January 2013

There is an ongoing discussion out there about whether or not the press release is dead. (Google: “is the press release dead?” – you’ll see.) And on that topic, in my humble opinion, the title “press release” is dead. It should now be called a “news release” or a “media release” to reflect the shift in journalism from print publications to broadcast and digital media. According to Wikipedia, the press release was first used in 1906 after a train wreck. It was distributed to the press, which back then was printed.

We believe the news release still has value, but you have to clearly define what the objective of your announcement is in order to decide if a news release is the right option for your outreach. Sometimes a targeted pitch is better. However, for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes, a news release can be a good tool. It can help you directly connect to your target audience. There are lots of free or reasonably low-cost websites out there where you can upload your news release and help your target audience find you.

There is also, of course, the digital news release (also called the social media news release) that includes images, video, links and other resources. We’re big fans of this because we believe that there is an opportunity for organizations to authentically tell their story through images, video and well-written content. The digital news release may be a media relations tool, but it is also brand journalism.

Whatever format you choose – your news release needs to be informative and newsworthy. Those lame quotes should be pulled (although full disclosure, we distribute some releases with them because the client insists), and anything that isn’t newsworthy or doesn’t answer who, what, when, where, why and how doesn’t belong. Your news release needs to provide value; it needs to meet the criteria of being newsworthy. It needs to tell the journalist something that will be of interest, in some way, to their audience. We put our clients’ news releases through the “who cares” test – if no one outside of their workplace or immediate family is going to be excited about the information in the release, we need to either identify more interesting and timely information or talk to our client and see if this information isn’t better suited for a newsletter or other internal communication piece.

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I got up quite early this morning (2:30 a.m.) because I had some work with a tight deadline that I had worked on over the weekend and wasn’t quite happy with it yet. I had an early ferry (6:20 a.m.) to catch, so that meant that getting up at my usual early time (5 a.m.) to catch up on things was out of the question – I needed to get up earlier. As I hauled myself out of bed, I wondered if other people do this – get up this early because something is due and it needs work. I thought about my boundaries and the AHA boundaries that we set – and if we need to be stronger about them. Then I had a cup of coffee and laughed at myself.

The fact is, some of the work we do happens on weekends. This weekend, we had a client with an important event – so for three hours on Saturday and Sunday, Paul was on the phone with media pitching them to come out to the event. He was pretty successful and his efforts resulted in three major media outlets covering the event.

I am working on a big project for a client and I feel a little behind on it. It seems everyone on the client team feels that they are behind too – it’s a result of the enormity of the project – and we’re all working hard to keep up. I don’t like feeling behind; I don’t think anyone can do their best work if they are always rushing to meet deadlines, and my goal for this week is to get ahead of this project – no matter what it takes (early mornings, long days and working on the weekend).

We have great clients. They approach the relationship as a true partnership – they work with us, they listen to our advice and counsel, they bring us into interesting projects, and they rely on us and trust us to provide support for the tough projects (like when they may be facing an issue or crisis and need strategic communications help). And in return, we do whatever it takes – within our abilities and power – to deliver excellence. And I have to say, excellence isn’t a 9 to 5 activity. It goes beyond that. We are committed to our clients and in our world that means something to us and to our clients. And the work we do doesn’t always happen during the regular workday. It’s great when it can and does, but it’s not the reality we live in.

We believe in a work/life balance here at AHA. We believe in working as partners with our clients – and that means setting boundaries on both sides that are clearly communicated. And we believe that our commitment to our clients pays off every day. We have loyal, caring clients that are engaged with us, they pay us in a timely fashion and they go out of their way to recommend us to other organizations. I’d say that getting up a little earlier is a small price to pay for those kinds of professional relationships.

This morning, as boundary thoughts bounced around in my mind, a blog post by Danielle LaPorte came winging into my inbox and, since I am a big fan of hers, I drank my coffee and read it (I always want to know what she has to say to me!). She is a sassy, upstart, smart, spiritually-focused business/life coach who defies description. She isn’t for everyone, but if you “get her” and are ready to truly listen to her and yourself, she can change your entire life (business and personal) for the better. And her blog post today was about boundaries. It’s worth a read.

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Like many, I am fighting off a cold, the flu or some other illness that is threatening to sideline me from the piles of work I need to get done in the next few days. An annual report to review for a client, a communications plan to write, a video storyboard, a proposal and script to revise… The list just goes on. And writing the AHA blog post is one of the tasks that I needed to get done yesterday that I didn’t quite accomplish. Client work is always more important to get done and I focused on that, but our AHA blog posts are important too.

With that in mind, I am going to send you to a great source for communicators – ragan.com – to read about the importance of punctuation. It is important and not always as straightforward as it might seem. We have lots of discussions here at AHA about the details of punctuation. And I know I am guilty of using too many commas (I even have a grade four report card that says that I appear to have a special connection with commas – go figure). I also know that one of my pet peeves is the overuse of the exclamation mark. It drives me crazy!

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How people take in information has changed. I read The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains a while ago and it resonated with me. Communication has shifted and people want short, informative pieces that they can quickly read, hear or view.

Years ago, when I worked at Maclean’s magazine, the People page was consistently the most read page in the magazine. It wasn’t because the people who read Maclean’s weren’t interested in the other longer pieces – it was partially because that page had information on interesting people and partially because the pieces were short bites of content that could be easily digested.

In working with clients, we often have to remind, encourage, cajole and even push them to edit their work. (Five pages is not a briefing document!) We have clients who are incredibly intelligent and sometimes that works against them. The curse of knowledge can be a challenge, as can the curse of words. For many of us, we grew up in a time when using “big words” was encouraged and many people think that way – they aren’t trying to impress anyone using those words; that’s just how they think. The challenge is in how people absorb what you are trying to communicate. If you use big words that some people won’t know the meaning of, they will tune out. If you use too many words – they will tune out. If you don’t focus on what they need to know and how they want to take it in, they may not tune in at all.

Writing for the People page prepared me for online writing and writing for social media – short, informative and engaging pieces with smart, cheeky headlines. Take a look at the last five communications pieces that you developed – how long are they? How straightforward are they? How engaging are they? Do they really meet the needs and expectations of your audience? These are tough questions to ask, but once you view your communications pieces through this lens – you will find they are more effective.

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I know we don’t usually post blogs on Thursday, but I was up drinking coffee, watching the national news and reviewing blog posts, articles and online media coverage this morning (which is how I like to start my day) and the fabulous Chris Brogan delivered this directly to me.

Anyone who reads this blog on even a semi-regular basis knows that we love, love, love Chris Brogan. He is smart, insightful, an excellent communicator and he’s authentic. His blog post today is on content creation and audience/community engagement. It is most definitely worth a read. Take five minutes and read his blog post, it will improve how you communicate with and connect with your stakeholders or target audience.

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