Author Archives: Grace Lavigne

Grammar Hammer: Ice Cream Compliments and Complements

It’s ice cream weather! Whether you’re a cone or a cup person, this heat wave means that either way you’ll need to try extra hard to eat fast before the ice cream melts (this shouldn’t be a problem anyway). Otherwise you’ll end up with ice cream and sprinkles dripping all over your hands!

Let’s take advantage of this scorching heat to lick the problem of when to use compliment vs. complement. If you drip some ice cream on your shirt or lap, does it compliment or complement your appearance? Here’s the scoop:

According to Merriam Webster, a compliment (with an “i”) is an expression of respect, affection or admiration.

  • That ice cream on your shirt looks stylish! (Don’t I give the best compliments?) [noun]
  • Right after he complimented her on her new dress, she dropped ice cream all over it. [verb]
  • The ice cream at the hotel is complimentary, but all they have is Rocky Road! [adjective]

On the other hand, a complement (with an “e”) is something that fills up, completes or makes perfect.

  • The ice cream complements the root beer very nicely. [makes perfect]
  • The ice-cream store has a full complement of flavors. [completes]
  • The waffles came with a complementary scoop of vanilla. [makes perfect]

Pro Tip: If you’re still not sure about when to use compliment vs. complement, it helps to remember that compliments are generally exchanged between people. If a sentence is referencing inanimate objects, then likely go with complement. Your ice cream can’t compliment your shirt!

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.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Joelk75.

Grammar Hammer: There ‘May Be’ or ‘Maybe’ a Shark in the Water?

This week is the 37th anniversary of America’s most beloved and paranoia-inducing shark movie of all time — “Jaws”!

Although the movie was filmed in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., the “Jaws” book (and subsequently the movie) was inspired by real events that unfolded on the Jersey Shore in the summer of 1916. It was scorching that year, and droves of people were seeking refuge in the ocean water. In the span of two weeks, four people were killed and one was injured in shark attacks, setting off a frenzy of “man-eater” hunts.

It is unknown what type of shark species was responsible for the attacks, but scholars suspect it was the great white shark or the bull shark.

Which brings us to our rule. Which is correct?

  • The attacks were maybe caused by a great white.
  • The attacks were may be caused by a great white.

Main Rule: “May be” is a verb phrase (verb + auxiliary); “maybe” is an adverb.

Quick test: Replace the “maybe/may be” with “perhaps.” If “perhaps” makes sense, then it’s “maybe.” If “perhaps” doesn’t make sense, then it’s “may be.”

Example 1:

  • Maybe/may be you should get out of the water.
  • Perhaps you should get out of the water.

This example passes the “perhaps” test, so the adverb “maybe” is correct.

Example 2:

  • The shark maybe/may be a vegetarian.
  • The shark perhaps a vegetarian.

This example fails the “perhaps” test, so the verb phrase “may be” is correct.

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: 4 Ways to Convince Experts to Talk to the Press

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 have several clients who always put up a fight when asked to be interviewed by a reporter. Why? What can I say to convince them that press interviews and publicity are worthwhile?

Agitated Agent


Dear Agitated Agent,

Six ProfNet experts talk about why some researchers are hesitant or unwilling to talk to reporters:

Why Experts Might Resist Media Interviews

Michael Bruckner, vice president of public relations at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania, says that experts might resist press interviews because 1) they may not be used to deadlines, or providing immediate responses; and 2) they may not have significant research or experience on the given topic, and don’t feel comfortable being interviewed as an authority.

It could be fear of the unknown, the possibility of a misquote that could put the expert’s job in jeopardy, or fear of public speaking, adds Ron Whittington, senior account executive at Mulberry Marketing Communications.

“It was hard to find an expert that felt comfortable talking to the media,” says Michelle Mekky, vice president of the PR firm Alpaytac. “I constantly dealt with researchers that felt insecure, as they thought that they were not interesting enough.”

Dr. Vondie Lozano — former psychology professor at Azusa Pacific University and a former instructor at University of La Verne, who currently owns and runs Vondie’s Counseling — says that when she was a full-time faculty expert, there were many demands on her time, including teaching, interacting with students, researching, working on committees and more.

“I wasn’t even aware of the potential for PR. It wasn’t even on my radar,” Lozano explains. “And even if I had been aware, I would not have had the time to follow up.”

Furthermore, Lozano says she could see how the university would benefit from her being interviewed by a reporter, but not how it would benefit her individually. “Faculty are evaluated and advanced based on very specific criteria, such as publishing in peer-reviewed journals,” she says. “PR was not part of that criteria, so there would have been little incentive.”

She notes, however, that as a faculty member, she would have responded to queries from within the university system. She also says that she would have considered any media training offered by the university, as well as any incentives for participating in media interviews.

Reasons for Experts to Accept Media Interviews

1. Media is the way to reach your target audience, says Tim O’Brien, owner of O’Brien Communications. If you want to target important stakeholders like investors, local community members, industry leaders, regulators, analysts or trade associations; media is one of the best ways to do that.

“Visibility is important,” agrees Bruckner. “Whether we like it or not, this is a media-driven — or at least image-driven — society.”

2. Interviews are an important aspect of being seen as a leader in your field, explains O’Brien.

“Every media opportunity translates into gaining more recognition for their research and achievements,” says Mekky.

3. “The media will cover you, your industry or your competitors without your help,” says O’Brien. “If you don’t involve yourself in the story, you have no say in the final outcome. By being involved, you help shape the story more to your liking.”

4. Most of the time, reporters are calling an expert for a positive story and are not looking for negative information, says Bruckner.

Expert Still Resisting?

Scott Lorenz, president of Westwind Communications, believes that there are very few occasions when an expert should be coaxed or coerced into media interviews. “If there is apprehension on the part of the expert, there’s a good reason,” he says.

Some experts might have faulty research or some other anxiety issue, Lorenz continues. For example, he was once asked to speak at a press conference after being awake for 36 hours straight. “How about that for a reason to beg off?” he says.

So the first step in this process of convincing experts to talk to the press should be identifying the reason for anxiety, says Whittington.

Make sure the expert completely understands what’s in it for them too, suggests Mekky.

If the expert is afraid of being misquoted, join the conference call with the expert and reporter, or escort them to an on-camera interview, continues Whittington. Sit down with the expert and help them develop their main points, or try mock interviewing them to get them warmed up.

“Some anxiety issues can be resolved with media training, but that requires some forethought on the part of the PR department by offering company experts media training in advance,” Lorenz explains. “Never throw your expert out there without some media training.”

Lorenz also suggests giving reporters written statements by the experts that clearly say what the expert wants to convey.

Extra Tips

If an expert gets a phone call from a reporter looking for an immediate interview, they have the option of saying, “I can’t talk right now, but I will call you back in just a few moments.” Then they can take a couple of minutes to think about what they want to say and write down a few keywords or phrases, says Bruckner. But remember that journalists are on deadline, so don’t call back too late.

If a reporter asks for compromising information, do not say “no comment,” says Bruckner. That just sounds suspicious. Instead, say something like “I don’t have enough information to talk about that issue” or “Now I’m getting outside of my expertise.” Perhaps even suggest another expert to discuss that point.

If the expert has no comments to offer, they should call the reporter back anyway and let them know, continues Bruckner. A polite “I’m sorry, but I can’t help you” is better than no response.

As for media training for experts, Mekky says that each of the following skills should be covered:

  • Sticking to the company message and conveying it in a strong, meaningful way
  • Speaking conversationally
  • Showing personality and energy
  • Steering the interview in a certain direction
  • Controlling tough questions
  • Answering questions the expert doesn’t know the answer to
  • Overcoming nerves
  • Knowing what to wear, including hair, makeup and wardrobe advice
  • Handling all types of interviewers
  • Preparing for any format (in studio, taped, live satellite or phone)
  • Using body language to exude confidence and make an impact


ProfNet, a service of PR Newswire, has helped journalists and experts connect since 1992. Writers can search the ProfNet Connect database of more than 50,000 profiles; send a ProfNet query by email to thousands of subscribers around the globe; or get timely experts and story ideas by email.

Grammar Hammer: Happy Fourth or 4th of July?

For this year’s Independence Day, we have three very simple rules on when to write out numbers and when to use numerals:

Rule 1: Spell out single-digit whole numbers. Use numerals for numbers greater than nine.

  • I had two beers before the fireworks started.
  • Can you seriously eat 10 hot dogs? Barf!
  • She just bought six glow sticks!
  • He hung up 15 flags.

Rule 2: Always follow Rule 1 for consistency, even if it means including a numeral and spelled-out number in the same sentence.

  • There were 12 waffle balls when this game started, and now there’s only seven. Stop hitting homeruns!
  • He made 15 cheeseburgers 20 minutes ago and now there’s only one left.

Rule 3: Ages are always numerals.

  • The girl was 2 years old.
  • His baby is 8 months old.

Enjoy the food and fireworks! Happy Fourth of July!

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.


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Dear Gracie: Tips on Handling Protesters at PR Events

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 took on a client who has some controversial stances. We’re anticipating that we’ll have to deal with protesters at some point. Any advice?

Protester PR


Dear Protester PR,

Two ProfNet experts share their insight:

“Protesters are one of the challenges that any politician or major CEO faces,” says David Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision. How they respond to the protesters says a lot about how the media portrays them.

Protesters show up at events because they want to create publicity and embarrass the public figure, Johnson continues. They want to become the media story, rather than the event or speech that is being held. Protesters also know that reporters love conflict, especially in this 24/7 news cycle.

So what should you do or not do if you are the subject of protesters?

What to Do

1. Let the media know. First, if you are aware that people intend to protest your event, let the media know that, says Johnson. The media should know that you expect protesters will try to hijack the event, and that you are still going forward with it anyway.

A huge advantage here is having a relationship with the press, notes John Oxford, director of external affairs at Renasant Corporation. Unless the protesters are part of a professional outfit, like unions or special interest groups, then they won’t have the same connections as a good press secretary or PR professional.

For example, the Occupy Wall Street movement had a strong protest in numbers, but too often their quotes or message in the media was disjoined and came off lacking a clear reason for protesting, says Oxford.

2. Give protesters their own space. “Welcome the protesters and make sure they have a space for their protest, but try to pack the main area in front of the CEO or politician with supporters,” suggests Johnson. “That way, the media visual the protesters are hoping for is marginalized or even eliminated.”

3. Invite them to speak. The easiest way to diffuse a protest is to invite the protesters up to the podium with you so they can address the crowd and espouse their views, says Johnson.

Most protesters will never take you up on the offer, since they haven’t thought through their position well enough to coherently address a crowd, and by their refusal, they will become quiet. Those who do accept will speak briefly, leave and cease protesting.

Then the media story becomes the speech the public figure was giving, with the protesting incident as a minor footnote, if even that, he says.

4. Have a laugh. “Humor is another way to stop a protester cold in their tracks,” says Johnson.

However, the person using humor must also be seen as possessing a sense of humor, he notes. “It is why a Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter or Donald Trump can never succeed doing this, while a Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan were successful.”

The public figure should address the protesters with a one-liner or quip, he explains. “The purpose of this is to make the protesters seem ridiculous and have the crowd laugh at them. Nothing silences a protester more than when a crowd turns and laughs at them.”

5. Use the power of silence. Protesters want attention — that is the whole point, says Johnson. A public figure who ignores protesters deprives them of the power of recognition, and keeps them in control.

6. Go on the offensive. “Once, after a debate on a college campus, I had protesters follow me to my car yelling,” recounts Oxford. This actually worked against the opposition, because it was out of the realm of the debate, which allowed him to go on the offensive with the press.

7. Pick Your Battles. “One of the best experiences I had with someone handling protesters was with then Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson in 2001,” says Oxford.

“There was a large protest being planned by folks in wheelchairs looking to raise an issue they had with the federal government,” he continues. “Obviously, a large group of people in wheelchairs not a public relations battle you can win.”

Instead of ignoring them, Thompson went out to visit with them as they starting protesting. He and his staff spoke with them and listened to their cause, instead of just passing by to give the speech.

“It really disarmed their energy to attack when they saw that he cared and listened,” Oxford explains.

“If you can disarm the protest in a nonpublic fashion, show compassion, or at least reason with the protesters — sometimes you can avoid an ugly event for both sides.”

What Not to Do

1. Do not get upset. “Engaging a protester, telling them to shut up or showing that you are upset with the protesting is the absolute worst thing a public figure can do,” says Johnson. “Such action merely empowers the protesters to continue.” Then the protesters become the focus of the event, and it encourages them to show up at other events.

“Ronald Reagan in 1980, when his campaign was struggling after an early defeat in the Iowa Caucuses, tried to engage protesters and said it was the worst mistake he ever made as a public figure,” he says.

2. Do not be insensitive. Although it depends on the topic and how it’s going to be covered, oftentimes a response can backfire and make the public figure or business cold and calculating, says Oxford.

Sometimes these insensitive responses will become the story, Oxford continues. Like Marie Antoinette’s notorious “Let them eat cake,” to BP CEO Tony Hayward’s “I’d like my life back,” after the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

Only respond if not responding would look worse, instructs Oxford.

3. Do not stray from the topic. “Never go off message during the protest of a tragic event, as there can be legal implications as well as total professional embarrassment often due to emotions running high at that moment,” says Oxford.


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.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Jastrow75.

Inside PR Newswire: Sara Campbell, Senior Audience Researcher

Welcome to Inside PR Newswire, a series that provides a special look into the people that make up PR Newswire. We’ll share their stories about what they do, how they arrived at PR Newswire, and a little about themselves as individuals when they’re not at work.

Sara Campbell is a senior audience researcher at PR Newswire. So Sara, tell us — what do you do?

As a senior audience researcher, I am responsible for updating media contacts for the New York metro region. I have also taken the lead training several employees during their transition from Targeting Services to the Audience Research team. Our Global Media Database has over 500,000 global media contacts.

How did you end up at PR Newswire?

In 2008, I met PR Newswire’s account manager Kelly Fuller at the PRSA Northeast District Conference in Rochester, N.Y., while I was working at a PR agency. In January 2009, I wanted to move down to the New York area to continue my career growth, and I reached out to Kelly for help. She told me about the Audience Researcher position at PR Newswire and I applied. I got the job offer and moved down to Hoboken one week later so I could commute to PR Newswire’s Jersey City office. Kelly even helped me move, and we continue to be great friends to this day.

What does a typical workday look like for you?

I am constantly juggling different tasks. I’m responsible for updating any and all media changes in the New York metro region, and then I tweet these updates on our Twitter page (@PRNmedia).

My position also includes handling client projects and requests. Our team is currently helping clients transition to PR Newswire’s new Agility platform, which allows our clients to target, monitor and engage with traditional and social media from one platform.

Additionally, I write for the Audience Research group’s monthly newsletter for clients, MEDIAware; and I occasionally assist our MultiVu Media Relations team with writing national alerts for satellite and radio media tours.

How large is your team?

The Audience Research team has 16 researchers based in the U.S., with an additional 12 researchers based in Mexico. We also have a team of researchers abroad. The U.S. and Mexico teams are led by Director of Data Services Jeff Veasey.

What has changed since you started working at PR Newswire? What’s stayed the same?

One of the biggest changes I continue to see is how journalists and PR professionals are using social media to engage with one another more. Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites are continuing to grow. Journalists and PR professionals are using these platforms to communicate, share stories and pitch ideas. As a media researcher, I try to collect as much data from these social networks to help our clients better connect with the media. We also use social media to strengthen our relationships with clients and journalists directly.

The one thing that continues to stay the same is the way our Media Research team collaborates to complete tasks and ensure that we are providing the best service to clients.

What’s the most fun part?

The most fun part of my job is the colleagues that I work with. We have great team chemistry and it is a pleasure to work with all of them. We work cohesively to complete projects and update our data, ensuring that our clients are receiving the most accurate information. Our team has seasoned audience researchers with many years of experience at PR Newswire; they continue to inspire and motivate me to grow professionally.

What do you do when you are not working?

When I am not working, I am most likely dancing! I have been a dancer since age 3 and it is a true passion of mine. I just finished two years as an NFL cheerleader — it was the most incredible experience! I felt so fortunate to have the opportunity to dance on Sundays on the sidelines and do charity events in the community. I hope to be able to continue to perform or take dance classes.

I also enjoy traveling. My sister and I traveled to London and Paris last April. The picture above is me in front of Victoria Palace at Piccadilly Circus in London, before seeing the musical “Billy Elliot.” I hope to continue to travel the world and see new places.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

In 10 years, I hope I’ll have continued to grow my career in the communications/media industry. I also hope I’ll be sharing my love of dance by either teaching or coaching.
Written by Grace Lavigne, senior editor of ProfNet, a PR Newswire service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

Grammar Hammer: Is June 18 “A” or “An” Historic Day?

President James Madison, author of the War of 1812. Photo via

200 years ago today, President James Madison and Congress declared war on Great Britain. The reasons behind this decision can be vaguely summed up by saying that Americans were ticked off that they were still under British thumb in terms of military and trade power, and were sick and tired of leftover political ties that had never been severed after the Revolutionary War.

June 18 was the first day of the War of 1812, sometimes referred to as the “second war of independence.” Significant occurrences in this war included the Battle of the Horseshoe Bend and the Battle of New Orleans, where Andrew Jackson made a name for himself as an army general; the Battle of Baltimore, which inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the lyrics of our national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner”; and the Burning of Washington, when many public government buildings were destroyed or damaged, including the Capitol and the White House.

By 1815, the war had reached a stalemate, and both sides agreed to sign a treaty, leaving the U.S. as a truly independent nation. The “Era of Good Feelings” followed, which was a time when Americans were surging with pride, patriotism and bipartisanship over the recent victory.

So was June 18 a historic day, or an historic day?

A common misstep here is to think that a comes before consonants and an comes before vowels. It’s not that simple.

Main Rule: Use a before words that start with a consonant sound, and an before words that start with a vowel sound.

The distinction is between consonant and consonant sound, or vowel and vowel sound.

For example, the word historic has a pronounced h sound, so the correct answer is: June 18 is a historic day.

On the other hand, if we look at the word hour, which also begins with an h, we realize that the h is silent in this case, and therefore the first sound pronounced is a vowel. So the correct answer is: British troops were an hour away from the capital.

Quick test: Say the words out loud to see how you naturally use a or an. Your instinct is probably correct. Would you really say an historic day? Awkward.

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: Take a Tour of the Music PR Industry

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 starting to get a few music clients. What do I need to know about PR in the music industry?

Melodic Media


Dear Melodic Media:

Four ProfNet experts share tips in their forte:

Handling publicity for a band is like guarding a bag or fleas, or juggling flaming hamsters, says Atlanta publicist Dan Beeson. “It’s maddening, yet exhilarating.”

What Is Music PR?

PR plays its most important role in two of the key revenue streams of the music business: live performances and recorded music sales, says Paul Allen, professor at Middle Tennessee State University. Allen is also author of one of the top 10 books on the music business, “Artist Management for the Music Business,” and co-author of the music-business textbook “Record Label Marketing.”

“The third revenue stream is songwriting, but PR is seldom directly related to music publishing,” Allen adds.

An established, current artist needs PR to promote new music, says Allen. “A new album is the current payday for the label and artist, so both are always promoting the latest album.”

PR for record labels specifically is necessary to promote concert tours, he says.

For an established artist whose star is fading, PR is necessary to promote their live appearances, continues Allen. “Artists frequently record their own new music because the label has dropped them, and it gives them an income stream at their concerts.”

“Also — and this is a little cynical perhaps — some artists in this category hire PR people to promote their appearances at charity events,” Allen admits. “Some indeed are giving back for the career opportunity they’ve had, while others are trying to resurrect their careers in the name of philanthropy.”

Additionally, all PR is on-call to help with damage control. PR pros are calm, rational, focused and can quickly assimilate the “what ifs,” he says.

For example, some artists can get away with mixing politics into their careers, like when Kanye West said “George Bush hates black people.” His PR team played it off as “Kanye being Kanye.”

On the other hand, some artists can’t get away from what they say on stage, like when the Dixie Chicks said “We’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.” Their PR rep was slow to see the damage of the comment, and PR was unable to save the day for them.

Who Pays the PR Professional?

Major label recording artists get the support they need from the label: PR, money for tour support, marketing, radio promotion, manufacturing and distribution, says Allen. There are four major labels: Sony, Universal, Warner Bros and EMI.

“A major label needs an album for a new artist to sell gold (500,000 units) in order to approach the breakeven point.”

“However, there are tens of thousands of smaller, independent labels that can’t compete with the majors,” Allen continues. “If they can sell 200,000 units for the entire life of an album project, they will make enough money to make the project worth their while.”

“But, typically the only promotion they can afford is PR, and their success is highly dependent on it.” An independent artist needs PR to promote a tour stop before and after every appearance. They need it to appear in every blog and e-zine possible, and they need guidance on how to optimize social media.

Three Ways to Break Into Music PR

Competition in the music industry is fierce and abundant, says Beeson. “If you hope to break through, you’ll flop unless you take all of the necessary steps towards success.”

1. “Find someone who knows someone in music,” says Beeson. “Tap into the pros who are in the business.”

2. Read every applicable trade publication you can secure, suggests Beeson. “You can never be well-read enough in the music PR business. It’s a flat-out fact that if you don’t do your homework, you’re going to get schooled.”

Promotion is promotion, whether you’re dealing with a musical group, restaurant, fashion designer or florist, adds Dan Collins, senior director of media relations at Mercy Medical Center, and former PR manager for several music-industry clients. But the difference in music PR specifically is knowing the outlets — knowing which reporters cover what beats in the music industry.

3. Start with outreach to a hometown blogger or small online columnists, says Beeson. “Perpetually massage your pitch, customizing it to every reporter and outlook.” The extra effort will be worth your time.

Four Challenges Unique to Music PR

1. “You must remember that your music client is an artist first and an industry player second,” says Jennifer A. Maguire, founder and president of Maguire Public Relations, and PR rep for pop artist Darren Ockert’s new EP “The Rain From London.” “They are more intimately connected to the product than, say, a brand manager — they’ve given birth to it.”

For example, a bad review for a widget can be softened with great customer service communications, Maguire explains. “Artists aren’t widgets. They have feelings and a creative process to consider.”

2. “Representing an emerging vs. recognized artist is no different than representing a well-known company vs. a startup,” Maguire continues. It might actually be harder to represent an emerging artist because music is so subjective. “If the artist doesn’t jazz a writer or booker’s personal taste, you can forget it.”

3. “Nearly every artist believes they have the greatest song, or the greatest story never told. But only a select few actually do,” adds Beeson. “From a media relations perspective, find out what differentiates your client from the masses, and roll with it.”

For example, one musician that Collins used to work with was having difficulty getting radio stations interested in his music, as he had so many styles (e.g., pop, rock, new age, etc.). “I encouraged him to turn this around, to note that his diversity was his strength,” says Collins.

Collins also used to work with a classic-rock band called Shrink the Deficit, named after the band’s three founding members: two psychiatrists and an account. (Haha!) The musicians worried that the name didn’t send out a “class rock” vibe, but Collins encouraged them to keep the name since it was “so unusual, and given the backstory, a great story for the media.”

4. It can be challenging to match agendas of the band’s management, the particular goals of individuals band members, and journalists, says Beeson. “It’s not easy identifying a marriage of interests.” Don’t forget to manage expectations every step of the way.

New Media vs. Traditional Media

The Internet, YouTube, music sharing and iPods have undoubtedly changed how musicians market themselves, says Collins.

“Artists no longer need to rely on traditional labels to pick them up in order to distribute their music,” explains Maguire. “There is no limit to the amount of indie artists producing their own music, so there are more artists than ever vying for the same music outlet press coverage.”

“The Web is a double-edged sword,” she says. On one hand, it allows anyone with ambition to make their music available, which increases the competitive field. But on the other hand, it provides publicists with new platforms to generate buzz.

But Beeson notes: “Online hits are great, but I maintain a few clients who want to open Fortune or Black Enterprise or The New York Times and see, hold and share their photos and stories.” Don’t ignore traditional networking, he stresses.

For example, Beeson manages publicity for Chuck Leavell, the longtime keyboardist and musical director for the Rolling Stones, and a founding member of the Allman Brothers Band. “[He is] the ultimate pro, and though I occasionally troll for a specific media opportunity for him, I routinely turn down media scenarios that don’t quite fit.” Be selective.

Why the Music Industry Needs PR

“Even if an artist is well connected, the work intensity of servicing and pitching the story is a huge drain on their creativity,” Maguire says. Working on the review process and managing attributed messages never goes as well for artists who handle PR themselves.

“I’ve worked with [the American rock band] Widespread Panic for more than a decade, and my sweet spot has been securing press for them they never dreamed of landing,” says Beeson. “Long-form stories in Esquire Magazine and The Wall Street Journal, and fabulous features on ‘Good Morning America’ and CNBC are not where you’d expect a touring jam band to appear.”

If you see a random band show up on a late-night talk show and scratch your head and ask: “Where did they come from and how’d they get on this show?” — the answer is a PR person is responsible, says Allen. “It has to do with a manner of horse trading.”

For example, if a late-night talk show wants Bono or Taylor Swift, the label PR rep might say, “OK. We’ll give you our top acts during your sweeps months, but you’ll need to use some of our baby acts at other times.” (“Sweeps months” refers to the ratings cycle that sets ad rates for TV shows.)

To the PR pro, this process requires establishing important and ongoing relationships with talent bookers at these shows, explains Allen.

Cool Perks

Beeson has been lucky enough to attend some Rolling Stones concerts and private parties.

Maguire says that she has received free CDs and attended listening parties.

Final Thought

Despite the perks, Beeson says: “In this line of business, the axiom is and perhaps always will be: you’re only as good as your last placement. That keeps you grounded.”

Elvis has left the building! Until next week…


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: “Mad Men” Gets Hanged or Hung?

SPOILER ALERT! If you’re a fan of AMC’s “Mad Men” and have somehow resisted watching the finale of season 5, stop reading now.

“Mad Men” is a great telelvision show. It has a little something for everyone, whether you’re a history buff, a feminist, a fashionista, a workaholic, a parent — or a depressive, an egoist, an adulterer or an alcoholic. It’s a show I can watch and enjoy with my father, my grandmother or my friends; it transcends generation, gender and job. That’s probably why it’s so popular! (Well, that and some great-looking cast members.)

This week’s season finale featured some tragic scenes about Layne Price, a character who is caught embezzling money and consequently decides to kill himself. After Layne carries out the deed in his office, his body is discovered by coworkers.

One of those coworkers, Bertram Cooper, informs the others of the bad news. He says, “Layne hanged himself in his office.”

Does that line sound a little awkward to you? It did to me. I’d probably have opted for, “Lane hung himself in his office.”

The clanging sound of “hanged” in Cooper’s line spurred me to look up the rule on when to use “hung” and when to use “hanged,” and it turns out I was wrong. “Hanged” is indeed grammatically correct in his sentence.

Here’s the quick take on the difference between “hung” and “hanged,” according to Merriam-Webster:

  • “Hung” means “to fasten to some elevated point without support from below.”
  • “Hanged” means “to suspend by the neck until dead.”

Confusion stems from the fact that both words in the present tense are “hang.”

  • Faced with prison and humiliation, Layne Price hangs himself.
  • Don hangs a picture of a Jaguar on the wall.

In other words, pictures are hung, people are hanged.

There are also some irregular uses of “hang.” For example:

  • The student hung onto every word of the professor’s lecture.
  • I hung my head in shame.
  • The boy hung onto his mother’s skirt.

Again, unless you mean “to suspend by the neck until dead,” always use “hung.”

Until next season then… RIP Layne!

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: How to Tactfully Edit Someone’s Writing

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 editor of a publication that accepts submissions from freelancers. It’s my job to approve or critique the freelancers’ work. Sometimes the submissions are bad (really bad). How do I let them know that without being unnecessarily cruel, while still getting my point across?

Etiquette Editor


Dear Etiquette Editor,

Four ProfNet experts with editing experience provide some advice:

Editing Expectations

Writers always want to know if their writing is “good,” says Sandra Wendel, owner of Write On, Inc., and instructor of the “How to Write Your Book and Get It Published” course at Metropolitan Community College in Nebraska. “That’s not a fair question because everyone’s writing is good depending on who is judging. My 9-year-old’s book report is good to me and the teacher.”

If someone asks you to edit their work, the first thing you need to do is find out if this is a professional job or not, says Tina Tessina, psychotherapist and author of 13 books, including “Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage.”

If the person is paying you, then he or she should be able to handle your critical opinion of their work, she says.

But if the person is a friend or family member and is not hiring you in a professional capacity, then tread lightly with your criticism, Tessina continues. Pick out some aspects of the work you can praise, and then recommend someone more objective for them to consult about the quality of their writing. It’s just not worth it to hurt your friend or family member’s feelings and jeopardize your relationship.

That’s also why you, as a writer, shouldn’t rely on friends or anyone related to you by marriage or DNA to edit your work, says Wendel. They are just not able to be brutally honest.

But if you’re still not sure if a writer wants honest editing or is just fishing for flattery, then it’s best to be upfront, says Joy Huber, Stage 4 cancer survivor, professional speaker and author of “Cancer With Joy.” Say something like: “Usually I don’t sugarcoat, and am rather blunt telling it like it is. I find writers appreciate that very honest assessment. Is that OK with you, or should I soften that a bit?”

Working With Professional Writers

“An editor is like a diamond cutter,” says Carol Meerschaert, director of marketing and communications at Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association. Editors take a diamond in the rough and polish it for maximum brilliance.

Writers need to understand that editors have the best interests of their publications at heart, continues Meerschaert. Articles on a website have a different tone than those in a magazine, which are in turn not the same as a business report or an article journal.

Editors know their readers, and can apply lessons learned to the articles they edit, explains Meerschaert. It’s their job to create and apply a consistent style for their medium. They must enforce editorial and style rules. For example, length guidelines are not random, but were developed by industry best practices and analytics.

Therefore, writers shouldn’t be offended or driven insane by any changes that editors make; they shouldn’t be married to each word they wrote, stresses Meerschaert.

Editors are allowed to say they’d prefer this style or that style, or that they’d like more of this or less of that, agrees Tessina. “If you are the editor, and the writer is working for you, there is a contractual understanding that you can edit their writing.”

Hopefully, if an editor has hired a professional and has seen samples of their work, then they know they are capable writers, says Tessina. That being the case, there’s no need for an editor to criticize a writer’s style — they should just have a businesslike discussion of how the writing does or does not meet the publication’s needs.

“Being mean would be to say negative things about the writer’s ability to write,” Tessina explains.

Warm Delivery: Criticize and Praise

If you want to motivate a writer, be sure to give praise and acknowledgement along with criticism, advises Tessina.

Before you edit someone’s writing, figure out what results you want, she says. Determine what the writer has done right and what they’ve done wrong. Then when you communicate with them, point out the good along with the bad.

Providing praise is important because you need to reinforce what you did like about their writing style in order to preserve it, adds Huber.

Try making suggestions instead of prescribing rules, says Wendel. If an author describes a character’s grandfather inadequately, try saying: “How tall was he? Did he smell like cigar smoke?” Don’t dictate.

Also, provide writers with examples to carefully guide them in restructuring, continues Wendel. For instance, you could say: “You might want to consider moving the material in Chapter 3 to become the opening chapter because this is where the fire occurred. Then take the readers back to life before the fire destroyed the farm house.”

“I always find it helpful when people give specifics,” agrees Huber. “Give a specific example of what you didn’t like, and maybe even model the behavior you’d like.” For instance: “I was hoping you’d go HERE next in your organization of the piece vs. going HERE.”

Warm Delivery: Word Choice, Tone and Body Language

Try using the “improve and praise” model vs. the “good BUT bad” model, so that the feedback ends on a good note, says Huber. If you note what’s good about the writing first, and then provide criticism, you’ll end on sour note.

And remember that words like “but” negate whatever you said before, so try to bridge thoughts by using words like “and” instead, Huber continues. For example: “I really like this part BUT you can strengthen this part by doing this instead.” vs. “I really like this part AND you can strength this part by doing this instead.”

But don’t agonize over your word choices when giving feedback as much as HOW you’re conveying that feedback, says Huber.

When communicating face-to-face, only 7 percent of the message is in our word choices, she explains. Voice tone is 38 percent of the message, and body language is over half of the message.

So when you provide a writer with constructive criticism, try to sound genuine, warm and friendly, she suggests. No one likes cold and monotonous!

With some gentle redirection and carefully considered editorial suggestions, most writers will graciously accept your advice, revise their work and thank you profusely afterwards, concludes Wendel.

Technical Note

Wendel also mentions that she places comments in book manuscripts using the “Track Changes” feature in Microsoft Word. This helps begin a dialogue between author and editor, with the end result being a finely tuned manuscript with minimal errors, she says.

Track Changes is the modern equivalent of the red pen, agrees Meerschaert.

Editors: What advice can you add?


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.