Monthly Archives: November 2007

Listen Up, Lawyers!


Admit it. If you’re an attorney, you know how difficult it is to prep a client to go on the stand and tell the God’s honest truth about what the sequence of events that brought them to the courtroom actually was. You may advise your client to “keep to the question at hand” or “give short, succinct, factual answers.” They are about to undergo intense scrutiny and examination from your opponent, and how they answer these questions will make a distinct impression on how the jury and judge weighs the case before them.

But what happens when you need your client front and center in the court of public opinion? How do you advise them in the fine art of dealing with the media? Well, you shouldn’t. How many lawyers out there think that being a PR pro is part of their job decription and also prep their clients on how to engage with the media? That would be like me representing myself in court because I think “I’ve seen enough of this stuff on TV. I can handle it.” Wrong.

PR professionals– in this case, media trainers and crisis management specialists– are legitimate experts in this field. If you’re an attorney with a client who is not only facing scrutiny in the courtroom, but also from the media, you need to defer to a pro who knows the ins and outs of developing appropriate (truthful) messages and training your client to be confident, clear, strategic and concise in delivering those messages.

So I recommend, do NOT go it alone. Fielding difficult questions during a cross-examination is completely different from responding to reporters and having the opportunity to get your side of the story out there. Case closed.

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Presentation Training for Execs of the Future


On Saturday I had the distinct pleasure of speaking to a group of sixteen year-old girls who are participating in a groundbreaking program at Girlstart called Project IT Girl. And I’ll be honest, I was a little nervous about the prospect of speaking to these young ladies about, well, not being nervous speaking in front of people. They’re working on educational video games and will be presenting them to the public on Dec. 1 for the express purpose of getting feedback from the community before submitting them to the “One Laptop Per Child” project. Their games look amazing. Everything from algebra to the environment are represented in their work.

So what did I tell them about how to create talking points? First of all, a great way to get started on developing talking points for anything, including speaking the media, is to write a short list of questions which you think people might ask. I asked all the girls to answer these four questions:

1) What is your game about?

2) What are the educational objectives of your game?

3) What inspired you to develop this game?

4) How do you think your game will help students learn?

This helped them to get a bit more focused on how to speak about their games. But I was also interested in knowing how they felt in general about public speaking. I asked, “Does anyone have any fear about public speaking?” Nearly every hand shot up immediately. Then they told me specifically what generates the most fear including:

  • Blanking out
  • Feeling stupid
  • Not knowing the right answer
  • Rambling
  • Stuttering
  • People won’t care about what they have to say!

This reminded me of similar conversations I’ve had with engineers in the senior most levels of Fortune 500 technology companies. So I assured the girls that even the smartest guys at the biggest companies in the world have exactly the same fears. It’s totally normal. I recommended that they follow these simple rules:

  1. Be prepared: Answer those initial questions and practice responding to them with a partner
  2. Be yourself: Don’t feel like you have to put on someone else’s personality to sound “smart”; just explain your project in an educated and natural way
  3. Be excited: You’ve put in a lot of time and energy into your game. Just think about how much it will help students all over the world, and what a great job you’ve already done! If you’re enthusiastic about your work, others will be too.
  4. Be honest: It’s OK if you don’t know the answer to someone’s question. Just acknowledge the question, use a bridging sentence like “That’s a great question! I’ll have to look into that. But what I DO know is…” and then launch into a talking point that you’re familiar with.

By the end of the session, the girls seemed a little less nervous about sharing their games with the public. They should be very proud of all the work they’ve done and I can’t wait to see them on Saturday, December 1, 2007, from 10 am – 12 pm at the City of Austin Mexican American Culture Center.

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The 1-2-3s of Distributing a Press Release

OK– so maybe it’s more like the 1-2-3-4-5s of distributing a press release. For the novice business owner, or anyone who is just curious about what this whole press release business is, keep reading.

1) When should I distribute a press release?

Some people think that in order to keep in the public eye, they need to write a press release for every single thing that happens (or will happen) in the business. This just isn’t the case. Press releases should be reserved for actual newsworthy events including product launches, major hires, notable changes in service, events, or news related to other major milestones including holidays, etc. So, in other words, while it’s awesome that you just painted the exterior of your building, or you have a new receptionist, that’s not news. The thinking is that a journalist may get so tired of seeing release after release of information that has no newsworthiness to it all (relevance to her viewers or readers) that your releases may end up in the trash bin once it hits the inbox.

2) I actually have news to report. What now?

Journalists look for a few major things when considering a press release. So before you send one out ask yourself these questions:

a) Is it news? Is it something that would intrigue a viewer or reader? Or is this just something to satisfy your ego?

b) Are you giving the reporter enough time to consider doing a story? Print and broadcast journalists have different lead times and require shorter or longer periods of time when they consider a story idea.

c) Do you actually have time to respond to interview requests? All too often, businesses send out releases without carving time to respond to requests for interviews. This can seriously compromise your relationships with media, especially local.

3) Have an updated and accurate media list. When at all possible, send press releases individually to journalists who you feel would understand and respond to your story. This is particularly important for smaller businesses because you generally have just a few core regional journalists who you will most likely being working with over an extended period of time. Get to know what they write about, and how they like to receive releases (e-mail, fax, mail).

4) Decide how you would like to send out the release. Remember, the very act of sending out a press release indicates to a journalist that EVERYONE has seen this release– including the competition. That’s why you might opt to do a direct pitch to a journalist who you have a strong rapport with so they have some sense of exclusivity with you. For events, however, people expect that your goal is to get as many people as possible to attend, so press release are considered standard. Try sending out a bcc e-mail to your media list or for more major news, use an inexpensive press release distribution service like PRWeb.

5) Track your news. There is a tendency to just forget about a release that has already gone out. But I imagine that you’d like to know where it has been “picked up”. If you use a more sophisticated wire distribution service like PR Newswire, MediaWire or BusinessWire, they offer a free basic tracking service for your press release. It’s a report that essentially tells you where your release has been posted on various news sites. Also, don’t forget to set up a Google News search or a Yahoo! news search so you can receive daily reports whenever your business (or a competitor’s) is mentioned in the news.

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Media Training: What You Don’t Know Could Definitely Hurt You


When we think of the idea of media training, our minds might float to the boring, hostile,  or downright puzzling interviews that sports giants are forced to give post-game or during training. Answers seldom go far from “Well, we just tried to give 110% and show what we can do.” Yawn.

And how many times have we cringed when we see elected officials deliver less than thought provoking answers to the simplest questions? Remember “I am the Decider!” ala Mr. Bush? And then there’s Britney– poor, misguided, woefully under-consulted Britney. One has to think that the only thing her publicist (does she have one?) has done for her lately is give her someone who says “No, really, you didn’t come off bad at all– if people only tried to understand you…” Uh huh.

So why wouldn’t someone with a powerful message to deliver, a groundbreaking product to promote, a fresh, new service to publicize simply not consider media training as part of their basic arsenal of communications tactics? For many, the answer is “I know my product/service/initiative inside and out. I can talk to anyone about about it. It’s a cakewalk.”

Well, I would beg to differ on that point. You see, you may know absolutely everything about what you’re trying to talk about, but some of your messages just may not resonate with a general audience. You need to strike a delicate balance between getting the information out there that’s most important to you, and developing messages and content that actually excite people.

Your goal should be to provide authentic, honest, entertaining and engaging content with dynamic and natural delivery. Who thought it would be so challenging to, well, just be yourself on camera or in a print interview? And if you’ve never done an interview, you may be shocked at the incredible variety of journalists out there! They may range from the thoroughly researched and professional, to the haggard and clueless last minute interviewer.

So how do you deal with the hard, unexpected questions which are either seriously uneducated jabs or more calculated attempts to trip you up? And how do you actually prepare for an interview? First and foremost, I recommend creating an internal (let me stress internal) document which outlines every possible question– from the rude and inappropriate, to the glaringly positive. This will lay the groundwork for developing your high-level messages. Work with your publicist and marketing person to develop strong answers. Practice answering these questions in as many mock interviews as your team can tolerate.

Most importantly, consider doing a proper media training session. Fortune 500 executives and spokespeople routinely undergo these trainings in order to stay on message from quarter to quarter. But now, even small to medium-sized businesses are finding that a good media training session not only allows them the opportunity to see themselves on camera and receive professional feedback, but the sessions also serve as a media relations bootcamp chock full of information that they can use for years to come.

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