Category Archives: PR blog

The Truth About The Truth


  1. My version of The Truth is different from yours. Take note of testimony regarding recent local cases, the JFK assassination and other events witnessed by many. My version of The Truth is filtered through all my life experiences including prejudices I’ve felt and prejudices I’ve been subjected to.
  2. The Truth is subject to manipulation. In PR/marketing/advertising, what’s generally shared is a portion of The Truth. Look at ads for movies containing critic blurbs. You’ll see “laugh-filled romp” but you won’t see “tedious drivel.”
  3. The Truth is subject to revision. E.g., Santa Claus.
  4. The Truth can be subject to doubt. Have you ever actually seen a water molecule? Probably not. You likely believe, however, that it’s The Truth that it’s composed of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom in a certain structure. But are you sure?
  5. A good documentary film supports an advocacy position. This does not mean such a film is untrue. It is a version of The Truth.

I’ve been thinking a lot about The Truth lately. I recently read The Night Of The Gun by David Carr. In writing his memoir, he went back to people who were in his life in prior decades for The Truth about episodes that had become blurred through the fogs of addiction and time.

Following questions about The Truth of the movies Selma and American Sniper last winter, I’ve seen two recent movies, True Story and While We’re Young, that examine The Truth and its manipulations. Articles this past weekend in the Wall Street Journal (click HERE) and The New York Times (click HERE) consider the importance of The Truth in reporting.

I strive to deliver The Truth in all of my messaging. Communicating my messages and those of the people and organizations I work with involves versions of The Truth. By necessity, when one simplifies a message to make it easier to consume, one must be selective about what stays in and what is edited out. As Oscar Wilde said (and David Carr quoted in his book): “The Truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

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Good and Bad Releases and Pitches

As a person who sends releases and pitches to a number of media outlets, it is hard for me to be objective about my own work.  However, I will critique a few releases from others that have landed recently in my inbox.


From Weber Shandwick: A brief 2-paragraph notice that A-B employees would participate in Global Be(er) Responsible Day last week. The release also offered a spokesperson for an interview. Quick and to the point.

From Lippe Taylor: A list of highlights (in bullet point form) from a survey conducted for Nescafé for National Coffee Day on September 29. One stat: 42% of coffee drinkers say that their last cup of coffee was more satisfying than their last “intimate experience.” (The release offered to share the full results of the survey for those interested.)

From the Sportsman Channel: A pitch to interview Steven Rinella about the MeatEater show on which he prepared and ate the hearts of five animals he hunted. The release was in a convenient who/what/when format. The “boilerplate” (organizational overview), however, was much too long.


From Sheila Stewart PR: A pitch to interview an attorney about the effort to raise money for the policeman involved in the Michael Brown shooting. The subject line was confusing and the pitch gave ALL of the guy’s credentials before mentioning what he might talk about.

From St. Louis Science Center: I love the Science Center but their release re the Sherlock Holmes exhibit opening next month is wordy and vague. I’m guessing it’s a “copy and paste” release from the folks who put the exhibit together. It has six “boilerplates” at the end. Six! (Their release for this past weekend’s Electric Car show was much better… in the when/what/where/contact format.)

From Penguin Books: A pitch to talk to the author of From Scratch, a history of the Food Network. The names mentioned in the pitch are famous in the food/cooking universe, but the anecdotes and quotes from the book are not compelling. If those are the highlights, I’ll pass.

I respect everyone who’s working hard to tell clients’ stories, but communicating with media requires focus and clarity. If you want your pitch to survive the dreaded delete button, give something substantial, timely and easy to comprehend.



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Thanks For Your Input; Here’s Where You’re Wrong

Another media person has written about bad PR practices she’s observed. Some that CNBC’s Carol Roth mentions are dead on; others, not so much. Read her article HERE. She mentions that she’s worked on the PR side, too, so she’s seen a lot.

One complaint is about pitches sent to people or outlets that don’t want them. There’s an easy solution for such pitches. It’s called the “delete” button. (Sorry, but if you work for a media outlet with a national audience, you’re going to receive a ton of unsolicited pitches. Many local media types also have inboxes filled with random/unwanted pitches every day.)

Sometimes info is sent by a PR rep to a media person who might be interested in a pitch or a feeler. I think it’s impossible to always know who will or will not find your pitch to be of value.

I’ve sent materials to the specific person I considered to be perfectly suited to share a story but was told, “No, not interested.” When the same info was shared with a larger list of outlets, occasionally a media source I considered less likely to care has responded with strong interest.

Roth writes, “Reporters and journalists may take pitches, [but] pundits…typically don’t use sources.” Really? I’d venture that pundits (columnists) frequently get info from PR types.

She complains that she gets pitches for her former radio show that she ended months ago. Hey, I get guest pitches for the radio show I left almost a year ago.  Not every media database is completely up to date. Again, the “delete” button comes in handy when needed.

She also joins the chorus of those who say, “Press releases are often useless.” Often, yes. But not always. A well-written release that has information (i.e., content) that media need/want can be useful—for media outlets and for the client.

The sentence I like best in her article is this one: “If you are looking to hire a PR firm, in order to get the most out of your relationship, make sure that they understand what you want them to do.” Yes! Exactly.

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Dead Media? Maybe Not!

In recent months I have been told:

Newspapers are dead. No one reads the newspaper anymore. But I saw tons of posts and shares of that full-page ad by the Red Sox in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Even if most people saw it on Facebook instead of on newsprint, it was considered important enough to generate enormous social love.

Radio is dead. No one listens to radio anymore, only Sirius and Pandora. But it was interesting to note the volume of outrage when Texas governor Rick Perry recently ran ads on St. Louis radio stations inviting businesses to move to Texas.

Television is dead. Everybody gets their video entertainment from Netflix and Youtube. Yep, let’s skip the HD telecast of the Super Bowl on the 52-inch screen and watch the live stream of the game on our iPhones.

The press release is dead. Nobody responds to a press release anymore. Apparently traditional and online media outlets are now learning about events via ESP.

Facebook is dead; all the cool kids are now on Instagram. Also, Twitter is dead; everybody’s on Facebook.

Magazines are dead. Please mention that to the clerk at 7-11 when he puts the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue on sale in a couple of months.

Phone calls are dead. Everybody would rather email or text. If you ever need to summon an ambulance in a hurry, will you text 9-1-1?

Before you exaggerate the rumors of a medium’s or network’s demise, remember that the channels of communication are constantly changing. Ebb and flow happen. Hotness fades. Comebacks occur.

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Fine Print, Asterisks and Disclaimers

Simplifying one’s messaging is a virtue to be hailed. “Dumbing down” is an expression that has bad connotations. But “dumbing down” has helped many of us understand complex subjects.

Contracts that are short and to the point (“here’s what I’ll do,” “here’s what you’ll pay me,” “here are terms for ending the contract”) are better than those that run several pages and are filled with lawyer language. Hats off to all attorneys who earn their pay by authoring contracts that are clear and unambiguous.

However, there are times when the need for clarity requires that more information be shared. On these occasions, a simple message can become muddied if one is not careful. But in many cases, the brief statement “certain restrictions apply” is enough to communicate the fact that an advertised deal comes with a catch or two.

I don’t care to debate Obamacare, but administration personnel made a key error by telling the president it was okay for him to say, “If you like your current health care plan, you can keep it.” In an effort to simplify the message, the decision was made to omit any disclaimer.

The Affordable Care Act, like much legislation, is voluminous. Expecting the president to discuss the ACA’s minutia in speeches is not realistic. But he should’ve said, “certain restrictions apply,” regarding keeping one’s health insurance. By failing to do so, he has earned sharp criticism from all quarters of the political spectrum.

When something seems too good to be true, we instinctively know to look for the asterisk that will guide us to the fine print. When we hear “Lease a new Lexus for 199 a month,” most of us realize we’ll next hear “45-thousand due at signing.”

Disclaimers can be disappointing. They can take the wind out of sails. They can make the simple complex. But they can also prevent future damage.*

*Opinions expressed are my own and do not reflect those of my clients, family members, friends or neighbors.

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What Media Members Don’t Know

“Common knowledge is knowledge that is known by everyone or nearly everyone, usually with reference to the community in which the term is used,” says Wikipedia.

Because one person’s common knowledge does not always jibe with another’s, we sometimes have to fill in the blanks.

When we reach out to a media member or a media gatekeeper, we need to make everything easy to understand. (Otherwise our email or voicemail message may be quickly deleted.) This means providing clarity and context in just a few sentences.

Even the brightest media person (writer, broadcaster, producer, editor) does not know everything about everything. Reporters sometimes ask what appear to be ill-informed questions because they’re not as well informed as we might presume them to be.

When a local broadcaster famously asked a medical guest if prostate cancer was also a problem for women and was told that women do not have a prostate, some chuckled. Should a younger person who interviews people about a huge range of topics, a person who may have never even considered prostate cancer, be shamed for not having a more complete medical knowledge? I think not.

How can we help? By offering fact sheets to interviewers and gatekeepers. By providing links to relevant web content. By making clear which elements of a story are the most important. By avoiding jargon and complex terminology. By providing actual questions for media to ask. (Some media folks may resent being offered sample questions but others may appreciate the gesture.)

Your goal is to have your message clearly presented to the media outlet’s audience. Making life easier for the people who are delivering that message will help you achieve your goal.

Competition is Good

A radio ad that has recently aired on several St. Louis stations features Texas governor Rick Perry inviting Missouri business owners to consider relocating to Texas. The impetus for the ads was Missouri governor Jay Nixon’s veto of a tax cut bill. The commercial states that the veto of a tax cut is the same as a tax increase. In addition to chastising Missouri, the spot touts Texas’ virtues, such as the lack of state income taxes.

Many in St. Louis have been outraged that Texas and its governor would pay to broadcast such a message. One station responded to listener feedback and cancelled the spots.

My thoughts on the subject:

  • I have lived in Houston and Dallas. I enjoyed my time in both cities. Each has much to offer. The lack of state income tax IS a big deal. But I have lived in St. Louis for 25+ years. My family and I have put down roots and we choose to remain. We like it here.
  • Those who say that old media are passé may be surprised to learn that people still listen to terrestrial radio stations and that advertising on these stations does cause listeners to respond. (Maybe local radio sales managers should solicit a “success letter” from Rick Perry for their presentations to prospective clients.)
  • There is nothing wrong with competition. Missouri and Texas are in constant competition with 48 other states and a large number of foreign countries throughout the world for new business. Economic development folks in Jefferson City and Austin are working hard every day to convince leaders to put plants and HQs in their states rather than in South Carolina, Belize, New Hampshire or China.
  • If these radio spots cause those charged with promoting Missouri to step up their game on the business recruitment front and become more competitive, positive results should follow. Ultimately, Missouri may want to thank the Texas guv for firing our state up.
  • The political implications of the spots remain to be seen. Governor Perry may be trying to rehab his buffoonish image for a 2016 presidential run. Republicans may be trying to derail governor Nixon’s future plans. Time will tell.
  • Competition is good. When you are competing for a new job, new customers, a new business deal, you have to perform better. And your better performance generally brings better outcomes for you.

Click HERE to read my thoughts posted last December about the motivation that comes from having a chosen rival.

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