5 Lessons I’ve Learned from Reporter to PR

I used to hate PR (public relations) people when I worked on the newspaper. And really, I still kinda cringe when someone calls me a PR professional.

“I’m in media relations,” I always correct them.

I don’t spin. I don’t twist. I just educate the public the best I can for a company. Would I love to pound the pavement again as a journalist seeking the truth, living the edgy life? Yea, I dream about it. I’m not gonna lie.

BUT … I will say that I’ve learned several lessons on my road from reporter to “media relations.” And if I ever make it back, I’ll definitely apply them!

So, here are my top five takeaways I’d like to share—whether you’re a writer, reporter, or PR hack:

1) Not all journalists are honest, or accurate.

Trust me, this was a HUGE surprise to me. And quite honestly … a blow. My job on the newspaper was my first out of college, and I truly believed that every journalist was ethical—like me. But after working on the PR side, I realized that some reporters don’t care about the truth; they only care about their angle. Whether from laziness or an agenda, I’ve witnessed journalists report blatantly false information. Lesson? Don’t believe everything you read, always research the facts yourself, and treat ethical journalists like royalty.  

2) Understanding media strategy or content marketing can HELP writers or reporters, not hurt them.

Not to brag, but I believe I’m the perfect example of this. As a reporter, I’d slap you if you mentioned the word “blog” to me. However, after entering the world of media strategy, I started this blog, Facebook, and Twitter. Now, I have a readership … and I haven’t even published a book yet! Lesson? Any reporter who can build an ENGAGED following will more efficiently distribute the news … so don’t run from the concept of content marketing.

3) Multi-media and diverse writing is now a requirement, for anything.

I left journalism right as the newspapers began to collapse in December 2007. I began my new job in PR at the start of 2008, allowing me to witness the media world’s transition from the outside. I used this time to develop my skills in writing for the Web, social media, blogs, magazines, newspapers, e-newsletters, business, and to persuade. No longer can I find a writing job that merely asks for experience in print. Lesson? The more you understand multi-media–as well as writing for different audiences—the better chance you have of landing a job!

4) Learning to pitch well isn’t only for PR people. Freelance journalists need it for editors, and writers need it for literary agents.

I’ve been able to help creative writer friends perfect their query letters to literary agents. And I’ve advised journalists on pitching a solid story to a magazine editor (and landed freelance gigs myself). Why? Because I’ve become an expert in pitching. Understanding “the tease” has become a vital skill in anything media-related today. Lesson? Don’t think of pitching as selling out; instead, embrace what you can learn, and use it to your advantage!

5) The basics ALWAYS apply.

Bottom line, I still attribute information to its sources, even when writing for a company. My leads are always 30 words or less. And I always keep my readers in mind; the goal is still to inform them, regardless of the outlet. Lesson? The basics are taught for a reason. THEY WORK. So … never forget them.

WHAT ABOUT YOU? Do you agree with my observations? Have you witnessed something contrary, or additional? Discuss …

The 3 Questions EVERY Blogger Must Ask Themselves

I’ve somehow evolved into the very thing I promised myself I’d never become: a media strategist.

You see, once upon a time, I was a newspaper reporter, a.k.a. a Jedi Knight. Then, the evil economy forced me into the Dark Side (a.k.a. public relations). And somewhere along the way, I decided if I wanted to become my own writer, I’d better take advantage of all these media and marketing strategies I was learning.

Behold, I can now say with authority, I know how to market myself as a writer (and I’d do more if I had additional time). I can pinpoint the good blogs from the bad. I can tell which ones will thrive, and which will falter.

And I can tell you the three key questions EVERY blogger must ask themselves, if they want to see their readership grow:

1) What is this blog all about (a theme)?

The most successful blogs have a theme. Some may be literary agents offering tips to up-and-coming writers. Others are humor blogs. My blog, for example, is a writing blog. The theme or brand is “Rogue Writer.”

If you really want to see your blog grow, ask yourself: What is this blog ABOUT? Is it a travel blog? A photography blog? A news blog, or a parenting and health blog?

Decide, and stick to it (even if you stray occasionally–like me). That will build your niche, slowly but surely.

2) What is my main goal with this blog (get subscribers? sell a book?)?

If you have a goal in mind, everything  on your blog works toward that goal. If you’re everywhere at once, you won’t actually build or sell anything.

For example, the main goal with my blog right now, is to build readership. A following. Therefore, the very first “widget” on my blog’s righthand column, invites visitors to subscribe via RSS feed or email. A few inches down, I invite visitors to follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

I’ve expanded my network by partnering with other bloggers and writing guest posts. I write one new post a week, consistently, so my followers know to expect something. All of these tactics work toward building my online following.

And, it’s working (slowly but surely). Know what you want, and build toward it.

3. When, and how often, will I post?

Decide this up front. Will you post once a week, every Wednesday? Or twice a week—every Tuesday and Thursday? The key is to REMAIN CONSISTENT.

This consistency gives your readers a sense of professionalism. Just like magazine subscribers can expect their publication the first of every month, blog subscribers can expect a new post every Tuesday.

Just remember, whatever you decide, you need to keep up with it. So even if you can post three times a week right now, ask yourself: “Can I come up with three new ideas every week—and write them—five months from now?” My suggestion is to start slow, then add on if you have the time.

SO TELL ME: Do you have any key questions to add onto this list? What do YOU think are the most important aspects for bloggers to consider, for success?

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5 Killer Twitter Tips: Expand Your Network Power!

I used to hate Twitter. No, seriously–I did.

Until I discovered its networking power. Less than six months ago, I opened my account. I initially had six followers, most of whom were personal friends. I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out how some people had 1,000 followers, yet only followed 300.

Now, I’ve not only helped build my company’s Twitter account to that status, but I’ve reached nearly 300 followers myself. Recently, I hit a personal landmark: more people are following me, than I follow others.

How have I managed to build this growing social media presence? Here are 5 killer Twitter tips that will help you develop your presence into a powerhouse:

1. Don’t make your tweets about you; make them about everyone else. People are selfish creatures. So, what makes you think they’ll care about YOUR blog post? They won’t. But they WILL care about improving their own presence on Twitter (hey, you’re on my blog, reading my stuff, aren’t you?).

2. Ask questions. If you wrote a cool blog post on how gardening inspired your creativity, your tweet could look like this: “How can gardening help YOU become more creative?” Then link to your post. Questions tease people’s curiosity.

3. Always, always thank or acknowledge your new followers. If you choose not to follow certain people or entities back, fine. Be prepared, they may not stick around. However, they’ll be more likely to keep following you if they see you’ve acknowledged their presence.

4. Be an information forum. Choose who you follow wisely–the experts in your field of practice. C’mon, you know who they are.  THEN, let them feed you information, and you can  tweet it to your followers. Your news will be coming from legit sources, and people will turn to you as an expert in the field.

5. Tweet often, but remember: it’s better to tweet fewer solid tweets, than many useless tweets.

Social media is a time investment. The tools may be free, but becoming an online sensation doesn’t happen overnight. Your community will build slowly, but, it will build. Just keep at it, and you’ll reap the rewards.

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The Curse of Knowledge–Do You Have It?

I bet Adam and Eve never saw this phrase coming thousands of years after that dang apple.

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Nevertheless, here it is: The Curse of Knowledge.

“What in God’s name is she talking about?” you might ask. Well, it’s the golden piece of advice for any writer OR business owner trying get a message to the public.

What is the Curse of Knowledge?

You cannot summarize the curse of knowledge in one sentence. It’s an idea, an understanding.

Think of this: Have you ever listened to a doctor describe a diagnosis, and every term they used scrambled your brains? Or perhaps, a lawyer’s “jargon talk”confused your understanding of a topic even more.  

This doctor, or lawyer, was so engrossed in his or her field of specialty, that upon talking to YOU–an outsider–he or she FORGOT how much they know. Consequently, you did not understand or fully absorb their message or information.

This is the curse of knowledge. And every professional deals with it.

Break the curse!

Journalists know about the dreaded curse. They are some of the foremost experts in taking something complicated, and breaking it down. The result? The average reader can absorb the information.

How can you learn this skill?

First and foremost, self-awareness is key. If you know the curse exists, try to identify when it reveals itself. Here are some other techniques you can use to break the curse:

1) Ask yourself, “Could a 5th-grader understand what I’m trying to explain?” If not, go back and simplify. (Hint: Layman’s terms)

2) Ask a colleague or acquaintance OUTSIDE your field of specialty to review your article, or blog, or video, etc. Then, ask what message they took away. If it’s not what you wanted to convey, you know the curse struck.

3) Your communications are littered with jargon. This is very typical in business or corporate writing. If you’re writing for your executives, then fine. However, if you’re writing to encourage the average person to take action (whether it’s to buy something or donate their time), this type of communication will turn people away.

So tell me, have you been struck with the curse of knowledge? And how did you overcome it?

Like the advice I offer? Sign up to receive my blog posts by email (upper righthand corner). As a professional writer, journalist, and media strategist, I offer funny life stories, writing tips, and social media strategies to consider.

3 Social Marketing Lessons from a Bananagram

Plastic letters in a banana. Was I hallucinating? No, but after one simple email, I switched from a skeptic to an advocate for this unique “game.”

I’m talking about the new age of social media marketing. About a week ago, I wrote a humorous, yet cynical blog post entitled, “Bananagrams: The New Age of American Consumerism.”

A Bananagram.

The next day, when I checked my inbox, I found a surprise. There, filling my subject line, all in caps, was one word: “BANANAGRAMS.”

Turns out the email author was the PR representative for Bananagrams. “Morning Shari,” it read. “I just saw your post.  You have to play it!  It’s so much more than Scrabble in a banana. I attached a few articles on the founder and the creation of the game as an FYI.”

The three articles were from the New York Times, TIME Magazine, and the Boston Globe. Within the hour, I was all hers. How? Well, besides introducing me to the very endearing story behind the Bananagram, she did three very key things:

# 1. She found me.

I wrote my blog without knowing a single thing about Bananagrams. All I observed were five oversized fabric bananas hanging off an aisle at Walgreens. I had no intention of researching these contraptions further.

Yet, the PR rep for Bananagrams searched cyberspace that day for her brand’s name, and miraculously found my blog. She read it and saw an opportunity to educate a potentially influential “advocate.”

#2. She researched me, I’m guessing.

I can’t say for sure, but from the way she approached me, I imagine the Bananagrams PR rep poked around my blog and saw I really am a serious journalist (I say this because the same day I received her email, I had several views of my resume and professional clips).

I have plenty of information on my blog about me: where I’ve worked, the Associated Press awards I’ve won, and clips from the various magazines for which I’ve written.

#3. She educated me, the right way.

After getting a feel for me, she didn’t try and push her brand onto me. Instead, understanding my journalistic values (again, I’m guessing), she attached three articles from three very reputable publications and let the objective stories speak for themselves. Additionally, she didn’t threaten me or ask me to take down my blog post—nor did she request I write a positive follow-up (that’s right, this post was MY idea).

Roundup

This should be a lesson for EVERY company or service out there. You can no longer rely on your potential consumers to contact you. Instead, you need to find them—where they live—whether on Facebook, Twitter, or the blogosphere.

But before you do, spend one minute (literally) reading my first post about the Bananagrams. And see for yourself the difference one email can make. You’ll be amazed.