AP Style, The Mother Tongue of Journalism

A couple of recent experiences here at CBR reminded us about the importance that journalism training plays – or should play – in public relations careers.

The first was a post on Ragan.com noting changes in the 2013 Associated Press Stylebook. That brought back a vivid memory for me from my days as a freshman journalism major.

On day one, our wizened journalism department dean gave us one assignment — memorize the AP stylebook. He was the first of many instructors and editors to refer to the stylebook as the journalist’s bible. Of course, that would be bible with a lower-case “b”. The word Bible is capitalized only when making reference to Scriptures in the Old Testament or the New Testament — it says so right there on page 31 of  the AP Stylebook (2011 edition).

The newest stylebook edition, published May 29, 2013, tells us, among other things, that it’s now okay to use numerals for all references to distance and dimension, e.g. a 3-mile stretch of road, a 9-pound hammer.

So why should the public relations industry care about such minutiae?

The answer is as simple and fundamental as anything we do. In order to communicate our clients’ key messages effectively, we must connect with our target audience. Just as we must learn the ins and outs of effective social media communications, we also must learn to speak the native language of the newsroom, and that’s AP style.

Reporters and editors often look for any excuse to spike (trash) a news release, and finding a glaring AP style mistake provides an easy one.

The second thing that got us thinking about the symbiotic relationship between journalism and public relations was our realization that some college public relations programs do not require a journalism course as part of their core curricula.

We’re back to basics on this one, too. Despite the ever-changing media landscape, there is a set of standards and ethics at the core of the journalism profession that defines news and drives day-to-day operations at every television news station and newspaper. Public relations professionals must have a working knowledge of those core standards and ethics.

As Florida’s premier media relations firm, we understand that public relations professionals — new and old — benefit from knowing as much as possible about the journalism side of the equation. Providing newsrooms with what they are looking for — timely, newsworthy, relevant, quirky items — written in their language improves our chances of getting our clients’ stories told.

It’s an integral part of our job here at CBR and one we do well.

Robert Perez is vice president at CBR.

Al Jazeera America: Media Friend or Foe?

Today (Aug. 20) marks the beginning of a bold experiment in American journalism and American cultural tolerance. The experiment in journalism is actually more like a return to the not-so-distant past while the experiment in cultural tolerance is the nation’s reaction to something it may not easily welcome.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m speaking of the launch of the Al Jazeera America news network. Well-financed and vowing to offer viewers national news without slant, Al Jazeera America is the most controversial network to hit the airways since . . . well, there’s really no comparison.

Parent company Al Jazeera, which has operated in the Arab world since 1996, is best known on our shores as the news organization that brought us messages allegedly from Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in the months and years after the 9/11 bombings. What are we to think of a news organization with the dangerous-sounding name that somehow gained a foothold for news in the camp of the enemy, bringing the voice and venom of a jihadist organization into our collective living rooms?

Now, it is setting up shop in New York City saying it will raise the caliber of national news coverage. Its leadership, both foreign-born and domestic, claims it will provide balanced and unbiased national news coverage in the tradition of Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley. In other words, it is trying to set itself apart from the partisan coverage provided by the likes of FOX and MSNBC or the increasingly celebrity-centric CNN.

Al Jazeera America, which will be beamed into 48 million American homes, gained a foothold on American airways by buying the Current TV network (think Al Gore) in January for $500 million. Financed in part by the oil-rich government of Qatar, Al Jazeera America has hired a team of nearly 900 journalists and staff and plans to open a dozen news bureaus in cities such as Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Dallas and Denver.

Some of the journalists on the Al Jazeera team are familiar faces. They include former NBC news anchor John Seigenthaler, CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, CBS’ Joie Chen and Good Morning America’s Antonio Mora.

The American news landscape will provide a fascinating laboratory to run the Al Jazeera America experiment over the coming months and years. Can a wary American public be lured in by a straight, no-spin news product — assuming that Al Jazeera America successfully delivers it? Or will natural fear and distrust of a foreign-run news agency operating in our heartland be too much to overcome?

Only time will tell.

Robert Perez is vice president at CBR.

Skip the Skype Hype: Zimmerman trial fiasco offers lesson in adopting new technology

Ah, the downsides of technology. Just ask Seminole County Circuit Judge Debra Nelson. She was not amused when popups multiplied on the Skype screen in her courtroom, interrupting serious testimony in Central Florida’s summer blockbuster, the George Zimmerman trial.

Technology in the courtroom has long been a contentious issue. The judicial system historically has been slow to adopt any new technology that might be potentially intrusive. That reasoning is sound. Anything that can affect the outcome of a trial —  and therefore a defendant’s constitutionally guaranteed right to a fair trial — must be thoroughly vetted before being allowed into the courtroom.

Unfortunately, the rapid advent of communications technology in the 21st century coupled with the appeal of celebrity trials has accelerated acceptance of new and ever-more-intrusive technology into the courtroom.

That potential  bugaboo reared its ugly head last week when an attempt to have a witness testify via Skype turned the stately decorum Nelson’s courtroom into an unexpected and comical onscreen circus, in direct conflict with the tenor of the moment.

For anyone who missed it, just as prosecutors began questioning the witness, a pop up window from an outside caller filled part of the screen. No sooner had the witness cut off the call and clear the screen when another popped up. Soon the screen had two callers, then three, then four. Suffice it to say, the witness’ testimony and how it was viewed by jurors must have been impacted by the technology. 

Public relations professionals often are early adapters of new communications tools. We constantly are looking for new and creative ways to get our clients’ messages across to our target audiences. But we should take a lesson from the state’s Skype disaster in the Zimmerman trial. Before we get worked up about the next new Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, let’s vet the technology, counsel our clients on the potential down sides and think it through from every possible angle.

 Robert Perez is vice president at CBR.

Headlines speak volumes

Headlines speak volumes — and none so loudly as the nomenclature of the ongoing trial of George Zimmerman taking place near our Seminole County, Florida office.  At first the news media characterized it as a self-defense trial of Mr. Zimmerman.  Soon others worked to re-characterize the trial to focus on the deceased participant in the encounter, Trayvon Martin.  As a result, the headlines quickly changed to “the Trayvon Martin trial.”  Zimmerman’s defense has not appeared to have commented on this continual shift in the wording.  If nothing else, the shifting in headlines could reflect bias on behalf of the headline writers.  Surely naming a trial after the alleged victim could serve as a subliminal influence of a verdict.  Now the headlines are shifting again, back to the accused.  Welcome to the George Zimmerman nee Trayvon Martin nee George Zimmerman trial.  Such are the life and times in Central Florida this summer of ’13.  It’s a fascinating place in which to run a media relations firm.

June 21st – Summer Solstice – is a big day in the hallowed halls of CBR.  It’s our 29th anniversary as Florida’s leading independent strategic communications firm.  Happy Anniversary to the world’s greatest media strategists from your humble founder and CEO.

Lori Booker, APR

Optimize LinkedIn accounts to enhance SEO and networking potential

Every second, two new people join the more than 161 million LinkedIn users in the world’s largest online professional network, reports LinkedIn. Communicating and networking are imperative for a successful career, and LinkedIn’s options for personal and business profiles, not to mention millions of potential partners, clients and even new employers, provide numerous opportunities to develop valuable and profitable connections.

How to best use this convenient and powerful tool? Some of it is common sense: Be specific, concise, honest and professional. These rules apply to job descriptions, personal characteristics and experiences, profile photos and status updates. But there are several lesser-known strategies that can enhance a profile’s or business page’s SEO and optimize online networking capabilities.

Here are several tips to boost your LinkedIn profile’s effectiveness:

Optimize profile keywords. What specific skill or service do you want to market to potential employers or clients? Whether it’s “media relations” or “family law attorney,” use keywords at every relevant opportunity on your page. Doing so can dramatically increase a page’s SEO, while helping to focus a profile on specific practice specializations. The city or state of your business also can help potential clients and partners find your page more easily.

Develop your presence. Just like Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn is a social-media site that offers the opportunity to post content and commentary. Update your status often to expand your reach and create discussions. Let others know what your company is doing, ask questions and post links to insightful articles that show you are aware of trends and issues relevant to your industry. Commenting on others’ posts also is an easy way to show that you’re engaged and eager to build connections.

Link your other sites to your company profile. Do you have a website, blog or Twitter account? Link them to your personal LinkedIn profile to enhance your content. For instance, set up your LinkedIn account to automatically post alerts and links to new blog posts (a LinkedIn app such as Blog Link may be necessary), instantly sharing relevant content with your connections and giving your profile greater reach and more substance. While these features are no longer available as auto feeds on company pages, blog posts can be shared through the status update feature of LinkedIn, and Twitter and Facebook profiles can be shared in the company overview.

Ask for recommendations. This is a sensitive topic and must be handled professionally, but it’s definitely worth it. Most people are aware they can get a personal recommendation, but businesses can ask clients for testimonials, as well. A good recommendation is among the top ways to showcase that you or your business is best for the job. Everything else on your page is self-generated; recommendations show others that you’re really as great as you say you are and add credibility.

Take advantage of LinkedIn Groups.  Joining groups helps develop new connections. However, be strategic to avoid over-committing or missing opportunities. Try to join a variety of groups, some focused on your industry and others loosely related but still viable to create a more diverse network for your page. Once you’ve joined a group, stay involved. Post, comment, promote and share content with others to generate interest in your skills and your business. Take this a step further by creating and managing a new LinkedIn group for your business to engage potential and current clients through stimulating discussions.

Make your company profile detailed and focused.  Remember, LinkedIn is a networking site – most people want something more than a boilerplate description or web address for your company. To optimize LinkedIn, use this profile to post open positions, announce management-level or other key hires and provide insight into the products or services your business offers. Highlighting employees, events and awards also gives connections a deeper look into your company culture. This information can be easily organized by using the tabs feature on the profile.

Optimizing LinkedIn accounts – personal or business – not only increases SEO, drives website traffic and enhances your online presence, but it provides endless opportunities for networking and ­new business. Take the time to build and maintain a profile – the connections you make will be well worth it.

Note: In June, LinkedIn acknowledged that passwords had been compromised in a major security breach. If you haven’t done so, change your account password immediately and, for continued security, change it about every six months.

Sources: LinkedIn, iStrategy Blog and Careerealism.

Evily Giannopoulos is an intern at CBR and a public relations major at the University of Florida.

Additional Sources

5 Tips for Writing about Your Business

Widgets Company, a top performer in the widget-making industry space, recently was pleased to announce that widget sales have risen as more consumers show a desire for new widgets as they become cautiously optimistic about the economic recovery.

Did that sentence make your eyes glaze over? Sadly, such writing is all too common in business. Many professionals (though well-intentioned) become verbose, assuming that using 10-cent words and long sentences convey sophistication. The truth is, the best business writing has a dose of simplicity.

Here are five best practices to make your writing shine, whether you’re drafting a new-business proposal or announcing your company’s latest management hire.

  1. Know for whom and why you’re writing. This seems like a “no duh,” but taking a minute to consider for whom you’re writing and the purpose of the piece will help set the tone. What is your audience’s base knowledge? What do you need them to know? Determining the who and why will provide a roadmap for how to best communicate your information or news.
  2. Avoid jargon and clichés. Jargon and overused, nonsensical phrases are story killers. They convolute a piece quicker than you can think “outside the box,” and create confusion. Instead of a “leading provider of profit-and-loss margin services,” say “accounting firm”; don’t insist you can “take it to the next level,” but “increase sales”; summarize your position now rather than offer a point “at the end of the day.”
  3. Use simple language for clear meaning. Your audience has limited time for your piece, and placing language barriers in their way can discourage their attention. Why describe a dress as “cerulean ocean blue with soft round white dots” when “deep blue with polka dots” will suffice? Clarity, however, doesn’t have to crush creativity. Let your creativity shine with attention-grabbing headlines, storytelling and even interesting visuals to accompany the piece.
  4. Strong verbs move writing. Your high school English teacher was right: action verbs propel your writing and engage the reader. Passive verbs (will be arriving, has been achieved) weaken your point and can infuse an unintentional sense of uncertainty. Whenever possible, push forward with active phrases: We mailed the package; Widget Co. produced its first prototype; government officials toured the new factory.
  5. When in doubt, cut it out. Review your writing and let go of the dead weight. Be ruthless. Just say no to 50-word sentences and five-sentence paragraphs. Consumers – your audience – have become conditioned to 15-secondsound bites and 140-character messages. Long-winded prose is more likely to turn off a time-stretched customer than impress.

Martha A. Gaston, APR, is an account executive with CBR.

A Tribute to the Amway Arena

The Amway Arena in downtown Orlando had many names. Orlando Arena. TD Waterhouse Centre. O-rena. But what was once the home of the Orlando Magic will be no more Sunday. In 2010, the then 21-year-old Amway Arena was replaced with the new, state-of-the-art Amway Center. Now, the old facility is set to be imploded to make way for a 68-acre mixed-use development called Creative Village. I asked a few CBR staffers to share their memories of the arena, and here’s what they had to say:

  • “I went to my first-ever concert (Jimmy Buffett!) for my 13th birthday at the O-Rena. I’ll never forget singing at the top of my lungs to favorite songs and the packed house. Concert goers were bouncing beach balls around the crowd and smells from the concession stands wafted in – nachos, popcorn, pretzels. I was fortunate enough to see Buffett three more times at the old arena – some of my best memories.” – Martha
  • “Sitting courtside with my son in the Orlando Sentinel publisher’s seats, then immediately adjacent to the Magic bench, when a Magic player came up and asked him to “watch” the talcum cone (players use it before going onto court). Same game, advising my young son about the possibility of “colorful language” coming from the players and coaches, then watching his face when it actually happened.” – John
  • “I remember going into the yet-to-be-completed arena to pick out the location of our Magic season ticket seats for CBR. I was pushing the stroller of my baby girl, Christiana, who is now a high school chemistry teacher. I brought my mom to the opening night event, which was Bill Cosby.” – Lori

I also hold fond memories of the arena. After all, it’s where my high school graduation was held. Then it was known as the TD Waterhouse. My parents, grandparents, sisters, uncles and aunts were all there to support me, but all I can remember thinking about was not falling as I crossed the stage to accept my diploma. But on a more serious note, my graduation at the arena marked the beginning of a new chapter in my life, and one that I was excited to venture on.

Tell us, what memories do you have of the Amway Arena?

Christina Morton is an account executive specializing in social media at CBR.