Sunday, November 4

Blogging For Hope: Lisa Wines, O My Word

artheals
Lisa Wines, who pens of o my word, is as authentic as they come. The youngest of six children who moved from Philadelphia to Phoenix, she graduated a year early from high school and chose a life filled with drug smugglers, prostitutes, their attorneys, and other “interesting” people. Wines also knows about abuse.

“I have experienced different kinds of abuse in life, primarily a rape while in college, where I was held captive in a guy’s house for a couple days and then hospitalized,” says Wines. “It’s interesting that I didn’t write about my own experience. I guess I’m not ready for that.”

Instead, as one of 10,000 bloggers who participated in Bloggers Unite, a social awareness campaign organized by BlogCatalog, Wines decided to write about her friend Robert Miley, an artist in Arizona who developed an art workshop curriculum for abused and at-risk youth.

“I have known Robert Miley for years and have always been touched by his work with abused children,” she says. “I think art can be magically healing. People can express their emotions, rage, sadness, fear, through art, and get beyond the pain and move forward.”

Wines’ post received first place in the Blog For Hope Post Competition, sponsored by Copywrite, Ink. in cooperation with BlogCatalog. Among the prizes, Copywrite, Ink. will be donating $250 to Robert Miley’s Release The Fear in her name as well as proceeds from “Art Heals” T-shirts, which her post helped inspire. According to Wines, her post also represents the most she has done for Miley’s worthwhile endeavor.

“I had been self-absorbed for many years … working myself to death. I never seemed to have time for Robert’s or any other charity. But he would lure me in here and there,” she said. “I have helped him with minor writing tasks and have shown up at meetings and events. But I have never played a major role. I was very happy to finally draw attention to his work through my blog.”

While it doesn’t read like a new blog, o my word is relatively young to the blogosphere. Wines, a freelance commercial writer, started it in March as an essay blog that features observations and confessions about her life. Filled with little bits of wisdom from living an unconventional lifestyle, she shares anything and everything that happens to strike her. Often amusing and always straightforward, she also writes about her adventures as an American living in Paris

“I love my o my word blog, but have a love/hate relationship with my political blog,” she confesses. “Things are bleak in America today, so I get tired of bitching. Instead, I prefer reminiscing or telling stories about my life.”

In some ways, the Miley post in an exception, sparked by the Bloggers Unite campaign. Wines became interested in the campaign after reading how many bloggers were making a difference. She immediately thought of Miley.

“I think children need to feel safe, and then feel that they can be loved,” she says. “They need a way to express themselves and to shed the shame that is always associated with abuse.”

The six judges — two from BlogCatalog, two from Copywrite, Ink., and two who are not affiliated with social media — thought so too. Their decision to recognize Wines’ post was based on this program’s ability to help heal the pain associated with abuse. Although unrelated, Miley’s program is similar to “Gaining Your Voice Through The Arts,” a juried art show that highlighted artists who also use art as a means for healing in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Like Release The Fear, Gaining Your Voice focused on teaching people to transform their pain and suppressed emotions as an abuse victim into something else. By doing so, it helps abuse victims change the way they think about their experience and helps others to gain their voice as well.

It’s a solution — whether written in a blog or splashed across a canvas or captured in a photograph — that has been proven to work. Just ask Wines. Despite her own painful experiences, she still maintains an infectious sense of humor — the least of which is exemplified by her request for donations to buy some Depends. (Not really, but that’s what makes it funny.) Congratulations again, Lisa.

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Saturday, November 3

Striking Writers: Writer's Guild Of America


Although a federal mediator has called a last minute Sunday morning meeting between major media and the Writer's Guild Of America (WGA), it seems certain that 12,000 writers will go on strike Monday.

From the network perspective, budgets are going up while ratings are going down. From the writers perspective, they want higher residuals, especially from DVDs (they are asking for eight cents per copy as opposed to three or five cents). And they are serious.

As Jericho fans know, the strike could return Jericho to the small screen much earlier than as a truncated midseason show in January. But as the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for.

Coming back as a Band Aid for CBS would mean limited promotion time prior to a start date (not that CBS seems like it would go gangbusters on it anyway). This also assumes Jericho fans and new viewers will be satisfied with some lower budget solutions that made it impossible to pick up where the season one cliffhanger left off. And, with only seven shows in the can, even if season two was a hit, fans would once again find themselves looking at yet another long wait between seasons.

From the fans' perspective, it doesn’t make sense. For Veronica Mars fans, on the other hand, a writers strike could help return it to syndication, giving new viewers a chance to see the series for the first time. You never know what might happen if that happened. Why? Because in new world of media, crazier things have, are, and will happen. Don’t believe me?

• ABC recently asked Rob Thomas to bring back Cupid, a 15-episode series that debuted in 1998.

• The Teamsters’ 4,500 truck drivers, casting directors, and location managers may join the WGA strike. ABC, on the other hand, suggested writers consider dropping or converting their WGA membership to work anyway. Yep, crazy.

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Friday, November 2

Tagging Snackers: Conversation Agent


When Jeremiah Owyang, senior analyst for Forrester Research, presented Media Snackers, I didn’t give it much thought. I don’t believe it’s new. Like much of social media, it’s an old concept, repackaged under the premise that new media has changed everything.

Social media has changed the world; communication, not so much.

The general concept of MediaSnackers is sound, except as Owyang pointed out, it's not just young people — everyone is consuming, creating, and sharing media differently because they can access whatever, whenever, and wherever. Or, as I’ve said, passive viewers have become active consumers.

Six things that social media is changing:

• Speed of delivery
• Locality of contact
• Size of audience
• Depth of content
• Number of voices
• Degree of engagement

Six things that social media isn’t changing:

• Cognitive thinking
• Appeal of authenticity
• Varied behavioral styles
• Emotion-driven decisions
• Justifying decisions with logic
• Tendency toward organization

Social media is neither an opportunity nor a threat; it's both.

Valeria Maltoni, Conversation Agent, who tagged me with this topic task, used the movie Sliding Doors as a great analogy, noting that most companies size up social media as an opportunity or a thread. (That’s funny.)

It’s neither and both. That’s the beauty of social media. Much like life, you will find what you seek out. And much like life, you ignore it at your own peril.

Do I change my communication to cater to media snackers?

I don’t. Not really. I don’t believe effective communication begins with a medium. It begins with a deep appreciation of communication, which starts by recognizing that varied people have varied behaviors and respond to communication differently. The best communication makes sense to anyone even if it changes no one.

Social media has not changed this. However, for meme purposes, here are few tactics that media snackers might appreciate (no order):

• Employing Twitter, networks, and aggregates like snack shelves
• Finding key information from multiple sources and noting patterns
• Bolding critical information, points, quotes, or adding subheads
• Allowing readers to determine their own depth of interest
• Engaging people in comments, allowing them to share input
• Mixing and matching styles, stories, and analogies for fun
• Hiding full-course meals in many of these daily media snacks
• Serving up honesty and authenticity, even if it means telling people I like that they have mustard on their chins (and asking people to do the same for me)

So what do I think about social media snackers? I think that they are yummy. But then again, I like everybody, which is while I’ll tag: John Sumser, Jeremy Pepper, Doug Meacham, Lee Odden, and Steven Silvers for their take on social media snacks.

(Thanks to Kami Huyse, who published a list of contributors today.)

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Thursday, November 1

Making News: Publication Editors


Jack Payne, a business author (1.1 million books sold) and publisher of Six Hours Past Thursday left the kind of comment on my Chris Anderson, Wired, post that inspires me. Having "sent 15 releases over the past eight months," he has no idea why some releases get 15 pickups and others get four. (Jack, nice record).

Neither do I. Well, that’s sort of not true. Why do some releases run?

Space. Time. The Stars Align.

While this is an exercise in putting the cart before the horse (usually I share what constitutes news before making this point), there is only one thing that defines news — news is whatever the editor says is news. Period.

Key News * Las Vegas was a hybrid local/international trade publication for concierges and hospitality executives. We owned and operated it from Sept. 99 to Aug. 03 before selling it. Despite the super high cost per impression, our advertisers included In Celebration of Golf, Lladro, McCormick & Schmick’s, Lawry’s, The Venetian Grand Canal Shoppes, and many others. I was the editor; you can find a few details on my incomplete Linkedin profile.

In this publication, there was only one section where a news release could even hope to find a home. It was in a section called “Key Notes,” a two-page spread of news bits and other loose ends. At most, we had room for fourteen burbs, some of which were pre-designated. I randomly picked up an old issue today from 2002 to share why we picked ten headlines over about 500 other releases.

Concierges Added To The River Empress (Switzerland)
The publication description might be the giveaway. We were always interested when concierges were added to a property or cruise ship. Picked up from PR Newswire (it had a nice photo too).

Bonnie Springs Ranch Adds Horseback Riding (Las Vegas)
This was a local interest story. We would always have one purely local interest blurb. Plus, the cover story was on ecotourism. The owners sent me an email. They were nice.

World Tourism Organization (WTO) - Year Of Ecotourism
World tourism was always underreported in Vegas. We often covered WTO news (and other trade sources). Did I mention the cover story?

U.S. Senate Passes Border Security Act
The Travel Industry of America (TIA) had a major victory when it convinced Congress to extend the deadline for biometric passports (H.R. 3525). Biometric passports impacted $40 billion in tourism spending so, naturally, we were following the bill.

Fifth Annual ArtFest of Henderson
This was a local interest story from our longtime friend and client, the City of Henderson. We helped launch ArtFest and supported more off-Strip cultural events anyway. The timing of the event, more than the relationship, was the deciding factor.

Travelog Offers Self-Guided Tours
At the time, Travelog looked like a smart idea. It made self-guided CD tours for people who wanted to explore Nevada. A percentage of its proceeds benefited the Les Clefs d’Or Foundation. Enough said.

Local Concierge Spotlight
Every issue, we would publish the names of new local concierge association members as well as those who earned Les Clefs d’Or status. This was designated space.

National Tourism Week, May 5-11
This was a story about National Tourism Week and included a local tie-in. This was a good blurb to run because it touched local and national readership. Readers are why publications exist.

Nevada Joins U.S. Postal Service Campaign
The U.S. Post Office had unveiled its new commemorative stamps for the See America campaign. It was interesting and still exists. Check out See America if you're interested.

U.S. Grape Growers Target France
Most of our readers were affluent (they owned and operated hotels worldwide) and you would be surprised how many hotel guests ask concierges for wine tips. It was a natural fit and another PR Newswire pickup.

Do you notice anything? Not a single direct-to-publication news release made that issue, but that wasn’t always the case. On average, about 1-3 direct-to-publication news releases made it into the Key Notes section. So let’s run down the tips again:

Space. On average, we could publish “1-3” new releases. We had some 500 releases to choose from (if I could call some of them that).

Time. If I was going to pick up a release, I wanted it to be clear, crisp, newsworthy, and interesting for my readers. Since I also have a company, time was always a premium when it came to the publication. In other words, we didn’t have time to rewrite bad releases, make 10 follow-up calls (or emails), wait for PR firms to get back to us, or find the story that a PR firm missed. With 500 releases to choose from for 1-3 spots, why would we?

Stars Align. Nobody knew what the focus of our next cover story would be. So if someone happened to send in a release on something like ecotourism when the cover story was ecotourism, it automatically moved to the top of the list.

While I still think it was over the top for Anderson to publish all those email addresses, maybe this demonstrates why I am sympathetic to his plight against PR spam. Of the 500 some releases we skimmed for three spots, it used to go something like this:

• About 50 were on target, but I didn’t have space, pure and simple. Basically, they were trumped by other stories.

• About 50 had the right content for us, but were poorly written or required follow-up calls. Key Notes was always the last section to be written so time was always against our editorial team. Besides, there were 50 other stories ahead of them.

• About 400 had nothing to do with anything we published, were already covered, or were just so horrible that we were afraid the PR firm would think they were doing it right (headline example: The “blank” hotel just got bigger. Yikes!)

• Of these 400 low level releases, about 100 would contain hyped, dishonest, and even downright dirty lies. Not surprisingly, the worst 100 releases were the most likely to be written by PR people who would call me. They would ask if I got their releases, get mad if I told them there was no news value, and would try to pin me down on what I wanted. Honestly, I knew what was news when I saw it.

Is this information useful to you? It’s not always about ego, it’s about the truth. Public relations firms tend to think in formulas, but their formula does not often match any given publication. Plus, PR firms get better clients, in part, based on the decisions made by the editorial team. These editors know it. They also know that many PR firms are only interested in getting their clients ink, which is the polar opposite of editors want to do — serve their readers.

More to the point, while I agree with Geoff Livingston that being an editor doesn’t give anyone permission to be a punk, public relations firms would be best served by considering the editorial team’s needs, which varies by publication.

You see, this is all very relevant to me at the moment because, if all goes as planned, I will be wearing an editor’s hat again for “Project X” in 2008. It won’t be related to hospitality, but I already know my email inbox will be saddled with spam. Woo hoo.

Next week, I'll share a few journalist tips on what might constitute news. Why next week? Same reasons: space, time, and the stars did not align. The next three days or so on my blog are slated.

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Wednesday, October 31

Scaring PR: Chris Anderson, Wired


If you are a public relations professional who likes to pitch everything in your arsenal of potential communication and hope to get lucky, Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired, has sent you a message right in time for Halloween... BOO! YOU’RE BANNED!

Not only are you banned, but you are also publicly banned with your e-mail address published for the whole world, including spam bots, to see. Yikes!

It’s days like that when I am so glad that I don’t own a public relations firm (though we provide support services). It’s days like that when I wish all the public relations practitioners took my spring class at UNLV. Don’t spam publications, I tell students (most of whom are already working). They don’t listen, but I do tell them.

Based on the comments alone, some PR folks are not ready to listen to Anderson either. (They’re more concerned that they are on the list.) Sure, I think publishing the e-mails might have been a bit over the top, but I also know that warnings don’t seem to do the trick or treat for some flacks. Maybe a shock-and-awe slasher fest was warranted.

It’s a wake-up call that Mark Frauenfelder at BoingBoing agrees with. For the past week or so, he’s been “blacklisting PR flacks” from his email inbox too, but he stopped short of publishing a list (those folks may never know they are banned).

For anyone who finds this surprising, Anderson and Frauenfelder are just revealing what journalists and editors have been doing for years and years, long before email blasts became all the rage. Some public relations people just didn’t know it.

Three bad or irrelevant releases, if you were lucky, and the firm’s public relations envelope started going into the trash unopened. A few years later, I personally saw reams of paper piling out of the fax machine at the Las Vegas Review-Journal; a mountain of uninteresting and poorly written blast faxes. And then, as editor of a hospitality trade publication, I’ll never forget warning a publicist to stop sending non-news with a 10MB photo every other day. He responded by sending me five photos the next. BANNED!

The horror. The Horror. THE HORROR.

More horrible is that some comments on Anderson's post allude to the idea that it’s always better to call editors instead. Look, in case you missed it, Anderson is no more likely to field 300 calls a day then he is to skim 300 emails a day. So the solution sequels floating around out there may be more frightening than the original.

Here’s an idea: give editors and journalists what they want because unlike what Kent State University tells its journalism students — PR people are obstacles on the pathway to the truth — PR people are supposed to make the job of an editor and/or journalist easier, not harder. (Bill Seldzik’s blog is how I learned about the PR witch hunt at Wired. Good one, Bill!)

Did you get that? Give them what they want! Some like e-mails, some like calls, some like attachments (some don’t), and some even like releases sent to them via fax or snail mail (if you can imagine).

None of them want to "figure out" if your client has anything interesting for them or for you. None take any joy in reading painfully written news releases or ridiculous pitches. And if you don’t know who is who, then you aren’t really doing your job.

Personally, wearing my past (and future) editor hat, I think banned on first abuse is a bit extreme. I give flacks at least three tries to get it right, under the assumption that everybody has a bad day. Then I ban them.

I also hate pitch calls. There’s nothing worse than being stopped in the middle of a deadline to take a call from a flack who wants to chat it up like a used car salesman as if he or she wants to develop a relationship. Calls are reserved for clients or people who actually do something interesting enough that as an editor, I might call them.

My point here is: don’t talk about authenticity if all you want to do is pitch non-news and non-not-news while pretending we’re buddies. I actually like news releases, provided they are well crafted, but mostly because it’s easier to delete them based on the subject line (and lead line if I get past the subject line).

I can't speak for Anderson or Frauenfelder, but most editors and journalists tend to be more forgiving if they sense they weren’t simply added to a spam list. So here's a tip: pitch when it is so good that it smacks of a groundbreaking exclusive. Email or mail releases (as they prefer) to the appropriate people (some editors like them; some don’t). Add attachments only when you’ve been invited to do so.

You never know. If you do it right, maybe you will develop a relationship out of mutual respect. Now that would be scary.

Happy Halloween!

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Tuesday, October 30

Faking FEMA: Reporters Optional


"At the end of the briefing, questions were asked. I should have intervened and I didn't," said John P. "Pat" Philbin, former external affairs director for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) about his involvement in staging a fake news conference last Tuesday on the California wildfires.

The decision to stage questions with stand-ins for a FEMA news conference came after reporters were given only 15 minutes notice. While the agency also made an 800 number available for call ins, it was a listen-only arrangement. Several channels broadcasted parts of the conference live via a video feed.

Philbin will no longer take over public affairs for the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), which he had previously been offered by Mike McConnell, director of the DNI. Philbin said he understood McConnell's decision.

“It was one of the dumbest and most inappropriate things I’ve seen since being in government,” came the harshest criticism from Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff. “I have made it unambiguously clear, in Anglo Saxon prose, that it is not to ever happen again, and there will be appropriate disciplinary action taken against those people who exhibited what I regard as extraordinary poor judgment.”

Philbin may have been the fall guy, but the entire external affairs team could have been let go. No one of them, not a single team member, seemed to comprehend that staging a fake news conference was ridiculous, unethical, and a severe breach of public trust.

Let’s star over.

“Public Relations is the art and science of analyzing trends, predicting their consequences, counseling organization leaders and implementing planned programs of action which will serve both the organization’s and the public interest.” — First World Assembly of Public Relations Associations and First World Forum of Public Relations, 1978

Nowhere in this definition is a public relations professional asked to spin, lie, cover up, or otherwise present fake and fraudulent information for their employer. What is clear, however, is that professionals are to serve both the organization’s and public interest.

Maybe I should make it as clear as I make it for public relations students: the organization you defraud the public for will survive and may even thrive over time, but any abuse of public trust or the media will stay with you for the life of your career.

In this case, FEMA will carry on, while Philbin is out of his DNI job. While I admire his sincerity in saying “at the end of day, I’m the person in charge and responsible for this,” he is not doing any favors for new public relations professionals. The truth is that every single participant was responsible — whether an intern or seasoned pro. Any one of them could have suggested they skip questions and simply make a statement.

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