Media Relations

protest angryI wanted to write a quick update on the example I used in my most recent reputation management and issue communication blog post.

According to a Global News report, Centerplate, the company whose CEO Desmond Hague was seen in a video kicking a dog in an elevator, has released a statement. It says that they do not condone animal abuse and are undertaking an internal review. The statement also says that Hague has agreed to undergo counselling for anger management issues and has pledged a significant, personal, multi-year financial commitment to help support the protection and safety of animals.

In theory, what is outlined in the statement are the right things to do. However, I find it interesting that this statement comes out after many of the company’s clients, such as the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Mariners, have made their own statements of concern about this issue.

As I said in my earlier blog post, I don’t know what Centerplate’s strategy is for managing this issue. I don’t know the specifics of why it was decided to respond via statements. My opinion is based on how it is being played out in a public forum.

However, having said that, it is clear that this reactive, hiding behind statements from lawyers and PR people is not working. People are angry, they are calling for Centerplate’s contracts to be cancelled, and are threatening to boycott the food that is sold at stadiums that use Centerplate. It’s time to change up the strategy and get authentic about this.

Is Hague or his PR team reading the tweets and comments on articles about this issue? Centerplate’s website is still up, but the list of clients has been taken down. That’s not transparent.

To me, the Centerplate statement is clearly reactive and having these statements coming from lawyers and PR people is not helping. Not to mention that social media sites have been taken down and the website is being changed, so we can’t find specific information about the clients. They have taken an “information out” approach, instead of finding a way to engage in a dialogue. (It would be a very tough dialogue.)

Hague needs to stand up and visibly get in front of this – and take the heat. In my professional opinion, he needs to do a video where he acknowledges what he did wrong and fully apologize. He needs to do a media tour and go to the breakfast shows or morning news in the cities where Centerplate has clients and talk about his mistake, what he is doing to make it right, and what he is doing to help abused animals. And he needs to do it now. I don’t want to hear “we are doing an internal review and he has pledged money” – I want to know what is being reviewed, how much money he is going to contribute, the names of the animal organizations, and that he realizes that this is unacceptable behaviour.

He needs to do more than send out these statements to media. I want to see a real person who is truly sorry for what they have done and realizes how horrific his actions were. It seems that many other people do too.

It feels like he is hiding behind his legal and PR teams and using statements that he doesn’t have to actually speak about what he did. In my opinion, until he steps forward and shows us that he realizes what he did is wrong and takes full responsibility for what he did, the anger of the stadium food-buying public isn’t going to stop.

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EventEvery organization planning to host an event wants media coverage. It’s a way to create awareness and raise the profile of your organization, your products or services, your brand, and your spokesperson. Depending on the event, media coverage may lead to more attendance the following day or the next year (if it is an annual event).

How do you engage the media and make them interested enough to want to know more?

An AHA client recently held an event that we were able to generate a tremendous amount of coverage on. Media coverage included eight newspaper articles, four television feature segments (three to eight minutes long), three radio feature segments, nine website/blog features, and 14 event listings – excellent coverage for a local first-time event. (Needless to say, our client loves us even more now. And we love them right back.)

We’ve decided to share a few tips and hints on how you can generate strong media coverage for your next event.

Host a Public Event

Rather than just inviting people on your networking or sales database, invite the public. The more people that the event is open to, the more the media will be interested.

Tie the Event to a Charity

If there is a cost to attend, tie it in with a worthy charity. Provide a percentage of ticket sales, allow them to participate with you at the event if possible, and identify ways that your organization and the charity can work together. Not only will this be of interest to media and to the public that may attend, if your event benefits a charity in some way, you may also get event suppliers to provide their products and services to you at a discounted rate.

Hold a Great Event

It is easy to fall into the trap of assuming the event is great and that it deserves media coverage. Brainstorm with people in your organization and think blue sky! Those seemingly over-the-top ideas may be what are needed to host a great event, get lots of interest from the public, and grab the media’s attention. Are there fun things you can incorporate? Media love children, animals, unique activities and special opportunities. Think about how you can pitch the event to media by tying it into a current trend or time of year. What will make the event be of interest to a large segment of the population – that is what media will want to know.

Submit Information to Event Listings

There are many media outlets, websites and blogs that offer free event listings. Develop a short paragraph of the “who, what, when, where, why and how” of your event and reach out. Make sure you understand the format that this information needs to be presented in for each outlet. (They are generally all different.)

Be Prepared

When a journalist e-mails or calls, be ready at a moment’s notice to respond. Take the call or immediately call them back. Have your key messages on the “tip of your tongue” and be ready to tell the world (or taped over your desk as long as you don’t sound like a robot when you are reading them out). Ensure that your spokesperson is always available during the time you are pitching. You never know, you (or your client or spokesperson) may be asked to do a radio interview within the next few minutes or a breakfast television show the next morning.

Develop a Visual Opportunity Notice

You need a great visual to attract media attention. Plan this carefully. Let media know exactly what they can photograph/film at the event. The more details the better, but keep the notice to one page or less. Work to offer two or three great visuals so that media have a choice. One is not enough; there may be dozens of other events at the same time as your event. What visual does your event have to offer that would create interest from the media and put you on the top of the list over other events? It is important to provide media that come to the event with interviews with spokespeople.

Phone the Media

The day of the event, it’s a good idea to call the media newsrooms to make sure that you are on their radar. Just because you sent information to them, that doesn’t mean they saw it. A newsroom receives hundreds or even thousands of e-mails a day. Be prepared for a brief 10-second call (that’s about all the time you will get) to explain the visuals of your event. Have your pitch ready – make it brief, but make sure you have enough information to interest the journalist on the other end of the telephone line.

The key to engaging media to attend and cover your event is in the preparation. The publicity magic happens for your event in the planning stages. Making the effort to plan will result in strong, positive media coverage.

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writing editing proofreadingThe widespread (and growing) use of online technology continues to push organizations to realize the value of creating their own content. (Full disclosure – here at AHA, we push them to take advantage of this opportunity too!) It is a good way to connect with stakeholder groups (including customers or clients).

Creating strong, compelling, engaging and informative content doesn’t happen without effort – or good writing and editing. I was fortunate that I worked in the world of journalism prior to jumping the fence to PR and strategic communication. At Maclean’s magazine, where I worked, each article was developed by a team – there was the journalist/writer, the editor*, the researcher/fact checker, the copyeditor and the proofreader. It took several different skill sets to produce a good article. (*There were actually several editors – the section editor, the senior editor and the managing editor – who reviewed each piece with different perspectives: the piece itself and how it fit into the section and the overall magazine.)

For a communications piece – whether it is an annual report, newsletter, white paper, brochure, website content, frequently asked questions document, news release, speech or other document – it is important to understand and make use of all of the skill sets at your disposal.

The Writer

The role of the writer is to gather the information, arrange the thoughts and ideas, and present an organized approach for the piece. A writer normally provides a creative outline or brief on what we expect to deliver. It may be as straightforward as a newsletter outline that identifies each article with its key messages, if anyone will be interviewed and quoted, and the deadline. Annual reports or other more complex documents get more detailed outlines.

The Editor

The substantive editor is a person who works closely with the writer and deals primarily with the creative aspect of the content and the structure and order of the piece. If the content is highly technical, this person normally liaises between the writer and the subject expert as well. This person brings a clear perspective to the writing and supports the writer in ensuring that the information is clearly communicated, well organized, and that it makes sense. (Sometimes a writer can be so deep into the topic that they need support in making sure someone who is not as knowledgeable can understand the information.)

The copy editor deals with matters specific to the words (rather than the ideas of the content) and focuses on clarity, flow, sentence length, word selection, grammar, spelling and internal consistencies.

The Fact Checker

Another crucial role, the fact checker works with the writer and/or editor(s) and confirms the factual accuracy of the information in the document.

Proofreader

The proofreader reviews the document after all levels of editing and fact checking have been completed. The content is reviewed for overlooked errors in spelling, grammar, typos, etc., and when visual elements are used, they are the final check that all visual elements are placed correctly.

From our experience with our clients and in speaking with many of our colleagues who work in-house at organizations, many communicators either don’t have all of these skills or they don’t have the time to effectively write or edit pieces, with everything else on their plate. It’s a bit of a challenge because to develop a useful communications piece that informs, engages and inspires your target market or stakeholder group to action, it takes time and effort. For us, nothing is more disappointing than when we see a poorly written or edited piece; it loses its value and, unfortunately, doesn’t create the expected results (and it doesn’t look good for the communications professional). The need to create good content continues to grow, and understanding how to deliver solid content is an important component of the role of a communicator.

We have a strong writing, editing and proofreading team at AHA and, because of this, we do a great deal of this type of work for clients. One of the most high profile projects we have worked on was editing Forsaken: The Report of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry – a 1,400-page, complex report.

At AHA, we offer a full range of editorial services – we write and/or edit and proofread newsletters, annual reports, special reports, white papers, briefing notes, plans, speeches, brochures, websites… the list goes on and on. We have always had a focus on content creation, and we have grown our writing and editing team to reflect that.

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CommentWe do both positive, proactive PR and issues and crisis communication here at AHA. And for these two very different sides of communication, there are many similarities in how we approach them.

One key element for both proactive PR and issues and crisis communication is to pay close attention to the response that is created from the announcement, information or campaign.

Traditional media coverage often provides the opportunity for the community to weigh in, to provide comments online and, sometimes, to vote on a survey. And, of course, Facebook and Twitter provide a great deal of insight into how people are feeling. For an issue or crisis, critical information can be found in the comments.

It is also important to watch when the news being shared is positive. Sometimes, when it comes to comments, no news is good news – but if you have just launched a product or service to consumers and there is no “buzz” about it in the comments or on social media, there should be a concern that no one but you cares.

For both positive news and issues and crisis response, looking at the comments lets you understand the needs and expectations of the public. You may have to wade through a few haters (those people who comment on anything and everything and always have something negative to say), but it’s worth your time. You can get insights that you couldn’t have received in real time before news became more interactive with social media.

Don’t just read the coverage; read the comments. Follow the social media updates and see how they are being shared. There is a wealth of information out there and it’s all available to you.

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