Sunday, May 31, 2015

Information Self-Serve...."You Can Go To My Website"

Lately I've been hearing this phrase a lot..."You can go to my website." Usually it comes in response to a question like, "Hey do you have product pricing? or What if I want to buy one ? or Do you have any press materials about your company?

I don't like hearing "You can go to my website."  I don't like being 'redirected' when I ask a question. There's something inherently new about this problem. There's inherently something wrong here. It's like asking for a glass of water from the waiter and being told go get it yourself! "You can Go to My Website" lacks the possibility for a relationship. When someone says this to me I feel like saying, "Look, I'm here in front of you right now, can't you just tell me what I need to know?"

So let me take you back to 1983 when it was less of a self-serve information world. I'm going out on a limb here but, this is the year I entered the workforce in New York City. I graduated from Fordham University. Fell in love with New York's amazingly flavorful and wonderful people. sites and sounds and plunged into an entry level job in public relations.

At the time publicity was garnered the old fashion way. We wrote releases on paper, by hand, with pens! And then when we had perfected our words we typed them on a white sheet of paper using a manual typewriter, (electric ones came soon after). It was cool to see the typewriter smack the paper with ink and watch your ideas come to life. After erasing mistakes with a special liquid called White Out that usually just made an awful smudgie mess of the letters, you took your press release to the copy machine and ran off fifty or so. After this you went back to your typewriter to compose a letter to the editor you were trying to pitch. After more smudging and some under the breath cursing, you unbound your letter from the machine's roller and made a copy of that too. Release and letter in hand you grabbed what we used to call a 'media kit' filled with brochures of your product, place or service and whatever press clips you'd collected where your product hit the news previously and prepared a package. All of this went into an oversized envelope that you sealed and then addressed by hand or again, typed an individual label.

Creating media lists, writing letters and releases and reproducing the whole packet took a lot of time, it cost money, but it was all we had. In 1983 we didn't have the following: mobile phones, computers, desktop laser jet printers, camera's on our phones. In 1983 the internet didn't exist,
so when we wanted to research the names and titles of editors, we bought large, expensive, cumbersome lists that came in huge bound books produced once a year. The directory was usually outdated by the time you got it so a lot of the time I called the magazine to get the correct editor's name and address. We then stored the name, address and phone of editors on index cards and they lived in a little neat box on my desk, like recipes.

When you were ready to pitch a story you had to send materials via the post office kind of mail. In those days we simply called it "Mail" and not snail mail, because there were no other options. When we needed a photo we called a photographer, we set up a photo shoot. We then made prints of the photos.  Today we whip out our phones and snap.

On some occasions we'd invite the editor out to lunch. We would meet in person and talk. Sometimes we orchestrated trips taking journalists to visit a site. We learned about who they were, and how they worked. But it always started out by sending a media kit.

Press materials were an essential part of doing PR in the early days and if you didn't have those materials with you or available quickly for busy editors on deadline, then you were usually SOL when it came to being included in the magazine article, newspaper story, radio broadcast, or tv program. In those days that was where we got our information.

Now it's different. I was at a trade show recently and I did an experiment. I went from booth to booth asking if the proprietors had a "media kit."  Most of the young people looked at me perplexed and called over a senior person. I explained that I wanted to write a story about their service and wanted press materials. They paused and then handed me a business card. "Ok, so you can go to our website. On the left just scroll down to the "press" page and then you'll find the information."

It happened in every booth. I couldn't even get a brochure. I walked away deflated.

Mind you, I'm all for a paperless world, don't get me wrong. Why have a press kit created when you can just find the information in the cloud. Well here's why. Because by the time I get home, and I'm ready to write the story, I've lost the enthusiasm I was feeling in the booth when I learned about a new book, a new product, a great idea. My inspiration had evaporated hours later holding an itty-bitty business card and trying to get that feeling back.  It's perfunctory to retrieve information on someone's website, but it's fun to take a press release and add your notes and then write the story from cool impressions you had actually, in real time, in the moment while it was it happening

Call me old fashioned, but the delay in getting info about something that you're jazzed about, let us say, is a real buzz kill!

So these days I'm still providing public relations services to clients. I've recently added pr packages for authors looking to promote their books. I'm thinking about how to best serve their needs, and decided to create some press packets and mail them to the writers and editors of big magazines, radio talk shows, etc. I'm going to do this as a service to the media person. It may look excessive, or that I'm paying homage to an era that's dead and gone, but I think not. I want the experiment to play out and see if there's still room in the PR world for delivery of cool information direct to a person's hands, like we used to do, in the olden days, when life happened in the moment and not later, on someone's website..... More....

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

When it's Good, its So Good...Hudson Children's Book Festival.

So I had the pleasure of being included in the 7th Annual Hudson Children's Book Festival last weekend. Because I've organized events before, I know what a huge undertaking it is to run anything like this which included 75 authors and illustrators from around the Northeast and beyond, and just one day to funnel some 5,000 attendees through a gymnasium so that we, the authors, could promote and sell our books to students. Ultimately the event was designed to promote reading. What a wonderful goal!

My book, The Hidden History of Columbia County- NY, was included because, well, Hudson is part of the book and the book is all about shining an interesting light on Columbia County.

Allison and Assemblywoman, Didi Barrett
The women, volunteers and contributors of the festival deserve a resounding round of applause. Everything ran like a well oiled machine...from the fun cocktail party on Friday night at the Hudson Boat Club, to the breakfast Saturday morning at the Elks Lodge, to the event itself. Every detail was considered and planned for and it showed.

 I was truly thrilled and honored to be a part of such a professionally run event. And what was most astounding was that it was free to authors. Wow...what an opportunity. I must have meet over 300 people during the five hours we were in the Hudson Junior/Senior High School gym (which is gorgeous by the way). My favorite conversations were with students who came over to leaf through the pages of the book and buy it to take home. There were shy teenaged boys and gushing sixth grade girls dressed head to toe in pink and green. I met boys and girls from many different towns who genuinely couldn't wait to find out what happened in their own back yards 100 years ago. It was a thrill. Best of all was when Didi Barrett stopped by to buy the book and tell me about how much she's doing in the state to marry (finally, thank you!) history and tourism.

This is the kind of event that really brought the community together. Thank you to Lisa Dolan and Jennifer Clark the co-directors from the Hudson City School District for their fine fundraising and exceptional event skills! You knocked it out of the park ladies. And I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my "author handler" Kath, (you heard correctly), she was my designated volunteer who brought me coffee, retrieved a delicious boxed lunch and sat in my booth when I needed to run to use the facilities. Wow, I could get used to that kind of personal service!

The sales were extraordinary too and that was due to the fine work of Kelly Drahushuk the co-owner of The Spotty Dog bookstore in Hudson. Kelly and Alan handled all of the book sales with grace and professionalism. So grateful!

If you happened to miss it this year, please mark your calendar for 2016. You will truly enjoy the experience...I know I did!