Friday, January 30, 2015

How to Prepare Quotes that Journalists Can Use

Part of the everyday work of PR professionals is preparing quotes and comments for journalists. I have done it myself in the past. But I have also been on the other side when I work as a freelance journalist and I have noticed that there some responses are exactly what I need, some are completely useless and most are somewhere in the middle -- ok, but could be better.

Crafting usable quotes is a mission-critical skill for any PR person. Usable quotes are more likely to be chosen and less likely to be edited. You are also more likely to be asked for comment again in the future if your response is usable.

So what exactly makes a usable comment? Why are some better than others and how can PR people learn to make their quotes easier to use?  Here are five essential tips:

DELIVER YOUR RESPONSE ON TIME. If you have been asked to deliver a reply by Monday then make sure that you are on-time. If you are late or might be late because you are waiting for an approval then send a note to alert the journalist. When you receive the invitation to comment don't forget to confirm that you are going to respond. Two days ago I received a request from the Wall Street Journal for a comment. The deadline was Friday 4pm. I confirmed within minutes of receiving the request and sent my comments on Thursday.

WRITE ANSWERS THAT STAND ALONE. If you have been asked a question don't prepare a reply makes no sense without the question. In most cases the question is asked to elicit a comment and the comment will be printed on its own so it has to be entirely standalone. This is actually good practice in any exchange with media, but especially important when you are asked for a comment. 

AVOID ANY DIRECT SELLING. Resist the temptation to add a sales pitch to your comments. Make your response commercial and usually your comment will not be used and you will never be asked again. This is especially true when you have been asked a generic question about your business simply because you are an expert.

READ OUT LOUD TO CHECK SOUND. Way too many comments sent to journalists do not sound like they were said by the person they are attributed to and sometimes they don't even sound like they were uttered by a human. Always read your draft comments out loud to see if they sound reasonable. Try also imagining the person quoted saying these words. Is it the sort of thing they would really say or is ot brochurespeak? Be brutally honest.

GIVE A LITTLE MORE THAN ASKED. When a journalist asks you for a short comment you should not send a longform essay, but it can be helpful to give a little extra so that they can choose the parts they find most useful. Ideally the comments you send should all be able to work alone, so that the journalist can take one sentence if that is all they need or more if that fits better. In cases where they set a precise upper limit you should respect that. 

Not every inquiry is clearly expressed so it is sometimes a good idea to ask for clarification -- especially about the amount that is required. Journalists receive more email than they would really like so don't be surprised if there isn't a quick response to your request. One simple workaround for this is to provide quotes at two different lengths so that they can choose them. Another technique I often use is to add an additional useful paragraph that adds another point and can be omitted without affecting the rest.


Lectures, Workshops, Coaching & Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing on this and other communication topics you can contact me at conseil@andrewhennigan.com, through my website http://andrewhennigan.com or by phone on 0033 6 79 61 42 81 or 0046 730 894 475.



Friday, January 23, 2015

Lessons from Old Media: Making it Easier for Readers to Share Content Through Twitter

Twitter has become an important source for news. Many people like myself find links to interesting articles in their feed and news stories that go Twitter viral soon end up being covered in media and the subject of conversation.

For many years newspapers, magazines, blogs and other media have all had one-click icons to share article links. Some even added a suggested tweet text to make it even easier. But now media are adopting other techniques to encourage readers to tweet, simple ideas that anyone can adopt without any special web development or coding.

Looking at an article published in today's Los Angeles Times Leading scientist warns that Ebola eradication may be elusive, for example, we see the usual Twitter sharing icon both at the top of the article and at the bottom. Clicking on this icon opens a Twitter composition window where we find a suggested tweet with a link to the article. Readers can edit this tweet or add hashtags before sending it. Readers with little time can simply click send, moving from article to tweet in just two clicks.

This much is standard practice, but where the Los Angeles Times takes it one step further is that there are also up to three more different suggested tweets under the title. Readers can thus pick the one they like the most, making it more likely they find something that they want to tweet and also making the tweets more varied.


There are even more prompts to share the content. When there are quotes highlighted beside the copy under each quote is another Twitter icon to share that specific quote.
At the end of the article there is, of course, another icon to tweet the whole article, so that nobody has to scroll back up to the top to use the first one.

These multiple twitter options encourage readers to tweet content from the LA Times more often. They are especially useful for readers using mobile devices who might want to share a story but can't easily type their own tweet. For papers like the LA Times this is now critically important, but website designers and communications managers everywhere can learn from their example, applying these surprisingly simple methods to encourage sharing.


Lectures, Workshops, Coaching, Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing on this and other communication topics you can contact me by email at conseil@andrewhennigan.com, by phone on 0033 6 79 61 42 81 or 0046 730 894 475 or through my website http://andrewhennigan.com




Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Three Reasons to Avoid Sending Angry Emails

In an earlier post Three Tips for Responding to Angry Emails I outlined some practical methods for responding to angry emails effectively. This solves part of the problem but it would be far better if angry emails were never sent in the first place.

There are some people who regularly resort to sending angry emails -- every organization seems to have at least one employee who is part troll -- but even otherwise calm and measured people can slip into this mistake occasionally. And this is a mistake. Sending angry emails can have negative effects that go beyond the obvious.

ANGRY EMAILS ARE NOT EFFECTIVE. A polite and respectful email is much more likely to achieve results than one that is angry and perhaps disrespectful, both in the short term and long term. Other people are always more co-operative with someone who treats them well and they will feel a stronger commitment to your goal when you ask nicely. Remember that at the end of the year when your results are being evaluated and rewarded nobody will ask you how many email battles you won. All they care about are the business goals and results you were expected to achieve; winning email battles actually gets in the way of the real objectives.

ANGRY EMAILS INCREASE STRESS. There's an interesting exercise you can try one day when you are very calm: sit down and try to write an example of a hostile email. What you will discover is that even writing just an example email never intended for sending makes you feel uncomfortably stressed, a fact I discovered once just preparing examples for an email workshop. By deciding to send only calm, polite and respectful mails you reduce the stress levels of the people around you and you reduce your own stress. When someone resorts to hostile emails everybody suffers, including the sender. Increased stress is by itself a problem and can lead to a higher staff turnover. It also impacts performance negatively.

ANGRY EMAILS CAN EMBARRASS YOU. If ineffectiveness and stress are not sufficient reason to avoid sending angry emails, consider that they can also come back to embarrass you in a very public way when they are given a circulation broader than you intended. Before you send a mail ask yourself how you would feel if it went viral on social media or if it were published in major newspapers. This is a genuine risk. Ask Neal Patterson, who as CEO of the Cerner Corporation in March 2001 famously sent an angry email to company managers who leaked it to media. The resulting media storm caused the company's stock to fall 22%. This tale is immortalized in the Wikipedia biography of Patterson and lives on in the archives of media in articles like the New York Times' A Stinging Office Memo Boomerangs; Chief Executive Is Criticized After Upbraiding Workers by E-Mail. More recently executives at Sony Pictures were also embarrassed when hackers stole and published internal emails never intended for the public. As Rory Carroll warned in the Guardian article Sony Style Hack Attack Could Happen Anywhere this is a warning to all companies: this could happen to anyone and your snarky, childish mails might end up on Reddit. Facebook and Twitter for everyone to read.

There is a very clear lesson here that you should never be writing or sending angry emails. There are many techniques for avoiding this, some of these are already mentioned in Three Tips for responding to Angry Emails but there are many more and this will be the topic for another post in the not-so-distant future. If you have a management role you should also be watching that none of your subordinates make this mistake. Let it be clear to everyone in your organization that email wars are an unproductive waste of time and should never be started or continued by anyone in your team.


Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about email -- especially global email -- and other communication topics you can contact me at conseil@andrewhennigan.com or on 0033 6 79 61 42 81 or 0046 730 894 475. There are also outlines of selected lectures and workshops on my website http://andrewhennigan.com

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Three Ways to Ensure Journalists Will Contact You Again

Recently I wrote some guidelines about How to Make Sure Journalists Quote You Correctly. Since then several people have asked about a related question: how you make sure that journalists will ask you for comments again in the future.

As a freelance journalist I have asked many other people for comments and in my role as consultant I have also been on the other side, so I have learned why some people get contacted just once while others are asked again and again. There are actually just three simple yet important rules to follow.

RESPOND QUICKLY. When you are asked if you are interested in commenting on some topic you should respond as quickly as possible. The journalist is almost certainly working to deadline and needs to talk to a number of sources. Knowing who is interested and who isn't is very important. If you don't respond they don't know if you plan to respond later and maybe have to choose someone else instead. At this stage it is enough to state that you are interested and intend to respond, asking for clarification if needed. This simple gesture makes you stand out as a useful and dependable source even before you have answered any questions.

RESPECT DEADLINES. Always make sure that you know when the deadline is and respect it. If you promised to send something by Friday make sure that you send it by Friday. Comments that are too late might still be squeezed into the article, but they are likely to be further down or in a less important role. They might also be thrown away if they arrive too late to be used. What is worse is that once you miss one deadline you are likely never going to be asked again. On the other hand if you are scrupulous about respecting deadlines you stand out among all the other sources and you are almost guaranteed to be asked again, unless your inputs are not usable.

PROVIDE USABLE ANSWERS. Confirming availability and meeting deadlines are very important, but even that will not get your name added to the list of trusted sources unless you actually provide usable answers. There are three elements in this. First of all you have to read all the instructions very carefully and make sure that you are addressing the right question. At the same time provide more than is actually needed so that the journalist can choose the best parts but without sending too many words. Finally, make sure that your comments are not over-promotional. Never use the language of brochures or advertising in your responses, avoiding the kinds of phrases like "world's leading X" that do not sound like serious journalism.

Follow these three rules diligently and you are likely to be asked to comment again in future by journalists you have already spoken to. You are also more likely to be contacted by other journalists who have either seen your name mentioned in other articles -- often the sign of a good source -- or you are recommended to them by people you have impressed.


Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing on this and other communication topics you can contact me at writer@andrewhennigan.com or by phone on +33 6 79 61 42 81 or +46 730 894 475. You can also find more information on my website http://andrewhennigan.com


Monday, December 8, 2014

Why Influencing is Better than Convincing

When people find out that I teach influencing workshops one of the first questions is sometimes "How do I convince someone to..." as though there is some magic formula to persuade people to do things that they don't want to do. There are, in fact, some manipulative techniques that let you do exactly that, but only for a short time. In the mid and long term the only way to get people to do the things that you want them to do is to influence them, which is very different.

One of the principles of effective influencing is that you should not create an idea in a vacuum then try to convince people to accept it. Instead you should let the people around you help shape the idea until it is in a form that works for you and works for them, then it is accepted willingly. 

This is effective because people are naturally reluctant to accept something unfamiliar. You might be familiar with this from the common dislike of new things which are later accepted. Every time there is a new version of Facebook, for example, many people complain. Give them time, though, and in the end they like it. They like it so much that when the next new version comes along they complain that they liked the old one -- the one that they hated when it was new.

The process or evolving your idea to be accepted also ensures that it becomes more familiar and less threatening. At the same time you discover and disarm all the objections to your idea. Sometimes a small change that makes no difference to you is extremely important for someone else and makes the difference between rejection and acceptance. In other cases just discussing the problems with other stakeholders convinces them that your idea is, in fact, better than they thought.

More generally, instead of convincing someone to accept something that you propose it is better to influence them by following these three steps:

Define your objective. First decide what it is that you want to do exactly. This is much harder than most people imagine. Often people insist on some aspect of their plan which is actually secondary. What is it that you really want? Spend some time defining the core objective, the part you must have. Once you have a clear idea of which parts of your idea are optional it becomes much easier to make it work for everyone else.

Evangelize your idea. Never try to convince someone to decide about something they just heard about. People are always doubtful about things the first time they heard about them. Familiarity breeds trust so just talking about something for a while makes it more acceptable. This means that you shouldn't present a new idea and then ask for a decision; this is a quick way to get a negative response. Instead talk about your ideas with everyone over a period of time long enough for everyone to get used to the idea. Exactly how long this is depends on how radical is the idea. When the first serious proposal for a one-way trip to Mars was aired it was considered ridiculous. Today many people consider it seriously.

Listen to feedback. Listen very carefully to all of the objections and adapt your idea to address as many of these as possible. Very often the idea can be fine-tuned to make it acceptable to more people. Make sure you also talk to adversaries; their inputs can be very helpful because people who are opposed to an idea are more likely to find real problems with your ideas. This work to refine the idea usually makes it stronger and better for everyone and at the same time these conversations reduce opposition. Most ideas are, in fact, not really ready when they are first conceived and need a concerted effort and the help of many other people to turn them into something useful.

One final word of warning: Once your idea has been accepted the influencing isn't over. Keep listening to the conversation because someone might be trying to revert the decision. Be always vigilant and don't let someone else undo your work. This is especially true if you did a poor job of bringing the opposition on board. Those opponents that you simply ignored are always there somewhere, waiting for their chance to undo your work.


Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about influencing and other topics you can reach me by email on conseil@andrewhennigan.com, by phone on 0033 6 79 61 42 81 or 0046 730 894 475 or through my website http://andrewhennigan.com

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Brand Protection Lessons from the Ello Social Network

Ten years ago when social media was far from mainstream it was not rare for usernames like "cocacola" and "apple" to be registered by users unconnected with these companies. Sometimes the names were registered by squatters, hoping to sell their name to the owner of the brand. In other cases the name was registered by either fans or adversaries of the brand, deliberately taking advantage of the confusion. Occasionally they were registered by private users who just liked the name and had no other intentions.

Fast forward to today and you might expect that everyone in digital communication has learnt the lesson. Registering your company and brand names on new social media channels has become just a routine part of brand protection activity. Doing this when a new social site or app is created means that you are more likely to get there before someone else. This blocks potential squatters, but more importantly it avoids confusion when someone else is posting apparently in your name.

But even today there are many companies and organizations who are not as careful as they might be. Checking a few random brand names on the up and coming Ello social network I found that there are some who, like me, were careful to register an account with their brand name. Many of these are obviously intended for brand protection because the account has no activity and in some cases not even a profile picture. Eurostar, for example, has already taken @eurostar but not yet completed the profile.


If nothing else this demonstrates that Eurostar learned the lesson from the 2009 PR crisis when four trains were blocked in the tunnel between France and England but when people turned to the @eurostar Twitter account for news they found that it belonged to a student. Once the company was featured as a case in a crisis PR lecture I taught at the American University of Paris; now it is best in class, a story I described in Online Brand Protection: Why You Need to Register Your Brand on Social Sites

But in some cases other people got their first. The username @cococola, for example, has been taken for a fan account. This might sound like a positive outcome because a fan group is presumably positive to your brand, but the downside is that their postings might not be in line with your messages and some people could mistake it for an official company account.



A much more unfortunate situation is when the username is taken by someone who is unrelated to the company, which has happened to Spotify, where the @spotify name has been taken by a user apparently unrelated to the company, demonstrating that even leading Internet companies don't always think of brand protection.



World leaders, or at least their PR team, have also not been quick to protect their brands on Ello. The username @barackobama has been taken by an unrelated user, forcing the real Barack Obama to use the clunky alternative @barackobamaofficial. Meanwhile Pope Francis's "@pontifex" username has been taken by someone who has simply reserved it for the Pope, though it is not clear if they are doing this as a favor or because they hope to make some money.



Brand protection is not terribly difficult. It takes just five minutes and zero expense to register a brand on a new social site or app.Finding emergent sites is also not terribly difficult because there are so many people writing about them. Some of this effort is wasted because many sites fail, but since it hard to predict the next Twitter, Instagram or WhatsApp it is much safer to register at least a brand protection account everywhere. And while you are registering the account take a few more seconds to upload an avatar, add a link and a brief description.


Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about brand protection, social media or other communication topics you can email me at conseil@andrewhennigan.com or call 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 42 81. You can also find me through my website http://andrewhennigan.com and, of course, I have an account on Ello at http://ello.co/andrewhennigan


Friday, November 14, 2014

Three Best Practices for Video Presentations at Conferences


Many conferences increase their pool of available speakers by using live video presentations from people who are unable to attend in person. With web-based video conferencing tools this is simple and essentially free, allowing anyone with a laptop or even a smartphone to speak at a conference on the other side of the world.

There are many techniques that speakers can use so that they look their best in these video connections. Some of these were presented in Ten ways to impress people in skype interviews and in How to look better in video, but there are also some best practices that are specially important for speakers at conferences. Here are three that I have found the most useful:

BRING THE CAMERA TO EYE LEVEL. One of the basic rules for framing video interview shots is to have the camera at the level of the speaker's eyes. Many people use the camera in their computer and when it is resting on a table the camera is too low, giving the typical Skype call look where you appear to be looking down. It looks much more professional to raise up the computer on a pile of boxes or books so that the camera lens is at the same height as your eyes. This simple tip makes your video image more professional and makes you look more credible. It might look odd to anyone who is in the room with you but it will look more natural on the screen.

USE TWITTER FOR FEEDBACK. When you speak to an audience far away one of the problems is to get feedback from the room, either from the organizers or from the public. All video conference tools allow some communication back from the conference to the speaker, but this is not always in a place where it can be accessed by the moderator or chair in the conference room, and passing feedback from the audience is complicated. A simple fix to this problem is to set up a laptop or tablet behind or next to the camera and on the screen of that device you display your twitter notifications. Then tell everyone who needs to know that you are watching for tweets sent to @username. This means that anybody on the organizing team can let you know if there is a problem with the connection, or if time is running out. The audience can also use the same method to send questions or comments to the speaker. To make the tweets easier to read you should zoom your browser to make the text larger.

ALWAYS HAVE A PLAN B. Technology is never 100% reliable so you need to have a plan B for when your laptop hangs or the video connection fails or is too low quality to be usable. Don't wait for this to happen and then think what to do. Anticipate that it could happen and have an alternative already planned. To guard against a laptop crash, for example, I usually have two computers logged in to separate accounts and ready to go, so I can switch from one to another very quickly. I usually also have a backup Internet connection using a 3G USB key. If you only have one computer and one connection and they fail you could plan to switch to an audio phone connection with a local copy of the presentation slides. Or you could send a pre-recorded video version of your presentation to be used only as a last resort.

Video presentations at international conferences are likely to become more common in future and allow popular speakers to contribute at more events, but there is a risk that your reputation can be impacted by poor quality or even a catastrophic failure. Mastering how to do these presentations effectively and preparing for disaster is therefore a smart career move.


Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing 

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing on this and other communication topics you can contact me by email at conseil@andrewhennigan.com, by phone on 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 42 81 or through my website at http://andrewhennigan.com.