The 13 Worst Mistakes Everyone Makes When Drafting a News Release

What PR agencies can learn from news organizations.

The hard drive of every PR pro is crammed full of them. The inbox of every reporter is groaning from them. Even as pundits predict their passing, the market for them in Google AdWords is competitive and costly.

What are they? News releases. Unloved but ubiquitous, the release dates back to the founding of our industry. Of course, that was in 1906, when you needed a full-length novel to capture the public’s attention. A few things have changed since then, yet the staple of our industry resists modernization. No wonder every year brings forth those declarations of death.

But the rumors are exaggerated. The news release may be dying, but like Charles Foster Kane’s Inquirer, it still has a lot of life left—especially if the SEC has any say in the matter.

In fact, we can resuscitate our old friend with a variety of tactical tweaks. The trick: we need to stop thinking like a flack and start thinking like a hack—specifically, like editors at today’s buzziest news outlets.

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What Your Twitter Bio Says About You

Twitter Bios

News outlets should be mortified by the way they describe themselves on Twitter.

Every high schooler knows that you can’t choose your nickname. Happily, social media offers a remedy for people of all ages: the chance to write your own bio.

This ability to self-brand is priceless. Yet many fumble it. In fact, major media outlets approach their Twitter bios as if they were students cramming to finish their homework on the bus, rather than world-class wordsmiths. At a time when publishers are increasingly interested in driving social traffic to their sites, such box-checking results in a lost opportunity

Does this description hit close to home? Does your Twitter bio read like a homework assignment dashed off en route to class? Fear not: here are 11 ways to burnish your brand.

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The Right Way to Measure Social Media

With stories, not spreadsheets.

For today’s communications pro, it’s the $64,000 question. When you describe it, your clients roll their eyes. When you report it, you’re lampooned. If you’re honest with yourself, you know that every now and then you fake it.

And yet, the requests for it never stop.

What is “it”? It’s the return on investment (ROI) of social media. After all, if you can’t measure it, you can’t market it.

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How to Lose a Client Before You’ve Even Met Them

Who would you want to have a beer with

You can tell a lot about a person from the way he emails.

Who would you want to have a beer with?

That question kept racing through my mind as I read the replies to a solicitation I recently sent out. The emails, which within an hour numbered more than a dozen, ranged from the pedestrian to the eloquent.

I’m publishing a representative handful to correct a widespread misperception among consultants in every industry: from publicists to painters to pet-sitters, what ultimately separates the winning vendor from the runners up isn’t the quality of your work. It’s whether people want to work with you. In other words, your likability.

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This Tiny Twitter Trick Will Make Your Content Snackable and Thus More Sharable


How the New York Times uses its editorial expertise to present the perfect tweets for readers.

Whether you love it or love to hate it, the New York Times is the king of digital journalism for a simple reason: it’s always innovating. Beyond making “snowfall” a verb, the so-called Gray Lady has in recent months overhauled its website, introduced new revenue streams, produced a viral video based verbatim on a deposition, bought its own native ads, launched an explainer microsite, and built a suite of apps.

These bells and whistles aren’t just pretty ornaments for a press release, but enlightening enhancements for the everyday user. Indeed, there’s something for every audience: the designer, the stockholder, the videographer, the advertiser, the reporter, and the reader on the go.

For the social media strategist, the paper’s most significant innovation is a tiny tactic that makes stories easier to tweet. Often overlooked, this trick ought to be standard practice on every major website today. Let’s take a look.

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How to Make Even the Most Boring Subject Go Viral


Why PR pros should never say something is too boring/dry/abstract/long/complex to generate buzz

Piers Morgan says he’s a big fan of Aaron Sorkin’s writing. So big, in fact, that Sorkin’s latest show—which begins with the brilliant, impassioned monologue of a news anchor—inspired him to infuse his own reporting with the zealotry of a convert.

And yet, Morgan’s passion runs only so deep. During an interview last year with the cast of the show, Morgan extolled CNN’s coverage of the Carnival “poop cruise”—how the network steered something “I had absolutely zero interest in” into something “I got completely engrossed in.” The payoff for this programming: the ratings doubled.

Seizing the moment, Sorkin zinged Morgan with the $64,000 question: why can’t the media dedicate the same energy and resources to serious, important news? “Do you think there’s a way that Jeff [Zucker, CNN’s chief] … can apply that same talent to, for instance, the sequester?’”

“Honestly, no,” Morgan shot back. “I think the sequester is one of the most supremely boring stories ever told on television ... There are many political stories which are just incredibly dry, and trying to make them come to life … it doesn’t rate.”

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The Single Easiest Way to Get More Shares

Share on Facebook, Share on Twitter

The most common social media fail is easily correctable.

People are lazy. Web publishers are no exception. When they install social-sharing buttons, all too often they leave the default settings in place.

As a result, when a user clicks the ubiquitous “tweet” button to promote your content, nine times out of 10, what he ends up sharing is simply, unforgivably the article’s headline.

Big mistake. Under this setup, all your efforts prodding people to share your content are negated when they actually do.

What should you do instead? For every post published, you should embed a teaser that you’ve tailored for Twitter. (This can be accomplished by adding a new field or plug-in to your CMS.) Under this setup, when that share button is summoned, your fans will be sharing text specific to the medium, not a one-size-fits-all compromise.

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In Defense of Click-Baitish Headlines

Click Bait

Upworthy is the worst site on the Internet.” So says Bob Powers of HappyPlace.

Jack Flanagan of the Daily Beast concurs: “Sites like Upworthy cater to the basest and most recklessly childish of human instincts.”

PandoDaily’s Hamish McKenzie rounds out the contempt: “The hammer of [Upworthy’s] unrelenting moralism starts to feel not so much as if it is breaking barriers as it is cracking your skull.”

Absent the rancor, their collective contention boils down to this: websites like Upworthy are the modern-day heirs to the disgraced practice of yellow journalism. If, say, the Podunk Herald wanted to prostitute itself to page views, it too could make things go viral.

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The Biggest Mistake You’re Making on Twitter

The Biggest Mistake You’re Making on Twitter

Don’t just tweet the headline. Comment on the article. Explain why you’re sharing it.

Tweeting has never been easier. Just click that turquoise bird alongside nearly every kind of content on the web today, and a ready-to-go message presents itself. All you need to do is click “tweet.” The whole thing takes less than five seconds!

Yet there’s no decree dictating that you must use this prewritten gruel. In fact, you shouldn’t use the default text, which is tantamount to a robot announcing the Oscar winners: it’s generic and devoid of any shout-outs, styling, or personal commentary. After all, what you tweet is transmitted over your name and avatar, so it behooves you to stamp it with your own style.

What’s more, if you want to stand out, you can’t just put out what everyone else is typing. You need to offer up something new—even if it’s just your two cents. Indeed, with this little bit of extra effort, you can make each tweet count.

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How to Make Your Byline a Marketing Goldmine


That italicized sentence at the bottom of your blog posts isn’t a necessary evil, but an easily exploitable opportunity.

Ten years ago, after you finished reading a book, watching a movie, or listening to a song, it was over; you were done. If you wanted to share your reactions, you saved them for the water cooler.

Today, the traditional indicators of finality—a tombstone mark for an article (∎), the words “the end” for the silver screen, a trio of hashtags (###) for a news release—have been supplanted by a button that beckons you tinno “like,” “retweet,” “pin,” or perform some other variation of social-media sharing.

For example, by displaying a hash tag, TV commercials encourage you to “join the conversation” on Twitter. Magazine articles refer you to a website “for more information.” Even McDonald’s has climbed aboard the bandwagon, stamping QR codes that reveal nutritional data on its carryout bags.

How can you, dear blogger, get in on these gigs and thus propagate your posts? Specifically, how can you milk your content for more followers and fans?

Easy: just start making use of an often-overlooked implement in the marketer’s toolkit: your byline.

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The Easiest Way to Get People to “Like” Your Content: Ask Them To

Like Me, or Else

How to be a showman without becoming a showboat. Or: How to make your message hot without looking like a hot dog.

“Politics is a direct-response business,” declares the digital director of President Obama’s re-election campaign. “People do things if you ask them to do it, and ... don’t … if you don’t ask.”

Exactly! In fact, this is true not only in politics, but also in social media. If you want your readers to click “like” or “retweet” or “reblog” or “pin” or “plus,” you gotta ask for it. Not for nothing do two of the web’s most popular sites—BuzzFeed and Mashable—serve up big buttons at the top of each article, beseeching you to “share me now!” What’s more, these icons now include the number of shares in real time, boxing you in with peer pressure: “Don’t share me—I dare you!” This is marketing at its finest: so subliminal, you think you’re making a considered choice.

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The Single Biggest Marketing Mistake Made by Small Businesses

Why URLs Matter

When creating their company website, many small businesses defer to their “web guy” on the address. “Oh, isn’t available? Ok, is fine.”

No! No! No! While seemingly trivial, your URL is in fact critical. Don’t let it be an afterthought; make this decision an integral facet of your planning and branding.

After all, not only will your domain be printed on your business cards and in your email signatures. You’ll also need to pronounce it in a way that leaves no room for confusion.

Consider a few case studies.

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