Archive for October, 2009

Why My Mother Was My Best PR Teacher

I’m dealing with two issues this morning:

First, I found an interesting post on a ZDNet blog that I wanted to reread, so I saved the link to Now I can’t find it. The URL doesn’t work and a search of ZDNet doesn’t turn it  up. Very frustrating. Maybe I imagined it…

But the column, which was about what not to do to reporters on social media sites, got me thinking about the second thing on my mind: lessons from my best PR teacher –my mom.

I’m second-generation PRguy. My dad was among the original APRs, and he taught me a lot. But my mom laid the groundwork.  Here’s why:

Public relations is about ethical behavior and establishing relationships. You can’t learn either of those things in classes, seminars, webinars or by reading articles. You learn the basics when you’re young.

Each time I talk about ethics, I make the statement that my mother taught me everything I needed to know about ethics by the time I was 10. It’s usually good for a chuckle. OK, she didn’t have me reading the PRSA Code of Ethics and understanding that it was wrong to misrepresent who I was working for. But she did teach me that lying was wrong.  She also taught me that there aren’t shades of truth. And she taught me that there are some things you don’t tell your mother, something I tried hard to explain to my kids when they were in college and shared some of their “fun” experiences.

Same thing with building relationships.

The blog entry that I can’t find talks about things you shouldn’t do to a reporter on social media: don’t “friend” somebody (I hate seeing nouns used as verbs…and vice versa) on Facebook, then pitch them. Don’t jump on social media conversations and twist them into discussing your product or service.

Why do we have to say these things are bad on social media. They’re bad. Period.

All this discussion about social media etiquette leaves me with the same reaction as the discussion about  ethics: Your mother should have taught you better.

Why would you befriend someone — really or virtually — just to take advantage of that friendship with b.s.? Why would you pitch a reporter, regardless of the medium you use to do it, with a story that you know damned well has no news value (note to marketing people who bug your PR people to pitch self-serving puff — do I need to repeat that last?)? Do it a few times, and you won’t have any reporters — or friends — to talk to.

Calling someone a friend or colleague implies that you respect them. I was taught to treat friends and colleagues accordingly.

Social media is a way of talking with people. What’s marvelous about it is that you can get feedback, resulting in improved understand and a better feeling for what both sides of the conversation need. Think telephone on steroids.

If I have a reporter’s phone number, do I call that reporter and abuse the relationship? Not if I want that reporter to take my calls. Do I call any other business contact and abuse the relationship? Again…not if I want my calls taken.


Social media also provides a way for people to reach you. For me, I not only have to answer my phone, which always rings as I get into rhythm on some writing assignment.  Now I have to monitor Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, email and my cell phone.  An important part of the social media equation is that you have to answer and reply. Ignoring a reporter or other business contact — especially one you profess to call a friend — will make your telephone or Facebook wall very quiet very quickly.

How many times have you ignored your office phone, only to hear your cell phone ring? If you ignore that, an email message pops up. And, yes, I’ve had a Facebook notice.  It’s a clue that someone really, really wants to talk to me. My mother taught me to take those calls and be polite.

But I keep those multimedia calls in mind, especially the ones that turned out to be unimportant, before I start banging on every communications channel available to reach someone. I was short on patience and had a reporters’ demand for immediate response long before instant communications made us all impatient. But I’ve learned over the years how counterproductive that impatience can be.

I could mention “respect” again here, but I won’t.

At the end of all the discussion about new media etiquette, it comes down to remembering what your mother told you: Be nice and treat others how you would like to be treated.


October 21, 2009 at 11:36 am

Working Fire in Flanders

I serve as the public information office for Flanders Fire/Rescue. We had a working fire this morning, and here’s the release we issued.

October 18, 2009 at 10:27 am

A Placement I’m Proud Of

Earned this placement in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette:

Yeah, I know: Placements are supposed to be old hat. And there’s nothing all that crazy about this one. But we pitched in June after some debate about ad bucks and the value of those expenditures. The PG doesn’t do advertorials. I suggested, however, that a well-placed article would bring as good or better return than an ad. Well, we’ll see about the return, but the article looks good.

The PG hadn’t covered this topic before and we covered all the basics in our preparation and pitch. It’s PR-101, really, but guess what: I like it!

Thanks to editor Kevin and reporter Janice for a good job and to colleague Greg for helping me keep my facts right and staying on message during the interview.

As for me, once again, I’m re-teaching the value of good relationships with the media and a good public relations program. I often wonder when we get to stop teaching that to our internal clients, but I guess the answer is never, especially during times of budget cuts and staff changes. Perhaps this is a lesson they’ll more readily appreciate than discussions of ethics and reputation.  It’s harder to make them understand that these stories don’t happen unless I, as the representative, and my company as my client have a good reputation and do business ethically.

October 17, 2009 at 10:20 am

The APR Debate Rages: I Say Go For It!

Jeremy Porter has an interesting post and conversation going at his blog, Journalistics, about the APR. You can read his post at

Here’s my response to him:

I’ve been an APR for many years, have helped others through the process and I encourage all PR practitioners to go for it.

Public relations is one of those professions that seems to always by on the defensive, and I’m not sure why. It’s also a term that’s constantly used inappropriately: I’ve seen want ads for escorts described as public relations (yes, the “l” was in there).  APR after your name shows a level of professionalism and a commitment to the field. Yes, you can demonstrate that — and you’ll have to anyway — but the APR immediately sets you apart from those who don’t have it for whatever reason.

A prominent PR guy that I know says APR stands for accepting personal responsibility. To me it has two sides: The personal improvement side and public face.

It was the first formal training in PR that I had after coming into the business from the newsroom and working in the field for almost 10 years! The things I learned were incredible and changed how I practiced PR. It has helped me to be a better public relations professional and a better counselor.

Unfortunately, those who say it’s not well known in the business community are correct, and I wish we could change that. But “APR” after your name is a conversation starter. You will be asked what it means…and that gives you a chance to talk about a committment to constant professional development and ethical behavior. It’s a conversation that helps raise your own reputation (and sell your services) in any setting.

I’m proud of my APR. I urge all practitioners to pursue it. What have you got to lose?

October 15, 2009 at 11:14 am

Pet Project: Emergency Vehicle Protection

When you’re a public relations practitioner that gets involved with government affairs, you quickly learn how the legislative system works. You begin to see legislation as another tool — albeit one that is rarely appropriate — in your toolbox.

I’ve got that tool out and I’m working with it.

I’m a paramedic and a volunteer firefighter (I’m PIO for Flanders Fire/Rescue!). One problem faced by emergency services providers is that their vehicles are not covered under the state’s Lemon Law. If, as was the case in my fire company, an ambulance malfunctions consistently, there is no recourse if the manufacturer will not stand behind it.

I’ve been talking with Assemblypersons Gary Chiusano and Alison Littell McHose and State Sen. Steven Oroho about this issue and they’ve introduced legislation that would remedy this. Please take a look at to see what I’m  up to. And if you can help us, it would be wonderful.

October 13, 2009 at 10:59 pm

Tugging on the Reins

I love the Web as much as the next guy. But too many times, I’ve had to answer questions about statements from the Web that had no semblence to reality. Or I’ve had “facts” cited that were picked up from the Internet and used without any questioning. I’ve always felt that the day would come when this incredible tool for sharing, archiving and finding information would become even better by pushing some sort of responsibility on it.

The public is used to the news media. If you see something in the New York Times, the Star Ledger or even the Mount Olive Chronicle, odds are that someone has at least attempted to do some fact checking. Advertising managers also know that there are repercussions for allowing ad claims to get too out of hand. And on both sides of that divide, credibility is a primary concern to those in traditional media.

Two recent legal developments seem force Internet writers to be a bit more responsible for their actions. In August, a New York judge told a model that she could find out the information about a blogger who had anonymously called her a skank. ( That will allow her take legal action against that person if she so desires.

And, more recently, the FTC clarified its rules on telling the truth in advertising. It declared that those endorsing a product or service had to disclose their relationship, if any, with the maker of the product or the provider of the service. They specifically used the example of  bloggers who endorse products, and said they must disclose their connection with that product, whether that be compensation or some other relationship. (

I, for one, think these are good ideas. Yes, I know: The marketplace of ideas should be able to counterbalance whatever hurtful or erroneous information is out there. I have no doubt that it eventually would, but all too often, people seeing that bad information and using it to make decisions or judgements won’t have those balancing ideas at the same time, and will wind up making bad decisions.

And I’ve also read the argument that the New York decision could mean open season on bloggers who are critical. Some common sense has to be used here. Don’t we have the same issues in print media? If someone has the time, money and inclination, can’t they sue a newspaper or TV station for some mild criticism?

I can tell you from experience that the threat of a libel suit makes some editors and reporters think twice about criticizing someone. It should. But I don’t think it has a “chilling effect” on traditional media, nor do I think it will have a severely dampening effect on blogs. Honest criticism is a healthy part of our First Amendment rights and critical to our democracy. If it makes a blogger think twice before they call someone a “skank” or publish false and malicious information, good. It should.

And if the FTC ruling makes a blogger a little more transparent about how he or she got the product or service they’re talking about, well, that’s fine with me as well. Bloggers, like their traditional media counterparts, will have to decide whether accepting a free product or service, or not acknowledging fees for their work, is worth the ding in their crediblity.

Nothing but good comes from combining the incredibile resources of the Web with more traditional editing and vetting techniques. Seems to me it can only make the Internet stronger for research and information sharing. And forcing writers to take responsibility for what they write and being transparent about who they write for is, again, the right way for things to be.

Until we can count on the “marketplace of ideas,” we’ll continue to need to tug on the reins of the Web and allow additional reasonable regulation of the Internet.

October 12, 2009 at 12:40 am

On becoming SEMi-literate

It’s 3 a.m. and I think I’m beginning to understand search-engine marketing. I already understand optimization, but I was asked to become something of an instant expert on search-engine marketing. That’s like asking a PR guy to become an instant expert on national television advertising. Worrying about ad demographics and buying position just isn’t something I usually do.

But I think I’m beginning to get it.

And you know what: More than ever, I see it as a piece — albeit a big piece — of a larger communications puzzle. If I can get my arms around the idea of trying to predict what people will put into Google to search for something I want to sell them…if I can accept the idea that I have to compete to be first on the paid search returns…if I can understand that the price for the position I want could change every time someone uses that search term…and if I can get the depth of what must be there when I do win the bidding war, then it’s not much different if the customer completes the inquiry on the Web than it is with any form of outreach.

First, they’re not going to use the search terms I think they’re going to use unless I truly understand my audience. Second, even if they see my little ad, unless I have a great reputation — and they know about my reputation — they’re not going to visit my site, or “convert” as they say. And third, if they convert, I’d better be ready to continue the conversation and give them what they want.

Isn’t that the same as placing a release with a call for action to my company? In fact, isn’t it the same as trying to sell a reporter on the idea of doing a story? You’d better know the reporter, know how to pitch the story to him or her by knowing exactly what he or she is looking for and, if you get a hit, be able to deliver exactly what you promised the reporter he or she would get. So what’s new? Just the medium.

I still say that back in the 1940s, there were meetings full of the same angst about something new called television that we feel about search-engine marketing and optimizing our news releases for the Web.

Meanwhile, I’m still learning, so any advice you can give me….

October 6, 2009 at 3:28 am

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