Tips and Tricks for the Public Relations Clueless

[Xena's] website on the Internet attracts heavy traffic, some of it she suspects from "55-year-old lawyers who want to be spanked."

-- William Grimes, writing in the NY Times' TV weekly

I'll fess up that I watched (and even enjoyed) Xena, the Warrior Princess on several Saturday evenings. When you have a seven-year old daughter, you have to take your strong female role models where you can find them.

With PC Expo fast approaching, I'd thought I'd try to provide some constructive help for those of you that are trying to do public relations for companies making major announcements in mid-June. Too bad you can't just pick up Xena's magic frisbee (called a chakram, by the way) and corral a few reporters to do your bidding. Instead, you have my top ten suggestions. A thousand pardons if this is stuff you either already know or doesn't apply.

1. If my name is in your PR database, what address is attached to it? Hint: see my website for my current location. Three callers this week had me living (or working) in various places in California, which I left in 1989. And someone deep in the bowels of IBM has listed every Infoworld editor under my phone and address. I know there are others that are less amused than I to find themselves transported across time and space. So, devote some time to update your files, please.

2. Too lazy/small to keep track of editors? Buy the expertise from Press Access or Media Map that offer databases and tools to do this for you.

3. Now take your crew with their demon dialers and give them some clips, so that when they call an editor they'll have read at least one of his or her prior stories. Better yet, get them into one of the pubs' web sites or reading Computer Select, and save the photocopying. When I get a call about the latest VGA monitors or app dev tools, (two things that I really don't know much about nor write about), I know the PR crew is just going down their press list for a show without any regard to my own focus.

4. Don't end any call with the following line "and I'll fax you the confirmation letter for your appointment." Save a tree and our collective time and send email instead.

5. Speaking of email, don't spam those press releases to 200 of my closest friends. Or at least be clever about it and figure out how to hack sendmail so that the names don't show up (as I do for sending out this missive). These group emails get deleted immediately from my inbox as soon as I read the header, and I am sure 195 others do the same. Instead, send a personal e-note pointing out something that I wrote or said recently and why it is relevant to my life to respond. That may still be deleted, but it may be acted upon by the right 10 or 20 people that cover that area.

6. Speaking of appointments, pay your demon dialers a bonus for every appointment that isn't changed between the inital call and the fateful day. It can be hard to juggle everyone's schedule, but if you can get your executives to come for the latter days of the conference you might have more schmooze time available.

7. Learn the lost art of follow-through. Typical example: Vendor X blows through town on press tour with CEO, Marcom director, and PR hall monitor in tow. Promises are made: we'll ship you product, we'll get back to you with answers. Weeks go by and I see nada. And what is worse is that this is the end of further communications until the next press tour. Is there something wrong with this picture?

8. Sacrifice short-term ink for building longer-term relationships. Those PR firms that understand this get their calls and emails returned quicker by me and I suspect others as well.

9. Have a sense of humor about all of this. 10. Finally, here are some tips to make it easier for web-saavy press (and customers, too) to find out more about you from your web site.

Check out Steve O'Keefe's pages for lots o' links to Internet PR-based resources.

Awards, promotions, and sitekeeping dep't

Normally, in this space I am the one to give out awards to sites that I think noteworthy. I am somewhat tickled to tell you that the tables are turned -- my own site has received not one but two awards over the past week. Thanks to all.

Last Friday I had an opportunity to be on Ira Flatow's Science Friday broadcast on National Public Radio. Tim O'Reilly and I spent an hour talking about a wide range of Internet-related topics. Here is the link to the broadcast.

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David Strom
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