What a 3rd grade teacher can teach us about getting free media coverage

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In many ways, Stephen Flemming is your quintessential elementary school teacher. He knew since he was a child that he wanted to educate children. But teaching the youth of Philadelphia isn’t the only thing this teacher excels in.

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You see, Flemming is not just an educator, he’s also a media magnet. Being a teacher inside the Philadelphia School District, he has first-hand knowledge about the district’s drama that us Philly folks see in the news every other day. What’s more, this third grade teacher has strong opinions about the condition of the district and what it means for Philly’s children. So, he takes to Twitter, his blog, and public forums to sound off.

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The result is that news media flock to him. Below is a Q&A with Mr. Flemming on how to get free media attention.

Q: How did u start getting noticed by reporters?

A: Around 2010 I began submitting my opinions to the Philadelphia Daily News’s daily views and opinions section. I wanted to express how I felt in response to a political figure speaking negatively about public school teachers. The person’s comments bothered me so badly, it came through loud and clear in my submission and the paper published it.
Tip #1: Have something worthwhile to say!

Q: Why do you think they continue to come to you?

A: I think the news media continues to come to me for a couple reasons. As a teacher for the Philadelphia School District, I’m on the “inside.” But on top of that, I’m not afraid to talk and give my name. This is a big deal with reporters. People are reluctant to give their names for fear of losing their jobs or the potential scrutiny that may come as a result. But journalists won’t pursue stories with sources who don’t want to talk.
Tip #2: Closed mouths don’t get press!

Q: What role does social play in your ability to get media coverage?

A: I use Twitter and my blog to unleash my thoughts on what’s happening inside the Philadelphia public school system. A key piece of advice is to use trending hashtags that are associated with your topic. In my case, it’s #phled. Hashtags have faithful followers (many of whom are reporters) who will read, react, and retweet. As far as my personal account goes, there are quite a few reporters who follow me on Twitter and most of my interview requests come through DMs. I don’t know of any journalists who subscribe to my blog, but some will tweet my posts so I do know they’re reading and following.
Tip #3: Use social media to show your thought leadership

Q: What’s your “hook”?

A: When I post something on social media, I don’t think about it. I just speak the truth. Reporters are looking for “real” and I think the public wants it just like that as well. I speak from experience and I never talk on behalf of other teachers; just myself. Also, I have no shame in calling Philadelphia’s public school district out on Twitter. Keep it real, tack on a hashtag at the end, and you’re sure to get someone’s attention.
Tip #4: Keep it real

Mr. Flemming’s four tips work. See for yourself. Here are just some of his media mentions from 2015.

Billy Penn – Sixteen Young Teachers and Leaders Shaping Education in Philly
Technical.ly Philly – How Schools Across the Philadelphia School District are Building a Tech Culture
Philly.com – Teachers Express Anger at SRC Decision to Impose Contract Terms
Philadelphia Metro – Street Talk: The Reality of Budget Cuts in City Schools
NBC 10 – Judge Grants Injunction for Philly Teachers

A version of this blog post originally appeared on The PR Maverick blog. To view it, click here.

Andrea Carter is a Public Relations Specialist at AWeber and a freelance PR consultant. Visit her website, The PR Maverick, and follow her on Twitter @SheLuvsPR.

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Setting the Record Straight: How to Pitch Denise Nakano

nakano2Whether she is broadcasting from a breaking news scene or anchoring from the studio, viewers of NBC10 News are familiar with Denise Nakano.

Nakano joined NBC10 as a weekend morning anchor in 2003. Twelve years later, she is now one of the Philadelphia-markets most established broadcast journalists. She reports during the week and anchors NBC10 News on weekend evenings.

Prior to joining NBC10, Nakano was a general assignment reporter and substitute anchor at KCPQ in Seattle, Washington.

Recently, Nakano spoke to the Philadelphia Public Relations Association’s Adam Dvorin on her likes and dislikes when working with public relations people.

Have an idea? E-mail Nakano at denise.nakano@nbcuni.com or tweet her at @DeniseNakanoTV.

“The best story idea I ever received from a PR person is one that didn’t come to me through a mass email, but one where we worked together to tell a story.”

Question: What is the biggest thing you look at when considering a story idea?

Answer: Viewer impact is critical to any story we cover. I look to how many people the story will affect, why people should care, and how the viewer would benefit.

In many ways, we are the deliverers of a product. The more people can relate to a news story and benefit from it, the better job we’re doing.

Q: When you open your e-mail to look at a story pitch, how much time do you spend looking at it?

A: The first thing I look at is… does this appear to be a mass email or is it directly addressed to me. I don’t give it a second glance if I feel as if I’m on a long list getting the same pitch.  Even then, email story pitches rarely catch my eye.

Q: Would you consider a story idea from Twitter?  Facebook?  Phone only?

A; I find that I’ve considered more story ideas from Twitter than any of the above. Got a good story pitch? DM me!

Q. What would you advise a PR person avoid doing when pitching you?

A: I’d advise a PR person to avoid sending multiple pitches about the same client, over and over. For example, I frequently get emails about education related stories, but it always involves the same school.  Those go straight to the delete file.

Q. What are the best and worst times to reach out to you?

A: Best time to reach out is anytime by email. Or if the story is breaking, or involves a scoop, contact anytime! Worst time is during a reporter’s “crunch time”. It differs depending on a reporter’s shift, but you won’t get a favorable response reaching out when a reporter is on deadline.

Q: What is the best story idea you ever received from a PR person?

A: One that didn’t come to me through a mass email, but one where we worked together to tell a story.

Q: What other advice would you offer to PR pros?

A: Establish personal relationships with reporters and know each one will want something unique… an element that sets their story apart from the rest.

This post was written by Adam Dvorin. Adam is Media Director of Winning Strategies, a New Jersey-based communications firm.  He is a Membership Co-Chair of Philadelphia Public Relations Association.  He can be reached at @adamdvorin on Twitter.

Breaking the (News) Cycle

newsIn 2013, the nation sat on the edge of their seats as an image of a man with a backpack was blasted across nearly every television news station in the country. The image went viral on social media and via major media outlets, who pegged this man as a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing before issuing a retraction.

That wasn’t the only mistake involving a high-stakes story: media outlets have found themselves at the center of controversy after incorrect reports involving the shooting of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona in 2011, the Supreme Court health care ruling in 2012, and even the recent arrest of real-estate heir Robert Durst, who was mistakenly identified as former Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst. As long as there has been news to report, there have been mistakes.

With the media market becoming increasingly competitive, is the pressure to be the first to break a story leading to impulsive reporting – and can we really blame them for trying?

If You’re Not First, Are You Last?
From the score of the game to the weather report to the latest updates on a big story, people rely on the media to provide them with news as it happens. With each network constantly watching one another, the pressure is on for news organizations to be the first to break a story, making it increasingly difficult for news outlets to determine how long they should wait before releasing information.

According to one producer at a local major network affiliate, the pressure to be first may be a bit shortsighted. “Think about the high-profile local and national stories that have broken in the past few years, from the DNC coming to Philadelphia to the Boston Marathon bombings to 5, 10, 20 years back. People most likely won’t remember which news outlets broke the story, but they will remember which ones got it wrong,” he says, adding that while there is definitely pressure to break the story, the real pressure is to make sure you have credible sources to reinforce your facts.

A Catch-22 in a Changing Media Landscape
The public used to get their news by picking up the morning paper or tuning into the nightly news. Now, we’re surrounded by breaking stories, everywhere we turn. Print publications have gone digital, broadcast outlets are increasing the frequency of their newscasts, and social media has exploded with journalists of every medium turning to Twitter to report from the field.

According to the producer interviewed for this post, it’s much more difficult to latch onto an exclusive story today than it was in years past, and that’s where the pressure comes in – if you’re not reporting the news the fastest, you’re not perceived as a leader. But, if you hastily report something erroneously, it chips away at the credibility of your news organization.

Crowdsourced Investigations
For every well-researched piece, there will undoubtedly be a version from Joe Smith who turned to Twitter to report his firsthand account. A few retweets later, and the facts have become clouded and the rumor mill has officially begun.

In fact, the opening paragraph of this blog post refers to an image discovered by Reddit users that went viral.

With social media fueling crowdsourced investigations, it can be difficult to discern the facts from what’s trending. According to the network TV producer, “Things happen first on Twitter – before a story is reported on TV, online or anywhere else, someone has tweeted about it,” he says. “That’s both good and bad.” While he notes the importance of sharing breaking news as it happens, he stresses that news organizations have a responsibility to vet their sources before reporting updates.

“The same policies that we abide by in the newsroom have to apply on social media. As journalists, we must adhere to rules and policies so the information you’re putting out there is accurate,” he says.

For example, imagine the same Twitter-happy Joe Smith posts a fictional update about a breaking news story. In researching the story and potential sources, a reporter from an accredited print, broadcast or online news organization hits retweet using his or her professional account. Suddenly, Joe Smith’s post may be considered credible by the Twitterverse – even though the reporter did not post it directly, it’s still loosely attributed to the reporter and his or her organization.

The Takeaway
Errors are possible in any line of work. With each mistake comes an opportunity to remind ourselves of best practices so that we and our friends reporting from the front lines of the media can continue working together to provide the public with timely, accurate and pertinent information. Here are some reminders for PR professionals:

  • Think before you jump on the hashtag bandwagon. Just because a trending hashtag seems like the perfect fit to promote your brand, proceed with caution. Do some research first, or you may end up digging yourself into a social media hole that’s difficult to escape.
  • Consider the source. Just like our journalism-minded colleagues, PR pros must take into account the credibility of a source before pitching it. Rely on reputable websites, accredited organizations and subject matter experts to build your case as to why your story is newsworthy.
  • Be mindful of your own professional responsibilities. You owe it to yourself and the journalists with whom you work to provide accurate information in a timely manner. Don’t rush to give a reporter a quote or to confirm or deny something in a crisis situation. In the breaking news arena, honesty really is the best policy. Get the facts as quickly as you can, confirm those facts, and then comment.
  • Proof your work. With shrinking newsrooms, print and digital outlets often rely on news releases to bolster their editorial content. Make overworked editors’ jobs easier by proofing your release, checking your facts and including the most up-to-date and accurate information possible before hitting ‘send.’
  • Own up to your mistakes. Regardless of how hard we try – how many sources we use, how many times a journalist fact-checks a story, how many steps we take to ensure the information we’re putting out there is accurate – mistakes are bound to happen. The real takeaway is that we must be held accountable for our actions, even if that means falling on our proverbial swords. The main goal is to communicate with the public and provide them with the best information we have available, so when our efforts fall short, we should acknowledge our missteps and commit to doing it better next time.

Have you committed any media blunders? What have you learned from your experiences?

Jen Micklow is a senior account executive at Thomas/Boyd Communications, a leading woman-owned public relations firm specializing in strategic communications for clients of all sizes in a variety of industries. When she’s not communicating clients’ key messages to tailored audiences, securing media placements or writing carefully crafted content, Jen can be found hunting down a big sale or cozying up with a good book. Connect with Jen on LinkedIn, like Thomas/Boyd on Facebook or follow the company on Twitter @thomasboydpr.

Brian Williams and NBC News: What Does it Mean for PR Professionals?

By now, the Brian Williams/NBC News mess has been dissected by everyone who follows journalism, broadcasting or media celebrities. But I’ve yet to see anyone talk about what it means for PR professionals and the practice.

Yes, what Mr. Williams did was wrong. As I teach my PR students, the first rule in media relations is never lie to a reporter. And the first rule for the media should be never lie in their relations with us.

Call it a lie, call it an exaggeration, stretching the truth, or “misremembering” as Mr. Williams did, the fact is he told the same story of his heroism and derring-do while covering stories in Iraq in 2003 that just didn’t match the facts. He was out-ed for it and is now on a six-month suspension. Whether he’ll ever report for NBC News again is still an open question. I imagine NBC management (whose parent company, by the way, is Philadelphia’s own Comcast) is still struggling with what to do long-term. At the very least, it certainly didn’t help his credibility. According to a recent poll conducted by The Marketing Arm, his ranking dropped from 23rd most trustworthy person in the country, to 835, on par with the star of A&E’s “Duck Dynasty.”

The spotlight on him didn’t help his industry, either. A Gallup poll shows the public’s trust in the news media in steady decline. According to Gallup, from 1999 – 2014, the public’s trust in the mass media to report news fully, accurately and fairly dropped from 55 percent to 40 percent. And in 2014, only 18 percent (the lowest since 1993) of Americans said they had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in television news, putting it next-to-last on a list of 16 institutions tested. Only Congress ranked lower (make of that what you will).

While newspaper and magazine readership, as well as TV news viewership has been going down due to a variety of factors, the fact remains a lot of Americans still depend on the mass media to get their news. Indeed, as it’s the only industry mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, the Founding Fathers certainly recognized its importance. But when you can’t trust it, what’s a populace to do? Rely on what’s posted on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter? Heck, Stephen Colbert’s gone and even Jon Stewart’s leaving The Daily Show, so that’s out.

So what can we do about it? Well, as citizens we can be more vocal in our demand the news media get it right first, then tell us about it.

And as PR professionals, we can help them do that.  If we want to help them build, maintain, or in some cases, re-build their credibility, it’s incumbent on us to be as accurate as humanely possible when we give them information so they get it right.  This may seem obvious to many, but as the pressure to get the client or organization’s story out rightnow in the fast-paced all-information, all-the-time landscape we operate in, corners still get cut.  Sadly, “spin” is still practiced in our profession.

And what’s the benefit to us?  By making sure the information is right before we hand it off to a reporter, we build our own credibility.  We become the trusted source, the reliable supplier of information, increasing the value of “earned media” vs. unearned (e.g., paid).  And we become more valued – and valuable – to those we represent.

As PR people, can we prevent people – even reporters – from making stuff up? No. But it’s our obligation and our duty to help our media brethren to do their job the right way. We all benefit.

Gregg Feistman is an associate professor of public relations in the Department of Strategic Communication at Temple University.  He has led the public relations sequence for the department since 2002.  He is the faculty advisor for both the PRSSA chapter (founded in 1969) at Temple and the student-run firm PRowl Public Relations.  He has a BA in Communications from Rowan University, received their Outstanding Alumni Award in 1993, and an MA in Communication from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY.  He received the Public Relations Society of America’s prestigious Anthony Fulginiti Award for Commitment to Education in 2010, The Department of Strategic Communication’s Outstanding Service Award in 2011, The School of Media and Communication’s Faculty Service Award in 2012, and the 2014 Temple University Outstanding Faculty Service Award. Contact Gregg via email at greggf@temple,edu.

Stay Ethical, Don’t Exploit

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When we see an opportunity for a client, it’s in our nature to seize it. It’s our job, after all. It’s also the job of public relations professionals to advocate for clients and we should have the sense to judge what opportunities are appropriate and when they might be crossing a line. Too often companies and organizations are chastised for taking advantage of a current event, pop culture happening or even a tragedy to get their brand attention.

There are plenty of examples where companies took their publicity a step too far after a tragedy or negative occurrence, both accidentally and intentionally.

  • Malaysia Airlines promoted a Bucket List contest, asking consumers what places they’d like to see before they die. This came after the tragic disappearance of Flight 370 and after Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine.
  • DiGiorno hopped on the hashtag bandwagon a little too quickly after the NFL suspended Ray Rice for abusing his wife. Thousands of Twitter users took to using #WhyIStayed to share their abuse stories and DiGiorno didn’t check the context of the tag before shooting out a response of ‘you had pizza’.
  • MSN’s Biggest PR Blunders of 2014 list rounds up more specifics pretty well.

These companies promptly issued apologies and/or made corrections to their public relations and social media efforts. However, it’s always better not to have to ask for forgiveness because you didn’t stray off the path of ethics in the first place.

The lesson your parents always tried to burn into your brain of “think before you speak” couldn’t be more applicable in our world. In this case it’s more so “think before you act and set your client up for some serious negative backlash”. Trust me, even though you might be receiving dozens of emails asking why they aren’t in the news, asking to get them some press, they would much rather sit back and wait for the right story than jump on board with the wrong one.

How can you be sure to stay ethical and not make the mistakes of these well-known, previously well-respected brands?

  • Trust your instincts
    You know right from wrong. If you are feeling a little wary about pitching a story because you feel it might be exploitive, you’re probably right. It’s not worth potentially ruining your reputation with a journalist and painting your client in a bad light.
  • Ask a mentor
    That’s what they’re there for. If you’ve hit a point where you’re just not sure whether you should go with a story or not, just ask. Chances are you’ll be respected for checking in and you’ll get a good conversation out of it where you might learn a few things.
  • Explain
    So you decided to do the ethical thing and your client isn’t pleased. Instead of getting defensive, walk them through your thought process. Create a case study to show them the negative ramifications of pouncing on a story in an exploitive way. This is what they’re paying you for, after all.

This isn’t to say there won’t be instances where your client’s services, expert advice or products shouldn’t be talked about following a sad event or a bad situation. If the organization offers counseling, for example, they should surely be getting the word out after a tragedy; because what they are doing will help others. There are absolutely ways for brands, organizations and companies to respond to situations appropriately and in a non-exploitive manner. The important thing for public relations professionals to do is make the judgment call.

There are some things you can’t (and shouldn’t) try to put a spin on. Exploiting a sad or bad situation purely for client gain is wrong. Knowing and acknowledging that is what separates the experts from those just trying to climb the ladder.

London Faust is an Account Representative at Bellevue Communications Group, a public relations firm specializing in media relations, crisis communications and issue management. She is forever #TempleMade, class of 2014. Follow her personal ramblings on Twitter at @londonfaust or her professional doings at @BellevuePRPhl.