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?


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

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.


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

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.


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

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 or

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

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

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

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 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.


  • “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.

Dear Gracie: Getting the Press to Cover Your Conference

Each week, Dear Gracie answers questions from ProfNet Connect readers with advice from our network of more than 44,000 ProfNet experts. Has there been a question burning in your mind lately, something you’ve been wondering that none of your friends can answer? Please send it to

Dear Gracie,

I’ve been tasked with wrangling up press to cover and attend an upcoming conference. Although the organizers have some great content, the conference is a newbie on the circuit and it’s been difficult to get this on press radars. I’m looking for a Conference Confucius to offer up some advice.

Conference Conundrum


Dear Conference Conundrum,

Five ProfNet experts offer some advice on how to get the press to cover your conference:


If you’re trying to get reporters to cover your event, the first step is to try and get them to come, says Vince McMorrow, associate vice president of Fahlgren Mortine. Many reporters nowadays have gotten the green light from bosses to travel to events. “What gets them there is good content,” he says.

“News is news — you can’t make it up,” says Lisa Layne, principal of Lettuce PR. News outlets will never come to your conferences again if you say there is news to announce, but then just treat it as a messaging outlet. If you spin a conference that isn’t newsworthy, you can damage your PR career.

How do you know if your conference is newsworthy? McMorrow suggests asking these questions:

  • Do you have speakers that are well-known in the industry?
  • Will there be sessions/tutorials on topics/trends critical to the industry?
  • Can you leak some of the information to the media before the conference to entice them to attend or cover?

“Big subjects sell themselves,” explains John Brooks, director of media relations and news at North Park University in Chicago. For example, when Brooks was director of news for a mainline church denomination, they’d get coverage for anything controversial happening at the national assembly. Matters relating to sexuality and the church, as well as a church-to-church agreement that some members of both churches opposed, drew the press in particular.

“Unfortunately, controversy seems to work, but it can open the door for coverage of other conference happenings too,” says Brooks.

Furthermore, in these days of tighter budgets, a reporter might not be able to travel to your event, so in that case, provide them with a phone number they can call to talk to someone, or provide them with the necessary info to watch it live (like if there’s a webcast of the conference), says Brooks.

And if there is a webcast, tell the reporters when to watch for key subjects, Brooks continues.

If online attendance is an option for a national conference, then make a concerted effort to get press from all over the country to attend from their desks, suggests Elizabeth Arritt, director of marketing at Omega Performance Corporation. Send out personal messages to different reporters in different cities, and highlight speakers from their area. This generates local coverage all over the country, she says. (She used MEDIAtlas to find these reporters.)

“Survey attendees and then offer the results to the media,” suggests McMorrow. “Ask for media input in the initial stages of creating the survey, so that you can get their buy-in. Provide it to them after the event to continue getting coverage.”

Work the Reporters

“Get to the right reporter,” says Brooks. The reporters who cover your beat will be the most interested in your conferences.

If reporters do decide to attend your event, make sure they have press passes that will give them access to all areas, says McMorrow.

Before a conference, Brooks travels to the city where the conference is being held and visits with industry reporters and assignment editors to tell them about the event.

When Brooks worked for an agricultural organization, the reporters most interested in their events were farm reporters and broadcasters. “They’d come and talk to several agricultural experts, and use those comments for several days. What worked there was providing solid content to beat reporters interested in the subjects we were communicating,” he says.

Being transparent and inviting reporters ahead of time helps secure coverage later when the conference is being held, explains Brooks.

Also, make your CEO visible, Brooks continues. When the presiding bishop of the church Brooks represents travels to another city for a speaking engagement, Brooks contacts local religion writers and tells them about where the bishop is going, so that the reporters can schedule a meeting and interview with the bishop.

It’s even better if the local host of the speaking engagement contacts local media directly, adds Brooks. But either way, find a reporter who covers your beat, and tell them about your CEO too.

Kill two birds with one stone by hosting a news conference or conference call to kick off your event, Brooks continues. Have your CEO speak to the media about key issues to be discussed at the conference.

“Invite reporters to participate in your conference,” says Brooks. “If you’ve got a communication theme, invite reporters as event speakers, or invite a well-known reporter in the conference city to speak as a keynoter,” he suggests. “Audiences like reporters because they can tell stories relevant to everyone — and reporters sometimes cover reporters.”

High-Profile Names

“The key to press conferences is understanding what type of high-profile names you get there,” says Layne. Try to get industry officials, celebrities, authors, etc.

“Encourage planners to get recognizable names,” agrees Brooks. “The toughest thing to do is get coverage for a great speaker that few have heard of.”

Celebrity endorsements are a highly important factor for conference campaigning, continues Layne. Even if the brand is a yoga mat, a tourism bureau, a new tech gadget — backing your event with a name is crucial.

“Consumers and media want to care about your conference for a reason,” says Layne. If they can associate a household name that they trust, then they trust the brand too.

But she notes that it can be difficult to get celebrities to your conference unless they are already a spokesperson for the event.

To get high-profile names to attend your conference, look for relevant charities, Layne suggests. Do some research. For example, Jennie McCarthy has an autistic child, so if your event revolves around that, pitch her publicist.

If the celebrity bites, send a town car to pick them up, says Layne. “Make it easy for them, and hand hold. It’s like babysitting — but researching the kid’s hobbies first.”

Local Community

“Don’t overlook the little things your organization might be doing for the conference’s host city, particularly if there’s a societal benefit or if it has a positive impact on those who are less fortunate,” suggests George Deutsch, senior media relations coordinator at the International Facility Management Association.

For example, at an expo show in Orlando, Fla., a few years ago, Deutsh was trying to promote the conference and its educational sessions, new products and services, and its sustainability. While he was talking to one of the reporters in attendance, he mentioned as an aside that the company would be donating the excess food and beverages from the show to the needy in the local community.

That brief remark is what the reporter picked up on. “The story ended up being the best coverage we got from the show,” says Deutsch. “It taught me to remember to promote the little things.”

Any information you can provide about how people from the community in which the conference is being held will interest reporters, says Brooks. “They want local people in their stories who are relevant to their readers.”

So for national events, Brooks always tries to include a local-story angle if possible, because that’s the kind of information that gets covered.

Local news organizations are also typically interested in the financial effects of a conference to be held in their town, says Brooks. “It invites coverage of the conference in a different way, which can lead to coverage of the conference itself.” The Convention and Visitors Bureaus could be helpful with this, he adds.

Arritt got great coverage from a local news station where she was holding a conference once with a money-grab exhibit booth. The idea was that a participant would climb inside the booth, and then get 30 seconds to grab as much flying money as they could.

She contacted the local news director and invited their weatherman to do the noon weather report from the booth. As a bonus, they agreed to match whatever the weatherman grabbed and donate it all to Habitat for Humanity (with a guarantee for a minimum donation if he grabbed less than expected).

“It was a great spot,” says Arritt. “They re-ran it for the evening news, and we had copies to use for ourselves as well. It provided us, the station and Habitat with some good PR.”


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: Julia Child’s Recipe for Parallel Structure

Everything has its place in Julia’s kitchen, and in the sentences you write. You wouldn’t put the toaster in the fridge.

When I was little and had to stay home sick from school, I’d always watch a TV cooking show with my mom, featuring a tall lady with a peculiar warbly voice making really delicious-looking food with lots of butter. I didn’t realize until many years later — when the movie “Julie & Julia” came out — that my mom and I had been watching reruns of Julia Child.

Watching those reruns was my first introduction to the legendary chef, author and TV personality. I’m sure many of you have your own versions of how you were introduced to Child, whether you’re a longtime fan, like my mom, who owns a weathered copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking; or a newer fan, like me, who was captivated by her charm in reruns and modern adaptations like “Julie & Julia.”

Child penned 18 cookbooks during her 91 years of life, so she surely was aware of grammar rules like parallel structure. In honor of what would have been her 100th birthday last week, we’ll review this principle:

Main Rule: Similar material within a sentence, list or passage should be presented in a consistent manner to ensure grammatical purpose, structure and rhythm.

Within a sentence:

  • Julia Child was magnetic, hilarious and wholehearted. [all adjectives]
  • Julia Child was charming, a chef and funny. [incorrect]
  • Julia Child loved salade nicoise, chicken waterzooi soup and pizza. [all recipes]
  • Julia Child loved coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon and baking. [incorrect]

Within a List:

  • To cook the duck:
    • Debone the bird.
    • Discard fat.
    • Add the stuffing.
    • Heat the oil.
    • Brown the duck.
  • [Each bullet point starts with a verb.]
  • To make pastry:
    • Mix flour, salt, sugar and butter.
    • Add water.
    • Dough into a ball.
    • Sprinkle with flour.
    • Knead repeatedly.
  • [This list is incorrect because "dough" is not a verb.]

Within a passage:

  • Chefs who create delicious food don’t always get television shows, but one always has the advantage of eating well. [incorrect; switches from plural to singular subject]
  • Chefs who create delicious food don’t always get television shows, but they always have the advantage of eating well. [correct]

Bon appetit!

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 user EvanFuchs.

Dear Gracie: Tips for How to Appear on Camera

Dear Gracie,

I’m doing my first TV appearance as an expert on a news show, and I’m a bit nervous. Any tips, advice?

Panicked Presenter


Dear Panicked Presenter,

Here is the advice from six communication experts found within the ProfNet Connect community:


“Practice, practice, practice, and then practice again,” says Rachel Weingarten, personal brand and style expert, and author of “Career and Corporate Cool” and “Hello Gorgeous! Beauty Products in America, ’40s-’60s.”

Try practicing out loud, in advance, says Karen Friedman, a former TV news reporter who now heads Karen Friedman Enterprises, which teaches people how to become powerful communicators. “Saying your words out loud will help you internalize your message and practice delivery. It will also help you recall key words and thoughts when you’re actually on.”

“Make up a list of your best stories, anecdotes and selling points ahead of time,” continues Weingarten. “Don’t try to offer up a completed list to your interviewer, but rather be comfortable enough with the details so that you don’t fumble on the presentation.”

Also, do your homework, says Weingarten. Study up on the show you’ll be appearing on. Consider questions like: What colors are the set? Will the video shooting occur indoors or outdoors? How much time will be given to speak? How close or far is the camera? Considering questions like these will give you a better idea of how you’ll look on film, says Weingarten.


It’s important to wear the right clothing, says Robb Leer, founder and president of Leer Communications, a media and communication consulting company. “Wear something comfortable and well-fitting, and dress conservative — not crazy.”

“The most important thing is to hold onto your own personal style,” says Weingarten. If you dress for the hosts or the camera exclusively, you will likely be uncomfortable the entire time and end up so focused on your clothes that you will lose track of what’s being asked of you, she says.

Keep it simple and professional looking, echoes Susan Tellem, partner in Tellem Worldwide; a public relations, social media and marketing communications firm. “Don’t wear white or black, more than one pattern, small checks, large print, herringbone, stripes polka dots or loud colors. Instead, wear safe colors like dark blues, grays, earth tones or pastels, or wear colors that look good on you and blend well with the set.”

“Dark colors absorb light, so they tend to look better on camera,” explains fashion designer and personal stylist Kesi Case.

Tellem also recommends avoiding low-cut dresses or shirts, too much jewelry and seasonal clothing. She also advises that if you normally wear glasses, you should wear them for the interview. And bring an extra shirt or blouse, she adds, in case of spills or sweat.

“If you wear makeup, wear more than usual and have the makeup department at the studio do a touchup. Even if you don’t normally wear makeup, visit the makeup department anyway, as you will always look better on TV with it on,” Tellem says. “And men should get their bald heads or sweaty foreheads powdered,” she adds.

Also, do a complete run-through of your entire look, from head to toe, ahead of time, says Weingarten. “Make sure your hair doesn’t look like a helmet, your makeup doesn’t run, and your clothing fits you well and comfortably.”


“Keep an open body posture,” says Robin H-C, behavior specialist and life coach, and author of “Thinking Your Way to Happy!” “There is a natural propensity to cross the arms and legs and protect the torso when nervous or under stress.”

If your movements are open, then you’ll appear approachable, says Friedman. “Using hand movements and gestures when you speak makes you more animated and interested to look at,” she says. “But on TV, keep your hands out of the box — meaning, keep them away from your shoulders up.”

If you’re sitting, then sit up straight, advises Leer. Don’t slump at the shoulders, leaning slightly forward. “Sit on the front edge of a straight-back chair, not a chair that swivels,” he instructs.

“Body language conveys you’re in control of the conversation, so relax,” adds Leer. “Or at least try.”

Eye Contact

If there is no interviewer: “Keep steady eye contact, as if the person you are speaking to is standing right in front of you,” says Friedman. “Think of the camera or your audience as one person and speak to that one person, not to the masses,” she continues. “If there is a loud noise and you glance off to the side, people at home in front of their TV sets don’t know something happened in the studio. All they see is someone who looks distracted or unfocused.”

If there is an interviewer: “You’re never wrong to look at the interviewer and not the camera,” says Leer.


“Pretend that the person in the back of the room or on the other side of the camera can’t hear you very well,” says Friedman. A microphone doesn’t substitute energy, she says. “When you speak just a tad louder, you will sound more engaging.”

But keep your tone and delivery conversational, says Leer. Use clarity and sincerity to convey conviction, he says. Don’t get louder and louder.


“The camera picks up your nerves, so the more confident you are, the better you will come across,” says Case.

“Get out of your head!” says H-C. “Focus on the conversation with the host and do your best to silence the internal voice that is evaluating your appearance. Saying, ‘I hope I don’t mess this up’ is setting your brain up to do exactly that. Try an affirmation: ‘I am relaxed, informative and articulate during all media interviews,'” says H-C.

Also, remember to breathe, H-C continues. “When you’re nervous and adrenaline kicks in, it can shut down the frontal lobe of the brain, our problem-solving area. Trust me — you do not want to be interviewed without access to the frontal lobe.”

Extra Tips:

“The camera is always on, so don’t pick your teeth or comb your hair. Those images could later haunt you,” says Leer.

If all else fails, says Weingarten, self-deprecation works. “People don’t expect you to be as polished as the cast or crew of the show, so if you feel as though the interview or appearance has gotten away from you, stop stammering and feel free to make a joke about the fact that you’re not Angelina Jolie, but need a minute or two to collect your thoughts.”

“Though you want to look great and sound brilliant, at the end of the day, you are on TV to share a message,” continues Weingarten. “Remind yourself of this prior to all interviews. It’s not about you, rather, you are the medium for an important message.”

And most importantly, have fun! “Don’t take it too seriously and congratulate yourself for being brave. Many people would not even consider doing a live appearance,” says H-C.

Good luck!


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.