Author Archives: Grace Lavigne

Dear Gracie: How to Land Speaking Gigs

Dear Gracie,

I’m a seasoned industry expert, but do not have any significant experience as a speaker. How do I get my name on the radar of conferences, trade shows, workshops, etc.? Is this a good way to supplement income? What can I expect?

Seeking Speeches


Dear Seeking Speeches:

Five ProfNet experts share some advice:

Dan Collins, senior director of media relations at Mercy Medical Center, suggests four ways to break into speaking:

1) Have a Notable Political, Religious or Athletic Career.

  • Political: Federal workers at the White House level, or former Secretaries of State are always in demand.
  • Religious: a la Billy Graham
  • Athletic: Always a slam dunk!

2) Write a Book.Preferably published by a well-known company like Random House or HarperCollins.

3) Be Very Funny. Take notes from Bill Crosby.

4) Appear on a Top-Rated Reality Show. This might be a tough one — but remember the uproar last year when Rutgers University paid Snooki from “Jersey Shore” $32,000 to speak? Compare that to the $30,000 they paid Nobel Prize-winning author and feminist Toni Morrison to speak at their commencement ceremony.

General tips on landing speaking gigs:

1) Be Visible. The expert’s personal or company website needs to show that they are available to speak, explains Lorrie Thomas Ross, CEO of Web Marketing Therapy who is also a speaking trainer and paid speaker herself. People who want to speak have to let organizations know they are available to talk and can add value to events.

2) Network. Experts should attend the events they’d like to speak at, and let friends and colleagues know they’re available too, says Lauren Fleming, publishing specialist at Emerson Consulting Group and author of Business Review USA’s article “Want to Let People Know You’re an Expert? Start Speaking!”

3) Team Up. If someone in the field is already an experienced speaker, you could offer to open for them, says Fleming. That experienced speaker already has a fan base which can be used to build credibility by association.

4) Create a Demo. Invite colleagues and friends to a private room and tape a speech, suggests Alan Weiss, president of Summit Consulting Group, author of “Million Dollar Speaking” and member of the Speaking Hall of Fame. There should be two cameras: one on the speaker and one on the audience. Or consider making a YouTube video, adds Fleming.

5) Offer Free Speeches. It pays to give free speeches — for the practice, testimonials and video clips, says Thomas Ross.

6) Start Small. Check out the local Chamber of Commerce, industry networking groups, Rotary Clubs, etc., says Fleming. Any meeting with about five to 20 people in attendance who will show up to the meeting regardless of the speaker.

7) Pitch Trade Associations. Form a distinct portfolio of expertise — whether that’s through books, articles, teleconferences, interviews, etc. — to pitch trade executives, says Weiss.

8) ProfNet Speaker Service. If you’re a ProfNet member, you can monitor query feeds for Speaker Service opportunities.

What to know about fees for speaking engagements, according to Weiss:

  • Typical Rates. The top non-celebrity speakers earn $25,000 or so for a keynote (typically 60-90 minutes), but most excellent speakers earn $10,000, and most speakers earn only about $3,500 per speech or even less.
  • Reimbursements. Because speaking engagements are labor intensive, expenses are generally reimbursed. Speakers can request first-class airfare, for example.

To pitch a speaker, create a “sales package with sizzle,” says Susan Tellem, partner at Tellem Grody Public Relations. This should include six key components:

1) Introduction. Provide a brief description of the speaker and what makes him or her so dynamic.

2) List of Topics. Briefly summarize the subjects the speaker can discuss. Topics should cater to different audiences: consumers and the public, executives and administrators, industry professionals, etc.

3) Press Kit. A full electronic press kit.

4) Speaker Sheet. Condense the bio information, fees and suggested topics onto a single page.

5) Testimonials. If the speaker has previous experience, provide audience or group testimonials.

6) Media Clips. Provide prior press coverage of the speaker with links or PDFs, including any broadcast appearances.

Now break a leg!


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.

#ConnectChat Recap: How to Increase Brand Influence on Social Media

Earlier this year,  #ConnectChat  featured social media expert Shelly Lucas (@Hoovers54) who discussed “How to Increase Brand Influence on Social Media,” with advice for social media and branding professionals on measuring and controlling influence, generating interest in target markets, creating brand personas, expanding brands into new social media territory, and more.

Shelly is a senior marketing manager and social media strategist at Hoover’s, a B2B business, and a division of Dun & Bradstreet (D&B). She’s responsible for listening to and engaging with customers and influencers online, including content strategy, online monitoring, new media campaigns and metrics. Shelly and her team increased Hoover’s Klout score from 29 to 61 (celeb status!) and doubled LinkedIn followers in one year.

ProfNet56: Thanks for joining us Shelly!

Hoovers54: Hi, everyone! Honored to be here!

ProfNet: Please feel free to jump in with questions and comments. And remember to include the #ConnectChat hashtag so we can all see your input.

ProfNet: Now let’s do this!

ProfNet: Shelly, what are some benefits that social media provides for branding that other channels cannot?

Hoovers: 1) Ability to scale: one to one, one to many, many to many. 2) High in virality: Beyonce’s pregnancy can generate 8,868 tweets in one second! 3) “Bottom-up” credibility: the influence of friend-to-friend referrals. 4) Real-time interaction: the potential for humanness or bringing a brand to life. 5) Real-time competitive (and market) intelligence — even if anecdotal, still valuable.

Hoovers: It’s important to remember that social media is a channel — not a strategy — and it’s one channel in a multichannel approach.

Hoovers: Social media can also create a brand experience. It’s not just a 30-second spot or print ad. Folks actually talk with the brand.

@skinnytwinkie15: Any secrets to getting something to go viral?

Hoovers: Important to going viral: know your audience. Cisco didn’t — that’s why its Old Spice parody didn’t work. Here’s a link to Cisco’s Old Spice parody: Compare to Brigham Young University’s (which works):

lisakanda38: Who manages @Hoovers social media — a team, one person? How do you do it? Social media calendar? Research and metrics? Third-party help?

Hoovers: A team manages social media, activated by expertise. We follow news cycles, company news and weekly themes, e.g., [fill-in-the-blank] Friday. At Hoover’s, social media falls under marketing, but we’re moving to a decentralized model (Altimeter’s “Dandelion”).

First_Retail11:What are some “best in class” companies/brands that use social media effectively and what do they do differently than most?

Hoovers: @Dell64 definitely does social media right! They have 6,000 employees certified to represent the brand and they have a command center.

ProfNet: What are some of the restrictions or limitations that brands face online?

Hoovers: A restriction that social media has is that the we’re not in control of the brand. We always knew that, but with social it’s clear.

KileyG: What is your opinion about responding to social media issues during “off” hours (nights and weekends)?

Hoovers: Depends on what the issue is. If it’s a crisis (and your biz should define this), social media needs to respond immediately. But how feasible is it to respond immediately to crises via social? We already sleep with our iPhones on.

Hoovers: f you don’t have 24-hour customer support — or a PR response team — responding via social media may be limited in its effectiveness.

KileyG: I think generally people are forgiving for some time to elapse if the event happens during strange hours. #vagueanswer

ProfNet: Shelly, you said a brand isn’t truly in control of its own influence. So how can a brand enhance its influence then?

Hoovers: Influencers are in control of the brand. And influencers don’t have to have a Klout score of 75 to be influential.

Hoovers: A group of influencers can aggregate behind a cause. Example: Beautiful Bald Barbie’s Facebook petition to Mattel. Power in social media.

First_Retail: Speaking of being in control (or not), how do brands avoid hashtag hijacking (example: McDonald’s) or is it just a risk with social media?

pcolpitts1127 It only takes one sour voice. Negative comments will always draw more attention.

Hoovers: It’s important to enhance the brand via social — for trust. Seventy percent of consumers actively avoid a product because they don’t like the parent company.

KileyG: @Hoovers I think that is why transparency is so important for brands.

Hoovers: Exactly! RT @KileyG I think that is why transparency is so important for brands.

Hoovers: Hashtag hijacking is an inherent risk. To be cautious, try to troubleshoot the hashtag for unsavory responses. #McDstories is open-ended — kind of like inviting the KFC deep-fried rat urban legend. Are #LittleThings better for McDonald’s?

KileyG: Brands have to be honest with themselves about how they are perceived (positive and negative). #McDstories

ProfNet: How should a brand’s social influence be measured? How important are metrics?

Hoovers: A definition of social influence is important to the question of brand influence via social media. I think of social influence as changing mindsets and actions via social — a form of persuasion.

Hoovers: Social influence does not necessarily = popularity. Dare I introduce the dreaded ROI word? ROI is difficult to measure, as social influence is transitive; it can reach across multiple industries, can fade and recur.

rjmcAssey29 @Hoovers Its true. In today’s business model, companies are unlikely to stick with a simple “social promotion.” ROI is the key.

Hoovers: @rjmcAssey: Yep. They love social but hate advertising.

KileyG: ROI can stretch across several areas — from actual money-related conversions, to increases in customer-service quality, etc.

Hoovers: A few ROI metrics I’ve seen: 1) @jasonfalls66 via @smexaminer50 suggests click per follower (measured against peer group). 2) @Crowdtap14 measures brand influence via a points system, awarded per social action. #gamification 3) You can also measure indirect revenue impact. @pgreenbe49 has discussed customer referral value via @Irregulars20.

ProfNet:How do you generate interest in Hoover’s target market?

Hoovers: We concentrate on creating a brand experience via social media. We try to make our social communities inviting, and hope folks attend. We go where our markets are and talk about what they care about. We target specific social influencers based on vertical and/or sphere of expertise via social media metrics and other tools.

Hoovers: LinkedIn is a very important venue for us (in B2B). We ask and answer questions, and post Hoover’s company updates. We’re trying something a bit different for LinkedIn company updates; we post mini-thought-leadership gems vs. recycled material.

KileyG: After you target them, how do you reach out to the specific influencers?

Hoovers: @KileyG We show targeted influencers social love at first — adding comments, not just RTs, which opens up a conversation.

ProfNet: How is promoting a brand different from promoting an individual?

Hoovers: I think the line between brand vs. personal promotion is blurring; social brand differentiation relies on same elements. People want to talk to other people, not to companies — and not to a flavorless brand. But as more social ninjas are activated in companies, I would say that brands are becoming groups of individuals on social.

TankaBar_Linda32: Brands have always been groups of individuals. It’s just that social media makes the nature of those individuals more transparent.

Hoovers: “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” – Mother Theresa. People identify with the “mass” of brand advocates (employees), all expressing the flavor of a brand, which leads to action. The challenge is to trace the action (source of social influence) or ROI.

What is the role of personalization as a brand? Is it smart to humanize brands?

Hoovers: I think it’s a good idea to humanize your brand. Who doesn’t like the Travelocity gnome (a great photo share on Facebook)? Others argue that people don’t want a relationship with brands; they want companies to solve problems, give info or give a discount.

JeniceJohnson18 Humanizing a brand is necessary to be relatable to potential clients. Otherwise it’s just another company.

TankaBar_Linda32 People in a company — customer service, sales, etc. — have always humanized brands. That, plus the quality of products/services.

Hoovers: William Shatner gets axed as Priceline’s spokesperson because of strategy change. An example of the downside of humanizing brands? @TheNegotiator16 become synonymous with “name your price” — when a brand changes direction, so does the mascot/spokesperson?

KileyG: @Hoovers I don’t think it’s a downside of humanized brands, but I *am* curious if/how Priceline will wrap this all together.

Hoovers: @KileyG Looks like @TheNegotiator character is nixed; Shatner remains under contract, says

Hoovers: Maybe I’m big on humanization because B2B companies sometimes struggle with the pitfall of “deadly seriousness.”

KileyG: @Hoovers I talk to a lot of social media managers in the B2B sphere who struggle with this humanizing piece.

ProfNet:What trends are you seeing with social media’s impact on purchasing behavior?

Hoovers: Unleash the stats! The number of U.S. folks whose purchase decisions are influenced by social media went up 14 percent in 6 months (Knowledge Networks).

Hoovers: But 66 percent of small-business owners say their Facebook ads didn’t attract new customers (MerchantCircle study).

Hoovers: Edelman’s Trust Barometer 2012 shows that consumers are trusting social media more (14 percent, up from 8 percent last year).

Hoovers: And people say “regular folks” are more trustworthy! Only 38 percent say CEOs are trustworthy (a decline).

KileyG: Could be tracking error? RT @Hoovers: But 66 percent of small-business owners say their Facebook ads didn’t attract new customers (MerchantCircle study).

KileyG: Lots of questions about that 66 percent stat. Did they run just one ad in an otherwise inactive social effort? How did they track? Etc.

eltiare46 @KileyG No, it’s a marketing error. Probably multiple.

KileyG: @eltiare I agree. Execution/strategy errors need to be considered.

Hoovers: @KileyG: We agree! There are definitely many questions regarding Facebook ads. We found the MerchantCircle study via @OPENForum30:

ProfNet: Are there any new or just overlooked social media channels that you’d recommend to branders?

Hoovers: You know I’m going to say something about Pinterest! “Pinterest is pure catnip for mature women.” – Tero Kuittimen. Pinterest drives more referral traffic than Google+, YouTube and LinkedIn combined (via @shareaholic48). Great for storytelling!

Hoovers: @chrisbrogan69 tweeted this morning about Gentlemint — “like Pinterest for dudes.”

Hoovers: I also think social bookmarking (,, Digg) is often overlooked. What’s on someone’s bookshelf says a lot.

Hoovers: Tumblr is also impressive, with multichannel capability. It’s the fastest-growing social network in the world.

ProfNet: Does anyone have any final questions or comments?

MichelleCvCM55: These are the most informative sessions! Thank you for hosting them!

KileyG: Thanks for letting me participate. Enjoyed the conversation!

TankaBar_Linda: Thank you for hosting #ConnectChat. Great discussion.

TankaBar_Linda: @Hoovers Thank you for the nod during #ConnectChat. And thank you for your insight, as well.

ProfNet: That’s a wrap! Thank you so much to everyone who took part in #ConnectChat. Hope you found it informative! Our next chat is on Feb. 14.

ProfNet56: Thank you @Hoovers! It’s been a really interesting #ConnectChat. Hope you enjoyed it.

Hoovers54 Thanks, everyone! Stellar chat! You can also find me via @DnBUS51 and my personal handle @pisarose51.

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: Since vs. Because

Because August has no official holidays, today’s post is about the bizarre and wacky unofficial holidays this month!

Did you know that August is Family Fun Month, National Catfish Month, National Eye Exam Month, National Golf Month, Peach Month, Romance Awareness Month, Water Quality Month, National Picnic Month — or my favorite — Admit You’re Happy Month? (Just admit it already!) These themes are the perfect excuses to do some fun/wacky/healthy things for the next few weeks.

Since the beginning of August, I’ve been meaning to cover the rules of when to use since vs. because.

Purists will tell you that there’s a right and wrong answer about when to use since vs. because – but the explanation is confusing and not clearly definable. My answer? Go with your gut. It is, however, helpful to understand the types of sentences where each is most likely to appear, in order to avoid sounding awkward.

Main Rule: Since generally references time and/or causation, while because generally only references causation.

Therefore, it’s more likely you’ll use because awkardly; since can be used appropriately in most sentences that require this type of word.

Here are examples of when the words are interchangeable:

  • Because/since it’s National Catfish Month, catch a big one! [correct]
  • Give your girlfriend a big kiss because/since it’s Romance Awareness Month. [correct]

Here is an example of when because sounds awkward, due to time reference:

  • Since we went peach picking, I’ve been craving peaches. [correct]
  • Because we went peach picking, I’ve been craving peaches. [incorrect]

In this instance, try inserting the phrase the time after after since to test for grammaticality.

  • Since [the time that] we went peach picking, I’ve been craving peaches. [correct]

Also, there’s the obvious case where because just won’t sound right:

  • Since Friday, I’ve been thinking a lot about golf. [correct]
  • Because Friday, I’ve been thinking a lot about golf. [incorrect]

Conclusion: If you can’t decide whether since or because sounds better, probably just go with since, since it will likely sound less awkward!

Happy August!

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: Hashtags 101

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 an amateur Twitter user, and it’s not clear to me how and why I should use #hashtags. Since I can search for keywords on Twitter, I don’t understand what the difference is. What purpose do they serve? And is there a wrong way to use them? Sometimes I see really long hashtags — what’s the point?

Hung Up on Hashtags


Dear Hung Up on Hashtags,

Five social media experts from the ProfNet Connect database “hash” it out for you:

How and When to Use Hashtags

“Hashtags arose out of the tag craze in the blogosphere, where sites like Technorati would allow you to search on blog posts with specific tags or keywords,” says Todd Van Hoosear, principal at Fresh Ground, a social media and public relations PR firm specializing in technology, startup and entrepreneurial companies.

“The characteristic feature of a hashtag is that it’s clickable on Twitter and leads to a platform-wide search for anyone including it in their tweets,” says Patrick Schwerdtfeger, author of “Webify Your Business Marketing Secrets for the Self-Employed” (2009) and international speaker on issues like online branding and the social media revolution.

Think of hashtags as discussion topics, says Dan Grody, partner at Tellem Worldwide, a PR agency that specializes in social media (among other things); and head of youth marketing, entertainment and digital projects. “They are beneficial to users because hashtag topics are easily searched on Twitter and collected and presented to you in one stream.”

“A hashtag is very much like a keyword,” explains Van Hoosear, “though generally they are used more selectively and specifically than keywords.” Different hashtags can be created for the same event, group or conversation, so they compete for attention and usage, he says.

“In some cases, hashtags reference specialties, characteristics or expertise,” adds Grody.

“Hashtags compensate for two shortcomings in Twitter,” says Van Hoosear. “First, they make up for its lack of threaded conversations, so you can easily follow posts and questions and their responses. By searching for a specific hashtag, you can see all of the conversations around a particular topic.”

“And second, hashtags make community or group creation a little easier,” he says.

If you have an obvious keyword in your tweet, put a hashtag in front of it, advises Jim Lakely, director of communications at The Heartland Institute.

“Whenever possible, we use a hashtag as part of a phrase that we’re using anyway,” says Michael Saffran, associate director and manager of new media at Rochester Insitute of Technology (RIT) University News Service, and communications professor for RIT’s College of Liberal Arts. “Other times, they’re included at the end of the tweet.”

“As for which ones to use, it all depends on your tweet topic and who you potentially want to see it,” he adds.

The trick is to identify a few hashtags that your target market might be searching for (and that are simultaneously relevant to your own tweets), and then including them to position your tweets in front of that market, says Schwerdtfeger.

Trending vs. Unique Hashtags

“If you want to start a conversation about public relations on Twitter, you could use the hashtag #PR to reach a larger audience who may be searching for that hashtag,” says Van Hoosear.

By choosing a larger, trending topic to hashtag, Twitter users ensure their tweets will appear in search results across multiple topics, says Saffran.

But if you want to have a conversation targeted at a specific audience, then create or use a unique and exclusive hashtag, says Van Hoosear. For example, the creators of PR 2.0 Chat (@PRtini51 and @JGoldsborough48) created the hashtag #pr20chat, instead of using #PR, so that they could loosely “own” the conversation.

It’s easier to isolate conversations and do comparative analysis using unique hashtags, says Van Hoosear. But it’s easier to get the big picture and run long-term analytics trends using general hashtags.

So it is worth it to start your own hashtag if you are a busy Twitter user/broadcaster or want to start a new discussion, says Grody. “If you are promoting a particular event to your audience, for example, and you have other tweets not related to that event, you could end each tweet about the event with the related hashtag, like #tweetfest2011,” he explains.

To join a discussion, search out hashtags and chime in using the hashtag at the end of your tweet, says Grody. “Remember, you are broadcasting to your followers,” he says. “They don’t know what you are talking about if you just tweet ‘Can’t wait for this weekend!’ But if you say ‘Can’t wait for this weekend! #vacation,’ everyone will understand.”

Hashtags vs. Keywords or Handles

Keyword searches are OK if you use the Twitter website and not a client, like TweetDeck or HootSuite, says Lakely. “But if you want to monitor several conversational threads at once, hashtags are the way to go.”

RIT University staff frequently use #RIT in tweets, says Saffran. “Those searching #RIT will almost always find results specifically related to the university,” he says (although there are occasionally exceptions, like when #RIT was used for Madonna’s “ReInvention Tour”). However, using just “RIT” in a keyword search, without the pound (#) sign, yields results of any use of “rit,” often shorthand for the word “right” and many other references not related to the university, says Saffran.

Grody provides another example: If a guitarist has a tech question about his/her amplifier, they might tweet, “Does anyone else have a problem with their Marshall amp? #guitar”  This is a better approach than just randomly asking without the hashtag, says Grody. “There are exponentially more posts randomly mentioning ‘guitar,’ and your tweet is likely to get overlooked or lost. Use the hashtag to focus on your discussion,” he explains.

On the other hand, for unique words, like the proper noun “ProfNet,” using the hashtag #ProfNet likely won’t yield results much different than those from using just “ProfNet” as a keyword, adds Saffran.

Van Hoosear also explains when to include hashtags versus handles: “Generally speaking, use the hashtag if you want to include everyone on your comment or question, but use the Twitter handle if you want to make sure that the organizers see your comments but don’t care if others don’t see your comments.”

Things to Avoid and Extra Tips

“Be careful not to use too many hashtags in one tweet,” says Lakely. He defines “too many” as more than three hashtags in a tweet.

“Don’t use irrelevant hashtags that no one would be searching for in the first place,” adds Saffran.

For example, some people think it’s cute or funny to use a long sentence as a hashtag, says Grody. But it’s hard to read and takes up valuable character space in your tweet, he says. #Sodontusehashtagsthatarereallylonglikethis

“Avoid including symbols in your hashtag,” advises Grody. “If you type #hi-there, all that will show up as a linkable discussion is #hi” he says.

Don’t include a trending-topic hashtag just to gain additional exposure, continues Grody. “It’s amateur, and smart users will see right through your tactics. Don’t embarrass your brand that way.”

“Additionally, hashtags in Twitter bios are hyperlinked now, so it’s a good idea to include certain hashtags in your bio,” he says.

You could also contact Twitter and advertise through a sponsored hashtag. “But if you’re like me,” says Grody, “That is the last hashtag you will click on because it is indeed ‘sponsored,’ which defeats the purpose of Twitter.”


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 Social Media Is Changing PR

On the last Tuesday of each month, ProfNet hosts ConnectChat, a monthly series of Twitter chats exploring key communications and media topics. During a recent ConnectChat, Deirdre Breakenridge, CEO of Pure Performance Communications, discussed the changing role of PR in the digital era and how we can adjust our mind and skill sets accordingly.

Breakenridge says that with the rise of social media PR professionals need to:

  • Master information technologies as a “technology tester,” including video, SEO, website analytics, monitoring applications, CMS and more.
  • Start dialogue and build relationships through new channels.
  • Strategize to connect directly with stakeholders, especially customers.

Breakenridge notes that being a technology tester is the most challenging new skill for PR pros to master because it requires constantly paying attention to new apps, resources and platforms. “It’s so important to understand use technology the way stakeholders,” she says.

To excel in these new practices, people in the PR industry need to become hybrid professionals, says Breakenridge. This process includes:

  • Moving the best of traditional practices forward and integrating them with digital and social communications.
  • Working cross-functionally with marketing and moving outside of the PR “silo,” which includes learning and applying marketing tactics.
  • Collaborating with other departments too, like Web/IT, sales, customer service, HR, etc.
  • Being flexible and adaptable in a global communications environment.

Breakenridge provides some new roles popping up in the PR industry:

  • Internal Collaboration Generator: knows good communication starts on the inside with technology sharing
  • Pre-Crisis Doctor: plans for crises through new approaches, processes and recovery steps
  • Relationship Analyzer: takes relationships to deeper levels through technology and visualization
  • Master of the Metrics: understands metrics tracked over time and can track them back to executive goals

To successfully use metrics, PR pros must have objectives and know what they are trying to achieve, adds Breakenridge. “It’s important to know what you’re measuring: leads, sales, registration, awareness (buzz), community growth, etc.”

Listen to conversations and identify influencers to drive discussion and systematically map out audience connections, explains Breakenridge. “Understand the culture, critical issues and passion in the community to make better connections. Use crowdsourcing, contests, and promotions for deeper engagement.” She notes that you can use @mentionmapp and @TouchGraph to visualize connections.

Social media provides incredible intelligence, and, when filtered, can help PR pros plan more strategically, says Breakenridge. For example, social media can help companies react quicker to negative situations and crises. “You can strategically engage for more valuable outcomes: leads, sales, registration, better CS, more productivity.”

Social media should move across an organization, says Breakenridge. PR should work with other departments (marketing, advertising, branding, etc.); it should cover everything from social governance and planning to content curation and the monitoring of programs. PR should spearhead social media, but not own it. “Working with other groups doesn’t mean we lose our core purpose; we have just expanded our opportunity!” she says.

Where is PR headed? Breakenridge says PR will:

  • Continue to integrate with other areas and strategize cross functionally.
  • Start incorporating interactive living rooms, touch experience, augmented reality, etc.
  • Gain influence by telling more meaningful stories through technology and educating others on best practices.

Written by Grace Lavigne, senior editor of ProfNet. Check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

Grammar Hammer: A Curmudgeon-y Perspective on “50 Shades of Grey”

“50 Shades of Grey” has taken the “literary” nation by storm. Whether you love it or love to hate it, it seems like it’s being read in every book club, every bedroom, every coffee shop right now. With more than 31 million copies sold worldwide (according to Hollywood Reporter), the novels’ dull vocabulary, flat characters and unfulfilling plot hold no weight compared to the sexy and enticing fantasy escape being offered. For many readers, it’s like a mental vacation from everyday life — and I can appreciate that. If “50 Shades of Grey” gets people to enjoy reading, who am I to criticize?

But in total, brutal honesty, I read “50 Shades of Grey” after hearing the hubbub, and hated it. I’ll spare you the recap — you probably have some idea of what it’s about by now anyway. But the silver lining of reading a book I didn’t like is that I’ve gotten a great deal of enjoyment reading the critiques by people who also found it to be subpar.

One reviewer in particular pointed out an irksome grammar mistake in the first chapter of the first book, when author E.L. James is initially describing main squeeze and heartthrob, Christian Grey:

  • He’s tall, dressed in a fine gray suit, white shirt, and black tie with unruly dark copper colored hair and intense, bright gray eyes that regard me shrewdly.

Wow! Where can I buy a tie like that?!

There’s something essential missing from the second sentence of the quote: a semicolon. Without a semicolon after “black tie,” it makes the rest of the description that’s supposed to be about Christian Grey seem likes it’s actually about the black tie – as in, a black tie with hair and eyes. As Anastasia Steele would say, “Oh my!”

Without rewriting the sentence entirely (which seems like the best option), here’s what the sentence should look like:

  • He’s tall, dressed in a fine gray suit, white shirt, and black tie; with unruly dark copper colored hair and intense, bright gray eyes that regard me shrewdly.

Lesson: Always be conscious of the subject of the sentence!

Also, check out my post on semicolons: Sherlock Holmes and the Mysterious Case of the Semicolon

What did you think of “50 Shades of Grey”?

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: Clearing the Hurdles of Sports PR

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 recently acquired a professional athlete as a client, although I have no experience in sports PR specifically. Any advice? Unique challenges?

Athletic Amateur


Dear Athletic Amateur:

Three ProfNet experts with sports PR experience weigh in:

What to Know About Sports PR

  1. Professional vs. Fan: “If you choose to get involved in sports PR, understand that the fan element must be removed from the equation,” says Christopher Navalta, senior account executive for Graham and Associates, with experience managing NBA players and teams, as well as minor league baseball players and teams.
  2. Long Hours: And while you don’t have to have a passion for sports to work in sports PR, you probably won’t like it if you don’t, warns Adam Siepiola, assistant athletic director for media and external relations at Adelphi University, a Division II institution in New York. Sports PR includes long hours at games, and the ability to know what you’re watching and writing about. “As a collegiate PR professional, we are required to travel with our teams regularly and to be at all home games,” says Siepiola. “Your work day really starts after the game.”
  3. Unstructured Work: “Every day is different,” says Navalta. “Managing a team is obviously more structured than managing an athlete, but if you’re the type of person who enjoys every day being different, then this is the perfect fit.” From head injuries in the NFL to ethics violations in the NCAA, the sports industry faces many challenges that require the assistance of PR professionals, agrees Amy Littleton, senior vice president of KemperLesnik, a PR, events and sports marketing agency in Chicago.
  4. No Riches: “Sports PR doesn’t pay very much,” says Littleton. “You have to do it for the love of the game.” It’s long hours, average pay, weekends spent working and no real time off until June, warns Siepiola. “But the good outweighs the bad!”
  5. Untapped Stories: “There is so much more beyond just the final score,” says Siepiola. “For example, we had a four-time All-American women’s lacrosse player who has been dealing with diabetes since she was 6; she overcame that to become one of the best in the country!”

Potential Challenges

  1. Competition and Clutter: “There are so many sports and events competing for the attention of consumers, that it is often difficult to break through,” says Littleton. “This is exacerbated by the fact that ESPN holds a lot of power when it comes to sports news and coverage.” You have to find compelling, human-interest stories — anything that goes beyond wins and losses — to get coverage sometimes, says Siepiola.
  2. Changing Minds: Because professional athletes are paid millions of dollars, they are considered one-man institutions. Unlike working in a PR agency, where there is plenty of structure, working with athletes can be challenging, depending on who you’re working with, because athletes have the ability to change their minds constantly when it comes to their brand, says Navalta.
  3. Brand Direction: “Like any business, the sports industry is about building a brand,” says Navalta. “I’ve run into a lot of athletes and coaches who have wanted to build their own brand, but really never had any direction or foresight on what they wanted to do with it.”
  4. Damage Control: We frequently see professional athletes in trouble the law, says Navalta. These athletes obviously do not have a lot of the necessary structure to build and maintain a brand because they’re around the wrong people. “If sports leagues want to avoid having the reputation of having athletes who are always getting into trouble, they need a better PR plan.” Plus, damage control is always time consuming. Avoid athletes or teams with histories of bad PR, unless you’re the kind of person who thrives on helping underdogs.
  5. Uncensored Social Media Chatting: Social media is a great place to grow a personal brand, says Siepiola. But since it’s also a place to vent and talk with friends, social media can be risky business. A PR professional can educate and monitor this type of social media usage. At some point, an issue will come up, so have a crisis management plan in place, warns Siepiola.


  • Sports PR pros get to watch games up close for free, party with some of the biggest names in sports (along with the celebrities who want to be close to those athletes) and travel, says Navalta.
  • “Getting inside the ropes, courtside or into locker rooms to get up close and personal with players and see behind the scenes at events is pretty awesome,” says Littleton.
  • “I vividly remember a time this past spring — an April afternoon at around 2 p.m. — when I was out at our softball field watching and keeping statistics for a game,” says Siepiola. “It was in the mid-70s and sunny, and I remember thinking: ‘I get paid to do this — how cool is that?!”
  • Siepiola also says that he’s travelled to places he probably never would have been to otherwise.


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: Is It Presently or Currently Storming?

Storms have been tearing through the U.S. in recent weeks, causing severe power outages, frenzied hoarding trips to the grocery store, paranoid people staying home from work, excessive online shopping for rain boots, and an unreasonable number of check-ins with the weathermen.

When the clouds start rolling in, do you say it’s currently or presently storming? Well, it depends what you mean. So before you start battening down the hatches and squirreling away your freeze-dried food and batteries, consider the subtle difference in meaning between these two adverbs, according to

  • Presently: before long
  • Currently: occurring or existing in the present time

Confusingly, presently doesn’t mean “at present,” it means “in the near future.” Only currently refers to “right now.”


  • The wind’s picking up; it will storm presently.
  • There is currently thunder and lightning.

Pro Tip: Replace “presently” with “soon” to double check grammaticality and correctness.

So if it’s currently thundery outside, you’ll need an umbrella presently!

Written by Grace Lavigne (@GnightGracie1111), 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.

Image courtesy of Flickr user zuzkins.

Summer reading: our free ebook: “Modern PR: The Art & Science of Integrated Media Influence” will help you refresh your organization’s PR tactics.


Grammar Hammer: It’s All Pun and Games

According to the book “Comedy Writing Secrets,” a pun is “the intentional confusion of similar-sounding words or phrases” that is used as the basis of a joke.

In other words, a pun is humorous word play that allows for two possible interpretations at the same time.

Pro Tip: Because puns generally make word plays phonetically, they tend to be better when spoken or heard vs. being written or read.

Here’s are some examples of puns: I recently read an article about a family that got lost in a corn maze for hours and couldn’t find their way out — they actually had to call the police to be rescued.

  • Being lost in corn maze at night must have been earie.
  • I wonder if one of the search dogs was a husk-y.
  • How earesponsible of the parents!
  • What did they expect entering a maize?
  • The poor kids were probably shrieking to Dad, “Pop, corn!” over and over.
  • They had the feeling they were being stalked.
  • Hominy idiots does it take to get out?

Puns can also take the forms of double entendres, riddles, and homonyms and near homonyms:

  • A double entendre (literally “double meaning” in French) is the use of an ambiguous word or phrase that allows for a second interpretation (warning: frequently risqué!). The idea is that the listener assumes one meaning, and the speaker slips in another meaning. Consider these headlines, taken from
    • Panda mating fails: Veterinarian takes over
    • Miners refuse to work after death
    • New obesity study looks for larger test group
    • Children make nutritious snacks
    • Criminals get nine months in violin case
  • A riddle according to, is a puzzling question to be guessed or solved that usually has a double or veiled answer.
    • What kind of bird writes letters? A pen-guin.
    • What do all inches follow? Their ruler.
    • Why couldn’t the strings ever win? They could only tie.
    • What position does a cat play in baseball? A cat-cher.
  • A homonym is two or more words that are spelled and pronounced alike but differ in meaning. A near homonymis two or more words that sound alike due to an intentional mispronunciation.
    • Why was six afraid of seven? Because seven eight (ate) nine.
    • What do you call a smelly chicken? A foul fowl.
    • Do you want this pasteurized? No, just up to my mouth’d be fine!

What’s your favorite pun?

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: Personal Branding Tips Every Social Media User Should Know

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,

What are some general tips that I can give my clients about creating a personal brand on social media?

Branding for Beginners,


Dear Branding for Beginners:

“Because of the open Web, explosion of user-generated content, social media and mobile apps — anyone who uses the Internet has a personal brand, whether they know it or not,” says Stefan Pollack, president of The Pollack PR Marketing Group.

Therefore, all public interactions must ultimately contribute to a controlled perception of how one wants to be perceived, Pollack continues. Whatever the objectives, only contribute information that supports that identity and an online personal brand will be formed.

“The Internet has already branded you, so it is up to you to cultivate that into a brand that supports your ideal online identity,” he says.

Determine Your Personal Brand

  • There are six ingredients for an engaging personal brand, says Joellyn Sargent, principal of BrandSprout LLC. Consider:
    1. Who you are
    2. Who you want to be
    3. How you see yourself
    4. What you want people to see
    5. What others perceive (how they receive your message)
    6. What they believe (what resonates, or “sticks” from your message)
  • Like company brands, consider what your personal brand has to offer that competing brand don’t, says Catherine Kaputa, author of the book “Breakthough Branding: How Smart Entrepreneurs and Intrapreneurs Transform a Small Idea Into a Big Brand.” Analyze your strengths and weaknesses, and do some fun brainstorming with friends to determine what sets your brand apart.
  • Share a compelling narrative, instructs Kaputa. The best profiles tell a personal or career story that ties all of the pieces of the journey together into a coherent whole. Profiles with captivating narratives are sticky — they’re easy to remember.
  • There are so many social media platforms, it can be overwhelming, says Kaputa. Begin broadly where you can catch the most clients by focusing on Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter. Then branch out to Google+, Pinterest, etc., that are more targeted to your industry.

Create a Plan of Attack

  • Try to express your brand idea in one catchy, differentiating line that defines your brand, says Kaputa. (Analogy can be a memorable device, e.g., a market researcher calling herself the “Oprah of Madison Avenue” or a finance executive calling himself the “Steve Jobs of Finance.”)
  • Set both short-term and long-term goals, and come up with a mission statement to identify what you want to be known for, says Bill Corbett, Jr., president of Corbett Public Relations.
  • Determine which vehicles are best for promoting your brand and reaching your target market, says Corbett. For example: website, blog, videos, social media, e-newsletters, real-world marketing, networking, speaking, trade shows, etc.
  •  “Create a social media and marketing schedule for your brand marketing,” says Corbett. “Identify how much time you will spend each week on social media and stick to it.”
  • Consider automating tweets, blog posts, updates, etc., using services like Feedblitz, HootSuite or Social Oomph to help you manage your brand, suggests Kaputa.
  • “The real challenge is not discovering your personal brand; it’s adjusting and augmenting your brand to work across multiple social mediums,” notes Elliot Tomaeno, head of consumer technology at Morris + King Company. Your voice on Twitter is not your voice on Facebook — each medium requires a different approach.

Share Compelling Content

  • If you only tweet client news, you will not be establishing any personal brand — you will only be furthering your client’s agenda, explains Tomaeno. Share original thoughts, and add personal comments when sharing other’s work.
  • “Your brand is most effective if you mix your personal experience with business interests, skills and expertise,” Corbett continues.
  • “Publish your brand content and messages frequently,” says Corbett. The content should be interesting, helpful and consistent. This will drive people to your brand and lead them to become regular followers, and eventually customers.
  • Keep the content simple, and keep it you, suggests Grace Kang, founder and chief buyer of Pink Olive Inc. “You don’t want to overload people with information, but you do want them to be able to see your overarching style and philosophy.”
  • Balance sharing best practices from thought leaders with original content, says Jeff Bunch, digital strategist at LANE PR.
  • Support complementary brands and businesses, and they’ll be more likely to spread the word about your brand in return, explains Kang. You’ll build a community with similar ideals and audiences.
  • “Make sure you have quality photos and headshots on your social media sites,” says Corbett.

Monitor Feedback and Activity

  • Develop key talking points and see what resonates with your audience, says Bunch. Where does your community think you’re adding value?
  • Ask for feedback from trusted fans and brand ambassadors, says Corbett. Don’t be afraid to change your approach!
  • Protect your reputation online by monitoring your brand by using Google Alerts and regular online searches, says Corbett.
  • “Make it easy for people to pass along your content or your professional information,” says Kaputa. Consider adding Twitter and Facebook buttons, for example, to your website or blog so that people can spread the buzz about you. “People tend to pass on what moves them emotionally.”
  • “Create a system for capturing contact information from people you meet in the real world and online,” says Corbett.

Be Generous, Interesting and Inspirational

  • Be generous and promote good work by others, says Bunch.
  • Don’t try too hard to make your personal brand about only one thing, says Tomaeno. Everyone is multifaceted! Clients, partners and even your boss want to know that you have a life outside of work. Have a sense of humor sometimes!
  • Be inspirational and inspirational, says Kang. “Customers want to find experts that they can trust and follow implicitly. Hold yourself and your brand up to a high ideal and only post what you feel truly represents the core of your brand and vision.”


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.