How to Break Bad News to Others (or the Media)

By Mark Macias

You probably don’t realize it, but crisis communications skills are used almost every day in your personal life.

Why were you late to dinner?

What do you think of the new young hire?

Did you follow-up with the potential client?

All of these questions have double-blades that can get you into trouble.

Crisis Communications Advice for Business Owners

Here are a few principals you can apply from my crisis communications book – Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. These are tactics I learned from my media career as an investigative producer when everyone on the other side of the camera was the villain.

Be Transparent

If you project any vibe that you are hiding something, clients will run from you and the media will run to you.

The best investigative stories have conflict and when reporters discover a subject lied in their interview, they have instant conflict for the story.

As a journalist, my radar flashed red lights when I noticed the interviewed subject was avoiding my questions. Be direct with your response. Don’t mince words when asked direct questions or reporters (or anyone else) will become suspicious.

Stay Ahead of the News

It is much easier to put out a fire before it starts and it’s no different with the media.

You can better manage negative news when you are in control of the message.

I’ve run several crises campaigns for nonprofits and politicians where their lawyers were closely involved with the media strategy. Of course, their attorneys wanted them to say “no comment” for legal purposes, and I understand why. But in the court of public opinion, this approach doesn’t work.

When it comes to journalism, you give reporters cart-blanch to write any story if you refuse to comment. Don’t make it easy for them.

Don’t Lie

You get caught lying and all credibility is lost. It might seem easier to lie your way out of the problem when you think no one will know, but trust me, that is myopic. And if you’re dealing with a seasoned investigative journalist who has prepared for your interview, you are in more danger by lying when the cameras are rolling.

Just ask former Congressman Anthony Weiner about that. If you forgot about that lie, it’s on YouTube and will likely be there for eternity. (Here’s an article I wrote on why I suspected he was lying before he confessed. Hint: he forgot.) Yet another reason to tell the truth. You won’t forget what you said years down the road when your story is emblazoned on the Internet.

Macias PR was named the 2016 “Financial PR Firm of the Year – USA” and the 2015 “PR Consultant Firm of the Year – USA” by Finance Monthly. We have launched and led media campaigns for clients in healthcare, finance, tech and the nonprofit sectors. The founder of Macias PR – Mark Macias – is a former Executive Producer with NBC and Senior Producer with CBS in New York. He is also a PR contributor with CNBC, providing media analysis, insight and crisis advice on timely business topics.

Publicity for my Business

By Mark Macias

A web TV show recently asked me to help promote their program with the mainstream media. I was flattered by the invitation, especially since the producers also have a media background and are theoretically “media experts” themselves.

Before I had a chance to say, “hmmm, I’m hungry,” they emailed me their press release, asking me what I thought.

I read it and squinched.

It was horrible.

Their press release had no focus, no narrative. It was an announcement for a show.

The mainstream media doesn’t want to do announcements. They get paid to tell stories.

Press Release 101

If you’re trying to get publicity for your small business, you need to focus the message and uncover the news peg before you send it out because you only get one chance with reporters.

Look for the controversy and exploit it. Or, position yourself as an expert.

And look to the future, not the past. In the case with that web program, the producers focused their release on a guest who appeared on their program a few weeks earlier. That’s not even an announcement. It’s old news.

So take your time to make sure the message is in place before you reach out to any reporters, or you risk losing any chance of getting publicity before you even start.

Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC, Senior Producer with WCBS and Special Projects Producer with NBC. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR.

 

 

 

Find Your PR Gimmick for Publicity

By Mark Macias

Everyone needs a gimmick when it comes to PR and it’s no different than living in New York City.

As any New Yorker will tell you, if you want to stand out at a cocktail party, you need material to push you above the crowd. Some call that personality; others call it charisma. I like to call it a gimmick.

It’s no different when branding a product, business, or service with the media. You need to discover what your gimmick is if you want the media to take notice.

Now before the critics start breaking down that statement with comments like, “That is shallow,” or “Execution beats style,” –  I agree with you.

But let’s take off that analytical cap for a sec and discuss this idea not in black and white terms, but in gray terms – which is where publicity lives.

Many entrepreneurs rightly assume that “gimmick” implies a form of forgery or scheme of deception. Think of it as a way to distinguish your business from the crowd.

There are hundreds of public relations firms in the U.S., so my PR firm, Macias PR, needs to stand out from the packed field.

What’s my gimmick?

I am a former journalist who understands intuitively and intimately how the media works. I’ve been inside (and run) those morning news meetings where stories are approved and killed.

I know what it takes to get a story on the news.

That is what separates me from other publicists.

It’s no different for your business. If you can’t identify your gimmick, then you are in trouble, because consumers have no reason to buy your product.

What was President Obama’s “gimmick” when he ran against Sen. John McCain? Barack Obama was the man with hope. I’m sure Mr. Obama believed it, but that was, in essence, a gimmick.

So if you are starting a business (and it doesn’t matter what you are selling), you’d better discover your gimmick before the doors are opened. If you need to brainstorm on a future gimmick, ask yourself what you can do to stand out from the crowd. Sure, it’s a simple question, but most lawyers, accountants, and medical doctors don’t acknowledge that question on day one.

Perhaps that is because they are choosing to use their left brain over their right brain.

Now that I think about it, these are probably the same people who are arguing that a “gimmick” is shallow and will never work.

Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC, Senior Producer with WCBS and Special Projects Producer with NBC. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR.

 

Negative Political Press

By Mark Macias

In the political press game, you’ve got to respond to bad press, quickly and loudly.

If you don’t defend yourself, people will assume you are guilty. It’s a form of public opinion that goes back to high school.

Remember when you used to hear rumors about someone in high school? You always assumed the gossip was true unless the person came out and denied it in a credible way. The laws of human behavior haven’t changed since then. If a source is credible, most people are going to believe the bad press has merit unless there is a strong denial involved by the accused.

It’s no different in politics.

If your candidate is accused of doing something that he or she didn’t do, make sure your denial is clear and crisp. There must be no reading between the lines. Don’t mince words when you tell the reporter or producer that the allegation is false. And if you talk on television, don’t give viewers an opportunity to draw their own conclusions. Make it easy for them to believe that the accusations are false.

Be clear in your denial.

President Bill Clinton was a master communicator and he articulated his denial to perfection when he told America in 1998 the allegations against him involving Monica Lewinsky were false: “I want to say one thing to the America people. I want you to listen to me. I’m going to say this again. I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”

The President sounded sincere, honest and straightforward in his denial, and many people, including myself, assumed he was the victim of dirty politics.

But What Happens when the Accusations are True?

I’m of the journalism school that subscribes it will almost always hurt you to decline an interview with the media, regardless of whether you are guilty or innocent. If you say no to an interview, you have virtually no chance of shaping the story’s coverage.

However, if you say yes to an interview and artfully prepare your statements you can at least maintain damage control.

There are several reasons why I say it will almost always hurt you to not talk to the media. The most important reason is you give a reporter full reign to pursue his or her story when you decline to speak on the record. You effectively remove a reporter’s checks and balances by refusing to respond to the allegations.

Mark Macias is author of the crisis communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. He has run crisis media campaigns for politicians and nonprofit organizations. You can read more at MaciasPR.com.

 

 

Crisis Communications – The NRA

By: Mark Macias

(This story was originally published in 2013 following a school shooting. Here’s a shortened edited version of that article)

I don’t like the sight of guns. I don’t like the smell of guns. I don’t even like talking about guns, but the NRA is delivering a great crisis communications lesson for any business facing an image crisis.

Here’s what the NRA did wrong and right in their crisis following a 2013 school shooting.

The NRA let time pass

The NRA waited for time to pass. Frequently, I advise clients to get in front of the story or else the narrative will be written by your opponent, but this is a perfect crisis communications case study where that does not apply to ALL problems. The NRA would have been foolish to speak while children were being buried.

That is pretty much one of the few things I believe the NRA did right following that horrific school shooting. Here is a more detailed list of what they did wrong, along with why it was a poorly executed communications plan.

Don’t Cast Blame

Wayne LaPierre with the NRA blamed the media, video games and even crazy people for their PR problem. That’s a mistake. The NRA thinks Americans should have the right to carry assault rifles that were designed for war. They need to take responsibility for that position and not blame others. If you are in a crisis situation, don’t blame the victim or even the shooter. Turn the situation into your favor by presenting why your side has a positive view. The media won’t report the good side of your story unless you present it and it is your job to communicate why your service helps others.

Put a face on the problem

Right now the NRA is facing a tough public image problem. It’s guns vs. little children.

That’s challenging because most parents and adults have instincts to protect children from harm. It’s a difficult fight, but the NRA needs to put a new face on this problem. They need to move the conversation away from assault rifles and back to the image of a father and daughter hunting together. As long as the debate surrounds military assault rifles, the NRA loses.

Bring a solution

If you are facing a crisis communications situation, you always want to bring closure to the problem. It lets the public believe (and hopefully it is the truth) that the problem won’t happen again. The NRA tried to bring closure to this problem by saying armed guards in front of our schools would prevent violence. It won’t or as a Facebook friend more eloquently posted, it’s like bringing a “knife to a gun fight.”

It sums up why the NRA needs a better communications strategy if it is ever going to persuade the parents in America.

 “Hey Mr. NRA douchebag…our banks are protected by armed guards and they still get robbed, our president is guarded by armed secret service and still gets shot and even killed. One armed cop on each campus won’t stop crazy folks from going there. Your press conference was a joke, and you are a joke of a man. Blame the video games, movies and music…yet not offer a single solution to try to keep your precious lil gun out of crazy folks hands. You suck!! Oh yeah, said crazy person comes to school with multiple semi automatic guns…lone cop has a pistol…what’s the saying? Bring a knife to a gun fight? Then your answer will be we need cops with semi automatic rifles you douchetard. Way to bring nothing to the table today except more guns, you kind sir are a complete assbag!!”

Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC, Senior Producer with WCBS and Special Projects Producer with NBC. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR.

 

 

 

Most Common Publicist Mistakes

By Mark Macias

I was going through my emails this morning and found an old story I wrote while I was a Senior Producer with CBS in New York.

A global PR agency had asked me to write an article for their employee newsletter, giving their publicists some tips on how to write a better media pitch. I reread the story and decided to repost this for business owners and entrepreneurs trying to get their stories told on the news.

Common Mistakes Made by Publicists

Every morning when I log onto my computer, I have about 100 new emails from publicists trying to get their client on the next local newscast. I want to read every email closely, but in an era of shorter staffing and larger workloads it is physically impossible to read every single pitch word-for-word. Unfortunately, I know I may be missing some good story ideas, which is bad for everyone. Viewers won’t get to see the next great product and I won’t get to pitch the next great idea.

This is why it is so important to clarify and focus your pitch off before you hit send. Publicists have only seconds to make a lasting impression with the media, and if your email doesn’t catch the eye, there is zero chance of getting on the newscast.

There is no official “right” or “wrong” way to draft a press release but there are definitely “dos” and “don’ts” that will either increase or decrease your chances of getting a reporter’s attention. Here are a few of the biggest mistakes I see publicists make with their press releases time and time again.

Publicists try to cram everything into one press release.

A press release has a purpose. It is to alert the media to your story idea, not a time to make the hard sell. Your press release should not encompass every single fact and angle for the story and it should never be more than one page. (Think white is good). The release is merely the first step towards getting you on the newscast or in the local papers. Many publicists make the mistake of trying to cram everything into one page, causing the release to lose focus or clarity. Instead, write your release so it sounds more intriguing. Look for interesting angles, ways to tease your story and pique the reporter or producer’s interest. If the journalist finds your story interesting, trust me, he or she will follow-up with you and ask you about the facts you left out of the initial release.

Publicists pitch evergreen story ideas.

It’s hard to fathom how so many people pitching the media forget the basics of news. People watch the news and read the newspapers because they want to find out what is “new” that day. It’s a simple formula: news is new minus the S, yet surprisingly many publicists seem to forget this in their pitches.

This is why you should never send a news release that sounds like it could have been written a year ago. I frequently get the same email pitches from publicists that they pitched me several months earlier. They probably assumed I wouldn’t remember it or perhaps they think I didn’t read their release the first time. No, I didn’t pitch their story the first time because it wasn’t new.

Laser hair removal is not new no matter how you try to spin it. However, the fiscal stimulus plan is new and a good publicist will find a way to link their salon to the new fiscal stimulus plan. In late February, I read an article about a salon in Springfield, Illinois that was offering its own stimulus plan for people who lost their job. The reporter wrote about how the salon was offering free haircuts to people who were about to go in for a job interview. They only had to tell the receptionist that they were in for the “stimulus haircut.” The article also profiled the salon’s new royalty rewards program, which essentially offered 25 percent off a haircut over the course of the program. This article was a great public relations coup that raised the salon’s profile in the community. And, it was a timely piece of work that could travel anywhere (in other words copied by other publicists in other cities). Finding a timely article isn’t as difficult as it sounds. It’s actually quite easy once you learn how to learn to follow the news cycle.

Publicists don’t personalize their pitch.

It’s okay to pitch the same story idea to different news outlets, in fact, I encourage it. You never want to limit your success to one person, and the more people who read your news release, the better chance you have of getting it read. However, I am not a fan of massive email blasts. It’s just another form of spam and it usually ends up getting automatically filtered into my outlook junk mail box without me even knowing it.

You don’t have to rewrite the release, but you should add a one-liner at the top of the email, telling the producer or reporter why this is a good story idea for him or her. Also, take the time to research the right reporter or producer. If you’re pitching a consumer story idea or anything that involves money, send it to the consumer reporter or producer. If you’re pitching a story on a restaurant, pitch it to the food critic or the lifestyle reporter. To me, that’s common sense, but surprisingly I frequently get pitches for sports and entertainment.

As a special projects producer, I suspect my profile in the various media databases details my broad background in consumer, entertainment, medical, lifestyle, investigative, etc. I still always forward good story ideas to the proper person, but a publicist could increase his chances for success by pitching the consumer idea directly to the consumer producer. Finding the right person is not that time consuming and you don’t even need to be subscribed to expensive database lists. Sometimes it’s as simple as looking at the company’s website or calling the news desk and asking for a name.

I understand how difficult it is to get the media’s attention. I’ve called some of my own friends in the media and I don’t even get a call back. It’s nothing personal. If you call a reporter or producer and they ask you to email them a press release or they don’t return a voicemail, it’s probably because they want you to focus the idea rather than ramble on about why you have just discovered the next great idea.

I do believe there is a home for every story idea and it’s just a matter of discovering where that outlet is. So don’t get discouraged if no one is biting on your story idea. Perhaps, you need to go back to the drawing board and find a more timely angle. Or maybe, you need to reformat that press release so it doesn’t look so cluttered. By following the above rules, you may not get on the news that day, but you will definitely improve your chances of getting your product, service, business or client on the news.

Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC and Senior Producer with WCBS. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR or MarketYourFund.com