Thursday, December 23, 2010

Check out the Great PR Blogs at Alltop

We're very excited to have been accepted to Alltop. Check out the great PR content there at, where you will also find a feed of InkLings@InkHouse.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Holiday Ode to Hustle and Bustle

We graced our new entryway just 12 months ago
It’s brought us new business, new faces and floods (yes floods)
It welcomes us each morning as we rush to see
What the nighttime has brought to respond to today

Long nights were spent waiting to see the big story
As we toiled away seeding great thoughts through social
We blogged, tweeted links, and liked all sort of things
While the “fan” took its place in the annals of “then”

Armed with our iPhones, Androids and iPads
We worked in the service of the almighty alert
To respond just this minute to the news of the day
Come new iPads, more Groupons, recession or M&A

We hustle and hurry to our holiday retreats
Looking forward to a few days without all that bustle
Silence mobile phones, IMs, Skype and email
We’re off to rest up so we can do it again

Oh Christmas Tree

Andy Rooney said that “The best Christmas trees come very close to exceeding nature.” I think ours comes pretty close.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

10 Words We Can Retire in 2011

Words, when wielded effectively, can carry great power. But that’s for another post. As we near the end of 2010, I’ve compiled a list of words that have simply lost their meaning from overuse. Many of these are perfectly good words that just need a time out.

The age of social media has placed an emphasis on easily digestible content and PR has followed by simplifying messaging and press releases accordingly.  While Woody Guthrie was talking about music when he said this, we should think about it in the context of how we communicate as marketers:

“Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make it simple.”

In honor of simplicity, I asked the InkHouse team to send me their lists of words that we should retire after 2010. Most of these fall into the category of overuse in marketing materials, but we threw in a few pop culture terms for fun.
  1. Best-in-breed and leading-edge
  2. Leading provider
  3. Next generation and revolutionary
  4. Disruptive
  5. 2.0
  6. Robust
  7. Cost-effective
  8. Paradigm shift
  9. Rock or rocking, as in “to wear”
  10. Fashionista, maxinista, frugalista, bargainista. Need I say more?
As we sit back and toast to 2011, let’s pull out our thesauruses and think about some new analogies. At InkHouse, we plan to revolutionize communications by providing next-generation PR 2.0 services based on disruptive, best-in-breed social media tools so we can facilitate a paradigm shift for our clients. Meanwhile, being a fashionista and a bargainista, I’ll be rocking some new designer jeggings I scored down at the Basement. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

What PR Can Learn from the Tea Party

Contributed by Beth Monaghan

There is a lot we can learn from the Tea Party outside of election politics, but I will come back to this in a few paragraphs. A few months ago, I was honored when Business Insider asked me contribute posts from  blog. A number of my posts have been syndicated now and one thing is true for all of them – my headlines always get changed. I don’t mind because as a PR person, I appreciate the value of a good headline. Inevitably, theirs are a bit more sensational and I believe that they have helped me get more readers than I would have otherwise. I’ll give you one example:
·       Mine: “Make Hay While the Sun Shines”

I’ve written here before on the topic of creative and compelling headlines and believe strongly in their value. As Twitter becomes a veritable news aggregator for many of us, the importance of headlines has never been greater. Recently, @MrMediaTraining (Brad Phillips of Phillips Media Relations) tweeted this: “Why You Should Never Return a Reporter's Call By His/Her Deadline.” I immediately clicked on it because it sounded like bad advice. However, after reading the post I learned that he was advocating for spokespeople to call reporters back well before their deadlines so that they could play a part in shaping the story. Great advice and great headline – it worked.

This got me thinking about the nature of news consumption. In an age of 140 characters, smartphones, iPads and RSS feeds, have headlines begun to skew our perspectives on what is news? And on what is important and pervasive? You might read 100 headlines for every two the three full-length articles.

During this past mid-term election, I could not get away from coverage about the Tea Party (no one could), but was the news coverage proportionate to the party’s prominence? I cannot imagine it was. In a November 3 article, Brian Stelter of The New York Times wrote, “The rapid rise of the Tea Party also gave networks an overarching theme for election night coverage. Television oftentimes favors colorful characters over substantive issues, and thanks in no small part to the conservative movement, a new cast filled TV screens and Web sites on Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning.”

The Tea Party just understood a fundamental PR principle – controversy breeds interest. This is an important lesson for companies looking to raise their visibility. To rise above the din, you must say something contrarian, controversial or extraordinarily interesting. Controversy is certainly not the proper path for every company, but an exercise in identifying the things that make you different in ways that actually matter is critical if you want your target audiences to pay attention.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Conversation with Scott Kirsner, Part 2: Is the press release dead?

Contributed by Beth Monaghan
In part two of my series following a conversation with Scott Kirsner, the Innovation Economy columnist and blogger for the Boston Globe and Ross Levanto, SVP at Schwartz Communications, we talk about the future of the press release. Last week Ross posted a piece of that conversation about targeting your audience, which I encourage you to read. 

The topic of the fate of the press release comes up often, most frequently from those who have embraced social media and view it as a relic from the past. Many of these entrepreneurs, CEOs and marketers are looking to use their blogs as the mouthpiece for their news.

Scott said that he comes across younger, more entrepreneurial companies that think they are old school. He said, “They’ll announce interesting things on their blogs and via Twitter, which is great because you feel like that stuff is coming off the CEO’s cuff, but I do wonder about breaking news via your blog or Twitter feed that you may have been able to get the Globe, the Economist or Wall Street Journal to write about.”

The latter point is a critical one. If you are Twitter or Facebook, yes, you can announce news on your blog and everyone will see it. But if you are a startup, it is not enough. If you build it, they might not necessarily come until you convince them it will be worthwhile. You should absolutely use Twitter, your blog and other social outlets to push out your news, but they should be part of a broader strategy to disseminate it to the right audiences through the right channels. While we in the technology community live and breath social media, not all of your customers (business or consumer) do.

So where does that leave the press release? It’s never been more important and should be used as one of a number of tools for a news announcement. Consider that:

·       Many bloggers simply repackage press releases verbatim, which means that your message is getting out there in its truest form. This trend is on the rise as bloggers are under pressure to post news within minutes of it breaking.
·       By issuing press release over wire services like PR Newswire, BusinessWire or MarketWire you are fueling SEO for your site, if you select your key words properly in your headlines.
·       The press release remains an important tool for reporters at top tier outlets who need to evaluate the newsworthiness of a topic before they decide to write a story. This negotiating process almost always happens before the news has been published because it ensures that the news is not stale. Posting it on your blog instantly makes it old news.

As far as the future of the press release and breaking news via social media, this exchange between Ross and Scott was particularly informative:

·       Ross: Do you think we’re moving toward some sort of reality where breaking news is aggregated from a mess of Twitter feeds looking for specific tags and then your roles is to identify trends and look at the bigger picture?

·       Scott: Maybe, but there is still a role for good old-fashioned reporting. We’re here at the Charles Hotel and virtually every time I have breakfast here, there’s some bit of news I get by chatting with someone I run into. Since General Catalyst is here, I just got a tip a week or two ago that they are moving some people out to Palo Alto and opening and office. That wasn’t something that came through a Twitter feed.

My takeaway? Social media provides an amazing complement to public relations initiatives. While we should certainly adapt traditional practices (as we’ve seen with emergence of the “social media press release”), they still serve an important purpose for communicating news to reporters like Scott, and to bloggers who use them as fodder for their own posts.

Listen to audio from this portion of the conversation here (thanks to Scott Montminy for the editing): 

Scott Kirsner also posted the entire audio file from our chat here:

Monday, December 6, 2010

Transmedia Lessons from the Catholic Church

Contributed by GregPC

I’ve been fortunate. For a few years I worked in Kendall Square and often found my way over to MIT for various events – mostly the MIT Communications Forum. In the course of these visits I got to hear Henry Jenkins discuss the idea of transmedia – that is various content types and channels being used to share elements of a narrative that strengthen and support the overall story. If you consume one channel you’ll get part of the picture but the more channels that are tapped into the richer the experience and the closer one is drawn to the core story.

Transmedia has started getting more attention recently. Steve Rubel did a post on it and the Producer's Guilde of America has added Transmedia Producer as a new job title. But questions remain as to what exactly transmedia is and who's doing it well.

There are lots of examples of transmedia – MIT did a forum on Heros that discussed its transmedia efforts. Most of the examples I’ve seen are of media or entertainment brands – but I don’t think any of them are really nailing it like the example I have in mind. My winner for best transmedia storytelling has been at it for longer than anyone else, it’s reached more people than anyone else has and it’s used more channels than anyone I can think of. The organization I have in mind is the Catholic Church.

Think about it. There is a core story line that is expressed in text. But from that text have emerged dozens of expressions in different media – and all of them have been designed (or at least intended) to expose part of the core story and to make it accessible to different audiences.

Let’s look at just a few examples – and how communicators can put the lessons to work (of course not all of them apply . . . ):

Architecture – think of the cathedrals – with their design to inspire awe in visitors, the statuary intended to illustrate stories andintroduce characters from the core narrative (and also from local lore).

This isn’t something that’s easily done from a communications perspective, but we should be looking at ALL of our assets. What do the structures say about an organization? Are they sterile corporate spaces or do they help present a personality? How can that personality be communicated? Do images do justice, does a site tour video and does an explanation of why a space matters? These are all ways space can beused to help tell a story.

Stained glass – which are obviously part of the cathedral – serve again to illustrate stories to what was often at the time of their creation a non-literate population.

There’s been a growth in popularity in using images and infographics to help tell or support complex stories. This one is easily done and should be a part of any rich communications program.

Literature – there have been thousands of works that have used religious themes, topics, characters and events. In some cases these have supported the central narrative, in some cases they have merely used them as fodder for story-telling and in others they have been crafted in opposition to the church – but in all cases they provide and opening and exposure to the core story.

I’ve worked with a number of clients in the past that have tried the whole book route. To me, unless you have a proven commodity and a lot of time, books are a crazy idea. Writing is something else though and there are so many ways to get text-based content out there. What happens too often though is that people limit themselves to pretty staid formats. The blog post, the white paper, the tweet . . . nothing wrong with any of them; but why not the poem, the greeting card, the joke? I’m not suggesting that alternative writing always makes sense but it could sometimes . . .

Technology – the fact that the first printed book in the West was the Bible says something about the place of that narrative in the lives of those creating media. The church has – for better or worse – been willing to adopt (or demonize) media depending on how well (or poorly) it supports transmitting the core narrative.

There’s really not much to say here. Pretty much every communications person I know has figured this one out. Just don’t get too married to any platform.

Images – when it comes to visual content, Biblical characters and stories have been some of the most represented in Western art. Some of these were actively encouraged while others were strictly user-generated. In either case images have long and successfully served to help spread and make the core narrative more accessible.

This is another area where more could be done. Still photography is too often overlooked or given short shrift. Poor tagging, unidentified individuals, repeated shots, etc. all make for boring viewing. Now on video organizations are starting to get thehang of it and that’s great. What’s even cooler is the growing volume of user-generated content that’s being embraced – and rewarded.

Drama – dramatic interpretations of Biblical events have a long history – from Passion Plays to Christmas Pageants – these have been performed thousands of times all over the world.

You know I would love to see more companies use drama. How and why are open questions but there are some fun possibilities. Of course a handful of organizations are using drama through video and that’s a step in the right direction.

Music – liturgical music and music with religious themes have been around for millennia and have ranged from psalms to operas to popular music.

Music is tricky. It either comes across as a jingle or a spoof. Maybe we’re too jaded for songs to explain ideas? Maybe there really isn’t a place for music in business communication?

Location-based Experiences – the number of shrines/churches and suggested pilgrimages have long provided an opportunity for ordinary landscapes to be cooped and used for religious purposes.

There are very cool things happening here. And here and here. People are starting to connect the dots to help tell a story. Scvngr’s treks and challenges are good examples of tools for building location-centricexperiences and since they’re so simple to use there are lots of people taking advantage of them.

These are just a few examples of the channels that the Catholic Church has used (or which have been used by others) to convey and support and extend that core textual narrative. One could be exposed to any one of them and would have some sense of the larger story – but the more one is exposed to the deeper and more engaging that experience becomes. That is the idea and goal of transmedia storytelling.

What sets the Catholic Church apart is the fact that it has a centralized authority that oversees messaging. Few other faiths (or frankly organizations of any kind) can claim so long a history with so clear a lineage. This has resulted in an orthodoxy that has kept the story contained and focused for a very long time. This stability and longevity have allowed rules and understandings to emerge that have permitted the core narrative to be interpreted and transmitted in many ways without compromising the overall story. This whole thing is something I’ve been thinking about casually for a while. Does transmedia make sense to people at all? Does this example help illustrate the idea of transmedia? Are there other – better examples – that make more sense? Can’t wait to hear what others have to say.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

How to Get the Attention of Broadcast Producers – A Lesson from a Seal Proposal

Contributed by Ericka Stachura

I was watching the local news yesterday and saw a bizarre story that made me think 1) it must have been a really slow news day in Boston and 2) what is it about this story that made it worthy of two minutes of TV coverage? The segment featured a couple who got engaged at the New England Aquarium with the help of a ring-bearing seal. We are in the business of pitching hard news to TV producers on a regular basis so when a fluff piece shows up, it serves as a good reminder of what ultimately gets the attention of the assignment desks. After watching the segment back a few times, here is my best guess at how this story made it into the lineup.

  • The Cute Factor. Let’s face it – seals are cute. Even if the news producer doesn’t think so, I am willing to bet about 90 percent of their viewers think seals are cute and will watch any segment that shows their fuzzy little faces. Add a love story about a camera-friendly couple getting engaged and you just upped the cute factor by about a hundred.

  • Visuals. The story had video from the actual engagement – from the seal swimming over with the (dummy) ring… to the guy on bended knee… to the bride-to-be’s reaction. The story would not have worked without it. The station then sent a camera to the couple’s home for an interview about what happened to round out the story and give the viewer the inside scoop.

  • Timeliness. Sure the couple became engaged earlier that day, but many more couples will be getting engaged over the holiday season. This adds newsworthiness to the topic of engagements/weddings and makes the segment more relatable to viewers.

  • Luck? Even the best story pitches need a little bit of luck. If a camera wasn’t available to go interview the couple that afternoon, the story probably never would have happened. If it wasn’t a slow news day, the camera would not have been available. A slow news day is a rare event and any PR person that gets one on a day he or she is pitching news is lucky.

So what does this mean for businesses trying to get in front of the TV cameras? While you can’t always control what other news you are competing with, you can give yourself a leg up by doing your due diligence and thinking like a producer. Here are some do’s and don’ts to consider when pitching the assignment desks:

  • Don’t hold an event on the same day a bigger news event is scheduled (e.g. if you are a tech company, don’t make an announcement on the same day the newest iPhone is hitting shelves). Exception – if your news ties into the bigger news event and can add value to the story, piggy-backing on the bigger story may work.

  • Do assess the cute or cool factor of your story. Put yourself in the viewers’ shoes and imagine what you’d say after seeing the segment. If it doesn’t make an impression on you, the story isn’t there yet.

  • Don’t expect to get TV coverage without a great visual story. Think about what assets you have to offer a producer in terms of footage and tell them when you pitch. If your visuals can’t compete with a ring-bearing seal, keep digging!

A cute headline never hurts for TV either. So, what do you think “SEALed the Deal” for this story?

PR Parenting

Contributed by Samantha McGarry

This year didn’t go exactly as I had planned. An unexpected career ‘hiatus’ forced me to examine my skills, my strengths and career goals. Thankfully, it also gave me more time to spend with my children. As I played, laughed, negotiated, yelled, organized, cleaned and gritted my teeth, it dawned on me how much a career in PR is excellent training for parenthood. If you entered a career in PR because you loved communications, marketing, social media and so on, you probably didn’t realize you were getting a two-fer. There are, in fact, so many correlations between PR skills and parenting; it’s a wonder that agencies don’t offer parenting classes.

Here are a few of my observations of the prerequisite skills required to excel at both:

  • Multi-tasking: PR folks have numerous balls in the air. Always. We are masters at simultaneously thinking, talking, writing, organizing and planning. This is perhaps the most essential skill transfer that helps us parents be efficient and productive – just watch how we can change a diaper, schedule a play date, do the laundry, avert a tantrum, clean up the toy room and make dinner, all at the same time.

  • Thick skin: Most PR professionals recognize that a thick skin shields our energizer-bunny spirits from the rejection of reporters, the red pen edits, or a client’s reaction to what we thought was a brilliant idea. In the world of parenting, you also quickly learn that your child’s rejection of your cooking is not personal. When they scream at you for turning off the TV or tell you they hate you for grounding them, you know it’s because you are actually doing something right. In both PR and parenting, having a thick skin, a sense of humor – and the occasional large glass of wine – help us keep our blood pressure down and to keep things in perspective.

  • Detail-oriented: We are detail fanatics. We obsess about the details. No typos allowed. Using the right font? Have we turned over every stone in the quest to place a client story? In parenting, there are admittedly some areas of our lives that become sloppy (have you seen the state of my living room?) but there are also many details to obsess about –developmental milestones, balanced diet, the contents of their birthday party goody bags, is the diaper bag well-stocked, are enough clean socks for the week ahead? The details of parenting can be overwhelming but a healthy obsession with them actually helps avoid meltdowns, delays and sticky situations.

  • Creativity/innovation: PR demands creativity and quick thinking. At Inkhouse, we pride ourselves on developing bright new ways to showcase our clients. Many a parent has called on these two skills to head-off potentially embarrassing or explosive situations that usually happen when the family is out in public, stuck in traffic or bickering at home.

  • Long days/short nights: Most PR types are workaholics. We put in a lot of hours. There is always more we can do to satisfy our clients’ insatiable appetite for media attention. If you can survive the demanding schedule of a PR agency, you can survive the first months of being a new parent or days stuck at home with bored or sick kids.

  • Clear, concise communications: We agonize over a headline. We strive to make complex messages straightforward, relevant and impactful. This could be one of the most useful skills to apply to parenting. Think: “go to bed,” “put that [sharp object, sibling, dirty diaper] down,” or “if you don’t eat your vegetables, then [insert appropriate outcome/threat.]

Who knew that our career choice would make us better parents? I’d love to hear from other “PR parents” about how you put your PR skills to use at home.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Feeling the Twitter Love

OK, I admit it. I don’t tweet as much as I probably should. Don’t get me wrong, I am an avid Twitter user – following people and organizations I think are interesting, important or just fun. But actually tweeting what I am doing personally – well, sometimes I find myself at a loss. I love Twitter – getting breaking news fast, hearing people’s reactions quickly, and obviously I use it for my clients a lot -- just not for personal tweeting (at least not frequently).

But this week I did tweet a couple of gripes I had. One was with Comcast (I mean, who doesn’t have a gripe with Comcast?). I moved into my house a year ago and after completely flubbing the installation of my phone/Internet/cable for over a month, they still cannot get my call waiting working (yes, seriously). I have spent more than 8 hours on the phone with them on this issue and still nothing. The other day I missed an important call because of this issue so I tweeted it. Within minutes @comcastcares reached out to ask what they can do. Fingers crossed – maybe it will actually work!

Then earlier this week I went to order some framed artwork for Christmas from Gallery Direct. It said at the top of the site that all prints were 50% off; but between the time I ordered and the time I went to checkout (within the same session) the sale ended and my entire order was marked full priced. Was this fair? Honestly I don’t know for sure. It didn't seem like it to me. It annoyed me so I called their customer service (something I almost never do). The woman was insistent about it being appropriate and was actually rather rude. So I tweeted my gripe. Last night I received an incredibly gracious email from the manager – making me an even better offer than what I had initially and apologizing for my bad experience. I was totally impressed by this response and have suddenly transformed into a Gallery Direct (@gallerydirect) fan.

Would I have gotten these responses without Twitter? I don’t think so. In the case of Comcast, I think they are wisely using Twitter to help curtail a fairly horrid reputation for customer service. In the case of Gallery Direct, I now genuinely feel that the relatively small company cares about its customers and customer service. But if it had not been for Twitter, that manager may have never known about my bad customer experience.

So here’s to the power of Twitter! Now I am going to go tweet something positive about these companies. (That’s only fair, right?)