Posts Tagged ‘facts’

Twitter and FB Flame Wars: Knocking Down the Big Ones in Crisis PR

Friday, January 31st, 2014
Crisis Counter Attack

Crisis Counter Attack

Posted by Tom Gable

When the flame wars break out on Facebook and Twitter, don’t you wish you could call in the air tankers and dump chemical retardants on the perpetrators?

We have had several recent crisis PR challenges at Gable PR where clients wanted to go to war. Being of a competitive nature, they envisioned blowing away the critics with nuclear twitter attacks from all angles. Keep the miscreants on the defensive. Show them the error of the ways. Prove that we are right.

Unfortunately, experience shows that dueling vitriol and aggression only perpetuate the madness. New critics jump aboard. The snarkiest and most clever attacks go viral, attracting new garrisons of hostile forces. Gable PR had one technology client who kept arguing against online critics for a week, only to see the ratio of bad comments to good rise faster than floodwaters during a tsunami. When he set ego aside and stopped debating, the tides of criticism receded rapidly. He moved the conversation into calmer waters with updates on popular programs and future plans.

A financial client came under the gun after a marketing person erred in posting a joke rather than a typical inspirational quote on the company’s digital billboard on a main city intersection.  The joke made fun of the traits of a certain breed of animal. A lover of the breed saw the billboard, took a photo and shared on the institution’s Facebook page, Twitter and several special interest websites. The photo went viral and critics chimed in from all over the country in the first 24 hours.

The client responded quickly, taking down the joke, issuing an apology and pledging funds to support a foundation related to the animal’s care. The institution then initiated a series of positive Facebook posts about community activities, awards programs, pending charitable events and other news that reinforced its long-time values of community service. Support came in from customers and the community. Within 72 hours, the negative had disappeared and all was good again in banker land.

You can fight most negative conflagrations with facts. Keep up a steady stream of positive information. Redirect the debate with new evidence and provide links to impartial outside sources and experts wherever possible. If you’ve erred, apologize as soon as possible, provide a plan to right the wrong and then carry out the plan, with regular reports of progress.

There are other nuances to consider. We blogged earlier about the half-life of a Tweet – the rapid decline in commentary when facts prevail and nasty exchanges stop – and responding immediately in what we classified as a social media “lightning round.”

Bottom line:

  • Don’t stoke the flames
  • Cut a fire break (apologize, provide a new direction)
  • Bring in the air tankers (bombard them with facts)
  • Congratulate yourself for knocking down a big one

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 Answers.com 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

Lost-interest

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

 

From the Pinnacle to Pariah? Crisis PR and San Diego Mayor Bob Filner

Monday, July 15th, 2013
TV Apology

TV Apology

Posted by Tom Gable

Within a few days, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner had gone from the pinnacle of power to operating from a communications bunker, charged with many instances of sexual harassment and watching his power wane all around.

The story broke with KPBS where three of his key long-time supporters and fellow Democrats submitted letters asking for his resignation. The next day, his chief of staff resigned, followed by a steady stream of fellow Democrats piling on with calls for his resignation, as further documented by KPBS.

He issued an apology by means of a video (with no opportunity for Q&A), said he needed help, said he wasn’t resigning and characterized some of the problems as being changes in society. At age 70 and a veteran of politics, community service and a position of fighting for the underdog, Filner may have trouble making the case for somehow missing the women’s movement of the past few decades.

KOGO radio (AM 600) approached Gable PR on deadline Friday to talk about the key issues and what could be done from a crisis PR standpoint. Chris Merrill, talk show host, thought the video and CD approach was ludicrous. He asked for a fast analysis of what Filner had done and how it compared to standard approaches.

Gable PR has an essential crisis and risk communications check list. We have covered breaking crisis news many times, the most recently with President Obama and the IRS scrutiny of his political enemies.

The basic elements of facing the public when a crisis hits:

  1. Recognize the issue; admit to the transgression
  2. Apologize when necessary
  3. Provide a solution
  4. Set a vision for next steps and how the solution will be achieved
  5. Perform as promised

The first four steps are almost always done in public, where those presenting allow for questions. When organizations have issues with services and products, or even aberrant behavior by the leadership, image and reputation can be regained over time. The length of time is directly related to an organization’s accumulated goodwill, the magnitude of the crisis and the honest commitment the organization or individual makes to performing as promised. Those with the best reputations are given the benefit of the doubt in most cases.

Our previous blog on the Obama-IRS crisis offers links to many other resources as background for consideration. Organizations and individuals who have built up goodwill among many constituencies over the long term are more likely to recover than those with less goodwill (or more bad will) in the bank.

Can he recover? Can he change? Can he move reputation in a positive direction? Chip Merrill asked a great question: does he care?

Filner has a well-reported reputation for being a couple of different parts of the male anatomy in his dealings with people. He has been ecumenical, though, doling out the vitriol regardless of race, color, creed or national origin. Detractors from all stripes have provided testimony to his running government with unfettered arrogance, bullying and confrontational behavior. The alleged attacks on women, which may be made public soon, have created a new level of outrage and could bankrupt whatever remained in his goodwill bank.

(July 21 Update: UT San Diego offered Filner a crisis PR playbook, quoting Sitrick, Dezenhall, yours truly and others from throughout the country.)

 

Crisis PR: Fundamental Change First, then Pro-Active Reputation Management

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013
New Road Ahead?

New Road Ahead?

Posted by Tom Gable

NBC reported that the White House is facing a major PR crisis related to the IRS and other recent issues that have rocketed to the top of news coverage globally. As noted by many PR gurus over the years, this isn’t a PR problem. It is a management problem and deals with the fundamental values of any organization, its operating culture and ability to commit to change, then achieve it.

In crisis PR, the correct approach starts with introspection, critical analysis and long-range thinking. In the short term, recognize the problem, apologize if necessary, pledge to make changes to right the current wrong and prevent its occurring in the future, set a vision for where the changes will go, and then deliver on the promises.

We’ve covered many transgressions in the past two years that provide good lessons for any organization, individual or institution dealing with a management crisis. As referenced in an earlier blog on crisis PR, the concept is simple.

As management guru Peter Drucker noted decades ago: “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”

The lessons come from TEPCO and the Fukushima Daiichi Plant in Japan, BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, Penn State and its molestation scandal, a surge in Toyota recalls, HP management and market turmoil and Tiger Woods, among others, with the classic case being Tylenol. Here are links to the previous posts, which carry a common theme based on the Drucker teachings and sage advice from crisis PR luminaries all over the globe that real values, mission, organizational culture drive crisis PR. Get it right internally, then tell the world.

PR University Panel: Six Easy (?) Steps for Writing Like a Journalist in PR

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Wordsmith at work

Posted by Tom Gable

The PR University program on August 30 featured Jon Greer, training director of PRU, moderator; Jonathan Kranz, author of “Writing Copy for Dummies”; Don Bates, APR, PRSA Fellow, former journalist, agency CEO and currently professor at New York University; and yours truly, Tom Gable, APR, PRSA Fellow, CEO of Gable PR.

Greer set the stage by outlining the six steps to being a better writer and then led the panel through ideas PR professionals could use in using the tips in their practices:

One – Be an internal reporter

Two – Organize your material

Three – Start writing

Four – Continue adding useful information

Five – Review and revise

Six – Work with an editor

Greer asked the participants about what would be their biggest hurdles to becoming a better writer. Bates said each writer needs to be a strategic thinker – content needs to make something happen and build a bigger story. Gable said each story needs to be viewed as a building block in creating a bigger image and reputation for the long term, so facts and details are important. Kranz said the best writers go beyond just presenting information; they look for compelling core messages and themes that can resonate with the right audiences.

Kranz stressed the power of telling good stories, with a beginning, middle and an end. Is it about how your service works, your products and your people, how you solve problems, how your business began, how you overcame issues, what major customers are happy and anything related to trends that help you rise above the competition?

Desire, Danger and Drama

He framed each story as having three parts: desire, where someone wants something and there is a motivating element; danger, where there are obstacles, problems, risks and challenges; and drama, where the hero comes in with a magic sword to solve things.

For a company story, Gable said to start by looking at what exists (market, technology, service, industry trend, etc.), what are the problems that need to be solved, how do you differentiate the new approaches or discoveries, what will the team do to make it happen and what will ultimately be changed? Journalists are looking for cause-and-effect, plus anticipated results. If you can demonstrate what the company has done to evoke change, and tell it in a compelling way, you’re going to drive positive media relations. Also, look for what doesn’t exist. Is there a new story hook, trend or oversight your client can speak to?

Always be Collecting

Greer said to “always be collecting information.” This includes competitive information and industry trends as well. Sometimes outside stories can stimulate new ideas for promoting your own company in new ways and further differentiating against the competition.

Kranz counseled against having false drama. Journalists will see through it, he said. The panel stressed the importance of authentic counsel. Bates said to create a catalog of stories that  can be rolled out over time. His approach has been to interview key executives at the companies he has worked for. At Gable PR, teams use internal audits to delve into the heart and soul of a company. The team develops questions to be asked individually and confidentially of key client connections to delve into vision, mission, challenges, opportunities, history of the company, culture and anecdotes that can be used to demonstrate the successes of the company and its people. The process often finds stories that haven’t been told before.

The panel discussed how to work with difficult executives. In some cases, an executive will envision a story that really has no news value anywhere. PR firms and internal staffs need to provide authentic counsel. In some cases, they have to keep from falling on their own swords and be diplomatic. The panel suggested trying positive approaches such as saying “maybe there are other ideas we can use to build on this.”

Whenever in doubt, Gable said to drive clarity by asking two questions: “So what? Who cares?”

Bates said PR news copy should contain no jargon or hyperbole. Train your clients to think about action verbs and means of differentiating the company and its products with real facts. Gable said research with major media shows that the fact-based approach to public relations can be a clear differentiator and help build trust with the media.

Organize your material: what rises to the top, what’s important, what’s less important, what’s unimportant, do you have all the information you need? Greer said that most people will only read the lead paragraph so keep it short and simple.

Kranz said to consider the formats being written for – article, web, sidebar, feature, breaking news – and think about word count. What is the most important copy to include? What will get cut?

The panel urged writers to have copy reviewed by people not familiar with the client. Gable said his firm reviews copy internally and often works with freelancers who are former journalist to provide outside opinions.

The panel recommended setting aside complex stories for 24 hours. Kranz said to sleep on it, then read it aloud. Beyond words, he said get a feel for the rhythm. Does the copy flow?

Seven-Point Litmus Test

In closing, Gable shared the Gable PR seven-point litmus test for evaluating potential news stories or other messages:

1. Is it really newsworthy or of interest to anyone other than the company, the CEO’s family and a few of their friends?

2. How big is the impact: company, community, region, market niche or category, industry, technology or science breakthrough, nation, hemisphere, humanity?

3. Has the same or similar story already been told? (Quick research will answer the question.) 

4. Can the premise be supported by valid data, third party sources, case histories and ongoing proof of principle?

5. Does the company have credible “gurus,” who can bring the story to life and become valuable and trusted resources for the media?

6. Can the company be further differentiated by its people, technology, culture and personality? Or if you lined up the tag lines, boilerplates, key words and descriptive clauses for the top competitors in the space would they all look and sound alike?

7. Can the story be summarized in a compelling headline, Tweet or one or two-sentence sound bite or elevator pitch? 

This quick test can help focus your efforts to create a smart, compelling and interesting story or other communication that breaks through the clutter, connects with your targets and supports the long-term image and reputation of your client or organization. Failing the test can also be used as evidence to convince the client or boss to go in a new direction or risk alienating the media and beyond.

In summary, the panel agreed that strategic public relations programs supported by strong PR writing can make a difference in how an organization builds its reputation for the long term, or doesn’t.

Honing the Elevator Pitch for Analyst Presentations, Media Interviews and More

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Make it Quick!

Posted by Tom Gable

Whether working with a Ph.D./M.D. who knows too much, a CEO who loves to spin long tales about his company and his successes or a startup or anyone else who is new to trying to connect with financial, media and other audiences, we’ve found a good starting point in the communications process is drafting a classic elevator pitch.

The challenge is writing short copy, especially for engineers and scientists who are used to citing published articles, case histories and other resources ad infinitum. The long approach is perfect for pitching peers and colleagues, less so for connecting with analysts, the media and non-industry audiences. Thus, the following was created by Gable PR as a starting point for honing a one- to two-minute pitch (also referred to as the cocktail party pitch) to grab the attention of your audience in the shortest amount of time and set the stage for next steps.

TAG LINE/SOUND BITE – The opener – an instant picture or quick summation of your positioning.  What you do, what you stand for, to what effect and why it’s important. One sentence is best.Practice with people who don’t know what you do and keep honing this one sentence (two at the most) until it rings like Shakespeare.

PROBLEM, SITUATION ANALYSIS – What exists – the pain or problem you solve?

DYNAMICS AND OPPORTUNITY – Quick historical overview of how it got to this point, how the challenge has been addressed, what is the sweet spot for your company or organization (keep it to three important points, no more!).

WHAT (solving the problem) – Your company (or organization) has been working X years to plan for and develop D, E and F to solve the problem, take advantage of the market opportunity and grow and succeed over the next Y years.

OVERVIEW FROM 30,000 FEET – We have done it: the macro view, the big picture of how your great concept all comes together and grows market share, sales, traffic, profits, benefits the community, whatever – the BIG PICTURE vision of future success rather than technical details and features.

SO WHAT (Benefits) – You will succeed because of the creative planning, results and ultimate value you deliver.  Create a mental picture of the benefits to science, patients, customers, the world. If there is a good case history, cite the proof of principle in a sentence or two. Do it in two sentences and you get a Pulitzer Prize (plus the desired result).

THE TEAM – The team includes executives with national credentials in A, B and C. It has a combined ZZ years in the industry, has built MM, helped YY other companies or institutions grow and knows the market and how to provide an expanding array of products and services to help it succeed (make it relevant to the big picture).

THE CLOSE (call to action on the elevator) – “We have the people, the plan and the commitment to succeed in a rapidly growing new market.  I can provide incredible detail that I believe will convince you to … (invest, interview, buy, etc.).  How about a follow up meeting?  Where would you like to meet?  What else can I provide?”

Ask questions that will take it to the next step!

Communications at the Speed of Light in Crisis PR

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

When Crisis Hits

Posted by Tom Gable

Situation: The Twittersphere and blogosphere are exploding with attacks on your company, client, CEO, technology, food quality, lousy customer service, bad earnings report, botched new product introduction, labor dispute, legal action, whatever. You jump into the feeding frenzy of the 20-second (or less) news cycle where the momentum of an attack goes ballistic. How to respond?

One option is to do nothing if the attacks are from the lunatic fringe or deal with a single aberration that runs counter to the reputation you’ve earned over time based on the quality of all that you do.  You may still want to deal with that incident according to established procedures, protocols and process to counter even the most ridiculous post.  The challenge is to avoid an instant, emotional response that escalates the exchange, especially if it’s a difficult or contentious subject.

Instead, get analytical.  If it’s in the Twittersphere, consider the half life of a Tweet, as covered here earlier and where the first option may be the best.  If it appears the flaming will continue, set goals for moving the conversation.  Be consistent in the tones, themes and values being portrayed.  Display cultural authenticity – what you stand for and the essential core values.  Proceed with a human voice (no legalese or corporate speak).

Prepare to track the conversations by the minute as the crisis or issue unfolds. Measure how the conversation moves.  We’ve adopted a simple method that is incredibly easy to record and track the flow: is the message (Tweet, comment, news story, whatever) positive, neutral or negative. The ultimate goal is to be trusted and believed. If starting in a deep hole (three to one against), set your goal to at least break even within a certain period of time and rise into positive territory immediately thereafter (Gable PR used this approach and means of measurement in a issues management campaign that won a PRSA Silver Anvil).

To help focus the effort, Gable PR developed a quick check list to start the conversation with our clients when disaster strikes (the key word is when, not if; be prepared).

  • Source of the communications, legitimacy
  • Issues being raised
  • Internal analysis of accuracy, validity, magnitude of the issues and conversation; duration, desired end-point
  • Analysis of potential impact on reputation of the brand, company, people, technology, etc.
  • Beyond communications, are internal changes needed to the organization, product, service, culture and core values?
  • If analysis indicates the fundamentals of the organization seemingly aren’t lined up with the outside audiences, how to move toward better alignment? (Don’t get hung up in ego. What needs to be done?  By whom?  Course corrections?  How to announce and take leadership?)
  • Launch issues management and Crisis PR plan if required, to include response strategy, core values, messaging, tools, tactics and timing (in some cases, you don’t have to respond immediately, especially when the attacks are emotional and personal)
  • Set goals for moving the conversation
  • Add resources to the Crisis PR team if needed, including outside experts
  • Respond in a sincere, human voice and work to build trust
  • Conduct minute-by-minute tracking, analysis of trending in tone, content
  • Adjust the response strategy and tactics as facts and circumstances indicate
  • Continue to evolve the internal culture and organization as needed
  • Celebrate success!

Seven Tips for Making Headlines Shine (and Getting Your PR Releases Read!)

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Posted by Tom Gable

Headlines need to excite, entice and entertain. The best grab a reader’s attention in a short amount of space and lure him or her into a story. They create evocative thoughts and images. They summarize smartly and succinctly the meaning of what will follow. They don’t go on forever like an abstract for a research paper (you can’t bore people into reading your story!). Here are some quick tips for writing better headlines.

1. Read the Media You Are Trying to Reach! How Would They Write the Headline?
2. Think About Your Target Audiences and What’s Important to Them
3. What’s the News (breaking, feature, opinion)?
4. Get Creative. How Are You Going to Stand Out from the Crowd?
5. What General Approach to Take (fact-based, humorous, the ever-present pun, positioning and visionary, provocative, diplomatic)?
6. What Are the Most Important Facts and Impressions You Want to Leave with Your Audiences?
7. Be a Stickler for Style

• Brainstorm on key words and tags to use for search engine optimization
• Use a two-line headline and two-line subheadline wherever possible to make it easy for the reader and search engines to put it into context
• Have the client name in the first line wherever possible
• Use active verbs
• Have complete thoughts on each line
• Have logical line breaks and balanced lines, to mirror the standards set by the media; don’t just wrap text from line to line
• Be smart about punctuation (including commas, semicolons and dashes)
• Use the “So What, Who Cares?” test to see if you’ve got it right (or should start over)
• Read the headline and subheadline aloud and see if they flow, plus have the creative power to connect
• Edit, edit, edit!

The New Newspaper and PR: Relationships Still Crucial

Monday, February 20th, 2012

Posted by Tom Gable

Jeff Light, editor of U-T San Diego (formerly The San Diego Union-Tribune), was telling a packed meeting of the local chapter of PRSA about changes at his paper and other papers around the world.

The local newspaper of record was becoming the digital multimedia content provider of record. Teams now push out news via email, text, audio and video. Papers (and magazines) cover breaking news on their websites as it happens, so in our world of always-on communications there is no need to wait for the evening news on TV to catch up, tuning to CBS News or other radio source during the commute or strolling out early tomorrow to pick up the morning daily from your doorstep or driveway (which is still a fun morning ritual for some!).

Light said the challenge all newspapers face is how to make them relevant and useful beyond the printed version while creating new revenue sources (the No. 1 revenue source of old — fat sections of classified advertising — disappeared into Craigslist). The news organizations have smaller staffs. Reporters are now “content contributors,” which can include writing for the website, recording video and audio and taking photos. Feature stories are scheduled in advance for the print edition. Daily news conferences determine what hot web stories go into the print edition.

Positive for PR

The new model can be positive for PR professionals, providing they understand the reporters and their beats, be honest, be forthright and provide facts and information that make it easier for reporters to tell their stories.

Light said the key to media coverage: it is all about relationships. Whom do the reporters know? Light said the PR professional is in a weak position trying to pitch someone they don’t know. For building successful relationships on the news side, get to know the reporter covering the beat. Build a relationship and reach a level of trust where a reporter will rely on the PR pro as a valuable source. Light was asked about the traits of a bad PR person: rigid, demanding and untruthful.

On organization, Light said the old model was undisciplined, unfocused, and inefficient and it often took a long time to develop a decent story. As people grew up in the profession and gained more skills, they usually pursued fewer, bigger stories. Small but important pieces sat on the sideline. In the new model – Website first, then figure out what might make the print edition – writers have to be more productive. The challenge: be efficient and competent.

Finding Good Stories

Light said the U-T has cut down on the number of things it covers and built a more focused approach to finding good stories across the different news beats. He provided a quick litany of how to build a beat. What is the big story? What really matters? Whom do you have to know to develop the relationships that can lead to the story? Reporters need understanding and access. Big pieces grow from small pieces. PR pros can help.

With fewer editing layers, the U-T does suffer from an increased number of errors, Light acknowledged. He said he was not sure additional layers improve quality. The Street.com, for example, has no copy editors and is wildly successful. He wants his teams to “do it once and do it right.”

When asked about the new look of the paper, Light said the rebranding to U-T San Diego had been brewing for some time. Research showed the brand image suffered from many negative perceptions and misconceptions. The executive teams and advisors felt they needed to send a big signal that this was not the old San Diego Union Tribune.

Bye-Bye Local-Local News?

For competition, the hyper-local Patch phenomenon will fail sooner rather than later, Light said. The timing is wrong. The challenge of local-local news is that it is hard to make its scale. A publisher can’t succeed with a big staff and small audiences. You want big audiences with a small staff, he said. The more local you are and the more content creation you do, the smaller the audience.

Bottom line: Papers are being rebranded, refocused, dressed up in new clothes and sent out digitally to connect with readers and, now, viewers. For news junkies, the content is imminently searchable but I wondered if I would ever be comfortable reading my news on a smart phone, clicking on links to get more detail, scrolling to find other links to supporting sidebars or just browsing page to page for fun.

Next: The Copyboy Chronicles (where cut-and-paste came from)