What a Surprise. Journalist Prefers to Interview Executives Minus PR.

Relationship between journalists and PR professionals

The “How PR can play nice with journalists” post has really become a genre in itself.

I still get a kick out of the BusinessInsider classic, “Dear PR Lady: Here’s Why I didn’t Open Any of Your 3 Email Pitches.”

The latest missive comes compliments of the Huffington Post, “How to Stop Pissing Off Reporters” (would love to see the A/B testing on “upsetting” vs. “pissing off”). Maggie Quale interviews Jolie O’Dell, managing editor of VentureBeat on the act of PR repentance.

I actually agree with most of Jolie’s guidance:

  • Empathize with the reporter
  • Don’t over-craft the pitch
  • “No” means “no”
  • Etc.

But one Jolie tip caught my attention:

“Another sticky situation PR folks find themselves in is deciding whether or not to attend a briefing with the spokesperson. It’s another one of those delicate balances between providing support for the client and micro-managing the process.

‘I’m a professional doing my job,’ Jolie adds. ‘I don’t violate my position and I’m not here to antagonize anyone. So you don’t need to take notes on every word exchanged. Your CEO doesn’t need a babysitter. They are adults. Show us both the respect we’ve earned and let them take their call with the journalist solo.’”


Maybe if the interview takes place at an IHOP that’s down a busboy.

Characterizing a PR person accompanying an executive during a press interview as a “babysitter” is misguided (to be kind).

I would venture to guess that more than half of media interviews end with some type of follow-up. This can be as mundane as resending a photograph or as expansive as finding multiple third-party sources to comment on a specific issue. Such follow-up often slips between the cracks, even with the best-intentioned execs. Plus, hearing the action items firsthand provides clarity to the PR person on exactly what needs to happen to close the loop.

Two, hearing the executive answer questions on his/her company and the industry adds to the PR person’s understanding of the space as well as the executive. Of course, this doesn’t directly benefit the journalist conducting the interview, but absorbing this type of unscripted dialogue strengthens a PR person’s knowledge — a plus for future interactions.

Last, I appreciate that nothing causes a journalist to get cranky faster than a PR person jumping in and saying, “Stop right there” (Meat Loaf circa 1977), when the executive is getting to the good stuff. At this point, it’s worth acknowledging that the journalist’s agenda and the executive’s/company’s agenda are not one and the same.

An effective PR person recognizes that the more “fresh” and compelling the executive’s perspective, the better for the journalist and the more likely coverage will appear. At the same time, there is content that serves the journalist’s agenda, but not the company’s agenda (like sharing the details on an unannounced product). Making sure the executive doesn’t share off-limits information is also part of the PR person’s role during a press interview. Naturally, journalists prefer to interview executives solo because it increases the probability of extracting off-limits information.

Still, experienced PR folks know how to navigate this “dance” so that both parties get what they want out of an interview.

Side note: If you enjoyed this post, you might check out “How to Measure Storytelling in Media Relations.”


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Why PR Should Lead the Charge for Organic Search

I wrote a post in June stating that PR’s digital opportunity would come at the expense of SEO consultancies.

Here’s the core rationale —

Virtually every buyer around the world conducts some form of online due diligence, often plugging keywords into Google. As search engines increasingly favor quality of content — not technical acuity — in delivering search results, PR sits in the perfect position to address this.

Media coverage and the sharing of compelling content both generate backlinks in a natural way – emphasis on “natural,” not buying backlinks on a street corner in Bucharest – which turns out to be a top indicator for search engines.

business communication and organic search

With this in mind, we’ve created a SlideShare deck called “The Blurring Line Between Digital Marketing and PR.” It lays out the dot-connecting logic for emphasizing organic search and why PR should lead the charge … assuming PR shifts to applying storytelling techniques in creating content (more on this in the deck).

The Blurring Line Between Digital Marketing and PR from The Hoffman Agency

We speak from experience that started with an experiment in 2010. Could we take our existing content on the Toyota recall and build a site with page 1 performance for organic search? The answer was a thought-provoking “Yes.” We figured that if we could cut through the noise of such a high-profile event with a rudimentary understanding of SEO, imagine what we could do with real expertise.

It’s been a journey with the requisite twists, turns and naysayers — “If you haven’t descended from Mt. Sinai, you know nada about SEO” – to reach this point.

Today, I no longer have to imagine what we could do with real expertise.

We’re doing it.

BTW, even now if you plug [toyota pr crisis] into Google, our humble experiment shows up on page 1, typically above Mashable, The Wall Street Journal and  Business Insider.


China Inc. Wants to Build Global Brands. What Stands in the Way?

Brand China 08-14

Teaming with the BBC and Campaign Asia, we’re participating in a roundtable in Beijing on August 18 that takes on the topic of Chinese companies pursuing global brands.

Because of our strength in Asia, we’ve had a fair amount of experience over the years in helping Asian companies — including many from China – establish a footprint in the U.S. market. With the roundtable less than two weeks away, I’ve been reflecting on our campaigns for Chinese companies, what worked, what triggered pain and the life-is-better-than-fiction moments.

Yet — like a bungee cord — my mind keeps snapping back to a Businessweek cover from 10 years ago.

Businessweek China Cover A 08-14

I view this as the No. 1 obstacle that Chinese companies must overcome in their quest to build global brands.

Even though this Businessweek cover feature appeared in 2004, I would argue the issue is even more pronounced — and more complex — today.

With that said, the issue by itself is not a “deal killer.”

From my own experiences, what hurts Chinese companies is their failure to acknowledge the perception. As a result, they often charge forward with no plan of action on how to diffuse it.

I wrote a post called “The Top 10 Reasons Why Americans Companies Fail at International PR.” At the top of the list was what I termed “Americanitis,” a failure to recognize that success on your home field means little when venturing overseas. All companies, not just American companies, seem to have the same blind spot.

Ironically, the stronger a company is in its home market, the tougher the transition can be in expanding overseas. When a company “owns” the local market, it can breed a false sense of security. When it hits a pothole on the global stage, the reflex can be defensive when it should be introspective.

Turning back to Chinese companies, it’s easy to conclude that they’re stuck forever with the value proposition that spooks American industry: “Buy us. We’re cheaper.” Such a conclusion would be a mistake.

When I was growing up in the 1960s, Americans associated cheap and low-quality goods with the “made in Japan” stamp. Today it’s just the opposite. Americans view Japanese products as high in quality and worthy of a price premium. Sure, it takes time, but there’s no reason that Chinese companies can’t climb up the food chain.

Of course, discussing how Americans in general perceive Chinese companies is incomplete without touching on the Chinese telecom juggernaut, Huawei. In 2012 when the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee released a report that essentially said, “Don’t trust Huawei (and ZTE),”and “60 Minutes” used the same information to pile on, the image of all Chinese companies suffered.

Since the report, we’ve witnessed the NSA debacle and more recently the U.S. federal government indicting five Chinese military officials for allegedly stealing U.S. corporate trade secrets, the Chinese government pushing state-owned enterprises to sever ties with U.S. consultancies, and just last week a raid on Microsoft’s China offices as a prelude to an anti-monopoly probe.

The point is, the geopolitics and the inevitable tit for tat between China and the United States aren’t going away. To rise above this fray, Chinese companies with global aspirations need to recognize that people fear the unknown.

That’s why they should take matters into their own hands and tell their stories.

This dialog on Chinese companies going global will continue next week when I interview Jason Wincuinas, managing editor of Campaign Asia-Pacific.

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12 Tips on How to Do Your Homework Before the Big Job Interview

how to prepare for a job interview

After growing roughly 30 percent in 2013 and being on track for 20+ percent growth this year, we’re interviewing job candidates on a weekly basis.

I don’t know if this is a Silicon Valley phenomenon — demand outstrips supply causing candidates to get lackadaisical — or if this trend holds across the country, but I’m often surprised by the lack of preparation on the part of job candidates.

Even if the demand-supply equation works in your favor, it still seems like common sense to put your best foot forward.

Which means doing your homework before the interviewing process commences.

It’s not enough to review the basic information on the company website. The candidates who impress us with their knowledge of the Agency have researched us before they walk through the door. While the following tips come from our world — the PR and communications industry — they could be applied to any profession.

  • Online Search: More than plug the name of the company into Google, conduct a second and third search based on the time periods of the past week and the past year. This can uncover useful information that otherwise pushes to the back of the “any time” search. For the mechanics, click “Search tools,” which gives you a drop-down menu to click the desired time period.

Hoffman Drop Down Menu 07-14

  • Company Facebook Feed: Typically a blend of information that gives you a “feel” for the culture and personality of the company as well as background.
  • Company Twitter Account: Suggest reviewing the feed over the past eight weeks. Plus, follow the account, which tells the company you’re going above and beyond.
  • Google Alerts (or another tool for monitoring the Web): If anything new on the company appears online before your interview, you’ll know about it.
  • Company Blog(s): Another excellent resource for digging below the surface of a company. Just looking at the topics covered in the blog(s) can tell you how the company prioritizes its advocacy.
  • Company YouTube Channel: With a little bit of luck, you discover the company has a sense of humor.
  • Company LinkedIn Page: Can be a repeat of the content on Twitter and Facebook, but still worth the look.
  • Social Search: There are free tools out there like Social Mention that rake social channels by keywords.
  • Other Company Social Channels: Between a social search, Google search and reviewing the company website, you should be able to capture a comprehensive list of the company’s social channels. Take a few minutes to check them out. For example, our SlideShare platform — and especially the deck “How Clients Get the Most Out of Us — reveals our philosophy and even psychology in supporting clients.

Client Agency Relationships from The Hoffman Agency
  • The Interview Team: Request the names of the people who will interview you. Few candidates take this step. Yet, it can be as valuable as the company-centric information. With this breadcrumb in hand, you can build a mini dossier on each person. I appreciate that repeating the tips above for multiple individuals can become time-intensive, but at the very least you can check out each person’s LinkedIn profile. Under the contact section on each LinkedIn profile, you’ll find the person’s individual social channels including Twitter. If he or she pens a personal blog, it will likely be here — another great window into an individual and one that quasi sits off the grid.
  • Media Coverage: Journalists can help with your due diligence. Most companies will post substantial media stories on their websites’ press room. You should also use Google News, again searching “any time,” “past year” and “past week” which increase the probability you’ve captured the meaningful hits.
  • Quarterly Earnings: If the company is public, tap into its quarterly earnings. Seeking Alpha offers free access to the transcripts from quarterly earnings calls. You’ll often find nuggets of gold in what the CEO shares and the Q&A at the end.

I recognize that you could literally spend an entire work week, 40+ hours, conducting the research outlined above.

That’s not realistic.

Still, devoting four hours to this due diligence will paint a picture of the company that allows you to be at your best during the interview.

Equally important, it helps you to intelligently start exploring the question: Do I want to work for this company?

After all, the evaluation goes both ways.



Still Yearning for Your Organic Search Keywords that Disappeared Last Year? Here’s How to Find Them (deep technical expertise not required).

Google search lost keywords - organic search

September 23, 2013 was not a good day for those of us who toil in building digital presence. While there had been a steady rise in “not provided” [keywords] for some time, that was the day that Google virtually eliminated keyword capture from the GA dashboard.

Fortunately, there is still a way to dig out your organic search keywords from the past 90 days by gaining access to Google Webmaster tools. This post will explain how, starting with the setup of the Google Webmaster tools.

For folks who are not that technical like me, you might feel a bit intimidated by the name. After all, you’re not a webmaster. The good news — you don’t need to be a webmaster to master the Google Webmaster tools.

The following step-by-step guide (including a WordPress version and a non WordPress version) shows how to set up Google Webmaster tools. I’m not going to call it a “no-brainer,” which brings undue pressure to the process. I will say that if I can do this — my brother refers to me as “mechanically declined” — it bodes well for your success.

Step One: Log in Google Webmaster tools with your Gmail account.”

Google account log in

Step Two: After login, click on “ADD A SITE”

Google webmaster tool - add website for organic search

Step Three: Enter the URL of the site, and click on “Continue”

Google webmaster tool - add website for organic search

If your website is NOT based on WordPress, here’s the process for you to finish the Google Webmaster tools setup.

Step Four <non WordPress version>: Verify ownership of your site — click on “Recommended method,” download the “HTML verification file,” upload to FTP directory where your website is hosted. OR you can choose one of the options in “Alternate methods.”

Google webmaster tool - add website for organic search

Step Five: Click on “VERIFY” and it will finish the setup.

If your website is based on WordPress, you can follow the steps below to finish setting up Google Webmaster tools.

Step Four <WordPress version>: Verify ownership of your site — click on “Alternate methods,” choose “HTML tag,” and copy the “meta tag.”

Google webmaster tool - add website for organic search


Step Five : Log in to your WordPress, go to “Appearance” à “Editor,” find “Header.php” under “Templates,” paste the “meta tag” after “head profile …” and click “Update File.”


Google webmaster tool - add website for organic search



Step Six: Go back to Google Webmaster tools, click on “Verify” and it will finish the setup.

Discover your keywords

Now you have access to your Google Webmaster tools. Here’s how you can use the new tools to discover the keywords that matter the most to you.

When you are logged in to your Google Webmaster tools, click on the site you verified.

Go to “Search Traffic” à “Search Queries,” and you will find the keyword information.

For each keyword, it shows the number of impressions and clicks. An impression indicates that people see your site in the search results. As it sounds, a click is when people actually click your result to see your site.

The tool also provides what called the CTR or click-through-rate for each keyword. CTR is number of clicks divided by the number of impressions; i.e., the percentage of people seeing your website appearing on search engine results pages who click to your site. And you’ll see the average position on the search engine results page (SERP) that your site appears for a given keyword. If the average position is “14,” this means your site appeared after 13 other sites on average.

Moving from theory to reality, I’ve captured a slice of keywords from my blog below.


Google webmaster tool - add website for organic search


My immediate reaction to this data —

  • Why would 31 percent of the people who specifically search on [ishmael’s corner] not click? (A riddle for another time.)
  • I’ve got to improve my average position for [storytelling techniques], a term in my sweet spot, but generating little traffic because I’m buried in the 14th position (which puts me on the second page, search’s version of Siberia)
  • It’s inevitable that if you do a good job with longtail search, some irrelevant traffic will come your way. So it is with searches on [wing wah egg roll].

Back to the big picture —

While the Google Webmaster tool isn’t the perfect fix for keywords disappearing from the GA dashboard, it does deliver enough keyword data to frame your organic search, especially for those doing PR SEO.

Happy hunting.


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