By Jeffrey A. Davis, APR, Managing Director, Van Eperen

One benefit of speaking at conferences is the exposure to new ideas and insights from fellow presenters, and often the audience members.

I recently wrapped up a busy June when I spoke at six conferences, beginning in Washington, D.C., where I headed a panel with the crisis communications directors from some of the largest PR firms in the U.S. Next, it was the PRSA Maryland conference in Baltimore to talk about podcasting for PR, followed by “Changing the Conversation” at the Maryland Recycling Network annual meeting at Turf Valley, and then back to D.C. for ASAE’s “Podcasting Start-Up Workshop.”

The month continued with a trip to Ocean City, Md, for “Integrating and Evolving Your Social Media Program for Responsive Constituent Service” at the Maryland Municipal League annual conference, and then back to D.C. for “Making Social Media Part of Your Crisis Communications Plan” at the College Media Conference, a gathering of higher ed public relations and communications professionals.

That was a lot – prepping, rehearsing, travel and networking (not to mention collecting a new batch of name badges and conference tote bags!)

While I enjoy speaking and sharing knowledge, the bonus is listening and learning from the public relations industry’s thought-leaders. So, in recognition of my six June speaking engagements I’m sharing six nuggets of wisdom I picked up from my fellow presenters:

Your Feature Pitch vs. Violence on the Streets of Baltimore
At the PRSA Maryland conference, veteran investigative journalist Jayne Miller of WBAL-TV used her signature blunt approach to describe the realities of Charm City and the Baltimore media. “What you are up against is ‘one-stop shopping’ in this particular market,” she told the audience of Maryland PR pros, many facing the frustrations of pitching feel-good feature stories. “Crime rules the media because it’s easy to cover,” she said. At a shooting scene you have the victim(s), crime tape, the emotion of family members and neighbors and the ever-present police spokesman. It’s all right there for an easy story guaranteed to grab attention.

A Crisis Communications Tip: Use Graphics to Your Advantage
From my crisis communications discussion at the College Media Conference, Mary McCarthy Hines from Catholic University of America suggested the use of social media graphics to get around the 140-character limit. Her team has ready-made banners that can be updated with content and added to social media to draw attention and provide key information, while not needing to adhere to character limits. I thought that was a great idea.

Never Underestimate the Power of a Microphone
Scott MacMullan
, a co-presenter on my podcast session and founder/host of the Annapolis Podcast, shared how he uses his podcast to create one-on-one relationships with his guests. While his day job is criminal defense attorney, many of the movers and shakers in Annapolis have lined up to be on his show, demonstrating how powerful a podcast can be to attract one-on-one time with people you want to meet. Co-presenter Charlie Birney of Podcast Village added this insight that earned a lot of retweets: The title, logo and description of a podcast is like a label on a wine bottle and is especially important as more people are out there choosing what to listen to. Take time to craft it with that in mind.

Stop Measuring Meaningless Metrics and Start Asking “So What?”
Also speaking at the PRSA Maryland public relations conference, measurement guru Katie Delahaye Paine said the biggest problem with metrics today is that nobody asks “so what?” enough. They just look at the numbers, talk about what they did, and fixate on meaningless “vanity metrics,” such as follower counts and impressions. The solution is to measure what matters and to focus: “Identify the top 100 social media influencers important to your business, and forget the rest.”

For Crisis Prep, Think Digital First
From Capitol Communicator’s PR Summit DC: All crises are digital now, or will become so very quickly, so make sure your team is ready for the monitoring and quick response that is required. Also, measurement is key – you have to understand your baseline so you can understand the impact of an event.

Treat Media Pitching Like Dating; And Skip the 5 Follow-ups!
Finally, at the College Media Conference a panel of producers from PBS NewsHour, NBC News and ABC News shared the horror stories we’ve all heard, but that somehow still don’t sink in with some PR people. They get hundreds of emails a day, read most of them and will follow up with the few that are on target as they need our ideas. But here goes: A “did-you-get-it?” call shortly after an email was sent doesn’t help (“Give us time to react”); spell their names correctly; and give it time, as some pitches are kept for months or longer. All said they are way too busy to listen to a pitch on the telephone, so they typically won’t answer calls. For email pitches, make them short. Just a few sentences, and include a link for more info, a link to previous interviews of your spokesperson (don’t try your debut on national TV!). If they ignore you, move on (“It’s not you, it’s me.”). Always add the human element to your pitch – offer real people who illustrate your message and are willing to tell their story.

About the author: Jeff Davis is Baltimore editor of the Capitol Communicator and managing director of the Baltimore office of Van Eperen. You can reach him at jeff@vaneperen.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.