Posted by Phil Hall
Thou Shalt Learn the Parable of the Corn-Burning Stove
You may recall that I don’t work in full-time PR anymore. My days are anchored at a publishing company in Connecticut where I’m the editor of a mortgage banking magazine. I recently snagged a second gig at this company, as the editor of an alternative energy publication. You can check it out online at www.aer-online.com.
Now, alternative energy has enjoyed a ton of media attention lately. But surprisingly, there are considerable pockets within that industry that escaped notice. For example: corn-burning stoves.
Corn-burning stoves? Did you know that there are stoves on the market that burn corn cobs? Instead of paying for heating oil or electric, you can just throw a few corn cobs in the stove and your house will be roasty-toasty.
This is not a new technology. In fact, it’s been around for years. But I only learned of it when I took over the editorial reins of the alternative energy magazine. And I felt rather ignorant, not knowing that corn-burning stoves existed.
So I got in touch with my pal Justin, who grew up on a farm in the middle of Indiana corn country. Justin could easily be a poster child for agriculture: he was involved in Future Farmers of America and 4-H during his youth and he currently lives in a small town surrounded by corn farms. I asked him if he was aware of corn-burning stoves. He said that he never heard of them. In fact, he was genuinely surprised to learn that corn could be used in such a manner.
Posted by Phil Hall
Thou Shalt Not Be Upset By Failed Media Pitches
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 tells us that “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under Heaven.” (The Byrds told us the same thing, adding a nice ’60s groove to the message.) In our PR world, that would translate into: there is a time for media outreach to succeed and a time for media outreach to fail.
No one likes to talk about the failing part, but it happens and it can be discouraging. Even gruff old PR veterans like me blow some steam when a well-planned pitch hits a wall and shatters into nothingness.
From my perspective, there are five key reasons why media outreach fails. In no particular order:
1. A case of bad timing. Let’s face it, sometimes there is other news that takes priority and makes your pitch seem none-too-important. The intrusive news that hogs the attention doesn’t even have to be in the realm where you are pitching. For example, I once had a client who produced an independent film that was opening in New York on September 21, 2001. He was furious that none of the local media wanted to devote time to a story on his film. The fact that the local media was heavily concentrating on something that happened in New York ten days earlier just didn’t sink in with him.
2. A case of media switcheroos. Have you ever been in a situation where you have been working with (massaging, caressing, honey-talking) a media contact who finally decides to do a story based on your pitch – but that person contact abruptly quits for another job and is replaced by someone who never heard of you? Turnover in the media industry is abnormal, and that situation happens too many times. Trust me, it has been a perpetual been-there/done-that scenario in my PR career.
3. A case of obstinate media contacts. Sometimes, you hit a contact who seems to be conducting a private blacklist of you and/or your client. I had that happen years ago, when the associate editor responsible for wireless local area network (LAN) coverage in a major tech trade weekly blatantly refused to write about one of my wireless LAN clients. I confirmed he received my press releases and materials, and I spoke with him politely more than once, but he just refused to give my client the time of day. I actually had to complain to his superior, which did not sit well with that associate editor (although my move unblocked his blacklist and got my client into print).
4. A case of stupid media people. I hate to badmouth my colleagues in journalism, but too many of them are rank amateurs when it comes to understanding what they are supposed to be covering. If you don’t spell out the five W’s and the H in big, bold letters, they just don’t get it. No matter how you try to explain it to them, it just doesn’t sink in – and because of their lack of comprehension, the pitch dies in mid-air.
5. A case of sloppy or nonexistent follow-up. Here, the PR people are at fault. You send out a pitch and you do a poor job in the second part of the pitch. Either you contact the media person too soon (say, 15 minutes after e-mailing the press release) or too late (a month or more after the distribution) or not at all. For once, you cannot blame the media for this error.
There are other reasons for media outreach efforts to die, of course. But, hey, don’t sweat the failed outreaches – it happens to the best of us.
Phil Hall is the former president of Open City Communications, a New York PR agency, and former editor of PR News. His new book, "The New PR: An Insider's Guide to Changing the Face of Public Relations," is now available on Amazon.
Posted by Phil Hall
Thou Shalt Not Emulate a Certain Connecticut Volunteer Fire Department
A few weeks ago, you may recall that I was having little success in joining the staff of the volunteer EMS and fire departments in my neighborhood along the Connecticut shoreline. Well, last Tuesday I was sworn in as a member of a local volunteer fire department. Four days later, I quit the department in disgust.
Looking back at that brief and disastrous incident, I can see a great many cogent lessons that can be applied to the PR world. Pay attention, because you could wind up accidentally setting your own fires if you follow the mistakes I encountered.
1. First impressions are too crucial for words. In PR, as in life, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. And my impression of that nutty volunteer fire department was quite an eye-opener: the monthly membership meeting. It was not a civil function, by any stretch. It was a chaotic, disorganized mess where everyone was speaking at once, where the leadership of the department was openly ridiculed with vituperative taunts, where one semblance of kindness (a letter from a resident praising the department) was subject to ridicule by the firefighters, and where the one truly serious problem facing the department (a considerable amount of debt owed to various sources) went unanswered.
My impression of this meeting: these guys are a bunch of assholes! And, for those who keep sociological tabs, they were a bunch of white guys – a wildly lopsided demographic reflection of the community they were supposedly serving.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again: HR is a sibling of PR. If your corporate culture is a disaster, word will spread and wreck your public image.
2. If you promise information to someone, deliver it. During the meeting, two members of the department (including the “public information officer,” a guy named Mike) promised to get me the contact data for the Firefighter One training I would need in order to be an active member and participate in emergency calls. I never received the information and I wound up spending two days making repeated phone calls in an attempt to track down where in the state I could receive such training. (I think it would be easier to locate Amelia Earhart than find the nearest Firefighter One class.)
This boo-boo is actually fairly common with PR people. The only silver lining here is the fact that it is not unique to PR people – even firefighters don’t deliver promised information.
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