Everybody Should Know How to Write

Poor writing is the bane of our existence.

And, unfortunately, bad writing is everywhere.

My livelihood depends upon being a better writer than most, but that doesn’t mean I am not constantly appalled at the quality of writing put on display by those who think they don’t need to master this form of communication.

I know very successful people who are terrible writers. It boggles the mind that they have made it this far in life without being able to write a complete sentence.

But it is as much on them as it is on the educational institutions that let them slide out with a degree and a less-than-passing knowledge of the English language.

Not everyone needs to know how to write a press release or become a whiz at content marketing. But is too much to ask for an email that doesn’t make me cringe due to the sheer volume of spelling and grammatical errors?

There is no faster way to come off looking like somebody who is not very smart than to write a Facebook post or email riddled with spelling errors. You might have a very important point you want to get across, but nobody will take you seriously if you can’t spell.

It would be easy for me to build the gist of my argument around society’s march toward a future where our attention spans have been reduced to rubble.

But, like I said, that’s the easy cop-out.

We write more than ever. Whether it’s a blog post, a tweet, a Facebook post, a text message, a LinkedIn article, or an e-mail, we speak with people less and we use our words (in various forms) to more. Those who are eloquent in their writing are the people who will succeed, especially as society starts to figure out what professions will live on as we cope with the rise of artificial intelligence.

You don’t have to be a marketer to appreciate eight writing lessons from marketing guru Ann Handley, but it wouldn’t hurt to brush up on this skill.

Your future might depend on it.

Photo by Angelina Litvin on Unsplash

Should Investigative Podcasts Be Beholden to Journalistic Norms?

If 2016 was the year when the world finally understood the beauty of podcasts, then 2017 was the year when creators and reporters and storytellers created a lot of great content that was worth sharing through this medium.

Will 2018 be the year when we start to have a discussion around the role podcasts play in our society? I ask because of one podcast I listened to last year that got me thinking about this topic.

That podcast is Up and Vanished.

[Editor’s Note: There be spoilers ahead!]

For the uninformed, Up and Vanished is an investigative podcast about the disappearance of George beauty queen, Tara Grinstead.

Grinstead disappeared from her home in 2005. The presence of host Payne Lindsey in the small town of Ocilla, Georgia (where Grinstead lived) while he recorded the podcast led authorities to re-open the cold case after new evidence came to light. This evidence led to arrests in the case after 12 years of little movement.

Of course, this is great news. It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that bringing a murderer to justice is always an ideal situation. Not only did it bring some peace of mind to Grinstead’s family, but it helped a small town recover from a traumatic experience.

Lindsey, for his part, hit it out of the park when it came to finding a cold case he could investigate. Would you believe he came across it by accident after inquiring about the case on WebSleuths.com? What a stroke of luck.

If Lindsay was a trained journalist, however, I think this podcast would have played out differently.

Lindsay mentioned on more than one occasion that the reason for movement on the case was because of his podcast. If the words didn’t come out of his mouth, he shared recordings of others saying the same thing.

This doesn’t sit well with me.

A trained storyteller would never use a tragedy for personal gain. And while Lindsay’s motivation to tell this story was respectable, the way he inserted himself (and the podcast) into the story was not.  There was too much promotion around how Up and Vanished solved the case.

Will this become “a thing” in 2018? Will the trend of investigative podcasts and cold case solvers eventually give way to criticism of how we tell these stories?

Who knows.

It’s not hard to imagine a scandal where a true crime podcaster plants clues or purposefully withholds information to shift the focus of an investigation to better ratings.

The battle for listeners is a constant one.

It might just be a matter of time before we see a podcaster try to boost downloads by nefarious means.

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Logan Paul Forced Me To Recognize My Parenting Shortcomings

There was a lot of attention paid to YouTube superstar Logan Paul a few weeks ago after he posted a vlog on his channel that showed a dead body.

The incident in question took place while Paul and his gang were in Japan. They ventured into Japan’s Aokigahara forest, a place notorious for suicides, and filmed what was apparently the body of someone who had taken their own life.

I haven’t watched the video out of principal. But from all accounts, the crew made light of the fact they filmed a dead body, which is really not at all surprising, considering who was behind the camera.

On social media, a negative reaction came swiftly and unanimously, with many calling on YouTube to suspend (or delete) Paul’s channel.

[Editor’s Note: YouTube cut ties with Logan. Sort of.]

Paul, for his part, is probably too naive to understand the responsibility that comes with having 15 million subscribers. After all, he records himself doing stupid shit and gets paid for it. I doubt he has given much thought to the responsibility he has to his legions of fans.

But as somebody who now occupies an influential space in today’s new world of entertainment, he should take it under consideration, as should the parents of the kids who look up to him.

I knew there was a good reason I don’t let my kids watch his videos. But I failed to see the other dangers lurking on their tablets.

This situation with Paul forced me to sit up and take notice.

***

As a parent of two kids at that age where a majority of their screen entertainment is found online, Logan Paul’s irresponsibility scares me to death.

For as closely as I can watch my kids, I know there will be times they watch something they aren’t supposed to. As a former child, I can confirm kids will try to circumvent their parent’s authority at times. That’s just what kids do.

For Christmas, both of my kids got Kindle Fire HDs.

It was the big-ticket item this year.

Almost as soon as they took it out of the box, they downloaded the Musical.ly app.

For the uninitiated, musical.ly is an app that lets users make 15-second music videos using clips from their favorite songs. (It most closely resembles the creation of GIFs, except there is sound.)

Needless to say, my kids love it.

They sit with each other (like, physically next to each other) and crack each other up with their wacky creations.

It is in this moment that I am fairly certain they are causing no harm to anyone, nor are they watching something they shouldn’t watch.

But like a lot of parents, I sometimes use their screens as a babysitter; I am not going to pretend I don’t. On days where my wife works and I’m busy with household chores (or I just want to veg for an hour or so) I will let them retreat to their rooms to play games on their tablet, knowing full well there is an outside chance they will come across something they shouldn’t see.

Until the Logan Paul incident hit, I never really thought about who my kids were watching. My oldest daughter loves Miranda Sings, but I’ve watched her and she is relatively tame. My youngest daughter is intent on watching gymnastics videos.

But what happens when they grow a little older and latch on to a Youtube celebrity who is even worse than Paul?

That person might not be a mainstream attraction but, rather, someone who retreats into the dark recesses of the web and brings their merry band of followers with them.

That’s a scary thought.

When email first became a thing, I was taught from an early age how to use it. But my parents were not of a generation to grow up with it, so they never really grasped the true power of this form of communication.

Email became the technological barrier between my generation and my parent’s generation. The gap between us, at least technologically, remained wide. I viewed email (and, by extension, the internet) as a “place” where I could hang out outside of my parent’s purview. Not only did they not understand it, but they had no desire to learn how to use it. It was something I viewed as unique to me and my friends; it separated us from our parents.

Now that I am a parent, I’d like to believe that I’m savvy enough to never have to worry about my kids using something I don’t understand. But musical.ly has proved me wrong.

I was disheartened to learn a few weeks ago that my oldest child had created a musical.ly clip to make fun of a clip somebody else created. I’m sure my daughter thought she was being funny, but in an age where parents are hyper-sensitive to bullying (both physically and digitally) it was totally uncalled for.

As a parent, I was very embarrassed to hear what happened, and the proper steps have been taken to remediate the situation.

But what’s done is done.

It has forced me to examine how my kids use their tablets, while coming to grips with the fact that they will eventually use something I’m not familiar with, even if it’s not for nefarious means.

Similar to how I treated email and the web with my parents, they will take refuge in this environment, whatever it may be, because my wife and I are not there.

Will they venture so far as to find a place where they can watch inappropriate videos (or worse?) without fear of being caught? I’d like to think we’ve brought them up to know better. But kids will be kids, right?

If we’ve learned anything from Logan Paul (and others like him) it’s that they do not are about who is watching, as long as they make money in the process. The content is secondary to the cash.

So it becomes more evident than ever that it’s up to us, as parents, to ensure we’re keeping an eye on what our kids consume.

It’s perfectly fine to let them embrace technology. (We would be bad parents if we didn’t.)

But there’s a fine line between embracing and abusing.

It’s up to us, as parents and guardians, to keep our kids safe, both online and in real life.

The Secret to Writing Great Press Releases

Here’s another secret I want to share before I write more words: the press release is not dead.

I could go on and on and on  (and on) about why those who say the press release is dead are merely doing it for the hot takes, but the joke’s on them – the press release’s eulogy has been given so often that it just falls on deaf ears.

Meanwhile, those who know how to use them continue to see great results.

But just because it’s not dead doesn’t mean you should immediately fire up your Word processor and pound one out for your client.

There are still ground rules to follow to ensure an effective press release.

Lucky for all three of my readers, I’m in a giving mood today, so here are some secrets to writing great press releases.

For The Love of God, Use It To Break News

The quickest way to earn a press release deletion is to publish one that includes no news and is used just to appease a client or boss.

Don’t do that. You’ll anger the reporter (your intended audience) and it will be relegated to the scrap heap. (Plus, it’s quite obvious to everyone when a press release is issued just to issue a press release.)

Think long and hard about what you are announcing before you start typing.

Is your company announcing how innovative it is? Skip the release.

Is your company proving its innovation by releasing a new widget that will help customers in the space? Now we’re talking.

Don’t write a press release just to write a press release.

You can use that time to work on other projects.

Wait until you have news that is worthy of a news release, then move ahead.

Make Quotes Meaningful

Every press release includes quotes from executives, but most of those quotes are fluff.

“We are very excited to…”

“We are pleased to…”

“Blah blah blah…”

To increase the chances of a reporter pulling one of the quotes and using it in a story, write something meaningful.

I like to draft quotes from my executives that announce something significant as part of the announcement.

For instance, if we go back to the innovative widget I talked about up above, the quote might read something like this:

“This new widget will allow our customers to cut down on lead time by fifty percent thanks to a state-of-the-art process that is exclusive to our company,” said executive.

This is an important part of the story and a big reason why a customer might decide to use your company’s widget. Not only are you expressing that to the customer, but you are setting yourself apart from your competitors, and your executive gets the credit.

Don’t Forget About Pictures

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how come we don’t think about a visual component to the press release more often?

We spend so much time getting the words right that the image (if there even is one) becomes an afterthought; something we just haphazardly attach to the release before it goes live.

But a lot of sites (like GM’s media site, for instance) make images the focal point of the news.

No press release on the GM media site goes out without an image, even if it’s just a headshot of an executive. These images, when used correctly, can go a long way in helping to explain the news to the media, especially when the news is built around something that is new or complicated.

Keep Your Target Audience In Mind 

You are writing for the media. Full stop.

Sure, your leadership team and some of your customers will see the press release on your website once it’s released. But the purpose of issuing this release is so that media will want to write a story about your company.

If you are writing it for another audience, you’re doing it wrong.

Once the internal edits start flying back-and-forth, it’s easy to focus on the wants of those who are making the news instead of those who will consume it. But you have to stay focused on the fact that media need, well, the facts.

Do your best to eliminate flowery language and anything else that takes away from the gist of the release. Stick to the inverted pyramid and your audience will thank you.

Think Of It As Content

Content: so hot right now.

Think of your press release as another piece of content you create to tell your company’s story.

Before you put it up on your media site, take some time to practice proper SEO. Once you’ve done that — and you learn to master SEO over time — your press releases will not only earn coverage, but they will act as a beacon on the web for those who are interested in what you have to say.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

What’s Wrong With Being A Public Relations Generalist?

There’s a phrase you’ve probably heard that goes like this: “A mile wide and an inch deep.”

According to Urban Dictionary, the phrase is used to describe somebody who seems smart and intelligent at first, but is found to be less-than impressive after you spend time getting to know them.

These folks are perfectly capable of holding their own for a few minutes. But once you start to drill down into their knowledge base, it becomes quite clear they know just enough to be dangerous.

Sadly, I fear that is how a lot of public relations professionals are viewed, and I’ll use myself as an example.

Just over a year ago, I was pitching stories about General Motors fleet vehicles to fleet trades.

When I switched jobs, I focused on stories around the 3D printing of automotive parts and artificial intelligence (along with, seemingly, everybody else in the field.)

When I lost my job at the end of last year, I started working with a new agency where the majority of my clients are in the commercial real estate business.

Fleet vehicles. 3D printing. Commercial real estate.

Can you think of three more disparate industries?

I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking my expertise on these subjects amounted to me being “a mile wide and an inch deep.”

But the basic tenets of public relations storytelling remain the same, no matter which topics you pitch.

It doesn’t matter if I’m pitching WIRED for a story about artificial intelligence’s impact on manufacturing or the Detroit Free Press for a story about Detroit’s real estate rebirth.

If I can uncover trends and offer experts who can speak to those trends, I’m able to land coverage, even if I don’t have a deep well of knowledge in either subject.

And by keeping tabs on what reporters on specific beats are covering, I can tailor my pitches to their interests.

These are PR tactics that have withstood the test of time, and every public relations practitioners should practice them.

I’ve written before that in order to be helpful to a reporter, you need need to focus on certain activities.

If you weave them into your repertoire, you will be successful, no matter what story you pitch.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash