Thursday, November 6, 2008

So you want to send out a press release?

So you want to send out a press release? It sounds like a good enough idea.

“People should know about this product.”

“We need to get the word out, get some buzz.”

“We must raise awareness about this important issue, and publicize our work to solve this problem.”

“It’s time to educate the public!”

These are all solid, worthy motivations to crank out the release and hit “send.” But none of them constitute good enough reasons to distribute a press release (more accurately, a “news release”).

It the strictest sense, a news release announces news to media organizations, in hopes that they will report on your announcement. Not to overcomplicate what should be a simple process, but it’s harder than it looks to get coverage. Read on for a breakdown of what’s involved in an effective news release strategy.

The definition of news
News is “new.” Whatever you’re talking about hasn’t happened before, or lately. News is “now.” It is out of the ordinary. Most early journalism textbooks describe the “man bites dog” story. (Dogs bite men every day.) News is the extraordinary, tragic, or sensational. (Think flashing lights and sirens.) If not the “first time ever,” news is the “most,” the highest, strongest, or the longest. News might even be the least, the overlooked, the “best kept secret,” or about the innocent and weakest among us.

News is never common, mundane, ordinary or “as expected.” Find the superlatives in your story, or keep working until you do something (or discover something) that stands out. Only bother to write a news release about something that is truly “news worthy.

The content of the release
You’ve heard of the “5 Ws and an H?” The who, what, where, when, why and how are elemental and elementary to any news release. Be prepared to spell out the details of your announcement. And you might be surprised to discover that the things you take for granted are notable to people who don’t live with your issues every day.

The climate of the newsroom
Most people have no idea how competitive the newsroom atmosphere is. No matter the size of the media outlet, the editor’s inbox is overflowing with news releases. Not only are you competing with all the other providers and suppliers in your field, you are competing with national events, local weather, the big crime story, fires and accidents, and the enterprising ideas that the editors and reporters themselves are developing.

Your subject line is critical. Your lead paragraph must capture the attention and imagination of the editor. Your release must demonstrate that you have the credibility and capacity to help the reporters tell a compelling story for their audiences. The reporters themselves are competing with each other, and with other news organizations. I’m not saying your story cannot compete. I’m just saying that in most cases, you’ve got to hustle to get noticed.

The contacts you are pursuing
Not all reporters or media outlets care about your story, no matter how important you think it is. Discern the outlets and the reporters that have previously shown some interest in your issue. At large, daily general news operations, finding the reporter that is sensitive to your side of the story is even more important. Specialty media outlets may provide coverage more often and in more detail. So specialize! Niche marketing is still “in.”

The follow-up
After you send out your release, it is essential to follow up with a phone call. What are you asking for? An interview, a story, a listing, ink, air time, a photograph. And by asking for such coverage, you are also inviting scrutiny. News subjects feel picked on when reporters call “only during controversies.” The break-through comes when you provide a story that is newsworthy during positive times.

Ideally, you will become a credible resource upon whom the reporter can call when looking for background, perspective or other related contacts.

The results
Regardless of all the high profile, high dollar, whiz-bang advertising strategies you might engage, nothing beats word-of-mouth endorsements. News coverage is a form of word of mouth, but on a grander scale. The impartial opinion of an outsider carries with it a nice aura of credibility. And well placed, such articles and coverage can help you advance your cause.

So, once you decide that you really want to “go public” and pursue coverage by the news media, strap in. The publicity game is a wild one.

Chavis Crew Communications would love to help you plan and execute your campaign. Drop us a line at

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Good press relations - McCain or Obama?

(photo by Associated Press)
CBS reporter Dean Reynolds offers some important insights on the respective press operations of candidates McCain and Obama.

McCain - mostly on time, with daily schedules printed out to help national reporters plan their coverage. But usually only does one event per day. That makes it much easier to plan and accommodate reporters’ needs.

Obama – mostly behind “schedule,” but most days feel like they’re winging it, waiting for long stretches in the motorcade while the campaign figures out when the candidate will be on the move. And no written schedules.

On the campaign plane, Reynolds says McCain is friendly and outgoing with reporters. Obama does news conferences, but rarely banters with the “boys on the bus.”

McCain’s plane is clean. Obama’s plane is smelly. Eewww!

And while McCain’s events are better planned and his press aides seem knowledgeable and helpful to reporters, Obama’s team, described as “improvisational,” is overworked, under-informed, and not so motivated to cater to the needs of the press.

True, the major TV network types like Reynolds find it hard to accept that the world does not revolve around them. Still, he points out that those dinosaur evening news shows still bring in tens of millions of viewers nightly.

Dean Reynolds covered Obama for most of 2008, until spending a few days on McCain’s “Straight Talk Express” recently. That’s a good editorial move by the managers at CBS, keeping its reporters from getting too cozy (familiar) with one side’s staff.

The differences might be the effect of McCain’s experience on the stump. He’s been politicking since Obama was in NYC as a Columbia undergrad. Barack’s groundbreaking campaign is still the front runner, and they may not have time to organize the details as they crash through battleground states.

Replies to Reynolds’ column say Obama’s got the media in his pocket (“doe-eyed girls for Obama”), so he doesn’t have to care about them. The reporter warns, “in politics, what goes around, comes around.” Good media relations is based on facts, access and a basic human skill called courtesy.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Digital tracking by The Numerati

NPR’s Fresh Air program had a fascinating discussion on the role of digital information in our lives, and how much information we leave behind in our daily lives. What websites you visit, what you buy at the grocery store or Borders, and if you’re GPS-equipped, where your car is at any given moment. Privacy freaks are getting no sleep at all these days.

“The Numerati” is the sinister name given to the technophiles who mine all this data for clues to our habits and preferences. Business Week senior writer Stephen Baker (he also writes has a new book on the nature of all this digital spying.

After watching the movie Will Smith in “Enemy of the State” and Sandra Bullock in “The Net” (and knowing that Hollywood is years behind real NSA technology), I’ve pretty much given up any illusion that I have any real privacy left. In this tabloid, pay-you-for-a-scoop-on-your-mom era, I have no secrets that I trust will stay secret. For the right price, some hacker can expose my entire life. You won’t have to worry about me running for office.

Having given in to the Eye in the Sky, I’m actually OK with the grocer spitting out a coupon at checkout for something I actually want. When they start calling me at home addressing me by my first name, then I’ll complain. I kind of want to pretend that strangers do not know all about me (the same way I answer the phone with a nonchalant “hello,” when I already know from Caller ID whose calling).

Baker’s book points out that marketers do not fully know how to use all the data that’s available. They’ll figure it out eventually. The question is, what are you doing to find out more about your customers and prospects. What do they want? When, and in what color? The winners of the information game will have the first shot at a sale. But please have the decency to allow your customer to think his life is still mostly private.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Why podcasting works

Take it from a 30-year radio veteran (me), people like to listen to interesting conversation. And if your podcasting, you're chasing the right people.

A 2006 profile of podcast users from Edison Media Research:

  • 11% of the survey indicated that they had ever listened to a podcast as defined (and 21% of persons age 12-17 have done so).

  • Podcast listeners are very well educated, have higher than average household incomes, and represent a very attractive advertising target for both online AND local retailers.

  • While podcast listeners are much more likely to block unwelcome advertising than the general public, they are no less likely to click on relevant advertising than other Internet consumers.

Edison updated their report in 2007 here.

More and more tools are available to help you tell your story to your website visitors, in quick, easy, downloadable packets. Best of all, your conversations are original and framed the way you want. Let's go podcasting!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

10 billion online videos watched in Feb. '08, up 66%

I noticed it a couple of years ago, when my then-5th grader walked away from evening TV to the other side of the room, where the family computer lives. There, for an hour or more (if we let him), he would surf the internet for videos of his favorite animations, and stupid cat tricks. Rarely will he watch evening TV these days, and that's OK with me.

I'm converting slowly too. I used's video stream to catch up on their drama "Jericho".)

The trend is settling in to mainstream America, and it has establishment media scrambling. From
"All that time you waste at the office watching stupid cat videos on YouTube adds up: Numbers released by ComScore on Wednesday indicate that U.S. Web users watched more than 10 billion online videos during the month of February. That's a 66 percent gain from the previous year."

Trade you a prime time sitcom for a webisode? How will you adapt to this trend in your marketing plan?

Monday, April 7, 2008

Bad week for PR guy Mark Penn

( Lai/burson-marsteller)
Talk about “can’t win for losing…” Mark Penn was rolling large as chief strategist for the Hillary Clinton campaign. He was one of those spokespeople made available to the media after a debate to offer “perspective.” Everyone outside the profession calls it “spin.” This was done under the handle of his personal research firm, Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates. Penn also worked on the Clinton ’96 re-election bid, and Hillary Clinton’s senate campaign. Penn’s Wikipedia entry is loaded with juicy tidbits about other work with the Bloomberg NYC mayoral run, election monitoring of Hugo Chavez election in Venezuela, work with Tony Blair, and others. This guy is busy.

Penn’s other gig, as CEO of PR giant Burson-Marsteller, was to represent the South American nation Columbia in their attempt to win passage of a new free trade agreement, which Senator Clinton opposes, by the way. B-M is one of the largest communications firms on the planet.

So Penn’s meeting with Columbia last week raised a stir. Penn apologized for meeting with Columbia. Feeling disrespected, Columbia fired Burson-Marsteller. And then, under pressure from unions who oppose the Columbian free trade deal, the Clinton campaign fired Penn. Penn’s personal company (PSB) continues to do polling for the Clinton campaign. The fallout in the blogosphere: says Sen. Clinton’s message will not change.

The liberal Huffington Post says Clinton loyalists have long simmered over Penn’s strategy to sacrifice caucus states, B-M's corporate clientele, and his sometimes public arguments with other Clinton staffers.

The conservative says Penn offered research and advice, basically a “locked feedback loop” that just reinforced whatever his research revealed.

And now, a word on conflict of interest from the Public Relations Society of America Code of Ethics:
A member shall:
· Act in the best interests of the client or employer, even subordinating the member's personal interests.
· Avoid actions and circumstances that may appear to compromise good business judgment or create a conflict between personal and professional interests.
· Disclose promptly any existing or potential conflict of interest to affected clients or organizations.
· Encourage clients and customers to determine if a conflict exists after notifying all affected parties.

It’s hard to keep all these competing interests sorted out when you’re a multi-national conglomerate. Success can be its own enemy. Perhaps you would be better served by a smaller, more dedicated firm… like Chavis Crew Communications.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Lasers, not floodlights - sharpening your attack

Three current marketing trends point to more specialization in marketing, and a reduced reliance on mass marketing. From a column by Gerald Bagg, CEO of ad agency Quigley-Simpson:

3. The splintering of social networks: Watch for dominant MySpace and Face­book social networking sites to lose ground to more specialized, specific offerings like LinkedIn, Badoo and
4. Fragmenting of streaming video: Streaming video will likely follow the pre­dicted path of the social networks. While YouTube is the largest of these video sites currently, we're seeing tailored secular video sites pop up almost daily.
5. Narrowcasting vs. broadcasting: Tar­geting audiences through media mix mod­els, and combining technology with that, allowing marketers to conduct more so­phisticated analysis of what media gener­ates the most results from a particular audi­ence, will become more widely used.

Generic appeals in my inbox bug me to no end. But I have a high tolerance for messages from people I like, companies I use, and lists I sign up for.

Thanks to for this lead from DMNews.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Church Marketing Sucks.

Ooh. Edgy. Offensive. Angry. Funny. So totally true. So what?

The sacred sub-sector of the non-profit world has its work cut out for it. Consider:
  • the ripped-off red and white swirl logo that read “Things go better with Jesus,”
  • the hulking Jesus doing push ups with the cross (and the weight of the world) on his back in the name of “God’s Gym,”
  • the big F-150 pick-up truck grill with the caption, "Built Lord Tough."

Christian marketing is all over the map. Unfortunately, much of it can be labeled “cheesy.” Worst of all, it’s not taken seriously.

Whatever your message to the public at large, the worse response to a general, mainstream media message is apathy. Getting ignored proves that you wasted whatever time and money you invested.

Tied for third place is the hearty “Amen” from the already converted, and the indignant cry of “Wrong!” from the opponents, both with little in the way of follow-up and follow-through.

The second most desirable response to a general market communications campaign is the protest, demands for a retraction, a letter campaign, pickets. A real outcry extends the reach of your original message to exponentially more than would have received the message otherwise. I’ve seen pickets and demonstrations do wonders (make million$$) for the people they were trying to shut down.

The winner for any marketing message fired out into the atmosphere for the general public is the considered response by the unaffiliated and undecided. The second look. The “maybe I’ll try it.” Watch how the political campaigns sprint for the middle after their nominations are secure.

That’s the position most churches find themselves in. Declining in attendance, marginalized by the media, mocked by the educational and scientific establishment, churches have a lot of ground to make up with people who don’t hate church. They don’t love church either. They are kinda-sorta you know, just busy doing other stuff. Enter the blog “Church Marketing Sucks.”

Given what they think is a “timeless message,” and “good news for the whole world,” churches have the potential to build a pretty good reputation at the grassroots. Media images, sex scandals and mega churches aside, what can a small to mid-sized congregation do to communicate its positive, feel-good message to its nonchalant neighbors?

Check out the serious and fun-filled folks who post at Church Marketing Sucks. Recent posts include a gallery of marketing poster art, dispatches from a Compassion project with orphans in Uganda, and a poll on love/dating/sex sermons. It's an excellent forum for taking this sector up a few notches in quality and effectiveness. We can only pray.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

All out interactive: fun with your contact form

The more interactive web communications becomes, the more your website will have to connect and engage your visitors.

Writer Edward Pistachio was super-effective at this by putting a puzzle at the top of his "contact" page. Solve the puzzle, win the privilege of contacting the writer.

It's a perfect strategy if you're wanting to raise the quality of your contacts (and maybe make a repeat visitor out of him).

Read more at:
Edward Pistachio's website:

(Parental advisory: Pistachio's prose is vulgar at times. I hope you're not easily offended.)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Doritos goes “deep branding” - music and marketing

(written Monday morning after Super Bowl XLII)

At a friend’s Super Bowl party, one ad stuck out, mostly because it’s the one that got a reaction from his 18 year old daughter. “Who is that,” she asked, wondering about the strangely passionate and peaceful music video that ran right after the first quarter.

It was Kina Grannis, 22-year old songwriter and winner of the Doritos “Crash the Super Bowl” music contest. Seriously... exposure on THE SUPER BOWL! Instant awareness to 90 million plus, and the curious will follow up. Oh yeah, a contract with Interscope Records was part of the grand prize.

When I got back home, I found a story on the Doritos campaign in the Wall St. Journal. This morning, I googled her name. A few thoughts:

On her website, she says "thanks" and that she'll be busy for a few days. (I'm thinking she's being wined and dined in LA today, first class flights, limos, hotel suite, lots of sucking up... kinda cool...)

She's got good graphic support. Most of her website is down, and she has no shows scheduled right now.

The myspace page is poppin'! 4 songs to listen to, and lots of love from lots of people. The 4 songs she has are strong, very well produced. I'm at 196724 plays. Check back tomorrow. I wonder what it was before last night. And she's a very good writer. Which is to say (a few things about kick-starting a music career):

1) The music is central, starting with the composition. Cover songs mean nothing to an artist trying to break in. Build your career around original work. How deep is the well? How many songs do you have in there anyway?

2) Presentation = production. Good arrangements and recording are almost equal to the audience. We're in the media age - get it? People have to hear the work, ENGAGE with the work. One of Kina's songs on her myspace page sounds like it was recorded over the phone. Interesting. Cute. Penetrating. Good production is worth whatever you have to spend on it. Don't scrimp on this one.

3) Get out there. Kina's support and fan base love comes from being in a community (was S. Cal., now Austin), playing in front of people, being nice to people, random acts of kindness. Collaborations. etc. Which is to say, if you want a public career, you will have to be OUT (to the limits of your soul, integrity, creative output - out-ness can be overdone too, so be careful).

A few thoughts about the Doritos campaign (as documented by Betsy McKay in the Wall St. Journal, 2/1/08)...

Doritos sales dipped in the early part of the decade, so Frito-Lay/Pepsico shifted direction. So a brand that's been around for 42 years isn't afraid to change its look. That's easy when your target is teens and young adults.

Jay Leno and Miss USA out. "Name that flavor" online contest, Stephen Colbert, and edgy on line music competition in.

Wisely, Doritos didn't lower itself to creating a jingle-contest. All we know about Gen-Y and Mosaics says they hate hype and bad pitches. The campaign director - 32 year old Rudy Wilson, avid video gamer who plays Guitar Hero in his office. (did you notice the background to Tom Petty's concert had arrows moving along guitar strings, very "Guitar Hero"-ish.)

The angle worked for me: bring "original music with a 'bold, intense' image, because they 'bring a passion' to their music, Ms. Mukherjee (Frito-Lay VP-marketing) says."

While the online music competition wasn't launched until later October, it caught on fast with the music industry and bloggers.

The concept took months to set up. It was not a "last-minute" idea rushed to the web. Today's fast-paced media world (easy-to-update social networking sites, digital video production) offers flexibility, and the ability to respond to market conditions, but nothing beats a well-executed idea with all the parts and players in position.

The Doritos music video got high and low marks from critics and viewers. ('s Alexander Wolfe raved. Slate panned it.) But in the communications world, two things matter: getting noticed (for good or bad), and moving merchandise. I guess it depends on how much you value the squishy notion of "branding."

Sales have turned since F-L tuned it’s approach. WSJ reports a 6.4% rise in sales in 2007. The price tag for the music video - $5M (which comes to a mere .3% of Doritos’ U.S. gross revenues of $1.7B).

When I'm at the chip aisle, I' tend to buy generic, unless there is some emotional, subjective "feeling" toward the cooler, more expensive chip. Kina Grannis won't make me hungry for chips, but her music might create a physiological response, over-riding my budget and allowing me to enjoy the premium brand.

Hedging its bet, put the Doritos “giant mouse” spot in its “Ten Best” for 2008 Super Bowl ads. It got out loud laughs (LOLs) from our crew too. So there you have it. “Deep branding” for younger, edgier set. Guffaws for us guys with da brats and beer bellies.

(photos by little grey-flickr,

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Ads in Transition

The Wall Street Journal gives us a wonderful case study in the relative economics of revenues from banner ads and premium (paid) subscriptions.

(I tend to watch Rupert Murdoch pretty closely. His billions give him a bit o’ financial credibility.)

Mr. Murdoch is $5B lighter after adding the WSJ to his media stable. (The guy buys media the way Jay Leno buys cars!) At the Journal, his Rupert-ness promised to beef up the Journal's ad-sales effort and to lift its circulation. (Don’t read “print circulation” – that would fly in the face of terminal forecasts for all print outlets.)

On one side, free content (breaking news alerts, opinion, personal finance, lifestyle, as well as some videos, blogs, podcasts and other interactive elements). Note that those visiting the non-paid side spend less time on the site. Visitors who link to the WSJ from Google News get can see their article for free, but WSJ hopes readers will like what they see and pony up for a subscription.

On the other side, where subscriptions could be as high as $119, advertisers also pay a premium to reach the more committed visitors. The Journal itself reports $60M in subscription revenue last year.

Here’s the dilemma: the Journal would have to double or triple its monthly visitors to earn as much in ad dollars as it does in subscriptions. So the Dow Jones publishers continue to carefully adjust the balance of free and paid content, with incentives and attractions all around. Consumers are constantly valuing and reassessing their budget for information tools.

I’m feeling your pain Rupert.

SOURCE: “ to Retain Subscription Component” by Emily Steel, January 25, 2008, Wall St. Journal,

Introducing "Intel 10.0"

Introducing Intel 10.0 – Earth-shaping facts and perspective on business, internet communications and media relations from Chavis Crew Communications...

First, a few facts:

Top 3 media for triggering an online search are: magazines, reading an article on the product and TV.

Top newspaper websites in unique visitors (Dec. 2007, Nielsen Online)
1., 17.2 million
2., 9.9 million
3., 8.5 million
4., 6.5 million
5. Wall Street Journal Online, 5.4 million

Magazines go on line only, abandon paper and ink editions CCM Magazine ceases print edition. Salem Communications will publish its last print issue 4/08. Late in 2007, Strang Communications moved its publications New Man and Spirit-Led Woman to on-line only editions.
Of course, facts are not enough, but who has time to keep up with all the trends in business, internet communications and media relations? The communications landscape is changing. A few subtle, seismic shifts at a time, islands are appearing and shorelines are being redrawn. Old monuments are being washed away, replaced by new landforms. The end result is akin to a 10.0 earthquake, but occuring in little increments.

This blog is established to give you a couple of quick updates, an occasional pithy quote, some analysis, and a few links so you can find out more. Quick information you can use. Perspective to give you an advantage. Effective intelligence. Call this blog "Intel 10.0."

Business guru Ram Charan’s latest book targets the pure practice of selling in the 21st century. What the Customer Wants You to Know (2007, Portfolio) points sales managers back to the basic practice of a customer-driven approach. In the Wall St. Journal (Jan. 28, ’08), Charan says, “(salespeople) should find out what the customer needs, which will be a combination of products and services and thought leadership.”

I believe that thought leadership will make the difference for you in a competitive, erratic and hyper-paced marketplace. “Wisdom and understanding” are prize possessions in this info-glutted age. I’m dedicated to helping you succeed by sifting information that can make a difference and getting it to you here in this blog, so that you consider it, ponder the possibilities, and take action.

I’m aiming for at least one update per week, more if breaking news requires it. I hope you’ll subscribe.