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Public relations (PR), according to Answers.com, is defined as:

• The art or science of establishing and promoting a favorable relationship with the public.
• The methods and activities employed to establish and promote a favorable relationship with the public.

The press often defines PR as “BS.” And we all know what that means, right? Blowing smoke! So how do you avoid blowing smoke the media’s way and establish yourself as a valid source for stories and information?

The first step is to understand what the media is looking for in news and feature articles before proposing a story or composing a press release:

• Timeliness
• Relevance
• Local
• Trendy
• Human interest
• Unique
• Not repetitive

If the local newspaper just did a feature on your competition, even if the reporter or editor confused it with your business (which has happened to a client on whose behalf I was working), don’t expect it to turn around and do an article on you or your business just to be “fair.” Fairness in journalism only applies to reporting or making an attempt to report both sides of an issue – not to give everyone the same play (i.e.: free publicity) in a publication or broadcast. It’s a tough pill to swallow but you have to choke it down, regardless.

If what product or service your business provides or your expertise is related to a trend, you may become a source for a story. If your storefront or office was destroyed in a flood or vandals reduced it to shreds but you’ve rebuilt it from the ground up, people want to know and be inspired. If you offer a service that helps recently discharged or retired military personnel find jobs in a struggling economy, your business is worth reporting about. If you’ve proven in the past that you know your industry and can speak competently about issues affecting it and customers, you’ll get calls from reporters regularly.

You should also know what qualifies for a brief mention in the business section of most publications, since most of your company’s news will only make it this far:

• New business or owner
• New management/employees or promotions
• Anniversaries (usually multiples of 5)
• New product or service
• Expansion, downsizing or closing
• New location
• Completion of a certification specific to industry
• Award or recognition of business or individual in the business
• Contracts, mergers and acquisitions
• Charitable work or contributions.

Not every media outlet has a policy for business briefs and most policies differ some, so what shows up in one may not show up in another. It doesn’t hurt to send your news to all those who might have an interest, even if they don’t publish that release. Getting your name in front of the reporters and editors who may request your help as a source someday or decide to do an article or segment on your business is just as important as your business getting a small mention in their publication.

If you think you might have news that qualifies for a story or brief but you’re not sure or need assistance in contacting the local media, I’m happy to help. E-mail kelly@biz-speak.net or call (970) 988-7578.

In my next installment of Kelly’s Writing Well, I’ll talk about other ways to establish you and your business as a source for the media.

One of my least favorite parts of working for me, myself and I is figuring out my taxes, especially for the year.

And as I begin working on last year’s figures, I cringe as I look at my business income for the third quarter. “Could I have really made so little?” and “Should I really be in business?” and “Is it worth it?” are all thoughts that taunt me.

But as I think back to what was going on in my life in the fall of 2010, I can breathe a little easier. You see, my father-in-law ended up in the hospital after several days of not feeling well and he needed abdominal surgery; he ended up spending more than two weeks in the confines of a hospital room.

Since he and my mother-in-law take care of her aging parents (they’re in their 90s), she couldn’t be at the hospital as much as she liked. Thanks to my flexible schedule, I could stop by the hospital to make sure my father-in-law was receiving the care he needed, to give him someone other than the nurses to chat with and bring him news of the outside world.

The story doesn’t end there. My father-in-law was no sooner released from the hospital than my mother-in-law’s father became ill and was diagnosed with pneumonia; my in-laws’ refrigerator broke; and, soon after, my mother-in-law caught pneumonia, as well. Needless to say, as the only child whose waking hours were not dedicated to a J-O-B, they often called on me to run errands (such as replacing the food lost to a not-so-cold refrigerator) or make sure my husband’s grandparents didn’t need something.

While all of this was going on, I was also preparing for and running a read-a-thon for my son’s school, which is almost a full-time job for about six weeks every year; my son was taking karate lessons; I was missing Bible study classes; and life – as well as business – went on.

Was I making much money during this time? Well, no. I was pretty much spending more than I was making on gas, running around for folks. But if I had been working much more or for someone else, I wouldn’t have had the time to give to some of the most important people in my life when they truly needed it. I also would have been stretching myself way too thin to remain healthy and sane and be much help to anyone.

I guess that’s the beauty of not only owning my own business but being able to work from home: my hours are flexible and the benefits to others are priceless! So as I tackle a new year – one that is already shaping up as one of the best ones yet for my business – I can know that, yes, it is so worth it. And I know that I am reaping the blessings that come in so many forms from just being available to others.

Now, back to those taxes …

When I was a reporter, public relations people were the enemy, the bad guy. As far as I know, this perception has not changed in the few years since I went over to The Dark Side.

PR folks usually shamelessly promoted their companies’ or clients’ “news,” no matter how small and insignificant, and were happily – if not willingly – blind to the real news, the information we journalists as well as the public wanted or needed and deserved to know. They stood at the gate of this wealth of knowledge – or, at least, the people who had it – and refused to let us in, all the while wearing big smiles on their faces and politely repeating only what they could (or perhaps would) tell us. It seemed as if “make ’em beg” was their motto.

Now, not every PR person I dealt with remained my enemy. Some were very competent and not only understood but empathized with where I was coming from: I was serving the public interest and it was my job to make that story as informational, interesting and accurate as I could. They were willing to divulge information to me they might not give other reporters – because I earned their trust by reporting correct and accurate information and usually wrote it well. If I asked the right questions, they didn’t deny me the answers. I didn’t always get the story I wanted or I thought was there, but I knew I could trust these PR folks to tell me honestly what they did know or could tell me.

On the other side of the court, you have the journalists, who are the gatekeepers of information – as they professors and editors impressed on them time and time again – to their community and, with the proliferation of the Internet, the world. Depending on the size of their community, they are receiving dozens if not hundreds or even thousands of press releases a day – and that doesn’t include the calls and tips they are receiving from other sources and via other formats. Only a small percentage of those press releases quantify a brief mention in the newspaper, and even a smaller percentage of those releases qualify for a story or mention on the evening news or radio broadcasts. So when you’re bombarded with “news” everyday that may be news to the person sending it but doesn’t meet some pretty heavy criteria for publication or broadcast, you grow a thick skin and grow critical of “public relations.”

And thus you have an often shaky relationship that’s like mixing oil and water between the media and the promoters. Understanding this relationship between journalists and public relations people and each side’s point of view is crucial to seeing information about your business in the media. In my next blog, I’ll talk in more detail about what might qualify as a valid press release – and I say “might” because what may qualify for publication or broadcast by one entity may end up in the recycle bin at another.

Yes, the art of public relations is indeed complicated.

The rise of the Internet and social media in spreading business news doesn’t mean the fall of traditional media sources or the use of the press release to communicate with them.

It is still worth the time and money to distribute a press release containing newsworthy information to the local – if not national and international – media. Here’s why:

First, people are still getting the news from reading newspapers, watching news stations and listening to the radio. Not every person can log on to and others don’t have time for the Internet, where so many people are “reporting” their news. I can think of several in my extended family whose main source for news and entertainment are the TV and the local newspaper. In fact, they don’t even own a computer. If you asked them if they were on Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn or Twitter, or if they read a particular blog, they’d probably look at you like you were from another planet. These are the potential customers you are only going to reach if you go to them through the ink that gets on their fingers, the TV screen they’re watching in their living rooms or the radio station they tune in to when in their cars. Old fashioned or not, they still exist. And as long as they do, traditional media will offer a valid medium by which to report your business news.

But even those with regular access to the Internet are still turning to traditional media for the quick and often comprehensive coverage of the news. If I want to know what the weather forecast is while getting my children and myself ready for the day, I turn on my favorite local channel. While it’s on, I hear about the breaking news overnight, updates on what happened yesterday, and get a laugh from the comedic reporters giving outrageous coverage to unique or newsworthy events. I don’t have time to sit at the computer to search and sort through the massive amounts of information to find what’s most important to me while I’m ironing my clothes or putting on my face. I know my local television stations and newspapers have what I need to know first thing in the morning. And if I want more, I’ll find it later on the Net.

It’s great that the general public can directly report what they witness, information they are privy to or what is important to them the moment it happens via the Internet, especially when they can get on the Web through their cell phones. But I believe the people with more complete access to “the whole story” are still journalists. It’s journalists who can and often do speak to any and everyone involved, including law enforcement, and usually provide a more complete picture of what happened than what one eyewitness can. That’s where many people will go for a comprehensive and, hopefully, accurate story.

My clients are still anxious to get into the media, because they realize that through it they can reach their target market as well as a broader audience. They prefer to be front-page news, but recognize that even just a mention in the business briefs will go a long way to getting the public familiar with their businesses. As long as the news media exists, businesses with valid news to share will always need press releases to communicate with those having access to the public beyond cyberspace.

In future blogs, I’ll talk about what constitutes a valid press release and establishing yourself as a source to the media.

Every year from elementary through high school, I learned about math. I did pretty well in it, so I took more advanced classes such as calculus, trigonometry and Algebra 2 in high school. Despite my growing struggle to understand what the instructors were teaching, I passed with A’s and B’s. In college I had to earn several credits in math to graduate with a journalism degree, even though math didn’t constitute a big part of my job. After much frustration, I managed to earn those credits.

While the math skills I did master have served me well in my career as a reporter and now as a business owner, no one would or should hire me to keep their books or do their taxes. In fact, they should run away screaming at the very idea. However, many people assume that if they learned to write in school, that they are perfectly capable of writing about their business, for their business. I disagree. Like any skill, writing well takes more than just knowing how to put together a correctly spelled, complete sentence.

For me, discovering I had a natural talent for writing and that I enjoyed it made becoming a writer a dream of mine. I put a great deal of time and effort not only into learning correct grammar, punctuation, capitalization and style, but into writing creatively to keep the reader’s attention in primary school and college. I seek to evoke emotion from my readers – whether tears, laughter, anger, astonishment, happiness or a variety of other emotions a word can conjure up. If someone reads about a customer I’ve written about through my business, I want that person to think, ‘I should check this out.’ That means showing – not telling – in words why a business is worth their time and money. Doing this is not a skill that comes naturally from learning the logistics of writing; it is something that comes from the heart as well as from training to identify the interesting or important story amidst otherwise mundane facts and figures. Those too close to the subject may not have a clear, objective opinion about how to do this and or have the writing skills to do it well.

I can do my own taxes, but I still struggle with balancing my checkbook and oftentimes I have to get on the Internet to help my middle school-aged daughter with her math homework. So before you assume that you don’t need to hire a professional writer to provide the content for your Web page, newsletter or blog, think about what your true focus in business is, and leave the writing to the experts.

Kelly K. Serrano

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