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PR / Media Pros Should Stand Firm on Requiring Quote Approvals

Quote Approvals Lower the Risk of Media Burn

The practice of requiring journalists to submit on-the-record quotes for approval by a source in advance of publication has long been a sore point between the media and the PR profession. A new spotlight has been cast on the issue, with writer Michael Lewis’ acknowledgment that he’d agreed to quote approval for his Vanity Fair profile on Barack Obama, and the new policy issued by the New York Times, which forbids their reporters from agreeing to “after-the-fact quote approval by sources and their press aides.”

Notwithstanding the New York Times’ effort to protect the integrity of the Fourth Estate, there are at least 3 reasons why it makes good sense for companies and organizations to stand firm on stipulating that reporters obtain quote approval as a pre-condition for granting an interview:

  1. Reporters Are Human. They often don’t bring the depth of knowledge that’s required to cover the assignments they’re handed…so they will make mistakes. They also bring their own points of view…so they will be selective in how they quote sources. And sometimes, they don’t always play by the rules. This blogger was told by a New York Times reporter that if I pressed for a correction to an error he had made regarding one of my clients, that he would never feature any of my clients in his column.
  2. The Spoken Word and Written Word are Very Different. A comment or offhand remark that’s expressed during an interview can cast a false or unfair impression when taken out of context, and when it is read rather than heard. Very few individuals have the ability to envision…as they are speaking…how their spoken words will look in print and to know what message those words will convey. Mark Twain recognized that “talk in print” results in “confusion to the reader, not instruction.”
  3. Journalism Is a Cat and Mouse Game. Reporters are frequently looking for a “gotcha” quote that can juice up their coverage, or support a point they’re seeking to make. Their questions can be contrived, or their approach designed to wear down a source. This blogger learned that lesson the hard way, when a Chicago Tribune reporter twisted a fact-based comment in a very long conversation that enabled him to write a story entitled, “Amex Official Admits CBOE Superiority.”

If you’re willing to participate in media interviews without the safety net of quote approval….here are some guidelines that will lower your risk of being burned:

  • You Can Never Be “Media Trained” – Regardless of whatever training, practice sessions or actual interviews you’ve had, believing that you are “media trained” provides a dangerous and false sense of security. Every reporter is different, every interview is a unique opportunity, and you need to be properly prepared every time.
  • Don’t Lead Lambs to Slaughter – For a host of reasons, and regardless of their org chart position or years of experience, some people are media disasters. If your senior manager or client has a track record of interviews that did not go well, avoid putting them in harm’s way. If a heart-to-heart conversation regarding their poor interviewing skills is not an option, at least ensure that they are equipped for interviews with tightly scripted talking points.
  • Tape Record all Interviews – When there’s a recorded version of an interview, a reporter is likely to be more careful in quoting a source, and you have something more credible than written notes, if there is any controversy. It’s good form to let the reporter know upfront that you will be tape recording an interview. If the reporter objects, and you still agree to conduct the interview, then your organization deserves whatever misquotes or misrepresentation may occur.

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Jimmy Webb and the Power of Storytelling for B2B Companies

Music critic Miss Universe on "A Hard Day's Night" movie set

Songwriting legend Jimmy Webb has written some of pop music’s most enduring ballads, including Wichita Lineman, By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Galveston, The Worst That Could Happen and the rock cantata MacArthur Park (simultaneously heralded as a musical masterpiece and the worst song ever written.)

The 66 year-old Oklahoma native now lives in Long Island and performs year-round at small venues in the US, Canada and abroad. Baby boomer fans pack the room to hear Webb strain to hit his own songs’ high notes, to listen to his tales of life on the road, and to get the real stories behind how and why he wrote specific songs.

At a show last weekend in New Jersey, Webb told fans about his first trip to London in 1964, where he fell in love with Miss Universe, who he met on the set of the Beatles movie, A Hard Day’s Night. According to the rambling story, in his attempt to impress the beauty queen – who had been cast as an exotic dancer and appears for 6 seconds in the film – Webb invited her back to his hotel room, where he sat her down next to him on the piano bench and performed his then unrecorded version of MacArthur Park. Unfortunately for Webb, the 7 ½-minute song failed to put her under his spell. She told him it was a silly song and left. Or so Webb’s story goes.

For the 450 people who heard Webb’s London adventure, all of whom have listened to MacArthur Park for decades, their musical experience has been forever re-shaped. When they hear that song in the future, it will provide a different context or a different meaning. Now, instead of cakes left out in the rain, they’re more likely to envision Jimmy Webb serenading Miss Universe in London. That’s the power of storytelling.

Social media and technology provide efficient ways for people to tell stories. But according to Dr. Pamela Rutledge, Director of the Media Psychology Research Center, “The human brain has been on a slower evolutionary trajectory than the technology. Our brains still respond to content by looking for the story to make sense out of the experience.”

Writing in Psychology Today magazine, Dr. Rutledge notes that, “When organizations, causes, brands or individuals identify and develop a core story, they create and display authentic meaning and purpose that others can believe, participate with, and share. This is the basis for cultural and social change. This is a skill worth learning.”

Increasingly, in B2B communication, companies focus on the medium and the technology, rather than the underlying message, its meaning or purpose.  In our world of websites, blast emails, podcasts, webinars, analytics, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, marketing automation, smart phones and mobile apps…it’s easy to forget that the quality of a company’s narrative drives people to notice, participate or care about what’s begin sold – whether that be a product, service or a philosophy.

We’re all familiar with how the big brand companies such as Harley Davidson, Jack Daniels, Levi Strauss, IBM and Ben & Jerry’s have leveraged their corporate narratives to build awareness and market interest. But most small and medium-sized companies, and B2B firms in particular, are at a loss to understand how the power of storytelling can showcase their core values, mission and marketplace differentiation. But this goal can be accomplished…not by cooking up elaborate tales about the company’s founders or its early struggles… but rather, by pulling back the curtain on how and why the company makes decisions, and by using real-life examples and incidents to provide interest and context.

A great example of effective storytelling involves Davidson Trust Company, a Devon, Pennsylvania-based investment manager with around $1 billion in assets under management. In a series of columns published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Davidson’s CEO Alvin A. Clay III used stories to establish relevance for his thoughts on issues of importance and likely interest to his firm’s current and prospective investors.

In one of his columns, Davidson’s CEO described how his father – a longtime professor at Villanova – had been the beneficiary of kindness as a young man, and had devoted much of his teaching career returning the favor to others. In another, Mr. Clay recounted a heated debate he had experienced with other business leaders, and how that exchange had shaped his decision-making process regarding publication of his company’s ethics statement on its website. In all of Clay’s columns, he used storytelling to deliver insight and to position the Davidson brand in a genuine, credible and memorable manner.

At his concerts, Jimmy Webb spends more time telling stories than he does on singing his songs. And these events typically end with a 10-minute standing ovation.

Earlier this month, Davidson Trust Company received its own standing ovation. Publicly traded Bryn Mawr Bank Corporation (NASDAQ:BMTC) announced plans to acquire Davidson.

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No-Cost, Cornball Marketing Can Drive B2B Top-of-Mind Awareness

LtoR: Heather Fuller, Andrew Crisp, Percy, Gary Thompson, Mickie Kennedy. Missing: Nimmi, the acrobatic dog.

eReleases competes with dozens of electronic news distribution services, all seeking to charge companies and PR agencies hefty fees to put their press releases in front of journalists, in hopes of capturing the media’s attention and coverage.

After some polite online badgering by eReleases, Highlander Consulting gave that upstart firm a shot last week; tasking them to distribute a press release for one of its clients, CAP Index Inc. – a leading provider of  crime forecasting data and risk analytics.  eReleases’ results were as good as, or better than, any of its larger, better-known competitors.

But what impressed us more than the quality of their service, was the no-cost, cornball guerilla (included in photo) marketing tactic that eReleases applied to thank us for our business.

A whacky whiteboard “eReleases Welcomes…” photo, personalized by name, sent by editorial director Heather Fuller, was embedded with this note:

“We just wanted to take the opportunity to personally welcome you as a valued eReleases customer and let you know we’re not just a website in some guy’s basement. :)

If you ever have any questions or concerns, pick up the phone and call us. All of our editors pick up the phone. No pushy salesperson or operator standing between you and us.”

So….what service provider will Highlander think of FIRST the next time we need to distribute a press release online?

Marketing Lesson: Cheap, clever and memorable can beat costly and sophisticated when it comes to driving top-of-mind awareness with targeted B2B audiences.

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PR Lesson from a Twitter Flap

Emma Sullivan

@emmakate988

Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot

When Shawnee Mission High School student Emma Sullivan jokingly tweeted her friend on November 21st, expressing her opinion of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s education policy, she had no reason to suspect that her 87-character message would ignite a firestorm of national debate; generate media exposure from nearly every major news source; increase her Twitter followers to nearly 16,000 from 61; or make her the poster child de jour for the First Amendment.

It wasn’t Emma’s tweet that caused the high-profile controversy. The flap was created by a staffer in Governor Brownback’s office who was compelled to contact the leader of Emma’s “Youth in Government” program, who notified Emma’s high school principal, who demanded an apology from Emma, who responded by notifying the media that her God-given American right to tweet was threatened. Stop the presses: we’ve got ourselves a sexy story that’s ready for prime time.

At this point, Governor Brownback and the Shawnee Mission School District had a big decision to make: either hold your ground, or back off a controversy that the media was likely to milk for days, and would position the governor and educators as free speech bullies and social media terrorists.

Contrary to decision-making you might expect from politicians and bureaucrats, both parties immediately backed down. The governor issued an apology, and the school district publicly stated its support of free speech and said Emma was not required to apologize. Smart move.

The PR lesson from this tweet heard round the world is that an apology is often the most effective way to limit damage to one’s reputation or brand. It takes guts to admit an error, but if it’s done correctly, you can build goodwill that offsets the mistake.  For some guidelines on how to apologize correctly, check out Ken Makovsky’s blog post on John Kador’s book, “Effective Apology.”

Emma Sullivan might want to put Kador’s book on her Christmas wish list. She has yet to learn basic diplomacy skills from her Youth in Government program. To date, Emma has refused to apologize for her salty tweet.

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B2B Marketing Strategies and Insights

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Are You Wasting Money on Publicity?

The Value of Publicity is Based on 3 Key Factors

Every year, companies waste time, money and opportunity generating publicity that accomplishes little or nothing in terms of tangible business outcomes.

Here are a few hard truths regarding publicity:

  • Your audiences are unlikely to notice the exposure, or do anything about it.  Even with content shelf-life driven by intelligent SEO management, there is simply too much information, too many online and offline media sources, and too little time in the day for your customers, prospects and referral sources to read, see or hear your message. And if they do get your message, there’s often little motivation for them to act on it.
  • Publicity volume does not translate into business results.  A single high-value media placement that’s properly merchandised often has greater impact than a pile of press clippings. In fact, publicity for its own sake is often unfocused, with no connection to the company’s underlying value proposition or core messages; generating confusion and apathy among target audiences.
  • Some types of publicity have significantly greater marketing value than others. The old PR adage that “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” may work for Lindsay Lohan, but it has no application for companies that care about their brand. To calculate the media placement value of various types of publicity (see chart above), Highlander Consulting uses three key criteria:
  1. BRAND RISK – If you have little control over how your company’s reputation or intellectual capital is presented – such as in a feature story where a reporter or editor will seek to produce “balanced coverage” by presenting negative items or including a competitor – then the publicity has inherent brand risk. (Value Scoring: +1 if you have total control over content; -1 if you have little or no control.)
  2. CREDIBILITY – Often called “masthead value,” this factor is based on how well the media source is recognized and respected. The potential value of the publicity is based in large measure on the underlying credibility of the source, because the exposure supplies an inherent 3rd party endorsement. (Value Scoring: +1 if the source has strong credibility; -1 if it has low credibility.)
  3. MERCHANDISING POTENTIAL – This often overlooked factor is sometimes mistakenly called “reprint value,” but Merchandising Potential encompasses far more, relating to how easily and how broadly the media exposure can be leveraged to support and drive specific marketing goals. Simply posting publicity on a website does not deliver a high ROI.  (Value Scoring: +1 if the publicity has a range of applications; -1 if it’s limited to one or two.)

Using this ranking methodology, and as reflected in the chart above , bylined articles and OpEd pieces published in credible sources typically deliver the highest marketing ROI; while inclusion (being mentioned or quoted) in a round-up news or feature story does not score well. Most home-grown efforts, such as self-published press releases, have very little value.

By using this formula, or a similar methodology, to evaluate the potential ROI of individual publicity tactics, and by building media and marketing strategies around only high-value activity,companies can consistently make the connection between publicity and tangible business results.

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