PR Tip #59

Create mutually beneficial relationships with media. Avoid the “gimme” approach. Consider what might they gain by running your story.

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For The Record

The recent scandal that led U.S. Rep. Chris Lee to his sudden resignation is a tale of online reputation. Here you have a 46-year-old married member of Congress who answered a Craigslist singles ad as a 39-year-old divorced lobbyist. And, for the sake of eye candy, he included a picture of himself standing half-naked in front of a mirror flexing his muscles. Lucky for him, the woman whose ad he answered, was a 34 year-old single mom searching online for a date who decided to check his story on Facebook. Once she realized he was a married politician, she forwarded his goodies to gossip site Gawker and the exposure set his resignation in motion.

For the record, a public figure (or anyone really) should beware sharing anything online that is meant to be a private matter. Some say the single woman is the bad guy for sending the shirtless pics of the Craigslist Congressman and sharing her flirtatious convo with Gawker – Lee had never even met or been involved with her. I say – when you play with fire online, you might get burned in public.

No one is safe.

Here’s the story (ABC News):

I Know I’m Write

Reading is fundamental. Writing is as well. But not all writing is created equal, particularly when it comes to writing for news.

Maybe you’ve been there before. You need to write a press release but don’t have the slightest idea of where to start. You’re unsure about the content, the news factor of your story or what it’s worth. But you were always good in English, so you’ll figure it out.

Or maybe you’ve been here: you have an important message to get out to the media and want give them all the details. You’re uncertain of how to send your press release or if it will even get noticed. But you’re a fairly intelligent communicator, so you’ll make it happen.

By journalistic standards, a story without an angle is a “non-story.” What you may think is news may not exactly be what journalists consider a topic of interest for their readers. In a TV newsroom, a story without a visual element to capture for viewers lacks appeal and may be conveyed as a waste of time. Thus, your beloved press release that you’ve sweated and slaved over adorned with all its’ elaborate details and superlative-like adjectives ends up in File 13.

On the surface, writing for news isn’t much different from what you’ve been taught. However, there is one exception: style.

Enter the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook. Considered the “Bible of the Newspaper Industry,” it is the gold standard of writing for news. AP recently released their 2009 Stylebook packed with rules on grammar, spelling, punctuation and usage, capitalization, abbreviation, word and number usage. It is the one reference with fundamental guidelines for news reporting that all writers, editors, students and PR pros will follow.

When it comes to writing, none of us wants to be told that we’re wrong. Writing for news requires a certain clarity and professionalism that writing for everyday purposes may not hold up. Weak, cloudy writing can be the worst because it reflects our intellect, skill and thought or lack thereof.

Your writing for news should be closely matched with the standards that professional writers go by. While writing in AP style won’t guarantee you any coverage, it tells journalists who receive your press release that you care about good writing and value their craft enough to learn their precise language.

Guard yourself when writing for news by proofing, tailoring and checking your press release. Oh yes, and go get an AP Stylebook.

She Said She’s Not Here

I remember a story my family often tells about my aunt when she was young and dating. One of her many suitors called and she didn’t want to talk to him. She tells her little brother (my uncle), in an attempt to avoid the guy, to say she’s “not here.” Being innocent to the dating game, her little brother grabs the phone tells the guy, “She said she’s not here,” a comic yet embarrassing scene of wordplay on a misunderstood message.

Communication is a two-way process. The message is sent then it’s received. But sometimes messages aren’t always relayed or decoded the way we intend for them to be. shesaid

Unclear communication leads to confusion. Yet, clearly in my uncle’s mind, he knew my aunt could have easily come to phone and talked to the poor guy. He wasn’t trying to blow her cover. He just told the truth by saying exactly what we she asked.

Now, imagine if my uncle had been your secretary or co-worker, taking a message for someone you were trying to avoid. That might have been a communication disaster that cost you a client or damaged a relationship.

Never assume someone knows what you’re talking about or understands the method of madness by which your message comes out through. Be detailed in your messages to others. Even ask them if they understand or have any questions. Sometimes we hear messages in one way when they actually have a whole other meaning.

What are some of the ways you try to practice effective communication?