You’ll want to follow The 606!

 

Mayor Rahm Emanuel joins community leaders to break ground on The 606 and The Bloomingdale Trail

Mayor Rahm Emanuel joins community leaders to break ground on The 606 and The Bloomingdale Trail  (photo credit: © Michelle Damico)

The 606, the exciting city project that includes the Bloomingdale Trail, promises to be the Millennium Park of Chicago’s neighborhoods, according to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who led the groundbreaking ceremony yesterday to kick off construction of this 3-mile, above-ground linear park. Think New York City’s Highline, but twice as long, allowing bikes and connecting the neighborhoods of Bucktown, Wicker Park, Logan Square and Humboldt Park. Continue reading

You’ve made the news! Are you capitalizing on it?

A client made my day last week.  He said his recent business’ news coverage in Crain’s Chicago Business is opening doors that his firm spent months knocking on to no avail. Now, armed with some powerful news about their agency, every team, from sales to creative, is actively spreading it. They’re emailing the link to prospects or clients, posting the article on their web site, and framing it at the office entrance to let people know that that Chicago’s top business outlet has showcased their leader’s expertise and their firm’s innovation.

Meetings they’ve been trying get on the calendar with at least two Fortune 500 corporate prospects were scheduled soon after the prospects read the Crain’s story! There’s a simple PR and marketing lesson here that unfortunately many companies don’t heed.

All your hard work at capturing the media spotlight is a waste of time unless you capitalize on it.

So what can you do to take advantage of that great story or compelling TV profile about your company or your expertise?

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Email it. Target customers and prospects. Tell your mom and your friends about it — you never know who THEY know. Develop a list of those who’d benefit from learning about your news. Send them the link to your story along with the headline and a brief description of how you became a newsmaker.

For my client’s Crain’s story, the message might have been as simple as:

“Hi Bill, The head of my agency has a date with Princess Kate (yes THE Princess Kate) on June 13 and Crain’s Chicago Business just wrote about it. Check out this story: Kate Middleton’s untold link to Chicago that showcases our cool marketing work in the UK.” You can also visit Princess Cruises and see what we’re up to.

Make it social. Most firms require their employees to have a presence on LinkedIn, which is the best social network (in my opinion) for showcasing your business achievements and acknowledgements. Ask your colleagues to share your news on LinkedIn, as well as on Twitter and Facebook.

For news about business, LinkedIn and Twitter are my priorities, but some employees make Facebook their preferred social platform. Since you’ll want your entire team to be sharing your good news, give them flexibility in how they spread it. But also give them some guidance. Provide them with a cheat sheet about how they should present the news (casual vs. formal, including messages you might have already developed about your company). Suggest actual tweets, posts or updates. Encourage them to alter the content so it’s in their own voice. Explain that the suggested tweets are posts are aimed at ensuring they get their facts straight, and that your company messages are accurately positioned.

It’s often a challenge to toe the line between sounding like you’re bragging and being informative. Check out some of my tweets below and let me know if they sounded conceited or helpful.

Once you’ve made the news and emailed it to your key audiences, then what? Don’t stop after just one tweet or update.  How frequently should you be promoting your news on social networks? I’ll cover that topic in my next blog post, so please come back!

Here are some examples of the social network updates created to promote my recent news placement in Crain’s Chicago Business.

Twitter: 

‏@MichelleDamico The hottest Chicago shop for #ExperientialMarketing? @CrainsChicago says its @UTRExp News at http://bit.ly/169Qz72 

@MichelleDamico Cool first look-@UTRExp of Chicago scopes out #RoyalPrincess for big date w/ Princess Kate on June 13 http://bit.ly/10LCofl 

LinkedIn:

Michelle Damico Check out this great article by @CrainsChicago on #experiential #marketing highlighting @UTRExp  http://utrlink.to/CCB5-13

 

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Hiring a PR firm? Ask these questions first!

Beautiful crocuses

Beautiful crocuses

Crocuses and snowdrops popping up in my garden signal spring’s arrival. I also know it’s spring because the phone is ringing — a LOT!  Now more than ever, organizations such as tech start-ups, entrepreneurs, non-profits, and corporations are reviewing their 2013 marketing and PR needs and deciding whether to hire a PR pro to help elevate their market position.

Here at Michelle Damico Communications, it’s Spring-Into-Action-Time, providing answers about how a company’s product, service or cause might benefit from my PR, messaging, and interview training services. So as a service to all future clients, here are things to ask before hiring a PR firm. (Note: There’s a special bonus for readers who make it to the end of this post!)

Six Questions to Ask Before Hiring a PR Firm

  1. How deep is your PR firm’s media relationships? How often do reporters CALL YOU seeking sources? Every good PR person will tell you they regularly connect with reporters via email, phone or tweet reporters. The strongest sign of a deep media relationship is when reporters call PR pros they trust, seeking experts  – I know because it happens to me weekly. 
  2. Tell me about your experience as former journalist? Many PR pros claim they used to work in journalism. But a closer look may reveal they wrote for their college newspaper and switched to business or marketing as their career. You can’t really understand the pressures professional journalists face without walking in their shoes and dealing with the stress of regular deadlines and surly editors. So check their LinkedIn profiles to learn what positions they held before landing their first PR position.
  3. Can you provide examples of how media placements led to more business or lead generation? Is their coverage relevant to clients’ target audiences? PR initiatives are typically targeted at two segments: consumers and business people.  A technology start up with a just-launched app for doctors will target media outlets quite different than a start-up serving consumers’ health and fitness needs.
  4. Does your PR firm have a solid web site, or a strong social media presence? This should be a no-brainer, but surprisingly it’s overlooked. A PR firm that participates in dynamic content creation will stay on top of digital media developments and appreciate the challenges of engaging with customers in the 24/7 digital communications world.
  5. Can one easily view the most recent headlines secured on behalf of clients? The stock and trade of any great PR firm is the news hits or coverage they’ve landed for their clients. Is the coverage recent? Is there a steady stream of client news placements demonstrating consistent outreach?
  6. Does your PR firm’s web site include a blog or dynamic posting feature? Any PR firm worth its weight is staying on top of digital PR trends and practicing them through their own digital properties. Actively blogging and sharing client case studies and insights about the current world demonstrates a PR professionals ability to stay on top of their industry.

If you took the time to read this entire post, here’s a nice little April 1st Thank you, with photos!DSC_0307DSC_0344IMG_1036IMG_1032DSC_0348IMG_1042IMG_0485

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Dispelling the Dark Side Myth

   I’m joining my former WXRT News colleague, Charlie Meyerson with our first blog brainstorm.
Charlie has graciously agreed to my request about his good, bad and ugly experiences with PR people. I’ve happily obliged his idea to dispel the myths about journalists who switch to public relations. Keep visiting here for this unique online conversation between a veteran journalist and a veteran PR professional. 

 

Often when I meet new clients, someone invariably jokes that when I left journalism for public relations, I entered the “dark side” of communications. Heck, even I feared I’d sell my soul by switching to a PR career after 20 years in broadcast news at WXRT, WBEZ, and WGN radio.

I recalled conversations in the City Hall Press Room, cynically feeding the misconception about PR people with names like: hacks, flaks, spinmeisters, handlers, sellouts and worse.  So in my mind, I too feared becoming one of those dark characters lurking behind the curtains when I accepted the Communications Director’s job for Mayor Richard M. Daley’s 1995 re-election campaign.

After 17 years in PR and media relations, I can tell you that dark sinister image is great for TV dramas, but not a reflection of reality. In fact, these real-life nicknames are more fitting monikers:  ”Story Assistant,” “Mr. Communicator” and “Message Engineer.” Our role, as PR people is to communicate our clients’ stories and help journalists with story ideas.

We serve as the media’s information providers, schedulers, and fact-checkers.   With jobs continuing to decline at newspapers, TV and radio stations, those media reps lucky enough to remain employed need all the help I can possibly give them.

Providing ideas — knowing when and how

Reporters have even greater pressures to feed the beast — the 24-hour news cycle. Without ideas from people like me, they’d have to do more scouting, calling and mining for sources. I routinely get journalists’ request for ideas. In fact, even when I don’t have a client expert, I will go out of my way to find sources to help them out (in journalism as in life, there is value in paying it forward). 

Continue reading

Top 10 Reasons Why Your PR Efforts Fail

Does it seem like your PR efforts are wasting time and money? Do you repeatedly try and fail to get reporters’ attention? During my many years helping business, government and non-profit clients secure positive news coverage, I’ve felt the adreniline rush that comes with magnificent news coverage, and the agony and embarrassment that follows a media interview gone awry (scroll down to the graph that starts “Then another tollway spokesperson”). With those memories I present the Top Ten Reasons Why Your PR Efforts are Getting You Nowhere:

  1. You emphasized tactics over strategy so your PR campaign lacks clear business goals and objectives.
  2. You’re targeting the wrong media because you haven’t identified your key audiences.
  3. You’ve re-purposed an old media list and didn’t delete the reporters who lost their jobs when their papers folded.
  4. Your final press release required three complete rewrites because you didn’t create a content outline for your boss’s/client’s review.
  5. You e-blasted the release to reporters and editors and it was dumped in junk mailboxes, never to be viewed.
  6. You wrote a one-size-fits-all pitch letter that left reporters with two choices — trash your news now or trash your news later.
  7. You fumbled through a media interview because you didn’t bother thinking through the possible questions and answers beforehand.
  8. You wouldn’t practice for your on-camera interview and your family still jokes about how your eyes bugged whenever you talked.
  9. Your customers don’t know about your news coverage because you didn’t bother merchandising it or sharing it on social networks.
  10. Your messages are so confusing that even your mother can’t describe what you do.
Leave a comment if you have additional entries to my top 10 reasons for PR failure.
 Post happily written by Michelle Damico

 

 

 

 

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Hiring a PR Firm? Seven Tips You Need Right Now

Forward thinking businesses are planning their 2013 budgets and that’s often when discussions occur about hiring a Media Relations firm to help boost customer awareness, generate exposure, increase sales and move the entire organization to a bigger playing field.

If your business wants to enlist some PR help you may be wondering, “Exactly what am I getting into?” Let’s dive in to that and more in these Seven Tips to Hiring a Media Relations / PR Firm.

1. What’s the difference between PR and Media Relations?  Media Relations is an important tool of a strategic Public Relations campaign. PR is the comprehensive mix of strategy and tactics that is driven by a strategic communications plan and should lead to positive news stories.. PR and Media Relations professionals help you develop your plan, create the messages that position your expertise, provide third-party credibility and help you spread word-of-mouth, the most credible form of advertising. Our activities include — but aren’t limited to:

  • Developing communications plans, including goals, objectives.
  • Identifying your key audiences and the media they’re likely to follow.
  • Crafting a memorable and compelling message.
  • Learning how to insert that message into your media interviews.
  • Writing a variety of content (web copy, press releases, e-Newsletters, digital content calendar, FAQs, etc.) to spread your message.
  • Building relationships with reporters, editors and bloggers to begin the process of landing interviews that lead to news coverage for your business.

2. Sounds like I’ve got a lot of work to do even before I get to the ‘media interview’ stage? Like anything in business, a good plan and a solid foundation improve your chances of success. Depending on your availability, this foundation-building period may take a week, two weeks or a month, but will payoff dividends once you land interview opportunities. The most successful PR initiatives occur when you have a partnership with a PR pro who helps guide you through the early stages of the PR initiative. 

3. How do you find reporters who want to do interviews about my business?  After identifying the outlets and types of media coverage that will help grow your business, your media relations pro will conduct research on what reporters who cover your industry are writing about and will look for those most likely to be interested in your news and/or expertise. An experienced media relations professional has developed those connections and knows how to nurture strong relationships that lead to positive news stories.

4. What are the key considerations in selecting the right PR / Media relations? Go to the PR consultant‘s web site and social media profile pages and learn a bit about them. They’ll most likely have a web page exclusively devoted to news coverage they’ve earned for their clients. Read the stories and ask questions about the steps taken to get reporters’ attention and to deliver a positive news story for the client.  Read a PR firm’s web content to identify whether their approach and style jells with your own, since you’ll want to partner with people you enjoy working with.

5. Once my business gets media coverage, then what? Excellent question because that’s where so many businesses fall short. They work hard to get reporters to write about them and do little to take advantage of their placements. Making news in print, on TV, or on the online portals or blogs is third-party validation about the value you bring to your customers. Having earned credibility from a respected, independent source, now is the time to showcase your valuable news to your customers and prospects through the News section of your Web site, in e-Newsletters, social media profile pages and marketing collateral. Frame your news story and mount it on the waiting room wall. Set up your outgoing voicemail message to direct callers to the link where they’ll find your coverage online.

6. How much time and money will a PR initiative cost? It depends on what you’re trying to achieve over a given period of time. The professional you choose will provide you with a variety of PR options to help you meet your objectives and stay within your budget.

7. Is it better to work under a retainer-based agreement, or one that’s project-based? Building any kind of relationship takes time and consistency, and that holds true for media relationships as well. An ongoing monthly retainer-based plan allows your Media Relations consultant to develop and strengthen relationships by maintaining a continual dialogue with the reporters and editors who need reliable experts for their stories. A retainer-based PR program supports that  dialogue process with media who follow you.  It also enables you to sustain the momentum that helps you create a steady stream of news, giving your customers confidence in you and your business while providing them with the value that keeps them coming back.

If you’re thinking about hiring a Media Relations consultant and have additional questions, I’d be happy to help. Just leave a comment or shoot an email to michelle@michelledamico.com and provide me with your phone number so we can talk. 

Post happily written by Michelle Damico

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The Press Release is NOT Dead!

Long Live the Press Release!

It’s a major weapon in your organization’s PR and media relations arsenal and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. They are effective (especially when search-optimized for Google and Yahoo!) in helping customers find your business, and for arming reporters with information about your product or service. I have proof, and it comes courtesy of my PR and marketing clients.

Here’s a press release that prompted executives from consumer warehouse retailers to call my client. Imagine having high-value prospective customers CALL YOU? It happened to Green Delete, which helps firms safely and responsibly delete data from electronic devices. If I hadn’t written and distributed this press release to the journalists who cover recycling, data protection and asset management, these giant companies would never have learned about Green Delete and its expertise in on-site digital asset disposal.

Or check out the release I wrote for Lloyd Bachrach, an amazing, inspiring motivational speaker who also runs Premier Showcasean annual entertainment event to help school administrators and volunteers see the talent before they book their school assemblies. This press release provided valuable, time-saving information that helps time-crunched reporters quickly get the information they need to not only decide on covering my client, but to write a factually correct story. Reporters are so stressed with multiple deadlines and demands, and a well-written press release helps them better do their jobs.  In fact, see the TV and print coverage that I secured for Lloyd who continually reminds me how those news reports helped grow his business and boost credibility among his business partners.

I have scores of other client news stories that appeared in major market media and started with a press release. Just go to my News section here and take a look. Or contact me to learn about why a compelling, helpful, well-written press release should be a key launching pad for your business’s PR efforts.

 

How PR legwork turned a negative reporter into a booster

Chicago Sun-Times

Chicago Sun-Times (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s a great back story to the news coverage I secured this week in the Chicago Sun Times. When I pitched a story idea to columnist Neil Steinberg about the Half-Cap ceremonies held by the Chicago Public School to honor sophomores for making it half way to graduation, he said he was ‘shocked.’ Why honor sophomores for doing what is expected of them — finishing their first two years of school? He called the idea ludicrous and said he’d write a critical piece.

I kicked my self for reaching out to this journalist, but willingly followed through with my offer of an interview of my client, Lloyd Bachrach, the keynote speaker at Half-Cap ceremonies at Fenger and Robeson High Schools.

“Great,” I said to myself, “He wants to talk to my client, and bash him and the school system.” I expected Steinberg to excoriate the program as a waste of precious time and resources.

Steinberg said he’d understand if Lloyd backed out of the interview, but I didn’t recommend that to Lloyd. I offered the interview, I believed it was a great story, so I proceeded with planning Steinberg’s interview with my client.

I could only hope that he would be fair and temper his criticism. I considered the negative questions that might be asked and prepared Lloyd as best I could for Steinberg’s potential cynicism. While Lloyd wasn’t looking forward to the reporter’s call, he also worried about the outcome. He has a great relationship with Chicago Public Schools, and didn’t want to spoil that with a potentially negative story that his PR consultant had arranged.

For a week I checked the paper looking for the story, hoping that Steinberg would just abandon it. His column appeared while I was in London giving media training and social media workshops for a client. I was thrilled at the results! By giving Steinberg full access to the information about this program, we completely turned around his point of view. His negative preconceived notions turned into a positive, powerful story with a message.

I think it’s a wonderful PR case study about:

1. The value in sticking to your beliefs in a good story when a leading journalist criticizes it.

2. Why you must still agree to a client interview, despite the reporter’s negative reaction.

3. Giving access to all facts, sources and potential angles is important, especially when the reporter’s approach is critical.

4. Preparing your client for the worst allows for an interview that is devoid of emotion, civil and leads to a greater level of knowledge and undertstanding.

I couldn’t be more pleased over the results and all the hard work that went into helping Lloyd get a positive mention in this column and putting the public school half-cap ceremony in a positive light. What would you have done differently? Any other advice you’d like to share, or have you had a similar experience with a journalist? Leave me a comment, OK?

Post happily written by Michelle Damico 

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Media interview — Thrill or terror?

DFID Youth Reporter interviews Minouche Shafik

Image by DFID – UK Department for International Development via Flickr

It’s the payoff for all your hard work—a news reporter has discovered your company’s fantastic new product or service. She wants to learn more about you. You’re torn between feelings of thrill and terror. Done right, mass media coverage can boost your credibility, increase awareness and lead to a spike in leads or sales. Done wrong, you may miss the chance to communicate the benefits of your product or service and fritter away your 15 minutes of fame.

Being questioned by a reporter is challenging for the inexperienced and unprepared. When I was a news reporter for WXRT and WBEZ in Chicago, I conducted hundreds of interviews every year for 15 years. I could easily discern the skilled interviewee from the newbie. For the skilled, the interview is a tango – a dance full of bold yet graceful moves, with accents on the appropriate twists and turns.  For the unskilled, an interview is like sitting through dental work without painkillers.

The key to mastering any interview is being in control and doing the advance work that inspires confidence. So park your jitters and skepticism at the door. This is the first in a series of tips on preparing for and controlling a media interview.

“Control” doesn’t mean manipulate. It means crafting a compelling message for your target audience and using the tactics and discipline needed to make sure the reporter understands and repeats that message in the story.

Just as the first step in the sales process is to understand the customer’s needs, the first step in the interview process is to know what the reporter needs and to whom he/she is communicating. Even before scheduling your interview, find out details so you understand what the reporter is looking for. Learn about their beat, media outlet and its audience.  As you coordinate scheduling, don’t hesitate to ask the following:

  • What’s your story about?
  • Do you have a specific angle in mind?
  • Will you conduct the interview in person or by phone? (Many now will send questions via email, which is great because you have more time to think about your answers, and you have a written record if you’re misquoted.)
  • Who else have you talked to?
  • How did you hear about me/my company/product?
  • What is your deadline?
  • When will you run this story?

I advise clients not to ask to review or approve the story before it runs. Allowing a source to edit his/her own story is viewed as an attempt to control coverage. Reporters may follow up with you to check their facts. But no respectable media outlet would allow you to edit (or in their view, censor) a reporter’s work.

After getting answers to those questions, do some simple research to learn a little bit about the reporter. A Google search will reveal the latest stories written by that person, as well as their interests, beats, and tone of their writing. Often news organizations will provide a reporter’s bio in the “Contact” or “Staff” directory of the outlet’s web site.

If none is available, keep digging. With so many media people on Facebook, Twitter and other popular social networks, you’re likely to find helpful information about a reporter’s background, personality and approach to his interview subjects.

Next tip: Preparing for the interview.

 Post happily written by Michelle Damico 

 

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Tell me what you do (in a minute or less)!

So tell me, what do you do?

When customers and prospects visit your website, Facebook or other digital properties, do they see a memorable message about  your business and how it helps people or other businesses? In an elevator or at a cocktail party would someone understand your business value proposition in a minute or less?

If “NO” is the answer to both questions, you should consider creating or simplifying your business message or starting from scratch with a message framework.

It sounds easier than it is. Creating one short soundbite explaining what you do and why it matters to your target audience takes time, perspective and a willingness to dig beyond your mission statement and product/service description.

It also requires a kind of objectivity that’s difficult to practice when your business is your baby. The message development process can take hours, days or weeks, depending on your own and your customers’ experiences. My approach is to take it in baby steps; the first three are fact-finding steps.

  • Know Your Audience — pinpoint their problem, and consider all the ways that problem keeps them worried or makes them lose sleep.
  • List all the ways your product/service solves that problem. If you have a long list, put the top three in priority.
  • Describe the most important features that you offer a customer and how those features specifically address that problem.

The final fourth step has more to do with your customer’s feelings or emotions. We all establish personal connections to a business. I choose a neighborhood printer versus going online for my letterhead and business cards because the manager of the Minute Man Press in my town makes me feel important. As a small business owner, that’s a good feeling and one that will keep me coming back.

So once you’ve done all your fact-finding in steps 1, 2 and 3, consider the emotional response from your client when you do business with him/her? Does he feel more secure? Trusting? Smart that he’s spending his money wisely? Protected because you’re watching out for her business?

Navigating this process requires your own review of how you’ve helped customers and the anecdotes they’ve shared about how you made a difference. It’s also best to conduct this messaging process with the help of a third party, someone who can be objective, who doesn’t live and breathe your business, and who can provide a different perspective of your business and your audience. The anecdotes you gather become the supporting points that bolster your message. These “proof points” also serve as conversation-extenders, since prospects want to hear about other customer experiences for a better understanding of how you’ll help them.

So let’s get a conversation started — What do you do?

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