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Public Relations Secrets to Make You Cry 

Remember Monty Python's "And Now for Something Completely Different"? Well, it's time for a change of pace. You're in an online business, right? (Great deductive abilities, Sherlock.) But maybe you're also in the business of promoting yourself through those lovely media entities called press releases (generally dreary little things, don't you think?). So don't overlook the great value of surprising Broca. In fact, take Broca public relations; add a little zest to the life of a journalist, potential investors and your media image, and get yourself noticed.

Okay, I'm a little outside my purview here, so I'm going to let the very clever Dean Rotbart, founder and executive editor of The TJFR Group, do the actual stepping. Mr. Rotbart is a former Pulitzer Prize nominated Wall Street Journal investigative reporter, columnist and news editor. You're reading his words, but he certainly speaks my language. Have some fun!

Newsroom Confidential: Forget the Singing Onions

Mr. Broca Is One Tough Assignment Editor; But He Loves Surprises In Story Pitches

My good friend, Roy H. Williams, the Wizard of Ads and Master of Persuasion, talks about the importance that the element of surprise plays in getting people's attention. When radio and television ads are predictable and run-of-the-mill, people tune them out.

Well surprise! It is no different in media relations. Journalists, by the time they have been journalists for a couple years, have seen and heard it all. Or at least they think they have.

Every news release reads like every other news release. A telephone pitch on Tuesday is little different from a telephone pitch on Friday, even though the companies calling and their products may be light years apart. It seems the goal for most companies and their PR agents is to look, act and sound just like every other big-time (boring) company.

Their reward for success?

Their promotional materials get to share space in the trash incinerator with a lot of very prestigious companies.

Those PR executives who want to break the mold, sometimes engage in silly gimmicks. They enclose their press kits inside an inflated balloon. Or they have their earnings releases delivered by a singing onion.

Such presentations are original, but usually engender more newsroom mocking than serious consideration. Why? The originality has little if anything to do with the message itself. Why would a singing onion deliver an earnings release, unless the company is either in the onion or character delivery business?

I think there are many ways to surprise Broca, that part of the brain that serves as a message gatekeeper. Get past Broca and the newsroom is your olive. (I don't know exactly what that means, but I know that most people would expect me to say that the newsroom is your oyster.)

Here are some ideas companies might consider to surprise journalists and get past Broca. They are not gimmicks and, until many, many more companies implement them, are likely to be perceived as quite original.


Use your PR agency for everything and anything BUT contacting and responding to journalists. Survey's I've taken of journalists show that nearly 6 out of every 10 reporters say they consider PR people more of a nuisance than a help. That means that before journalists even consider your message, a majority of them are discounting it because of your choice of messenger. My advice: make a real, flesh and blood employee of your company the media contact person. It probably shouldn't even be a full-time job, but a shared or rotated responsibility. Journalists know the difference between someone paid to be a mouthpiece and someone who actually walks the talk.

Use your PR agencies and in-house PR staff to scrutinize the media, prepare a media plan and troubleshoot along the way. But keep them in the background and keep your other executives out front.


Reinvent the news release. Not in a gimmicky way. But so a journalist reading it knows it's from your company, even if the name of the company is blocked out. People recognize a difference between Coke and Pepsi, Burger King and McDonalds. Why can't they distinguish between news releases from the same four organizations?


If anyone calls to pitch a journalist by phone, let it be the CEO or the owner of your company. "Hi, Jerry, this is Steve Case, I'm chairman of AOL Time Warner, and I have a story idea for you." Talk about surprising Broca! Most journalists will probably respond initially by asking, "Who is this really?" That is a good question if you are hoping to keep the journalist's attention.


Try telling the truth. Not the homogenized, sanitized, corporatized, blatherized truth. But the common sense truth. If you are unfamiliar with how that sounds, here are some handy phrases you might practice: "I don't know." "We goofed." "We got lucky." "We fired the son of a bitch." "I'd be wary of investing in our company right now." "No, the market is smarter than you think." "We hate the competition." And, perhaps most importantly, "But it's my job to tell you this rubbish."


When a journalist calls, take his/her call. Don't run interference, don't delegate the call to your PR department or outside PR agency. Don't duck the call. I know the former head of a Fortune 10 company who used to always interrupt whatever he was doing to take a call from me, a reporter. Sometime, he would simply say, "I can't talk right now, can I call you back?" But he always, always took my call immediately. It's been nearly 20 years, but he still stands out among all the Fortune 500 CEOs who I ever met.


Most important, keep your mouth tightly shut. While PR newswires get rich running verbose news releases from their clients, journalists just get nauseous. Every time you appoint a new vice president of bureaucracy or pass gas at an analysts' meeting, you needn't tell the press about it. Use some discretion for heaven's sake! Perhaps if you didn't speak when you had nothing worthwhile to say, the media would sit up and take notice when you do have something newsworthy on your mind.

I know you won't find these recommendations in most PR handbooks and for good reason. PR handbooks are almost always written by PR people. These are ideas that only journalists would suggest if they cared a hoot about helping companies improve their PR. Only, that's not their job. It's yours.


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