Dear Tomorrow,

When I woke up this morning you were gone. You disappeared somewhere between last night and the moment the dog barked. At first I didn’t miss you because I had today. But today fizzled right after lunchtime. That’s when I started making lists of things for us to do. I have big plans for us, Tomorrow.

Yours,
Brian

Book Trailers: Marketing the Written Word

A few years ago you may have been forgiven for never having seen a book trailer but now they crowd the market as publishers hope to increase sales with these pithy films. Book trailers can now easily be found on YouTube. These shorts are similar to a movie preview, intended to create anticipation while clocking in anywhere from two to two-and-a-half minutes on average.

Back in 2008, I helped DoubleDay shoot the book trailer below for one of my colleagues, Dr. Nick Trout, a New York Times best-selling author until ‘sTori Telling’, Tori Spelling’s autobiographical account bumped him off after one week.

It was an afternoon spent filming around the hospital in an attempt to “sell” Dr. Trout to potential readers. As you can see, we weren’t breaking new ground here or angling for any awards.

Book trailers weren’t new at the time. Here’s a fabulous (French) trailer from 2007 for Mathias Malzieu’s ‘The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart’.

Since its inception, book trailers have grown their production value by featuring actors, scripts, and occasional special effects. My preference is when they inject a bit of comedy into the mix. Just check out this teaser for Matthew Hussey’s new book ‘Get the Guy’in which the author is not featured and his work is not mentioned until the end credits.

 

What are your favorite book trailers?

How to Photograph a Dog’s Brain

Feral kittens

I figured the brain photo was not appropriate. Enjoy this photo of some feral foster kittens.

The surgical mask channeled each breath up and under my glasses, steaming the rims with each exhalation. The surgeon stepped back as I leaned forward, over the drapes, careful to keep my gown from touching the table. A bright light shone over the small rectangle, pulled back with several metal forceps.

I extended the camera out over the patient and just above my own eyelevel, shifting slightly to remove any shadow from the frame. Click, click. I pulled back the camera, scrolled through the photos, checking for focus. The surgeon pushed back in, taking and replacing tools next to the saw and piece of skull already on the tray.

When he pulled back to review the MRI capture hanging on the wall I slipped forward again. Click, click. Checking the focus again. The brain was clear and the edges of the hole were sharp. Nobody beside myself would see these photos but I needed the practice, plus it was an amazing opportunity.


Very few of us will ever photograph a living dog’s brain while at work. So why am I writing about such a rare occurrence? Because it holds several lessons, the first of which is to never pass up an opportunity to learn.

Everything Has a Purpose

The 30 minutes I spent dressing for surgery, watching the surgeon saw open the dog’s skull, and photographing the resulting hole is not why I was standing in that surgical suite. I was there because I was looking for a story. It’s true that these photos were deemed too gory to share with our audience. I made the decision not to share them among our donors or send them to the press. How would they ever help a nonprofit gain more support? There wasn’t a story there.

I did put myself in that room though. I wanted to see the surgery firsthand, practice my photography, and chat with the surgeon. He’d been taking on increasingly aggressive procedures and if I was going to be there when a story was needed, then I needed to build a repertoire with him.

It was a teaching hospital so chatting with me was never a distraction. He had The Grateful Dead playing in the background as he placed orders for more tools with his assistants. We were getting along and that was exactly what I needed.

Practice

I needed to practice my photography as well. I’d been capturing close-ups of surgeons’ hands for the past few weeks, working on detailed focus as the trained fingers swooped and arced as sutures were tied. Lighting was crucial in surgery and I made adjustments between shots, working now so that when an emergency came in instinct would take over, switching to the best settings without much thought.

Get Out of the Office

I had a great office. I had a sink, closet, mini-fridge, teapot, wrap around desk, and enough room for visitors. Best of all, I had a door. People make the mistake of thinking a door’s purpose is separation when it’s really connection. The most powerful use of a door is to always keep it open.

That said, my door was closed about half of the day because I wasn’t in my office, I was walking and talking, like some reproduction of “The West Wing” without the perfection of Sorkenese.

The more I was out of the office the less I depended on people to come to me. Each minute that I spent poking around meant that I spent about half of the time in front of my computer writing up press releases, speeches, or forcing the creation of poor ideas to pitch to my colleagues. When you’re surrounded by news, and at work you really are if you just tune in to the right channel, you can draft everything in your head as you walk and quickly pour out a near-finished copy in record time when you sit down.

Get Your Hands and Your Brain Dirty

I’ve helped intubate animals, shaved bellies for sterilization procedures, assisted in necropsies, and herded feral cats. It’s easier than you think to use your hands; that’s why they invented soap. The hardest part is making sure that you experience the world you don’t know so that you can tell the best story possible.

Keep Going

The more you put yourself in the middle of things the harder it will be to look away. You need to keep moving, keep observing, and take notes. Some things you will be able to share and other moments will be only for you and the people in the room. After awhile photographing a dog’s brain won’t seem that strange.

Daily Posting

I don’t know how everyone else does it but daily posting can become an exercise in putting something up on the blog rather than writing anything thoughtful.

At any one time I have 10-15 headlines and outlines for blog entries. Some days I’ll write up a few and other days it’s like pulling teeth. You may notice the tougher days when you see my weaker posts – a few sentences and a video. The days I actually connect with my work I draft much longer pieces. Today however is not one of those days. There’s no video but you can be sure that I really wasn’t that into it.

I’ll keep plugging away though. Even on days that I don’t want to post I still may stumble across an idea that will feed a future piece. The main obstacle for me is getting away from writing articles and just sharing some thoughts.

How do you write a post when you don’t want to spend any time on it? Do you just post up a few sentences? Do you feel that everything has to read like an article?

Press Release in Critical Condition After Alleged Assault by PR Bloggers

Screen shot 2013-02-11 at 3.46.22 PM

Industry weighs future of traditional formatting, considers “pulling the plug”

BLINKING CURSOR, DESKTOP – February 11, 2013 – Press Release remains in critical condition after an alleged assault by Public Relations Bloggers according to police reports. Members of The Industry gathered at The Watercooler earlier this week to weigh the fate of Release amid reports that pulling the plug on traditional formatting remains an option.

“I don’t understand why anyone would do this to Release,” said Suit N. Tie. “He’s been a solid representative of Corporate News for decades. If we lose Release, we will be at the mercy of Millennial Mentality and their Apps. I just hope that he pulls through for the sake of his Alerts and Statements.”

A copy of the initial police report confirms that Release was last seen sitting on A Printer late Wednesday evening awaiting a meeting with Client C. Eeyo. A jogger found him early Thursday morning, badly beaten in an alley behind The Agency. Members of Millennial Mentality have been known to blog from The Agency from before sunrise until well into the evening, according to law enforcement insiders.

Release is currently in “draft form” according to doctors as teams of surgeons work around the clock in an effort to upgrade his condition to “immediate release”. In the past few days he has undergone several surgeries including a series of procedures to remove his Subhead, implant Hyperlinks, and Align his Content for future readability. Earlier today surgeons also removed his Boilerplate in a routine surgery to sever the non-functioning organ. Doctors stated that these procedures were necessary if Release was to ever face the public again. A 6 second Vine video of the procedures is expected to be available later today said Online.

Members of The Industry have yet to inform the public of their decision regarding Release’s future yet leading members of Millennial Mentality’s recruiting arm, Account Coordinators (AC), were quick to share their views.

“Words are so 2011,” said AC President @PRGuruNinjaRockstar. “If it’s not in pictures no one knows what you’re talking about. BTW, what are we talking about?”

Release’s spouse, Written Pitch, was seen leaving the hospital yesterday evening but reporters were unable to understand what she said. It appears that doctors have a “Solution” for the “Enterprise” but it is not clear what that is or what it means.

A police department insider said on condition of anonymity that several high-ranking members of AC are suspected in the attack.

“We are in the midst of conducting eyewitness interviews and researching blog posts made by AC members however this process is challenging. We are bringing in code breakers to decipher messages that almost always begin with ‘5 Tips Every PR…’ that appear to be shared among AC members in an attempt to share information gathered from within The Industry.”

“To think we may have a traitor within The Industry just sickens me,” said Back N. Theday, VP of VPs at The Industry. “I’ve heard of these blogs although I’ve never met Online in person. Nevertheless, I’m sure that if it’s important I will see a recap in Bacon’s next printing. Which reminds me, I’ll need to ask my assistant of 30 years if our subscription is up to date.”

As the communications climate continues to change, Release may prove to be the first major fatality since Fax. A longtime favorite of The Industry, Fax’s murder was widely attributed to E-Mail although he was never convicted.

For more uninformed speculation please visit any PR professional who is sure to have an opinion on Release’s future prospects.

(Read yesterday’s post for a different approach to discussing the future of the press release.)

The Press Release: Let’s Not

There has been a lot of discussion recently about whether or not the press release is dead. Too much if you ask me. I will not link to any of those articles here. It’s honestly a waste of your time and mine.

I understand that there are new platforms for sharing information with the press. I for one prefer to approach the press however I want. Some days it is appropriate to send an email or make a call. Other days I leave it to Twitter to help me out. But what about the press release?

I’m not even sure what people are talking about anymore when they mention “the press release”. When I started in PR we had “the release”. It was a formal document with a set structure. I was taught that it head a header, a subhead, a first paragraph that restated the header and subhead, an agency quote, some overview text, maybe a supportive quote, and a wrap up. You also can’t forget the all important boilerplate. God I hate boilerplates. Informative? Yes. Useful? No.

Then I learned about the “media alert” and “the statement”. Loved their get-to-the-point format and ease of approval. Then there was the “teaser” to move the interested to your online pressroom for the full release. Before long the teaser led to online photo albums and video.

Throughout it all the press release persists as if without it there would be no record of an event, product launch, or corporate opinion. Yet I love the press release. It serves a purpose; a defined existence that has outlasted the news it bestows upon its audience.

So what about its death? Life?

It’s a tool. In the right hands and in the appropriate situation it can help your cause. Just like your other tools its function depends on you, the writer. So can we drop this discussion once and for all? Either write press releases or don’t. Let’s instead talk about how the written pitch is a zombie, numbly fumbling towards inboxes in search of brains. I could get on that bandwagon.

Cup Your Ear

Cup Your Ear
Perfectionism is a serial killer of great ideas. As writers we’re taught to jot down our thoughts before fleshing them out, giving shape to our grammatical arrangements. As we plod through this process it’s been suggested that we do not share our thoughts until we have fully explored and polished them. PhDs and critical thinkers have told us that we must never apologize or make excuses for our work, instead ensuring that they can stand on their own.

This is outdated thinking.

In my new home of San Francisco, engineers are as plentiful as Irish politicians in my old stomping grounds of Boston. The conversations I’ve had with these modern thinkers has led me to one truth: push your idea out of the nest before you sink your life into it and see how it flies.

This has led me to release writing that I could spend more time on if I was seeking perfection. This new thinking has helped me to see my writing not as unfinished but rather as evolving. Once it’s placed at the feet of my readers I can watch as it’s poked, prodded, kicked, hugged, and generally picked up or ignored. It can be an incredibly painful or rewarding process depending on your outlook. Either way, it’s an education.

I’ve learned more from this “San Francisco” process than I have in the past decade of slowly shaping, double-checking, proofing, and analyzing my own work prior to releasing it. It’s required more effort than I have ever put into my writing but it’s also generated my new outlook on why we chronicle our thoughts.

Using modern technology we can all write. Our posts can be short, long, image heavy or text focused. We can share them across tables, tablets, phones, and borders. This is not a time to hold our best ideas close. We must give them a kick and allow others to contribute. This is what we have been working towards. This is why we publish, why we post. It’s not to shout. It’s to listen.

How to Tell a Story

StorytellerEveryone has tips on how to tell a story. Advice ranges from ensuring your story has an arc, including engaging details, making it personal, and practicing your delivery in the case of elevator pitches. Much of this guidance is helpful but never really gets at the heart of telling a story. So then the question remains: how do you tell a story?

I’ve been told a million stories over the years. As a reporter I was pitched time and again by everyone from neighbors to CEOs. As a communications professional my clients or colleagues regaled me with stories of new products and programs that were always “changing the landscape” of whatever mission we were working on at the time. Many of these tales never went further than my ears.

So what does get attention? Or better yet, what deserves attention? What rises to the ranks of newsworthy or makes me pause and ask, “Tell me more?”

I’m only going to say this once so listen up: have something to thoughtful to say. It’s that simple. Add to the conversation. Don’t sell. Think about why you listen to stories that are told to you out of the blue. These are all different ways of saying that you need something worthwhile to share. Just stating that your product is new or different will never make anyone care deeply enough that they listen to you for more than a minute and politely nod at your occasional breaks in delivery.

So the next time you plan to tell someone about yourself, your work, or your children/pets/products/car/phone/app/book/movie/show, please be sure it will add something to their lives. It’s time that they will use to either learn to like you or not, so don’t waste it. After that, everything else from the arc to the personal and engaging details will fall into place.

The Art of the Comment

This post first appeared in Medium’s The Publicity Machine collection.

Thanks to the internet, comments are frequently relegated to the most base portion of online participation. By providing space to the previously voiceless to air their opinions, many news articles are followed by pages of derogatory musings from hate mongers (asshats) or experts in presenting themselves as just that: experts. Unfortunately, this is not far from the same practice in public relations circles.

When I first joined the PR ranks some called commenting on the news “rapid response.” This was the practice of trying to take the first news cycle and somehow attaching your company or client to it. This is at worst a stretch and at best annoying to journalists who have enough sources.

There is an art to providing comments and it’s not by being late to the party. Instead it demands forethought and the ability to add to the conversation, not to make it your own but to further enlighten and engage your audience.

There are many ways to create a relevant comment but for the sake of space I am going to provide four methods that I found useful over the years. Hopefully they will help you as well.

The Request for Comment

If you’re doing your job well you’ll create inbound calls from the press. On occasion members of the media will ask you to explain your product so that they can place it within their story’s narrative. At other times they’ll want you to react to news from a competitor or trends taking place that relate to your company or organization. If you decide that it is in the best interest of your employer to comment you’ll have some legwork to do.

I was once contacted by a reporter from Forbes Small Business to comment on a new military vest for protecting and communicating with K9s on the battlefield. I was working for a leading animal welfare organization at the time and we had partnered with an NFL quarterback to provide bulletproof vests to Boston Police Department K9s in the past.

This was not an easy comment for several reasons, the greatest of which was that I knew nothing about this vest. First and foremost you should ask the reporter to describe the information they have so far and what they want to ask you. I find it is best to play somewhat ignorant so that they will ply you with details in an effort for a quick comment. Once you have this information you should go off and do your own research to verify this information. The key here is to never accept the premise of a question.

Depending on the deadline you can do this in anywhere from a few minutes to a few days. Either way you must be as thorough as possible. Then ensure that if you do provide comment that it ties back to your mission while moving the conversation forward. In the case of the Fortune reporter, I discussed why we protected BPD K9s (which was printed) and our views on not using them unnecessarily in dangerous situations (which was not printed).

The Partnership Comment

If you’re not in the story then you might want to insert yourself into the plot. Not long after the BP oil spill in the Gulf, volunteers had begun flocking south to help animals in danger. Remembering the shit storm of unwanted volunteers that mucked up the Hurricane Katrina animal rescue efforts I wanted to help ensure a smooth process for those wishing to help.

My first move was to call the office of Louisiana’s Lieutenant Governor. I was put in touch with Janet Pace, Executive Director for the Louisiana Serve Commission. This was in early June, well after the initial explosion. I was therefore understandably shocked to discover that I was the first representative from an animal welfare agency to contact the state’s center for volunteer efforts and ask, “How would you like me to help or should I stay out of your way.”

Pace was delighted to hear someone ask for her thoughts before taking action and we decided I would post updates on our website for Massachusetts to assist in her volunteer coordination. This led to several future inbound media calls on the spill as well as set the tone for our disaster response work with the media internationally for several years.

The Hot Potato Comment

As I alluded to earlier just because you are asked to comment does not mean that you should. Too many spokespeople think that if you do not provide comment that the inbound calls from journalists will dry up. This is completely false if you can provide value to the media when they come knocking.

If you know your industry then you know others who can comment. Why not pass a reporter their way once in awhile? This is a long game not a sprint so you should act accordingly. Being helpful creates return business and PR that is the ultimate goal.

In some cases, literally law enforcement cases, our policy was not to comment on ongoing or open investigations. That never stopped me from helping a reporter trying to write a complete article. In many of these instances I would simply provide the media with contacts at other investigating agencies, since we frequently partnered with local law enforcement departments that had looser policies when it came to providing comment.

The No Comment

I have always disliked “no comment” as an answer to a reporter’s question. I had it laid in my lap several times when I started out as a journalist and later watched as other PR executives and spokespeople thought they could dodge a pointed question with the slippery phrase. Maybe it was my curiosity, but “no comment” always raised more questions in my mind. It also looks awful in print.

I take pride that in more than 10 years of communications I have never provided a “no comment” response to a question. In fact my wife, who also happens to be communications, is known among the media for a similar streak. You may be thinking, “Good for you both, but I get asked the tough questions and sometimes ‘no comment’ is the only possible answer.”

Here are a few questions that reporters will ask and several answers that will help you avoid a “no comment”:

Q: “If your organization faced [insert hardship here] what would you do?”
Reporters are fond of asking “What if?” type questions when the real account of an event is less than gripping. This is perhaps one of the most common “tough” questions to answer.
A: “I do not respond to hypotheticals, however if you wish to discuss the actual event I am more than happy to do so.”

Q: “You spoke with [insert partner name here]. What are they doing?”
Following in the hypothetical line of questioning, reporters also like to ask you to spill the beans on partners and sponsors. This tactic is frequently used when your partner will not answer the same question or the reporter has yet to contact them and is looking for an easy two-for-one interview from you.
A: “You should really speak with [insert partner name here] directly if you want to know the answer to that question. Here is the contact information for their public relations person.”

Q: “Well how much does your CEO earn?”
The media is always interested in compensation, especially at a nonprofit. This is probably the easiest “tough” question to answer.
A: “That is public information. Please refer to the link on our web site to our 990 form.”
Follow up Q: “Why can’t you just tell me?”
A: “It sounds as if you have not reviewed the information. Rather than go back and forth, why not review the information and then I will answer all of your questions at once?”

Whenever you’re asked to provide a comment see it as an opportunity to build your relationship with a member of the media. Review how you can add to the level of discourse rather than recycling your stale messaging. If you can swing that then you’ll be seen as a well-rounded source for future requests.

Write It Down

Write It Down 3

I am very frustrated right now because I didn’t take my own advice. Earlier this morning I was getting ready for another day of job-hunting when I had the best idea for a blog entry ever. I cannot say enough about this idea. It was so pure and wonderful that rainbows shot out of my ears. I must have been using an entire extra percent of my brain it was so insightful.

This would change everything; ie the post that would land me a job after it was seen by some CEO/Founder who had been growing frustrated with the HR department’s inability to find the appropriate candidate for their opening for a writer/storyteller/communications professional who would raise the organization/company profile and increase revenue therefore saving the jobs of thousands of employees who are currently facing a future similar to my own (I relocated though – for my wife. Take that anyone who says guys don’t do nice things.). But back to my once in a lifetime, bestest idea ever conceived.

(I didn’t write it down.)

My finger kept scrolling through my Twitter feed because I wanted to see what ideas other people were having or had since I went to bed last night. I continued going past the tweets from local news stations that I subscribe to but barely read, instead opting for the feeds from friends and interesting people. Each tweet gave me a new idea for a blog post but I pushed them aside, filing them somewhere behind my great idea. I would write them all down soon once I finished my information gathering.

I didn’t (open up any app to) write it down.

“My brain is amazing,” I thought. If it can come up with such a fantastic idea for a blog post it can certainly handle juggling a few more ideas for the time being. I kept looking at my phone for more. More what? I don’t know, just the same dopamine drip inducing fodder.

I didn’t write it down.

So I went to my computer to flesh out the idea but I had flagged a few emails since waking up that urgently needed my attention. What would happen if I didn’t file my new Twitter followers in the appropriate folder? I still don’t know the answer to that one and I don’t want to; seems like tempting fate with some horrible… uh, temptation?

So I filed and responded and received and responded and filed. All the while…

I didn’t write it down.

One email gave me an idea for another blog post, not as great as the one that would mean I was on a bus every morning going to work, but pretty damn good. So I opened up a Word doc and jotted the headline down before I forgot. As I typed the last word I thought, “I better write down my world changing blog post idea before it runs off.”

So I opened another white page and stared at the cursor. My mind went blank.

I didn’t write it down.

I went back to the bedroom, where I started my day, then to the bathroom where I had received the clearest burst of brilliance ever in my life. Hell, in anyone’s life. It. Was. That. Amazing.

Nothing. I picked up my phone, found the first tweet I read this morning (sure I can remember that of all things only because it mentioned Shaq for some reason) and scrolled back in time. Darkness. Maybe an email would trigger something. All filed or deleted. Organization you can go screw yourself.

So I’m sitting here like a down on his luck fisherman harping on the one that got away. I will be tormented all day until I forget about the blog post I forgot. Until that magical moment I will keep kicking myself because I’m a writer and (in unison people):

I DIDN’T WRITE IT DOWN!

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