Neither journalism nor media relations are exact sciences. Both have a lot of room for human error, and errors do happen. Despite the best efforts of reporters and their sources, sometimes the final story contains mistakes.
I’ve been on both sides of this issue, as a reporter trying hard to achieve 100 percent accuracy and as a public relations professional poring over every detail of a story to ensure accuracy. Those experiences have taught me a few things about how to achieve a favorable resolution when you spot an error in a news story. Here are a few tips:
1. Answer honestly: Is there really an error? Does the story say your company had revenue of $10 million last year when the number was actually $100 million? Or are you unhappy with the tone of an article or the way something was characterized? This is an important distinction that should influence if and how you approach the reporter.
2. If there’s an error, don’t let it slide. If you’re looking at a factual error that doesn’t seem to have a big impact, you may be tempted to say, “Oh well,” and let it slide. Resist the urge. If you don’t speak up, that error could reappear the next time the reporter writes about you. In my reporter days, I once had a public relations professional call me about the fourth story in a series of articles I had been writing about her organization, furious that I was using a certain “incorrect” statistic—the same statistic I had been using since story No. 1 appeared months prior. That’s not an easy problem to fix, for either party.
3. Contact the reporter right away. Pick up the phone and give the reporter a call as soon as possible. Explain the mistake and ask politely ask if he or she can make a correction. Today, that often means a quick fix in an online news story—and the faster the better, so fewer readers are exposed to the wrong information. If there isn’t an error, but you’re unhappy with some aspect of the article, calmly make your case and see if the reporter would be willing to make a few tweaks to make the article more balanced/accurate/complete.
4. Pick your battles. Sometimes a reporter will be apologetic, easy to work with, and will happily edit a story. Sometimes the reporter will disagree with your argument and resist making changes. If the latter happens, it’s important to think carefully about whether it’s worthwhile to escalate your complaint to the reporter’s editor. On the one hand, you certainly don’t want incorrect or potentially negative information available to the public. On the other hand, if the issue is small, you may risk damaging your relationship with the reporter or media outlet by pushing too hard.
Despite our best efforts, nobody gets it right all thetime. With these tips, you should be better equipped to respond when you spot an error in a news story.
If you work in agency PR, then you know you are constantly pulled in a million directions as important client needs tend to pop up when you’re in the middle of working on something else. Being able to switch gears and get back on track is important to optimizing productivity and meeting client deadlines and requests.
Everyone has their personal tricks to help stay on track throughout the day, but here are a few ideas in case you find yourself struggling to be productive:
- Take a short break. In a 2008 University of Illinois study, they found that the brain’s attention span drops after a long period of focusing on a single task, which leads to decreased focus and stalled performance. Brief diversions actually are proven to significantly improve performance.
- Work as a team. More minds, more input, more ideas are generated. Teamwork instills a bond between your coworkers and allows you to expand on each other’s ideas to proactively reach the best solution. If you’re stuck on a project, or suffering from writers block, pick a coworkers brain to help generate some ideas you may not have thought about before.
- Exercise during your lunch break. Exercising is a great way to relieve stress, increase your energy and refresh your mind. Plus, numerous studies have linked exercise to mood elevation, increased collaboration and productivity enhancement. If you don’t have time for a full-blown workout, take a walk down the street. Take a breath of fresh air and get that blood circulating.
- Spend less time on meetings and more time executing. Meetings can easily be a time suck, leaving you little time to accomplish what you discussed in your meeting. Try to keep meetings to a minimum and discussions short, so you can use your time to achieve the results you were looking for.
- Turn off the distractions. In the digital age, it is so easy to get distracted. The ring of a cell phone, ping of an email, the light up on your phone begging you to peek at a tweet. Flip your phone over and check them periodically throughout the day. Or, when you’re working on a project make it a point to finish what you’re doing before you check your email inbox, even if you see two, three or 10 emails come in. Better yet, turn off the notifications on these devices.
These are just a few things that help increase my productivity. What are some things you do to help stay focused to make the most out of your workday?
There is constant debate throughout the industry regarding the future of press releases. Will social media eventually make traditional media unnecessary? Will fact-filled, well-constructed, informative releases be replaced by 140-character tweets?
According to a new study, communications professionals can rest easy. Out of 300 seasoned journalists surveyed by BusinessWire, approximately 70 percent said their job would be more difficult without access to the thousands of press releases distributed over the wire every day. When asked about the most frequently used resources for editorial research, 77 percent rely on a company’s online newsroom for information and, once there, 88 percent prefer to access media releases for additional fact finding. Approximately 90 percent of survey participants referenced a media release in an article within the last week and more than 60 percent referenced one in the last 24 hours, proving they do depend on media releases for valuable content.
So, what did this diverse mix of editors, freelance journalists, news directors, columnists, bloggers and reporters find to be the most interesting information in a media release? It’s not surprising breaking news was the leader at 77 percent, followed by supporting facts (70%), interesting story angles (66%) quotable sources (52%) and company background (50%), trending industry topics (49%) and supporting multimedia (29%). And, speaking of multimedia, it’s interesting that more than half of the respondents are more likely to review a press release that contains multimedia, but when asked what kind they favor, photographs were by far the most popular at 73 percent. Other options like graphics and videos were far less preferred.
Press releases continue to be a highly valued, relevant way to deliver news to reporters. And, with media releases written to optimize online audiences, they can also be easily found by millions of web users who can tweet, re-tweet, post and blog about your news. Long live the press release! I hope you are here to stay…at least for many more years.
After almost six months at Lovell, I have a few tips to help you avoid some of the most common mistakes when writing about healthcare. These 5 tips will make sure you don’t have a silly slip up that could cost the client money and you embarrassment.
While there is absolutely no difference in the definition of healthcare, health care or health-care, there are plenty of different views and opinions. Most clients will have a style they prefer, so Listen to your audience and be consistent. For the purpose of this blog, I am going with “healthcare.”
Correct Degree Recognition
“Let’s check AP style for that” is a common phrase in our office. Here are AP style guidelines for proper degree recognition. From my experience so far, knowing them by heart is a great idea.
Medical Doctor – M.D. (has periods)
Master in Business Administration – MBA (does not)
Spell out Registered Nurse on first usage and RN after (no periods)
Spell out Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN), Certified Professional Coder (CPC) and any other less common title on first use and use acronyms on second reference
Remember, these people spent time, money and energy to have these letters by their names. Be sure to get it right!
Doctor vs. Physician?
Proper recognition is very important to medical professionals and the healthcare industry. While there are many types of doctors, those of the medical variety deserve special recognition. A physician is a person who is trained in the art of healing while “doctor” can be someone who is awarded a doctoral degree in another field. Be sure to make the differentiation clear through the use of M.D., PhD or the proper medical suffix.
Introducing a physician in a press release or document can be tricky. Let’s say I gave up my PR career, went to medical school and you were asked to write a press release announcing my new position as Dr. Leslie D. Raney. How would you introduce me?
Here is how to properly introduce a physician in writing:
First reference : Leslie D. Raney, M.D. – Full name, followed by M.D.
Subsequent references: Dr. Raney – Last name only (no firsts!)
Why is everyone talking about HIPPOS?
Oh you mean HIPAA…
HIPAA is one of the most commonly misspelled acronyms in healthcare lexicon. HIPAA is short for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. When talking about this hot topic, thinking about the acronym before you type may help you avoid this common mistake.
The correct guidelines and accepted practices are always changing, so be sure to stay informed and, when in doubt, check the AP style guide!
This past month I started my first PR job! I have held plenty of internships before, as anyone in the industry knows is a necessary first step, but with college graduation came my first full-time public relations job. And while starting a new job is rather overwhelming, it is also an incredible learning experience.
When I first began, I wanted to make a good impression, to soak in everything PR-related, and to master it all right away. Well, it didn’t take long for me to recognize these tasks take time. A lot of time. I quickly adjusted my goals and worked to learn something new every day and to form relationships with my coworkers and superiors, as I realized how much I had to learn from them.
If I were to list all of the things I have learned in the past month, this post would be far too long. So instead, I want to focus specifically on the little details, habits, and skills that I have learned are needed to build a foundation for a public relations career.
We have all been told that the little things are important, and that the little things you do define you as a person. Well, it’s true in PR, too. After my first month, I now know how incredibly important details are in the PR world.
Five Skills and Habits Needed to Build a PR Career:
- Dress the part. The first day of work I wore a carefully picked out navy work dress. Since I was unsure of the office environment, I dressed on the conservative side. When my boss greeted me, she thanked me for looking nice. I had never been more grateful for an outfit choice than I was in that moment. Dressing well shows your boss, your coworkers and your clients that you respect them. Overdressing is always better than underdressing. In the words of Oscar Wilde, “You can never be overdressed or overeducated.”
- Speak like a professional. Before I started answering the phones at Lovell, Paula gave me this advice: “You’re not a sorority girl anymore, don’t talk like it. Girls tend to speak with a high insecure voice when they’re unsure of themselves; don’t do that.” I nodded along, making notes of everything. “This will help you throughout your entire career,” she added. And I realized she was right. If you want respect from others, speak confidently.
- Learn to assert yourself. This goes hand-in-hand with your tone of voice. While it is sometimes difficult to assert yourself in a new situation, it is essential. If you speak and act assertively, the people around you will take you more seriously. They will know you are excited about your job and that you are both competent and capable. Of course, don’t be afraid to ask questions if you are unsure of something. Assertiveness is not mutually exclusive from being inexperienced.
- Educate yourself on current events. As a world citizen, it is always important to be educated about the news and as a PR professional, it is especially important. If a client is in the news, or a competitor is featured, it is our job to be aware and ready to respond. Additionally, it is essential to be knowledgeable about the world around us, whether or not it involves our clients.
- Stay proactive. Often in an entry level position, you will have “down time.” You’ll finish the tasks you were assigned and be left with an empty to-do list. But before you check your personal email, walk around the office and ask other staff members if they need help with anything. Often, they will have something for you to do and will be grateful you asked. And in the rare chance they do not need help, you’ll be on their radar for the next time they have exciting client work.
For now, I’m still working on mastering these traits, as well as many more. I know I have a lot to learn as I continue down my PR path, but fortunately, I am surrounded by some of the best mentors here at Lovell. Do you have any other skills to add to the list? Share them with us below!
Early in my career, this was back in the late 90s, I worked in CNN’s Public Information department in Atlanta. It wasn’t prestigious by any means, but it was exciting in that we got to talk to all the crazies who called the newsroom, we sorted serious news leads from the rest, and we were smack in the middle of some pretty intense hard news stuff (I once put a hostage-taker on hold…seriously…but that’s another story).
One day an Associated Press writer was updating an obituary piece on Bob Hope. As you may know, all the major news sources maintain current obit articles for famous people; that means that if YOU are famous, you’re already dead to somebody. Anyway, this reporter accidentally saved it to the live AP website. He quickly caught his mistake and pulled the article, and that would have been the end of it if Dick Armey – then House Majority Leader – had not been surfing the AP site at that moment. Armey passed a printed copy of the story to Arizona’s Bob Stump who – from the House floor – sadly informed his fellow representatives of the passing of Bob Hope, a true American hero…while he was live on C-SPAN.
Most news outlets jumped on it. The big guys, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and everyone but CNN started reporting that Bob Hope had died. The black and white footage, the golf clubs, and the non-multi-generational jokes flooded television and computer screens alike. Meanwhile, back at CNN Public Information, I was being pummeled by callers criticizing CNN for not honoring our great American icon.
Basically, everyone but CNN cited AP and C-SPAN as the two independent sources required for news to be considered news in the 24-hour news cycle of the time. So not surprisingly, CNN got the call when Bob Hope’s daughter checked in to say that her father was quite alive and thoroughly enjoying his eggs and toast.
I’m not sure I need to explain the moral of this story, but from a content development perspective, the need to fill every minute of the 24-hour news cycle vividly illustrates the desperation that many content marketers feel today. “What is it? Who cares! Just get it out there!”
Although I didn’t truly understand its significance at the time, today’s professional content shops, communications professionals, social media experts, and small business content marketers can all learn something from that fiasco. One writer made a simple, honest mistake. The fact that his mistake became a printed article held in the hand of an elected official, broadcast live on a respected cable channel, picked up by seasoned news outlets, rebroadcast as fact, and posted online as breaking news brought that boo-boo full circle and made it an embarrassment to everyone who touched it.
Of course, this happened before Facebook, Twitter, smart phones (I don’t think I even had a cell phone then), and before any of us called the things we say and write “content.” But if this comparison seems like a stretch, keep in mind that these days anyone with an Internet connection and a Web-ready device can be, in effect, a reporter or commentator—a “source” with the same reach as many news institutions. And the mind-blowing speed at which vast quantities of content are being produced makes the rush to be first even more dangerous.
Instead of grabbing at anything we can talk about to fill the endless need for content, we should now be more careful than ever about what—if anything—we say. Quickly jumping to conclusions, judging a situation or weighing in without all the facts (or fact checking!) diminishes our message. It diminishes our clout. It stays out there! And it diminishes our morale and our focus when the next challenge arises.
Regardless of where we are in the content development and communication spectrum, with so much information unchecked and instantaneous, the biggest challenge is to not let our technology outsmart us.
Michael Peacock is Digital Media and Content Strategist at Lovell Communications.
Learning the Lingo and (Older) Terms of the Trade
Professional communicators should be the last people to use terms and acronyms with which their audience would be unfamiliar, right?
But not only are communicators human, as I peer around the office it appears they’re also getting younger every day, and some of these terms may be “old school” given modern online and social media platforms. Still, whether you’re a young communications professional or trying to have a conversation with one, it’s good to make sure everyone’s on the same page. Here are a few terms and their meanings or context I hope will help you navigate your conversations.
Advertising – Paid content, such as an ad for which you or our agency partner develop the verbiage and images. You pay to have your content appear just as you designed it. The media outlet in which your ad appears will make no edits or changes to your placement. (Think of it as you talking about your own organization.)
AP Style – AP style refers to content written in the accepted news style of the Associated Press Stylebook. Well-trained communicators know that if they expect the material they submit to be viewed favorably by a reporter or editor, they better follow these clear and simple rules for word usage and punctuation. Don’t mess up what otherwise might pique the interest of an editor by ignoring AP style, which means he or she would have to edit your work to use it. They don’t have the time – or the tolerance – for it.
Earned Media – This is non-advertising content, typically the result of suggesting, or “pitching,” an idea for an article or feature to a reporter or editor. Typically considered to be a more credible form of content than advertising, this is when someone else (the media outlet) is talking about your organization. In the context of social media, earned media today could also be interpreted to include shares and likes – other people sharing and endorsing talk about your organization.
Editorial – An editorial is a column that expresses the viewpoint of the media outlet on an issue, written in the voice of the editor(s). It’s typically found in the “opinion” section of a publication or website.
Editorial Content – This refers collectively to all the non-advertising content of a publication or news outlet, including editorials, bylined (or guest) columns, and other opinion pieces.
Journalist – While at the basic level, a journalist is one who researches, writes and reports information (thank you Wikipedia), ideally this term pertains to one who is trained in and adheres to journalist codes of ethics and standards. The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics is a nice, concise one-page reference sheet for anyone who who’s producing content. Unfortunately, there are many people publishing content– online and off – who fail to adhere to these ideals.
News Release – Exact same thing as a press release – see separate entry below – although “news” is considered more inclusive than “press,” which at least originally referred to the print media. I like “news release” myself, but don’t love “media release,” another term sometimes used synonymously. Why? I guess because it underscores the fact that your release by any name should include newsworthy content.
Opinion – Encompasses editorials, letters to the editor and guest columns – which may include either one-time submissions by guest authors or columns that appear with some frequency written by syndicated or local columnists. Today, opinion may also be extended to include the reader or user comments that accompany a news story.
Press Release – A tool used to garner earned media when an organization has something newsworthy to announce or share. Straightforward, right? But not really. Some folks will contact us and ask, “When will my press release run in the paper?” Well, it doesn’t work quite like that. A press release is an excellent tool; it’s like an article written in news (i.e. Associated Press) style and distributed to news outlets for their consideration for use as editorial content. They may use the content in full (rarely) or in part (a short brief or summary). Once you’ve shared it, it’s the media outlet’s decision whether to use it and in what form. They may choose to summarize it, use it as a jumping off point for an article in which they also consult other news sources, or not use it at all. That’s why it’s important your press release be newsworthy and avoids salesy language that will turn off a reporter or editor.
Are there other communications terms that trip you up? Let us know, and we’ll be happy to address those, too!
GM CEO Atones for Company Recall, Communications Crisis
I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for a good apology. And I’m more likely to give a second chance when it seems genuine and sincere. So, as the driver of a GM car, I’ve watched with interest the GM recall crisis play out on Capitol Hill and in the media.
Of course, I’m slightly annoyed that I will have take time to go to the auto dealer to see if my vehicle is still safe to drive to work, church and weekend soccer tournaments. However, the bigger the question is, will the current issues at GM and the way the company has responded influence my next car purchase?
Corporate apologies as well as the individual mea culpa have become fairly commonplace. A New York Times article published in February described the “art of the apology” as, “Say you are sorry, show vulnerability, tell everyone you are ‘taking responsibility’ and then end with, ‘I hope to put this behind me.’” The article went on to say some feel apologies happen too frequently and called for an immediate end to the scourge.
I searched Google and found an overwhelming number of public apologies and requests for a second, third and sometimes fourth do-over. Target’s CFO apologized for its cybersecurity breach; Gary Oldman acknowledged culturally insensitive remarks he made in a recent interview; and just this weekend, Facebook executives asked for a pardon in the court of public opinion after completing a secret experiment in 2012 that manipulated users’ moods.
GM CEO Mary Barra is no exception. She testified before Congress, met privately with families who lost loved ones allegedly due to defective vehicles and most recently sat down for a multi-segment interview with The Today Show’s Matt Lauer. In all these interactions, she has apologized for the company’s transgressions and has vowed employees won’t forget this sad chapter so it’s never repeated. (When asked about theories that suggest the intelligent, charismatic car company executive and mother was named CEO to lessen the negative impact of the recall disclosure that was on the horizon, Barra scoffed at the notion. She quickly plowed ahead in the interview, fully committed to restoring GM’s good name and reputation.)
I contend apologies should continue to be a mainstay and a vital component of a comprehensive crisis communications strategy. And despite what lawyers might say, leaders can apologize and express sympathy without it being construed as an omission of guilt. However there is an art to making amends.
- Apologies should be focused and straightforward. The message should be clear and concise, helping to accomplish your overarching goal of atoning for the mistake. CEOs should resist the urge to provide too many details and make explanations, which could be misinterpreted as excuses.
- Executives should express sympathy for those affected by the issue.
- The organization’s leader should discuss how the error occurred and what the company will do to prevent a similar error in the future, whether a procedure change, process improvement or cultural shift, making sure not to over-promise and under-deliver.
- CEOs should acknowledge the organization’s mission and values, even if the misstep isn’t congruent, and commit to realigning the company and its employees with them.
As for me, I’ll see how the GM issues play out over time before deciding on my loyalty to the GM brand. In the meantime, check out Rosemary Plorin’s blog post “The ‘Sorry’ Word Works” and Entertainment Weekly’s chronicle of the 19 best apologies in the last 20 years.
What do you think about the current onslaught of the mea culpa? Has a corporate apology made you more or less brand loyal?
Summer is in full swing. And as folks flee their offices for family vacations — or just any old reason to use some accumulated time off — some businesses may experience a bit of a summer slowdown.
News reporters, as you might imagine, experience the summer slowdown acutely. While you’re getting pummeled with out-of-office replies and voicemail recordings, they may be calling everyone on their contact list to try to find news that’s worth covering. This makes the summer months an ideal time to think proactively about media relations and how you can help your business, or your clients’ businesses, by helping a reporter.
Here are a few tips for boosting your media relations efforts during the summer months:
1. Meet a reporter for coffee. I’ve said it before: Relationships rule when it comes to working with reporters. Even if you don’t have news to share right now, many reporters will be open to meeting at convenient location for a quick cup of coffee and a chance to catch up about anything happening at your company or in your industry. These meetings can be educational for the reporter, and they build a foundation for working together in the future.
2. Make introductions. If you help a reporter connect to other people they may find interesting or helpful, you’ll simultaneously enhance your relationship with that writer. If you meet for coffee, ask them if there is anyone you can help connect them
to. Better yet, come to the meeting armed with a couple of names you think they should know. If the reporter makes a good connection, chances are he or she will call you again.
3. Do some brainstorming. Have you ever picked up the newspaper during the summer, flipped through it, and wondered why there wasn’t anything to read? You can help reporters find compelling stories by doing a little brainstorming of your own. Think of a good topic or two that you think might make for an interesting story and pass them along. The story ideas don’t have to — and in fact, should not — be all about your business. But perhaps there is an industry or community issue or trend that you think might make for an interesting feature story. Pass it along and win some points for chipping in.
4. Think about timing. If you actually have an honest-to-goodness piece of news to share during the summer months, consider how you might be able to use the summer slowdown to your advantage. Many companies want to avoid issuing news during the days or week surrounding holidays like the 4th of July or Labor Day, for fear that nobody will see it. That type of thinking makes holiday weeks particularly painful for reporters who are looking for news, and it may make them more likely to give second-rate news the star treatment (or at least give a little attention to a news item that, on a busier day, they might overlook completely). And remember, even if most of your audience is at the beach, they’re probably checking news on their phones, or browsing social media – where you should be posting links to all your positive news coverage!
Remember, the summer months can be a slow time in the news business. As a former reporter, my advice to you is, if you’re facing a summer slowdown of your own, take advantage of the opportunity to help a reporter and bolster your media relationships.