Small Biz Owners: Ace That Media Interview with These 5 tips

As a small business owner, the odds are likely that at some point in your position, you’ll be approached for a media interview.  This could be anything from an influential trade journal requesting your  viewpoint on a particular Microphone freemarket segment within your industry, to a local television news show wanting to cover a milestone of your family owned business. Either way, it can be a terrific opportunity to generate positive brand awareness and showcase your expertise.  Unless an interview request is surrounding a tragedy or has a negative slant, I typically encourage my clients to talk to the media.

Note that in this article, we are not talking about a hostile type of interview akin to the one depicted in the funny, fictitious SNL skit starring Martin Short as a sweaty, chain-smoking oil lobbyist nervously dodging very tough interview questions from Robert Kennedy Jr. (see the hilarious clip here: http://bit.ly/uZX4X ).  That genre of interviews requires much more thorough and intense preparation (though you can check out a prior post on “Preparing for a Crisis” here: http://bit.ly/13OyafA ).

For this purpose, we will focus on the instances when the media wants your point of view on a newsworthy topic related to your area of expertise.  We see this often – an obvious example of this is when James Gandolfini died recently from a heart attack and local and national news outlets scrambled to get cardiologists to interview and explain the causes and symptoms of heart attacks. Another type of media request might come because your industry’s top trade magazine wants your point of view as they write a feature article on a broader topic. In any case, whatever the reason you’re speaking to the media, it’s important to be prepared so that your message is clearly and appropriately communicated.

Following these 5 simple tips can make a world of difference in how your interview turns out.

1.  Familiarize Yourself with that Show or Publication
You don’t necessarily have to be an avid viewer of CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” but if you’re booked on it,  do try to watch a few shows in advance to get a flavor for the format as well as to see how the hosts interact with their guests.  This also helps in not calling the host by the wrong name, which once happened with one of my clients.

The same goes true with trade journals – take a peek at some past articles written by the reporter with whom you’ll be speaking so that you may familiarize yourself with that publication’s format so that you may then provide your expertise in that genre.  Reporters typically respond more favorably when they know you took the time to understand their material.

2. Whenever possible, find out the topic you will be asked to discuss
Be sure that you clearly understand the topic and angle you’ll be asked to comment on so that you may prepare accordingly.   Most reporters will provide this to you (in the case of a non-hostile type of interview of course). In the case of trade publications, the interviews are usually scheduled a few days or weeks in advance, giving you time to prepare.  Be sure to use that time to develop your key messaging points as well as pull any research statistics that would help drive home your point.

3.  Prep & Practice
Your interview is scheduled so now you and your team can develop your key messaging points.  For example, if your company is announcing a special partnership with a non-profit organization, prepare to explain how your company is getting involved with this particular charity, why it’s relevant and the benefit to the audience.  Know your elevator speech and any other important statistics you want to convey and be sure to keep all of your talking points short and succinct. If the interview is a broadcast one, go ahead and ask a colleague to help you practice by acting the interviewer.

4.  Relax and Be Yourself
Yes, it’s nervewracking.  Of course you want to make sure you know your stuff and don’t stumble over your words.  However, realize that you are being interviewed because you are an expert at something.  This alone should give you the confidence to  help you to stay unfettered and do your thing.

Do whatever it takes to keep your voice calm and steady in the minutes before the interview (deep breaths, clear your throat, etc.).  If you interviewer partakes in light banter before the start of the interview, by all means be congenial with him or her in order to build rapport.  While it is a nice surprise to discover you both went to the same small college in New England, don’t let that trip down memory lane distract you too much from your task at hand.

Also, know that anything you say is usually fair game.  Some journalists adhere to the ‘off the record’ notion; others do not.  I always caution my clients to choose all of their words wisely.

In the interview, if you’re asked a question and you don’t know that answer, don’t try to make up something and ramble on.  It’s best to say you don’t know the answer but will find out and move on.  This then provides you with a reason to later contact the interviewer, which leads to the next tip.

5.  Be grateful and patient
After the interview, thank the interviewer and let them know you’ll follow-up on anything you promised to provide them.  Don’t ask them if you can see their story before its published which is often insulting to most media – although there are instances with trade publications where they will let you see it beforehand to make sure the facts are straight.

You may ask for a general time frame of when the article or program will appear.  If they don’t have a specific date, follow up once in a couple of weeks, but do not badger them – sometimes stories don’t make the cut or get pushed back for a variety of reasons including more pressing news or the fact that an editor wants to save the article for a bigger series or industry feature.

Once the article comes out, try not to nit-pick too much.  Unless something is a flat-out error, don’t complain about style issues or words you’d rather have attributed to you.  If you generally are pleased, go ahead and send a quick email thanking the reporter and offering your expertise in the future.  See, that was easy, wasn’t it? Now go ahead and give yourself a big pat on the back!

Remember, relationships with the media can be mutually beneficial.  You are providing them with the expertise they are looking for, and they are capturing that expertise to help you bring awareness and credibility to your brand.  Go get ‘em!

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Why Doodling Can Be Good for Business

I am a chronic doodler. I’ve been chided my entire life for doodling, from grade school to college and at various jobs.Bestdoodle

There has always been a long line of critics of doodlers. Parents, teachers and bosses admonish us to put our pens down and pay attention. I have often been the recipient of the disapproving eye-roll whenever I begin to draw in meetings with non-doodlers (yet ironically they are the ones constantly checking their smart phones throughout a meeting).

At one agency where I was on the management team, I doodled away in board meetings and on weekly conference calls. Most of my colleagues (especially our CEO) showed signs of annoyance whenever I doodled through weighty discussions. It was obvious to me that most were thinking that I was bored or uninterested, but that wasn’t the case at all. It was actually the times when I couldn’t doodle in a meeting (say a new client meeting or presentation), where I had more trouble concentrating and became bored.

It turns out, I’m not alone. There are many doodlers out there who get the same grief as I do from co-workers and bosses. But guess what? There is actual research that vindicates us and confirms what we’ve already known – that doodling doesn’t mean we are unfocused, but rather the opposite: doodling can actually aid in concentration.

According to a study published by psychologist Jackie Andrade that appeared in Applied Cognitive Psychology in 2009, basic doodling can actually help one focus better and it aides in preventing daydreaming which actually takes one more off task and out of focus. Results of the study showed that individuals doodling through a meeting retained information 29% better than their non-doodling counterparts (view the study at http://bit.ly/R4X5lh).

Even former U.S. Presidents were avid doodlers. Thomas Jefferson, Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy were known to doodle during meetings according to an article from The Atlantic http://bit.ly/OpWESj. Leonardo di Vinci was an avid doodler as is Bill Gates.

So, to all of you bosses out there, please give your doodling employees a break, or better yet, join in. And to all of my doodling peers: Keep calm and doodle on! (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself – oh and by the way, apparently Tony Blair is a doodler too).

Are all the Social Media tools available to us now making us more efficient and less stressed, or the opposite?

 Can we achieve a decent work-life balance in today’s world?

Last week, Business Week published an article featuring a number of high profile executives who do not use email (http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-07-16/mlb-s-bud-selig-proudly-joins-the-executive-no-email-crowd ).  Yes, you read that correctly.  They do not use email.  Now I can understand if they don’t use social media tools such as Twitter or Facebook – but email?

These old-school communicators include among others: Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig; secretary of the Department for Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano; and billionaire landowner Brad Kelley.  They are all successful in their own right.  And they have achieved that success with only the use of “old-fashioned” means of communication and most likely, a healthier set of boundaries when it comes to work spilling over into their lives.

Now granted, most of the individuals named in the article are in in their late 60s or 70s.  However, Napolitano is only 55, certainly an age where she could have adapted well to using email.  She claims checking email sucks up too much time (We all know how true that is, especially when you’re helplessly on an email thread that won’t stop).  While she may be right, it’s certainly not practical or feasible for “the rest of us” to scrap email altogether as a means of communication.

This got me to thinking:  all of these modern means of communicating at our fingertips – especially the burst of social media tools available – were invented to help us do so more efficiently and more quickly both personally and professionally.  Yet, in the end, are they doing the opposite and just bogging us down to create more stress, work and interruptions, and to sabotage any chance we have of a healthy work-life balance?

As Napolitano and Selig did, is there a time when the current generations can begin to say “no” to any or all of our modern channels of communication, or have we forever passed that threshold?

Before cell phones (yes, there was a day), I used to love driving in my car because it was the only place where no one could get a hold of me.  There was something to be said for that peaceful and uninterrupted respite where one could focus on the day’s matters at hand with more clarity and without interruption.

Most Millennials have never had that experience and I’m actually not sure they truly ever want to be ‘off-line’ from the world.  In fact, it seems as if it’s quite the opposite that is true – they feel naked without their smartphone and access of being connected to the outside world.  Their angst is certainly palpable when they are in meetings or other places where they cannot check their text messages, Tweets and emails.

I’ve occasionally had that feeling myself and to be honest, I don’t’ like it.  Sometimes I have to literally take a step back and realize that my world and work will actually be just fine without monitoring my emails and social channels every 15 minutes.  So why do I feel guilty when I’m offline?

I get it, in the fields of public relations and marketing, we need to be connected to our devices and to our clients and their customers as well as the media and outside world.  And, we have to test every new social media communications tool in order to best counsel our clients.  The challenge is there is a new tool emerging every day and it’s not only social media managers that need to understand and test these tools. It’s PR folks too. As a PR practitioner, stress is a normal part of the job; it’s just that this modern era of social media seems to be creating more stress and not taking as much away.

I just want to know if anyone else is struggling with when to draw the line at being continuously accessible and connected (and I mean beyond being reachable when a client might have a real emergency situation that needs immediate damage control).

Do you feel guilty or stressed when you’re not emailing, tweeting or trolling on Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube or Pinterest?

How do you manage to detach from work mode to personal mode?

Any tips or insights are much appreciated!

5 Things Every Public Relations Grad Should Have

First of all, congratulations to this year’s graduates who have chosen a rewarding and Imageinteresting career path that’s never dull or repetitive, always challenging and demanding, and very often just plain fun!

I’ve interviewed hundreds of PR candidates over the years and have come to know that being prepared with the right resources and assets can make a difference in beating out the competition for that coveted first job.  Who you know is certainly advantageous in this business, but anyone can level the interview playing field by being equipped with seemingly ordinary and uncomplicated attributes, knowledge and details that can make you the clearer choice as a candidate:

1.  An error-free resume

This isn’t anything you haven’t heard before, but you’d be surprised at how many resumes we continue to see riddled with typos, grammatical errors, slang and visual inconsistencies.  Always triple spell-check your work or have another pair of eyes review it.   Be sure to also be consistent in your layout:  make sure indentations, columns, bullets, typefaces and fonts match.  We are PR pros and we notice the little things – if your resume is sloppy and lacking attention to detail, we’ll likely draw the conclusion that your work will be as such too.

2.  A suit 

Sorry folks, but even in this day of business casual which I believe has reached new lows in what’s acceptable for office wear, nothing says polished, professional and “I’m ready to take this job seriously” like a suit.  You’re safe with navy, black or gray – solid or striped – and it needn’t be expensive. You’ll need it for interviewing, and once you get that job, for important client meetings and events.   Remember the adage, “Dress for the position you want.”

3.  The latest edition of the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook

Believe it or not, I refer to this book nearly every day.  Heck, I can’t remember that the word ‘window dressing,’ when used as a noun is not hyphenated, but that when used as a verb (window-dress) it is! And, once word gets out that you’ve got an AP Stylebook, you’ll make new friends with all of your colleagues who show up to borrow it!!  In addition, I also recommend having a copy of Fowler’s Modern English Language Usage which I use often as well.

 4.  A knowledge of basic table etiquette

Let’s face it, in the PR world, we OWN business lunches and dinners.  Unless you’re working for the Ritz or Buckingham Palace, you probably won’t need to bother being able to identify a prawn fork from an oyster fork (incidentally, there are at least 13 different types of forks that are used in high society).  However, you should have some basic table manners such as knowing to always put your napkin in your lap immediately upon sitting, how to pass the salt (always with the pepper) and to never text or answer your phone during a business lunch unless it’s completely necessary.  You can find more tips at http://verilymag.com/dining-etiquette-101/

 5.  A Positive, enthusiastic outlook

Trust me, it’s not always the smartest, best-educated candidate who wins the job – it’s the one who shows dedication, enthusiasm, heart and an eagerness to dive in.  Employers don’t expect 22-year olds to know everything, but they typically do want new employees chomping at the bit to apply what they’ve learned thus far, and to supplement it with new on-the-job knowledge and insights they’ll gain from working daily with public relations pros.  I know you have student loans to pay back, but remember that this is the beginning of a wonderful, fulfilling career for you – make the most of it now.  If you chose the right career path, this should come naturally to you.  And, if you aren’t a positive person, then practice with all of the available and immediate resources at your fingertips.

Good luck and much success to all of you!

7 Tips for Planning and Executing a Successful NYC Consumer Media Tour – Part 1:

ImageDespite the current array of online and social media channels with which we can communicate with media, there are still times when it’s important to meet with them face-to-face. I believe it’s beneficial to keep yourself and clients in front of editors on a regular basis in order to establish and maintain a good rapport and a professional relationship that’s mutually beneficial.

Tours are preferred if your client has a new product that’s very demonstrative and/or is also the first of its kind in the industry. If it’s a complex product, it’s advantageous to meet with media in person to show them all the features and benefits of the product, and why their audience would be interested.  It also helps them put a face with a name, so when you call or email them in the future, they’ll likely remember you.

Much of my career has been spent promoting an array of housewares and household products – from vacuum cleaners to painting tapes and supplies to DIY caulks and adhesives. I’ve worked closely with home editors at national consumer women’s magazines, parenting, and home shelter publications, most of which are headquartered at major publishing houses in New York City (with the exception of Meredith’s Better Homes & Gardens and its special interest publications which are in Des Moines).  Most of the products I’ve represented target women, whom we called the CHOs or Chief Household Officers.

With the exception of a few publications that have recently shut down (Parenting, Baby Talk), much of these publications aren’t going anywhere though they are stretching smaller staffs with more responsibilities.  This makes editors’ time sparse and precious which means you need to be very strategic when planning out your tour.

Here are some tips for getting appointments, having successful meetings and setting the tone for your client’s brand to get media coverage down the line.

1. If it isn’t new, at least make sure your “news” is relevant and interesting to that editor’s audience. 

New products in general can be newsworthy in and of themselves. When I worked for a vacuum cleaner manufacturer, we came out with several upright vacuum cleaners that made it first to market with unique and convenient, new features.  However, keep in mind that a change in color or model number is not newsworthy – in that case you can get away with an emailed news release.   Also, consumer editors typically don’t find useful or relevant, industry data such as how many units were sold or the company’s market share or growth.  Having relevant content and news gives you a better chance of securing an appointment with an editor.

2.  Put yourself in that editor’s shoes and think of what info is important to him or her.

Besides having relevant information to the editor’s particular beat, make sure that you put yourself in their shoes and understand what would help make their job a little easier.  First, do your research and know their columns, writing styles and what they usually cover.  In addition to a straight new product release, I also like to include tips for using that product and/or ideas of how to include the product in a wider theme.  Help them come up with a feature story angle. For example, a new air purifier product requires a news release, but I know it’s rare to get a feature article written just about that product. So, I’ll focus on a broader theme such as Spring Allergy Solutions or Indoor Air Quality in which I can research good stats from reputable agencies (like the CDC or EPA) and make a case for why an air purifier is part of a solution for allergy sufferers.  The product may not be the “star” of the article, but its relevance and importance in a broader topic gives it even more credibility and likelihood for coverage.

3.  Strategically plan out your appointments so that you give yourself plenty of time to avoid frustrations that could impact your presentation.

Most of the editorial publishing headquarters are located in a fairly compact radius in mid-town Manhattan.  In many cases, a number of the publications you may be meeting with will be at the same address, but on different floors.  Hearst (located on 8th Avenue & 57th) houses magazines such as Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Country Living, O, and House Beautiful among others.  Planning appointments at Hearst always saves me some time because I can schedule appointments only 15 minutes apart (note that you will need to keep going back downstairs to the lobby after each appointment and go through security for your next appointment). However, if you’re going from Hearst to say “Ladies Home Journal,” which is located more downtown on Park Avenue, you’ll need to schedule at least a half hour – time to grab a cab, travel and get registered at the security desk.  I like to use car services which are both time and cost-effective.

PR: A job to die for? I don’t think so.

Did you know that Career Cast’s annual list of the most-stressful jobs in America shows Public Relations Executive as No. 5 for 2013?  Jobs that are listed as more stressful than PR Executives this year are, in order: Military Personnel, Military General, Firefighter and Commercial Airline Pilot.

Really???   Are you kidding me?  I mean, I’ve been in the PR business for nearly a quarter of a century and I most certainly understand the challenges, but do I really believe my job is nearly as stressful than dodging RPGs from insurgents over in Afghanistan?  Or flying a 747 through a huge storm system?  And, how about the firefighters who risk their lives daily?  Does their cortisol level beat out mine when I fret over a typo in a news release that has already gone out on the wire?  I just watched “Backdraft” again last night and there is no comparison between my work stress of writing against deadline or getting hung up on by an editor to their saving lives whilst ensuring they don’t lose their own in an apartment blaze.

Look, don’t think that I don’t take my job seriously.  I do, very much so.  I always strive to do everything I can to ensure success for my clients and my company.  But dodging a bullet is only a figurative expression in my field of work.

What’s even more ironic is that Police Officers are listed as number 10 on the list.  Their hearts skip a beat every time they pull over a car, not knowing if the driver is high on drugs or armed.  Yes, that probably is on par of how I felt when my team and I stuffed and sealed 200 press kits only to realize that somehow the personalized cover letters did not match the contacts on the address labels!  It’s possible I suffered a mini-stroke over that one.

We PR folks are not daily risking our lives nor others’ and we don’t witness gruesome scenes of carnage on a regular basis – well, unless you consider those beautiful uneaten, melted desserts at the two empty tables at a media luncheon I hosted, where half the invitees were a no-show because it poured in NYC. Ugh, that was a horrible scene now that I think about it.  It was painful. After the product demonstration and brief speech from my client, the most exciting thing to happen with the 7 editors who did attend, was how thrilled they were to run over to the window and watch a hawk gliding majestically over Central Park.  Okay, so maybe I stand corrected.  That was stressful.  But, we did still get some media coverage.  There’s always a silver lining in PR.

What I’m trying to say is that we all have to do our jobs and make sure we do them well – for the sake of our clients, their customers, our bosses and our colleagues.  Let’s just keep our work in perspective: in PR it’s always just an ordinary day when no one dies doing their job.  Let’s be happy about that.

Check out Career Cast’s full list at: http://www.careercast.com/jobs-rated/10-most-stressful-jobs-2013

Why I cringe when I hear interviewees say “I Love Working With People”

Call me an old fashioned curmudgeon, but it just bugs me when PR folks say they are “people-persons” or that they “love working with people” and believe it to be an asset when applying for a PR position.  I just don’t understand why this hits a nerve with me.

Look, I get it.  In order to be in PR you do have to have better than average communications skills with other humans.  So, when young students appear to have great personalities and/or people skills, teachers, parents, etc. might typically suggest that they go into PR.

Fine, but then why just PR?  I suppose we’re known to be “show people.” So then, why not clowning?  Have you ever met a circus clown that wasn’t good at or did not like working with people (okay, one comes to mind, but let’s not go there, and anyway, he wasn’t an “official” clown)? The entire purpose of being a clown is to entertain people and make them laugh, so shouldn’t they be adept at doing so and, in turn, enjoy it? Or what about post office employees working at the stamp counter – they work with people every day and also apparently seem to love it!  Yet, are students guided into postal careers because of their good natures and communications skills? Certainly not!

In reality, practically every occupation on earth requires human interaction and having to be decent enough at getting your point across so as not to offend your coworkers, customers, vendors, bosses, etc., so much that you get fired.  As far as I’m concerned, you pretty much have to work well with people to succeed in any job, but I suppose you don’t necessarily have to like it or them.   I guess that’s why there are lawyers and accountants.

I remember when I was in high school I wanted to be a veterinarian and talked to ours while taking my dog, Kenyon, for an appointment.  I told our vet that it would be so great to work with animals and less with people.  You know what he said?  He told me that yes, he does have to work with animals, but being a vet really more requires excellent people skills – because  it’s the owners you’re  ultimately servicing and interacting with.  You have to be empathetic under difficult circumstances as when pets are sick, and even just regular circumstances like, say when the crazy-cat-lady-spinster (I do not own cats) won’t stop talking about her seven cats’ various bowel movements or finicky eating habits.

Hey, don’t think I don’t like working with people, although there are truthfully some days when I just want to write and type on my computer with my dog at my feet.  For the most part, I enjoy camaraderie and communicating. I recognize that I do have a skill of being able to communicate with folks to create positive outcomes.  It’s just that I don’t believe it’s a trait germane only to PR practitioners, nor do I think I went into the PR field because of it.

Clearly, I went into PR for the great clothes and shoes.