Thoughts from the Grouch

August 15, 2007


Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketIf you deal with professional communicators, you find that some of us are word grouches. In other respects, we’re comparatively nice people. But we get a little grumpy when it comes to incorrect word usage.

For us, the AP Stylebook is never far from hand. It’s our bible, just as it is for most reporters. We counsel clients to follow AP style so their releases look familiar and comfortable to reporters—so they look professional.

Preaching that gospel isn’t always easy. For instance, most clients have never met a word that they don’t think would look better capitalized. Making secondary references to the Company is one of my favorites.

But what really makes that preaching job difficult is when clients see the media violating the tenets of the Church of AP. Here are just two examples I’ve seen recently.

Under way.  In virtually every application, it should be two words, but most media mistakenly use it as one. According to AP, the only time it’s one word is as an adjective before a noun in a nautical situation: “An underway flotilla.”

The “sure” family. The members of this commonly abused trio are insure, ensure, and assure. Despite what we sometimes see in media usage, insure should only be used in connection with an actual insurance product. So, unless we’re putting somebody “in good hands” with a dandy full-term life policy, we’re ensuring that the job will be done.

And we don’t ensure people. For that we assure them—we declare confidently to them that the job will be done. In other words, we assure them that everything will be done to ensure success. And we can even insure that outcome—just sign here where it says “policyholder.”

That’s enough grouching for now. But don’t get me started on using the noun impact as a verb. You don’t want to see that.



Want to Be Heard?

June 21, 2007

Didn’t like the review given to the movie you saw over the weekend? Want to complain about the proposed increase in Metro fares? Was an article about your company mistakenly one-sided?

You’ve got a chance to set the record straight. Whether it’s in response to an article in a newspaper or magazine or an entry on a blog, almost all media outlets allow the opportunity for consumers to give their opinion.  After all, we consumers keep the media in business, so we should be able to voice our opinion. 

And we can, on the op-ed page. Some say that name is derived from opinion and editorials. Others say it came about because in many newspapers, guest articles and letters are run on the page opposite the editorials page.  Take your pick.

In either case, the nice thing about the page is that it’s a forum anyone can use. You don’t have to have a degree, be a reporter, or a CEO of a company to write in with an opinion, and then hope that your piece is used. Even as a high school student, before I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in PR, I was writing letters to the editor of my local newspaper.

Increasingly, the op-ed page is a useful tool for the PR professional. We often help clients write letters to comment on articles that have been written about them or their industry.  We also help them write their own by-lined opinion articles.

Publications see those pieces as another way to educate their readership and give them a third-party expert point of view on a subject or topic.  It’s also a great way for our clients to reach a large audience, while demonstrating their public transparency. There’s stiff competition for selection, particularly at the larger publications, but it’s a waste to not try to capitalize on the opportunity.

So if you have an opinion and want to be heard, write away! One note of advice, though: restrain yourself. Most editors prefer letters that are no more than about 250 words, and opinion pieces around 600-800 words.

July 15, 2007-The Day the Music Died

May 17, 2007

I’m a big fan of Internet radio. On stations and Pandora I’m able to customize my programming to my preferences. On Pandora, I simply plug in the name of an artist and it will play that performer, plus similar music. For example if I put in Pearl Jam, music by Bush, Radiohead and The Stills is also played. This has allowed me to discover artists I wouldn’t have heard on regular radio. In addition, I like a lot of bands that aren’t played on the Top 40 stations that seem to have taken over regular radio’s airwaves.

This is a great form of publicity for emerging artists. Through this technology they have the opportunity to reach 70 million monthly listeners. Unfortunately, music will die for Internet radio on July 15, 2007. On this date, the Copyright Royalty Board’s (CRB) new rates will become effective. The new rates will raise copyright royalties by an estimated 300 to 1,200 percent. This decision will affect small and large stations, ultimately putting them out of business. The music will end for listeners, and small independent artists and record labels will lose a significant outlet for introducing the public to their work.

Thankfully, a coalition of webcasters, recording artists and listeners has been created to lobby Congress to reverse the decision by the CRB. Earlier this month, Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sam Brownbeck (R-KA) introduced The Internet Radio Equality Act of 2007. If the bill is passed the music of Internet radio will live to entertain us another day. Help save this unique medium for artists and music lovers by calling your members of Congress to ask them to co-sponsor the bill. Visit SaveNetRadio for more information.

Bigger is Better

May 3, 2007

Races can range in size from a small group of runners to thousands of participants. Typically, larger races result in greater publicity, funds raised, prestige and awareness (if there’s a specific cause being promoted).

Larger and more established races, such as many of the marathons, don’t need extensive outreach campaigns because they’ve been around for so long. They’ve reached the status where the media, sponsors and participants come to them. Last year at the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s “The Race for a Cure,” sponsors included Ford Motors and Yoplait. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appeared at the beginning of the race to encourage runners. Once a race is established in the running world, planning becomes pretty easy.

However, on the other end of the spectrum are first-time races. A lot needs to be done to host a successful race, especially if you want to make it an annual event. Obviously, one of the key factors is participation. Without enough people running, you’re not likely to have long-term success.

Most first-time events are not repeated. I’m sure that will be the case with the last race I ran, about two weeks ago. I found this 5k at a source called Apparently, this was the only promotion they did, and they paid for it—there were only three runners, including me.

I felt bad because the people who hosted the race put time and money into constructing the course, making t-shirts and providing refreshments and prizes. I can’t imagine that they raised anything for their cause. Unfortunately they learned the importance of publicity the hard way. Hopefully, if the race returns, they’ll invest more in marketing and promotion.

New Pro-Bono Client…Washington’s ‘Secret’ Garden

March 29, 2007

Among the chaos of everyday life in Washington there lies a “secret” garden.

The Tudor Place Historic House and Garden is an often over-looked hidden gem in the District. Located in Georgetown, it is one of the city’s first National Historic Landmarks. The house was built by Martha Washington’s granddaughter, Martha Custis Peter, and her husband, Thomas Peter, in 1805.

We are delighted to be working with the great staff at Tudor Place to spread the word on this secret. I encourage you to take a break from the hustle and bustle that surrounds cherry blossom season and check out one of the city’s other magnificent gardens. They have some exciting events scheduled for the month of April. On April 7, they will have their first annual egg hunt in the garden. They will also be celebrating National Poetry Month with poetry readings by local poets on April 29. The Tudor Place is located at 1644 31st St. NW.

Off and Running…

March 21, 2007

Staying in shape is an important part of my lifestyle. I like to keep fit not only for the health benefits, but also for the peace of mind it gives me. And, I like to challenge myself. The best activity I’ve found to meet those goals is competitive running.

I started running cross-country in high school. I continued to run during college, but not competitively. Once I graduated and moved to DC last year I noticed that there are a lot of races in this area. I decided to get back into the game

The first race I ran was in June 2006, “The Race for a Cure” 5K in DC, sponsored by the Susan G. Komen Foundation to support breast cancer research. It was really rewarding to participate in this race, and to see all the people who came out to run or just support the cause. This was a great race to start with because it allowed me to get back into something I enjoy, while also supporting a worthwhile cause.

DC Mayor Fenty in the St. Paddy's Day RaceAfter that, I was pretty much “off and running.” I ended up doing a total of seven races by the end of 2006. My goal for this year is 12 races, with the longest being a half-marathon. Then in 2008 I plan to train for a marathon.

So where does public relations come into all this? From my personal experience, I’ve seen that sponsoring a charitable event such as a race is a great way to raise awareness, generate publicity, and expand support for your organization.

There are two options you can take. One, if you’re a non-profit or an association you can hold a race yourself to bring awareness to a specific cause. But if you can’t support that cost, you’ll need to get sponsors to donate money or services. That’s the second option: Co-sponsorship.

Many large corporations, such as ING, McDonald’s and Ford Motor Company, sponsor the big “brand-name” marathons. However, there are tons of smaller races that need sponsors, too. So whether your race, or your company, is large or small, there are opportunities for mutual benefits.

Sponsoring a race allows you to bring your message to a wide variety of people. Running is a lifetime sport that people of all ages and backgrounds enjoy. From DC Mayor Adrian Fenty, to the Fortune 100 CEO, to the entrepreneur with the next great idea, you never know who you might “run into” at a race.

Check out for a calendar of local races. Maybe you’ll find something that might interest you as a sponsor. Or, maybe you’d like to participate in a race yourself and see what the buzz is all about.

Photo Credit: – DC Mayor Adrian Fenty took part in this past weekend’s St. Patrick’s Day 8K Race.

Glad to be Green

February 26, 2007

Eco-CupI was excited to see that Green Mountain Coffee Roasters was recently named as first among 100 of the Best Corporate Citizens in 2007.

“All of a sudden, it seems, green is the rage,” said Julia Hood, editor-in-chief of PRWeek.

That statement is accurate, but going “green” also must be authentic and credible. That’s why we called it a responsible business practice when we helped Green Mountain introduce an environmentally friendly paper cup. Its liner is sourced from corn, not petroleum.

We developed promotional materials, reached out to the media, and produced more than 24 million impressions. Favorable “buzz” spread throughout the green field.

E. Bruce Harrison, the chairman of our firm, said in a recent article, “Many companies will find that conditions to communicate effectively on geo-green commitments have rarely been better.”

My brother designs green architecture, so you might say green runs in my blood. For me, designing “going green” promotions is an act of good citizenship.