Author Archives: Maria Perez

Social Curation for Writers

Twice a month, ProfNet hosts #ConnectChat, a Twitter-based interview that covers topics of interest to media and communications professionals. The latest chat featured writer Linda Bernstein, who discussed social curation for writers.

With all of the information and data available online, it’s more important than ever for writers to filter through the noise. In this chat, Bernstein discussed why writers should use social curation, including some of the available tools that help work manage the social clutter.

ImageBernstein teaches social media in the continuing education program at Columbia University’s School of Journalism. She has more than 35 years of experience in all corners of journalism and publishing, including as editor of Sesame Street Parents, Scholastic Parent and Child and Modern Bride Connection magazines. She is currently a contributor to PBS’ Next Avenue. In addition, she is a speaker, social media consultant and conference organizer. Her own blog, GenerationBSquared, is an active voice for the baby boomer generation.

Following is a recap of the chat:

Linda, thanks so much for joining us. Let’s get right to it. What is social curation?

Social curation is selecting and organizing material you pick up on social media. With curation, we make sure our audience has best possible information.

What’s the difference between curation and aggregation?

Aggregation is simply bringing together a bunch of stuff in a “pile,” so to speak. Curation involves thought, judgment, and selection.

So aggregation is getting all the info, and curation is sorting through it?

Yes, aggregation is collecting; curating is choosing and selecting and making sense. Journalists need to focus on information and filter away all the noise of social.

What is good definition of noise, and how do you avoid it?

Noise, I would say, is all the information that floats about on social that may be inaccurate or not useful. We avoid noise by becoming good curators — which is what we’re talking about!

In what ways are people already curating on social media?

We are all already using Twitter lists, and “friend” settings on Facebook. We also have been, in our heads at least, selecting trusted sources. We also curate the experts we get from ProfNet. If someone is great, we follow her and use again.

Why is curation important for journalists/writers? Why do they need to be doing it?

There is so much happening on social that, without it, we would go nuts — or not see the story. Curating also means we have better, accurate sources we trust. Curation isn’t something that happens overnight. You work on it over time.

Can you give an example of how a writer would use curation for, say, breaking news?

For Twitter, you would search hashtags. You can use or Also, don’t forget to look at trending topics. You might find the most used hashtags there. Also, see who is tweeting in the hashtag. Use search! Hashtags are so rich with possibility. Find journalists and experts you trust and follow them. It helps to do your homework way beforehand. Choose major cities; find news sources there you trust.

How do you make sure you’re not plagiarizing when you’re curating?

Be smart. Give credit. Follow fair use laws. Find out what is copyrighted and cannot be shared. Here’s a link to U.S. fair use/copyright laws: 

Do you have a favorite tool for curating?

My favorite tool: my brain. Also:

  • For curating people, I love oneQube. While following my home stream, I can click on buttons to find out about people. Here is my oneQube for today’s chat report:
  • HootSuite enables you to filter tweets so you get rid of noise: Get Started with Twitter and HootSuite.
  • For putting together a story, nothing beats Storify. It pulls in videos and tweets from the Web. Here are some great directions for putting together a Storify: Tips for Using Storify in Your Reporting and Digital Storytelling.
  •, a people research platform in now in closed beta. Their CEO, Perri Blake Gorman, is on Twitter: @bethebutterfly.
  • OverBlog, a blogging platform that enables you to highlight your curated social, including Facebook and Google +.
  • SeeSaw is amazing. You type in a hashtag, and it shows you tiles. Pictures from links are displayed. With SeeSaw, you can take the tiles you see and like and save them to a board.
  • Rebel Mouse: collects your social stream – you can embed it into your site. Widely used by news orgs.
  • Prismatic lets you connect to a newsfeed based on your interests.
  • With, you decide on a topic, name the stream, and handpick sources. Also offers some suggested content.
  • For journalists, Storyful verifies information. It’s not a free tool, but most news organizations subscribe.
  • Pocket (formerly Read It Later) is my favorite way to save things to read later. You can organize what you save with tags.

Pocket sounds really interesting, especially for those of us with terrible memories.

I have a button on my browser. It makes life easy! In fact, most of these tools have browser buttons. Here is a list, though some of the tools aren’t around anymore: The Best Content Curation Tools for Journalists.

With so many tools, how do we decide which one to use?

I always say: Be an early tester. Be a thoughtful adopter. Try them all. Use what you like. There are so many wonderful tools, but, ultimately, they will impede us unless we settle on a few helpful ones. You should curate your tools as well as all the information.

ProfNet, a service of PR Newswire, connects PR professionals with journalists and writers in need of subject-matter experts.  Each month, ProfNet users are quoted in hundreds of media outlets, ranging from major newspapers like the Wall Street Journal and New York Times to trade magazines like Risk Management and QSR magazine.  Users receive queries about potential story opportunities daily, and can manage the type and volume of queries received.  Want to know more? Get a quote or request a free trial at:

Casting a Story: How Journalists Select Subject Matter Experts

If sourcing a story is like casting a movie, experts are like celebrities. They can impart gravity and credibility and eloquence that the facts can’t on their own. They can boost ticket sales.

But finding the right expert is easier said than done. Subject-matter experts, like celebrities, don’t pick up the phone for everyone. But good reporters know when and how to work the phones and email to put top sources in their stories.

How do they do it? To find out, we recruited reporter Bob Van Voris, a legal reporter for Bloomberg News.

Bob Van Voris of Bloomberg News and John Hazard of Contently

Van Voris, a former practicing attorney, was the featured speaker at a freelancer meetup we co-hosted with Contently. He shared his advice on and experience with finding sources, vetting their expertise, identifying the ones that will give you great quotes, and more. It was a great event, and Van Voris was generous with his time and experience.

Here is a recap of some of his insight and advice. A tip of the hat to Contently’s John Hazard, who did a great job moderating the discussion.

What was the source that was farthest afield from what you were covering?

What I was at the National Law Journal, I was covering a story about a lawyer in California who developed a practice specializing on litigation involving penile augmentation gone wrong. My editor suggested I contact a mohel.  So I did, and I awkwardly asked him what happens when there’s a mistake. Needless to say, he really didn’t want to talk about it. I went back and convinced my editor that the story didn’t really need a mohel.

But when you’re writing about something that’s complicated and you need to explain it to readers, you don’t want it to sound like a seminar. If it’s dry, you need people who can make it understandable. You need to give readers something a little fun, a little compelling.

How do you identify someone who will give you a great quote?

It’s definitely trial and error. First, start with a pool of people to choose from. You can find them through ProfNet, or on the lists of people who attend conferences on the topic. Talk to a few of them and see how is good at expressing the point in a way that will appeal to readers. You have to put in the time and talk to people.

Of course, sometimes you don’t have that luxury and you have to talk to a specific person. If you aren’t getting what you need, don’t be afraid to bring them to the same point two or three times. Ask them, “How would I tell this to my mom?” to get them to simplify. Sometimes, by the second or third time through, they’ll be a lot looser and will give you a better quote.

There will be conversations that will go nowhere, but those can still be useful because you can learn about the topic, especially if it’s something you’re not too familiar with.

What about using other reporters, like at niche publications, as sources?

Members of the local press are good sources for background; trade magazine reporters are too. They know the gossip, and they like to talk about what they know. They like to talk.

How do deadlines affect this “audition” process? I would imagine you have very tight deadlines at Bloomberg.

I often have three bylined pieces a day, so I don’t have a lot of time for those. But for my second-day stories, I find ProfNet to be a good tool. I’ll put out a query in the morning, and when I’m ready to start in the afternoon, I have several emails waiting.

What do you do when you hit the source “wall” and you don’t know whom to contact?

I recently had to get sources quickly for a story covering a gay-marriage case in the Second Circuit. It’s not ideal, but I’ll look at who has been quoted in the Times that I can contact quickly.

How do you then make sure you get something unique?

You try to get them off their talking points. Anyone on a wire deadline will have two or three go-to people. You’re not going to have a really deep interview with them. The interview will be two minutes long, and you’ll get a good quote, but those people tend to get over-represented. That is a really good reason to go on ProfNet, go on Google, call two or three new people — so you’re not getting the same people.

On a short deadline, the important thing is getting your call answered or getting a call back in two minutes. The source who is new to you today might be a regular source down the road.

How do you vet the experts who’ve responded to your query?

If I’m on deadline, it’s pretty ruthless. If I get 20 emails, I can kind of sort through them just by their responses. You don’t want people who have been in every newspaper or program.

You can check their education, what kind of committees they’re on, their résumé, if they’ve written about the topic. You can’t spend hours on it, but you need to do it. Sometimes I do it while I’m on the phone with the source.

I don’t want to sound like a commercial (and they didn’t ask me to say this), but I like ProfNet because the people are motivated and they know how it works. Responses usually come from PR people. You can tell them, “Here’s my story. Make sure the expert really fits. Give me an idea of what they have to say.”

My biggest fear is, I don’t want to be played; I don’t want to look like an idiot. Anytime you have a new source, you need to question them about their position, but you also have to use your instincts.

Have you ever been played?

Yeah, sure. Back when the AGs were suing tobacco companies, there was one guy who would spin you aggressively and would tell you things that would make you look dumb. When that happens, or when someone lies to you, you freeze them out.

Do you ever have trouble getting someone to talk?

You’d be surprised what people talk about. If you ask a question, people will usually help you out. I’ve always been shy, and I was nervous about talking to people in the beginning, but people like to share their knowledge. They do have a vested interest in getting publicity, too, but people also like to get their knowledge out.

How do you balance getting a story out quickly vs. doing the best story possible?

Everybody is a wire service now. The good thing is, you can always update. You can get the story out now and then add depth later.

Who decides, you or your editors?

It’s a mix of both. I have to be satisfied with my story, but sometimes my editors will say, “We need another voice.”

Do you ever give experts quote approval?

I always let them see the quote, but I’ll never let them change it or take it back. But it’s not an adversarial relationship. You don’t want to make them look bad.

Sometimes they do try to edit the quote. What I’ll do is say, “OK, let’s talk about this a little more,” and I might get a better quote.

I do sometimes run paraphrases by them if it’s not something I fully understand, but always by phone. And I never show them the story – just the quote.

Do you get quotes by email?

Yes, but it’s not going to be the freshest quote. It’s going to be labored. If I do use a quote I got by email, I will mention it in the story for the readers. I think it’s kind of dishonest not to tell them.

ProfNet, a service of PR Newswire, connects PR professionals with journalists and writers in need of subject-matter experts.  Each month, ProfNet users are quoted in hundreds of media outlets, ranging from major newspapers like the Wall Street Journal and New York Times to trade magazines like Risk Management and QSR magazine.  Users receive queries about potential story opportunities daily, and can manage the type and volume of queries received.  Want to know more? Get a quote or request a free trial at:

How to Become an Expert Source for Top-Tier Media

Earlier this year, Charles Passy, staff writer for the Wall Street Journal Digital Network, sent a query via ProfNet looking for experts on farm stands. Mark Tardif, director of college communications at Unity College in Maine, saw the query and immediately knew he had the perfect expert – Sara Trunzo, Unity’s food and farms project coordinator. Tardif responded to Passy with Trunzo’s information, and the pitch resulted in a national media hit for Unity College, a small environmental college with less than 600 full-time students.

We thought it would be interesting to hear about the mechanics behind the article and pitch from three different perspectives – the reporter, the PR professional and the expert — so we invited Passy, Tardif and Trunzo to be part of a free webinar we hosted last week.

Here are some highlights of the webinar for those who were unable to attend. You can also access a recording of the webinar.

Charles Passy, staff writer, Wall Street Journal Digital Network

Passy, a “big fan of ProfNet,” primarily writes about personal finance, food, wine and other gourmet topics.

On the personal finance side, he writes for both and, both part of the WSJ Digital Network. Occasionally, some stories also appear in the print version of the Journal.

On the food and wine front, Passy writes a food and wine column, “Table for One,” for the blog Speakeasy, which covers cultural/lifestyle/arts topics. He also occasionally writes a front-page piece on an offbeat topic, like the one he recently did on experts who get certification as beer sommeliers.

Passy has been utilizing ProfNet for several years, so we asked him for tips on how ProfNet subscribers should respond to queries:

The early bird gets the worm. Time really counts. Don’t hesitate with a response. The sooner you reply to Passy’s query, the more receptive he may be, particularly if it’s a story on a tight deadline (meaning one where he has given a deadline of the same day or within a day). However, even if he does list a longer deadline, he’s always curious about the first few responses, just to see what he’ll get.

“Sometimes people try to craft the ‘perfect’ response, particularly if I’m indicating a tight deadline,” said Passy. “It really does help to get a quick response. If it’s a tight deadline, I’m looking for people that I can potentially talk to within a window of 2-3 hours. If I’m asking for a written response, which I often do, it still helps to get in there early.”

Don’t call. If Passy wants phone responses, he’ll indicate that in the query. Otherwise, reply only by emai.

“I really do go through my ProfNet email responses,” said Passy. “Calling doesn’t help. In fact, it kind of ticks me off, especially if I’m on deadline. It’s not that I don’t like talking to people, but the whole point of email responses is that it allows me to put a filter through the responses to see who’s right or who’s not.”

Be specific and detailed in  your response. If Passy asks for a written response, give him a written response. It’s crucial in a deadline crunch, and it tells him if the expert really knows the subject.

“I know gathering a written response takes time — and time can be of the essence — but if I’m asking for it, I’m doing so for a reason,” he explained.

Passy also said he sometimes uses quotes directly from email responses, although he generally follows up by phone.

“I’m not a big fan of email interviews,” he said. “Sometimes a quote can be too perfectly crafted. I like to make sure it’s a thoughtful, but honest, response. But when I ask for it in writing, I do like to get it in writing.”

Offer a real expert. Don’t offer just anyone; make sure it’s someone who really knows the subject Passy is writing about — and make it clear why your expert is the best person to answer the query. Include a short bio (not a generic one) that explains the expert’s qualifications.

For the bio, don’t send a five-paragraph boilerplate bio, which gives Passy too much to read and doesn’t really tell him how the expert fits into his article. If the expert has written a white paper or is doing research on the specific topic Passy is writing about, include that at the top of the email response — even if that means appending a couple of lines on top of the boilerplate bio to tell him why he really wants to talk to your expert.

Understand the odds. In some instances, Passy gets hundreds of responses for a story, and he’s only able to quote two or three people. Don’t take it personally if he doesn’t use your expert — but don’t respond with a high expectation of being quoted, either.

“I might end up interviewing a dozen people. I might only quote two or three. The odds are somewhat stacked against you. It’s not necessarily a crapshoot in that I do try to focus on people with the best responses, but there can be several good people all the same.”

However, Passy does sometimes keep good experts in mind for other stories.

Stay on topic. Don’t respond to a ProfNet suggesting another story.

“Do yourself a favor and make the pitch separate from my ProfNet query,” said Passy. “When I see ProfNet in subject line, I’m expecting someone responding to the matter at hand. It’s a waste of my time, it’s a waste of your time, and it’s bad form. I understand the temptation, but understand I’m opening up the emails thinking I have something for my story. If you have my contact info and you want to make a pitch, that’s fine, but please don’t say you’re responding to that query. It doesn’t serve anybody’s purposes.”

Mark Tardiff, director of college communications, Unity College

Unity College (tagline: America’s environmental college) is a private liberal-arts college in Unity, Maine. The college is completely focused on environmental topics, and has various experts who are really good in the niche markets the college serves.

Tardif shared the following tips on how communication professionals can best manage the PR-expert relationship:

Build trust. Experts need to trust their communications professional. When faculty members trust their PR person, it allows the PR pro to responding to reporters quickly when a query relates to the faculty member’s expertise.

No one is expected to know everything about a given topic, particularly in the case of experts that don’t have a great deal of experience with media. That’s where trust-building comes in.

“I say to our faculty, ‘You can trust me to identify your expertise and match you with an opportunity that is right for them. I’m looking out for your best interests.’”

Communicate regularly. This is especially important in a smaller organization. Have regular, face-to-face contact to really understand the skill set of all your experts. This will also help you respond quickly to ProfNet queries.

Also, when responding to queries, send a copy of the query to the expert you’re pitching.

“Right after I responded to the query, I immediately sent it to Sara so she had a chance to see it and would be able to think about what parts of the query are in her wheelhouse and what parts are associated with our larger goals.”

This tactic can also help in creating a follow-up to the reporter.

“When Sara saw the query, she engaged a professor in the program and the sustainability coordinator, and they each were able to look at the query and say, ‘I can discuss this part.’ I was then able to immediately turn around and, within three minutes of the original outreach to Mr. Passy, send a follow-up email saying, ‘Here is what each expert can offer.’”

Know and communicate your mission. Experts should understand what it is you’re trying to do with your communications program and the larger goals of the organization.

“Your experts have to understand what it is you’re about, what it is you’re essentially ‘selling,’ and why their input is very important,” said Tardif. “At Unity College, our faculty and staff understand that sustainability science is the center of the curriculum.  We are the first college in the United States to have all aspects of the curriculum connect to sustainability science, the most leading-edge approach to 21st century environmental problem-solving.”

Help experts work through their misgivings. An expert doesn’t have to be a Pulitzer Prize winner to be qualified to respond as an expert. At times, especially among experts with limited media experience, speaking with a member of the media can be daunting. Establish open lines of communication with experts to encourage them to express their misgivings.

And if something doesn’t turn out right, ask experts to let you know so you can work through it.

“I’m looking to build confidence in my experts,” said Tardif. “They are confident in their field, but some still have limited experience dealing with the media. I follow up on what was positive and what was negative about the interaction, and take it from there.”

Communicate successes. When you get a media hit, it can be seen as a validation of your larger goals. Whether it’s big or small, Tardif shares that in a college-wide email

Sara Trunzo, food and farms project coordinator, Unity College

Trunzo is the food and farms project coordinator in Unity’s sustainability department, focusing on organic, sustainable and small-scale agriculture, particularly within the context of regional and local food systems, community food security and hunger relief. This is all done through the lens of higher education, experiential education, and sustainability science as a tool for teaching environmental problems and solutions.

While Trunzo did have some media experience with local or regional outlets, this was her first foray into the world of national media. Here are some of her tips for other experts:

Be open to media opportunities. Some experts question whether they know enough to talk to the media. Don’t feel like your contribution isn’t valid.

“If your PR person is asking you and is considering you an expert, it’s because you have the experience and you have an informed opinion,” she said.

Don’t be afraid to say no. However, it’s also important to know when you’re not an expert on a topic.

“You shouldn’t have to overthink whether you can answer a question. Be careful not to overreach.”

And while dealing with the media can be awkward at first, allowing yourself to be put on a pedestal will also elevate the profile of your organization.

Take advantage of technology. “One of the things that make it a lot easier for me is having a smartphone,” said Trunzo. “Some of what I do is in the field, and being able to see the query while I’m out in the field with students makes me able to turn something around quickly.”

Keep PR in the loop. Let your PR department know what you’re working on so they already have someone in mind when a query comes up.

Trunzo suggests firing off a quick, once-a-week email to the PR group that includes a couple of bullet points about what’s going on and the most exciting stuff you’re working on. Make it short and easy to read.

She also recommends eating lunch with them from time to time to “talk shop.”


Q for Tardif: What criteria helps you determine which experts to use?

Tardif: “I love this question. It’s such a great question because it really goes to the heart of what we try to accomplish with this department, and I think it applies everywhere. Develop a gut instinct through a dialogue with an individual to really gauge their level of understanding on what you’re trying to accomplish with the communication program, their level of buy-in, their level of comfort. If somebody is fundamentally not there yet, in terms of comfort, you’re going to be in a situation where it falls flat. You really have to develop a rapport with that expert and have that back and forth over time.”

Q for Tardif: Do type of media training do you do when you’re working with an expert?

Tardif: “Another great question! We don’t have formal media training program, but we’re starting to move in that direction. But on a one-on-one basis, I will do an informal Q&A. I think the training ground for us has been regional media. We have some smaller newspapers, some TV stations that cover our area.”

Q for Passy: Are there any suggestions on how to write email subject lines to improve the chances of having it opened or read?

Passy: “The first thing is to make it clear in the response that you’re responding to ProfNet. It’s a basic thing, but that’s how I’m going to visually flag those emails. Beyond that, there’s a part of me that has to admit that if it says something like, “I have the perfect expert for you,” I’d be inclined to open that email. It’s human nature. Although if it’s not the perfect expert, I’ll probably get annoyed.

“If you can put in a few words that shows you really get my query and my story – ‘ProfNet response: expert who wrote white paper on subject’ or ‘ProfNet – have expert who has done research on your topic’ – I’d probably be inclined to read that. I want something that signals to me that you’re a little more real than some of the other responses.

“Also, no more than two medium-sized paragraphs.”

Q for Passy: Is it OK to include a link to the person’s expertise, or do you prefer a short bio?

Passy: Include both – a short bio just for the query, and why this person is particularly suited, and then maybe a link to a longer bio. Include a little bit of bio in the response, at least telling me who this person is. I wouldn’t rely on the link only.”

Author Maria Perez is director of news operations for ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. To read more from Maria, visit her blog on ProfNet Connect at

How to Look and Sound Great on Camera

Brett Simon, a former TV journalist who’s now a member of our audience team, suggests that you put some color around your face when you’re going to be on camera. Our colleague Vicky Harres took her advice for this shoot.

Video content is one of the most powerful drivers of engagement and visibility for press release issuers and content marketers.   Messages that include multimedia get favorable treatment from search engines and social networks; and the human eye naturally gravitates toward visuals.   Producing video is part of many communication strategies.  To develop the best content possible, it’s important that the subjects of your video look (and sound) great on camera.

The American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) annual Writers Conference featured more than 80 sessions covering a wide variety of topics, including  “How to Look and Sound Great on Camera.”  While the conference was geared toward writers, the tips work well for anyone in the camera’s lens.

Three panelists shared their tips on how you can hone your personal style, develop an appealing speaking voice and craft effective messages.

The panelists were:

  • Rachel Weingarten, style expert, marketing strategist, personal branding consultant, and founder of Interrobang, a marketing and promotions agency. Weingarten is the author of “Career and Corporate Cool” and “Hello, Gorgeous,” and is a regularly featured expert on TV shows, including “Good Morning America” and the “Today” show.
  • Nancy Daniels, founder of Voice Dynamic, offering voice training, voice improvement, and public-speaking solutions through seminars, corporate training and group workshops. Daniels is the creator of the “Voicing it!” DVD training program, which helps clients find their “real” voice and correct problems such as low volume, nasality and childlike tone.
  • Brad Phillips, president of Phillips Media Relations, a media presentation firm with offices in Washington, D.C., and New York City. Phillips is a former broadcast journalist and producer, and is the creator of the popular Mr. Media Training blog, offering media and presentation training.
  • Eileen Kennedy-Moore (moderator), a psychologist, author, and blogger at, moderated the discussion.

Rachel Weingarten

The average American watches 28 hours of video a week, said Weingarten, or roughly nine years of their lives. In October 2011, more than 184 million people watched 42.6 billion videos on YouTube.

“People really are hungry for videos,” said Weingarten, “and especially for good videos.”

The first thing people think about when preparing a video is what they should wear, but there is more to looking good than what you’re wearing. In fact, the No. 1 key to a good video appearance is that you exude confidence, even if you don’t feel it, said Weingarten. How do you do that?

Know your stuff. Do your homework, and prepare as much in advance as you can. Know what the set is like. Do as much research on the host as you can, and make the host the focus of your attention. “If the host loves you, the audience will love you,” said Weingarten.

Be put-together. “People make snap decisions,” said Weingarten. “You want them to focus on your knowledge, not on what you’re wearing. For example, there’s a lawyer that loves to wear head-to-toe green suits. People tend to tune out his message because they’re so focused on what he’s wearing.

Be picky. Research every opportunity, rather than accepting every offer. Weingarten shared the story of how she was offered to be on “The Daily Show,” but turned it down because it would not have provided her the kind of exposure she was looking for.

Be comfortable. When deciding what to wear, pick something you’re comfortable in so you are not self-conscious. Otherwise, you are going to be too distracted to do a good job.

Nancy Daniels

“The way you sound on your answering machine is the way everyone else hears you,” said Daniels. If you don’t like what you hear, there are ways you can improve and find your “real” voice:

Record yourself. Practice by recording yourself in a mock interview session with a friend or colleague. This will help you gauge:

  • The volume of your voice: “You don’t want to speak too softly,” said Daniels.
  • Your accent: You don’t have to get rid of it, but you do have to be understood.
  • Whether you speak with “Valley Girl-ese,” as Daniels calls it. “If every sentence sounds like it ends in a question, you will not sound confident or professional.”

Find the friendly faces. The secret to public speaking, said Daniels, is to treat the audience or interviewer as if you were having a conversation in your living room. Zero in on your “smilers” – they will make you feel more confident.

Learn diaphragmatic breathing. It’s OK to be nervous. Learn to breathe with the support of your diaphragm; it will help you take control of your nervousness. Daniels recently wrote about how to control what comes out of your mouth when you’re nervous.

Brad Phillips

When speaking to the media, remember that your job is not to be comprehensive – your job is to give the public only enough information to take the action you want them to take. Reduce your points to your three most important messages, and support them with compelling stories and statistics.

People will remember almost nothing you say during media interviews, and one of the ways you can combat that is through repetition. “It takes 7-15 repetitions for people to remember your message,” said Phillips.

So what makes a message effective? According to Phillips, an effective message is composed of stories, statistics and sound bites.

Stories: These can be a personal story, an anecdote, a case study or a historical example. It just has to reinforce the theme of your message and make it less abstract and more tangible. You should be able to tell a compelling story in 20 seconds or less.

Statistics: Don’t use raw data; use statistics in a way the audience can relate.

Philips gave this example: “Five million Americans have Alzheimer’s.” That doesn’t immediately make you think, “Wow.”

Try this instead: “Fenway Park seats 37,000 people. It would take 135 Fenway Parks packed with people to hold every American with Alzheimer’s. That’s 5 million people in total. Now, think about the family members caring for that patient. It would take almost 600 Fenway Parks, packed with people, to hold all the patients and family members affected by Alzheimer’s.”

“For most people,” said Phillips, “that statistic is more powerful, evoking a specific image and producing that desired ‘Wow’ response.”

Sound bites: Sound bites are short, wonderful quips that are repeatable – e.g., “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

Other types of sound bites:

  • Simile, metaphor, analogy
  • Witty
  • Rhetorical  questions
  • References to pop culture

Once you have your messages, prepare for the interview. Create a worksheet detailing each message, and the story, statistic and sound bite for that message. Repeat for each message.

On his blog, Phillips shares more tips on how to create a message: Creating Your Message: A Seven-Part Series.


Q: When offering statistics, do you need to provide the source?

Phillips: Your goal is to intrigue. In a public presentation, I would stay away from it. Unless it’s core to their understanding, I wouldn’t focus on it.

Q: Which television personalities should we watch that have a good presence?

Daniels: Diane Sawyer – her voice is like a blanket around your shoulders. Listen for the voice that has warmth, speaks comfortably.

Phillips: Newt Gingrich and Al Sharpton are both very effective in their own way. Also, Tom Friedman – what I like is that he comes in very prepared, with three or four tight bullet points he can deliver in 20 seconds. One thing I don’t agree with that he does is saying the name of the host – “Well, Diane…” – because you want the audience to think you’re talking to them, and that breaks the connection.

Q: If you make a mistake, should you correct it or let it go?

Phillips: It depends on the nature of the mistake. If it’s a mispronunciation, let it go. If it’s a significant mistake, correct it.

Author Maria Perez is director of news operations for ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. To read more from Maria, visit her blog on ProfNet Connect at

7 Deadly Social Sins

Scott Stratten at BlogWorld 2012

The BlogWorld & New Media Expo, a three-day conference and tradeshow for bloggers, podcasters, Web content creators and social media innovators held earlier this year, offered more than 130 sessions, of which I was only able to attend a fraction.    The  opening session,  titled “7 Deadly Social Sins,” presented by the likeable and funny Scott Stratten, offered a raft of great pointers for brands (and their stewards) utilizing social media.

Stratten is a well-known speaker and expert on viral, social and authentic marketing (aka “unmarketing”), which is about positioning yourself as a trusted expert in front of your target market.

Following are highlights from his entertaining and insightful presentation:

“Social media is not about being everywhere. You just have to be great where you are.”

And being great on social media only really requires you to be average, added Stratten, “because everyone else sucks.”

Want to not suck at social media? Don’t commit these seven social sins:

1. Gluttony. Engagement is the biggest benefit of social media, said Stratten, so if you’re automating your feeds without engaging with your audience, you’re not being present. The shelf life of a tweet is about five minutes; if you don’t engage with someone who responds to your tweet, you lose the chance to have a conversation.

2. Pride. Posing questions like, “What’s your favorite product of ours?” is not the right way to engage your audience. It’s not about you – it’s about them. Also, don’t be the company that allows only positive comments. “You don’t make the rules,” said Stratten. Doing this will only cause people to make fun of you, and that’s the wrong way to get people to share.

3. Sloth. Social media has changed the timeline for responding. Whereas companies used to be able to say, “We will get back to you in 5-7 days,” response time is now measured in hours, if not minutes. “If you’re not going to monitor social media regularly, delete your account,” said Stratten. “If you don’t have the time, don’t do it. If you hate people, don’t do it. Don’t try to have a presence without being present.”

4. Greed. We’ve all seen the ads: “I will get you 1,000 followers for $50.” There’s no shortcut to being social. It’s not a numbers game – it’s an engagement game. If you want more fans, more readers, more shares, create better content.

5. Lust. Stratten reminded us of the cases of former Rep. Anthony Weiner (who accidentally tweeted sexually explicit pictures of himself) and the Red Cross employee who drunk tweeted on the Red Cross Twitter account instead of her own.

Never do anything on social media you wouldn’t want on a billboard that your mom, your priest, your kids will see, said Stratten.

But if you do make a mistake, get in front of it. “When it hits the fan,” he said, “it’s not time to hide behind the fan.”

Stratten applauded the Red Cross for the way they handled the errant tweet.

 6. Envy. Stratten puts the “self-retweet” in this category. Don’t only retweet when someone compliments you. Don’t be selfish. Don’t “humble brag.”

7. Wrath. Social media has given people power. You have to respond when there’s a complaint or a problem.

If it’s a troll, delete it immediately. But if it’s constructive criticism, don’t remove it – reply to it.

“It’s a chance to be awesome,” said Stratten.

And if you do follow up with someone privately, make sure you close the loop publicly so it’s obvious you’ve addressed the problem.

Other tips:

  • Apathy is social media’s biggest enemy, said Stratten. For example, so many companies send out untargeted, uninteresting event invites on Facebook that people have become apathetic to all invites, making them irrelevant. “We’re breaking social,” one of the best things of recent years, he added.
  • Be passionate. Any great social site was drive by passion. Pinterest, for example, was successful because it tapped into people’s passions. But then business came and ruined it (e.g., “the ROI of a pin”).
  • Don’t forget mobile. You have to look at your apps through the eyes of your audience. If you make your audience work to see your content, you’ll lose them.
  • Don’t use technology for the sake of using technology. For example, QR codes have such great potential, but “we’re already breaking it,” said Stratten. QR codes on billboards on subway tracks (where there are no phone signals) are one way companies are misusing them. “Every time someone scans a QR code and it doesn’t work, we’re running it.”

Author Maria Perez is director of news operations for ProfNet, a service that helps connect journalists with expert sources. To read more from Maria, visit her blog on ProfNet Connect at

Image via Flickr user BlogWorld & TBEX Events.

Tips for Using Photos for PR (#ConnectChat Recap)

Every other Tuesday, from 3 to 4:30 p.m. EDT, ProfNet hosts #ConnectChat, a Twitter-based interview that covers topics of interest to media and communications professionals. You can also find recaps of previous #ConnectChats on ProfNet Connect. Interested in being a featured guest on an upcoming chat? Find out how.

Visuals are playing an increasingly important role in companies’ PR and marketing efforts. A good photo can increase visibility for your news release, and photo-sharing sites like Pinterest and Instagram are more popular than ever.

(Take a look at images people have pinned from PR Newswire press releases on Pinterest recently!  PR Newswire  press releases on Pinterest.)

So, what makes a good photo? What should companies be thinking about when looking to increase their use of photos in their PR and marketing campaigns?

Jill Ulicney, PR Newswire’s manager of photo products, answered these questions during a #ConnectChat in September.

In her role as manager of photo products, Jill oversees PR Newswire’s image distribution options, which include delivery to the media, online distribution, placement on the Reuters Sign in Times Square, and photo archival. She also manages PR Newswire’s assignment photography service, which provides customers with event coverage, executive portraits, and product shots. To view PR Newswire’s Photos feed on Twitter, follow @PRNphotos.

Following are highlights from the chat:

What kind of images are good for press releases?

Logos are important to include with press releases. They draw attention and add branding.

For product announcements, it is essential to add a product shot. Would you buy something without first seeing a picture?

Charts and infographics are also helpful and can convey a lot of ideas within one image.

Can you recommend any resources for creating charts and infographics?

Both and Piktochart have great infographic-creation tools.

What about for intangible products, like software or services?

For software, I would suggest using screenshots. For services, a logo is always helpful.

Any other types of images that are good for press releases?

When announcements mention executives, it’s a perfect time to include a portrait of the executive.

What makes a good executive portrait?

Executive portraits should be appropriate for the position and industry of the subject.

Professional photographers excel at portraits. They can suggest what to wear, how to pose, background, lighting, etc.

A tip from our staff photographer: Environmental portraits can have more impact than a traditional portrait and can give more context. For example, an executive of a restaurant chain can pose in a kitchen. Personality makes the photo stand out from hundreds of similar shots.

What are the benefits of using photos with press releases?

PR Newswire’s Web analytics show that adding a photo to a release can increase views by up to 1.8x. Distributing a photo with a press release results in broader reach than if the photo or release is sent alone. Press releases with multimedia content are shared more often than plain text releases via social media. Multimedia news releases have longer online life. They generate visibility for an average of 20 days vs. 9.4 days for a text-only release.

How many photos are ideal?

I always suggest using at least one. Use your logo if you don’t have other images handy. Research shows that sharing multiple photos in a Facebook album can result in a large increase in clicks.

What makes a good photo?

PR photos should be high-res, at least 300 dpi and nine inches on longest side. Clear images with good lighting and composition are key. Larger photos are preferred because an image can retain quality if it must be sized down, but quality is lost when enlarged. Mobile device cameras are improving, but photos from digital SLRs are still preferred.

Also, action shots are more interesting to viewers. Show the subject doing something instead of having them pose. Posed large group shots don’t always read well and are less likely to grab attention.

Professional photographers are often the way to go. They have experience getting the best shots and top-of-the-line equipment.

What are the typical rates for professional photographers?

Photographer costs depend on lots of factors: image usage, time, location, subject matter. For a half-day photo shoot (under four hours) and PR/editorial usage, photo-shoot prices are around $900.

Besides the photo itself, what else should PR pros consider?

It is important to remember photo captions to give context to your images.

What makes a good photo caption?

Major keywords should be at the start of the caption, which should not exceed 2,000 characters. Photo captions should hit the five W’s — who, what, where, when and why – and can include the URL for the company site.

What about photo SEO? Any tips for optimizing photos?

For photo SEO, descriptive captions come in handy. Use 3-4 keywords for the image name instead of using a vague image name straight from your camera. “IMG_0037.jpg” will not help SEO.

Don’t forget alt text for your images. Use 3-4 solid keywords as alt text to further optimize your images.

Are there any photos you can recommend as good examples?

This release uses an interesting action image to bring attention to the company’s product.

One more example: Here’s a great food image.

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.

The Power of Reputation

Every other Tuesday, ProfNet hosts #ConnectChat, a Twitter-based interview that covers topics of interest to media and communications professionals.  Recently, Chris Komisarjevsky, former worldwide CEO of Burson-Marsteller and author of “The Power of Reputation: Strengthen the Asset That Will Make or Break Your Career,” discussed why reputation is among our most powerful assets.

How do you define reputation?

Reputation is, in part, the way you are seen by others, and it is a critical part of your personal brand.

Is reputation equivalent to social credibility?

Yes, it is in many ways equivalent because reputation has a critical bearing on how you are viewed.

How does one build a good reputation?

There are three critical factors underlying a good reputation: character, communication and trust.

How do they work together?

Character is your values and how you live them, communication is how you relate to others, and trust is the underlying goal.

How can one display these three factors online?

Online or not, how you speak with others and share their concerns says much about character and values.

Is character something that can be learned?

Character can be learned if you think about what is important in the long run and watch how people react to your behavior.

Is it also that people tend to think of short-term gain instead of long-term reputation — especially in social media?

The key is to focus on the long-term. Think about short-term judgments and whether they endure. Take the author Jonah Lehrer, for example. His books were pulled off the shelves last night because he lied and exaggerated quotes from Bob Dylan. Short-term gain, long-term loss. He resigned from his reporter job at The New Yorker. What now for him? James Frey redux.

Isn’t social media a long-term investment? We can’t really expect any immediate gain from using social media.

Yes, it is, sort of the like the early days of radio. At first, who is really listening? It takes time. Speaking of social media and reputation, if you are criticized on social media, you have 12 hours to reply or else you are dead meat.

Why is such a quick response important?

Today’s news cycle is short. There is no luxury of a traditional 24-hour cycle. This is not broadcast rip-and-read, but immediate. And 12 hours is the outside chance for having a fair hearing. After that, your point of view or answer to what has been said is lost. It’s almost impossible to regain control of the message.

Plus, if you respond quickly, there’s also the opportunity to turn a negative into a positive.

Absolutely. Think about those who have failed to act quickly. Remember, the cover-up is worse than the crime. Look at the global banking business today: HSBC, Barclays, Peregrine. Short-term thinking, long-term reputation scandals. The humiliation — followed by resignations, apologies — hits hard. Reputation is both personal and institutional.

What about the importance of communication?

We are really talking about engagement. Engagement is the new mandate — an open dialog where ideas are shared, showing respect for other views.

Can these institutions ever recover their reputations?

Yes, but it will take a long time — and it means a change in corporate culture. Anything less will also be short-lived. Read Henry David Thoreau’s 1849 essay, “Civil Disobedience.” “Conscientious men” do make a “conscientious corporation.”

Is there a difference between personal and professional reputation, or are the two linked?

They’re one and the same. You can’t be two different people or you will not be seen as “authentic.” That’s an act.

And being authentic leads to trust, which you mentioned as the third factor in reputation…

People look for authenticity — you know how they will act and can trust their behavior.

The personal brand of employees is becoming more and more important, right?

Great question. When people look at companies they are looking to see the values of the employees. If the values of the employees and the corporation don’t mirror one another, credibility is lost. Those values at work and at play must be the same. In today’s social media world, everyone sees everything, and customers/clients will notice.

This clearly points out the importance of a company’s C-level presence on social media.

Social media is unfamiliar ground to many CEOs. They aren’t sure what to say or how to say it. Interestingly enough, Rupert Murdoch seems to have tweeted more regularly after facing criticism before Parliament. He seems to have seen social media as a way of providing a more human face in the midst of criticism.

In your book, you say that people and corporations are judged in a similar way. What do you mean?

People judge businesses using human terms. They look at the business and judge if the business will deliver as promised — just like you would shake someone’s hand and look them in the eye to see what they are made of. We look at businesses in much the same way. Based on our reaction, we trust or don’t trust. We buy or go elsewhere. We invest or walk away.

One of the things I often struggle with is guilt over work-life balance, but you say having balance can actually strengthen your reputation. How?

Giving employees an opportunity to have work-life balance is extraordinarily motivating. They prove themselves in a different way and, as the boss, you demonstrate that you understand the balance needed between home and work. In my experience, they become more productive, more loyal, and grow in ways you could not have anticipated. With that, the organization grows too.

You also mention that starting at the bottom and doing menial tasks can show you how important those roles are to the company’s success.

Starting at the bottom gives you a picture of the building blocks needed to make any organization thrive. One of my mentors started in the mailroom and retired as the No. 2 in a global insurance company. I pumped gas, drove a dump truck. These early jobs give you a picture that can’t be taught in a classroom or in your MBA class. They make you aware like nothing else.

Do you recommend that all executives take the time to learn about, or even spend time in, all the different departments in their company?

I was trained in the Army, where you learn from the bottom up. I tell a story in the book about peeling potatoes in basic training and the importance of doing a job well, regardless of how menial. In the PR business, if you don’t understand how social media and a newsroom works, it’s tough to be the best.

Can you share some more real-life examples of reputations that were tarnished, and what they did wrong?

Sadly enough, the banking business this summer has been full of debacles and scandal: MF Global, Nomura, JPMorgan Chase. Then there was News International, followed closely by the Secret Service and the GSA. The media are still talking about them. The result has been CEOs called on the carpet to testify before Congress in the U.S. and Parliament. Not fun — and hard to recover from.

Why do you think it keeps happening? Is it just that they don’t think they will get caught?

In some cases, greed and avarice took over, and those involved didn’t think they would get caught. But what we in the public relations and reputation business know is, it’s never if you will be caught but when. Eventually, the truth comes out. There’s an old Italian proverb that, loosely translated, goes like this: “Deceit has short legs.”

This is also a culture question. There needs to be some serious work to understand how to balance the driving financial goals with employee values. After all, without valued employees — working with valued clients — there is no business.

And then there is, of course, the Paterno/Penn State/NCAA case…

I wrote an op-ed about Paterno. Tragic and sad. If he were alive, I would hope that he would apologize. Looking the other way is unforgiveable. I would hope that his family would apologize. Removing the statue was the right decision. I think the NCAA missed the boat by not imposing the death penalty for one year. Like a time-out, it would have forced Penn State to sit back and think. The money was a drop in the bucket — one year’s revenue… But leadership was afraid and abdicated its responsibility to those children. That is tragic and unforgivable.

Author Maria Perez is director of news operations for ProfNet, a service that helps connect journalists with expert sources. To read more from Maria, visit her blog on ProfNet Connect at