Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Future of News and Public Relations

I've been a fan of Jeff Brady's for years. I first met him on the night he was the best man in our wedding. He has been a reporter and anchor in the Yuma, Tyler, San Antonio, Shreveport and Dallas markets, so you may have seen him on the air. He recently left the newsroom to start Brady Media Group. His perspective about the direction of news is fascinating.

Jeff: We are a Dallas-based PR, consulting and content development agency made up exclusively of journalists. We KNOW the news: the fundamentals of how it is produced, the tempo, the deadlines, the “recipe” and how to attract the interest of a reporter. We understand how to pitch a story to a working journalist because we’ve been there ourselves.

But what does "content development" mean? Well, by that I mean the media content housed on your website. Do you have a blog? A podcast? A video blog? A digital newsletter? Current articles or press releases? What about a video clip to convey your brand identity for the next generation of media-savvy consumers? We can produce all of that. Out-source your newsroom to us. We’re the professional story-tellers.

The clients we currently target are medium and small businesses that are either dissatisfied with their current marketing, advertising or PR strategy. Or those that have never tried PR in the first place. We come at it from a different perspective, and most clients like the “insider knowledge” we bring to the table.

Lorri: How is the Brady Media Group different than other PR agencies?

Jeff: As you know Lorri, the vast majority of publicity agents have never worked a single day in a newsroom.

The analogy I provide is taking your car to be repaired by a mechanic who’s never driven a car. It just doesn’t make sense. Why would anyone try to solicit favorable coverage in the news media by paying an advisor who’s never done the work?

Not only do we have the DNA of journalists, but each member of my team has a pretty hefty Rolodex (or Outlook Directory) filled with our former colleagues in newsrooms all across the state – and the country.

Lorri: You say that “public relations” has a negative connotation in newsrooms.

Jeff: Name one PR agent whose help or involvement you enjoy. I would challenge any working journalist to name three. It’s almost impossible.

Again – as you know – the typical relationship between the reporter and the publicist is one of grudging tolerance. As a journalist, you typically feel that you HAVE to put up with the meddling, opinionated interference of the PR rep because it’s the ONLY way to get the story.
If there were any other means, you’d do it. Right?

Moreover, during my entire 18-year career in TV news, I can’t think of a single PR agency I would turn to – in good faith – as a resource in a pinch. And yet that’s exactly what’s happening to me and to my friend and colleague, Jeff Crilley. He has a very similar publicity agency here in Dallas. And our story ideas and clients have now become almost invaluable to friends and former co-workers who may need help on short notice. They will call to ask about a reliable source who can speak on the "topic of the day." And we usually come through!

Lorri: What is the future of television news?

Yikes. This is the tough one. Short answer: most major network TV news operations will survive in their current form.

Most local TV new operations will NOT. The business model is disappearing like ice on a summer sidewalk. A recent report projected that 2009 local TV ad revenue will drop up to 30% this year alone.

Of course, there are a lot of reasons – including the recession and the staggering auto industry.
But advertisers are simply following the audiences – and migrating to other platforms. If ad revenue drops, that means the station’s entire budget drops: payroll, equipment, travel, overtime, etc.

So imagine the task of a local TV General Manager: reduce the budget by 30% but produce the same amount (or more) original content – and make it better than ever – to attract an audience that is more media-savvy than ever!! It is not sustainable.

Lorri: News is covered differently than it was when you started reporting. What happened?

Jeff: Newspapers are going bankrupt because they are using an archaic technology (ink on paper delivered by hand) and because they are giving away their best content. (Why should top-notch journalism be free online when the phone companies have trained us to pay 25 cents for a TM??)

Most big newspaper ownership groups are in a financial tailspin and doing anything to survive. Most will not. The reporting suffers when the business is going through such convulsions that it can no longer pay for the best talent. (I wrote a blog entry about “The Newspaper Fix” – you should check it out at!!)

As far as TV, when Walter Cronkite (rest his soul) commandeered CBS, the fundamental goal was to do the job of reporting what every American needed to know. Then TV became highly profitable. Then the journalists in charge of the networks and local stations sold out to non-journalists (in the 70s and 80s), and then it became all about the profit margin. Then the newsrooms became more focused on “what will people watch” instead of “what do people need to know.” That’s why we have so many blaring cop-chases and health scares on local TV news.

In addition, there are too many people "under the tent" calling themselves journalists. Not everyone with access to a TV camera and a microphone is qualified to deliver the news. I fully support the notion of “accredited” news agencies. But I digress…

Lorri: Do you think every newsmaker needs a publicist or a company like yours, or can people do this on their own?

Jeff: Most people can absolutely do it on their own. No question. It’s not nuclear physics. PR is a sales job. It involves making a sales call with YOUR story or YOUR company or YOUR brand in mind. Sell, sell, sell. Know the audience (the journalist to whom you are speaking). Make it sexy. Leave 'em wanting more.

At the same time… with my U.S. Marine Corps training, I can wash, starch and iron my own shirts. But I don’t. Instead, I outsource that work to experts who are much more efficient and effective. The same can be said for media exposure.

Lorri: What else would you like to add?

Honestly, I believe we are on the verge of an era in which most people don’t need to worry about soliciting the attention of mainstream media. Instead, most people need to spend more time developing their OWN media… with the help of an expert consultant, or course!

Have you read The New Rules of Marking & PR by David Meerman Scott? If not, check it out. With increasing high-speed Internet access, more companies, entrepreneurs and non-profits are learning that a steady stream of unique and compelling content on their own website is the best PR in this day and age. So I tell most clients that they need to start a blog and then create a channel on YouTube. And develop a better brand using these new platforms to reach a vibrant new audience. Most of whom are not watching TV or reading newspapers, anyway.

Lorri: Thanks for your time and insight, Jeff. And all the best wishes to you in this new endeavor!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bad Podcasts

Please don't put a video of yourself on You Tube or your website if it's not high quality. A substandard piece tells potential clients or reporters that you will not pay attention to detail when you are interviewed or hired.

Here are a few easy-to-correct mistakes I'm seeing:

1. People looking around, coughing, swallowing before talking. How to fix: The camera is rolling, so start talking immediately. Or figure out how to edit the distracting material at the beginning.

2. People sitting or standing in front of bad backgrounds, such as cheap-looking paneling, cluttered desks, and a VHS-TV combo unit. If you're telling the world that you're high-tech enough to create a podcast, a VHS machine sends the opposite message. How to fix: find a one-color (not black or white) wall or book shelves that you can stand about six feet in front of for depth.

3. People sitting or standing in front of a window. This means you're "backlit" in photography terms, and we can't see your face. How to fix: Move so that the light source shines on your face, not on your back.

4. People leaning back in a chair. Aren't you engaged and passionate about the material you have to share? How to fix: Get in job interview mode for this... sitting up straight, weight slightly forward and ready for anything!

5. People looking everywhere but into the camera. This can make you look unfocused or shifty. How to fix: look straight into the camera.

Use these tips as a checklist and make sure your video passes every point before you post it.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Delivering Bad News

While everyone likes to get positive publicity to promote their product, service, book or event... most people are interviewed on the worst day of their lives. You know the story: the house exploded, the investor took their life savings, the plane with the child crashed, the bank robber grabbed your spouse as hostage... you get the idea.

Sometimes you won't be that close to the victim, but because you are a company or community leader, you will be asked to comment on the bad news to lend perspective. Let me encourage you to do this, if asked. You can offer grace and honor the memory of the fallen/victimized/terrorized.

Last week, a son and his mother were killed in a car crash. Not a big news story in most cities, but a minister was interviewed, and he handled the questions so beautifully. His soundbite went something like this, "He was a wonderful teenager, dedicated to helping people in other countries. He was the kind of young man you'd like to have for your own son."

The minister didn't need the publicity in a week of grief and funeral planning. But by being available, he helped grieving friends. He also told a city about the special young man who died.

We've heard lots of soundbites this week about celebrites who've passed on. But sometimes, the most important soundbites will be the ones you deliver in small settings that are never broadcast. Be available. Be gracious. Take every opportunity to comfort the grieving.

Happy Independence Day

"Without an unfettered press, without liberty of speech, all of the outward forms and structures of free institutions are a sham, a pretense -- the sheerest mockery. If the press is not free; if speech is not independent and untrammeled; if the mind is shackled or made impotent through fear, it makes no difference under what form of government you live, you are a subject and not a citizen."- William E. Borah