Category Archives: Media Training

A New Beginning and a New Range of Services… PR, Writing and More

Call me a dreamer, but I really do think I can do everything I need to do and keep up with this blog… really. Why have I been so remiss? Well, my business is changing– has changed quite a but in the last few months. I’ve stopped offering certain services, and gone back to old favorites. Strangely, not so much because of supply and demand, but because of my own personal interests and direction. I figure, if I am passionate about what I am working on, I’ll do a great job. And I do.

One of the reason I was on a mini-hiatus from my blog (not my job, just my blog) is because I have been spending some very productive and happy time on the other side of the fence. I started a new media company called Soul Lab which is both a blog and an internet radio show. This is where I get to share my personal interests, talk to really fascinating people, and keep my journalistic muscles fit and lean. Like most PR people from my generation (30-40), we started out as journalism majors. In fact, there were no real formal degrees in PR when I went to Emerson College. I think I prefer that, because what you need to know about PR comes from being in expert in a field you believe in, and actuallt working as a journalist. So check out Soul Lab Blog and Soul Lab Radio if you are into everything from pop culture to spirituality, from parenting to art. You’ll dig it.

In the meantime, check out a handy new range of services:

  • Freelance writing for online/offline publications and blogs
  • Webinars and teleclasses for companies, groups and non-profits on a variety of subjects including PR, media relations, Web 2.0 strategies and more
  • Communications training via phone or 1:1: Preparing people for media interviews or presentations
  • Digital media strategy: Social media and networking to grow your business and online/offline PR
  • Professional Writing: Developing messages to deliver to audiences from 15 to 15,000; press materials
  • Screenplay Doctor: Reviewing your screenplay and writing coverage. I’ve read screenplays and provided coverage for development executives and other decision makers at Tri Star Pictures (Red Wagon Productions), Spelling Films International, Keystone Entertainment and Turner Pictures
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    Filed under blogging, journalism, marketing, media, media relations, Media Training, PR, PR for Non-Profits, PR for Small Biz, PR Resources, Press Releases, publicity, social media

    THE Most Important Skill for a Publicist

    Writing. Period. The End.

    Just kidding… I have a bit more to say on the topic. Over the years I have counseled dozens of young people interested in pursuing a career in public relations or some form of marketing communications. The number one question I get asked is: “What is the most important skill I need to have in order to get a job?” My answer is always the same: “Can you write?”

    Believe it or not, writing does not come naturally to most people. In fact, some people hate writing so much, they would rather do their neighbors’ tax returns than write an article even on an interesting topic. For me, I have always loved writing. I wrote my first “book” when I was nine years old. It was called “Albert the Blue Alligator” and I still have it– and it’s still pretty good.

    I chose to attend Emerson College in Boston, MA because it is a communications school that puts great emphasis on one’s ability to communicate effectively. In fact, the school motto is ” Expression Necessary to Evolution.” So true.

    So why does a PR person need to know how to write? Don’t they spend most of their time networking, hooking up with journalists, building their contacts lists, going to events and making phone calls? No. That’s some of what a publicist does, but that’s not the whole enchilada.

    A lot of what happens includes developing messages, working with clients on how to communicate what it is they want to say, and writing a variety of written documents for both internal and external use. There are press releases, Q&As, talking points, media advisories, pitch letters, e-mail communications, etc. All of these activities require a person to be an outstanding writer.

    Spending time honing your writing skills lets a potential employer or client know that you can get up to speed on new topics quickly; assimilate complex information and relate that to a general audience; understand a variety of audiences; and can create messages that speak authentically and accurately about your product or business. Being a good writer means you are a good strategist, researcher, and overall great communicator.

    PR people have to understand and apply basic journalistic principles in writing press releases. This tells a journalist that she’s working with a pro– someone who understands the meat of a good story, not just someone interested in hawking a product, service or initiative.

    Some great writers’ resources for PR people include:

    The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr.

    The Associated Press Stylebook

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    Filed under integrated communications, journalism, marcom, marketing, marketing communications, media, media relations, Media Training, PR, PR for Non-Profits, PR for Small Biz, PR Resources, Press Releases, Public Relations, publicity

    Pitching PR: Questions Potential Clients Ask Publicists

    I had a very interesting meeting today with a potential new client. It’s the sort of a meeting that represents a typical “why should I hire you” scenario from a first-time author who has written a book published by a small press. First, let me just say that I really enjoyed meeting the author and her publisher. They were absolutely lovely. Though I concluded that I wouldn’t be a right fit because the subject matter of the book was a topic very emotionally intense, I found myself answering their questions in the most straightforward and honest ways I possibly could. In many ways, I have taken the demystification of PR to a whole new level.

    The author very appropriately asked me what sort of expectations she should have within a three-month contract in terms of how many interviews I could land for her. I said, “Absolutely none.” Had she asked me that ten years ago, I would have scrambled for exactly the right answer. I probably would have said “At least two major hits” or something along those lines. I wouldn’t have been lying, I would just have been very confident in my abilities to deliver. And if I didn’t deliver, not only would I be disappointed with myself, I would have a very angry client on my hands. So here are some basic questions that many publicists get when being interviewed for a contract– and I’ll tell you what I would say. Take it or leave it.

    1) Do you have active contacts at Oprah that you can call?

    Yes and no. I have secured two clients on Oprah in years past, but there is no guarantee that I can pull that off again, and I would never promise that to anyone. What I can promise is that I bring nearly twenty years of experience in developing pitches and stories that capture the attention of producers. But even if your best friend is a  producer at a major network or show, they still have to push stories through production meetings, other producers and hosts.

    2) Do I have to go to some other state to do interviews? I don’t have the time.

    No. That’s a waste of time. If you’re trying to get on national television, focus on that. You can always do a satellite media tour from your home town which will transmit you around the country.

    3) How many media “hits” are normal?

    PR is not just about media hits. It’s about creating a strategy to meet your objectives. If your objective is to become an expert resource on a particular subject matter, then doing interviews is essential. If you want to sell widgets consistently quarter after quarter, PR is a small (but integral) part of a larger marketing plan. Be clear on why you need “hits.”

    4) I don’t have much money, but I need a lot of help. How do you charge?

    I used to charge by the hour, but I don’t do that anymore. A brilliant idea can appear and be executed in a matter of minutes and yield very signficant results. It would not be fair to charge for fifteen minutes of work. I do flat monthly fees depending on the scope of work.

    5) How many clients have you gotten in national media outlets in the last six months?

    It’s not a matter of “getting clients into” anything. There is a process which includes developing messaging, a pitch, and maybe a press release or other materials including b-roll, sidebars and other good content. Good publicists either have existing contacts in your specific industry, or they have the ability to quickly forge new relationships with targeted media. Then the pitch goes out, follow-up is conducted and then you go from there. I think the days of touting how brilliant a PR person is based solely on where clients end up is long gone. In many ways, media relations is honestly a crap shoot.

    You’re really paying for world-class messaging, media savvy sensibilities, knowledge of your industry and the news industry, and execution. It’s called “earned” media for those very reasons. You may have an upper hand if your pal is an editor, but if the story is stale not even your closest pal can do much for you.


    Filed under integrated communications, journalism, marketing, marketing communications, media, media relations, Media Training, Oprah, PR, PR for Non-Profits, PR for Small Biz, PR Resources, Press Releases, Public Relations, publicity

    What You Need to Launch a PR Program

    I’ve been getting a lot of hits on this blog lately and I truly hope that some of what I’ve shared has helped my readers understand the PR field a little bit more. I am really passionate about helping people put their dreams and business objectives out there in ways that serve them well and produce desired results. The business of PR is not, by any stretch, an exact science. There is an entire measurement and analysis industry surrounding PR designed to help companies justify how they spend their PR budgets. Even within my community, there is much debate as to the accuracy and relevance of certain measurement techniques. (I’ll do a separate blog on that later)

    But what do you have control over in the beginning– whether you are just launching a PR program or revamping an old one– is putting in place the basic physical elements of your program. It’s so important to have the necessary building blocks in place because doing this will help you present yourself and your organization with confidence, professionalism and strength. It will also help you shape important messages, and even influence the development of your quarterly marketing goals. At the very least it will greatly support those goals and help to make them happen. In that spirit, I’ve developed the “Before the Hoopla” Executive PR Tool Kit™.

    I am so excited about this new offering. Basically, I’ve taken what I’ve learned from years of working with start-ups, entrepreneurs, corporations and individuals and put together a simple but powerful tool kit that can get any organization or person started on the right path. In some ways, it’s a blueprint. But mostly, it’s an intensely cost-effective alternative to hiring a PR agency or someone in-house. So here it is:

    The “Before the Hoopla” Executive PR Tool Kit ™ is specifically designed to solidly position you and your business for PR success. This tool kit is educational, practical and results-based. It is also an entirely cost-effective way to begin or continue your communications investment. Individually, these services (with me or any other reputable publicist or agency) may be cost prohibitive for companies with strict marketing budgets. But as a complete system, it’s accessible.


    “Before the Hoopla” Executive PR Tool Kit™

    The “Before the Hoopla” Executive PR Tool Kit ™ is specifically designed to solidly position you and your business for PR success. This tool kit is educational, practical and results-based. It is also an entirely cost-effective way to begin or continue your communications investment.

    • PR 101 workshop: the basics of public relations (2 hour session)
    • Personalized communications training for your spokespeople (3 hour session)
    • Custom messaging session for your marketing team and spokespeople (3 hour session)
    • Top 25 journalists identified
    • Top 25 blogs identified
    • Development of online media room for your website including structure and content
    • Provide templates for internal and external PR documents
    • On demand PR consultation for one month (up to 5 hours)

    Individual services also available. Please e-mail me at for pricing.

    Added optional services:

    • Photo shoot with preferred photographer for spokespeople and/or products
    • With partner Biz Buzz Video, production of 1-3 minute custom video for use on your website and in media outreach
    • With partner Biz Buzz Video, production of 5 minutes of company
      b-roll for use on your website and in media outreach
    • Serve as ongoing media contact for all media outreach 

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    Filed under integrated communications, marcom, marketing, marketing communications, media, media relations, Media Training, PR, PR for Non-Profits, PR for Small Biz, PR Resources, Press Releases, Public Relations, publicity, video

    The Legitimacy of PR: People and Profession

    Up until a few years ago, there was absolutely no certification in public relations. Pretty much anyone could go out there, put up a shingle, and say “Hey, I’ll be your publicist!” In fact, when I was in college in the late 80s and early 90s, I don’t believe there was even an academic focus at most major colleges and universities for PR. Yes, there were marketing classes and advertising majors, but PR was a subject often ignored by academics and folded into a curriculum in the form of a course here or there.

    The point is that although PR has been around since, arguably, the first time a caveman tried to become head of the cave, it has still been a misunderstood profession. Today, the Public Relations Society of America offers professional PR people the chance to become Accredited in Public Relations (APR) certified. The issue of certification has been hotly debated for decades. But the bottom line is that I think it’s a good idea. It forces PR people to come clean about their knowledge and experience in the profession.

    PR people get a bad rap in the public eye– sort of like personal injury lawyers or car salesmen. It’s ironic that our profession still struggles with being perceived as a valuable and legitimate part of the business process. Hollywood loves to villanize publicists and portray them as heartless, greedy liars. Honestly, I know those people exist, but I don’t know them. Who I do know are an incredibly conscientious and talented group of professionals who are amazing writers, excellent communicators and profoundly talented strategists.

    Though I am not APR certified, I’ve been meaning to do it. The cost for taking the test is almost $400, but I’m sure it’s worth it. According to the PRSA website:

    What is APR?
    APR is a mark of distinction for public relations professionals who demonstrate their commitment to the profession and to its ethical practice, and who are selected based on broad knowledge, strategic perspective, and sound professional judgment.

    Well, I guess I have something to look forward to.

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    Filed under crisis communications, marketing communications, media, Media Training, PR for Non-Profits, PR for Small Biz, PR Resources, Press Releases, Public Relations, publicity

    Hit Me With Your Best Shot: When Media “Hits” are Hard to Come By

    So what happens when you’ve sent out press releases, pitch e-mails and done your “call downs” aka follow-up calls with media and still all you hear is the sound of chriping crickets? It happens all the time. And, no, there is no possible way to have deep, meaningful relationships with every single journalist on your dozens of media lists. It’s not always possible to pick up the phone and say, “Hey, Jim. Can you do me this one favor and write something up on my client? They’re really fantastic. It’s a great story.” Nope. Even your best reporter friends can’t always say “yes” if their editor says “no.” When the media hits stop coming, or they never came at all, it’s time to stop an reevaluate your story. Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re auditing a media relations plan:

    1) Do you have realistic expectations about the hits you’re going for, and when those hits might happen? Remember, it takes weeks, sometimes several months to get on a journalist’s radar if they’ve never heard of you before or have a very limited idea of what your company does. Be persistent and continue to send releases, pitches and advisories. Eventually, they’ll get the sense that you’re a legitimate company with ongoing news to offer their audience.

    1) Is this a new angle on an ongoing news story, or are you simply promoting your service or business? It’s important to remember that public relations is an “arm” of marketing. Avoid using marketing speak or language that is too entrenched in selling your product or service. Always default to “what kind of news content can I provide that will be of service to this reporter’s audience?”

    2) Are you positioning yourself as an expert resource that can be called upon again and again for similar news items? It’s important that you’re not perceived as a one trick pony or that you’ve never done this before. Make certain that spokespeople are trained appropriately and are ready to go when that hit comes.

    3) What are your media friends saying about your pitch? Solicit some honest feedback from sources you’ve used before. They may not be your target media, but every journalist has an idea of what makes for a good pitch and, subsequently, a better story.

    4) Are you sending out your news in a variety of ways, i.e. pitch e-mails, press releases, letters to the editor, op/ed pieces. Are you using newswire services or sending targeted information to specific journalists? Take stock of what distribution methodologies you’ve used. If something is not producing results, step back and say “let’s try something else” and get back to media relations in a couple of weeks. Remember, media relations is not the whole of what public relations is. Sit down with your marketing director and discuss other strategies for raising awareness about the business that does not involve pestering journalists.

    5) Are you offering third party interviews from people who are not in your organization? If you have great relationships with industry analysts, use them! Or how about great customers that can attest to how brilliant you are? Solicit support from your fans and ask if they would be willing to be included in your pitch to the media. Make certain they have talking points, but encourage them to be enthusiastic and frank about your business.

    Doing a quick “reality check” in your media relations plan is helpful in not only keeping pace with the industry, but developing new strategies for getting the word out. And don’t worry if reporters aren’t jumping to interview you. Step back, take a break, try something else and get back to it later. You do not want to exhaust the contacts that you have, and it’s always advisable to review messaging during those dry editorial periods.

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    So You Want to be on Oprah?


    People often ask me what it takes to get on Oprah. I’ve been very fortunate in my PR career to have had two clients on the show and I can honestly say that there is no tried and true way of making it onto the show. Harpo Productions is an organization of people just like you and me. They are interested in timely, unique and compelling stories that speak to their audience. They want passionate and authentic guests who can give something to their viewers: an inspiring story, a new idea, a new solution to an old problem, something people haven’t seen a million times before. They seek to entertain, inform and, above all, inspire action in their viewers. They never stop at “show me what happened.” They always take it to the next level and ask their guests to share the entire arc of their personal story, from beginning to resolution.

    The Oprah Winfrey Show has, in many ways, become the Holy Grail of PR opportunities for publicists and their clients across the country. Why? Well, no other show has such a loyal and dedicated viewership, and ratings have been consistently high for decades. In other words, a spot on Oprah could literally take a company, author, entertainer, whoever straight to the next level– or least keep them there.

    So, when potential clients come to me and say “Can you get me on Oprah?” I always have to chuckle a little bit. It’s as though there are a handful of super-publicists who have some sort of golden inside track to each and every producer (and there are a lot) at the show, each one having the authority to make an instant “yes” or “no” decision the second you call their red phone. My answer is always the same: odds are slim, but there’s always a possibility. It depends almost entirely on what your story is.

    Here are some important questions to ask yourself if you’re even remotely entertaining the thought of pursuing this ambitious route:

    1) Do you watch the show regularly? It’s important that you understand what the show is like today, as opposed to when you were in college. Oprah is a person, and her show topics have evolved and changed just like her.

    2) Have you tried to get publicity in other national publications and failed? The sign of a potentially good guest lies in whether or not national magazines or major market newspapers have seen the value in your story. This isn’t always necessary, but it doesn’t hurt.

    3) That said, have you already been on a national broadcast outlet? If so, this may or may not hinder your chances of getting on the show. Part of PR 101 is the idea of exclusivity among competing media organizations. So while I wouldn’t advise a client to turn down a shot at The Ellen Degeneres Show, I would tell him that it just might compromise an opportunity to get on Oprah. Only the producers know for certain.

    4) Are you simply hawking your book, product or company, or do you sincerely have a story to tell? If the answer is: “yes and yes”, you need to work with an experienced publicist to figure out whether or not your pitch has legs.

    5) Do you regularly visit Oprah’s website? If not, you should. There is a section which actually shares information about being a guest on an upcoming show or regular feature. This is great insight into what the producers are interested in.

    6) Can someone else lend a third party perspective and maybe tell your story better than you? Producers are absolutely inundated with pitches from individuals, companies, PR agencies, amateur publicists, someone’s uncle, you name it. So how do you cut through that noise? If your work has truly made a difference in someone’s life, encourage her to take action and submit her story directly to the show via the website. They do encourage photo and video submissions in order to get a sense of who might be supporting guests for your story.

    7) Have you been media trained? Sometimes this is the last piece of the puzzle that people consider. Producers at any show want to feel good about having a dynamic guest who can speak engagingly and authentically. Media training is not just about “staying on message” though that is part of it. It’s also about 1) talking through what you’d really like to get across before you actually have to and 2) seeing yourself on camera and evaluating your demeanor before you let millions of people do it first.

    So take these common sense tips and ask yourself how and if you would be a good fit for the show. Good luck!

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    Filed under Media Training, PR for Non-Profits, PR for Small Biz, PR Resources, Public Relations