Tag Archives: PR tips

10 timeless tips for excellent communication from Cicero

Back in ancient Rome there wasn’t “PR” or “Marketing” or “social media” but there was a “public square” and there was “communication” and there most certainly was “persuasion” and “propaganda” – and it largely depended on rhetoric, and oratory, and the type of oratory most highly prized was eloquence.

Cicero was a bit of an expert on eloquence, and oratory. Not only did he publish a bunch of material on how to speak, and be eloquent, other famous people like Julius Caesar, dedicated their own published works on oratory to him. This makes him an ancient expert, somewhat anachronistically, on public relations, and communication. All you have to do is replace “Oratory” with “communication” and “eloquence” with “being good at communicating”…

cicero statue

Image Credit: Cicero Statue, The First Premise, Cicero

As I read through Cicero’s handbooks and other stuff for a bit of research, and for fun, I’m struck over and over again by how timeless his principles and advice are. His single-minded pursuit of oratory excellence, and thus, excellence in communication led him to study communication, and persuasion, from its earliest days as a science – to his present day, an approach we can probably learn from, even if we want to pretend everything of value has been invented in the last couple of generations (and even if we don’t – it’s worth seeing how timeless truth is).

He acknowledges that this pursuit is pretty difficult, because while there are some objective qualities of good oratory, and an objective essence of good communication – that all communication can be judged on, the actual act of communication is almost purely subjective.

“How then shall we strike out a general rule or model, when there are several manners, and each of them has a certain perfection of its own? But this difficulty has not deterred me from the undertaking; nor have I altered my opinion that in all things there is a something which comprehends the highest excellence of the kind, and which, though not generally discernible, is sufficiently conspicuous to him, who is skilled in the subject.”

Here are 10 things I think modern communicators can learn from Cicero, with some quotes (and if you hit the “read more” link after the list, there’s a bunch of quotes from his Cicero’s Brutus or History of Famous Orators, and The Orator).

It’s a pretty long post including the quotes – sorry if it all makes it into the RSS feed.

  1. Words are powerful. Especially when they’re well used.
    Words persuade people.

    This is the Eloquence that bends and sways the passions!—this the Eloquence that alarms or sooths them at her pleasure! This is the Eloquence that sometimes tears up all before it like a whirlwind; and, at other times, steals imperceptibly upon the senses, and probes to the bottom of the heart!

  2. Know what you’re trying to do when you communicate (move your audience to action or change their thinking).
    Good communication means thinking about who your audience is, and how you want to change them (or stop them changing).

    As, therefore, the two principal qualities required in an Orator, are to be neat and clear in stating the nature of his subject, and warm and forcible in moving the passions; and as he who fires and inflames his audience, will always effect more than he who can barely inform and amuse them” 
  3. Know your audience, and their expectations. Contextualise. Don’t bore people.
    Given these two points, the communicator should choose words that speak to their audience, so communication requires observation, education, thinking, and participating in life.

    “He, therefore, is the man of genuine Eloquence, who can adapt his language to what is most suitable to each. By doing this, he will be sure to say every thing as it ought to be said. He will neither speak drily upon copious subjects, nor without dignity and spirit upon things of importance; but his language will always be proportioned, and equal to his subject.”

  4. Be clear
    Use words and phrases people will understand, phrased as concisely as possible, but pay heed to convention and context, don’t be so clear you’re boring.

    …the simple and easy Speaker is remarkably dexterous and keen, and aiming at nothing but our information, makes every thing he discourses upon, rather clear and open than great and striking, and polishes it with the utmost neatness and accuracy.”

  5. Pay attention to the structure of your argument.
    Think about pace, rhythm, rhyme, and verve, but most importantly – how to structure your argument around your purpose.

    “For every cause can have but one natural introduction and conclusion; and all the other parts of it, like the members of an animal body, will best retain their proper strength and beauty, when they are regularly disposed and connected.”

  6. Be engaging.
    This means cleverly, or inventively, using new and exciting combinations of words designed to stir people, and using humour sometimes (carefully and originally).

    “This kind of Oratory will likewise be frequently enlivened by those turns of wit and pleasantry, which in Speaking have a much greater effect than is imagined. There are two sorts of them; the one consisting in smart sayings and quick repartees, and the other in what is called humour. Our Orator will make use of both;—of the latter in his narratives, to make them lively and entertaining;—and of the other, either in giving or retorting a stroke of ridicule.”

  7. Use familiar structures, concepts and tools, but change the words to paint new, clear, pictures.
    Sticking with what people know, and using it to change what they think, is a good strategy.

    “But in the use of metaphors, he will, perhaps, take greater liberties; because these are frequently introduced in conversation, not only by Gentlemen, but even by rustics, and peasants: for we often hear them say that the vine shoots out it’s buds, that the fields are thirsty, the corn lively, and the grain rich and flourishing. Such expressions, indeed, are rather bold: but the resemblance between the metaphor and the object is either remarkably obvious; or else, when the latter has no proper name to express it, the metaphor is so far from appearing to be laboured, that we seem to use it merely to explain our meaning.”

  8. Character, and personal substance, is important, bad character corrupts communication
    It’s not just the medium that is the message. You are the message too. Partly because in oratory you were the medium – in modern communication who you are is as important, if not more important, than what you say.

    “But (as I have before observed) I have been so much transported, not by the force of my genius, but by the real fervor of my heart, that I was unable to restrain myself: —and, indeed, no language will inflame the mind of the hearer, unless the Speaker himself first catches the ardor, and glows with the importance of his subject.”

  9. Communicating well is hard, successful communication achieves its purpose.
    While there are plenty of communication principles, it should be judged on its fruits – how well does what you’re communicating achieve its purpose?

    “The general merit of an Orator must and will be decided by the effects which his eloquence produces. For (in my opinion at least) there are three things which an Orator should be able to effect; viz. to inform his hearers, to please them, and to move their passions.”

  10. Practice, imitation, reading, and writing makes better, and if at first you don’t succeed, keep pursuing excellence.
    Communicating well is hard work. But it’s better to try to communicate well, and fail, than to simply communicate poorly.

    “It is but reasonable, however, that all those who covet what is excellent, and which cannot be acquired without the greatest application, should exert their utmost. But if any one is deficient in capacity, and destitute of that admirable force of genius which Nature bestows upon her favourites, or has been denied the advantages of a liberal education, let him make the progress he is able. For while we are driving to overtake the foremost, it is no disgrace to be found among the second class, or even the third…” 

If you want to read further, I’ve included the list again, with more supporting quotes from Cicero, below…

Continue reading

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What is a media release?

If I’m going to keep posting media release templates, or suggestions, and if my “how to write a Media Release” guide is going to be of any use, it strikes me that I probably need to lay down what my understanding of a media release is… otherwise people will keep looking at me funny.

From the very helpfully descriptive name, you might get the idea that a media release is some information that you’re giving to the media. You might also assume that it’s given to the media for a purpose – and usually this purpose is to secure some sort of media coverage for something, though it might, in the reverse, be used to water down an issue so that you don’t receive coverage – if you can make something seem more boring and less newsworthy than it is.

That’s a pretty limited, though functional, definition of what a media release is.

Here’s my definition.

A media release is a thoughtfully crafted, public, summary of your key messages, and your brand platform, usually in response to a set of newsworthy circumstances.

Media Releases are best, in my opinion, when they’re proactive, not reactive. When you’re on the front foot, looking to contribute to a conversation, not when you’re being chased to say something in response to some circumstances that might be related to you.

It’s not actually for the media, though they are its first readers – it’s for the public. It sums up what you think of an issue, so that the media, if they want to write a story about it, can include your perspective.

It should be tight. It should be not too long (I generally aim for about 500 words). It should be relevant and timely. It should contain news. It should contain facts that back up opinions. It should include your opinions – as quotes from someone credible. It should start with the important stuff and work down – in the good old inverted news pyramid (so that the bottom stuff doesn’t need to be read).

Public relations is about people, and for people. The public. You’re relating to them. There’s no real magic to it. People want to know how your story applies to the average Joe or Joanne. A good media release tells a story that people want to read. So it should also be relatable, and wherever possible include a real person who is affected by your story. People like reading about people.

But if your media release doesn’t present your view on an issue, from your platform, and include what you want to say about the issue – then don’t send it. That’s pretty much the point of this other post about how I think Christians should be doing media stuff.

If you think you can say all you need to say about a complex issue in three sentences, then by all means, send that, but a busy journalist isn’t going to thank you because they have to call you to get more information, or if they have to call you not having the information they need. They’re also not going to necessarily read to the end.

But the journalist isn’t your only audience – so you don’t have to only write three sentences. Your media releases will also inform your spokespeople, if you have a diverse organisation, and provide them with a guide to what your key messages are, they’ll inform your staff, your members, your customers, your congregants, anybody who reads what you say.

If you’re not publishing your own media releases – via your website, and social media, then again, I’d ask what the point is. They’re essentially a publication, from your organisation, on an issue. Publishing them widely also pre-empts the possibility of you being taken out of context, or misrepresented. The media isn’t generally out to misrepresent you – despite what some more paranoid, and less clear, communicators might think.

You can read a bit more about my approach to writing media releases, or about paying me to write them for you, here. If you ask nicely and it seems valuable, I might even write them for free.

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What Lance Armstrong, Mike Tyson, Tiger Woods, and Jesus, teach us about redemption…

Public figures fall hardest. Possibly because they fail more spectacularly, or at least in front of more people. Possibly because tall poppy syndrome means we’re waiting for the fall to happen, and ready to throw stones when it does… It’s always disappointing when someone you’ve pinned some sort of hopes on, or affiliated with your dreams, does wrong – but it’s oh so inevitable. Call it the selfish gene, call it original sin, call it human nature – we’re all wired to do the wrong thing, especially when we think we can get away with it, or the benefits outweigh the risks, and celebrities get more opportunities to do the wrong thing.

Armstrong Wordle
Image Credit: Wordle.net – a tag cloud featuring every article I link to in this post, minus “Lance” and “Armstrong”

Sometimes doing the wrong thing is even written off as the cost of success. Our sporting contests have penalties built in, and for people playing at a high level, half the battle is making snap decisions about whether or not fouling your opponent is a better decision than letting them past. Degrees of misbehaviour carry greater penalties. Diving in football is an example of people trying to game the system in the other direction. It too gets punished. It’s part of the economics of sport. So much that a Formula One team was able to tax deduct its 40 million euro fine for spying on an opposing team.

Enter Lance Armstrong. Sport’s current whipping boy. His story represents the human, and now economic, cost of cheating, and the price of a win at all cost pursuit of sporting success. He’s been abandoned by sponsors. Abandoned by his sport. Abandoned by some fans. He’s lost his titles. He’s lost the respect of most cycling fans. It looks likely he’ll lose his prize money, endorsement money, and interest. Part of the problem with Armstrong is that he’s, by the power of his self-proclaimed narrative, set himself up as a symbol of hope. And worse a role model. A position most athletes shouldn’t occupy. This means he’s falling from a greater height than most.


Credit: ABC

His brazen cheating – conducted by an incredibly complex operation, and carried out with horrifically narcissistic and vindictive attacks on anybody who dared speak out – was one thing, and arguably, according to this Grantland piece, relatively easy to cop, given that most people don’t really care about cycling:

Lance Armstrong became one of the two or three most transcendent American sports stars of his generation despite the fact that hardly anyone in America cares at all about his particular sport. The ratio of passionate Lance Armstrong fans to people who have ever actually watched Lance Armstrong race except for maybe a few minutes during this one Tour de France is just crazily out of whack.

Grantland points out that Armstrong’s charity work, and the cancer-triumphing narrative, were what made him a hero:

“…it was his story that made him a superstar: his comeback from near-fatal cancer, the hope he offered other cancer patients, his charitable work through the Livestrong Foundation, the yellow bracelets, the sense of larger purpose. Cycling wasn’t the cause here so much as the arbitrary venue in which the cause could prove itself noteworthy…

…That’s what’s so tragic about what turned out to be Armstrong’s charlatanism. He had to cheat to win. But he had to win primarily to validate the narrative, not because the consumers of the narrative liked watching him do it. One of the reasons he could be so inspiring, in other words, was that for all practical purposes he barely existed at all.”

It seems unlikely that this narrative and charity work will save his image, though someone appears to be advising him that it might (and some utilitarians seem to suggest the ends of fighting cancer justify any means). Armstrong appears willing to ride out the storm – pointing to his good deeds. But it’s not likely to work. Interestingly, you could make the case that an interview Armstrong gave seven years ago was paving the way for a guilty verdict and his current plea to leave his charity out of the muck. In doublespeak, the interview given by a guy who is, more than likely, guilty, is a pre-emptive damage-controlling non-disclosure.

He said his sponsors and charity would disappear if he was caught.

“All of them. And the faith of all the cancer survivors around the world … And don’t think for a second I don’t understand that. It’s not about money for me. Everything. It’s also about the faith that people have put in me over the years. So all of that would be erased.”

And his sponsors have. The impact on his charity is yet to be determined. Some people, the people he has helped over the years, are still in his corner.

But I also can’t stop noticing that many of the people still defending him — not denying that he cheated, just knowingly rooting for him anyway — are cancer survivors or the family members of cancer patients. Robert Lipsyte wrote about this for The New Republic, how the thought of Armstrong helped get him through chemotherapy. And once you start thinking along those lines, that he meant that much to people, that it’s not a trivial thing to be a hero of feeling, this becomes one of those problems you can’t think your way outside.

This has been true in my observations of discussions of Armstrong amongst my friends and contacts on social media.

Grantland has an interesting reminder for those of us who follow Jesus… it should change how we think about stories like this.

Or maybe not; but it’s always hard to remember that there were victims in cases like this, and what you do remember — hypocrisy and rule-breaking — doesn’t always look so bad a few years down the line. How you feel about that probably depends on what you think heroism means in America, and whether you picture Halloween or Jesus when you hear that the dead are rising from their graves.

This is profoundly true – knowing that all people do the wrong thing, and that this is part of being human – and the foundation of our need for redemption through Jesus – means it’s pretty hard to throw stones at Lance, because, there but for the grace of God, and the cycling ability, go we.

But if there’s one thing we seem to like more than a public scandal, it’s a public story of redemption. People are already making interesting links between the narrative arcs of Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods (and here), and Lance Armstrong and Mike Tyson, especially because Tyson is in the news because he’s coming to Australia on a charity tour.

Mike Tyson has had a complete rebrand – he doesn’t eat meat, or ears, any more. He’s apologised for stuff (but apparently still denies he committed the crime he was jailed for). He appears in movies. And now he’s raising money for indigenous communities in Australia – which some people, as they do in Armstrong’s case, suggest covers over a multitude of sins. I don’t think charity work as PR penance works. Unless it’s built on an acknowledgment of wrongdoing after the fact. And even then. You can’t rely on the charitable stuff you were doing while you were cheating to excuse your cheating. That Armstrong could only have the profile he has, and the charitable impact he has, because of the drugs he took, doesn’t really justify the taking of drugs, or the empire of deception built up around it. Tyson “redeemed” his brand, in the eyes of many, through an apology.

Tiger Woods apologised, and now seems to be working pretty hard to win back public affections by doing what he does best, golf, it is hard to go past a compelling “redemption narrative.” Story after story about sports people who’ve behaved badly use this r-word. In many cases they focus on on-field performance, and express a desire for unparalleled talent to have the opportunity to shine once more – almost as if the tragedy is the furore, not the act. This isn’t really possible in Armstrong’s case – because his talent is forever tainted – which may even make his redemption impossible in some eyes.

But we want an apology.

Most of us are realistic about the human condition, and aware that celebrity doesn’t do away with humanity. So we’re prepared to cut people a fair bit of slack. If only they’d apologise. A bit of hard work atoning for your wrongdoing is nice, but apparently redemption requires contrition, not just sporting excellence.

And this idea is Biblical (from Psalm 51)… and one of those times where I think what works for one’s relationship with God, transfers to how one relates to the public (a reverse of plundering gold from the Egyptians if you will).

16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.”

This is part of one of the biggest redemption narratives of all time – David writes the Psalm after being confronted by the prophet Nathan about his adultery. Arguably only Paul undergoes a bigger character rebrand in the Bible. It might sound like a contrite heart is some sort of meritorious act that immediately produces a desired result – but there’s nothing worse, when salvaging a brand, than inauthentic contrition – like a non-apology apology.

Calvin’s commentary on Psalms gives a similar take on these verses… which I like.

“The man of broken spirit is one who has been emptied of all vain-glorious confidence, and brought to acknowledge that he is nothing. The contrite heart abjures the idea of merit, and has no dealings with God upon the principle of exchange.”

Genuine contrition isn’t produced to secure a result – because it can’t. It’s about admitting that you’re no longer in control of the result – it’s about asking for mercy. And this only really works if you genuinely realise you’ve done the wrong thing. It’s not a lever you pull to secure an outcome… as much as brand managers and spinners want to manipulate public goodwill with carefully architectured apologies.

The big debate surrounding Armstrong, at the moment, is not whether his good deeds off the track are enough to cover the sins on it, but whether he’ll man up and admit he did wrong, and make the apology people seem to feel entitled to. PR expert after PR expert is trotting out this same advice (this one includes “six apology basics”), though some people think the moment has passed. One cycling company is assuming the inevitability of Armstrong’s redemption, and has circumvented the process by offering him a job, which is, in itself, a PR exercise for that company. The media agrees.

“Only one way out of this mess, Lance Armstrong. America can love a fallen hero, but only if he admits the fall — and apologizes for lying about it. Do those two things, Lance Armstrong, and we’ll love you again.

At the moment? We’re disgusted.

It’s not the cheating, because lots of world-class athletes cheat. We’ve come to grips with that generality, and particularly with the notion that cycling is the dirtiest sport of them all. That’s what we think, and even if we’re wrong, it doesn’t matter. What matters is, people truly believe cycling is dirty — as in, everyone is dirty. You can’t get to the top of that sport without cheating. History has shown us that.”

If Armstrong wants to recover his brand, or salvage anything from this situation, rather than relying on his past good works, or even future good works, it seems, from the punditry, that he needs to be personally convicted that he’s done the wrong thing – he needs to admit it, and he needs to ask for mercy. The principle is the same whether your’re trying to salvage your multi-million dollar personal brand, or, more importantly, turning to God for true redemption. The best news for Christians is that the hard work atoning for our wrongdoings has been done for us, by Jesus.

With every drug saga in cycling come the enlightened souls who suggest drugs should just be legalised, and drug companies should become sponsors. Or people who write off the cheating as the cost of doing business. Or moral failings as a human touch that we’re not in a position to judge. And in a sense, both responses are legitimate intellectual responses to the human condition. There are plenty who want to insist that Armstrong’s charity work means he’s a good guy, no matter how deep down.

The complexity of this moral situation is heightened by his refusal to confess. It leaves the situation ambiguous. It’s interesting that contrition and repentance – not working hard to atone for what you did wrong (though that comes after) is so universally seen as the precondition for redemption – because in one sense, that’s the Christian gospel being mirrored in the world. Lance isn’t a role model. He isn’t the messiah (there’s even some question about the value his charity actually produces for fighting cancer – it seems more focused on style than substance (ie research into a cure)). He’s also a very naughty boy. But he’s human. Like us. He does wrong. Like me. He cheats like me – just on a bigger stage with a bigger scale. He lies, like me – it’s just that more people listen to him. He needs redemption like me – not just for his career, but for himself. But I’m thankful that someone paid for my wrongdoings – of which there are many, though they’re seen by a much smaller number of people. Lance and I are the same though – because everything we do is seen by God, and real redemption, for both of us, doesn’t come from apologising and being contrite – though that’s a start – real redemption comes from turning to the guy who didn’t stuff up, the real role model, the guy who did the atoning for what we did wrong.

Lance Armstrong doesn’t need a superficial PR rebrand driven by false contrition and a long road to redemption. He doesn’t need a long record of doing good stuff for other people. He needs Jesus. Like all of us.

Introducing “Resources”: Some content housekeeping

I’ve been working at pulling together some streams of content and sporadic bursts of related content into something that is less “blog” and more “website”…

So I’ve gathered together a few streams of resources, and you can find a nice little drop down menu on the top of the page.

I’ve got:

I’ll be updating these over time, but hopefully this will provide a better return on investment for me content production wise, and be of cal

Tase a tambourine player

The Salvos better be looking out… though I maintain that part of the reason Jephthah went through with his vow in Judges 11 was that his daughter was dancing to timbrels.

“34 When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of timbrels! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter.”

Anyway. A church evicted an over enthusiastic tambourine player. Who then resisted arrest, and was tased.

Just a hint – that’s not why you want your church to be in the news.

Changing the tone of the carbon tax debate

There are times when people do really dumb stuff in the name of PR. And it’s clearly been orchestrated. Those are times that the PR people behind the ideas need to take responsibility. Prepping your minister, the Minister for Trade, to do a bad parody song on a TV interview – and it was a carefully prepared stunt, he even had permission from the band – is a bad idea. See just how bad here…

Somehow I think the message that Tony Abbott’s policy is a joke is going to get a bit lost here.

Free PR Advice: Don’t cry over consumed milk

2% Partly Skimmed Milk Splash
Image Credit: Robbie’s Photo Art, Flickr

One of the big rules of the internet age, especially when emails can be circulated and become viral in, well, seconds, is never put anything in writing that you don’t want going viral.

PR companies should know this. Which is what makes this email from the boss of a PR consulting firm to his staff particularly special.

“So, I am gravely serious when I write this – if I catch someone not replacing the milk, or at least, in the case where the downstairs store has close already, not sending an email to the office so the first person that arrives (usually Christa or me) can pick one up upon arrival – then I am going to fire you. Im not joking. You will be fired for not replacing the milk, and have fun explaining that one to your next employer. This is not a empty threat so PLEASE don’t test me.”

Now he’s saying it’s all a big hyperbolic joke, and there’s been a misunderstanding… but that’s trying to shut the gate after the horse has bolted. Here’s the story on Business Insider.

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Jim Wallace from the Australian Christian Lobby gets it right in the Media (he talks about Jesus)

Ok, ok. I’ve bagged out the ACL in the last few months for being morally conservative rather than “Christian” in their dealings with the media, starting with the premise that a Christian presence in the media should involve mentioning how Jesus helps us to arrive at a particular position with response to social issues.

I’ve singled Jim Wallace out for criticism, perhaps fairly, perhaps not. But the ACL, and Jim Wallace, got it right on Sunrise this week. This is, in my mind, the best and most cohesive presentation the ACL has put forward on the gay marriage question. He starts with the premise that Jesus defined marriage as between a man and a woman, and that Jesus shapes the lives of believers, and moves to natural law arguments… if this is a sign of a new approach to the issue from the ACL then I’m a big fan.

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Peter Costello on how Christians should approach the media

I miss Peter Costello, and it seems being out of politics has freed him up a little bit in terms of speaking about his faith and dishing out advice to church leaders. This talk he gave to Anglican Ministers in Melbourne last week looks like a cracker.

He’s still funny.

“If I had been to church 40 weeks a year, I have probably listened to 1000 sermons and tonight could be payback time.”

Here’s the substance from a story with the Melbourne Anglican

“You only get a good media coverage if you agree with the media’s views.”

“The media has its own view of the world… and if you fall in with that, you will get a good press but if you want to promote the Christian Gospel, you will not.”

“The first thing I would say to the Church is, don’t measure your relevance by the amount of media coverage you get.”

“I actually think that media and celebrity is one of the great false idols of the modern age.”

“If the Church is going to speak on the issues of the day, it should be a distinctive contribution,” he said.
“The historic message of the Church, the Gospel, is a timeless message. It’s for every age. It does not have its relevance defined by what preoccupies us for the moment.”

“My message to you is that you have a wonderful calling and a timeless message and we look to you to keep us in faith.

“Don’t ever overlook the fact that no matter how high you are in Australia, you still need nourishment for your soul.”

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The Third Eagle responds to the Ridiculist

The internet should probably explode as a result of this. William Tapley. Third Eagle of the Apocalypse. Co-Prophet of the End Times. Has decided to take up the fight against a popular television program that mocked him.

William Tapley started the ball rolling with the assertion (a year ago) that the Denver Airport features a mural with some hidden adult content, a sign of the end times.

It’s just loopy. So loopy that a CNN national news round up program singled him out on its “Ridiculist”.

Here’s his resonse to his spot on CNN’s Anderson Cooper’s Ridiculist.

So Anderson Cooper put him on again.

Someone once gave me some good advice when I wanted to go after the local news paper for some incorrect and nasty things they’d said about my organisation.

Never fight with someone who prints by the tonne. The same is true for YouTube broadcasters who have a small following (mostly people who aren’t interested in what you’re saying but think you’re a loony) and global news outlets.

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How to write a Media Release to promote your church event

Mikey responded to yesterday’s rant about media releases with a post on Christian Reflections urging churches to think about how they can use the media. The day before yesterday a friend in Townsville sent me an email asking for some tips on how to talk to the media – she had sent a release out and had received some interest from a local television station.

For those wondering what makes me qualified to give this advice here are my qualifications in a nutshell. I’m a journalism graduate who spent four years working as a corporate communications hack for a regional development and tourism marketing body – I marketed my organisation and the Townsville region. I wrote hundreds of media releases and had a pretty good strike rate in terms of getting them placed. This was partly because Townsville is a regional centre with lots of media outlets and a finite number of sources, and partly because my organisation had a finger in just about every pie, and probably partly because I know what I’m doing. Enough self promotion for now…

It’s time to put all those years of spin twitting to good use – here’s my guide to writing a media release for your church event, and some tips for what to do when it is picked up, and when it’s not…

The first thing you’ve got to remember when sending out a release is that journalists are time poor and get heaps of media releases. You need to be prepared for the idea that they may not get past the heading and the lede (the first line). If you’re lucky they’ll think your release is interesting and read to the end, if you’re really lucky they’ll want to follow it up. With that in mind… follow these steps.

  1. Write an intriguing headline – it doesn’t have to be literal, puns are ok, but make sure you get some feel for what the story is about from the heading.
  2. Put the important stuff first – who, what, where, when, and most importantly why. The first four are easy. The why needs to cover why you’re doing it, why the outlet should cover it (is it news), and why their audience should be interested in coming.
  3. If you’ve never spoken to the media before put some information about who you are in the second or third paragraph.
  4. Keep it short – ball park 500 words.
  5. Include quotes from a spokesperson – do as much work as possible for the journalist – if they don’t have to call you for follow up that works for them. Three sentences (or paragraphs) of quotes should suffice.
  6. Include a closing paragraph that contains a call to action – how can people register for an event? Who do they RSVP to? Media Releases are great to put on your website too, it won’t necessarily just be the journos reading them.
  7. Include contact details for follow up – and most importantly – be available for calls from a journo. They’re not going to follow you up just because you think your story is worth it (unless it really is). If it feels like covering the story is doing you a favour (and not a disservice) then treat it as such. If your availability is patchy put when you are free in the footer of your release.
  8. Send it first thing in the morning (if you want television coverage) or after lunch if you want to give the paper a free run at it. Remember that media releases need to be timely. Don’t send it six months out from the event (unless that’s when you need registrations).
  9. Remember that you won’t always get a response. That’s ok. Send releases regularly so that you can build a rapport and a reputation with the local media. If it’s your first release, or an important event, place a phone call to the newsroom’s chief of staff (not the editor) and make sure they received your release. Be prepared to talk them through your event – pitch it to them as a story that matters to their audience. It’s also ok to call before you send it to make sure you’ve got the address of the newsroom right – you may also need to fax a copy through.
  10. Remember that pictures are worth 1,000 words. Be prepared to have a quirky photo op lined up for a newspaper or some pictures for a TV station to shoot – TV stories without pictures are dead. Make it clear in your footer that you have opportunities for filming or photos – and be creative. Does your event involve people in costumes? Get someone on site in a costume. This will give your story the best possible chance for the best possible coverage.

Once your release is in the wild you need to play a little game I like to call “wait and see what happens”… if you do get a call from a journalist – relax. Take a deep breath. Most of them are nice people, and most of them aren’t out to build a reputation as a bloodhound who takes down churches and disgraces ministers. Here’s how to get the best out of your interaction with the media post release…

  1. Never ever, let me repeat, never ever say “no comment” or “I can’t answer that” – if you get a tough question just answer it without answering it. Learn from the politicians, turn the question into an opportunity to push your agenda. Say “it’s interesting that you ask that, I think it’s important, but right now we just want to tell you about…” if they ask again, say it again. Repeat ad nauseum. They’ll get sick of asking the same question before you get sick of answering it.
  2. Try to include the gospel – you never know what they won’t cut.
  3. Remember they’re looking for eight second sound grabs or two sentence print quotes. Try to be quotable, succinct, and interesting.
  4. Don’t wear stripes or loud colours for TV interviews.
  5. If you mispeak during an interview pause, correct yourself, and start the sentence again – unless you’re doing a live interview (which I don’t really recommend unless you’re pretty experienced). Be prepared to tell the journalist that you stuffed up and want a do over.
  6. Stick to your point – stick with what you know.
  7. A good journalist will ask you at the end “is there anything you’d like to add” – use this as an opportunity to make a clear statement about your event and why people should come… and then stick the gospel in there. Journalists need it too. Even if they cut it they’re hearing it.
  8. Act with integrity, smile, make small talk before the interview with the journo to make yourself comfortable.
  9. Remember to blink if you’re looking at a camera, breath, relax, look confident, look up not at your toes, look at the journo, not at the camera.
  10. Speak clearly. Deliver your words as though you’re speaking to a crowd, not just to one person. I have a theory that Camera presence comes from aiming your words to the back of the camera not the lens – like when you kick a soccer ball you try to hit the far side while connecting with the front, or when you hit a cricket ball you follow through…

If this all sounds too hard I’ve set up a fiverr task where you can pay me $5 to write you a ten line media release. If you want to use me more than once I’ll probably make you pay more – but I’m happy to help. And I’m always happy to read over something before you send it out…

How to promote a movie – don’t be boring

I could post stuff from Letters of Note forever. But then I’d never learn the Greek stuff I have to learn by Thursday. Here’s a great letter from a studio executive telling Director Errol Morris that his promotional interviews are terrible.

Some good tips can be extrapolated here for doing any sort of promotional work. I bolded the bit in the transcript that I think is the key for coming across well in interviews, and being effective.

Transcript
MIRAMAX FILMS

August 23, 1988

Errol Morris
c/o The Mondrian Hotel
8440 Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA

Dear Errol:

Heard your NPR interview and you were boring. You couldn’t have dragged me to see THE THIN BLUE LINE if my life depended on it.

It’s time you start being a performer and understand the media.

Let’s rehearse:

Q: What is this movie about?

A: It’s a mystery that traces an injustice. It’s scarier than NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. It’s like a trip to the Twilight Zone. People have compared it to IN COLD BLOOD with humor.

Speak in short one sentence answers and don’t go on with all the legalese. Talk about the movie as a movie and the effect it will have on the audience from an emotional point of view.

If you continue to be boring, I will hire an actor in New York to pretend that he’s Errol Morris. If you have any casting suggestions, I’d appreciate that.

Keep it short and keep selling it because that’s what’s going to work for you, your career and the film.

Congratulations on all your good reviews. Let’s make sure the movie is as successful.

Best Regards,

(Signed)

Harvey Weinstein

,

Fox Trot

There are lots of PR lessons we can learn from celebrities today. Firstly. Megan Fox has lived up to her name, biting the hand that feeds her. Or at least the hand that raised her from obscurity.

Director Michael Bay cast Fox in Transformers, and the starlet had some rather unkind words to say about him in a magazine.

In her interview with a British magazine, Fox had said of Bay:

“He’s like Napoleon and he wants to create this insane, infamous mad-man reputation.

“He wants to be like Hitler on his sets, and he is.

“He has no social skills at all.”

Ouch. That isn’t very nice. Some of the crew responded with a letter via Michael Bay’s blog – which he contributes to, but clearly doesn’t run, because he pulled it a couple of days later and posted his apology.

I subscribe to Michael Bay’s blog with google reader – so it’s not completely lost to you. And the SMH has a story on the letter today. Here’s an excerpt.

He granted her the starring role in Transformers, a franchise that forever changed her life; she became one of the most googled and oogled women on earth.

… Wait a minute, two of us worked with Angelina – second thought – she’s no Angelina.

…We know this quite intimately because we’ve had the tedious experience of working with the dumb-as-a-rock Megan Fox on both Transformers movies. We’ve spent a total of 12 months on set making these two movies.

We are in different departments; we can’t give our names because sadly doing so in Hollywood could lead to being banished from future Paramount work.

We actually don’t think she knows who Hitler is by the way. But we wondered how she doesn’t realize what a disgusting, fully uneducated comment this was?

Hopefully Michael will have Megatron squish her character in the first ten minutes of Transformers 3. We can tell you that will make the crew happy! …

Nice. Firstly, let me say, Godwin’s law needs to be more widely broadcast – comparing anybody – particularly a movie director – to Hitler is just plain silly.

Secondly, if you’re working in a close knit industry like Hollywood – or a regional area, or a city, or the Christian community – don’t bag out people who you’ve worked with. It’ll no doubt hurt you more than it hurts them.