Saturday, 31 March 2012

The Press Release - Meat and Potatoes

Lately I've been writing more about my new book (@Home in Dubai) and what's happening in the world around me in my new life in Thailand. I thought I would throw a business-type blog in as I myself am back to the 'main course' of what I do...writing copy for clients.

The Press Release
It doesn't matter how many new media crop up, the good 'old fashioned' press release (the meat and potatoes of PR) always seems to have a place.  It's the central tool that's used to share 'news' with any audience through the conveyers of information whether it's a blog, newspaper, magazine, television, radio or ezine.  Of course, there's always the pitch letter too but that's another blog!

Optimizing Releases
Of course, technology has hugely improved the possibilities for reach way beyond what the old 'pop in the mail paper press release' of a previous era did.  Then you had to rely on it reaching the right person and having a gripping enough headline to get their attention.  Now-a-days, sending out your press release with the proper key word optimization and relevant links will get your press release recognized by search engines even if your primary target doesn't pick it up.  Heck, you even post it on your own website for fresh content and search engine pick up, however, having a third party, unbiased medium run your release has more impact.

Do’s and Don’ts of Good Press Release Writing
Regardless of the comparisons between then and now, the basics still hold true...maybe even more so today.  There's so much out there on how to reach new online media but don't forget, there are still those who rely on major dailies for their local news and most people I know still listen to the radio in the car on their commute to and from work.  So, here's the rub: in this day and age with instant news, copious amounts of media (print, broadcast and online) and everyone writing content, it's more and more difficult to get your news heard and placed in the mainstream media. I have always believed (and still do) that a strongly written, concise and (most importantly) newsworthy release can still get the attention of editors and reporters. If your goal is to appear in the top media outlets it's always important to nurture relationships but if you have a good story and a clear pitch that can be expressed clearly in 15 seconds or less, you've got a great start.

There are many do's and don'ts when writing a press release and pitching to the media. Here are a few of my tried and true bits of advice:

Do: Write a clear headline that fully explains the main point of the story.

Do: Put the most important facts up front. The first paragraph should have who, what, when, where why and how.

Do: Put contact information at the very top.

Do:  Include a short boilerplate paragraph of your company (or your bio) at the end.

Do: Identify the right media for your story.

Do: Be considerate of deadlines.

Don't: Make them hunt for for your contact information.

Don't: Go over two pages (one is preferable) or beyond the first screen of an email (they shouldn't have to scroll).

Don't: Send attachments...copy and paste the text of your release in the body of the email.

Don't: Send large photos. Include a comment at the bottom that photos (or other graphics) are available on request.

Don't: Follow up to ask if the reporter/editor received your release (the kiss of death). Call or email with additional, valuable information.

Don't: Call on deadline.

Don't: Send garbage.

If you have any more to add, pop them into the comment section below.  Also, I am just about to release a short e-book called 10 Steps to a Successful PR Campaign: A Do-it-Yourself Guide for Authors.  As soon as it's out, I'll announce it here!

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

10 Things Expats Get Used to

Living in a foreign country brings a litany of adventure and excitement, challenges, frustrations, elation and sometimes just downright weirdness!  After a while, for the veteran expat, the unusual becomes commonplace.

This thought occurred to me the other day while I waited at the Thai Department of Land Transport to take my driving test for the second time (driving on the left hand side of the road sitting in a right-hand drive car…So, what’s the big deal, my British friends would ask, right?). It did take a few tries but you’ve got to cut me some slack. It’s been 30 years since I’ve had to do a driving test so it sort of caught me by surprise.  After spending two full days at the licensing place in Phuket Town (getting there was a feat in itself) I finally walked away with both car and motorbike driving licenses in hand (or should I say ‘drove away’ on my Honda Click…finally legal to drive it)!  It was high-fives and smiles all around for the ‘farang’ (me…the expat or foreigner) as I walked out of the administration building.

But I digress.  So, as I was sitting and waiting my turn I came up with a list of things I have ‘gotten used to’ here in Thailand (other than driving on the left side of the road):

1. Rarely understanding what is being said around you. Actually, I find this one quite liberating, as it’s sometimes nice to wander around with total anonymity.

2. The amazing smells that confront you as you round a corner (some quite pleasurable and some not so much).

My favorite vendor at our local market...always great smells emnating from his booth!

3. The explosion of color of the most exotic flowers you would ever see in a flower shop sprouting wildly from crevices and around walls.

These are just outside my kitchen window.

These delicate pink beauties line the stone wall along our lane way.

4. Bathroom sinks that just drain onto the floor.

5. Shower heads just mounted on the bathroom wall in the open (I just imagine I’m living on a sailboat and it doesn’t feel so strange anymore).

6. A urinal in my powder room (yes, I said urinal… I think it’s bizarre but my husband loves it)!  It’s right off the kitchen so it has now become a utility room where I keep the cleaning supplies and the cat’s litter box).

7. Bug tents in all bedrooms.

8. Roosters as alarm clocks (the one next door comes alive at around 5:15 every morning, which is just before the Imam at the local mosque starts up his ‘call to prayer’ – we got used to that in Dubai but here we’ve added the rooster).

9. Boys who try to look like girls (okay, I admit, that one’s a little hard to get used to but it’s definitely an interesting sociological and societal study).

10.  Warm weather every day of the year (I had to add that one as a Canadian but, of course, not all expats choose to live in sunny climes, it’s just our preference).

I’m sure I could think of another 10 but I’ll leave it to you to add what you’ve gotten used to in the years you’ve lived as an expat to the list!

Friday, 9 March 2012

A Little Pink Thistle

On my walk today I came across a little pink thistle.  It reminded me of the movie Horton Hears a Who and I paused to smile and wonder if this little thistle happened to have a 'spec' on it where there was a whole civilization living.

Then my mind took a sharp turn to the media frenzy that is now surrounding an organization called Invisible Children that is working towards arresting one particular individual who has been abducting children for many years and forcing them to become child soldiers. My smile faded and I could feel the tears prick behind my eyes. Really, we are all specs on this planet, aren't we? Every spec, big or small, deserves a chance to grow and prosper. The organization has produced a film that has quickly gone viral. "The 29-minute video was watched by an astounding 2.7 million people on Tuesday alone," according to a Globe and Mail article, that ran yesterday.  It went on to say that by Wednesday, 14 million people had seen it and that it has become the most Tweeted topic worldwide.

In the beginning of the film, the creator shares a very personal, poignant moment during his son's birth and ponders something that I myself have reflected on many times during my fortunate are we who have been born to privilege.

Now there have been some naysayers who question the approach the founder of Invisible Children has taken.  I even had a friend who has been working in Africa for several years send out a blast email saying that it's "another horribly misguided campaign that belies the facts on the ground, as well as the complexity of the issue at hand."  I have a lot of respect for this person so I felt the need to look at both sides of the story.  A Washington Post blog post by Elizabeth Flock presents both sides quite nicely.

Critics say that arresting one man won't solve the problem. However, I believe that if everyone had as much passion and commitment to make a difference as the founder of this organization does, then the world would be a much better place with more of the 'little specs' having a voice.

I've personally been supporting children's charities since I was nine years old and believe that supporting literacy programs in the developing world is the way to ensure systemic, lasting change.
I'm not suggesting you do or do not support this initiative, I just wanted to share the thoughts that were triggered by a little pink thistle.