What Makes Effective Design

What’s My Angle? Three Simple Steps to Framing a Better Press Release

Arguably, the single most important skill you as a public relations professional have is your ability to write a news release that guarantees coverage for your client. Essentially any press release can be broken down into three components: Your organization’s standard format including contact information and boilerplate, the five W’s, and finally your angle. Though the former two come with a certain level of homogeny, it’s in your angle that determines your true value. For some, identifying the angle can be the most difficult aspect of writing a press release. To others it may come a bit more naturally. In the next few paragraphs, I will do my best to outline what it takes to create the perfect news angle for any event or issue you might encounter as your client’s public relations guru.

Before identifying your angle, it’s wise to consider what news makers are looking for in a potential story. No respectable publication is going to give your story consideration if they don’t think it’s newsworthy. But what makes a story “newsworthy?” In the most straightforward since, anything that at least one reporter and one editor believe is news may be considered newsworthy. When given this status, newsworthy stories usually entail a set of criteria or elements deemed important by both the casual reader and a responsible journalist. They include the following:

  1. Proximity – The closer it happens to your reader, the more relevant it tends to be.
  2. Impact – Affecting a lot of people on a massive scale
  3. The Bizarre – Something that accurse out of the ordinary for your reader. The most widely used example is “Dog bites man” versus “Man bites dog.” Which would you consider bizarre?
  4. Timeliness – the more recent that something has occurred, or is about to occur, the more newsworthy it is considered. Unless you have what could be considered an “Evergreen” story, it’s usually old news.
  5. Prominence – Important people, places or events are cause for greater readership and thus are considered newsworthy. A juicy scandal is usually cause for a media frenzy
  6. Conflict – A struggle between opposing forces leading to change in the community. A bonus goes to the story that shows how a person or group has overcome adversity.

Step One: Begin the day by brainstorming with the daily paper.

Refer to major sources like The New York Times, Nation Public Radio, or Associate Press for national headlines as well as your local news and alternative news publications for a pulse on what’s going on in your community. Make a habit of highlighting any headline that might be relevant to whatever it is you’re promoting. Other sources to consider for finding strong story ideas include but are not limited to:

  1. Your Customer’s and client’s questions
  2. Targeted social media groups relevant to your organization’s agenda
  3. Financial Dailies for ways you can use fluctuating interest rates for a news hook
  4. Trade Publications for new trends, consumer information, and business developments

Step Two: Address a Point of Interest Tell a story.  Make it about me.  Get to the point.”

Keep in mind with media relations, your audience comes two-fold: The journalist you’re pitching and their readers. Throughout the process, you should be asking yourself, “What assumptions am I making about the audience?” What does your audience want to know or how might they benefit from this information? It often helps to take a step back and think of the story from a larger perspective. Other times, it might help to focus on a particular aspect of a story. For example, school-wide budget cuts may lead to the laying off of several teachers. An unfortunate fact though it may appear, it might be interesting to find out whether the same teachers are being fairly (or perhaps over) compensated for their job performance. Whatever the case, the following are some helpful approaches to getting your audience’s attention:

  1. Progress – Be the first at something. How your company’s service is on the forefront of an overall industry trend
  2. The unusual or unexpected – Surprising facts, out of the ordinary elements,
  3. Piggy-back on what’s topical – Breaking news, a popular subject, and timely slants are great for alerting the media to your client’s expertise on that particular subject
  4. Research or surveys –Important studies that may change the way your readers feel about a particular topic or issue
  5. Philanthropy – Volunteer efforts, donations, and charity sponsorship are great ways to help the community at large while eliciting attention and getting up close and personal with your target audience.
  6. Human interest – Specific examples of people being affected by a bigger issue, meant to elicit a more emotional response than facts and statistics
  7. A local angle on a national story – Some aspect of your business is making national headlines. Describe how the local community will be affected. Have a unique perspective on a current topic. Address a recent political event and the consequences of its proposal.
  8. Controversy – People are rarely in agreement on everything. Use that to your advantage as a way to elicit support from your target audience.

Step Three: Consider options for follow up stories

Finally, don’t miss the opportunity to delve further into an interesting story by passing on a follow up. Knowing full well the cause behind a particular event, it may serve you and your audience well to know the consequences of the same event. Follow up stories will give you the option to include the latest developments, additional information, and outcomes of a particular event with the added benefit of additional publicity for the same story.

Value of Customer Intimacy Applied to a Job in Public Relations

“The void created by the failure to communicate is soon filled with poison, drivel and misrepresentation”

– C. Northcote Parkinson

Companies like Apple or Wal-Mart didn’t get to the top of their game using a weak selling proposition. Their market leadership came as a result of identifying the needs of their target market on top of clearly stating what it was they did best- providing value through operational excellence and product innovation. They looked at the old operational models and said, “We see what you’re expecting, but we can do you one better.”

When talking about a position in public relations, value most readily comes in the form of customer intimacy as a means of achieving the best overall solution for a client. Whether you think of yourself as a brand entity or not, the truth is you need to have a form of marketable value to even be considered for a position in public relations. It’s unfortunate that the typical job posting doesn’t reflect this fact. Instead, we see a one-page document that usually reads something like this:

The ideal candidate is a self-starter who thrives in a fast-paced environment. Must be detail-oriented, client-focused, and able to multitask…

and includes a set of four or five requirements including:

  • A working knowledge of the industry
  • 2-3 years of previous experience
  • Excellent written, verbal and interactive communication skills
  • Demonstrates organizational skills
  • Ability to work well in a team environment

To most applicants, writing a resume based on these requirements alone can feel like an act of faith without any prior knowledge of the company involved. Even those who have the common sense to do their research, having written twenty or thirty resumes like this one before, may still find it difficult separating themselves from the other applicants. Not only are they losing out, but the companies themselves are missing out on some very interesting, very qualified candidates in place for hollow grade point averages and exaggerated student involvement.

Ideally, the following will give you a clear translation for what it is employers mean to convey in their job description while providing a clear set of principles for public relations professionals to use in standing out from the other candidates. In short, this would be my job posting if I were to write one.

Summary: What employers are looking for is an unmatched total solution from someone who knows their industry. Their greatest threat is to lose a client. Their goal for a new hire is to assemble, integrate and retain talented people who can stay at the forefront of new standards and techniques affecting their client.

What you offer: the ability to operate (and if needed, explain) emerging communication tools effectively, the skills and discipline to work independently, and the ability to maintain a working relationship with a variety of people- are all skills that must be demonstrated for a career in public relations.

Research: Find out which demographic, public or target market they interact with the most through the course of a day and how better to facilitate that interaction (more communication, better follow-up/feedback, fewer interruptions, etc.)

Seeing the forest through the trees – For custom intimacy, it’s often necessary to find the larger issue behind the employer’s immediate needs. For instance, they may be looking to hire someone for administrative support, which could indicate the broader issue of ineffective internal communication. Or perhaps they’re looking for new blood to add to an account team, which may be a sign they are looking for new solutions to offer an increasingly sophisticated market.

Things to Address: A position in public relations is tricky because if requires you to demonstrate two things: 1. knowledge of the industry you’ll be working in, and 2. knowledge of the discipline itself. It’s also wise to come prepared with specific examples of software and creative applications.

Successful customer-intimate companies are those that have become experts at their customers’ business and at creating solutions. Sometimes, this will require a flexible and multitalented individual to jump in even if what’s needed isn’t exactly their job.

Customer-intimate companies are usually composed of people from different backgrounds with different skills, brought together for a single customer-driven purpose. Companies invest a great deal of time and money in recruiting the best and the brightest. It’s important to show signs of company loyalty to alleviate any discomfort an employer might have with training and maintaining a new hire.

Deliverable: More detailed customer data, better analytics, quicker work productivity, breadth of services offered, and more visually-interesting presentations can all be tangible benefits to present to an employer.

I am from Asheville

I am from Asheville,

and in no other city have I created so much with so little.

Despite rugged terrain and hardship, I built a railway toward westward expansion.

From a group of woman and 5 rooms 120 years ago, I formed one of the best cardiovascular programs in the country.

I beckon people from around the world, tired and eager for a place to salvage what’s left of their humanity.

Despite adequate funding and support, I’ve protected a national landmark for centuries.

With a population density to that of Richmond, VA, I created a world where two people with conflicting ideologies can live in relative harmony.

From temperate water and crude spices, I created the best craft-beer in the country.

I toppled mountains and drained lakes, in hopes of improving on Mother Nature’s design.

Bred from the imagination of renegade artists, I crafted folk and postmodern works that rival those of artists from New Orleans and Chicago.

I’m from Asheville, and I’m where miracles happen.

How to Write Good Photo Captions

Photo captions (“Cutlines”) are an underrated tool in the arsenal of the public relations professional. They aren’t complicated, yet highly effective in telling a story. Unlike a press release, photo captions play much more off of the beauty of brevity in catching people’s attention. It’s your job to tell a story from which people can relate, and as a result get them wanting to know more.

You may think of it as a bit picky, but consider for a second what it takes to make a message stick: a story that’s credible, concrete, simple, unexpected, and emotional. You aren’t writing a textbook. People don’t read photo captions for the information. They want to know who that woman is in the red dress who seems eager to make it across the street, or the man in the tailored business suite standing pensively beside the city hall office. Take it a step further, photo captions give your audience exactly what they’re looking for in the news: An eye-catching story in as few words as possible. It doesn’t take a genius to write a photo captions, as long as you know what makes one dynamic. Here are some tips for how to draft an interesting and effect photo caption:

According to the American Press Institute, photo captions should accomplish four things:

  1. Explain the action. Tell where and when.
  2. Name the principles. Don’t leave out anyone who’s in the picture. If their not important, crop them out.
  3. Tell why you’re running the photo. Go beyond the obvious. Try to pull the reader into the story.
  4. Note important detail. Explain all mysterious objects or circumstances. Allow for a longer photo caption if it will help the reader understand the story.

When writing, Keep these tips in mind: Use conversational language. Make it easy to read. Avoid cliches. Use present tense when describing action (Runs, running instead of ran or will run). Active voice reads stronger (Max is riding the bike” instead of The bike is being ran by Max). Take out needless adjectives and and adverbs (Ran fast, strong, skillfully, is running, or looks on). Don’t repeat information that appears in the headline or body. Remember to name the source of the photo and the date it was taken. Triple check the correct spelling of names.

Example  of Bad Photo Caption: Young Ms. Riding Hood walking briskly to her grandmother’s cottage during a dreary fall morning. [“Yes, I can see that, but how young is she? Why is she walking briskly? Where is her grandmother’s cottage? It doesn’t look all that dreary to me.”]

Example of Good Photo Caption: Red Riding Hood, age 9, carries a basket of flowers in Fable Forest to attend to her sick grandmother in Yorkshire

The Creative Process

Information, Incubation, Illumination, Integration and Illustration

Creativity differs between marketing and the arts in that one is done to enlighten while the other is done for profit. Despite their differences, both involve a process that takes time, confidence, and a certain amount of skill. Some people claim that they work better under time constrains, but chances are their creative process began far earlier than you care to admit.

Imagine trying to force water through a funnel. No matter how hard you push, only so much can run through at a time. Such is creativity. Like spinning the water, there are things you can do to encourage the process along. It involved a sequence known as the “5 I’s” and they are as follows:

STEP 1: Information

A teacher asks her student, “How do you spell ‘crocodile?” The student replies, “K-R-O-K-O-D-I-A-L.” The teacher then states that the answer was incorrect, to which the student replies, “Maybe it is wrong, but you asked me how I spell it.” Before you can ever reach the right answer, you must first pose the right question. Next, start filling your bucket with everything it can handle. Read books, watch movies, listen to music, all the while keeping your question in mind.

STEP 2: Incubation

Separating yourself from a project can be a disheartening proposition, but it’s only once you step back that your natural creative process can take over. It can be incredibly difficult but equally unproductive to stay with a project hours on end. Everyone needs a place to escape, where they’re free to explore whatever ideas present themselves. For me, it’s driving alone during long car trips.

STEP 3: Illumination

What you’re looking for next is that “ah ha” moment people usually associate with a moment of clarity. In all actuality, an epiphany doesn’t necessarily mean your idea is any good, but is still a good sign that you’re on the right track. Illumination is followed by the confidence that keeps you on the right track away from becoming overcritical while brainstorming.

STEP 4: Integration

Just as helpful in knowing what to use is knowing what not to use. Like the impurities that form from hammering a piece of iron, the weaker ideas will fall away leaving room for a stronger solution. Entertaining new ideas, like adding carbon to iron, will produce new opportunities that you may not have taken into account without added suggestion. It’s important to remain open to new ideas that are grounded in some sort of reason, as they usually produce the most creative results.

STEP 5: Illustration

Finally, Pick the right place, at the right time, and to the right people for unveiling your idea. Like in comedy, timing is everything. Timing can make or break a good idea. This is something I’ve struggled with most of my professional career. If you’re creating a campaign for the March of Dimes, it would probably be wise to avoid experimenting with graffiti art. Don’t get discouraged. It may not be a good idea right now, but art galleries are filled with the works of people who where disregarded at first. It’s important to find the people who will encourage your creative endeavors until the right place and time.

The Campfire Network (2)

Not just s’mores, but conversations.

It’s amazing how some people can be so open, yet shut off towards the people around them. As willing as they may seem to explain the things that concern them, you can always tell there’s something holding them back from full disclosure. You hope that by saying the thing or asking the right question might hold the key to them breaking out, only to realize that there’s nothing you can really do or say that will change their willingness to connect.  Whatever is needed has to happen internally. Such is Nahl.

I had a conversation with Nahl who graciously described the quirks and quarrels of growing up a young Muslim female. After a bit of coxing and a better choice in words, we made our way through an interesting conversation. Part of me goes out to her, and how hard it must be to deal with these feelings.  I give you that conversation:

Question 1: What is the origin of your name?

 “Nahl” is from the Holy Quran, meaning both happiness and honey. My parents are Muslims, MashaALLAH, that’s what I believe is the appropriate thing to say. They both are God fearing, and are wide eyed when it comes to topics like extra marital affairs, or being unfair to people. I, myself, wouldn’t dare call myself religious but I’d like to believe I’m spiritual. Only God knows how spiritual or religious one really is, of course. But it matters to me. The important issues Islam lays emphasis on, they matter to me. I don’t think I’d marry a guy who drinks; neither would I be able to bring up a family with him. It’s just a big turn off because even I want someone adamant on his beliefs. Now, please don’t think that we judge those who drink. Hell, a lot of people in Pakistan drink, but to each their own, Sad young girlright? The Holy Prophet (pbuh) needless to say is the person I hold in the highest possible esteem.

I’m sad because… a lot of issues. I don’t know how in depth I can go here but sometimes my father isn’t well. Just a lot of family issues that I don’t think I can state here, but asides that, is probably the fact that I feel like I haven’t gotten enough from life. I mean it’s been two years since school ended and I haven’t yet been able to start college. Hell, I couldn’t even decide on a major! I’m suffering from Depression. I don’t know why or how, but I am. My therapist is currently working on that. I feel really ugly. Like I have this issue with the way I look.

 Question 2: When you wake up in the morning, what is the first thing that you think about?

 How sad I am about life.

 Question 3: What would be your ideal job?

 An actress. Most definit377_CU_11-30-06_roll_out_the_red_carpetely. And I’d be damn good at it, too. Acting would be THE perfect career for me but I didn’t say this is what I am pursuing. It’s just one of those dreams that are only meant to stay a dream. reasons for this can be the fact that Pakistani movies don’t have such an amazing standard, and even though TV is real good, the way the field works here at this point in a time, i wouldn’t want to have a career around it. I’m going to start Law school in two months InshaALLAH. I have always wanted to be a lawyer, too. I just wish I am capable of it, because hearing a lot of stuff about how difficult it is has been scary.

Question 4: With unlimited funds, what three locations and houses would you choose to live?

 Well, one would definitely be in Karachi, Pakistan is my hometown. You know, honestly, I’m blank on this one, strangely. I think if I’d have unlimited fund I might as well make use of it and keep travelling from one country to another…sometimes I’d live in London where my best friend is, others I’d be near my boyfriend, in Pakistan too definitely.

 Question 5: If you could only wear one outfit for the rest of your life, what outfit would that be?

 I LOVE hoodies. Like you said, I can dissolve myself into them. If I have chosen the hoodie as an attire, it puts less ofred_hoody a pressure on me to get ready like all the other girls do in makeup and perfect shiny hair etc. If I’m standing next to a beautiful well groomed girl in a messy hoodie, I can tell myself that the reason why I don’t look as good as her is because I’m not as groomed. Anyway I HATE skin tight clothes and i hate skinny jeans (even though I wear them to keep up with the trends-yes I’m one of those.) I rather have layers of clothes around me that won’t let my physical flaws show, and they’ll also keep random men from ogling at my “assets”. I also love hoodies because they give me the whole “cuddle” feeling. I don’t know if I am making sense, but I’m the sort of person who’d choose several episodes of One tree Hill and lots of coffee at a cold night rather than partying or being up and about the town. Also, I think true beauty is in some way hidden, or simplified. I’d love it if a guy spots the beauty in me if I’m in twice as big clothes, or a totally bare faced.