September is Ethics Awareness Month

The public relations industry can present a variety of challenges and dilemmas, especially when it comes to ethical issues. The Public Relations Society of America has declared that September is Ethics Awareness Month. The organization is spending the month to bring light to the importance of practicing ethical behavior in this profession.

PRSA has a Member Code of Ethics in place designed to anticipate ethical challenges that come up on a regular basis. The PRSA Member Statement of Professional Values – including  Advocacy,  Honesty, Expertise, Independence, Loyalty and Fairness – are the foundations that are meant to guide a PR professional’s behavior.

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(c) Can Stock Photo

As PR professionals, we are hired to act as advocates for our companies and clients by providing credible and honest information to the public. Ethical practices really are at the forefront of every decision made – whether it’s the research and planning of strategic campaigns in an effort to avoid costly mistakes, developing relationships with the media, or determining solutions in the midst of a crisis. One of the biggest challenges faced is technology, as news travels faster than ever through websites and social media networks.

We realize that the public can perceive PR professionals as unethical at times, so we urge our colleagues to visit the PRSA code as a reminder of how to apply those particular values to daily communications strategies.

To read more on the ethics focus throughout the month, follow the Twitter hashtag #PRethics or check out the list of activities provided by PRSA. Participate in these conversations and help to raise the bar of ethics in public relations!

Public Relations or Advertising: When To Choose PR

In an ideal world, every marketing communications plan would include elements of advertising and public relations. In the real world, however, budgets are limited, so marketers often have to choose one tactic over the other. If your resources are limited, here are a few reasons to concentrate them on public relations:

• Cost – Advertising — even in print publications and on websites serving highly specialized and narrow trade industry readership — can be expensive, especially when you factor in the costs associated with creative development, photography, production and more. If executed properly and consistently, a basic public relations program incorporating news releases and targeted pitches can generate lots of “free” coverage for your product or service without the cost of advertising.

• The “news” halo – When an article about your company or product appears online or in a magazine or newspaper, it comes with imprimatur of being news, which inevitably gives it a higher level of credibility with readers than does advertising.

• Ability to target your message to specific media – Most companies want to convey multiple messages about their products or services to different target audiences. A good public relations practitioner understands how to make creative use of that information to craft beat-specific pitches that appeal to a variety of editors, bloggers or reporters. Advertising also is effective for targeted multi-messaging, but exponentially more expensive.

• Multiplicity of channels – With the proliferation of social and electronic media and their insatiable need for content, there are more opportunities than ever to earn editorial coverage for your products and services.

Sounds great, right? Well, like anything, public relations can sound too good to be true. It does have limitations, and there are advantages to advertising that public relations just can’t match. We’ll spell a few of those out in a future blog. In the meantime, if you want to add reasons for choosing PR over advertising (or vice versa), feel free to share them with us.

6 Tips for a Successful Magazine Pitch

Ok, you have a great idea for an article and you’d like to get it published in a specific magazine. Easy enough, right? Nope. The hard part is pitching it to ever-busy editors. Here are six tips for a successful pitch:

1. Research the magazine and editor(s)

It may seem obvious, but make sure you’re familiar with the magazine. Read past issues, know the audience, study the writing style, and browse the website. Also, review the magazine’s editorial calendar for the themes and topics that will be covered in upcoming issues, and think about where your article could fit.

You likely can find email addresses for editors in the magazine or online. Find an editor that is responsible for your topic or department. Remember, there is more of a chance to get a response from an assistant editor than the editor-in-chief.

2. Pitch a story, not an idea

An editor is probably not going to be interested in your idea for an article on a general topic, such as college football. Instead, try pitching a story on the four dark-horse candidates to win the Heisman.

3. Focus on the subject line

The subject line of your email is arguably the most important component of your pitch. Make it short and to the point. For example, “Possible article for November issue?” or “Article pitch: Four candidates to win the Heisman,” can capture an editor’s interest.

4. Send a pre-pitch email

You may or may not have an existing relationship with the editor, so it could be a good idea to send an email to reconnect or introduce yourself. Tell the editor that you were looking over their media kit and have a story on this year’s Heisman hopefuls that would be a great addition to the November issue. Be brief—two or three sentences—and say you’ll follow up in a week with a full pitch. Sometimes, the editor may ask for the article at this point.

5. Prepare the pitch

Think of the pitch as an audition for the editor to judge your writing ability. Write a few compelling paragraphs, starting with a brief summary of the article. Next, explain why the story is a fit for the magazine and its readers. Include a paragraph with details on planned interviews or other articles you’ve written. The closing paragraph should reiterate the article’s topic and why it’s relevant to the reader.

Don’t forget to proofread the email. Aside from checking grammar, make sure the editor’s name is spelled correctly and the right magazine is listed. One little mistake like that can direct your pitch to the trash and your email address to the ignore list.

6. Follow up

Editors are busy, so be proactive—but not annoying—with follow-up emails. If they give you the green light, congrats! If the editor passes on the article, thank them for their time and ask them to keep you in mind for future articles. Remember, pitching an article is not only about editorial placement, it’s also about building a relationship with the editor and magazine.

Do you have any other tips that have helped you successfully pitch an article? Let us know in the comments.

Our Favorite Pittsburgh Things—Point State Park

As we welcome September, it’s hard to believe that fall is almost here. But there’s still time to enjoy one of our favorite things in Pittsburgh—Point State Park (or, simply, the Point).

The Point, which is a short walk from the Yearick-Millea office, is located at the tip of Pittsburgh’s “Golden Triangle,” where the city’s three rivers come together.

Opened in the 1970s and recently renovated, the Point provides a recreational space within downtown and hosts multiple city events, including the Three Rivers Arts Festival, the Richard S. Caliguiri City of Pittsburgh Great Race and the Three Rivers Regatta.

Visitors can learn about the area’s role during the French and Indian War at the Fort Pitt Museum and Fort Pitt Blockhouse, picnic at the Great Lawn and City Side Lawn, grab a bite to eat at the Café at the Point, or sunbathe by the fountain. The area is also a favorite among walkers, joggers and bikers.

The fountain at Point State Park shuts off some time in the fall, so you still have time to head down there and check it out!

What’s your favorite thing to do at the Point? Tell us in the comments!

The fountain at Point State Park.

The fountain at Point State Park.

Timeless Advice in Marketing & Public Relations

Regardless of your chosen career, there are times when well-intended counsel comes your way.  Here are two important pieces of advice that I learned early on as a salesperson and account executive in marketing and public relations.  After 27 years, in the business, they are just as valuable today as when I received them:

  • Prior to a new business meeting, research your client and his or her firm to have a good understanding of that company’s products/services.  If possible, develop a model of the firm’s customers so you can walk into the encounter with a rough idea of the marketing challenges and opportunities they face. Be prepared to discuss examples of how you’ve helped other companies in similar situations.
  • Once you have acquired a client and become familiar with their business, be proactive about making suggestions and presenting ideas.  Marketing professionals in most organizations are busy juggling multiple projects and balancing the demands of the people they report to, as well as product managers, sales staff and outside vendors.  That doesn’t leave a lot of time to think strategically about their business.  You can add value to your service by helping to facilitate that process and, ultimately, by helping to grow your customer’s business.

What is the best advice you got in your career, or what lessons do you try to impart to the people you mentor?  Please share them with us in the comments!

Tips to Help You Proofread Your Work

Proofreading, the action of editing your writing carefully to find any grammatical or spelling errors, is an important step for everyone to take—especially in public relations and writing.

As public relations and marketing professionals, we are tasked with using our knowledge about words and grammar to ensure that client press releases, brochures, newsletters, social media posts, website text and other content are free of errors and typos.

The way we create content has evolved throughout the years, and it’s made society hungry for information right away. Content is distributed much quicker these days via blogs, social media and websites. That increases the risk of simple, yet crucial mistakes that could impact your credibility as a business or professional. Just last month, the Texas Longhorns college football team released a media guide with a URL typo — Texas was misspelled— at the bottom of every page. Similarly, the Colorado Rockies baseball team misspelled the last name of one of its players on 15,000 promotional shirts, resulting in an apology on social media and the need to manufacture additional shirts for replacement.

Here are some tips to help you effectively proof your writing:

  1. Concentrate—The industry is quick-paced, and if you’re working on multiple projects at one time, chances are you’re going to lose focus and you won’t catch all of the mistakes in the copy you are editing. Read all of the content (including headlines, standard boiler plates, etc.) slowly and pay attention to grammar.
  2. Step away for a while—After spending hours writing content, you’re so familiar with it that even if there is a mistake, you won’t notice it because your mind tends to fill in the blanks. If you’re writing in the evening, go to bed and give the copy a fresh look in the morning. You’re more likely to find an error once you’ve had a chance to think about something else.
  3. Have someone else read it—If you’re on a tight deadline and don’t have time for a breather, ask a co-worker to proofread your content. Even if you do have time to go over your writing a few times, consider asking someone else to look it over. A fresh set of eyes might catch something you missed.
  4. Print it out—Nothing beats the classic “red pen” method. Printing out a hard copy of your work allows you to review it in a different format. Read it carefully and mark any mistakes in red or brightly-colored ink so that you don’t miss any corrections when you’re fixing them on the digital copy.

Do you have any proofreading tips? Share them with us in the comments!

Our Favorite Pittsburgh Things: Pittsburgh Summer Restaurant Week

Pittsburgh is always referred to as a melting pot of cultures, which is certainly reflected by the different types of restaurants participating in Pittsburgh Restaurant Week. Through Sunday, August 17, participating local restaurants are offering special menus to diners, including multi-course meals and specialty items priced from $20.14 to $35.14.

The purpose of Pittsburgh Restaurant Week is to celebrate Pittsburgh food and restaurants throughout the city. This summer’s Restaurant Week highlights fine dining, fresh harvest and outdoor seating. A list of participating restaurants and their specific deals can be found online at pittsburghrestaurantweek.com, and we encourage you to check out the options!

As you browse the menus of participating restaurants, you’ll discover that there is a variety of diverse cuisine selections from nationally recognized chefs – and from restaurants old and new to the city.

A few of the restaurants that have been serving Pittsburgh for years include the Grand Concourse and Morton’s, but restaurants such as Grit & Grace and Altius have been gaining positive reviews over recent months. NOLA on the Square in Market and Meat & Potatoes — both in downtown — are a couple of our lunch time favorites.

So take this opportunity to spend some time downtown. Make a reservation and enjoy! Let us know if you’ve found any new favorites.

Credit: Pittsburgh Restaurant Week

Credit: Pittsburgh Restaurant Week

5 Questions to Help You Write a Marketing Plan

Busy or growing companies often ask agencies like ours to help them write marketing plans.  While we’re usually eager to help, sometimes we can’t get started because a few basic questions stall the process right off the bat.

If you’re ready to engage an agency to help you draft a marketing plan, or if you’re planning to write one yourself, you can accelerate the process by working with your company management and sales team to tackle these five questions first:

  1. What is the value proposition for your product, service or company?  What makes you different?  What problems can you solve for customers or help them gain a competitive edge?
  1. Who is your ideal customer?  What is his/her job title or function, and who or what exerts the greatest influence on their buying decision?
  1. What is the best way to reach customers?  Which tools and tactics has your company used to successfully generate leads or sales in the past?
  1. What is the desired call to action for your prospect?
  1. What key metrics will help you measure the success of your plan?

These fundamental questions lead to many others, of course, but they can help narrow your focus or start a productive conversation within your organization.  Is there a question you would add to our list and, if so, how has the answer helped shape your marketing program?

Are You Using ‘That’ and ‘Which’ Correctly?

In everyday conversation, people use that and which interchangeably without giving the words much thought. However, when using them as relative pronouns to introduce adjective clauses, the choice of using that or which determines the meaning of a sentence. It’s another grammar rule that is more important in writing than it is in speech.

So, how do you know which word to use? Simply put, use that before a restrictive clause and which before a nonrestrictive clause. Easy enough, right?

That

Restrictive (or essential) clauses limit the meaning of the nouns they modify. They add important information, and leaving it out would change the sentence’s meaning.

Example: The bacon cheeseburgers that are topped with cheddar sell fast.

In this sentence, we specifically know the bacon cheeseburgers with cheddar sell fast. We don’t know anything about the burgers with a different cheese.

Which

Nonrestrictive (or nonessential) clauses simply provide additional information that can be left out of a sentence without changing its meaning.

Example: The bacon cheeseburgers, which are topped with cheddar, sell fast.

In this sentence, we can assume cheddar is on every bacon cheeseburger and they all sell fast.

Did you notice the commas in the nonrestrictive clause example and how they are absent in the restrictive clause example. The rule of thumb is to surround a nonrestrictive clause with commas. If the sentence ends in a nonrestrictive clause, set it off with a single comma. For example, “I ate a bacon cheeseburger for lunch, which was delicious.”

Would you like us to explore other grammar questions? Let us know in the comments.