Author Archives: Grace Lavigne

Grammar Hammer: The Muppets Explain Who vs. That vs. Which

The Muppets’ entertaining and hilarious skits have helped children (and adults) for over 30 years learn about culture, science, art, history, music, life and many other things — but today the Muppets are going to teach us grammar! (Because who doesn’t love the Muppets?!)

In particular, Kermit and crew will be used in examples to explain when to use who, that or which.

Here are the three main rules to determine when you should use who, that or which:

Rule 1: Who always refers to people (or Muppet characters), while that and which refer to groups or things.

  • Kermit is the cautious frog who loves Miss Piggy. (No, wait — Miss Piggy is the sassy swine who loves Kermit.)
  • Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem is the band that plays rock music on the show.
  • Jim Henson created “The Muppet Show,” which premiered in 1976.

Rule 2: Use that in essential clauses and which in nonessential clauses.

  • I love Muppet movies that include Fozzie Bear (wocka wocka wocka!)
  • “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” which included Fozzie Bear, was the best.
  • Fozzie Bear wears a hat, which is brown.

Essential clauses are never surrounded by commas, but non-essential clauses are usually surrounded by commas or preceded by a comma.

Another way to tell if a clause is essential or non-essential is to remove it and see if the meaning of the sentence has changed significantly. Here are the same examples with the clause removed:

  • I love Muppet movies. (different, essential)
  • “The Muppets Take Manhattan” was the best. (same, non-essential)
  • Fozzie Bear wears a hat. (same, non-essential)

Rule 3: If this, that, these or those is already introducing an essential clause, start the next clause with which, regardless of whether it is essential or not

  • That is an experiment which only Dr. Bunsen Honeydew can handle.
  • Those daredevil performances, which always made me afraid for Gonzo, were still very artistic.

Or you can just drop the which entirely to make it sound more concise:

  • That is a drumline which only Animal knows.
  • That is a drumline only Animal knows.

Written by Grace Lavigne, senior editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. Grammar Hammer is published weekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

Grammar Hammer: AR! A Pirate Argues About Presume vs. Assume

Ahoy thar mateys! Avast ye — did ye know Sept. 19 is International Talk Like a Pirate Day? Aye!

In honor of this very important holiday, this old grammar salt will teach you the difference between presume vs. assume, so that you always look and sound like true buccaneer. Yo ho ho.

According to Merriam Webster:

  • Assume: to take as granted or true
  • Presume: to expect or assume especially with confidence

The dictionary tells us that these two words are basically synonymous, except that presume is used more authoritatively than assume. AR! But let’s give these definitions some heave ho and consider them in usage. For example:

  • When the lad saw the man with a peg leg and a parrot on his shoulder, he said “I presume you’re a pirate.”
  • Many pirates assume they will be shark bait someday, which is why they are usually three sheets to the wind.
  • The doctor presumed the sickly looking pirate had scurvy after being on board a ship for over three years with nothing but biscuits to eat.
  • The captain is so sure the white whale exists, he assumes everyone else believes it exists too.

Batten down the hatches now, because a storm is brewing — this bucko disagrees with Merriam Webster’s landlubber definitions of presume and assume. From the crow’s nest, it would appear that assume is really the word that is often said with more confidence, rather than presume (which is the exact opposite of Merriam Webster’s definition). Well blow me down!

Look at this example again:

  • When the lad saw the man with a peg leg and a parrot on his shoulder, he said “I presume you’re a pirate.”

In this case, presume suggests that the lad is going out on a limb by assuming the man with a peg leg and a parrot is a pirate — maybe he’s not really a seadog at all. The word presume implies that there is an expectation for clarification or more information that might change the conclusion. Savvy?

On the other hand, the word assume seems like it is indeed said with confidence, since it doesn’t seem like the speaker cares if the conclusion is right or wrong:

  • Many pirates assume they will be shark bait someday, which is why they are usually three sheets to the wind.

That’s why the saying goes “Don’t assume — it makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me.'” Because assume comes to a conclusion based on the current information provided regardless.

What do you think about these two words?

YARRRR!

Written by Grace Lavigne, senior editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. Grammar Hammer is published weekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

Photo courtesy of Flickr member Joe Schlabotnik

5 Instagram Tips for PR Pros

Be interesting, be useful …. or be ignored. Image via our own Victoria Harres.

Each week, Dear Gracie answers questions from ProfNet Connect readers with advice from our network of nearly 50,000 ProfNet experts. Has there been a question burning in your mind lately, something you’ve been wondering that none of your colleagues can answer? Please send it to grace.lavigne@prnewswire.com

Dear Gracie,

Instagram has been around for a couple of years, but seems to have exploded in popularity recently. How can PR pros use Instagram to increase publicity for clients?

Improving Images

**********

Dear Improving Images:

Four ProfNet experts provide a snapshot:

Instagram is a social network where users can share photos and comment or like their friends’ photos, explains Jeff Peters, social media specialist at The Halo Group.

It offers users a simple, easy way to take and edit photographs, and then post them across all major social media portals, says Seth Grugle, digital and social media specialist for Much and House Public Relations. It borrows the #hashtag concept from Twitter and aggregates friends like Facebook.

An artsy shot that benefited from tinkering with Instagram filters, by PR Newswire’s Sarah Skerik

“One of the most interesting aspects of Instagram is that it’s not really a ‘site,’ but lives almost purely on mobile,” notes Peters.

“While it’s possible for just about any brand to use Instagram, the platform itself is most appealing to brands and industries that are more visually oriented,” Peters explains. “Instagram helps create a visual connection between a brand and a consumer or potential customer.”

For example, a fashion line could post photos of inspirational clothing patterns, a car manufacturer could post photos of challenging roadways, or a celebrity could post behind-the-scene shots that grant followers access to sights and scenes they’d never get to see otherwise, says Grugle.

PR professionals should seriously consider using the social network to complement client announcements and press releases, just as they do with Twitter and Facebook, says Jennifer DeAngelis, a PR account executive with InkHouse.

“If a picture is truly worth a thousand words, then the visual imagery projected through Instagram translates well beyond a 140-character maximum,” says Grugle.

Tips and Suggestions for PR Pros Using Instagram:

1. Check Out Instagram’s Business Page, suggests Peters. Instagram for Businesses provides information on how to get started, examples of successful approaches, advertising and marketing opportunities, and more.

2. Consider Your Audience. “Are your brand’s fans using Instagram?” asks Kevin Dugan, veteran marketer with The Empower Group. “If your audience isn’t on Instagram, do you need to be?”

“Don’t just use Instagram to use it or because it’s positioned as ‘hot,'” agrees Peters. “Make sure that you’re giving your audience content that they want to see and interact with.”

3. Post Appropriate Content. “Understand why you want to use Instagram, how you’re going to use it, what you want to get out of it and how your audience uses it,” says Peters.

“Don’t forget that, while pictures are great, substance is critical,” stresses Dugan. “What are you trying to convey?”

4. Don’t Just Post — Interact, says Peters. Some of the most popular brands on Instagram use behind-the-scene photos, photo hunts or contests. For example, fashion retailer Free People integrates Instagram directly into their product pages.

5. Get Creative, says Dugan. “Optimize the content for the format and break out of traditional molds.” Here are a few examples of unique approaches:

Instagram is also often mistakenly overlooked for various types of announcements that a company might make, such as a new product, a new hire, an upcoming event or a recent award, says DeAngelis in her post How We Can Use Instagram in Public Relations.

Gracie

Written by Grace Lavigne, senior editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. Dear Gracie is published weekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

Grammar Hammer: It’s vs. Its — It’s Simple!

It’s September! And for many, that means the dreaded or eagerly anticipated first day of school. DUN DUN DUN! While Mom and Dad shed tears of joy, kids shed tears of sorrow as they shuffle onto the school bus all done up in new shoes and a fresh outfit. School has its pluses and its minuses.

Whether you’re the one going back to school, or maybe just the one pushing kids out the door, make sure you and yours are fully prepared to show off some superior grammar skills by understanding this week’s simple but commonly confused lesson:

Main Rule: It’s means “it is” or “it has.” Its indicates possession.

If you’re not sure, try replacing its or it’s with “it is” or “it has.” If it sounds OK, use an apostrophe. Examples:

  • The school has its recess at noon — can’t wait!
  • The school has it is recess at noon (wrong, no apostrophe)
  • It’sthe first day of school.
  • It is the first day of school. (right, use apostrophe)

Written by Grace Lavigne, senior editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. Grammar Hammer is published weekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

Dear Gracie: PR Pros on Their Most Important Career Lessons

Each week, Dear Gracie answers questions from ProfNet Connect readers with advice from our network of nearly 50,000 ProfNet experts. Has there been a question burning in your mind lately, something you’ve been wondering that none of your colleagues can answer? Please send it to grace.lavigne@prnewswire.com

Dear Gracie,

I’m a student working at my first PR internship this summer. What’s the best advice a long-time PR professional can give me? What’s the most important lesson they’ve learned throughout their career in this industry?

Advice for an Amateur

*************

Dear Advice for an Amateur:

1. Go the Extra Mile. Film producer Samuel Goldwyn once said: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” That is, the harder you work, the more ideas and chances you make for yourself.

PR is strategic, but it is also about making that extra phone call, sending that extra email or following up that one extra time, says Doug Drotman of Drotman Communications. Expose yourself to opportunities.

2. Set Realistic Expectations. Thomas Lee, founding partner and head of public relations at 451 Marketing, was representing a local radio station that had arranged for the musician Uncle Kracker to perform live. He made a few calls and got every major outlet in the area to guarantee they would cover the event. He told his client “every media outlet will be there,” and of course the client was thrilled.

This is what most seasoned publicists would consider a cardinal sin, says Lee. Because despite guarantees, not a single media outlet showed up to cover the concert. The lesson learned was that, as a publicist, you ultimately can’t control the media. There are so many variables that can keep a media outlet from attending an event, publishing an article or running a broadcast piece — breaking news, traffic, adverse weather, advertisers, editors who need more space, etc. — that nothing is ever a certainty.

“Always under promise and over deliver,” agrees Shannon Blood, account manager at Off Madison Ave.

3. Stay Cool Under Pressure. “Grace under pressure can make all the difference,” says Karyn Martin, vice president of 451 Marketing. “When a situation isn’t going as planned, your reaction can make or break it with your client.” Put others at ease by rising above the situation — and you’ll be at a real advantage in the PR industry.

4. Remember the Details. “My most important PR lesson can be summed up in one word: ‘parking,'” says Zipporah Dvash, assistant vice president of public affairs and development for SUNY Downstate Medical Center and University Hospital of Brooklyn at Long Island College Hospital. In a dense urban area like New York City, reporters will not only evaluate the merits of your pitch, but also on whether they can get their crew to your location. “Every pitch of mine includes ‘we will arrange parking,'” she says.

5. Always Represent. Tradeshows are frequently in Las Vegas, but remember that you’re there on your client’s dime and always representing them, says Jeremy Pepper, a long-time PR consultant and blogger. “You can go out and drink, but you better be on time for the events and never hungover.

6. Be Proactive. As a journalist, you can only report — you can only be reactive — but as a PR professional, you can make things happen — you can be proactive, explains Dan Collins, senior director of media relations at Mercy Medical Center.

He learned this lesson on his first PR job, when a local musician was brutally mugged and her five-figure violin stolen. Collins set up an effort to offer a reward for the stolen violin, and also to get her medical expenses covered. This attracted press coverage, and in turn, it also attracted the criminals, who came forward to try and claim the reward, and ended up getting caught.

“PR and journalism are truly two sides of the same coin,” says Collins. But the ability to be proactive is the power of PR.

7. Be Sincere. “Be genuine and you will be believable,” says Chris Leogrande, director of media relations at Utica College. “This has served me so well in my relationships with reporters. If I can’t answer their questions, I tell them why I can’t.” For example:

  • Press at this point could endanger our funding.
  • We have a policy not to release personal information on employees.
  • I don’t know the answer to that but I will try to find out.

“Never, ever lie to a reporter. No matter what,” says Lewis Goldberg in his post “PR Lessons Learned.” “You will be found out and you will personally lose credibility and hurt your client deeply.”

8. Win Trust. “Far too many relationships become ones based on a vendor-supplier dynamic rather than a trusted partner relationship,” says Bill McLaughlin, PR and social media pro with Lois Paul and Partners, in his post “Client-PR Agency Relationships: It’s a Matter of Trust.” Here are some ways to build a relationship with a foundation of trust:

  • Give clients a reality check. It is crucial at the outset that clients understand their assets, strengths and weaknesses, desires and goals, etc.
  • Avoid investment expectations. “The agency needs to deliver results, but the client also needs to pay for the cost of those results.”
  • Provide financial transparency. Once a budget is agreed upon, make sure the client is aware of how activities are tracking to the budget.
  • Nip issues in the bud. Don’t hesitate to talk about expectations or problems. The sooner those conversations take place, the better.

A trusted relationship should also include respect and privacy, adds Brooks. “No matter the context of your work, and no matter what reporters ask or think they know, some conversations and information should be kept out of public view.” Keep your word.

9. Remain Tactful. “Know the right time to speak up and the time to be quiet,” says Rachel Hutman, communications pro with Clearpoint Agency. It’s a fine line, and something you learn as you go, she says.

Additionally, remember that in times of crisis it’s important to say something to the media, says John Brooks, director media relations and news at North Park University in Chicago. “Reporters will find someone who will comment, and you probably won’t like what these ‘spokespersons’ have to say.” Always return phone calls to reporters in a timely fashion and have a written statement to share, even if it contains little information.

10. Pick Your Battles. “The client is always right, even when they aren’t,” says Susan Tellem, partner of Tellem Grody PR. “It’s critical that public relations pros offer their best advice when clients ask and even when they don’t.”

Tell clients what you think and why, Tellem continues. “If the client doesn’t agree for whatever reason, tell them: ‘You’re the client. While I do not agree, I will help you achieve what you want to do to the best of my ability (as long as it is not illegal or immoral).”

11. Collaborate. Work as a true partner with your internal stakeholders or clients, says Rachel DiCaro Metscher, corporate communications director of Hobsons. A good collaborator will clearly identify needs, provide a solution that works, make sure the work gets done and follow up. “The ability to work well with each person is vital to the success of their project and mine,” she says.

“Set goals as a team,” adds McLaughlin. “Begin with realistic goals that include some quick return possibilities so that everyone can see immediate traction for the program.”

12. Beware of the Status Quo. “The status quo is the enemy,” says Lou Hoffman, CEO of The Hoffman Agency. “It’s easy to fall into the trap of doing something the same way because that’s how it’s always been done.” There’s always room for fresh thinking.

13. “Pitch Sensibly. “Send a pitch because it’s the right story for the right media person,” says John Goodman of John Goodman PR. “Dumb pitches to appease a client will come back to bite you with the media.”

14. Read a Lot. “You cannot be well-read enough in the PR business,” says Atlanta publicist Dan Beeson. “Sample as many literary genres as humanly possibly.”

15. Have fun. “While PR is a job, taking the joy of life into your job will make you way more effective,” says Goldberg. “If you just see what we do as a slog to get through, you will not be doing anyone any favors.” Enjoy your life and your job and your work will reflect this.

Gracie

Written by Grace Lavigne, senior editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. Dear Gracie is published weekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

How to Pitch Lifestyle Editors

Publicity Club of New York (PCNY) hosted a luncheon earlier this month, featuring a panel of five lifestyle editors who discussed how they like to be pitched. Check out comments about it on Twitter via #PCNY.

Peter Himler (@PeterHimler61), president of PCNY, kicked off the dialogue by telling the crowd that these days, “publicists outnumber journalists 3 to 1.” Sharpening your pitching technique is more important than ever if you’re looking to land press coverage.

Each panelist spoke for about 10 minutes, followed by 30 minutes of general Q&A, moderated by Edelman Worldwide’s Lisa Kovitz (@lisakovitz50):

New York Daily News: Life & Style Editor/Producer Lindsay Goldwert

  • Goldwert looks for stories with a “women’s magazine-type feel,” including topics like body positivity and food, as well as “feel good” themes.
  • She notes that article pitches must be as current as possible and relevant to “right now.” She needs subject-matter experts who can talk right away.
  • Stories on celebrities with health problems (and relevant experts) are especially pitch-worthy, e.g., when Paula Deen announced she had diabetes.
  • Pictures are great and the most important part of a pitch!
  • No time for desksides.
  • Contact: @lindsaygoldwert11or lgoldberg@nydailynews.com

WNYW-TV “Good Day New York”: Executive Producer Jason Hartelius

  • Hartelius receives hundreds of emails daily — sometimes even a thousand or more. Be concise, don’t overpitch (i.e., don’t send the same email every day) and don’t use bait-and-switch tactics.
  • Pitches can be as simple as: “Hey, I got this idea — what do you think?” Put relevant information at the top; don’t be longwinded.
  • Subject lines should be catchy. If you write “Attention Jason Hartelius: [Topic]” he will very likely read it.
  • Stories must be local. And no promotional material — the segment should be about the story, not selling. “Know the show!”
  • There is one slot per day for a fun or remote piece. Recent examples include local firemen washing circus elephants and an anchor taking a ride in a monster truck.
  • The show generally has no interest in featuring a guest who has recently appeared or will soon appear on a competitor’s show (no “same day” bookings). The only exception might be if it’s an extremely famous celebrity.
  • Contact: @jasonhartelius12 or desk@foxfiveny.com or GDNYpitches@gmail.com

The Huffington Post: Women’s Editor Margaret Wheeler Johnson

  • HuffPost Women typically features news items and original reporting, essays from “ordinary” women, body image, women’s health and compelling stories.
  • Do not pitch off-topic ideas about dieting and nutrition, parenting and fashion and style. Wheeler Johnson is not interested in any stories that include the words “your man.”
  • If you’re a woman, ask yourself: “Would you want to read this story?”
  • No product pitches.
  • Images are great! Nice images can be turned into a slideshow. This is a great option for book publicists in particular.
  • To know what types of topics to pitch, read the front page! And watch out for cross-posting (e.g., sometimes fashion stories are reposted from HuffPost Style).
  • She looks for fresh perspectives from subject-matter experts.
  • Experts must have links to back up their statements. Quotes from health experts in particular will be checked.
  • Wheeler Johnson doesn’t usually leave the office to cover events, since Huffington Post has a national audience.
  • She doesn’t understand the concept of a deskside; the pitch should be engaging and well-crafted enough that a deskside isn’t necessary. If she’s looking for a fresh quote, she’ll call you on the phone.
  • Typos in article submissions are a big no-no; the editorial department is busy enough already.
  • Contact: @mwjohnso14 or scoop@huffingtonpost.com

WPLJ-FM “The Big Show With Scott & Todd”: Producer Joe Pardavila

  • Radio in general has a large reach for suburbanites, particularly in the New York area, which has lots of commuters (i.e., “bridge and tunnel”).
  • This morning radio show targets women ages 25-54 in the New York area in particular. The crowd includes college-educated women, soccer-mom types and even teeny boppers (since they’re in the car with Mom). This audience might not want to listen to Justin Bieber, but they certainly know who he is.
  • Press releases and pitches don’t need to be longer than one paragraph. If Padavila isn’t interested in the idea, extra paragraphs won’t help.
  • Have fun with a pitch. Pardavila is not interested in anything morose, depressing, technical or “high brow.” Simple stories are best!
  • People say: “I want to wake up and laugh.” Keep that in mind.
  • Contact: @joepardavila or bigshow@plj.com

BuzzFeed Shift: Editor Amy Odell

  • BuzzFeed wants every single article they post to go viral. Most traffic on the site comes from Facebook. Think about what people want to click on.
  • Common topics cover style, beauty, health, fitness, food, grooming, powerful women, career, celebrities, relationships, hipsters. Anything funny!
  • Fashion pitches in particular must be funny or relatable; high-fashion pieces are not appropriate.
  • Odell says press releases are basically never funny, and she hardly ever finds story ideas from them. She might open a press release if the idea sounds really bizarre.
  • What does Odell want from PR pros? Exclusive access to experts or celebrities.
  • She can’t use content if it’s posted on other sites — original material is a must.
  • She prefers to use stories immediately; there’s not much lead time, unless it’s an interview a celebrity that has to be planned in advance, for example.
  • Odell typically doesn’t cover events, but she might send reporters to an interesting event so they can live tweet from it (to draw in new followers). But it most likely will never become an article.
  • No desksides.
  • Contact: @amyodell56 or amy.odell@buzzfeed.com

Written by Grace Lavigne, senior editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on the free social networking site ProfNet Connect.

Grammar Hammer: Don’t Go Toward/Towards the Light!

It’s August, so no matter where you are in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s safe to assume you’ve probably been encountering a lot of creepy crawlers recently.

Fun fact: It turns out that some flying insects actually move towards a light — even though it ends up zapping them to death — because they use the sun and moon to navigate their courses. Insects that are attracted to light include moths, flies, crane flies, mayflies, beetles and more, according to About.com. They don’t realize that your porch light is actually leading them toward a buggy death trap!

This bring us to our short grammar discussion today: When do we use towards vs. toward?

Main Rule: Toward and towards can be used interchangeably.

Either word is correct, although North American English speakers tend to prefer toward, while other English speakers (specifically British) tend to prefer towards, according to Grammarist.

Examples:

  • “No, don’t go towards the light!” the caterpillar screamed to the moth. But it was too late.
  • The beetle seemed hypnotized as it moved toward the light bulb, ending with a pop and sizzle.

Stop the bug annihilation — turn your lights out!

Written by Grace Lavigne, senior editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. Grammar Hammer is published weekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.