The top Beyond PR blog posts of 2011 represent a mix of topics, ranging from social media trends to writing tactics. In retrospect, many of the conversations I have with our clients focus on the questions “How can I get better results?” and “How can I add social media tactics to my PR toolbox?” These five posts answer those key questions, and (in descending order) they were the most widely read posts this year.
Tag Archives: writing
Voted one of the top ten blogs by Businessweek, Mashable has become the media darling – the top source for news and digital media. According to CEO Pete Cashmore, who was quoted in the New York Times this week, the site had 17 million unique visitors in September.
That’s no surprise to San Francisco Bureau Chief Chris Taylor, who thought they might have been on track to top 20 million when he spoke to an audience just last week. Taylor was part of a news roundtable hosted by Graffiti PR. He joined Aaron Pero, News Director for KRON 4 TV and Theresa Rodriguez, founder of sites TangoDiva.com and Jetset Extra to offer up thoughts and impressions “behind the news and stories”.
Mashable measures its own content’s success in part through the same channels it covers – social media. A story has to have at least 1,000 shares on sites like Facebook, Twitter and Stumbleupon as a baseline benchmark for being a good read according to Taylor. He says about a third of Mashable’s traffic comes from Facebook and Twitter, another third from Google, and a third from direct visitors to the site.
Whether it’s a story about artificial intelligence coming to the iPhone — or digital platforms poised to change the conversation in election year 2012, Mashable is on top of the trends. And Taylor gets pitched — a lot.
“I receive an insane volume of pitches,” he revealed; even more than when he was Bureau Chief for Time Magazine. He claims a ‘pitch a minute’ is no exaggeration.
Mashable is a 24-hour shop run by about 55 employees, and the door is open to guest writers. Taylor says it’s not just for well-known names — they cast the net far and wide. The bottom line is the ability to write concise and short. If you can keep your copy to under 800 words, all the better, says Taylor. He offered up this insight to budding Mashable contributors after the San Francisco forum:
Diane Harrigan Account Manager, PR Newswire SF and author of the video blog PostcardsFromSF.
ProfNet Connect Blog Roundup: Social Media for Writers & Journalists, Classroom of the Future, National Costume Sweep Day
ProfNet Connect, our free online community for journalists, bloggers, PR pros, experts and communicators of all stripes, features blog section where members can write and post as their hearts desire. The site is chockablock with interesting people and content. Here are some of the most popular posts from last week. Enjoy!
Upcoming #ConnectChat: Social Media for Writers and Journalists
Maria Perez, director of news operations at ProfNet will host our next #ConnectChat which will take place Tuesday, Sept. 13., and will focus on social media for writers and journalists. Join us as award-winning investigative reporter Dave Copeland explores how writers can use social media to develop story ideas, report more effectively, and promote their work to a wide cross-section of readers.
Dear Gracie: How to Stand Out on a Panel
Each week, Dear Gracie (ProfNet editor Grace Lavigne) answers questions from ProfNet Connect readers with advice from our network of more than 44,000 ProfNet experts. This week she answers the question, “I’ve been invited to speak on a panel at a conference. It will be recorded and later shown on TV and to other industry professionals. Any tips for how to rock on a panel?”
Who Says This is the Classroom of the Future?
Alvaro Fernandez, CEO and co-founder of SharpBrains.com addresses the question, “What if we questioned the very premise behind naming some classrooms the “classrooms of the future” simply because they have been adding technology in literally mindless ways?
2nd annual National Costume Swap Day generates huge interest
Last year’s inaugural National Costume Swap Day was an incredible success with 77 swaps in 23 states and Canada and thousands of people saving money and avoiding throwing costumes into landfills. Lynn Colwell of The Green Year, LLC tells us about this fun and green way to celeberate Halloween!
Should journalists be licensed?
Should journalists be licensed? Should they have some sort of certification indicating that they’re legitimate and trained professionals? A recent article from GigaOm made ProfNet Connect’s community editor Evelyn Tipacti wonder if this is something that should be considered similar to what is done in other professions.
Stay abreast of conversations, trends and opportunities by joining us on ProfNet Connect, a free online community for journalists, bloggers and communications professionals to meet, connect and share their expertise. Creating a profile on ProfNet connect adds a search-engine friendly element to your digital resume, bolsters your online reputation and enables you to showcase your expertise to media and bloggers. Did we already mention that membership is free? http://profnetconnect.com
Good writing is not just about substance – style is often just as important. You might be the most expert of all experts, but nothing will undermine your credibility more than an email/business plan/blog post riddled with errors and typos.
To put your best foot forward and get readers to focus on the substance of your communications, follow these simple tips for improving your writing:
Write Like You Talk. Or, in the words of Paula Abdul, make it your own. After you’re finished writing the article, press release, blog post – whatever – read it out loud. If it sounds stilted, make changes.
Less is More. If you can say something in 10 words instead of 20, do it. That is all.
Use short paragraphs. James Patterson once said his use of short chapters is one of the reasons his books are so successful. You can apply this to your writing with short paragraphs. Long paragraphs make readers think they don’t have enough time to read the entire post.
Use bullet points. For the same reason you should write in short paragraphs – posts with long paragraphs could be daunting for many readers – you should consider using bullet points whenever possible. Not only will it make it easier for you to write (especially if you’re writing for an online outlet, which often means multiple posts each day), but it’s also easier on the reader.
Spllchek. If you wnt pepole to take you serriusly, run a spellchek on whatevr documint you write, wethur a private email or sumthing for publik consumpshion.
Check, and double-check, your facts. If you say your company is the only one making thingamajigs, make sure it’s true – especially because things can go viral so quickly nowadays.
Do you agree/disagree with these tips? Any you would add?
Written by Maria Perez, 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 http://www.profnetconnect.com/profnetmaria/blog/
White papers are a form of corporate writing that falls somewhere between journalistic articles and marketing materials. At the recent American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) annual conference in New York, three professional white-paper writers discussed the ins and outs of writing white papers, including what they are, what writers should be asking before taking the assignment, and tips for writing them.
- Susan B. Weiner, CFA, writes and edits articles, white papers, investment commentary, Web pages, and other communications for leading investment and wealth management firms. Her credits include AdvisorPerspectives.com, Bottom Line/Personal, CFA Magazine, Financial Planning, Journal of Financial Planning and Louis Rukeyser’s Mutual Funds.
- Randy B. Hecht is a bilingual (English/Spanish) reporter and editorial consultant whose clients include print and online media, corporations, NGOs and foundations in the U.S., Latin America, Europe, Africa and Asia. “Unconquered,” her book about contemporary indigenous people in Latin America, will be published in 2012. Her portfolio also includes magazine articles, multilingual Web portals, blog posts, annual reports, public policy studies and white papers.
- Pamela Oldham is a 25-year veteran and award-winning marketing communications writer and reader advocate who has written dozens of white papers for Fortune 500 companies, leading nonprofits and government agencies. She specializes in translating technical and highly complex concepts into terms easily understood by non-technical audiences. Her marketing communications clients have included Verizon, Spring/Nextel, Merkle, AT&T, CognitiveDATA, US Navy, the EPA and many others. Her business, marketing and consumer credits include The Washington Post, Family Circle, Deliver Magazine, Direct Marketing News, MSN.com and others.
Following are highlights from the presentation.
WHITE PAPERS DEFINED
According to Oldham, white papers are the most frequently downloaded media type, the most utilized to evaluate new technology, and the most effective in delivering return on investment.
White papers are an attractive market for writers because they pay well, said Weiner. And because they are used by a variety of organizations — companies, nonprofits, government agencies, think tanks — there are a wide range of prospects.
There are three characteristics of a white paper:
- Provides unbiased information and analysis
- Presents a problem and a solution
- Proposes and argues in favor of a solution to the problem, based on sound research.
The standard format is:
- Opening summary
- Explanation of the problem
- Suggested solution
- Closing summary
- Signature (author’s bio, company profile)
- Contact information
White papers are typically 7-10 pages long (including graphics, so about 5 pages of text). Highly technical papers can be as long as 20 pages.
There are often several individuals involved in the white-paper process, including a project manager, subject-matter experts, the writer, an editor and proofreader, and an illustrator or designer.
Keep in mind that you will not get a byline on a white paper, as you are ghostwriting for the organization.
WRITING WHITE PAPERS
Before beginning the writing process, make sure to define the assignment. What is the objective? What is the topic? Who is the target reader? What is the problem that will be addressed? What is the proposed solution? Is there any primary research on the topic?
Oldham suggests compiling a statement of work (SOW) to help with the logistics of the project and avoid any misunderstandings on the scope of the project. Define what is expected:
- How many pages, words
- How many revisions, rounds of editing
- How many interviews to be conducted
- How many sidebars, call-outs, and where will they appear
- Who will create graphics
- Deadline (typical time frame is 30-45 days, minimum)
Once you’re ready to write the paper, you’ll want to follow these nine steps:
- Assess needs
- Have a kickoff meeting
- Acquire information
- Integrate content and layout
- Organize content
- Review, revise and approve
Oldham shared the following tips for writing white papers:
- Write clearly and concisely. Avoid jargon, buzzwords and other “insider” language.
- Write in the third person and mirror the client’s voice and personality. Make sure the white paper makes a compelling case for the reader. “Be a reader advocate!”
- Address readers with the least knowledge about the subject. Use visuals (call-outs, sidebars) to keep readers interested.
- Use good journalistic practices, including taking the steps necessary to fact-check your sources.
- Stick with the facts and real-life examples. Avoid including opinions or editorializing, and resist attempts to include unsubstantiated claims. When possible, cite third-party information, which can bolster your credibility and demonstrates depth of knowledge.
- If factual descriptions of a client’s products/services are included as part of the solution, present them in the last third of the white paper, to enhance credibility and keep the reader with you.
- Resist the urge to write in a promotional voice. You want to convey information, not sales pitch.
- Practice the craft of writing white papers, and stay up-to-date on techniques. Read other white papers.
If you are not already an experience white-paper writer, you will need to sell yourself as a writer in this specialized area.
Not all organizations will require previous experience writing white papers. Some will accept reports you’ve written or other writing assignments that required investigating a topic or helping readers understand a difficult topic.
Figure out what your best niche is and target those topics and industries in which you have high-level expertise, said Hecht. “Don’t position yourself as a writer who can cover any topic; generalists are a poor fit for white papers.”
Target those sectors that are most aligned with your area(s) of expertise. Market out to existing clients in those sectors, including agencies and custom publishers. Look beyond corporate clients to government agencies, NGOs, research institutes, hospitals, professional associations, etc.
Don’t be afraid to use your connections, advised Hecht. If you already have corporate clients, think of some areas for a white paper and see if they would benefit from it. When talking to editors, ask them if they have a corporate group you can contact to see if they have a need for white papers. If you write in a certain industry, contact a professional association in that industry.
You can also work through a marketing firm or PR agency that corporations contract for white papers.
It’s also important to network with people in the industry for which you want to write white papers. “Don’t just network with other writers,” said Hecht. “Get known as someone who knows the industry.”
Writer Maria Perez is director of news operations for ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. To read more from Maria, including recaps from other ASJA panels, visit her blog on ProfNet Connect at http://www.profnetconnect.com/profnetmaria/blog/
White papers are the cornerstone of many content strategies. Distribution and display of the content you’ve produced are also important. PR Newswire’s ARC platform is dynamic and couples distribution with display to create a powerful, engaging and flexible communications channel for any content strategy.
There’s an old quote by Mark Twain that says, “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you this long one instead.”
Anyone who has ever tried their hand at writing knows this can be true. Spilling your guts is easy. Being concise takes time. Recently, Helen Klein Ross took to the microphone at SXSW Interactive – briefly, of course – to extol the virtues of “saying it short” and remind the audience that when it comes to effective writing, less really is more.
These days, Ross is best known for her blog, Ad Broad, and she tweets under the handle of Betty Draper, the wife and mother from the hit show Mad Men … somehow with AMC’s permission. (Very cool, AMC!) But before all of that, Ross made her name in advertising. It was there that she realized “the less you say, the more likely people are to remember.”
For example, an effective billboard is said to have six words or fewer. In a commercial, that number swells to sixty. For Ross, the same is true in social media. “You can’t say 10 things and have people remember what you say.”
Ross says having a limit can actually help creativity. After spending 20-plus years working within the constraints of the advertising industry, 140 characters felt spacious to her. But even Ross points out that “just because you have 140 characters, doesn’t mean you have to use them all.”
Social media, she says, isn’t about writing a paragraph of information. “It’s not about telling it all,” Ross says. “It’s about telling it right.”
Ross also cautioned against writing and, more importantly, publishing too quickly. She suggested taking a moment before hitting send.
“Before you tweet, breathe,” she said. For as she reminded the SXSW audience, “getting something off the internet is about as easy as getting urine out of a pool.” An unfortunate visual, but an evocative and effective one nonetheless. Much like the whole of Ross’s talk.
Of course, there’s more to say on the topic. But we’ll wrap it up before we lose your attention.
Author Tom Hynes is PR Newswire’s manager of blogger relations.
Have you ever wondered what a typical day is like for freelance writers? Or how they get their assignments from publications? Or what their writing process is like?
On Tuesday, March 29, ProfNet hosted a Twitter-based chat featuring freelancer Gina Roberts-Grey.
Roberts-Grey is a prolific writer, covering health, consumer issues and finance for a variety of print and online markets. She has written for Glamour, Parents, Better Homes & Gardens, Self, Woman’s Day, EverydayHealth.com, MSN.com, AARP The Magazine and more. She also specializes in celebrity profiles and has interviewed actors, politicians, singers, athletes, reality TV stars and other celebs.
As if that weren’t enough, she also chairs the annual ASJA conference, the largest freelance writers conference in the country.
Most of Roberts-Grey’s articles, about 70 percent, are assigned to her by editors at publications for which she has previously written; the rest are from story ideas she pitches to editors. Many of those ideas come from pitches she receives from PR professionals.
Roberts-Grey said she receives about 150 PR pitches per day. Many of those are deleted pretty quickly. “If it doesn’t grab me the right way,” she said. “It’s outta here.”
She prefers to receive pitches via email. “Phone is an interruption,” she said. However, she is open to receiving pitches via Twitter. “Twitter pitches would be very cool. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’d love that!”
To get her attention, include a “great, snappy, grabbing lead,” she said. “The subject line should tell me why I should open the e-mail. What is the pitch about? The ones that read like a headline from the Enquirer often aren’t opened.”
Also, keep it short. “Two paragraphs is a nice size,” she said, “enough to whet the appetite, and I can ask for more info if needed.”
Whenever possible, include links to statistics and professional quotes. “Links in pitches are helpful to dig deeper and see if I can use it in a piece.” If you have a PDF of a study or research paper, include that in your pitch, as well.
Once you’ve sent a pitch, don’t follow up via phone unless you know the writer doesn’t mind phone follow-ups. And if a writer says, “I don’t know when this will run,” leave it at that. Don’t contact the writer every week to see if the article has run yet. Set up a Google Alert for your expert’s name, and you’ll know when the article (and any article mentioning your expert) has been published.
Roberts-Grey said her typical workday averages 12 to 14 hours, with much of that time devoted to finding and interviewing sources. “Finding the right source definitely speeds things up,” she said, “and having a great working relationship with them to go to again helps.”
Roberts-Grey often uses ProfNet to find sources for her articles. When responding to one of her queries, make sure the answer is on-topic and precise. “Tell me what you can do to make my article the best, why you are the best,” she suggested.
Once she finds the sources she needs for an article, Roberts-Grey prefers to do as much of the interviewing as possible by email to help maximize her time. During the interview, get right to the point and answer questions as specifically as possible. She will follow-up by phone if she has any unanswered questions.
Roberts-Grey also stressed the importance of building relationships with writers. Often, an interview is not a one-time thing, and reporters will use experts in multiple stories.
“I often go back to those I’ve used before, if they’ve been good,” she said. “I like to add them to the stable and use them as much as possible.”
The first step in building a relationship with a writer is to make sure you spell their name correctly. As basic as it sounds, Roberts-Grey said she receives many pitches where people do not get her name right.
Also, make sure to personalize the pitch. “’Dear Writer’ or ‘Dear Editor’ = delete,” she said. “Take time to know whom you are pitching.”
Most importantly, get to know what topics the writer covers, and how they want to be contacted.
Roberts-Grey also shared more information about the annual American Society of Journalists and Authors conference, commonly known as ASJA2011, taking place April 29-May 1 in New York City.
“ASJA2011 is the premiere conference for writers in all stages of their career,” said Roberts-Grey, “but we also have lots of PR people who want to network.”
The conference is open to public April 30 and May 1, and has sessions on honing your craft, marketing, social media and more.
“It’s a great place to rub elbows with writers and to pick their brains regarding pitches they want, how to pitch them, etc.,” said Roberts-Grey.
The conference has more than 125 magazine editors, literary agents and book publishers, “so there are lots of people to network with,” said Roberts-Grey, who said she has made lots of great relationships and even done interviews with sources while at the conference. “Networking really is everything these days. You’ve got to make contacts.”
Author Maria Perez is director of news operations for ProfNet, a service that helps journalists find expert sources. For a full transcript of the chat, visit Maria’s blog on ProfNet Connect at http://www.profnetconnect.com/profnetmaria/blog/