Hawes, Lisa - Featured Photos

Is It Ever OK to Break a Press Embargo?

This is the second half of a two-part article on press embargoes.

Photo credit: Alex Blarth via Flickr

Photo credit: Alex Blarth via Flickr

Reporters know that if you’ve set a press embargo, you’re probably pitching the story to many journalists. If your embargo and the wire time for the press release are the same, the reporter who’s bothering to review your news in advance will be in competition with the wire service to be first with the news — and reporters like to break news, especially in the 24-hour news cycle. (Search for “CNN retracts story” to see the results of the fierce competition to be the first with breaking news.)

Ask yourself — Could I give my “friendlies” who are cooperating with me and possibly doing interviews, a leg up on the post time? Can I let them “break” the embargo that I’ve set? The answer is No if you’re working with a public company, and Yes if it’s a private company. (more…)


Live Tweeting at Conferences

texting at conference

The warm summer weather ushers in a flurry of high tech conferences and events, ranging from the consumer-focused Apple Worldwide Developers Conference and E3 to enterprise-focused events like GigaOm Structure and Fortune Brainstorm Tech. Thousands of people attend these events, with many more following the news from home. Leveraging Twitter enables conference attendees to share/discuss the experience with other attendees as well as their followers. For those who are new to live-tweeting at events, here are a few pointers to get you started:



12 Media Training Tips to Master the Art of the Interview

Last month, I offered some insight on crisis communications and the importance for organizations to have a plan in place to control and effectively respond to a crisis as quickly as possible. Seems only fitting that this month I discuss the value of media training since the two go hand-in-hand. Part of that plan is to select a primary spokesperson to represent the organization throughout the crisis process. As a PR guy, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of media training.

I know most executives dread the thought of running through practice sessions, but the bottom line is your company’s reputation is on the line every time you step in front of a camera. All it takes is one slip of the tongue to cast a dark shadow over an organization. That little media gaffe can go viral in the blink of the eye, so it’s imperative for executives to learn the proper techniques to communicate their message effectively.

After 15 years in the broadcasting industry, I like to think I can offer a little advice in this area. Preparation is the key to success! It’s a motto that served me well during my time in the newsroom. Developing sound bites that resonate with your target audience and answering tough questions takes practice. Staying on message is key, but you would be amazed how some executives think they can just wing it without any formal training. In those instances, I often reference the Albert Brooks sweating scene in Broadcast News. Now this may be a bit of an exaggeration, but I have seen first-hand examples of executives who were not prepared and those golden on-air opportunities turned into media disasters (Not my clients of course!). The movie scene is 25-years-old and still make me laugh, but tanking in front of thousands of viewers is no laughing matter. So here’s a few media training tips to help you master the art of the interview and make a strong first impression.

  • Prepare talking notes on focus points you want to make
  • Anticipate tough questions
  • Practice answering questions before the interview
  • Know that you can always bridge back to your primary points
  • Understand that interviews could be cut short (It’s not a reflection on you – it could just be breaking news)
  • Keep your answers short and crisp (15-second sound bites are a good measure)
  • Listen to the interviewer’s questions
  • Be aware that a reporter may ask you the same question in a different way to get the response they’re looking for
  • Be enthusiastic, but be yourself
  • Hand gestures are OK – don’t be stiff
  • Smile and be friendly
  • Know that the microphone is always on — there is no such thing as “off the record” and the tape is usually rolling before the interview even starts

The better prepared you are for an interview, the more successful they will be. A well-designed media training plan is a great investment and a good PR agency can offer best practices in media training to help transform executives into effective spokespeople who will present your organization in the best possible light across all media platforms.

Ross Coyle can be reached at rcoyle@sterlingpr.com. Follow him on Twitter @rossjcoyle.

Image courtesy of Rick Brown Communications

Hawes, Lisa - Featured Photos

On V-E Day, Four Lessons from a WWII News Embargo

Today is the 67th anniversary of the official end of hostilities in the European theater of World War II. The unconditional surrender of Germany was announced on May 8, 1945.

The Associated Press correspondent who filed his V-E Day report on May 8 — a full day before competing media outlets — also violated a news embargo imposed by the Allied Command. As a result, the US military expelled the reporter from France and briefly banned AP dispatches from Europe. The AP then fired the reporter, Ed Kennedy, in spite of the enormous scoop he had handed his news agency.

This story has resurfaced in the last few days because the AP president, Tom Curley, has issued an apology to Kennedy’s family. While Kennedy died in 1963, his family recently published his memoir with an introduction penned by Curley. As part of the publicity push, the AP filed an engrossing article on Kennedy’s tale that has appeared in many newspapers, spurring discussion of embargo management.

The proper way to manage a news embargo is a topic of endless interest within PR agencies like Sterling Communications. Online media sites such as TechCrunch imposed a death sentence on the embargo as far back as 2008. Embargoes are now frequently violated even by old-line media such as the Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker, provoking furious arguments on Twitter. As soon as one outlet publishes the story, the other dominoes will fall. Sometimes disagreements arise even with a single news organization, where online news staff or wire staff may violate an embargo time established for the print edition.

In the case of Ed Kennedy, there are four key points about embargo management that bear comment:

(1)  The 17 reporters who were offered the chance to witness the May 7surrender ceremony agreed to embargo the news until authorized by Allied headquarters to file their stories. However, this was originally understood to be for a few hours only. Censors later extended the blackout to 36 hours.

Embargoes are normally set for a specific amount of time. The US military may have the power to extend an embargo time past the original agreed-upon time, but don’t expect that a civilian company can. (Well, maybe Apple.) In any normal situation —which the German surrender was not — a reporter shouldn’t be relied upon to hold the story once the embargo time has passed. The PR representative can certainly try to call in favors with reporters who have the story, but shouldn’t expect the new timeframe will stick, especially if the news is truly noteworthy. Reporters want their scoop!

(2)  German officials announced the surrender by radio during the extended blackout period. Kennedy then requested the American censor lift the embargo, since the news was out, but his request was denied. That’s when Kennedy made his fateful decision to go rogue.

 It’s S.O.P. now for a reporter to ignore an embargo if someone else has already violated it. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but if the embargo hasn’t held, the reporter derives no benefit from keeping to it, as long as he/she can point to the earlier story. Ideally, the reporter will notify the PR contact that the embargo hasn’t held. However, a military embargo is not the same as a corporate one. Kennedy knew he was running a huge risk.

(3)  Kennedy dictated his story directly to the AP’s London bureau, which issued the story on the wire within minutes. He did not first discuss the dilemma with his editors.

 This is where Kennedy failed. This type of lone cowboy behavior is an example of short-term thinking. Yes, he beat his competitors with the story, but he created a lot of hurt for the AP in the long run. Woodward and Bernstein didn’t run their Watergate accusations against the White House without first securing Ben Bradlee’s approval, and Bradlee solicited his publisher’s advice. It’s possible that Kennedy’s editors would have reined him in — and as his employers, they had a right to do so. However, if they’d given him the go-ahead, he’d have kept his job.

(4)  The 16 war correspondents that continued to honor the embargo were furious, and later signed a protest letter requesting the military ban on the AP.

You can’t blame them. Kennedy flaunted the rules and won a huge scoop for the AP, while the correspondents who stuck by their pledge were shut out for another day. Unfortunately, the AP had to bear responsibility for the actions of its employee, even though it had not condoned his behavior.

Ed Kennedy was stuck between a rock and a hard place. His reluctance to honor an embargo on a piece of news that was public was understandable, but he sabotaged himself when he bypassed his editor. There were mistakes on both sides. It’s a story rife with cinematic possibilities — take note, Leonardo DiCaprio!

Lisa Hawes can be reached at lhawes@sterlingpr.com. Follow Lisa on Twitter @lisakayhawes.

Photo credit: Frank L. Dubervill. Canada. Department of National Defence. Library and Archives Canada, PA-191985 via flickr Creative Commons


How to Build Lasting Relationships with the Media

While social media is a great tool for disseminating information quickly to a lot of people, it also fuels our gotta have everything and gotta have it now attitude. Remember back when Web pages took a minute or more to load? Now if it takes more than a few seconds we grow impatient and abandon that site in favor of a faster one. But what does this mean for the media, the land where everything needs to be done yesterday? Well, members of the media and PR representatives need to have accountable relationships so both parties can get what they want. Here are some tips on how to build lasting and meaningful relationships with reporters.

1. Know what the journalist covers. If you are pitching a story outside the journalist’s area of interest you are wasting their time and yours. This is not helpful in building a relationship because the next time you have something relevant to pitch they may just delete it thinking it is junk. Pitching relevant stories builds your credibility and the journalist will appreciate you not wasting their time. If you consistently provide quality stories they may come to you looking for something to write about.

2. Know the publication. Know the scope and also look at the editorial calendars when provided to know the topics planned so you can correctly time your pitches.

3. Know what the journalist has written about previously. Read the titles of past articles so you don’t pitch a story that was recently covered. It only takes a few extra minutes but it can generate years of value.

4. Explain the value of your pitch. Ask yourself, “why is this story important?” If you can’t answer the question the reporter won’t be able to either. Remember the criteria for news are: timely, significant, proximity, prominence, human interest.

5. Provide relevant materials when appropriate. Members of the media work on deadline and if they have to spend hours looking for supplemental material or checking facts, they are likely going to pass on your story in favor of one they have more information for. Backup materials also garner credibility for your story.

6. Be available. If they call with questions or need additional information make sure you return the call promptly or they may go to other sources for a story and you lose your coverage altogether. Even delaying a few hours could mean a missed deadline for them and a missed opportunity for you.

7. Don’t flood their inbox with “fluff”. Journalists receive hundreds of emails a day. Don’t waste their time pitching stories that have little to no value to them. It is always better to pitch a few really good stories than a bunch of not so great stories. This helps build your credibility.

8. Always be honest. Never lie to a reporter or you will destroy your relationship and your credibility. If they can’t believe what you say or they have to spend extra time fact checking because they can’t trust you, they will not bother with your story.

Following these steps does not guarantee coverage, but it will make you more valuable to the reporter and ultimately lead to mutually beneficial relationships.

Monika Hathaway can be reached at mhathaway@sterlingpr.com. Follow her on Twitter @Jazzpatron.


Pitching in the 21st Century

The days of hammering the phones to book meetings with reporters may not be long gone just yet, but they are dwindling. While the Internet and email have made our lives easier, they have also given us more ways to approach the media. Pitching reporters through email is nothing new, and today, most journalists and PR practitioners prefer this method of contact. However, most recently there has been a new way of pitching, that some reporters are starting to lean toward: social media.

Social media has quickly evolved from a personal activity to a great business tool, and people are using it to promote companies and to contact others. Reporters are hopping on that bandwagon as well. Some are starting to use Twitter as a way of connecting with others to source their articles and most use it as a place to post their stories, giving them a wider distribution. Pitching reporters on Twitter is a lot quicker, since you only have 140 characters to work with (this also helps you to be concise!). However, to do so you usually need to have a working relationship with them. Other social media outlets such as Facebook have been off limits to pitching, for the most part; mostly because many reporters save them for personal use.