Chuck Hester on LinkedIn for Media Relations: Fresh Ground #19

In this second part of a recording of Chuck Hester’s presentation on LinkedIn success secrets from Newcomm Forum 2010, Chuck shares some great tips on using LinkedIn for media relations, among other great tips. Chuck Hester is a LinkedIn power user with over 10,000 connections on the business networking site and the author of “Linking in to Pay it Forward: Changing the Value Proposition in Social Media.” He serves as director of communications at email marketing firm iContact.

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Our opening music is “D.I.Y.” by A Band Called Quinn from the album “Sun Moon Stars” and is available from Music Alley, the Podsafe Music Network.

Eroding the Trust One Flake at a Time

My previous life found me in the news rooms and control rooms of various Boston TV stations producing the days’ news. And yes, I produced the occasional snow show.

Snow shows don’t exist much anymore, but back then when a big storm came to town we’d do “wall-to-wall coverage” of this snow event. We’d put reporters on highways and in emergency bunkers. They’d stand out on street corners and on beaches. We’d jump from live-shot to live-shot warning viewers to stay in side, make some hot chocolate and continue watching our coverage.

On one level this was born out of public service. Following the Blizzard of ’78, everyone in Boston knows that snow can be dangerous and being in it can cause problems. So TV found itself in a great situation of having a positive message that actually brought in viewers (and advertisers).

Also, people just love talking about the weather. So when you put snow coverage at the top of the newscasts and warn people of a pending storm, it brings in viewers. Will they cancel school? Will I make my flight? Can I skip work and justify a day in my jammies watching wall-to-wall snow coverage of fools in the snow while sipping hot chocolate?

The danger here is pretty simple. You become the boy who cried wolf.

Predicting the weather isn’t easy. In fact, it’s downright hard. The problem is that the TV stations promote their weather forecasts as accurate, so when they turn around and say “oops, we got it wrong” it erodes the trust they’ve built with the audience.

Right now I’m sitting in my kitchen and watching the snow NOT come down. Sure, more may come later, but my school district closed schools early today. Men and women who normally would be working had to take time off to get their kids. Kids who would be in school weren’t and really, for what? A 1/4 inch of slush? This is Boston, we can handle that.

I don’t mind being prepared, but TV stations please don’t throw us into a panic. Because when you really do have a warning and it’s something we should worry about, we won’t.

Hello? Is this Thing On?

Like any small business we here at Fresh Ground watch our pennies pretty closely. While we believe that there are many fine services worth paying for, we also realize that, for the short term, we can get by without many others.

In the past I relied pretty heavily on the ProfNet emails. These are emails sent out several times a day from PR Newswire that contain lists of requests from reporters. Looking for an expert to talk about security policy? Send out request. Need a mom to talk about how to create the perfect 1st birthday while still working a full time job? Send out a request.

But now there’s Help A Reporter Out (HARO), as well as Twitter and Facebook. Most reporters who are looking for feedback use these channels for their instant gratification. What’s more, they’re free. HARO is closest at approximating ProfNet, though I always wonder if Peter Shankman will eventually burn out on it. He works pretty hard at it, mostly on his own.

So I asked my friends. I put out a Tweet asking simply whether ProfNet was worth the hefty ($2650) price tag or if the other tools worked just as well. I heard from plenty of people.

But not from ProfNet.

This is interesting since ProfNet is promoting its social media presence, boasting that they now have 10,000 followers on Twitter. It’s not like they’re being inundated with information on Twitter. A simple search on the phrase “Profnet” returned a managing sized list, mostly of people retweeting that Profnet is giving away a Snuggie. To get the Snuggie you have to retweet the following, now oft-repeated phrase: “#PR pros: Get your clients quoted in the media. Follow @profnet for updates on what reporters are working on. #profnet”

Maybe it’s me, but responding to my question about their value may have been more than a blanket with sleeves. And if I can get the information by following ProfNet on Twitter, why do I need to pay for the email?

Oh, and the answer from my Tweeps was loud and clear: save your money.

Journalism: Profession or State of Mind

During a recent Journchat, Chris Anderson and I had a bit of a back and forth about the idea that journalism is a state of mind as much as it is a profession. “It is a profession. Sorry. 100%” he Tweeted. Yes, he agreed that everyone has the power to communicate, but, he believes, journalism shouldn’t be the goal. “Everyone is empowered now. Zero barrier. But you don’t want to be a journalist — it’s an unholy priesthood,” he continued. “It is essential not to paint yourself into a corner. America has rejected your sort of “objective” journalism for dead.”

Fox news and MSNBC have proven that bias can attract an audience, but by the same token, the New York Times continues to act as a standard base. What’s more, Wikipedia keeps making adjustments and changes meant to eliminate the bias from it stories, focusing entirely on the facts and grows stronger because of it.

No, journalism isn’t dead.

But the original question Chris and I were debating centered on whether content creators (bloggers, tweeters, Facebookers, you name it) are journalists. I believe it really depends on the mindset of the person creating the content. Some will consider themselves journalists, and they and their readers will hold them to journalistic standards, while others will not care about those standards, wanting just to tell the story of their day. The trick for us, as readers, is to separate the two.

This is an issue Sree Sreenivasan and I touched on during our podcast conversation. He looks at it from another direction: turning people with other skills into journalists. Sree pointed to the trend of the “programmer journalist” someone who has skills as a coder as well as a journalist. “I would hire and consider somebody a journalist if they make iphone apps with a journalistic mindset,” he told me about 10 minutes into the podcast. That mindset includes finding the truth, maintaining ethics, getting the story right and being able to get it out on deadline.

As for whether journalism is a mindset or a career, that depends on the person. “It can be both. It can be one for some, the other for others and both for many,” Sree says.

Part of our job as PR people concerns understanding this landscape so we can better guide our clients. We need to understand what gives a individual influence so we can better keep them updated with information.

Back at my previous job a member of my PR team messed up big time. Long story short, she made an edit that she thought was innocuous, got a story placed and later found out that her edit changed the very nature of the story itself. After hearing from the client’s customer and the editor of the publication, we cleaned things up, but during the issue the team member tried to put things aside by saying “it’s not like someone died.”

No, no one died. But I told her in no uncertain terms that the error got in the way of the editor’s credibility, and that’s all he and his publication have to sell.

Our job is to understand and respect that, whether we’re creating content for our clients or pitching stories. We can’t feed them false information and expect to be taken seriously.

Pleased and Excited? Oh Please!

A former client of mine was bought recently. Great news for them as they all worked hard and earned the buyout. I’m sure the company buying them knows that they picked up a great technology and a smart team.

But when I read the release I almost did a spit-take of my coffee–and what a waste of good coffee that would have been! The release had the typical corporate stuff such as the “leading provider” language and the platitudes of two corporate executives doing a new dance.

But the quote from my former client was… how can I say this lightly… horrible.

I know people have been trashing the poor press release for quite a while and the social media release is at least an attempt at something different. But even that release comes with its own set of canned quotes for reporters, bloggers and other content creators to use at will. So quotes remain an important part of any release process.

However, if any Account Executive handed a quote to me with the opening line of “We’re pleased…” and later threw in some “excitement” I’d send it back with the demand that they do some more work.

Of course these executives are pleased and excited. If they weren’t why would they be putting out a release? What journalist in their right mind would ever pick up such an inane and lifeless quote? It doesn’t say anything. If you’re going to write a quote for an executive at least make an effort to have it add some color to the story. Provide a little insight or at least some colorful language.

I know I’m not the only one who believes this, but I know the fight against over-exuberant “excitement” will go on and on and on and on…..

Why the BusinessWeek Sale Matters for Your PR

George Snell points out quite accurately that for many PR people a hit in BusinessWeek is at the top of their list. It’s the kind of thing that impresses your clients, colleagues and bosses. It’s what will earn you kudos in company meetings and help you get a prize from the professional PR community.

But the whole organization is worth about $5 million. That’s what Bloomberg spent to buy it, though it also took on another $10 million in liabilities. The Wall Street Journal expects Bloomberg to brand the magazine Bloomberg BusinessWeek.

Not that you needed more proof of the shrinking of traditional media, but the trick is knowing what a hit in BusinessWeek truly means. It helps in regards to traffic, but it’s biggest boost is in credibility. If a BusinessWeek reporter writes about your company it gives you a virtual stamp of approval and it gives you third-party content to send to your community.

Provided you have spent time developing your community.

All that said, Peter Kafka has the memo sent around internally from BusinessWeek Publisher Keith Fox announcing the sale. It contains a rather telling line: “Online, BusinessWeek.com and Bloomberg.com will have more unique visitors than any non-portal business and financial site.”

That’s an interesting qualifier, because combined (assuming no overlap) the two sites trail Yahoo Finance significantly.

But for PR people and clients paying them the issue is much more tactical. Opportunities in BusinessWeek take time to develop and require quite a bit of work on behalf of both the client and the PR person. A PR person’s time is what costs money. Getting a one-off hit is fine, but if you’re not prepared to take advantage of that hit, then how much is it really worth to your PR and marketing campaign?