trains all franchisees not only to participate in their existing community activities, but also to create new community events for the benefit of the people and pets residing in those cities and towns nationwide. Our stores make a positive difference in every local community where a Goin’ Postal store exists. In short, our stores are focused on working diligently to provide low-cost shipping AND to making every community a better place in which to live though the owners’ and staff members’ active participation in areas of interest to them.

Goin’ Postal Franchise Corporation is also committed to making the dream of owning a successful business a concrete reality, especially for those folks who don’t have the high dollar savings required for the expensive franchises out there. Our store owners are former homemakers, teachers, military personnel, folks who were downsized in their former corporate careers, civil servants, and regular folks from all walks of life. Speaking of civil servants…many of our stores are owned by current and past postal workers, and the United States Postal Service is signing up our stores as Approved
Shippers almost as fast as we can open them, so the USPS is obviously not offended by the name. Many of the customers at every store are also postal workers, especially at Christmastime when they need to ship gifts to their friends and families. We often receive thank you notes and letters from postal employees who are pleased that a once negative phrase is swiftly becoming a positive phrase, due in part to the new association between the phrase and our chain’s high caliber of customer care, community involvement, and low prices.

A little known fact is that the USPS (United States Postal Service) also owns several trademarks to the phrase “Go Postal”, and the USPS has registered to use this phrase on a line of merchandise to be sold in Post Offices. Please take a peek at the United States Patent and Trademark Office ( listings

While we get an occasional email from someone who is temporarily upset by the name (14 correspondences in 4 years), those folks usually understand that we are attempting to put a positive spin on something that was once only known as terribly negative. Also, the USPS obviously doesn’t think the name is a bad one since the USPS wants to sell merchandise with a very similar name on it (Go Postal), and we feel that the USPS should be applauded for working to turn the phrase into something positive, just as we are.

While our first store opened 4 years ago in Zephyrhills (Florida), which is just outside Tampa, we have only been franchising for 31 months. In just 31 months, our chain has grown to over 205 stores strong, and is growing daily. We seem to be a big hit across the entire country…with our franchisees, their customers, the carriers, and vendors.

We hope that you will stop by to visit with the friendly family that owns your local Goin’ Postal store, to perhaps join them at their local events (low-cost spay and neuter clinics, child safety and i.d. events, bike rodeos, family sing-a-longs, and more) to help them to make your community a better place to live…and to join them in rendering the global community a more positive place for all.

Thank you again for taking the time to write to us, and to ask more about our company. We hope that we will have the good fortune of serving you as one of our customers in the near future.

Warm Regards,
Dr. M.J. Price
Vice President, Goin' Postal Franchise Corporation

What an excellent example of public relations as shown by the company clearly being genuine and honest. They were obviously prepared for questions like mine. But more importantly, they had a clear vision in mind before choosing the name of their company – a vision that was both tied to and bigger than their specific business goals.

This response demonstrates:
• There was careful thought before choosing the company name.
• There is deliberate intention for good – rather than being gimmicky.
• There is buy-in from the very people who could most be offended by the name.
• The company is monitoring responses about the company name.
• The company is taking specific actions in communities to remove the negative connotations associated with the phrase, Goin’ Postal.

I am still tremendously concerned about insensitivity in the marketplace and entertainment industry.

But from what I’ve learned about the company, Goin’ Postal, and the response I received, I have turned from a critic to a fan in this case.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

How Can Having a Seemingly Insensitive Name Attract Customers?

Is it just me, or has there been a sudden rise in companies using insensitive names to gain attention. Do you remember the car dealership with the Jihad sale?

I thought I’d seen it all until while driving my kids to the doctor, I saw a new store called, Goin’ Postal. Can you believe it? Goin’ Postal, that derogatory term that arose from disgruntled and sometimes ill people who charged into a post office shooting people. Dead. I know people have used the term since then to be funny. But a store? A franchise to boot. Really?

That’s it, I thought. I’m not going to stay quiet this time. So I went to their web site to investigate a little bit.

Then I wrote a letter (e-mail). This is what I wrote:

I was just visiting your company web site and was heartened to see your emphasis on family and good customer service. So I'm wondering about the story behind the name of your company. What made you choose "Goin' Postal" over other options? Have you had any negative feedback due to the term's origins?

I first got an automated reply: “This email is an automatic reply. We'll reply with a more personal email soon.” It included details on where to get information in the meantime and about how important franchisees are (in case the reader is a current or potential franchisee).

Then I got an email from the vice president saying she was unavailable and would respond to e-mails on xyz dates. She included how she would prioritize which e-mails would be dealt with first. I found that quite thoughtful and transparent. Here’s her priority list:

(1) emails from franchisees' company email addresses
(2) ad approvals
(3) sign approvals
(4) requests for press releases
(5) requests for vendor approvals
(6) exams for grading
(7) continuing education emails
(8) questions from potential franchisees
(9) all other types of emails

But I was still waiting for a reply to my questions. Stay tuned for Part II for a surprise.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Forward Slash vs. Back Slash Smackdown

Let’s resolve the debate: Do web site addresses use back slashes or forward slashes? You hear both when people spell-out a web address. I suppose the “/” symbol to some people looks like it is leaning back, thus it’s a back slash. And to others, the slash is pointing forward, so it’s a forward slash.

Guess what? It doesn’t matter. There’s only one kind of slash in a URL! On most keyboards, it’s that key with the question mark.

So web site addresses are: www dot something dot com slash something. Don’t bother with the back or forward clutter. Keep it simple.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Mommy Podcasts do Nichecasting with a Capital N

I decided to take my own advice and look for some podcasts that are related to my hobbies rather than just those about my profession. For over a year, I’ve pretty much only been listening to PR/communications-related podcasts – really good ones that I’ve recommended here before (see posts on April 12, April 30 and May 28, 2007).

But a couple of weeks ago, I started exploring other topics. Here’s how it went: Let’s see. What are my hobbies? No time for scrapbooking or music or exercise or… Hmmm. So what then? Well, I can stock a child’s backpack in 120 seconds. I can cook a 30-minute meal in 20. And I can kiss an owie and make the hurt go away. Yep. That’s it. Mommyville.

So I started looking for “mommy” podcasts. I happened to hear Shel and Neville talking about Manic Mommies on For Immediate Release. And soon after, I heard Eric Schwartzman of On the Record Online talk about MommyCast – which he listens to as a dad. So I tried out both and am hooked. TOTALLY.

These are not little podcasts that reach a few hundred people. Manic Mommies was recently awarded Best Parenting Podcast in the Winter '07 Podcast Peer Awards. MommyCast is a Webby honoree and has sponsors like Huggies, Oral B and Nesquik. Their deal with Dixie is reported to have been for $100,000.

And these women are savvy. Both podcasts have other online features, like branded merchandise for sale. Manic Mommies is planning an “Escape” conference for moms this fall in Newport. MommyCast has an excellent online media kit. And – are you sitting down? – it states that according to Nielson NetMetrics, more than 2 million people listen to MommyCast.

Personally, thanks to these two podcasts, I’ve so far learned that either I’m not as crazy as I think I am, or I am that crazy but at least I’m not alone.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sharing your Delicious Bookmarks

Learn About Social Media from Your Desk

The best part about using Delicious is that you are sharing your bookmarks with others – and they are sharing theirs with you.

Let’s say you are looking for information on scubadiving. You could spend an entire day doing Google searches and mostly find web sites that are selling gear. Or, you could go to Delicious, and search for the “scubadiving” tag. Or maybe you’d be more specific and search for “scubadiving tips.” Your search will display a list of the web sites other people found helpful on your topic. And you can see which ones have been bookmarked the most.

There’s more. But before we go on, you need to do some homework. Your next assignment is to bookmark a few web pages on any topic you like.

The first topic I focused on was web sites that have free or cheap photos and clip art. Then I gave the link to my co-workers so they would stop “borrowing” my CDs. Worked like a charm.

Monday, June 11, 2007

No Comment, No Dice: Investigative Reporter Shares Why You Should Confess

The basics of crisis communication are to admit you have a problem, made a mistake, or are overwhelmed by a situation; make any necessary apologies; and take immediate action to fix the problem.

The reporters that uncover these "problems" can often show up on your doorstep at a moments notice, making it easy for some in management, and even PR, to lose their cool.

So, what can be done to make it a little more constructive when bad news descends on an organization?

To find out, we turned our camera onto Brian Collister, a News 4 WOAI investigative reporter in San Antonio, Texas, and asked him to share a few tips for public relations professionals when someone like him comes calling.

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Collister came to the PRSA San Antonio meeting this week to share his insights. My favorite quote that he gave was:

"I know you have a a canned answer, but I don't want your canned answer. I am looking for something more."

He also said that the public relations person is usually the last person he calls in the process - by that point he already has something that he has investigated and is looking for the organization, or person, to give its side of the story.

Though it is in the video, I think that it bears repeating that Collister, and most investigative reporters, see themselves as getting out information to the public that they have the right to know.

His advice, don't get caught up thinking that you are talking to him, but realize that you are talking to the people that you serve. In other words, don't take it personally, use it to connect with those that will affect your organization.

Cross posted at Communication Overtones

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Lesson Four: Using Delicious

Learn About Social Media from Your Desk

So far, we’ve been focusing on the basics of social media: RSS, blogs and podcasts. But there is much more. So if you’ve been worried that you’re not being “social” enough because you haven’t gone to the trouble of starting a corporate blog or podcast, you can relax. There are some tools online that will help you with your everyday work and hobbies and they don’t require planning teams.

One of these is Delicious (or This is a social bookmarking site. Basically, when you find some web page online that you want to bookmark, rather than adding it to your favorites – which are stored in your computer or server – you bookmark it to your personal Delicious page. You assign it “tags” or keywords. And wa-la, you’ve dipped in your toe, and you’ll never turn back.

One advantage is that you can access your bookmarks from any computer. You can also add to your bookmarks from any computer. But this is just the beginning. There are several ways Delicious can help you in your PR work. More on that later.

Your first assignment is to set up a free Delicious account. Go to Click on “Get Started.” All you need is a username and password.

Then be sure to do the next step to installs buttons. That way, when you see a web site or blog post that you want to bookmark, you can just click a button on your browser bar. And you’re off!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Interview: Red Cross Seeks Bloggers as Volunteers

Yesterday, I had a chance to sit down with Ike Pigott, who is the communications director for the American Red Cross’s Southeast region.  He also is a blogger at Occam's RazR.

Under Ike's direction, the Red Cross is starting to use blog engines to communicate critical information to the media and the general public in the midst of a disaster situation.  And the volunteers don't have to be in the field to participate. 

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Shel Holtz also interviewed Ike a few days ago, so if the 3 minute video isn't enough for you, you can listen to Shel's 24-minute, in-depth conversation with Ike about how the Red Cross is embracing social media as a tool during disasters.

If you are interested in being a volunteer, leave a comment here, or e-mail me at kamichat [at] and I will get you in touch with Ike. [Disclosure: I have been a Red Cross Public Affairs volunteer since 2001].  You can also see a sample disaster page about the 2007 Tornadoes in Georgia.  The portal page, where you can check for new pages and general information is on the Red Cross Online Disaster Portal Page.

Cross posted from Communication Overtones.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Is Ghost-blogging OK? It Depends…

There’s been a resurgence in the debate about whether or not “ghost-blogging” is ok. Some say no because the expectations in the blogosphere are different than in other spaces. And ghost blogging is not “authentic.” Others say it either is fine now or will be soon as social media evolves.

I think the answer really is… it depends (as FIR listeners are accustomed to hearing).

At its worst, the writer is putting words into the mouth of someone. Readers are lead to believe that the thoughts are from the “blogger” when they are not. It’s like the PR person who writes a speech for a CEO and then stands in her place to deliver the speech while pretending to be the CEO. The expectation of the audience is to hear from the CEO, in this case. Not a stand in. The same could be said about the expectations of readers of blogs.

On the other hand, not everyone has time to write all their thoughts down. Not everyone has good writing skills (that’s another issue). So for someone to employ the writing skills of another person is not only fine, it’s appropriate. In this case, the writer is putting someone’s thoughts into words.

This is typically what we do in speechwriting. When I write a speech for my boss, we sit down together first and she outlines her main points and how she wants to make them. I go back and write a draft. She’ll review it and give feedback. I’ll have another go at it and then hand her the disk. She always makes a few changes from there. She could do it all herself, but she is after all a CEO with other responsibilities.

When she delivers the speech, the words are her words. The thoughts are her thoughts. The same would be true if it were a blog rather than a speech. (Though the process likely would have to be quicker.)

I also don’t think that in these cases we should demand there be a statement on the blog about who actually wrote it. I know this is another controversial point. But in a speech, the speaker never announces that he or she didn’t actually write every word even though many, many people don’t understand that there was probably a speechwriter. In public relations, you just get used to writing things and not signing your name for credit.

But when a PR person is blogging on behalf of someone else and practically has carte blanche authority to write whatever, that's another story -- and one I would have concerns about.

So I guess what I am saying is: ghost-blogging is deceptive when it is deceptive, and it’s right when it is right. Like most other ethical issues, it just depends on the situation. Sorry, no black and white rules here. That is why it is so healthy to have these discussions.

For more on the debate listen to or read the following podcasts and blog posts. They are much more eloquent than I.

Inside PR podcast episodes #59 and #60

Dan York’s Disruptive Conversations blog
“Ghost blogging and the coming end of the Golden Age of blogging and transparency”

Sallie Goetsch’s Author-ized Articles blog
"Ghostwriting Does NOT Preclude Authenticity"

Bryan Person’s blog
“PR pro blogging on client’s behalf: Where’s the disclosure?”

Mitch Joel’s Twist Image blog
“What’s Wrong With Ghost Blogging? Or Insights From Inside PR #59”
“Ghost Blogging Continued...”