Before You Ridicule Each Other, Think of Helping Others

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I should probably start this post by noting that I’m an eternal optimist . . . I look at the bright side of practically everything, so if that isn’t your style, you may just want to skip this post. OK, that’s out of the way, here we go!
Maybe it’s the “dog days” of summer still, or the fact that we’re still mired in a major recession that has everyone in a tizzy and seemingly at each other’s throats in the PR business when almost every minor situation that arises. Accidentally blast out an e-mail to thousands of people and forget to use the very helpful—but often misused—BCC function? Boom! You’re facing at least a week of full-on ridicule from your own brethren.  For many of us, it can get to be a bit too much sometimes.
I know for myself, I didn’t get into this business to ridicule colleagues. I actually want to see others in this business succeed, so when a big—or little—slipup happens, I usually try to give my quick two cents, offer some advice on how to move on, and generally stay out of the situation. By no means am I perfect, and I will be the first to admit that I am still eagerly learning as much as I can about PR (I come from a sport management background), so to me, I’d rather focus on the positives.
And that’s really the point of this whole post: We—the collective whole of the PR industry—have SO much good to offer, both to clients and our employers, that it really does not make a lot of sense, nor help at all, to constantly ridicule each other’s mistakes. And we’re awful about this. There is a sector of this business that almost seems to find amusement in ridiculing each other. How exactly that is helping to advance our business is beyond me.
It’s also a whole hell of a lot of wasted time and energy, and in a recession, can we really afford to waste either?
For me, I got into this business because I love to help others. Now working on the client side after five years working in college athletic media relations, my great thrill and enjoyment is finding a way to help the overall business efforts of my clients. Even if it is as simple as helping a client reach 10 more influential customers one week, then I’m ecstatic because I have helped someone beyond just myself.
Folks, we work in a service industry and, therefore, our top priority (at least in my opinion) should be focused on how we can help others. If you’re on the agency side, it’s how can you help your clients’ business. If you’re an internal PR person, it’s how can you help your organization best reach its customers and target audiences, and, more so now through social media, how can you drive customer engagement efforts. In short, think about how much good we can do for others when we truly focus our energies on doing just that, rather than constantly looking for the next 140-character zinger to tweet about.
So now I ask you: Why did you get into PR? What’s your favorite part of the business? What has you jazzed and excited to work every day?

I should probably start this post by noting that I’m an eternal optimist . . . I look at the bright side of practically everything, so if that isn’t your style, you may just want to skip this post. OK, that’s out of the way, here we go!PBJ

Maybe it’s the “dog days” of summer still, or the fact that we’re still mired in a major recession that has everyone in a tizzy and seemingly at each other’s throats in the PR business when almost every minor situation that arises. Accidentally blast out an e-mail to thousands of people and forget to use the very helpful—but often misused—BCC function? Boom! You’re facing at least a week of full-on ridicule from your own brethren.  For many of us, it can get to be a bit too much sometimes.

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Flack In Training – Volume I

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By now, it goes without saying: The college graduates of 2009 had the extreme misfortune of graduating into the worst economy in decades.  Not only are they competing with their fellow classmates for jobs, they’re also going up against professionals who should be further along in their careers, but are being forced to apply for entry-level jobs due to lack of anything else.  This recession has taken the image of starry-eyed post-grads with their entire, exciting lives ahead of them and turned it into a picture of desperate young adults taking on part-time positions just to make some money.  It’s incredibly scary and disheartening.
Why do I care so much about this unfortunate state of affairs?  I’m one of those poor graduates—my four years at New York University ended in May.  Up until a week before graduation, I thought I was the luckiest girl with a communications degree in New Jersey (maybe even New York too).  Despite the terrible economy, I had managed to secure a full-time job with the small public relations firm that I had been interning at for the past year.  As an added bonus, the offices were less than 10 minutes from my house and I was going to be making more money than I thought was possible in entry-level PR.  What a surprise—it was all too good to be true.  The company lost some important clients in a short amount of time, and they regrettably had to let me know that they couldn’t take me on full time. Gone were my dreams of Tory Burch flats, my very own iPhone, and an unreasonable amount of Juicy Couture.
I’m not writing this to make you feel bad for me for missing out on all those terrific things.  I recently got hired at a terrific and exciting agency in Manhattan, so things are definitely looking up.  Instead, I want to offer you my perspective—it’s an understanding and sympathizing one. I know there are many more of you out there just like me.  I wanted to start my column on PR Breakfast Club called F.I.T.: Flack in Training, so I could take all the other recent college graduates (and anyone struggling in the industry) along with me on my journey to becoming a full-fledged PR professional.  I spent the entire summer searching for a position in PR, so I have a lot to say about the process.  Additionally, I’m hoping to learn a ton about the industry and my profession from my new job.  I think it’ll be interesting to explore the unique position I’m in as someone who is entering the business at a time when PR is going through some major changes, including the growing importance of social media and the struggles of most print media.  I’m definitely looking forward to writing Flack In Training, and I can’t wait to hear all of your thoughts and opinions.

By now, it goes without saying: The college graduates of 2009 had the extreme misfortune of graduating into the worst economy in decades.  Not only are they competing with their fellow classmates for jobs, they’re also going up against professionals who should be further along in their careers, but are being forced to apply for entry-level jobs due to lack of anything else.  This recession has taken the image of starry-eyed post-grads with their entire, exciting lives ahead of them and turned it into a picture of desperate young adults taking on part-time positions just to make some money.  It’s incredibly scary and disheartening.

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Blogs are for Dialogue; Twitter is for Snippets

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Blogging now, party of one
If you had come to me a month ago and asked about my blogging experience, I would have sheepishly admitted to merely reading blogs and been quick to point out that I did not comment on them, despite an often overwhelming temptation to do so.
Fast forward a month and I’m blogging for the #PRBC and for Co-Communications (http://cocommunications.wordpress.com/).  So why the drastic change?
Some conversations cannot be restricted to 140 characters.  While one could conceivably labor over dissecting their message into multiple 140 character tweets, it isn’t the same as a carefully drafted, thorough response.  Blogging affords the opportunity to leverage media placements, visuals, multimedia and commentary in a cohesive message that is carefully packaged to best illustrate a point.
In part, this is why the #PRBC is blogging—because all of our perspectives, experiences and tips can’t be crammed into 140 characters . . . and because we know that some topics warrant an in-depth conversation.
Some points needn’t be explained . . . and so we call them tweets!
While it only takes seconds to craft a tweet, it can’t always carry an entire message.  So we stick to the messages that can be effectively delivered in 140 characters.  Examples of such include links to interesting articles with a couple of words stating your opinion on same, reactions to an event or experience, small talk, tips, and witty banter.
It doesn’t take a blog post, or blog comment, to communicate the basics or point others in the direction of valuable content.  And in many instances, we just want to encourage others to look at something—form their own opinions—and pass the content along.  All of which are effectively and succinctly communicated through tweets and retweets.
Point . . . Counterpoint
While Brown’s examples of #journchat (http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23journchat) and #blogchat (http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23blogchat) (and to which I will add the recent #prstudchat (http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23prstudchat)) have effectively sustained dialogues on Twitter, I firmly believe it’s the nature of the content that allows these forums to succeed on such a concise medium.  With #journchat and #blogchat, it’s the strength of a question and answer format that allows them to thrive in a 140 character format.  For #prstudchat, it’s the question and answer format coupled with the fact that most answers come in the form of tips.
Inversely, were #prstudchat to pose questions which asked for both tips/advice and illustrations of the importance of each, it would be better suited to a blog dialogue, where messages could be conveyed in comprehensive responses, not bound by a 140 character limit.
Speaking of points . . . .
So after all of those examples and comments, I must have a point, right?  (At least we hope I do!)
Blog comments and tweets aren’t competitors.  They are merely different models for delivering a message, each of which has its own merits.  So what’s your next step?  Comment on this post if you want to have a dialogue with me, or start what could become an in-depth debate.  If you just want to say you read it or share a tip with your tweeps, package it inside a tweet.

After reading Danny Brown’s recent post ‘Is Twitter Killing Blog Comments’ I couldn’t resist answering the last question he posed – ‘What’s your take?’

While I could go on for paragraphs rallying in support of Twitter and defending its merits as my social media platform of choice, I’ll spare you the cheering and keep it simple: Blogs are for dialogues.  Twitter is for snippets!

Blogging now, party of one

If you had come to me a month ago and asked about my blogging experience, I would have sheepishly admitted to merely reading blogs and been quick to point out that I did not comment on them, despite an often overwhelming temptation to do so.

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Pageant Scandals or Publicity Stunts

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Disclaimer (ugh, I hate disclaimers): …ok, background information:
I used to compete in pageants. I don’t think this is a terrible surprise since I’ve talked about it before (http://twitter.com/KOttavio/statuses/3512327971). Pageants are good…pageants (Miss America Organization) (http://www.missamerica.org/) give scholarship money…pageants helped me hone my interview and “stay cool under pressure” skills. Most importantly, I have made some lifelong friends in the pageant system.
That said—pageants are a business. Miss America is a scholarship program…so let’s leave them out of this discussion (don’t even bring up Vanessa Williams or I will…). Miss USA (http://www.missuniverse.com/missusa), on the other hand, is owned by Mr. Donald Trump (along with Miss Teen USA (http://www.missuniverse.com/missteenusa) and Miss Universe) (http://www.missuniverse.com/). And like any business, numbers need to be high and those dollars need to be raked in.
So I can’t be the only one who found it a little disheartening (ok, fishy) when the “pageant scandals” (http://television.aol.com/photos/beauty-pageant-scandals) became more and more prominent. Take the most recognized semi-recent mishap: Tara Conner, Miss USA 2006 “Oh no she didn’t.” The young woman was splattered all over the press for “alleged cocaine use, public kissing sessions with Miss Teen USA and random men were seen emerging from her swanky New York apartment.” And how was this young lady reprimanded? Trump held a press conference and let her keep her crown. I’m sure sparkling jewels look fab in rehab.
Not to draw this out, but there’s also Ashley Harder, Miss N.J. USA 2007 (she got pregnant), Katie Rees, Miss Nevada USA 2007 (naughty nightclub romp with photo evidence), Leona Gage, Miss USA 1957 (lied about her age), Oxana Federova, Miss Universe 2002 (I can’t fault this one…she hardly attended any appearances because they interfered with her studies. Still, it’s press!). Oh yeah and there was that Carrie Prejean girl…
Are these incidences just that? Young human beings, stressed out under the spotlight, making mistakes that we “regular people” just don’t get caught for while they do? Or calculated publicity stunts? I’d like to believe the former. (Tara actually did go to rehab.( http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20005269,00.html)) Perhaps it’s just the genius team at Trump’s office exploiting such happenings into publicity stunts for high viewership numbers, ultimately bringing huge dollar amounts to the organization.
Thoughts? I will donate one dollar for every male who comments (and offers legitimate opinions/insight) on this blog within 24 hours of posting to The Children’s Miracle Network, the official national platform (http://missamerica4kids.com/) of the Miss America Organization. Donation will be capped at $100 (we’re in PR people, not venture capital). [Editor’s Note: In honor of the PRBreakfastClub.com launch we will match this donation — $1 per legitimate male-authored comment to 12for12K (12for12k.org)]
(Insert Picture)
Katie Stam, Miss America 2009

Disclaimer (ugh, I hate disclaimers): …ok, background information:

I used to compete in pageants. I don’t think this is a terrible surprise since I’ve talked about it before. Pageants are good…pageants (Miss America Organization) give scholarship money…pageants helped me hone my interview and “stay cool under pressure” skills. Most importantly, I have made some lifelong friends in the pageant system.

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Guest Post: Twitter as a study in human behavior

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[Editor’s Note: We are graced with contributor post on our first day from Josh Sternberg.  PR BreakfastClub is happy to accept outside articles.  Check here for information on submitting a guest post.]

I want to preface this piece by saying I love Twitter. Maybe not as much as I love my wife, or baseball, or even a good burger, but I enjoy the opportunities Twitter provides: learning about people through discussion, learning about brands, getting information that I normally wouldn’t think to research, etc.
However, Twitter is also a great study in human behavior, as Twitter is just a microcosm of our society whereby the cliques that form on Twitter are for the most part the same cliques that are found in high schools. This has become more evident since the passing of John Hughes. As I watched my Twitter stream recite quotes from his coming-of-age films, I started to view Twitter as nothing but a social media breakfast club. In fact, I’m writing a post on a blog called: PR BREAKFAST CLUB for crying out loud!
In January of this year, I made the conscious decision to at least TRY to go to one industry event a month. So I find myself at some place where a bunch of people are on a stage playing a game; I believe it was a “guess that meme” game. And as I’m standing in the back, nestled between the bar (ironic since I don’t drink) and a few people I’ve met over the years, it strikes me that I’m bored. And I’m bored because the people on stage are clearly having a great time, only I don’t understand why. Turns out, it was all a gag…all inside jokes that if you had no idea who these people were (like me) you wouldn’t find it funny. So I left.
Twitter is the same way. Look at this blog, for example. It was started because a bunch of excited, young, talented PR people decided they wanted to share content. Each day, the hashtag #prbreakfastclub or #prbc is attached to the end of tweets so that people know they are part of a group. I like the idea that complete strangers have formed bonds online and can work together and hang out offline. That said, it reaches a point of ridiculousness (at least for me) when we start seeing “Top 50 people to follow on Twitter lists.”  (http://prsarahevans.com/2009/08/voting-now-open-for-the-2009-top-50-tweeples-to-follow/)
(In fact, in this Twitter-age, it seems as if persistent Tweeters can be more influential than industry experience. For example, a 23-year-old with thousands of followers can position themselves much better now as an influencer compared to 5 years ago when a 23-year-old would most likely be fetching coffee for a more senior person. Now, I’m not one to say that youth isn’t valuable to an organization/brand/whatever, but since today’s barriers to entry have been demolished by the democratization of media, if you’re loud enough, you gain influence. But that is a topic for another day.)
I understand these lists are for fun, and the creators of these lists make that point very clearly. But there are a lot of periphery people who use Twitter (not to mention the overzealous, self-important, vapid self-promoter who uses these lists as an opportunity to say how great they really are) who don’t know this. Even more important is that this philosophy of fluffing up your online buddies diminishes the overall value of the content provided by these people; mainly because there are always people that will be let off a list.
These lists are emblematic of a culture that needs constant approval to validate their existence. (Hell, a study was just completed where 57% of young people believe their generation uses social networking sites for self-promotion, narcissism and attention seeking.) Now, this is not to say that we’re these narcissistic vultures who provide no value to anything and just let the drivel drip from our fingertips onto the keyboard. There is some value from these lists, mostly opening up new avenues of learning. The problem is that these lists are blinded by the little piece of world they exist in. There are some great people on this list, but how many of them are connected to each other compared to those not on the list?
It just seems as if it’s a matter of who you know, not what you know. Where are the academics, the reporters (yes, there are a couple), the athletes, the thinkers, the movers, the VCers? Just because your world accepts that certain influencers should already be followed, the rest of the public typically has no idea who these people are. This is a myopic list at best and a sycophantic list at worst. But that’s the nature of lists, isn’t it?
And you may have though throughout this rambling post, well, you’re not on the list and that’s why you’re grumpy. As Groucho Marx says, “I don’t care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.” On the flip side, please retweet this article so that people can read what I’ve written. In fact, I think I’ll post a link to this article every 5 minutes over the span of 24 hours just to make sure my legions of followers know that I’ve written something very profound.
RT Pls.

I want to preface this piece by saying I love Twitter. Maybe not as much as I love my wife, or baseball, or even a good burger, but I enjoy the opportunities Twitter provides: learning about people through discussion, learning about brands, getting information that I normally wouldn’t think to research, etc.

However, Twitter is also a great study in human behavior, as Twitter is just a microcosm of our society whereby the cliques that form on Twitter are for the most part the same cliques that are found in high schools. This has become more evident since the passing of John Hughes. As I watched my Twitter stream recite quotes from his coming-of-age films, I started to view Twitter as nothing but a social media breakfast club. In fact, I’m writing a post on a blog called: PR BREAKFAST CLUB for crying out loud!

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Dear Flack (Volume 1)

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Dear Flack,
I am just starting out in PR and need a few tips for phone pitching. Can you help out?
From,
Phone Home
Dear Phone Home,
There are a lot of differing opinions on telephone pitching these days. Some PR pros are for it, and some treat the device like a disgusting carton of sour milk. Whatever side of fence you’re on, chances are you will need to pick up that phone and pitch every now and again.
With that being said, here are a few pointers to get you started:
·         Relax, get to it.  As a rookie phone pitcher, it’s perfectly acceptable to feel a bit nervous on your first calls out. In addition to the phone call itself, you might also hesitate because you think a co-worker or boss is listening in on your conversations. This is nothing to be ashamed about—most of us have been in your shoes at one time or another.  Try asking your boss if there’s an empty office that you might be able to use. If that doesn’t work, just try to focus on the task at hand and tune out your surroundings. Also remember that if your boss is eavesdropping, that he/she may just be trying to help you out.
·         Think before you pitch.  It is imperative that you know your pitch inside and out. You do not want to get caught on the phone with a media outlet without your facts straight. If you lack the confidence in your spiel, the journalist or producer will sense it right away. I suggest writing out key points and facts ahead of time and keeping them by your side. Just beware of sounding like you are reading from a script—keep a natural and conversational tone.
·         Pitch to the right person. You are now relaxed, confident in your pitch—but do you know who you are calling? Make sure you are contacting the right person that would cover your story. If you are publicizing a new digital camera, don’t call food editor. Cover your bases and search for the latest stories the reporter has written. This will at least ensure that your pitch has a chance of scoring some interest.  Additionally, sometimes there are multiple people covering a beat or no one specifically at an outlet.  It’s simple enough to ask – “I’m not one hundred percent that this should be on your desk so I’m hoping you can point me in the right direction.”  Works great – seeking advice makes people feel knowledgeable and most people want to be helpful, acknowledging that you may be wrong makes them realize you’re human, and it’s often more time effective to pick the close person (not banking–>food but at least in the right ballpark) and ask than to spend hours researching only to discover the right person is on maternity leave and the beat is being handled by a general assignment writer for the next few months anyway.
·         Ask permission.  It’s no secret that time is precious commodity in the newsroom. If you get someone on the phone, introduce yourself, and then ask if it’s a good time to talk. This person could be on deadline or in a meeting.
·         Ready, set, pitch. So you have their attention, maybe for a minute. You need to make your case fast. Be succinct, clear, and conversational if time permits. Anticipate questions the press might ask you in advance, and have your answers ready to go. If you get a question that you absolutely do not know, be honest and say that you’ll get back to him/her.
·         Phone pitching is like dating. Sometimes they say yes and want to keep seeing you; other times they don’t want anything you got. Don’t get upset if the journalist is rude or uninterested in your pitch. It happens to the best of us. Brush it off, pick up the phone and keep plugging away. It’s the unfortunate truth that rejection is part of the public relations field, so don’t get discouraged. If you are getting nowhere with your pitch, take a step back, and see if anything needs tweaking.
However if you did score a “date” and the reporter is interested in your pitch, follow up. Don’t wait five days to circle back around with him/her. Get the individual the information, interviews, hi-res images—all the materials requested—in a timely and reliable fashion.
____________________________________
Do you have a question for Dear Flack? If there’s something you’ve always wondered about, or wanted to ask about public relations and social media world, e-mail dearflack@gmail.com . We take privacy very seriously and all names, companies and locations will remain confidential.
Dear Flack is written by Marie V-B, a seasoned public relations professional. Advice is based on both personal experience and input from members of PR Breakfast Club and outside expert sources.

[Editor’s Note: Got a PR question you’ve been dying to ask, but don’t have the right person in your rolodex?  Keep reading…]

Dear Flack,

I am just starting out in PR and need a few tips for phone pitching. Can you help out?

From,

Phone Home

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Because we know you’re going to ask….

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What is the PR Breakfast Club? All right, I’ll tell you. But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That’s the way we saw each other at 7:00 on the morning of July 23, 2009.
It all started when @stina6001 said this: http://twitter.com/stina6001/status/2798413038
So then I says, I says to her: http://twitter.com/tjdietderich/status/2798525223
Get it? It’s like we’re all different but the same just like in the John Hughes movie, and also we talk around the time we’re having breakfast! So that’s the mytical lore behind that. But without people like @PRCog, @KeithTrivitt, @CTMichaels, and @pjdixon77 (who I’ll call the “early adopters”), the use of the hashtag wouldn’t have taken off like it did.
Now tons of people use #prbreakfastclub to talk about work, news, and lulz. I’ve met a lot of tweeps through #prbreakfastclub I wouldn’t have met otherwise. It’s open to anyone, of course. This is Twitter, after all. But everyone who participates is a PR flak in one capacity or another, and we all share a penchant for social media. And scooped-out bagels (and the mocking of them).
Members of the #prbreakfastclub can’t really be defined beyond that. It’s a hashtag, it’s a conversation, it’s a group of flaks that are on Twitter, it’s a chance to vent, to catch up with friends near and far, and to start the day off right.

What is the PR Breakfast Club? All right, I’ll tell you. But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That’s the way we saw each other at 7:00 on the morning of July 23, 2009.

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