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Mailbag Odds and Ends

I haven’t dipped into the mailbag lately, so I thought it was a good time to do some spring cleaning by responding to some letters and sweeping up some odds & ends.
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Re: “Beware of ‘Gotcha!’ Journalism”

Reader: “I was right there with you through that story, then, BAM … a totally unnecessary, out of left field slam to PR professionals everywhere. ‘I guess I should give the mother credit though – she would make a fine public relations person, because she’s shown she can turn absolutely nothing into a story. (Someone hire her, fast!).’ I would think you, of all people, would know that there are exceptions to every profession. There are good and not so good PR people, there are good and not so good journalists out there. Please don’t fall into that sticky little trap of generalizing.”

Response: No slam intended. In fact, the best public relations people I know can turn one data point into a full-length story, or one small event into a full-blown future. The pressure from clients and bosses to merely get ink, any ink, can be ludicrous, and most of us have had to take lead and turn it into PR gold at some point.

Reader: “I honestly don’t even bother with the news too much, but once in a while when the TV just happens to be tuned to the 10 PM news, and the remote is way too far away to bother changing the channel, I see the same thing happen. The media is particularly and only interested in ratings these days; true journalism is very difficult to find. However, this stems from the American public. The media gives them what they want – the dirtier the better, we love it. There’s another side to this as well. I’ve seen information somewhere about how much lower crime rates are in other countries (excluding some others of course); I wonder what their news anchors are showing? I wonder if every other country spends this much time looking to show us the gruesome side of every day.”

Response: I agree that the local news is not really worth tuning into these days. I turn to newspapers, radio and blogs for local news, and I tend to only turn on local television news when there’s some sort of big event in my area. Journalism is not high on the priority list for local television news producers.

As for what the American public wants, this is a more difficult idea to comment on. I’m part of the American public and I want to know when violent incidents take place as a precautionary measure, but I also want to know when positive things are happening in my community. The problem is finding a balance that informs and entertains viewers. I only say the latter because, well, Americans like to be entertained, as cable news shows have proven.

Last, I’ve seen newscasts from a number of countries and some are as worthless as those coming out of America. I do find the Canadian and British newscasts particularly good, but I only speak English, so when I was in Japan watching the news, I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about. It does seem that American newscasts have much more fluff than their overseas counterparts.

Reader: “I think you missed a silver lining for ‘gotcha’ journalism. A smart PR person can use the mentality to his/her advantage when working on social marketing or political campaigns (not necessarily electoral, mind you).”

Response: Agreed, and had I more time and space, I would have liked to talk about how you can use “gotcha!” journalism to your advantage. I’ll cover that subject at another time, but I think it’s also important to remember that a lot of people see through “gotcha!” journalism, and you have to be careful not to stain your reputation by using the tactic.

Reader: “Here in the Philadelphia market, I believe local news broadcasters are required by law to lead off with the traffic accident, fire, and murder reports, before covering what Ted Turner recently described as the ‘pervert of the day’ news.”

Response: We have too many perverts in New York to pick just one each day, so we have a daily newspaper column covering the subject. It’s called Page Six.
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Re: “Ten Years of Learning PR on the Job”

Reader: “In your article you mentioned you were able to gain coverage in high school papers; do you have any advice on how to find and reach out to these newspapers?”

Response: High School Journalism, a website run by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, has a database of high school newspapers that may be helpful. In the past, I’ve targeted papers at schools my company founders attended and in areas where projects I worked on had an impact on the community.

I’m not sure how most companies go about targeting papers, but when I wrote for my high school rag (I was there when we transitioned from real cut-and-paste publishing to a computer-based system), we received press releases from local government agencies and promotional materials from a number of record companies, movie studios and book publishers. I, unfortunately, don’t recall how we ended up on the media lists.

More than anything, when a high school journalist calls, don’t ignore him or her. As a high school journalist, I was always very grateful when someone in the “real world” took the time to deal with me. I interviewed professional athletes, Olympians, elected officials, business executives and entertainers when I was a high school journalist, and believe me, I remembered who was helpful and who wasn’t. Today’s high school scribe is tomorrow’s New York Times columnist – just remember that.

One good idea, depending on the type and size of your organization/client, is to hold a high school media day. I attended media days presented by The Washington Capitals (pro hockey team) and I know some locally based companies such as Marriott had similar days. These days were fun (I got out of school) and provided an easy story for me. They were also fruitful for the companies because it doesn’t take much to impress high school kids.
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Odds & Ends

— Raytheon’s CEO, William Swanson, has a nice little PR disaster on his hands. The company has spent the past few years building up Swanson’s image as a business leader and guru, so it will be interesting to see if the executive’s reputation takes a hit. Do a news search for the subject if you want to read up on it.

— Speaking of CEOs, Wal-Mart’s Lee Scott will be taking the entire month of May off, and that’s causing a few PR headaches for the company. I don’t have a problem with Scott taking off a month, but why not extend the privilege to other employees? American workers by far get less time off than workers in other countries, and the sad fact is that we’re still not as productive (according to metrics) as workers in many other countries. More vacation time to recharge batteries and take care of life’s important things will lead to a more productive worker (said the man who has taken six vacation days over the past three years).

— 5W Public Relations got dragged into the Duke lacrosse scandal when the “second stripper” emailed the firm asking for help. “Dragged” probably isn’t the appropriate word, as it appears that Ronn Torossian, 5W’s president, distributed the email to the media. Torossian initially told the Associated Press that he would be “happy to speak with [the woman],” but his firm backtracked yesterday saying they weren’t going to represent her. All of this sounds scummy to me, and I don’t think Torossian did himself or his firm any favors by throwing themselves into the story.

— I’m headed off to Las Vegas this weekend for an event and I wanted to get some quick PR plugs in. 1) “Snake Oil,” a new book from Jim Rose (of the infamous Jim Rose Circus), has been released. I met Jim a few years ago while playing poker at my favorite casino, The Monte Carlo. 2) Stop by Harrah’s the next time you’re in Vegas. Why? My cousin David just got a big-time job there and he would appreciate the business. (They’re booked solid this weekend.) 3) I’ll be checking out the new Red Rock Casino & Resort that Stations Casinos just opened, as well as The Wynn, which Vegas icon Steve Wynn opened last year. (My friend did graphic design elements for the project.)

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.

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