Tag Archives: PR

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

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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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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Is Getting a Media “Hit” The Goal or the Tool?

Sometimes clients and publicists focus so much on getting any coverage they can, they miss the point of why it’s important and what to do with it once it has been secured. After all, the value of most PR professionals, unfortunately, is almost always measured by whether or not she gets the right media “hits” for a client. So often, the first order of business in setting up any PR plan is to draft a wish list of potential media placements that the client is dying to get. After that, it’s a matter of scouring contacts to make the connections, creating a fully functional media list, writing a press release, sending it out and then doing the requisite pitch and follow-up calls. But before you and your publicist go that traditional route, consider this: getting a media hit is the TOOL, not the GOAL.

Let me explain. Media hits have short self lives. For instance, if you get a hit in your local daily newspaper, that’s great. But your target audience only sees that once in the paper, and possibly online for a day or two. After that, it’s archived and, essentially, forgotten. The good news is that the coverage or the press release leading up to that coverage does pop up in search engines. For radio or television interviews, you get on the air for a few minutes, then it’s done. Sometimes, the link to your story is posted online. Sometimes not.

Here are IMAGINED advantages to getting media coverage:

1) You’ll instantly be famous and/or hoards of people will come to your event or buy your product.

2) You did a great job on your local TV morning show; why, then, is it so hard to get on “Oprah”?

3) PR is free advertising! You don’t ever have to buy another minute of advertising or invest in traditional or online marketing.

4) Once you get into the right publications or in the appropriate media outlets, your job is done. Just sit back and wait for magic to happen.

Here are REAL advantages to pursuing media coverage:

1) If you are featured in a vertical monthly publication (Woman’s Day, Popular Mechanics, Rolling Stone), you have access to your direct target audience for an entire month, and usually a beautiful tearsheet to show for it.

2) You are building a relationships with the media over time. If you’re a consientious, informative and dynamic guest, you’ve increased your chances in becoming a regular interview subject or featured expert. Staying in front of your audience consistently is absolutely essential in building public awareness.

3) You can use the “hit” as part of your marketing materials, customer outreach, sales pitch, or to secure media coverage from larger national outlets.

4) You’re finding what part of your product or service’s story works, and what doesn’t. When your hits are far and few between, that’s a sign that something may not be resonating with enough people to generate interest. Use this as an opportunity to audit your messages.

5) I’ve said this before and I will say it again: create a variety of opportunities to stay in an editor’s or producer’s line of sight. Consider PR strategies when developing your business goals each quarter and match up those goals with appropriate opportunities. Think of this way, Coke still spends billions on advertising although everyone on the face of the planet knows they exist. Why? Because the reason they are so well-known throughout generations is because they understand that consistent exposure is the key to their success.

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