By Alex Greenwood
I’ve written previously about “The Bump.” Put simply:
“Your interview is important, but it has been bumped by something more newsworthy.”
It happens. Roll with it. (Read the post for more on that.)
Interestingly, there’s something related to the bump that’s just as frustrating; I call it “The Dump.”
Let’s say you pitch a reporter on a story or interview. The reporter says “Yes, I like it,” then interviews you or your client–or has you complete an email “interview.” Once complete, you wait.
And wait. Weeks pass and no story appears online, in print or via broadcast.
Soon you realize that the story was either killed (the editor didn’t like it, a better story came up, too similar to a recent story, your interview/info wasn’t all that interesting, no room in the publication, etc.) or the reporter simply forgot about it and moved on.
Hence, “the Dump.”
Been there. Done that. It’s not a good feeling, and it’s even worse when the reporter doesn’t tell you they’ve elected to dump the story.
For example, I once invested a couple of hours on an email interview with a publication. Many weeks later, the interview remained unpublished. Beyond checking that my interview was received, I didn’t follow up with the reporter (who has a bit of a reputation for this sort of thing). It’s obvious the story isn’t going anywhere, and I’d rather not waste my time (or the reporter’s) trying to litigate the merits of the story any further.
Trust me, it’s more than an average “bad day” when you have to explain to a CEO client that the twenty minutes they spent on the phone with a reporter (whilst running to catch a plane at LAX) isn’t going to materialize–particularly if the reporter gives you the silent treatment when you follow up. I don’t like it–I think it’s common courtesy to tell an interviewee or their PR rep that the story is dumped–but reporters have no obligation to do so.
The point is, you can spend a lot of time, effort and energy pitching, interviewing–and yes, even writing–something that by all indicators looks like a sure thing, yet it never sees the light of day. It’s frustrating, but it helps to remember there are no guarantees (if you want guaranteed coverage, buy an ad). Even a good story or interview can simply end up–through no fault of your own–in the dump.
Don’t get mad. Remember, just like “the bump,” “the dump” may not be forever. Perhaps that same reporter will remember you as a source when a similar story pops up. So, no sense starting a feud about it. Brush yourself off and move on. Opportunity awaits.
(And you can recycle your interview on your blog…)
By Alex Greenwood
Regarding the shocking video of Rutgers Coach Mike Rice verbally and physically abusing his basketball team, Christine Brennan of USA Today said it best:
Rutgers, of all universities, should have known better. Rutgers should have known that a coach who fires basketballs at the heads of his players and assaults them at practice should not keep his job. The so-called leaders of Rutgers University should have known that if a coach is hurling homophobic and misogynistic insults at his male players, he shouldn’t be allowed to represent the school for one more hour, much less four more months.
I worked public relations in higher education (a public university and a public college) for several years, and if it taught me one thing, it’s this: you don’t mess with people’s kids. Plainly: “professionals” on staff who abuse the trust parents place in educators as surrogates, teachers and protectors have but one place to go–and that’s out the door.
Except you don’t always see that when it comes to prominent (read: profitable) athletic departments. Unless the situation goes nuclear, from Penn State’s despicable handling of the Sandusky matter all the way to the embarrassing end to the Switzer era at my beloved University of Oklahoma, there seems to be a pattern of looking the other way when it comes to athletics. The most paper-thin of veneers about being an education institution of “higher learning first, college sports behemoth second” falls away amidst scandal–especially one complete with “shocking video”.
Mike Rice deserved to be fired. Just as did the coaches at Penn State and yes, good ol’ Barry–albeit for different reasons.
The public relations professional in me asks, why didn’t the PR staff do more to get in front of this? I know that were I, as PR director, made aware of what was happening on the court, I would have walked in to my president’s office and told him what was going on, the possible ramifications and where to see the proof. I would have explained that it only takes one person to upload a shocking video to YouTube, and just one person to link to it on Facebook or Twitter, before it all can go completely pear-shaped.
From there, I believe most university presidents would take immediate action (at least the ones who don’t give their athletic directors free rein over their department, with little or no oversight).
Perhaps the PR staff didn’t know? Maybe–but I just can’t see how word wouldn’t have filtered back somehow about shocking video of an anger management basket case abusing his students.
What do you think? I’m not arguing whether the coach deserved to be fired or not. I think he did and I’m glad it happened for the sake of the students. I’m asking, what would you, as the PR Director, have done in this situation? Would you have brought it to the president’s attention? What if the president ignored your advice? The comments section is open for your remarks.
AlexanderG PR Principal Alex Greenwood was interviewed about a proposed Kansas law to thwart attempts by “employers in at least five states asking job candidates for their usernames and passwords so interviewers could browse their profiles prior to making a hire.” Greenwood expressed his concern about the practice–noting that federal regulations prohibit employers from asking applicants for such personal data.
Social media consultant Alex Greenwood said social websites are becoming a quick and easy way for employers to keep tabs on workers or weed out applicants.
“A lot of employers are looking for any reason they can to disqualify an applicant in favor of someone else, and if you have a pretty crazy thing pop up on social media, then that may be the thing that knocks you out of consideration,” Greenwood said.
By Alex Greenwood
NOTE: UPDATE AT THE END OF THIS POST.
Yesterday, I was asked by a local news anchor (who I regularly “talk to” over Twitter and Facebook) to do an on-camera interview about social media usage. She connected me with the field reporter working the story. He called, did a pre-interview, then asked if he could come by my office for an on-camera interview.
I’ve done many TV, radio, newspaper and media interviews over my career as a spokesperson, subject matter “expert” and author. I view any opportunity to do a media interview–especially TV–as an opportunity not only to “get my name out there,” but also as a way to sharpen my on-camera skills. Trust me–you can do hundreds of these and still get rusty very easily.
So, the reporter set a time–I had about 45 minutes before he and his photographer were to arrive. I cleared my calendar and–most importantly–cleaned my office. (Yes, it was messy on the heels of working as a conference host followed by a week of travel). I slipped a jacket on over my sweater, combed my hair and went over the topic in my head a few times. And waited.
The reporter didn’t show up.
Before I even turned on the TV and saw him at the scene of “Breaking News,” I knew what had happened: I had been bumped.
Ah, the bump. As in: “Your interview is important, but it has been bumped by something more newsworthy.” The reporter called, explained he had been pulled away to a crime story and apologized for not being able to make it. I said “No worries. It happens. No biggie.”
That’s what you should do, too, if it happens to you.
My first bump was back in my years as a PR associate at a hospital. I had worked for weeks to get a TV reporter to interview one of our doctors. Tough sledding, scheduling an M.D. and a TV reporter! But I did it. Then, mere moments before the interview was scheduled to start, I received word that a car fire on the interstate had pulled the reporter away. The doctor was not pleased, but hey, I understood–I was a reporter once, myself. Especially in TV, you have to go with what’s more visually interesting and urgent. Sure, I was disappointed, and getting the withering glare from one of the nation’s preeminent heart surgeons was no fun, but that’s part of the business.
A few years later I was host of a Sunday morning radio talk show. Just as I started to interview my guest, we were bumped off the air by network coverage of the invasion of Iraq. Certainly more newsworthy than my interview with a nursing home owner!
Once, a client booked for an in-studio interview got bumped by breaking news. It happens. Sure, it sucks, and I hate to break it to my clients when I get word of a bump, but I try to stay good-natured about it. Most of the time, the reporter, producer, host, assignment editor or whoever scheduled you in the first place will remember you’re a good source–and most of all, a good sport. They’ll call again.
So, if you are ever scheduled for an interview, do a few things to prepare. One, review these tips on what to do when a reporter calls and check out these tips on your interview, straight from a former TV news reporter. Then, give a great interview.
Just remember: if the reporter gives you the bump, smile, tell them you understand, and that you’re available next time.
Then fire up the Commodores.
Update: Yep, they called back. Check it out.
By Alex Greenwood
As if the tragic, disgusting, slow-moving train of public relations going off the rails into total disaster wasn’t enough, Penn State has waded back into the fray:
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett announced plans Wednesday to file an anti-trust lawsuit against the NCAA over its sanctions against Penn State University following the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
Last July, the NCAA levied unprecedented sanctions against the university, including a fine of $60 million. It also stripped 14 seasons of football victories from late head coach Joe Paterno.
“These sanctions did not punish Sandusky,” or those who allegedly helped cover up his repeated sexual abuse of disadvantaged children, said Corbett at a news conference in State College.
He said they instead affect past and current students who were not part of the scandal.
“I cannot and will not let it happen without a fight,” said Corbett, adding that the Sandusky case was a criminal matter and not a violation of NCAA rules.
The NCAA responds:
“Not only does this forthcoming lawsuit appear to be without merit, it is an affront to all of the victims in this tragedy — lives that were destroyed by the criminal actions of Jerry Sandusky,” said Donald M. Remy, NCAA executive vice president and general counsel. “While the innocence that was stolen can never be restored, Penn State has accepted the consequences for its role and the role of its employees and is moving forward. Today’s announcement by the governor is a setback to the university’s efforts.”
Out of respect for the victims, I’m not going to talk about the despicable chain of events that led to a conspiracy of silence around a notorious child molester. I’m talking now purely from a damage control repair stance for the school. This lawsuit is not a good idea. It is a (probably) well-meaning, but ultimately misguided attempt to salvage something from this mess. I’ll say it again–it’s not a good idea.
Mediabistro had an excellent bit of advice for Penn State last year:
The only PR strategy Penn State has is to keep moving. To keep going. To make itself an example and to use what will it has left to right its wrongs where possible. The school shouldn’t place blame on others or just a few, because this was a collective crime and society won’t buy it. And neither will sponsors. The jury of public relations has spoken. Penn State is up to Penn State now.
Agreed. The future image of Penn State is up to Penn State, and this lawsuit is not the right direction. The collective shame surrounding this horrible situation is worsened because it extends beyond the innocent victims of sex abuse to every student, instructor or staffer connected with the school–the entire Penn State brand. Instead of moving on and collectively accepting punishment, there is now an attempt to save money and shorten the period of contrition via lawsuit. It just drags everything back to the surface; it reopens a public image wound that just won’t heal.
In the excellent film Excalibur (1981), Sir Lancelot (who wronged King Arthur) returns for the final battle, haggard, bleeding but ready to fight because contrition and guilt are all he has left. “It is the old wound, my King. It has never healed.”
The governor’s actions on behalf of Penn State have reopened the wound. Unlike Sir Lancelot, fighting a losing battle one last time with such a wound is not valiant. It is selfish.
A recent trip to the movies reminded me of this frequently asked question: Should I call a reporter to check that they got my press release/pitch?
As a general rule (meaning of course there are always exceptions) calling a reporter to see if they received your press release usually just annoys the reporter.
Because the reporter is probably very busy not only writing or researching their next piece, but also wading through the dozens–if not hundreds–of press releases and pitches they get per day. Also, calling a reporter who is on deadline can get you on their bad side–permanently. Make sure you know their deadline before you call, and if you must call, the first thing you should do after identifying yourself is ask “Is this an okay time for a quick chat?”
Okay, but what the heck does this have to do with going to the movies?
Getting your message out to the media is like going to a drive-in movie (stay with me, folks!): you want to come early for a good space, but not too early, or you’ll spend a couple of boring hours waiting for the sun to go down in your good parking space, listening to corny music and swatting mosquitoes. If you come too late, you’ll get stuck behind a family of three in an oversize SUV that nearly blocks the screen. Same idea with your pitch or press release: make sure you send it out in a timely way.
Most daily or weekly publications/broadcasts won’t remember your pitch if you send it months in advance, and pestering reporters for weeks in the interim will probably get you nowhere. Conversely, if you send it three days out from your launch or event date, then you’ve equally shot yourself in the foot. Being a little early, say two or three weeks, is not a bad idea for most pitches–that gives you time for follow up. Ultimately, timing is really down to how well you get to know the rhythms of reporters and their publication. (That’s where the services of a good PR pro come in handy, too.)
Anyway, I recommend you make a point to follow up via email first. This way the reporter can respond to you when their schedule permits.
What if the reporter never responds to my email?
In my experience, most reporters will respond to your second follow up email (if not the first one). If they don’t, it could mean one of a few things:
- The Pocket Veto. They saw your pitch/press release and aren’t interested–and they’re too busy to reply to you about it.
- Hmm. I’ll get to that soon. The reporter is interested, but on deadline or too busy to focus on it at the moment.
- They haven’t read it yet.
If you’ve made repeated attempts via email and feel the pitch/release is worthy of the reporter’s attention (and you need a definitive yes or no) then by all means call. But make sure you can spell out your pitch quickly and you’re respectful of the reporter’s time. Also, here are a few tips from a reporter on making your pitches and press releases ready for their closeup.
Okay, the dancing corn dog says it’s time to hit the refreshment stand. Enjoy the movie and good luck with your next pitch!
I was interviewed by the Kansas City Fox affiliate yesterday about the effects social media can have on spontaneous protests in cases such as the Chick-Fil-A/gay marriage (and divorced straight marriage too!) dustup. The clip covers my responses to the reporter’s questions about the credibility social media can lend to a cause, and to the amped-up emotions of a political season contributing to even more furious social network activity.
On to the more general aspects of the controversy:
The basics are that Chick-Fil-A (a fast food chicken restaurant with more than 1600 locations nationwide)
CEO President Dan Cathy made some statements of support of what he terms “traditional, biblical marriage” in a religious publication:
“We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.”
Many gay and (some divorced straight people) took offense, and protests have sparked. (Click here to get up to speed on this issue.)
Chick-Fil-A issued a statement July 19 stating “going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena” and that it is their intent “to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.” That didn’t seem to be enough for protestors, who started a boycott.
Obviously, I believe business owners should be true to their beliefs and (judiciously) speak their minds. However, I would never advise my client that it’s okay to make potentially inflammatory statements in any public way. Why risk alienating customers? Perhaps
CEO President Dan Cathy felt that as he was speaking to a religious publication radio show, therefore a non-mainstream “friendly media outlet,” and didn’t think his comments would be picked up by anyone else. If so, that’s extraordinarily naive.
The cynical among us may posit that Cathy wanted to strike a blow in the culture wars. If so, this lends more credence to my belief that he will not fold amidst the storm of protest. Let’s not forget huge numbers of people have publicly supported Cathy and Chick-Fil-A on “Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day.” Opportunistic politicians on both sides (look here and here for just a couple examples) have jumped on the issue for some election year media attention, too. (Some polling indicates Chick-Fil-A should ask their political supporters to quiet down.)
Despite boycotts, the death of his PR chief and bad press, I doubt Cathy will budge. As I said in a previous interview about the first Chick-Fil-A/gay controversy, I think the growing chicken empire will stand their ground.
Don’t expect that Chick-fil-A will respond further on this issue, Greenwood says.
“It’s not surprising when you consider that this company, as a matter of principle, leaves so much revenue on the table by being closed on Sundays,” he says. “They stick to their guns. I think they’re going to continue to play to their base, weather this storm and move on.”
*(Full disclosure: I worked at Chick-fil-A in high school.)
Stay tuned, though. These things can move faster than a rooster in a hen house!
UPDATE Aug. 3, 2012: Please note corrections marked with
Forget measurement when:
1. You cannot make a difference. Sometimes business will hand you a dirt sandwich, and you have no choice but to eat it. There’s no need to weigh the sandwich, examine the types of dirt, evaluate the sandwich-maker, etc. Just eat it and move on.
2. You’re unwilling to do what it takes to make things better. Often, the worst media situations are when you’re making tough choices: layoffs, facility closures, relocations, or hiring more executives. The path to turning the story around leads through the organization revisiting its management decisions—deciding not to outsource, keeping the plant open and operating, renovating existing headquarters rather than pitting your incumbent city against somewhere else. See #1, above.
3. It’s more expensive to measure than the program your measuring. Advanced statistics are miraculous. We absolutely can measure the specific impact of public relations/communication activity on the bottom line. We just need a lot of data to isolate our impact from everything else that influences the bottom line. That costs money not as much as you might think, but still, so let’s spend wisely.
Stop insisting we (PR people) call the media. Most of them hate this and specifically request we contact them exclusively via email. Source
Click here for some down and dirty tips to Standing Room Only events!
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