Monday, January 28, 2008

Warning, this Newscast May be Dangerous to Your Health

As a PR person, I am probably not supposed to say this out loud. It’s the kind of thing we say only among friends. But I haven’t kept it a secret. So it’s not really a confession when I reveal that I can’t stand TV news.

As a PR person, I am supposed to keep track of what’s being covered on local news. I’m supposed to know who’s reporting for what station.

But when I watch, I get so angry – angry about the sensationalism, about the violence, about reporters shoving microphones in the faces of people who are grieving or in the midst of some personal tragedy. And I get angry at the lack of thoroughness that reporters are forced to comply with.

As a mother of young children, it is easy for me to get out of my news-watching obligation. There is no argument that TV news is not healthy for young children.

So imagine my dilemma a few days ago, when my first-grader’s homework assignment included watching the weather report on TV. We turned on the 9:00 news hoping they would touch on the weather at the start of the newscast. (Yes, I realize the 9:00 news is Fox, but I wasn’t going to keep my child up later for the 10:00 news options.)

As the anchors started running down the stories they would be covering, one announced: “Woman found chopped up in her front yard!”


I’m not picking on the reporters themselves. They are part of a system that is driven by powerful outside forces while at the same time being critical to our democratic society. So, yes, it’s important to tell the bad news as well as the good. And yes, there is a lot in this world that is not pretty. I understand that.

But come on.

We can do better than this.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

CustomScoop Trial Passes the Test

I’ve been meaning to share with you my experience when I tried CustomScoop’s free trial clipping service. CustomScoop provides online blog and media monitoring service. Listeners to the New Comm Road and For Immediate Release podcasts can receive a free trial.

I took advantage of this offer in October when my organization released some research. In addition to the trial, I also use Nexis and Google Alerts to monitor media coverage, and Technorati and Google blog search to monitor blog mentions.

The results? CustomScoop did better than all the others combined.

Based on the search terms I had defined, I received an e-mail listing of the current day’s news and blog coverage every morning. Nexis didn’t find any of them, even though some included major Texas newspapers. Google Alerts sent about half of the newspaper stories CustomScoop found. And the ones from Google usually came a day later.

I definitely recommend you check them out. Plus, there are some freebies on their web site.

Monday, January 21, 2008

My Second Report Card for Learning New Technologies

This time last year I set some goals for 2007 for learning technologies. Here’s how I did and what’s in store for 2008.

New web site
The site is still up and running. But I can’t say much more than that. My goal for 2007 to train employees to use the CMS so they can create content was way too small. So, I attended a Ragan conference on web site management in December and have come up with a whole new strategy for using and growing our site strategically.

Lesson so far: If you want a different result, do something differently or even revolutionary.

Goal for 2008: Completely restructure how our organization maintains and uses our web site.

Social Networking
This year, I spent more time in Facebook and MyRagan. I also discovered that I’d set up a LinkedIn account a few years ago. As a result, I’ve reconnected with my best friend from high school. But I haven’t found an application for my work yet, mainly because I can’t find our target audiences online. The tools I’m using most regularly are podcasting, Jott and Delicious. And I’ve just joined Twitter about two months ago.

Lessons so far: Less is more. I do not have time or inkling to try them all.

Goals for 2008: Introduce employees to social media tools and applications for work.

Blog monitoring has only been slightly beneficial to my work. But I’ll keep it up. One of my goals for 2007 was to leave more comments on others’ blogs. That has gone out the door. I haven’t found very many bloggers who are dealing with my industry yet. And the other blogs I like, focusing on PR and communications, are interesting and insightful. But I found that if I’m reading them at work, I’m not getting my work done. And if I’m reading them at home, I’m not spending time with my family.

Goals for 2008: Keep looking for bloggers who reach my target audience.

Media Relations via Social Media
This year, I made more improvements to the press room section of our web site. But we’ve had very little news for media. Next year will be different, so I’ll have more chances to improve my use of the social media release and other Web 2.0 tools.

Goals for 2008: Improve my use of the social media release. Use other social media to be a better resource to reporters.

From a work perspective, our podcast has grown dramatically even though I slacked a bit on promoting it. And we have even bigger goals for next year. From a personal perspective, I discovered some mommy-podcasts. Instead of reading blogs, I am listening to podcasts whenever I am in the car, on an airplane or waiting while my kids are in gymnastics. I still listen to the great communications-related podcasts, but the ones by moms and by parents, are the ones that really speak to me and make me laugh out loud at inappropriate places.

Lessons so far: Podcasts are easy to integrate into the daily life of a working mom.

Goal for 2008: Continue to improve and promote our podcast series.

For me, social media is not the new thing anymore. It’s a part of my life, but not as much as it is for other people. I’m not an expert, but I know enough now to say yes to some elements and no to others. The truth remains, we learn best by doing.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Meet National PRSA Chairman Jeff Julin

I’ve got another must-listen podcast for you. Eric Schwartzman hosts the On the Record Online podcast. He recently interviewed PRSA’s 2008 chair, Jeff Julin. In the short interview, Julin talks about the biggest challenges currently facing the PR industry and what he plans to do as PRSA chair.

The interview is the first opportunity for many of us as PRSA members to “meet” Julin who seems quite personable. And I always appreciate Eric’s interview style.


Thanks Eric!

PS. When are you going to give us the behind the scene’s view of the writers’ strike? Are we going to miss out on the Academy Awards this year?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Truth Behind FEMA’s Fake News Conference

The cliché perfect storm is getting real old, but there’s no other way to describe what led up to the so-called fake news conference held by FEMA leaders during the October wild fires in California. And our own Kami Watson-Huyse, APR, gives us the behind the scenes story.

In a first-ever guest interview for the popular podcast, For Immediate Release, Kami talks with John “Pat” Philbin, the now former FEMA director of external affairs, who is quite candid.

It is a tale of overworked and exhausted staff of an agency under fire while responding to a natural disaster. A highly politicized nation’s capitol. Reporters who are either lazy or at least quick to judge. Ethical and tactical mistakes made by junior staff. And a boss with character who takes responsibility rather than pointing fingers – at great personal cost.

You can read the interview on Kami’s blog, Communications Overtones or listen to it at For Immediate Release. You can also join in the discussion on Kami’s blog, where Pat Philbin is participating and willing to answer your questions.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

TPRA Silver Spur/Best of Texas Awards Competition

From the call for entries…

Hold on to your hats and buckle your seat belts! Before the 2008 roller coaster we’re all on gets too far along the tracks, don’t forget we're already moving fast toward the entry deadlines for the 2008 Silver Spur/Best of Texas Awards Competition. The “First Call” deadline is 5 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 17. The “Last Call” deadline (with a $50/entry late fee) is 5 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 24.

Visit for entry information and the online payment form. Or, for more information, contact Julie B. Fix, APR, TPRA Contest Manager, at"> or call 281-494-6097.

The 2008 Silver Spur/Best of Texas Awards is sponsored by the Texas Public Relations Association and the Austin, Central Texas, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio PRSA Chapters. Members of all sponsoring organizations qualify for the "member" rate on entry fees.

The best work in Texas public relations will be recognized at The 2008 Silver Spur/Best of Texas Annual Awards Banquet, Saturday, March 1 at the St. Anthony Hotel in San Antonio, in conjunction with TPRA's Annual Conference, Feb. 29 – March 2. Mark your calendars and make plans to celebrate with your PR friends. (For information about the conference, visit

Thursday, January 03, 2008

More Lemonade from Lemons

If you've had an e-mail account for any time at all, some well-meaning person has almost undoubtedly sent you a version of this story:

FWD: Free Neiman-Marcus Cookie Recipe
This is a true story... Please forward it to everyone that you can...You will have to read it to believe it....

My daughter and I had just finished a salad at Neiman-Marcus Cafe in Dallas & decided to have a small dessert. Because both of us are such cookie lovers, we decided to try the "Neiman-Marcus Cookie". It was so excellent that I asked if they would give me the recipe and the waitress said with a small frown "I'm afraid not." "Well" I said, "would you let me buy the recipe?"

With a cute smile, she said "YES". I asked how much and she responded, "Only two fifty, it's a great deal!" I said with approval, "just add it to my tab".. Thirty days later, I received my VISA tatement from Neiman-Marcus and it was $285.00. I looked again and remembered I had only spent $9.95 for two salads and about $20.00 for a scarf. As I glanced at the bottom of the statement, it said, "Cookie Recipe - $250.00".

That's outrageous!!!

I called Neiman's Accounting Dept. and told them that the waitress said it was "two-fifty," which clearly does not mean "two hundred and fifty dollars" by any POSSIBLE interpretation of the phrase. Neiman-Marcus refused to budge.. They would not refund my money, because according to them, "What the waitress told you is not our problem. You have already seen the recipe - we absolutely will not refund your money at this point." I explained to her the criminal statutes which govern fraud in Texas. I threatened to refer them to the Better Business Bureau and the State's Attorney General for engaging in fraud. I was basically told, "Do what you want, we dont give a damn, and we're not refunding your money."

I waited a moment, thinking of how I could get even, or even try to get any of my money back. I just said, "Okay, you folks got my $250.00, and now I'm going to have $250.00 worth of fun."

I told her that I was going to see to it that every cookie lover in the United States with an e-mail account has a $250.00 cookie recipe from Neiman-Marcus... for free..She replied, "I wish you wouldn't do this" I said, "Well you should have thought of that before you ripped me off", and slammed down the phone on her.. So, here it is!!! Please, please, please pass it on to everyone you can possibly think of. I paid $250.00 dollars for this... I don't want Neiman-Marcus to ever get another penny off of this recipe....[a chocolate chip cookie recipe follows]

- Urban Legends,

[Let me just say that the spelling, word usage and punctuation are the original author's, not mine.]

Further, if you have been on the Internet any time at all, you should also already know that this story is an urban legend (in fact, it has been around for at least 50 years and originally dealt with a recipe obtained from the dining car waiter on a train.)

So imagine my delight when, in the course of doing some research for a news release, I found this on the Neiman Marcus web page:

An urban myth is a modern folk tale, its origins unknown, its believability enhanced simply by the frequency with which it is repeated. Our signature chocolate chip cookie is the subject of one such myth. If you haven't heard the story, we won't perpetuate it here. If you have, the recipe below should serve to refute it. Copy it, print it out, pass it along to friends and family. It's a terrific recipe. And it's absolutely free. [Followed by the recipe for the NM cookie.]
It's truly refreshing to see a company with such a great sense of humor about itself. Anyone who might have thought Neiman Marcus a little stuffy, a little snobbish, would almost have to be disarmed by this clever response to a widely-circulated, but absolutely untrue story - a response that is all the more remarkable for its low-keyed, good-humored attitude.

And Neiman's keeps its eye on the ball, ending the recipe page with this brief, unobtrusive plug: "Visit our Restaurant section for more recipes along with information on cooking classes, catering and restaurant details."

Honestly, wouldn't you want to do business with a company with this much class?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

January 2007 Luncheon: Do Your Communication Programs Measure Up?

You ruleThere is a myth circulating among PR professionals that measurement is hard and expensive.

The truth is that measurement can be both or neither.  Meaning, in its elemental form, PR measurement is simply listening to those stakeholders that mean the most to an organization and adjusting accordingly.

You can conduct very expensive and complicated measurement schemes, but an immediate source of measurement could be much more simple.  Talk to your marketing, development or IT department and you may find many measurement resources that are closer than you think! For instance, does your organization or company…

  • Survey customer sales and/or service?
  • Survey donors?
  • Track visitors to your Web site?
  • Have a Secret Shopper service or other quality control mechanism?
  • Track visitation to events, seminars or occasions?
  • Have an industry organization that does measurement/research valid to your organizational objectives?
  • Have a database of key stakeholder information that could be cross tabulated in Access or another program?

If so, then you may have the start of a measurement tool for your public relations program. Using this already existing information to conduct your research and apply evaluation is often called secondary analysis.

In addition to secondary research sources, there are many low and no cost ways to start measuring your communications programs. We have developed a list of resources to help communicators start to evaluate their public relations programs:

Free and Low-Cost Online Tools

  • Google News Archive Search: Find articles all the way back to the 1920s to present day in real time. Of course, the results won’t include walled publications like the Wall Street Journal. 
  • Google Alerts: Subscribe to Google Alerts to get up-to-date information about your company or competitors via e-mail or RSS feed.
  • Google Analytics: A free service to help you get detailed web statistics for your website or blog
  • WebTrends: A more robust paid analytics tool used by many large corporations to track sales and other behavior on a website
  • Technorati: The "Google" of blogs, Technorati is a great way to track what is said about your company
  • Google BlogSearch: Google's answer to Technorati is also a great way to track what is said about your company on blogs
  • Survey Monkey: Free for small surveys and affordable for larger ones
  • Zoomerang: Can also put together a valid survey sample from their databases and have non-profit pricing
  • Free Polls for Your Website: A list of services that provide free polling and surveys that are embedable in a Website or Blog
  • Yahoo Search Marketing: Mostly commonly used in advertising, but you can sign up for a free account and use the tools
  • Wordtracker: Finds popular keywords to use in web text and press releases
  • PRWeb: A press release service that allows an organization to put up a number of search engine optimized press releases for minimal cost

Books About PR Measurement

Primer of Public Relations Measurement, by Don Stacks. Find it at Amazon or in the San Antonio Public Library (PRSA SA donated several volumes)

Measuring Public Relationships: The Data Driven Communicators Guide to Success, by Katie Paine (177-page book)

The Focus Group Kit, by David Morgan and Richard A. Kruegar

Web sites with PR Measurement Resources

Some Particularly Helpful Articles

Research Doesn’t Have to Put You in the Poorhouse: You don't have to spend a fortune or go broke when designing and carrying out public relations research and measurement projects. To save money, consider piggyback studies, secondary analysis, quick-tab polls, internet surveys, or intercept interviews. Mail, fax and e-mail studies are good for some purposes. Or, do your own field research.

Southwest Airlines Case Study: From February 2004 to April 2005, Southwest Airlines was able to directly track more than $2.5 million in online ticket sales to optimized press releases

Guidelines for Measuring Relationships in Public Relations:

By Linda Childers Hon and James E. Grunig have found through their research that perceptions regarding an organization's longer-term relationships with key constituencies can best be measured by focusing on six very precise elements or components of relationships:

  1. Control Mutuality
  2. Trust
  3. Satisfaction
  4. Commitment
  5. Exchange Relationship
  6. Communal Relationship

Interview with Katie Paine

We will leave you with an interview conducted with Katie Paine outlining her Six Steps to PR Measurement

This is also cross posted to Communication Overtones blog.

Photo by bvincent1013