Food Network Serves PR Lessons in “Chopped”

ChoppedLogoMy family is addicted to Food Network’s Chopped, the contest in which accomplished chefs turn crazy mystery ingredients into beautiful, creative dishes during insanely short periods of time to win $10,000.  A summer rerun, “Wurst Case Scenario,” offered PR lessons to chefs or anyone who puts his/her work practices in the public realm – in this case – on the chopping block.

Chef Mor Amitzur is executive chef of The View at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Manhattan, which offers one of the best restaurant views of the skyline (see my photo taken from The View during a recent trip to New York).

View from The View Restaurant

View from The View Restaurant

Amitzur was one of four contestants and his creations were beautiful and — according to the judges — delicious, but his kitchen behavior and sanitation practices were appalling. I was grossed out and I am sure others viewers felt the same. Did he get any PR advice before he was Chopped?

What was so gross?

It was captured as he prepared every dish for the Chopped judges. He formed a fish patty appetizer with a hand bloodied by a food processor blade and balked when ordered to wear a plastic glove, throw out his work, and start over. He double-dipped during entree and dessert prep, and was called on it each time. It’s unacceptable and reputation-harming for a chef of his stature to use one tasting spoon and dipping it multiple times into food that he’s making (one judge commented about his total disregard for them!).You can watch it here or see his negative coverage in TimeOut New York.

What are the PR lessons here?

  1. Identify the risks of appearing on TV or any public forum that requires you to perform under pressure. An unscripted TV free-for-all contest is the last place to put  your unsavory work habits on display.
  2. If you’re appearing on national TV, ask colleagues and friends to help identify problems that may arise in a program like Chopped. He double-dipped as though it was instinct — heck, he didn’t even realize he did it. Why didn’t one colleague raise a red flag about the consequences of having the Chef’s bad practices on display for a nation of foodies?
  3.  Assess risks versus rewards. Can a restaurant (or any business) withstand a loss or embarrassment on national TV or on a stage before thousands of potential customers? How does a business handle the loss, especially when one’s personal behavior brings him down in flames?
  4. Rehearse your appearance early and often, in front of impartial judges, not cheerleaders. Surely Chef Amitzur rehearsed before competing on Chopped? Did he seek feedback from his own group of “judges?” Did they overlook his bad kitchen habits with a shoulder-shrug and an “everybody-does-it” attitude?
  5. Practice humility – expressing confidence when competing is laudible. For a loser to question or diss your judges or your fellow competitors makes you a sore loser and may irrevocably harm your reputation. In public or on TV, your actions are always louder than words – be gracious in defeat.
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9 tips for getting reporters’ attention

Newsradio 780 reporter Nancy Hardy interviews CEO Jim Keane of Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago. © Michelle Damico.

Newsradio 780 reporter Nancy Hardy interviews CEO Jim Keane of Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago. © Michelle Damico.

With all the stresses and deadlines that reporters face, it can be difficult to get their attention when you have a big story. But if you want to get positive placements for your clients, you have to make sure your name stands up when it shows up in their inboxes. Fortunately, there are a few proven ways to break through the newsroom noise and make stand-out pitches.

1. Print reporters and editors – Subscribe to the paper/magazine (truly a no-brainer) and send emails about their work. Often their print or subscription-only stories are different than what’s posted free. Email comments to the reporter about those pieces. Don’t be surprised to get a response thanking you for actually buying the online content/paper. It happened to me just last week and led to a conversation that resulted in a client interview for this Monday.

2. If a reporter/producer calls you seeking an expert – help him, even if you don’t have a client. He will never forget you, especially when you say “Hey, he’s not a client, but I always do my best to search my network to help you.” One producer calls me monthly and specifically says “I’m calling you first because I know you’ll help me out, no matter what.”

3. After securing a great news placement, follow up with a comment about the story, and suggest another angle worth pursuing in one month, two months, or even six months later. In the meantime, send links validating the angle.

4. Sympathize with their plight. I check in regularly with select reporters to see how they’re coping with their outlet’s downsizing. Make a point to call some at lunchtime and just listen as they describe the madness going on at their shops. I tell them how valuable their insights would be if they chose to work in the business world and offer my help if they are considering a transition.

5. Behold the lovely intern. Sadly, many unpaid interns are serving as general assignment reporters, photographers, or videographers for major newspapers in Chicago. When I work with young reporters I ask about their job status (full, part-time, non-paid). Upon learning they’re interns, I offer my job advice, based on my experience working with journalists. Most pepper me with questions, and more than a few have sent me thank you notes.

6. Broaden your horizons. Ask freelancers about the other outlets for which they write. Freelancers often work for several papers and magazines and more than a few of your clients may interest them. Share your resources, but do it at their convenience.

7. Cover for the reporter, even at your client’s expense. I had to notify a columnist that while my client was eager to talk to her for a story later this month, he’d be in a front page story next week, which would definitely affect her story plans a week or two later. I suggested she check with her editor first. She thanked me and canceled the interview.

8. When reporters cancel an interview, don’t begrudge – help them instead. That same reporter still needed a topic for her next column, and within hours I had a a new topic and source.

9. Leave comments on reporters’ online stories. They’ll appreciate the feedback and your willingness to start/contribute to a conversation over their work.

Are these tips helpful? Do you have others?  Leave a comment!

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Can’t create original content? Share!

When you lack the time or just can’t decide on creating content topics for your blog or social networks, try sharing material that will be helpful to your audience. With client work consuming my time recently, I’ve got some items to share and start conversations.

Check out some helpful PR, marketing and social media resources I’ve found lately. You can also scroll down the page and see some cool news coverage my colleagues and I have secured for my clients.  Either way, enjoy and leave a comment if you can.

Laura and I sprung into action immediately following this placement and pitched Manny’s Google Glass experience to broadcast and national media, offering his expertise about how shoppers might use Google Glass. As a result of our quick thinking, the client appeared not only in Chicago print, but on radio and nationally online at NPR.org.

  • The Chicago Newsradio interview is here:  

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    Or you can listen to a few short reports that excerpted Manny’s interview here:

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During our outreach, NPR reporter Brenda Salinas had us switch direction, asking about Manny’s retail client experiences with facial recognition technology. Thanks to Manny’s deep level of expertise, he became the focus a valuable national placement, which you’ll find at NPR.org. This enabled our client to continue building momentum for his PR initiative. It also proves once again that if you have a strong and credible expert, and if you target media with precision, every touchpoint you make will matter, as long as you provide reporters with content they need to please editors and meet their deadlines.

Screen Shot 2013-07-21 at 4.17.37 PMHere’s more cool news I’ve secured on behalf of other clients this past month:

I’m the senior communications consultant for Marj Halperin Consulting and her client The Trust for Public Land. TPL is partnering with the City of Chicago’s to build The 606. Here is some recent coverage we’ve secured:

606logo

 

 

 

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Need PR for your App? Sorry, there’s NO App for that!

No app for that

In the last month, I’ve been approached by three different companies seeking help in generating news for their smart phone apps creations.  Currently, I’m working with a brother-sister team that developed BrainAttack App to help emergency room doctors and nurses save lives for stroke patients. Like my clients, all app creators are trying to rise above the noise being generated in an industry that’s growing at lightning speed.

Since 2008, when Apple launched its iTunes App store more than 800,000 apps have been downloaded. Google has quickly played catch up with just under 700,000 apps on Google Play as it marks its first birthday.

app-store-heart

If there’s a business problem, there’s probably an entrepreneur who’s created or working on an app solution. Unfortunately, there’s no app guaranteed to get news coverage for your new app. With the mix of traditional and social media required to generate awareness of your app, a one-size fits-all solution just won’t get you results.

There are so many target audiences that can make or break your efforts to generate awareness of your apps. With these hurdles in mind, I offer…

Top 10 tips to build media buzz for your App  Continue reading

Press releases can STILL pack a punch

PressReleaseIf you follow me here or on my LinkedIn profile, you probably know I’m a strong believer in the effectiveness of a well-written press release.  In an earlier post, I mentioned that press releases have the potential to go viral and become an excellent lead generator.  Recently, I had a media relations experience that perfectly illustrates my point!

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Nespresso on Facebook: Brewing great customer service

IMG_0618Dear Nespresso, your brand page on Facebook showcases exactly how a consumer product company should be integrating social media into every part of the customer experience. Now I see why your page has nearly 2 million LIKES and thousands of people talking about you (in many languages). I have this real life example of wonderful customer service through social media.

You address complaints immediately and publicly — I have proof! Today you did so to my total surprise.

Yesterday, I complained on your page after twice calling your toll free number and twice having the system hang up on me when I tried to reach customer service. I left this note in frustration (I admit, I did it in haste and it was a bit snarky).

Grab image of complaint

I thought that would be the end of my Nespresso Facebook engagement and was quite shocked to get this email today. Apparently, someone on the Facebook team connected with customer service, or looked up my order history, noted that I had not yet requested my first scaling kit, and took the initiative to order it on my behalf. Continue reading

Best magazine covers; Magazine burial ground broadens.

I’ve never heard of Vice or Flauntbut I do appreciate the style and substance that goes into creating a compelling magazine cover.

So when Advertising Age compiled its 10 best magazine covers for 2012, I had to see them. And it’s worth the view. As I perused these beauties, I couldn’t help but wonder how many people actually purchased/subscribed to these publications and actually saw them at their best — in print. With magazine circulation numbers on a never-ending downward slide (see below),I also tried to estimate the year when we’d no longer hold a fully assembled and stapled magazine for our own personal pleasure.

From the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism

Magazine industry keeps downsizing, thanks to digital media and social networks.

My Newsweek print subscription will be no more come January 1st – I’ll have to get my Newsweek fix online and it won’t be the same.

I was saddened when Gourmet folded in 2009 and not surprised when PC Magazine suffered a similar fate. You can take a look to spot one of your favorite pubs that folded in 2009. Or maybe one of your favs ceased publication in 2008?

Will some of the best magazines remain as print versions, because they’re just too vital or beautiful or popular to die? Will many be around in 2015? 2020?

What’s your prediction on the year the last printed magazine as we know it will fold? Will you miss them when they do? Will you be satisfied reading an article or seeing your cover on a tablet or smart phone? Leave your comments because I love when you do.

 

 

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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

Find Rewards by Mining Your LinkedIn Profile


This post appeared originally on Carol Roth’s Business Unplugged Blog. 

If you noticed someone peeking through the front door of your business, would you ask “How can I help you?” You’d be silly not to make that personal connection; especially as businesspeople, we’re always looking for that next customer.

There are probably at least a half dozen people peeking through your business front door – your LinkedIn account – on a daily basis. Are you reaching out to them? Too shy? Don’t know what to say? Don’t want to give the impression that you’re spying on your visitors?

Today, I want to embolden you and arm you with the steps needed to make those valuable connections with potential customers, because I’ve learned this past summer that with the right approach, you CAN get meaningful business leads and valuable connections.

STEP 1. Start off with the front page of your LinkedIn profile. You’ll find a box that says “Your profile has been viewed (number) times in the past 14 days.” Check this page at least weekly and preferably daily. Most of the time, you will see the identities of your LinkedIn visitors. Members have the option to have their name displayed, have their title/industry displayed without their name, or remain anonymous. Many members choose not to hide their identity. With the paid membership, you can see all of the viewers of your profile, not just a select few.

I make this visit to my profile page a daily routine and it has been well worth the investment of my time.

Proof Point 1: This summer, I noticed a former client was on my page, someone I hadn’t spoken to in 10 years. I checked his recent job history, sent an email and started a conversation about what he’d been up to. I researched his new firm, checked recent news and sent him a message saying hello and congratulating him on his accomplishments. That led to a string of emails, lunch, and now, I am in conversations with his CEO for possible PR work. I landed a quality lead based on my relevant media relations work experience and didn’t have to make one annoying cold call! Pretty nice, huh? And SO easy.

STEP 2. If folks visiting your profile aren’t easily recognizable, check out their pages if you can and your connections to them. LinkedIn etiquette suggests that you request an introduction from a current member of your network. That works fine, but may take a while. However, I have found that new visitors to your profile don’t mind your direct outreach, as long as it’s not repeated and annoying. But DO be sure you do some homework before trying to connect. Also, remember to include the reason that you are reaching out and why they might want to connect with you. (See example below.)

Proof Point 2: A recent visitor to my LinkedIn page was the Director of Marketing from an MBA school at a major university. LinkedIn requires that you should have a business history with the person you’re messaging. In many cases, I haven’t done business with these people, but I have never been caught by a “LinkedIn cop” for violating the rule. And none of my InMail recipients has ever told me to stop messaging them. Hey, if I don’t get a response, I don’t bother them again. In nearly every instance, I have gotten a response. I’ve never heard of anyone being bounced from LinkedIn for the occasional InMail infraction against someone they don’t know. (If you know of someone who has been ejected, please do share!) So, when you see the LinkedIn prompt asking how you know this person, use your current firm as your reference and check we’ve done business together. If you are in a group with the person and don’t know them, you can use that option instead.

STEP 3. How to approach that visitor scoping out your profile? Here’s the gist of an InMessage I sent to that CMO of a major university:

“Hi NAME, I couldn’t help noticing that you visited my profile this week. Is there something that I can help you with or perhaps offer a recommendation for a candidate whose name we might have in common?”

I received a reply saying that he was looking for a communications person to elevate his school’s social media presence. He complimented my PR and social media credentials and indicated that he was looking for a more junior level candidate and so, I offered to aid in his search. I made a valuable connection and feel totally comfortable reaching out to him again, if needed, in the future.

What’s the lesson here? Do your LinkedIn homework every day and see who’s checking out your profile. Look for ways that you might help those people and do the research to ask intelligent, relevant questions. You just never know where that conversation will take you and your business.

Is this something that you have used successfully in your business? I would love to hear about your experiences or suggestions.

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Do You Have a Treasure Trove of Customer Relationships?

 This article originally appeared in the October 1, 2012 issue of the Daily Herald Business Ledger
When times are tough, knowing your customer can be your most treasured business asset. With belt-tightening the norm for businesses, that’s the message from CEOs, entrepreneurs and solopreneurs in the suburbs and Chicago who offered examples of how knowing their customers helped them survive and thrive.

 

“In the environmental engineering business, it’s relationship-driven; we don’t have long-term contracts, but we do have long-term clients,” said Bob Platt, CEO of Elmhurst-based Mostardi Platt, an environmental testing and consulting firm. Commercial and industrial businesses rely on Mostardi Platt to stay abreast of clean-air and water regulations or to design systems to comply with or audit compliance of environmental protections.

Platt says his business is primarily project-based, and as a result, his project managers have developed strong customer relationships over the years.

“Our mantra is if you think you haven’t talked to a client recently, than give them a call. We know they’re busy and don’t want to seem like we’re bugging them. Typically, we help them stay on top of regulatory changes facing their industries and that’s how we earn their trust and confidence,” said Platt.

Most clients lack deep knowledge of environmental regulations, and that’s where the trust plays a big role. “We’re like the surgeon treating the patient who lacks the training to find their own cure. Our customers trust that we’ll come up with the best possible compliance options without undue cost. That trust is the result of relationship building over time,” said Platt.

Building trust over time is a concept that applies to the not-for-profit world as well. In fact, “trust” is part of the name of the 40-year old Trust for Public Land, which relies on donors to achieve its mission of conserving land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens and other natural places. The Trust for Public Land played an instrumental role in helping earn federal authorization of the area’s first National Wildlife Refuge, The Hackmatack, stretching from northeastern Illinois into Wisconsin and within a 100-mile drive for Chicago- and Milwaukee-area residents.

Beth White, Director of The Trust for Public Land Chicago region office says securing federal conservation protections for Hackmatack involved six years of relationship building with community and conservation groups such as Friends of Hackmatack, Open Lands and Sierra Club, as well as elected officials, governments and donors.

“Donors give to The Trust for Public Land because they have an affinity for what we do and because we get high marks for accountability and for being among the most efficient charities in the U.S. Our donors often have personal interest and expertise related to our projects and become key partners, often for decades,” said White.

For more than two decades, Ambrosia Euro-American Patisserie in Barrington has served customers’ culinary tastes and curiosities in Lake, Kane and McHenry Counties and beyond. Deborah and Richard Rivera, 23-year owners of Ambrosia say regulars who visit weekly comprise 40 to 50 percent of their daily customer count.

“We know nearly half of our customers by name, so over the years they’ve become our de facto advisory board,” says Debby Rivera. “More than ever, we are listening to what they want – superior bakery items and beverages made with natural, high quality ingredients, served in a comfortable and welcoming café setting.”

Rivera says the recession has changed customers’ family and work lives. “Many have lost or left their jobs and work out of their homes, where they feel more isolated. They come here for a croissant and conversation.”

So when local acoustic, jazz and classical musicians pitched the idea of live performances at Ambrosia, the Riveras redesigned their café floor plan for concerts, presented at least twice each month.

“Our marketing approach has been tailored to what our customers need,” says Rivera. “They are much more stressed out and we try to be in tune to what they’re looking for. I think that’s a critical component that’s kept us going during the recession,” she added.

Deep relationships are what drive solopreneurs as well. Ask Catherine Morgan, transition and entrepreneur coach at Point A to Point B Transitions, Inc. She says 80 percent of leads come from client referrals.

“Building strong relationships is the best possible thing I can do for my business,” said Morgan. “I don’t think people actively search for my services. More likely, a colleague or friend will recognize that help is needed and make a referral suggestion. So it’s just as important to maintain relationships with past clients and have a good keep-in-touch strategy.”

Morgan says another benefit of great client relationships is getting testimonials on her web site and social network pages. “Business decisions are based on social proof – so if someone is evaluating my service, I want them to find great client success stories to help close the deal. Google and LinkedIn are the new background checks,” she added.

Michelle Damico provides media relations and communications services through Michelle Damico Communications and can be reached through http://www.michelledamico.com.

Post happily written by Michelle Damico

 

 

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