Sunday, June 29, 2008

Helpful Service Grades your News Release

Here’s a cool tool you might want to try out. It’s HubSpot's Press Release Grader. This is a free online service that evaluates your news release. Some results it will provide are: a “gobbledygook” score, readability levels, link analysis, word cloud and SEO score.

Todd Defren shares his summary on his PR Squared blog, as does Melissa Underwood of

The grader’s web site even has provides a very helpful six-minute video overview that walks you through the process. Check it out!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

CBS Sunday Morning Rebuttal Defends PR

An excutive VP at CBS Sunday Morning has provided a rebuttal to Andrew Cohen's commentary (see my previous post). Author Gil Schwartz is executive VP of corporate communications for CBS. He's also known as Stanly Bing. On June 22, CBS Sunday Morning aired his response, titled "Defending Public Relations."

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Chapter President-Elect Sends Letter to PRSA about Andrew Cohen Rant

Related to my previous post about Andrew Cohen’s rant, our chapter’s president-elect,
Robert E. Sheldon, APR, sent a letter to PRSA’s president & CEO, Bill Murray. This was in response to the open letter the Murray released immediately after the CBS Sunday Morning show aired. Sheldon’s letters are below in their entirety (with his permission), I didn’t ask for Murray’s permission, so I’ve only summarized his comments.
Has anyone pointed out that Scott McClellan is not even a member of PRSA - and probably wouldn’t be able to abide by the Code of Ethics anyway? THAT should have been the whole point of the answer letter from PRSA - that what McClellan did was NOT public relations in the sense that PRSA defines it, it was bald-face, deceptive marketing. Reputable PR practitioners belong to PRSA and abide by the Code of Ethics. The reality is that we don’t set standards for the "PR profession," we only set standards for PRSA members. And we PRSA members are only a minority of all the people who profess to be in the public relations profession.
– Robert Sheldon, APR
Murray responded with a letter essentially stating that his strategy was to focus on conduct of all PR professionals, whether or not they are PRSA members, and to hold up the Code of Ethics as guide for all.

Sheldon sent the following in response.

Thanks for the quick reply. I agree that we need to promote our standards for the whole of the profession, but we also need to constantly clarify what is and is not public relations. In the public’s view, being a PR professional today is right up there with used car salesmen, snake-oil hucksters and greedy CEOs - because that’s all they see. But being a dissembling apologist for an unethical client is NOT public relations, in my view - it’s manipulative propaganda -- and PRSA needs to constantly tell the public what the difference is.
– Robert Sheldon, APR
We’d love to hear what you think.

Note: A misspelled name has been corrected on 7/1/08

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Help a Reporter Out

Just three months ago, Peter Shankman (Peter is the founder and CEO of The Geek Factory, Inc., a boutique marketing a PR strategy firm located in NYC) started a new project he calls "Help a Reporter Out," or HARO.

The service allows journalists to submit requests for "experts" when working on a story. Peter then compiles the requests and sends them out to his subscribers - flacks like us for the most part. The requests range from "I'm working on a story on waterproof makeup," to "What has made Americans -- especially parents -- so fearful?"

Peter encourages flacks from all backgrounds to sign up, because - as he says - sooner or later a journalist will need you or an expert from your organization for something they're working on.

I signed up for the service when I heard about it on PROPenMic, but I've also seen talk on Twitter.

I know what you're saying...this sounds like all those other listserve services where I can sign up to be an expert and pay a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars annually to be included in the "expert" list. That's where this one is different. It's free.

That's right. I said it's free.

As Peter says on the site "It takes me a few minutes each day to do this, and the good Karma is immeasurable. So I'm not charging. If you really feel like sending me a donation or something, why not just send a few bucks to an animal hospital or animal rescue society somewhere. Some good places are Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, or The National Search Dog Foundation. That'll keep the good Karma flowing."

OK...I hope he doesn't take a page out of the Associated Press handbook and try to charge me for copying all that text off his site.


I've gotten a few e-mails each day since signing up, and I've responded to one. Some of them contain the reporter's complete contact information. Others are "anonymous," which means you send your information to Peter, who then forwards it to the reporter. If that person wishes to get in touch with you, they can.

He's gotten more than 10,000 subscribers in just under 90 days, and he's now aiming for 20,000. In each e-mail he encourages us to forward information about the service to our friends (I'm choosing to do it this way) so he can get more and more people signed up.

The one thing he is absolutely adamant about is that you not waste the reporter's time. Again, to quote Peter: "Promise us one thing: When you join, you'll promise not to email a reporter with an answer that doesn't match what they're looking for. In other words, you won't waste a reporter's time. Promise?"

As far as I'm concerned, this is a win-win for journalists and flacks. They get access to thousands of experts in a plethora of fields, and we get the opportunity to strut our stuff and look like heroes when we land an interview with a journalist we might not have otherwise had access to.

Once this grows some more and is no longer taking Peter "...a few minutes each day..." I'm not sure how it will remain least for the flacks...but for now...enjoy it! Sign up!

And, if you're on Twitter, follow Peter at "skydiver."

Sunday, June 15, 2008

PRSA Responds to CBS Attack on the Public Relations Profession

On June 1, CBS Sunday Morning aired a commentary by their legal analyst, Andrew Cohen, in which he accused all PR folk of essentially lying for a living. “Show me a PR person who is ‘accurate’ and ‘"truthful,’ and I'll show you a PR person who is unemployed,” he said.

The impetus for his statements was the release of Scott McClellan’s tell-all book. But Cohen took an unjournalistic leap by extending his criticism to our entire profession and directly citing (sarcastically) the PRSA code of ethics.

Later the same day – a Sunday I might add – PRSA Chairman & CEO Jeffrey Julin released an open letter in response. A little bit later, he issued a video response on YouTube.

Individual PR professionals came to the defense of each other as well. To read one of several impressions, visit the blog of Kami Watson-Huyse, APR. On June 2, Andrew Cohen responded in a blog post saying: “I am now the target of a public-relations effort to ridicule my effort, my points, my character and integrity. I expected nothing less.”

Personally, I think it’s clear nothing we say will change Cohen’s mind. So, at this point, it’s fruitless to try. First, he’s mistaken to even consider McClellan’s role as equal to that of other PR positions. That’s politics. It’s an entirely different world, which is not to say honesty is absent or excused. But it’s different.

Second, he refuses to see the true purpose of public relations. PR cannot succeed when it is based on deceit. In fact, we are in the truth-telling business. Sometimes that means telling our bosses what they don’t want to hear. And it’s about relationship building, not treating audiences like pawns to be manipulated.

I’ve been active in San Antonio’s PRSA chapter for 14 years. I don’t personally know any PR person who spends his or her days trying to “convince people that a turkey is really an eagle,” as Cohen describes.

I am not claiming we’re perfect or that we don’t need to continually hold ourselves and each other accountable. That’s why we join professional associations like PRSA.

And while Cohen is free to speak his mind, given his position and influence he bears as much responsibility to be honest and as accurate as possible. There is no evidence to support his claims about the bulk of our profession. Instead he’s given in to his emotion and personal preconceptions. And in doing so, he has damaged the reputation of the profession and of CBS Sunday Morning. He should be required to issue a correction during the next Sunday Morning program.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Join a Discussion about "PR Spam"

Have you heard of the term PR spam? It’s the practice of blasting out news releases or pitches to lists of contacts with no attempt at tailoring pitches or even verifying that the recipients might be the least bit interested in the content. It’s probably been with us as long as media have been around.

The hope is that if you shoot out hundreds of identical pitches, something will stick. There’s no real strategy involved. Perhaps it’s worked at times. It never has for me.

As many of our local PR leaders can attest, more effective media relations involves knowing who you are pitching and why. It means designing the pitch for them specifically. It takes more time, but it has a much bigger pay off.

Since spam is the electronic equivalent to junk mail. The term PR spam has come along to describe those sales, marketing and pitch e-mails that are thrust on reporters.

And because of the ease of sending e-mails, the volume of PR spam is growing exponentially. While reporters have mostly tolerated our bad and lazy behavior, bloggers aren’t so willing. We’ve seen them lately ranting online about it, blocking PR spam e-mail domains and publishing the names or domains of offenders. So, rather than the story becoming in the story, the mis-pitch becomes the story.

Of course, many of these spammers are people doing public relations work without any public relations expertise. I wish that was the whole problem. The fact is, many large and small PR firms have been called out.

That leaves us with several questions, like: How are we training our PR staff? How are we holding ourselves accountable? How are we measuring media relations success?

I am bringing this up now to tell you about a live call-in online discussion that is taking place on Wednesday, June 11, 2008. For Immediate Release will host the discussion on FIR Live on BlogTalk Radio. And you can join in. Get details on the FIR blog.