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A Guide to the Modern Press Release

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


A Guide to the Modern Press Release

With so many newspapers scaling back or going digital, the value and effectiveness of the traditional press release has become a bit of a mystery to us all.  This has left many businesses even more confused as to how they should communicate with the media when they feel they have something important to say. Is the press release still relevant? From my conversations with print and online reporters and other PR professionals, the answer is absolutely yes! But we have to stay in tune to the changes and advancements to news sources that may alter the definition of “a great press release.” Overall, the core essentials have remained the same, yet are so often ignored – even by professionals in the field. In an effort to shed some light on the lost art of press release writing (and to adapt it to the modern art it has become) here is my general guide to writing a solid press release right now.

Modes of communication

Whether you own a fax machine or even know what one looks like, this is still one of the most common and important ways to disseminate your press release. When researching a reporter’s contact information, don’t assume the fax is an outdated system. Some reporters truly prefer receiving news this way, especially if their email inbox functions more like a black hole. The second big mode of communication is indeed email.  I’d suggest using both email and fax whenever possible, and re-sending the email after a day or two with a new subject line for a second (or third) shot at getting noticed.  Make the news relevant to each reporter (do they cover a specific interest?), their target readership and personalize the message whenever possible. Aim to build an ongoing relationship with reporters; don’t just spam them with press releases whenever you want their attention. One great way to do this is to provide them with consistently useful information in a neatly packaged press release. More on that now…

The title

Now that we covered how to get your message out there, we can dig deeper into strategically packaging your news, and of course the title will be the first thing reporters see – and judge. The title should be the most newsworthy element of your press release. While it may be tempting to stick your business’s name or your own name up there right away, this is not likely the information that will catch a reporter’s eye and make him think “my readers need to know this.” For example, Jack Smith’s Auto Shop Merges With Tasty Treats Ice Cream has no immediate relevance to a reporter. A better title might be Two Locally-Owned Businesses Combine Auto Parts, Ice Cream In Unusual Merger. Really? Yes, because the second title spells out why a reporter should care to cover this news– it’s local and it’s unusual. These are two newsworthy elements that always attract readers’ attention. The reporter will likely change the title any way for their story, so don’t worry about writing for the masses. You just need to get the attention of one person – the reporter. This is your three-second “elevator pitch” and it has to cut to the chase. You are trying to sell to the reporter; the reporter is trying to sell to the reader. Remember that.

The critical first paragraph

Once you make it past the title, there is still another part of the press release that is of paramount importance for determining whether it lands on a reporter’s desk or in a trash can. It’s the first paragraph. I was taught that the first paragraph of a press release should never exceed two sentences. These can be long sentences, but two sentences is the rule of thumb. I doubt any reporter would see three periods in a first paragraph and toss a press release out solely based on this, but sticking to this rule does get you to get to the point – fast. The first of these two sentences should be the quick attention-getter and the second should be the single sentence that summarizes the key points of the entire press release. Sound like that’s asking a lot? The first paragraph is never easy. It may be the most time you spend on putting together two sentences and it should be. This is a critical component that far too many people gloss over. You may have heard that a press release (and any news story) should be written like an upside down pyramid, with the most newsworthy information on top, working down to the least newsworthy. With this analogy, you want to be sure the biggest part of your pyramid, the first paragraph, is built rock solid.

What’s in it for…everyone else?

Once you’ve made it past the title and the first paragraph, you’re ready to dive into all the other details of your press release. But this doesn’t give you a free pass to ramble on about unrelated, non-newsworthy tidbits. Throughout all of your writing, you need to keep a single question in mind. “What’s in it for everyone else?” Write this on a sticky note, the top of your word document or your cat if you need to, but don’t lose sight of this direction! Every paragraph in your press release should have an easily identifiable WIFM (what’s in it for me?) element – with “me” being the reporter/reader. It’s easy to see what you’d be getting out of a press release that’s picked up for a news story…free press! Don’t spend too much time tooting your own horn in the content. Instead focus on why anyone else should care about what you have to say. How will they be personally affected by this news? How will they benefit having read this?

Formatting a reporter will appreciate

Reporters and journalists adhere to Associated Press (AP) Style when formatting their news stories. For Public Relations professionals, it’s an industry-best practice to write press releases in this same style to keep all formatting the same. It also adds to your credibility. Everything from when to abbreviate a city, how to format dates and time, when to capitalize professional titles and more and more and more can be found in the AP Style Book! It was a handbook I bought early on in college and still have to this day (dog-eared pages and all). Resources to help you with AP Style questions can be found all across the web. Here’s the main web page. If you think you’ll be referring to this often, I’d suggest buying a copy. It’s far too much information to ever fully commit to memory, so having a copy on hand makes life, and press release writing, a lot easier.

Common mistakes and missed opportunities

Keep it to one page – It would take a compelling news story or announcement to convince me that more than one page was absolutely needed to cover all the truly newsworthy elements. Reporters can contact you if they’re intrigued enough and want more information. That’s why you provide that information in the header. Two-page press releases seem just as obnoxious as two-page resumes. Save something for the interview!

Quotes – Quotes are a key way to say something you would otherwise just write into the press release, while calling out a specific person of importance and breaking up the content. Quotes coming from you or your client can be easily molded to say exactly what you want them to say. Just make sure you format them correctly according to AP Style!

Make use of the subtitle – This is the sentence that appears directly below the title (and before the first paragraph). It is a great opportunity to explain the title a bit further as well as include a link to your web site, if relevant. By utilizing this part of the press release, you’re less tempted to weigh your title down with too many words.

Include a boiler plate – The boiler plate is that final paragraph that appears right before the “###” which signals the end of the press release. It’s a paragraph which can stand all on its own and usually summarizes the business or organization. Instead of trying to shove this same information into the body of the press release where it may not belong, the boiler plate provides a separate and organized space to highlight the core facts about your business at the very end.

One final thought on adapting to technology…

Video news releases (VNRs) are changing the way many reporters view traditional words-only press releases. I’m not entirely convinced that VNRs will take over the market anytime soon and so I suggest sticking with the written press release, but adding in b-roll footage, video clips and photos whenever available. Especially for online news sources, the more photos and videos that accompany a story, the more enticing it is to feature it. As readers, when we surf the web we’re drawn to images. Stories that include images are that much more attractive to news sites. It’s all about the web hits and readership!

What I thought would be a quick glimpse into writing a great press release has become a lengthier guide than I anticipated. I still have so much more information I could include here, but will save that for another time. Until then, please share your own experiences and expertise on writing press releases. Is there something I missed? Something you disagree with? Or something you’ve found to be particularly effective? Please share by commenting below!

 
 

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How to Fully Unplug When on Vacation

slow down, relax, take it easy, keep calm, love, enjoy life, have fun and other motivational lifestyle reminders on colorful sticky notes

Whether you have planned a destination vacation or are opting for a “staycation” this year, giving yourself a few days of rest and relaxation is not only fun, it’s absolutely necessary!

For those of us that work virtually, we’re used to plugging in from anywhere which can lead to the temptation to get work done when we really should be relaxing. Can you relate? Then, take a look at these tips for how you can fully unplug and enjoy your vacation to its fullest.

Plan Ahead

Plan your time off well in advance and communicate early and often with clients and employees that you will not be doing any work during this time. Work ahead on projects that you would normally complete during this time off to minimize the amount of work on your plate when you return. Also, avoid scheduling meetings several days before and after your vacation to give you a buffer of dedicated work time to complete your most pressing tasks.

Manage Expectations About Work Communication

A great way to unplug without leaving emails or calls unanswered is to set up an automatic email response and voicemail. Be specific about when people can expect to hear back from you. You can choose to check emails just once per day to make yourself accessible for emergencies. Or you can choose to completely go offline for the week. No matter what you choose, let people know when they can reasonably expect to hear back from you. Clients are far more understanding of a lag in communication if they know you are out of the office. You may also want to designate another employee as the person to contact for urgent matters to give you full peace of mind to relax.

Commit to Your Vacation

The biggest obstacle a lot of us face when unplugging from work isn’t the separation from technology that we may all think, but rather it is the willingness to allow ourselves to fully embrace our time off. You have waited all year (maybe longer) for this break, so make sure you are just as committed to your vacation as you have been your work. Sleep in, move slow, read for fun, take a nap and strike up conversations that have absolutely nothing to do with work! It may feel weird at first, but if you can learn to “rewire” your thinking to a more relaxed state, you will feel calmer even once you return back to work.

Have you been able to fully unplug from work while on vacation this year? If so, comment below and share your tips!

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2016 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Shifting Away From Shift Work: Forgetting the Life of a 9-5er

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


Forgetting the Life of a 9-5erI realized I’ve now spent more of my career as an entrepreneur, building my own business and setting my own schedule, than I have as a 9 to 5 employee to someone else. It’s a milestone I’ve proudly earned by taking many other risks and sacrifices, but I still can’t help but feel a little spoiled for the life this has provided.

When my friends or family encounter a restriction because of their work schedule, I’m oddly aloof as to what this feels like. I’m unable to recall what it’s like to have to report to a desk every day at a specific time and stay there regardless of what, if any work needs accomplished during those exact hours.

Work doesn’t always come in between 9am and 5pm and it certainly doesn’t stop coming in at all other hours of the day. This raises the question of why, with all of the technology that allows us to work from virtually anywhere, do we still chain ourselves to a desk for a block of time?

I don’t know who I should credit for its original quotation, but this following thought often weaves itself into my conversations with people who ask me about entrepreneurship. “As an entrepreneur, you get to choose the 80 hours a week you work.” The hours of work per week will change, but the message remains the same. Entrepreneurs may put in long hours, but at least we get to choose these hours. This allows us to weave work around life, travel and important events that we may otherwise have to choose between.

I jokingly say that if I worked a 9 to 5 job, I would max out my vacation days before February of each year and with every passing year this joke becomes more of a reality. I’m grateful that the length of my vacations, holiday breaks and time spent with family are at my discretion. With a husband who also runs his own non-profit, I’m quite certain that without our flexible work schedules, we would be like two ships passing in the night. Instead, I’ll join him on a business trip and work from hotels and coffee shops. Or we’ll both choose to work from home for a day to spend a little more time together.

When you’re an insomniac, they say that you’re never really asleep and never really awake. As an entrepreneur, I feel quite similar with my work schedule. At any given time I never have to be working, but I’m also never not working. Email and cell phones connect me at all times with my clients, so whether I’m sitting in front of my computer or out grocery shopping, I’m just as accessible. This allows me to do anything at any hour of the day and so I try to be strategic with when I do what. For example, entrepreneurship has allowed me to visit the doctor or hair salon at times when most people have to be at the office. I can do my grocery shopping when the store is dead rather than fighting with the weekend traffic. I also schedule my meetings to avoid rush hour so I can easily sail down the highway and spend no more time than absolutely necessary in transit. These may seem like small perks, but I couldn’t imagine life without them.

I’m barely able to remember what life was like when I had the same exact routine every morning and a set time to be out the door. Every so often these clouded memories come back when I find myself scheduled for an early morning meeting or poor planning has left me stuck in commuter traffic. My immediate reaction is “How do people do this every day?” After the moment passes and I re-enter my entrepreneurial world of constant change and variable schedules, I realize this is also a reasonable question that anyone else may choose to ask me…

 

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Life Inside a Chaos Bubble

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


Life Inside a Chaos BubbleRecently I used the term the “Chaos Bubble.” It happened during a conversation in which I was describing how some people whose time is in such high demand actually become immune to the whirlwind of chaos surrounding them. So to properly define this new concept, a Chaos Bubble occurs when the heavy demands of your work and hectic lifestyle create a protective layer to the outside world and insulate you from the chaos.

I’m of course basing this off of several people I have met who have the “luxury” of experiencing this Chaos Bubble phenomenon. These people are in such high demand that their email and voice mail are consistently filled to capacity. Not a single new message can be received. Their phone rings but almost always results in a missed call due to a dead phone battery or because they’re in and out of meetings all day. Their secretaries or personal assistants are the gatekeepers. If you need input or an approval, your best bet is to get the message to their #2 or risk it bouncing off this Chaos Bubble never to be seen, heard or so much as acknowledged.

To reach such a threshold where chaos becomes a protection and no longer a threat, first takes going through many uncomfortable, and at times unbearable, levels of chaos. It’s fairly comparable to being in the eye or a hurricane. Outside of this inner circle a fierce storm of mayhem is constantly brewing, but inside all you experience is an eerie silence and false sense of calm. To get inside this eye, you may spend years being whipped by the winds and swirled around to the point of not knowing which end is up, but once you make it to the inner circle, the chaos spins around you—not within you.

For the most part, chaos is an unwelcome and heavily avoided part of life. But when the dinging and ringing of emails, iPads, cell phones and calendar reminders reach a high enough volume, they have the ability to create a white noise that cancels out their sounds all together—leaving just you and your thoughts inside your own Chaos Bubble.

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2016 in Life

 

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Independence Day

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!

This month is particularly meaningful as I look back on the very first steps I took on my entrepreneurial journey (nearly 5 years ago!) and reflect upon where my personal “Independence Day” has led me since this day in 2011. 


Beautiful Young Woman with USA Flag

I declare today to be Independence Day—my Independence Day. I’m aware of the irony of celebrating my personal independence on a day that our entire nation also celebrates its independence. But what could be more appropriate?

There are two reasons that call for this special occasion. I am celebrating my last day  working a desk job AND my first day of being my own boss. Both are as exciting as they are scary. Since I like focusing on beginnings not endings, let’s place our focus on the latter reason.

Today is a date I first set two weeks ago with HR when I decided I was going to take the leap (hopefully not the plunge) to branch off and put my entire heart and soul into launching my own public relations firm, Bennis Inc. It was an arbitrary date at the time, but has since become my hope, my inspiration…and now, my Independence Day.

As per handbook policy, I had to give two weeks notice to leave the Department and remain within good-standing plus it was a payday so I knew I wouldn’t have to wait around for my final pay check. It made sense. For the past two weeks, day by day, it became the light at the end of the tunnel. Some days I felt like there was so much to get done before this day that it was like being sucked into a jet propeller. Other days I felt like time simply stopped moving altogether.

No matter what it felt like, it was 14 days, 336 hours, 20160 minutes of planning, preparing and waiting. In those moments, I grew by at least seven years. I did things that people decades older than me have never had to tackle, and maybe never will. I rolled over my minuscule retirement fund into a Roth IRA. I hired a tax attorney to incorporate my business and get me prepared for a whole new experience when it comes to taxes. And I started pounding the pavement, putting myself out there and finally telling people about this business I’ve been building from the ground up since college.

I realized I have never before officially declared my independence as an entrepreneur and business owner, though I have been one for almost three years now. I always felt like I had to hide it or refer to it as a “side business” so as not to appear like a conflict of interest with my day job or schooling.

Well, that all stops today.

Today, I am officially open—open for business and open to praise, criticism, success and defeat. But it feels great. I feel like I’ve finally woken up and am taking my first deep breath of fresh air. I can’t wait to see where this Independence) Day will lead!

 

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So You’re Different…Just Like Everyone Else

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


So You’re Different…Just Like Everyone ElseAs I continue to define the scope of my Public Relations work – particularly the emerging trends and most effective strategies for my clients, I’ve been confronted with one reoccurring scenario. Every business wants to share the message of why they’re different from all the others. But so often the differences they provide me with read like every other brochure, billboard or tagline I’ve seen time and time again. “We care….We put our customers first…We provide you with the best quality of service.” If you’ve already tuned out while reading that last sentence, you’re not alone. In fact, your reaction is the same reaction such statements receive when they’re placed on any plethora of marketing materials. Either the message is forgotten as soon as something else catches our attention or it’s glazed over altogether, never standing the chance to be absorbed into our subconscious. Neither result is desirable for the businesses who are trying so hard to differentiate themselves.

What makes a business truly different?

Truthfully, at the end of the day…very little. For the most part, products and services can be replicated (even with the best copyright laws and patents in place). There are millions of family-owned businesses with “small town values” representing every size and industry. And words like loyalty, honesty and quality – while all very good things for a business to have – are often read as ambiguous marketing fluff by customers. In very rare cases, a compelling story of how you overcame mountains of adversity to start your business may draw a unique spotlight your way, but inevitably the light will fade and a story of such depth is hard to convey on a billboard or Facebook ad. By focusing your marketing and public relations on answering the question “What makes me different?” you’re missing the question that really matters which is “How can I get remembered?”

Recognize your lack of differences with honesty.

Simply put, people appreciate honesty. The initial and obvious reaction to this fact is to position a company’s honesty and integrity as a “unique value.” But I beg of you to take at least one step outside the box. Customers aren’t easily fooled into thinking that you’re the only honest business on the block. They likely do business with many other people who they would also classify as men or women of integrity. So instead, make yourself memorable by evoking an unexpected emotion or reaction from your audience. With the right communications strategy you can make them laugh, make them think or even make them blush. You may be bold enough to directly say “We’re actually not that different from the other businesses out there,” and catch your audience completely off guard. Being remembered is the end goal and by going against the grain just a little, you’ll have a much better shot at achieving this. So long as you remain honest and genuine with your customer base, the sky’s the limit for creativity!

Actions (and brands) speak louder than words.

Nike is far from the only company that makes and sells athletic apparel. This is a huge industry and really no advertisement or marketing that I’ve seen has fully convinced me that any certain running shoe or t-shirt is all that different from the rest. Even when a seemingly revolutionary product is launched, it’s only a matter of weeks or months until 10+ other companies release their own version of this product, claiming the same technology and benefits. So what does Nike focus on to position themselves as a leader in the industry? Their brand. It’s the swoosh, the “Just do it” tagline, the distinct style of commercials and the carefully chosen celebrity spokespeople who create this solid brand. Instead of contributing to the white noise of long-winded and confusing advertising jargon, Nike has instead chose to build a brand that is so powerful and well-defined that a big white smudge on an all-black billboard is enough for anyone to recognize that as the Nike brand. While they still strive to be “first” and “different” in many aspects of athletic apparel, they know this will only every last so long until the next big thing hits. So instead, they focus their communications efforts on building up what can’t as easily be knocked down – a timeless brand.

You may not be the only one, but you can still be the best one.

Finally, there is one area where you can truly stand out and that’s at the top. By being the best at something, you leave no room for a competitor to join you on this stage. However, in communications the term “the best” is overused, misconstrued and there’s really no form you need to fill out or ribbon you need to receive to make this claim. At all levels and in all industries, there are certain awards that can help back up your claim to fame and provide a great point of differentiation for your business. But regardless of whether you’re hoping to use this title as a future marketing campaign, you should strive to be the best for no greater reason than to serve your people and your business well. There may be many other businesses out there just like yours, but if your customers truly feel like you are the best based on the quality of your service or product, I promise you that they will be back for more!

Whether you’re trying to differentiate your business or yourself, remember that for no other reason than the sheer volume of competitors, being truly different is not always possible. Instead, focus your communications efforts of getting remembered. And with this thought, I’ll close with a final inspiration:

“People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel. “—Maya Angelou

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2016 in Business & Success, Life

 

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How Do You Really Define Success? (Guest Blog by Danielle Gouger)

This week’s blog is written by the newest member of Bennis Inc, Danielle Gouger. Click here to learn more about Danielle’s passion and expertise related to PR and photography!


How Do You Really Define Success

I think it’s safe to say that one life goal we all share is to achieve “success.” I put this word in quotes, because success is a term that can have an extremely fluid definition from one person to another. The beauty is that there really is no right or wrong way to define your own success. It’s whatever brings happiness, fulfillment and meaning to your life.

So how do I define success? I would expect that it may differ from your own version of this word, but you never know; our individual interpretation may also align quite a bit. Here’s how I personally define success – and what I work to try and achieve each and every day.

Ending each day feeling satisfied, not stressed

Success to me is truly being happy and living each day to its fullest. My soul is the happiest when I am traveling and experiencing new things. However, real life responsibilities like raising a family and pursuing a career don’t always allow me to travel as much as I’d like. Rather, I find the potential in each day as it presents itself. My “adventure” may not be exploring a new country, but rather exploring a new walking trail near where I live. Little adventures exist all around us, every day, and I feel most satisfied and successful when I seize the opportunity to live in the moment.

Having a good balance between work and family time

Another way I define success in my life is by achieving a healthy balance between work and family time. In my early twenty’s, I defined my success by how much school and work I could jam into my schedule. It wasn’t until I became a mom at 25 that I started to view success in other ways. For example, motherhood is one of my greatest ongoing successes (and challenges). I strive to be the best mom I can be each day. I then began to realize the importance of being a good daughter and to value and cherish family time. Balancing work and family is something I’m still learning to do, but the better I get at it, the more successful I feel.

The opportunity to have my talents impact other people

As I mentioned previously, school and work used to define my success growing up. As I have matured, both in life and in my career, I’ve discover newfound confidence in my talents I have to share with the world. A successful career isn’t just about how much money you make or your job title, but rather how you are able to positively impact other people. Whether a picture I take is published and printed or simply cherished by a couple whose wedding I photographed, I feel successful to be able to contribute something that is meaningful to someone else.

Setting Goals and accomplishing them

Since grade school, I have always been a goal setter and a person who likes to write down my goals. I’m a visual person, so writing down my goals and being able to physically look at them makes them feel that much more real and attainable to me. I make it a point to write down yearly, quarterly, monthly and weekly goals and to further break these down into specific tasks. I love the feeling of crossing something off my list! Getting things done and seeing how they are moving me toward achieving my larger, long-terms goals gives me a great feeling of success.

Overcoming your fears

The hard truth is that sometimes we are our own worst enemy when it comes to achieving great success. We allow our fears to talk us out of even attempting something that might be well within our reach. Our insecurities, that voice in our heads saying “You can’t do it,” can paralyze us into a mediocre life. I have enjoyed some of my most fulfilling and successful moments after I silence this voice and take on a task that normally I would be too scared to try. What I have learned is the bigger the fear I overcome, the greater my feeling of success in the end!

Do you agree or have additional points to add about how I define true success? I’d love to hear your comments!

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2016 in Business & Success, Life

 

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