Posts Tagged ‘creative’

Essential Books for Better Writing — News, PR, Corporate Communications and More

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015
Words of Wisdom

Words of Wisdom

Posted by Tom Gable

Our client was growing rapidly throughout the U.S. based on clearly differentiating the quality of its service against what was offered by the huge national organizations that dominated the industry. The plan worked. Its business grew and it was attracting new talent wherever it went based on its culture, vision and mission.

The CEO found one troublesome and unexpected consequence of the growth: a decline in the overall quality of communication. Research found it occurring in new areas and also in existing markets where staff was under the gun to deliver on increased demands for company products. The CEO believed that every communication — from short email to formal letters and proposals — needed to support the quality image of the brand. How to build firm-wide standards without having platoons of editors in every region?

The solution: the Gable PR team created a guide to better writing. The primer covered how to think about positioning, branding, research, understanding the audience, having a personality, preparing to write, basic rules for better writing, keys to editing and how to test messages before launch. It took almost one year to create the primer. The goal: keep it tight and bright. The result: 10 short chapters on 30 pages. The hard part: writing short.

For the best traditional resources to help your writing, browse through these fine works, which provided many big ideas for our little primer.

On Writing Well, William Zinsser. HarperCollins Publishers, 1990.

The Careful Writer, Theodore M. Bernstein, Free Press, 2005

The Classic Guide to Better Writing, Rudolf Flesch and A.H. Lass. HarperCollins Publishers, 1996.

Business Communication: Building Critical Skills, Kitty Locker. McGraw-Hill, 2010.

Eats, Shoots and Leaves – The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, Lynne Truss. Gotham Books, 2003.

Fresh Passion: Get A Brand Or Die A Generic, Michael D. Brown. Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2013.

 How to Write Short, Word Craft for Fast Times, Roy Peter Clark. Little Brown and Co., 2013.

It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences, June Casagrande. Ten Speed Press (Crown Publishing), New York, 2003.

The Associated Press Stylebook, Perseus Publishing, 2014.

The Book on Writing: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Well, Paula LaRocque. Grey and Guvner Press, 2003.

The Elements of Business Writing, Gary Blake and Robert W. Bly. Macmillan Publishing Company, 1991.

The Elements of Style, William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. Allyn and Bacon, 2000 (earlier editions, 1959 and 1972 by McMillan Publishing Co.).

Weinberg on Writing: The Fieldstone Method, Gerald M. Weinberg. Dorset House, 2005.

Boost the Brain: Take a Newspaper or Two to Breakfast, Magazines to Lunch

Sunday, February 1st, 2015
Creative Resources

Creative Resources

Posted by Tom Gable

Where do creative PR and other marketing, positioning and communicating ideas come from?

Experts recommend checking a broad range of media, including those you may not have encountered unless you go non-digital and take a newspaper or two to breakfast and a magazine or two to lunch.

In interviewing more than 20 applicants (ages 22 to 34) for jobs at Gable PR over a two-month period, I asked where they got their news. We were in a small conference room, with several different newspapers scattered on the table. All said online. One said she occasionally read the weekly business journal. I thumbed through a local daily and a weekly business journal with a couple of candidates just to see the reactions. None was aware of how the publications were organized but enjoyed following the flow of  the news, something not often experienced online.

It’s too easy to subscribe to different digital news trackers and feeds, click on a promising link when one arrives, check out the single story and then move on to another link to a different story. The process is efficient and valuable for following certain topics, people and organizations. The missing parts for anyone in communications: the joy of discovery of new topics and nonessential information that can broaden your base of knowledge, providing new stimulus for future creative thought.

As a former print journalist, I have always started the morning with newspapers, even in today’s digital era. I subscribe to two local daily newspapers (one regional metropolitan, one business and financial) and The Wall Street Journal. During the week, I get hard copies of the local weekly business journal, the Sunday New York Times, and a dozen magazines (news, business, science, wine, management). In reading the physical product, one sees how the editors ranked the importance of the news based on story and photo placements. You get a sense of the world as you move page to page. And this is where discovery occurs — finding odd little features or analytical pieces you might not have seen elsewhere, adding to your intellectual database. I find stories that I missed in scanning through the digital editions of several of these publications.

Stephen King, in is book On Writing, talked about where his ideas came from. “There is no idea dump, no story central, no island of buried bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky; two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”

If we are coming up short on creative ideas for our clients during a brainstorming session, we’ll take a break for a day or two, assign further reading of the media covering our client, its competitors’ materials and general business media. We then ask each individual to come back with their top three ideas and compile the results for further brainstorming. The quality of the creative thought rises considerably as do the results for our clients, from positioning, to media stories, feature pitches, new product introduction ideas, conference speech topics, promotions and staging events for broadcast coverage, among other things.

For example, in helping position a new company and its software products for launch, the team read competitive coverage, marketing materials, trend stories in the industry and local news stories on some of the major customers in the space. They looked for what was there and also what wasn’t there — the ying and yang of creative thinking. The result: distinctive positioning for our client that became the foundation for a long-range strategic plan to help it break out of the competitive clutter and grow.

A little morning, midday and evening stimulus with a newspaper and magazine or two can go a long way.

Ten Tips to Becoming a Better Editor (and Writer)

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014
Producing Peerless Prose

Producing Peerless Prose

Posted by Tom Gable

After slaving over a piece of peerless prose, many writers fall in love with their own work. You may have revised it a time or two and feel it is ready to launch, but you need to tackle the last important steps: editing and proofreading your work with diligence and precision. Both take some patience and a critical, distanced approach. With a little literary cosmetic surgery, you can make your work attractive to future readers.

How to Edit and Proofread – Professional Guidance

Editing and proofreading are both important to ensure clear and clean communications. If your news release, media pitch, blog post, website content, letter or email message has typos, misspellings, and bad punctuation or doesn’t flow well, your reader may perceive you as unprofessional, lazy or sloppy. Even simple typos such as misplaced apostrophes and commas can leave a bad impression and raise questions about your professional skills.

By editing and proofreading well, you will be able to ensure a level of quality control for all your communications and reinforce your growing professional image.

To set the stage, first let’s go over the difference between editing and proofreading. In Leah McClellan’s “25 editing tips for your writer’s toolbox,” she defines editing and proofreading with some examples of how they differ:

“Editing refers to structural changes (the big stuff) and rewriting sections of the manuscript, article, or blog post. Editing also focuses on changes at the chapter, section, and sentence level. Examining and correcting content, organization, style, and logic as well as grammar, spelling, punctuation, and more are all part of the editing process.”

McClellan adds: “Proofreading, on the other hand, is about little stuff that’s hard to see. Proofing does not include changes beyond spelling errors or typos, minor punctuation errors that don’t require text changes, spacing, format, numbering, or stylistic matters such as italics and underlining.”

McClellan recommends setting aside separate time blocks for both editing and proofreading in order to stay focused. Always allow time between writing and editing – and editing and proofing. You are guaranteed to catch and correct more items if you give yourself a breather and space out these activities. If you aren’t on a deadline, revisit the piece to edit the next day. If you are in a time crunch at least wait a few hours before you start editing. For proofreading, go ahead and review your piece yourself. Then, for important and more complex communications, have an eagle-eyed friend or colleague provide one more level of scrutiny and quality control. A fresh perspective and a second set of eyes (and brain!) will significantly reduce the chances for error.

Editing should always be done before proofreading. The proofreading stage is not the time for rewriting or rewording. If you find yourself doing these things, you are still editing. You may lose your focus and introduce new mistakes if you start editing when you are supposed to be proofing!

The following can serve as a handy checklist for improving your editing skills.

Follow these 10 tips to become a better editor:

  1. Eliminate unnecessary words; keep words and phrases concise. Use the fewest words possible to communicate your meaning. Avoid using adverbs, adjectives, and other modifiers. Strong verbs (simplify instead of make simple) and precise nouns (blouse instead of top with long sleeves) are better choices than lengthy descriptions.
  2. Stay on subject, don’t introduce off-topic items. Don’t go on tangents or rants, which will get you sidetracked. Make sure any statement you make adds value and ties back to your main point. If it doesn’t, cut it.
  3. Delete information that is not strictly needed, any extra paragraph or sentence that isn’t absolutely necessary. Get to the point. Don’t ramble. As covered in a fine piece in The Harvard Business Review on the art of writing, kill your darlings. Enough said!
  4. Set a word count limit and stick to it. Give yourself a goal on word count. Setting a guideline will help you stay focused on what’s important and only necessary to include in your piece. Writing shorter, more compelling copy takes time. As Blaine Pascal, French author and scientist, noted in the 17th Century (to be echoed by Winston Churchill three centuries later), “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”
  5. Fact-check. Names, titles, locations, dates, numbers, references to other resources such as legal documents or regulations — any and all factual information – should be checked for accuracy. A quick Internet search can often find answers in minutes. When in doubt, consult a colleague.
  6. Don’t rely solely on grammar or spell check. Make sure you read for errors, too. The spell checker on Word and email catches the obvious typos and mistakes, but it overlooks context and won’t correct misspelled words that are, in fact, words (for examples, its, it’s; their, there, they’re; herd, heard; here, hear).
  7. Read it out loud to check flow. Go to a quiet place where you can concentrate and read your piece out loud. How does it flow? Do you trip up on any sections? If a sentence or paragraph reads awkwardly, you should reword or rework it.
  8. Consult a style manual routinely. A style guide or manual provides a set of standards for writers. Scan it; become familiar with it. It’s a great reference for grammar, style, and formatting and will come in handy in all your writing and editing. The preferred source: The Associated Press Stylebook, used by journalists, editors and broadcast producers (and most top PR professionals!).
  9. Take breaks. During earlier revisions, most writers develop a feeling for when they are at your creative or critical best. For editing, you need to be extra sharp. Never try to edit when you are tired or frustrated. Set the piece aside for a better time, when you are alert and reenergized. You will be more focused, with heightened editing skills.
  10. Lastly, request a colleague’s review before calling it final. Sometimes you just don’t see what others see. Ask a colleague or a friend to read your piece for feedback, proofread your document and pay close attention to anything you may have accidentally missed. An outsider’s review and seal of approval makes a big difference and will confirm your piece is ready for its recipient.

Now, you are ready to launch your fine work!


  • “25 editing tips for your writer’s toolbox,” by Leah McClellan. From, July 5, 2013.
  • The Book on Writing: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Well, by Paula LaRocque. Grey and Guvner Press, 2003.
  • Eats, Shoots and Leaves – The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, by Lynne Truss, Gotham Books, 2003.
  • The Associated Press Stylebook, Perseus Publishing, 2013.

Proper PR Pitching Scores Coverage, Builds Respect, Relationships

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014
Bad Pitch!

Bad Pitch!

Posted by Katelyn O’Riordan

At Gable PR, our team works on clients in a diverse set of industries, ranging from technology and education to real estate and employment law. We pitch a plethora of subjects and stories: graduations and student successes, new devices and apps, residential real estate sales and renovations, new bills in employment law – you name it!

We pride ourselves on being skilled in targeting our approach to meet the specific needs and interests of the reporters and journalists that we are contacting. We work diligently on behalf of our clients, telling their stories using compelling information, statistics and facts that are relevant to our contacts and offering our clients as experts in their designated industries.

Journalists receive hundreds of emails per day, so it’s important to be concise while also detail-oriented. As a PR professional, nothing is more exciting than getting an immediate response to a pitch or news release. We obsessively check our email inboxes, whether sitting at our desks or scrolling through our phones at the gym or happy hour. When a member of the media responds instantaneously (which unfortunately happens less often than most of us would like), it’s like your parents letting you skip school when you’re seven years old to go to Disneyland. Pure elation.

I digress. When a member of the media responds positively, the aforementioned sentiment is experienced. A negative response from a reporter can leave a PR pro feeling defeated and anxious. Now we get to tell the client that said reporter isn’t interested in their story and a feature article isn’t in their future this time. Another bummer!

But with any response, we at least know that they saw our message and we can halt the follow-ups. To share results from some of our efforts, the Gable PR team has compiled a round-up of the nice and not-so-nice responses we’ve received from media:


  • After pitching a client as an expert on sexual harassment in the workplace (surrounding a steadily unfolding scandal in the City of San Diego where the mayor, Bob Filner, was being forced to resign), a local daily newspaper columnist responded, “You are so good. We don’t do angle stories like this, however. But if your client wanted to send me a couple of paragraphs about this sexual harassment related issue, I could probably use it. Thank you for your creative, insightful thinking!”
  • A national trade publication reporter responds to a pitch on a client’s franchise rollout, “Thanks. We’re exploring some potential stories in coming months involving franchise services like your client’s. We’re going to hold onto this idea until then. Cheers.”
  • After following up with a local reporter on a client’s work with a local homeowner, “Thanks for following up! I’d lost track of the original email. This would be perfect for our homes section…this is right up my alley.”
  • A daily newspaper reporter reaches out (without us pitching him first) for expert commentary from one of our clients who gave great commentary for a previous story. “I know this is last minute, but would your client be able to comment on the effect of the Hobby Lobby decision on employers?”
  • When pitching a broadcast reporter on a tour of a local home renovated by a client with a unique business model (paying the upfront costs to fix those in disrepair to secure a higher sales price and be compensated after escrow closed): “I like this. Thanks for the note, let’s set this up.”


  • When contacting a local broadcast assignment news desk editor in regards to a press conference, “Why are you calling me? Are you aware that the entire city is on fire?” Then, he hung up.
  • En route to meet a client for a broadcast segment at 5:30 a.m., the morning segment producer called to cancel due to “breaking news,” but after watching the morning show, the Gable PR team found there was no such thing.

Five Platforms for Monitoring Digital and Social Media Trends

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014
Tracy Moehnke

Tracy Moehnke

By Tracy Moehnke

According to a recent study, 82 percent of marketing and public relations professionals have at least six applications open on their desktop at any time during the average work day. Sorting through the clutter to identify relevant trends and new channels for reaching your target audiences can be tedious, but it is a necessity for any public relations program.

Media relations, digital strategy and social engagement benefit from incorporating the newest trends and ideology into campaigns. Consistent monitoring of the digital and social landscape helps PR professionals develop approaches to exhibiting thought leadership that adds relevance to client programs and your agency and personal brands. At Gable PR, we’ve found the following free platforms to be among the best for tracking trends in the digital universe:

  • Think With Google searches for studies, trends and news by different industries, topics, products and platforms. Think With Google only uses credible sources to compile data on the newest trends. Have a client in the healthcare industry? Simply choose healthcare and scroll through studies like ‘how healthcare administrators make purchase decisions’ and ‘how hospital administrators research online.’ Incorporate this information into your campaign strategies; targeting audiences on their preferred platforms.
  • Twtrland is a one-stop-shop for discovering people and places. The platform facilitates search of Twitter users based on their characteristics. Twtrland then categorizes users as influencers, champions or casual users. You can use this platform to search by keywords or demographics relevant to your business and client. Find all the 30-year-old women in New York who follow your account through a simple search and sort by influence. Explore and reach target audiences easier than ever, reaching the opinion leaders that matter.
  • SocialMention searches the web for user generated content with keywords of your choice. It then classifies results by sentiment, strength, passion and reach. Filters can be selected to examine certain sources, users, hashtags and content type. SocialMention’s analytics provide comprehensive data that can be applied to digital media strategy by identifying what is hot on different platforms.
  • Topsy is a Twitter maven, boasting an archive of every tweet since 2006. The platform offers search options for videos, photos, links and influencers. Expand your searches by clicking on ‘show search tips,’ which provides a keyword box to assist the search process. Search for all of a specific user’s posts that include certain link sources, or use a topic to search for trending relevant content. Topsy also creates great visuals on a line graph by comparing the popularity of one to three keywords over a length of time.
  • Digg compiles trending news stories. The home page lists the most popular news stories by analyzing clicks, shares and comments. Digg also offers personalization through a Twitter sign-in process, allowing users to see trending stories from their feed. The platform is great for staying up-to-date with the ‘topic of the day,’ ranging from hard hitting news to pop culture events. Brands and businesses can use this to stay relevant with audiences.

Every monitoring platform will have its downfalls with certain industries. Spend time experimenting with various services to discover what is most applicable to your business or client. For ultimate success, checking in with your preferred platforms on a daily basis will keep your business relevant and up-to-date with your target audience’s chatter.

Creating Personal and Agency Brands Through Good Writing

Monday, June 30th, 2014
Words of Wisdom

Words of Wisdom

Posted by Tom Gable

Every individual has a personality, which makes us unique, one of a kind. Family, friends, colleagues and casual acquaintances enjoy our company in person. In writing, we have an opportunity to showcase who we are and communicate our “personal brand,” to new audiences of all kinds. This short piece introduces the concept of how to think about building personal brand, standing out from the crowd and reinforcing the brand values of your agency, company or your clients through good writing, with some of your personality shining through.

Michael D. Brown, a career consultant, author and motivational speaker on branding, defines personal branding as “a method whereby you precisely lay out and clearly communicate what makes you different and unique.” To get started, answer these questions: Who am I? What makes me special? How do I want people to see me? Your writing in all communications, from a formal business letter to an informal email message, presents an opportunity to make an impression.

Picture how you can leave your mark as a bright, creative, knowledgeable and personable professional and part of an organization with strong values. Your goal is to stand out from the clutter with clear, concise messages that connect to your different audiences: customers, community connections, partners and colleagues in the industry. Think about how you can best touch each audience in your own way – emotionally, rationally, and by showing core values and beliefs, such as a dedication to creating spectacular results for a client, no matter what the size.

Branding expert Brown explains that presenting yourpersonal brand should be evident in the way you write and in everything you do: the way you talk, walk, dress, and the content and appearance of all your communications and interactions. “Your personal brand is that solid and consistent impression that comes to mind when people think of you,” said Brown.

Writing clearly and succinctly is an important first step. Take your time in thinking about what you are trying to communicate. An organizational tip: write down the three most important points you want to make. Draft your copy and edit well. Set it aside for an hour or even a day. Make the final edit and you are ready to launch!

This approach gives you control over how you communicate clearly and builds new perceptions with every reader. The second step involves building your brand around your strengths and talents and simply being yourself. What are your best attributes? Your industry expertise? Your people skills? Do you have a sense of humor? Are you dedicated to responding quickly and professionally to all inquiries?

Remember your time, talent and expertise are serving the needs of your organization and your clients. Showcase what you offer in how you communicate about yourself and the work of your agency. Once you clearly understand and can define your brand, tie it back to the agency brand. Through your writing, you can reinforce the benefits and values that firm offers to every target audience.

Here are some steps to consider when creating a personal brand:

– Identify your target audiences and markets; know whom you are targeting. Is it an existing client? Potential client? Community connection? Editor? Supplier? Strategic partner? Industry organization? Thought leaders?

 – Determine your audience’s needs and wants. Is your target audience looking for a trusted resource for sage advice and up to date information? A fresh perspective from someone in-the-know? Support for new business initiatives? Solving a communications crisis? In any response, create reasons why your audience should believe you will deliver the results that your brand promises, which builds that rare attribute in any business: trust.

– Figure out what makes you and your agency different from your competitors. Be consistent in communicating — professionally, warmly and with authenticity, where your personality shows.

Keep in mind, building and maintaining your brand is a work in progress and a never-ending task. PR professionals need to be dedicated to continuous improvement in all that we do. The approach is critical in an era of ever-changing communications tools, channels, technology and client needs. According to Brown, “Nailing your brand is not something you do once and walk away from, it is a constant process of fine-tuning and adjusting your brand to the changing needs of the market and your changing interests, abilities, experiences and skills.”

Next: the ever-expanding PR professional’s communications tool box

Six Steps to Building Brands with Great PR Stories, Memorable Content

Thursday, May 29th, 2014
PR Chess in 3D

PR Chess in 3D

Posted by Tom Gable

Can you be the award-winning designer and contractor for building a new brand image for your organization or client?

Architects and engineers start with a vision of what the completed new building or device will become. What are the essential elements to build on?  How to add nuances and features that give it style or utility? Novelists weave in key themes and ongoing evidence to advance toward a conclusion. Artists envision the final painting or tapestry.  They add strands, swaths or dots of color and create their masterpiece over time.

The same approach works in building brand image and reputation with public relations. Use smart positioning, bright writing, colorful stories and facts to create your own masterpiece.

Start with determining how your organization wants to be known in two and three years. What do you stand for? What are your core values? Can you deliver on the promise over time? And do it with personality, facts and ongoing proof of principle so your reputation and brand image grow accordingly?

The method: own content and become a great teller of the brand story at every level.  With all the communications tools available, every PR professional has the opportunity to reach targets regularly through many channels and with a purpose. The following six basic steps can help you develop your own approach:

1. Research – Delve into company and industry research, market dynamics and other measurable factors. To mine gems for the creative side, conduct an internal audit of key people. Ask each what the organization stands for and to describe its key values. Does it have a culture, with case histories and anecdotes that can bring them to life? Are there great people stories? Technology breakthroughs?

2. Creative – Review the research and audits, brainstorm and think about true differentiation, not just throwing a bunch of jargon into the mix (e.g., “we are a national leader in software solutions”), especially in industries with me-too products and services. Develop key, compelling themes that can be woven into every story you sell.

3. Strategic Planning – This is essential if you are working with two and three-year horizons. You can map your route to global dominance with project management software. With all the new channels and tools available today, the game is more like three-dimensional chess (or a big PR Rubik’s Cube).

Start by identifying each of the different segments you are trying to reach (target industries, media, investors, customers and future customers). How do reach these vertical markets? The essential channels can include media relations, website, social media, trade shows, investment conferences, webinars and video.

Then, determine how you are going to build your plan over time with daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, semi-annual and annual activities.

4. Implementation – Find ways of integrating the elements and leveraging one channel against the others for maximum impact. As an example, a hotel in downtown San Diego needed a rebranding after a bankruptcy, deteriorating service and soured relationships with the community. The new owner, Kimpton Hotels, was committed to long-term success and changing perceptions as soon as possible for the newly named Hotel Palomar. This led to repositioning the renamed property as a hot boutique property in the heart of the emerging cultural district in downtown San Diego, with an ultra-community friendly staff and spirit.

The steps to creating the tapestry: develop positive ties with the civic, political, business and arts communities (opera, youth symphony, museums, local artists), celebrate the arts with regular events (commission original art for the hotel, have street-side opera performances and create arts-oriented packages for guests), and donate to local causes (nights at the hotel, dinners in the restaurants, and spa treatments).

The hotel team delivered on the promise. The media began referring to the hotel as a boutique gem in the heart of the emerging cultural district.  Stories about their local commitments and activities multiplied. Positive reviews on the travel websites soared and occupancy grew.

For complex technologies and new products, you can also strive to connect with the target audiences with emotion and power, not just data.

In preparing to introduce a new portable oxygen concentrator that would replace oxygen bottles for people with pulmonary disorders, agency research found what the new device could mean to many older users: the freedom to enjoy a more normal active lifestyle without being tied to an oxygen bottle.

Rather than use industry jargon in positioning the device. People stories would demonstrate the new freedom and benefits better than any data sheet.  The media covered patients taking tours and vacations they never before would have enjoyed before, such as an adventure to see spring colors in the Colorado Rockies with a device the size of a child’s backpack. Print and broadcast stories added color, with additional video testimonials on YouTube and on blogs and other online forums. Bottom line: the device went from zero sales to market leader in 18 months.

Lacking technology or other technical advantages? Proprietary processes and other magic ingredients can help break through

In the cluttered mortgage banking space, a growing regional lender was competing against giant banks. To differentiate, the company wanted to emphasize its customer-friendly personality. The result: creating the Home Guru, dedicated to the finest in customer and community service. The Home Guru would blog helpful weekly tips (home repair, selecting a school district, staging a home for sale, and best websites for homebuyers, among others). Daily Tweets and Facebook postings would provide helpful links (the company’s blog site, government resources and loan calculators). Local stories on community relations activities and local personalities built outside validation and awareness. Regional and national stories covered company growth. Awards programs highlighted many attributes: best places to work, fastest growing, CEOs and CFOs who make a difference, rising stars under ages 30 and 40).

Every square in the PR Rubik’s Cube and 3-D chessboard filled with color about the friendly customer service culture of the company and its commitment to strong community relations. The result: building a brand image for one of the fastest-growing mortgage companies in the country.

5. Analyze – How is the plan working? What needs to change? How to keep improving? Get critical and analytical.

6. Repeat – Back to the research, then march through the other steps to find new stories to keep reinforcing the core values and quality of the brand and watch your image momentum soar!

(Note: a condensed version of this appeared earlier in PRSA Tactics)

Essential Writing Books for Every PR Pro

Thursday, February 27th, 2014
Writing Wonders

Writing Wonders

Posted by Tom Gable

Gable PR has been working with a rapidly growing mortgage broker company on building its national image and reputation. The program components include media relations, community relations, awards programs, social media, video and other tools, tactics and channels to reach their different audiences with good news about the company, its people and quality, which is in abundance.

The company differentiates itself based on its entrepreneurial culture, quality people and commitment to unparalleled customer service. Its leaders urge everyone in the organization to communicate its values well and deliver on all promises, to build credibility and trust – and loyal customers that keep coming back.

The leadership team has taken the quality communications theme even deeper by creating a continuous internal education program to improve writing at all levels. They started by giving several hundred team members copies of The Associated Press Stylebook and Stephen King on Writing. They provided classes and guidelines on blogging and social media. The next stage: establishing an ongoing series of tips on how to improve writing skills at every level.

Gable PR, with former journalists aboard and team members who teach at the university level and write and lecture for national audiences, was asked to create the series. As with any program, we started with research to find compelling ideas from outside experts to share with the company’s internal audiences.

We started with some old friends, such as Strunk and White (Elements of Style), then searched more broadly. We are still reading and looking to quote more sources, which is great fun. We also get smacked in the frontal lobe on occasion when we find an obvious shortcoming in our own work. The quest goes on and we have a growing bibliography shown below. Out of all this, we did find four seemingly universal truths to good writing:

1. Use short sentences and one idea per sentence.

2. Avoid jargon, acronyms, and clichés.

3. Use active verbs and the active voice; not the passive voice. Choose positive language versus negative.

4. Use definite, specific, concrete language.

That’s a start. Now, for your ongoing reading pleasures, some of our favorite resources:

  • “25 editing tips for your writer’s toolbox,” Leah McClellan., July 5, 2013.
  • Business Communication: Building Critical Skills, Kitty Locker. McGraw-Hill, 2010.
  • Eats, Shoots and Leaves – The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, Lynne Truss. Gotham Books, 2003.
  • Fresh Passion: Get A Brand Or Die A Generic, Michael D. Brown. Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2013.
  • How to Write Short, Word Craft for Fast Times, Roy Peter Clark. Little Brown and Co., 2013.
  • It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences, June Casagrande. Ten Speed Press (Crown Publishing), New York, 2003.
  • On Writing Well, William Zinsser. HarperCollins Publishers, 1990.
  • Stein on Writing, Sol Stein. St. Martin’s Griffin, 1995.
  • The Associated Press Stylebook, Perseus Publishing, 2013.
  • The Book on Writing: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Well, Paula LaRocque. Grey and Guvner Press, 2003.
  • The Careful Writer, Theodore M. Bernstein. Free Press, 2005
  • The Classic Guide to Better Writing, Rudolf Flesch and A.H. Lass. HarperCollins Publishers, 1996.
  • The Elements of Business Writing, Gary Blake and Robert W. Bly. Macmillan Publishing Company, 1991.
  • The Elements of Style, William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. Allyn and Bacon, 2000 (earlier editions, 1959 and 1972 by McMillan Publishing Co.).
  • Weinberg on Writing: The Fieldstone Method, Gerald M. Weinberg. Dorset House, 2005.
  • Writing Tools, Roy Peter Clark. Little, Brown and Company, 2006.

Creating Great Content: Five PR Research Tips for Starting Right

Friday, January 10th, 2014
Digging Wide, Deep

Digging Wide, Deep

Posted by Paige Nordeen

One of the daily challenges and adventures for PR professionals is helping our clients break out of the clutter of competing messages. What are the anecdotes, case histories, cultural attributes and other credentials to help bring their stories to life? How do we create great content to show what may be different or compelling about each on a continuous basis?

We interact with media specialists with expertise in many areas, making it our duty to be prepared to speak and write intelligently on a wide range of topics. From representing a biotechnology company to promoting an up-and-coming chocolatier, PR pros are responsible for translating their client’s desired message to connect with different audiences, often in a short time frame. How does one effectively conquer this communications challenge? Research, research, research!

The process can be daunting. But if you approach it with a plan and then just chunk away, you will soon find yourself amassing potentially great content to use in your work. Here are five tips for building your own database of information for creating brilliant client content.

Use all Media Outlets and Channels

In addition to your favorite search engines, check out every available online channel. Track the company’s Twitter feed to look for potential interesting anecdotes, insights and links to intriguing facts. Delve deeper into their voice, vision and personality by following the client’s Facebook page or Google+ account. Check LinkedIn for details on the leadership team that go beyond what is found in a standard executive biography. Use the same approaches to learn more about a specific journalist before making the big pitch. Listen to the online conversations. Get a feeling for tone.

Add Facts from Credible Sources, Remove Jargon

In the PR world, we translate company and industry jargon into more precise and interesting language to connect with outside audiences. This isn’t always an easy task; especially when working with clients in complex fields such as the life sciences, technology and law. Searching for terms with is a quick way to find more information and links to other resources. Lexis/Nexis and industry websites can provide exquisite detail and precise definitions if needed. Wikipedia can be a useful starting point as well by looking for additional resources in the footnotes. Also, keep in mind that Wikipedia should be considered a tertiary source of information and not to be cited.

Slice and Dice, Chunk Away

Chopping up a huge research task into smaller, individual categories will help keep you organized, on track and not let those daunting research projects get the best of you. Try dividing the main assignment into little research buckets, such as people, products and points of differentiation.  Be journalistic and research who, what, when, where and why. Pursue a chunk or two at a time.

Keep plugging away at the task at hand. Look at each topic as a separate task and you’ll avoid an information overload.

Take 5

A small break here and there will keep you focused and your eyes and mind fresh while you work your way through your research. Keep a few pieces of candy in another room; step away for a moment and have a little dose of sugar. Watching calories? Take a short walk around the office or an outside break to stretch those legs and the mind. Read something different. Alternate between different projects to stimulate the mind in different ways.

Fact Check

Make sure that whatever you deliver to your client and the media is stellar and error-free. PR professionals need to be diligent, obsessive fact-checkers. Don’t rely on automated spell-checkers or just reading documents on a computer screen.  Scrutinize a printed copy, update and then share with a colleague.  Anyone can miss little things, if they have been with a document too long. Outside eyes (and brains!) can help ensure that you have turned your research into clear, fact-filled and compelling content to delight the client, the media and the ultimate target audience.

Happy researching and best of success telling those exciting new client stories!

Are your pitches newsworthy or snooze-worthy?

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

By Anna Crowe


When I first moved into the public relations profession from marketing, one of my biggest challenges (opportunities) was thinking like a journalist. This notion resonated everywhere I turned – from PR blogs and the Twittersphere, to media and colleagues. Having no experience as a reporter (nor a journalism degree), I was now asked to identify what made my clients compelling (people, products, services, technology), write the story in journalistic style (huh?!) without hype and then pitch with all my might in hopes of securing coverage. I needed to quickly perfect my storytelling skills and be able to continuously identify the news over the snooze.

Back in one of my first jobs, in auditing, I did my share of ‘investigative’ work but the resulting working papers weren’t exactly stories and although some of my findings may have been compelling, I never had to sell the information to anyone for promotional purposes. I just documented with my #2 red pencil and moved along to another financial statement.

Then, having spent nearly a decade in a traditional marketing environment, my brain was accustomed to jumping on the latest product development, bonus feature or upgrade as if it were breaking news. Although I was used to selling the ‘value,’ I was also accustomed to selling the features of my clients’ products and brands. Another brand attribute meant more bullet points on a sell sheet, ammunition for sales reps and potential enhancement to an existing marketing campaign.

Journalists (and readers) don’t care much for bullet points unless those bullet points can relay the benefits of a product or service and demonstrate that something had occurred or changed. The attribute may not be a factor in a compelling story but the life-changing nature of that added benefit can mean the world to a reader if properly conveyed. I quickly learned that the capability to sniff out the news is both a creative talent and a procedural skill.

If 80 percent of writing is reporting (and generating media interest and resulting coverage), we need to continuously be asking ourselves – what does the product or service do that people would care about? Does it solve a common or important problem? Does it improve health, appearance, love life or save time and money? Does it help one’s career, a business or investment? Is it informative, poignant, humorous, sexy, provocative or inspiring? Of course this takes us back to that critical ‘so what?’ question, which editors aren’t afraid to ask when pitched with a potential story.

Facts are essential – we can’t overhype or oversell the story. But unless we’re dealing with breaking news, facts are not always enough. What’s the story and is that story interesting, compelling and of interest to anyone other than the client, or snooze-worthy? Working hard to tell a good story will be much more likely to generate coverage. The snooze-worthy, superficial approach will likely go directly into the reporter’s trash folder, among all other underwhelming, inferior and misspelled or overcapitalized pitches. That’s my story, anyway.


See Anna’s post on Ragan’s PR Daily