Posts Tagged ‘GIGO’

5 Ways to Improve Your PR Writing With Explanatory Journalism

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

5 Ways to Improve Your Writing with Explanatory Journalism Ellis Friedman BurrellesLuce Fresh IdeasExplanatory journalism is very popular right now, but it isn’t new; explanatory articles like “The Top 5 Things You Need to Know About ___” really jibe with the digital age, but the Pulitzer Prize Committee started awarding prizes for explanatory journalism back in 1985.

Explanatory journalism is, to use Digiday’s definition, a form of reporting that attempts to present nuanced, ongoing news stories in a more accessible manner. Basically, it’s explaining complicated topics in a straightforward, easy-to-understand way.

So how can that help you in your daily PR writing?

Roy Peter Clark at Poynter took a look at many explanatory pieces and determined the most common and effective strategies for good explanatory journalism, strategies you can apply in your press releases, pitches, and general copy to make your information more understandable to journalists and your audience. Here are some of Clark’s most relevant tips:

Envision the general audience

This is basically a rewording of the PR truism “know your audience.”  Envision your reader: what do they want to know, what context do they already have, and what do they care about, then frame your content around that. It’s a good exercise to do for every pitch or press release you send.

Don’t clutter leads

Yes, in a press release we’re “supposed to” include all the relevant information in the first sentence. But (good) sentences are finite; cramming in every single tidbit into one sentence is going to make it confusing and unreadable. Choose the most relevant information – not all the relevant information.

Also, don’t bury the lead in the clutter of extraneous information. Lead with the most salient bit first – don’t let it get lost in the shuffle.

Slow down the pace of information

Picture your pace of information like a gradual incline, not a vertical spike. Given time and space constraints, it’s easy to give into the desire to dump in all your information and run, but that’s a GIGO approach that won’t pay off.

Slowing down the information pace does not mean slowing down your writing; it means introducing facts and concepts one at a time and triaging what’s really necessary. It shouldn’t make your writing longer; it should make it clearer, more succinct, and easier to read and comprehend.

Develop a chronology

Something that can help with pacing is to envision your press release like a chain of events. Just as the groundwork must be laid for an action and its consequences, establish what the reader must learn in the first sentence in order to understand what comes next. This chronology will help your flow and increase the reader’s comprehension.

Tell it to “Mom” (or “Dad”)

You may think that your topic speaks for itself, but that is often not the case. What can seem straightforward and obvious to you will not seem that way to a lot of other people. So pretend your mom or dad is going to be reading your press release or pitch; would they understand your main points? Would they actually understand what the product is for or what you’re announcing? This is also a good exercise in slowing the pace of your information.

Finally, remember this gem from Clark: “When writers face and master the challenge of meeting the reader’s needs, they practice one of the truest and purest forms of journalism.”

This Week’s Shot of Fresh: Big Data in Da House, reddit Right, and Narcissystem

Friday, February 14th, 2014
flickr user John Revo Puno under CC BY ND 3.0 license

flickr user John Revo Puno under CC BY ND 3.0 license

Shot of Fresh is our (mostly) weekly roundup of the latest Fresh Ideas content.

Is Big Data Better Data?

Big data may be the big buzzword, but unless your organization adjusts its culture to value fact-based decision making and real-time feedback, big data investments could turn into big GIGO investments.

How to reddit: Marketing Through the Anti-Social Feeding Tube of Social Networks

A lot of the web’s viral content gets filtered through reddit, but since it’s not a social network and doesn’t have the intuitive user-friendly interface of one, how can marketers and PR pros use reddit to their advantage? Here’s a primer on how to reddit.

Jargonology Episode 5: Narcissystem

Enough about what we think about our content, what do you think about our content? The latest word to add to the jargon jar is narcissystem, and chances are, you’ve dealt with one.

Is Big Data Better Data?

Monday, February 10th, 2014

Is Big Data Better Data? Ellis Friedman BurrellesLuce Fresh Ideas

What do you think when you hear “Big Data?” If you’re anything like me, you hear some syllables that conjure up an image of lengthy Excel sheets. If you’re more precise, you know that it’s all that data that organizations and computers collect on a daily basis.

But is bigger data better data? There are a lot of factors that determine whether investing in big data will actually help your organization and its efforts.

The biggest issue is that big data can easily turn into GIGO – Garbage In, Garbage Out. You may be pulling in gobs of data every day, but if you don’t know how to use it, don’t get to see it, or don’t know what your most important metrics are, that data is all but useless.  Harvard Business Review has an excellent article (registration required) tracking seven case studies of companies that used their data, how they did it, and whether they used that data effectively or not.

The gist? Using big data – and even small data – effectively takes a lot of preparation, implementation, and adjustment. In many instances, it won’t pay off to jump right into big data if you don’t yet have a grip on your small data. Here are some key takeaways, whether your data is big or small:

Start small

Start by learning to use the data to which you already have access. Most existing CRM or ERM systems obtain a lot of useful data, but many organizations don’t know how to access and/or use it. According to Kapow’s survey, only 23 percent of respondents think their big data initiatives have been a success. So before you go investing in big data, think about what you’d like to do with that big data once you have it. Whether its reforming processes, reorganizing, or restructuring, use the data you already have to start small reformations.

Dedicate resources wisely

Be prepared to dedicate a significant portion of your resources to coaching and training. HBR found that the most important factor in successfully becoming a fact-based decision-making organization was consistent, continuous coaching aimed at improving performance of every individual, especially those who are decision-makers.

Provide real-time feedback

Start providing daily feedback before trying to implement new big data changes. Determine one key metric to focus on (the metric will be different for different departments and different levels) and provide the department with the updated metric every day. HBR found that this not only helped managers determine how to best spend their time, but caused those at lower levels to increase precision and efficiency. Just make sure it’s the right metric; it may take some finessing.

Shift the culture

An organization will not magically change by virtue of investing in big data. HBR found that if the organization had a tradition of fact-based decision making, performed engineering and research functions or was web-native, then it was poised to gain the most from big data.

So don’t just look at the shift to big data as an investment and software issue; instead, organizations need to consider it a major shift in company culture. Like any major culture shifts, it will take a while. Give it time, and allow any revised data processes the leeway to produce flawed data – it will improve, and those involved with the data will, with the proper coaching, seek to improve that data.

According to the Kapow survey, 85 percent of business and IT leaders agree that big data helps make intelligent business decisions and foster a data-driven organization. And for organizations that are data-driven and fact-based decision makers, there is a lot of potential in big data.

Last month I attended the Big Data in Motion Summit, where the speakers were Jack Norris, chief marketing officer for MapR Technologies; Pat Pruchnickyj, product marketing director at Talend; and Clarke Patterson, senior director of product marketing at Cloudera. All speakers expressed enthusiasm for the impact big data can have on organizations. And little wonder – they all work for companies that provide big data solutions.

The conference was intended to educate attendees about big data’s potential, results, and myriad of advantages, though the speakers mostly talked about platform options and advantages of their own services. Patterson pointed out that 64 percent of organizations invested or were planning to invest in big data in 2013, so of course, getting the down-low on services is pretty necessary.

Norris explained that the need for big data is driven by three V’s:

Volume (by 2020 enterprise data volume will be four times higher than it was in 2009)

Variety (data is both structured and unstructured and gathered from a myriad of devices, processes, and sources, and stored in different ways)

Velocity (large organizations produce massive amounts of data. Facebook gathers 100 terabytes per day, WalMart has 1 million transactions per hour)

There are plenty of organizations that stand to gain from big data if it’s implemented wisely, but it’s not the “big” part of data that provides benefits – it’s learning to use data big or small in the correct way. No matter the size of your data, you still need to know your key metrics and how to base decisions around those metrics. The opportunities data provides come down to leveraging the data you have into powerful insights and harnessing it in an efficient, fact-based way.

Five PR Takeaways From Groundhog Day

Friday, January 31st, 2014

Five PR Takeaways from Groundhog Day Ellis Friedman BurrellesLuceGroundhog Day, the Howard Ramis film starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell, long ago achieved cult status. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about Phil Connors, a self-involved weatherman who goes to Punxsutawney to cover the Groundhog Day ceremony and finds himself reliving Groundhog Day over and over again.

That’s right woodchuck-chuckers, this Sunday, February 2, is the real Groundhog Day, and in honor of its approach (and hopefully the imminent arrival of spring), we examine five PR lessons from the 1993 film.

Recognize your shadow

At its core, the film is about a man who sees his own shadow and realizes how his actions impact other people. Just like Phil finally learns that love, kindness, and being a better person overall are what’s important (and ultimately broke his cycle of eternal February 2nds), PR pros – and people in every field, for that matter – can benefit from stepping back, reassessing, and figuring out what’s really important.

Do number of tweets a day matter, or whether or not you are engaging with your communities? Is it important to churn a white paper every month, or to create four quality white papers in the year? It comes back around to getting rid of GIGOGarbage In, Garbage Out. Focus your energy on what’s important, and you’ll come out with a better result.

Engage on a deeper level

In the middle of all his Groundhog Days, Phil stops being cynical in his broadcasts and instead speaks poetically, and ends up drawing a considerable audience. He also engages more deeply with Rita to ultimately win her over, and gets to know almost everyone in the town. You probably don’t have eternity on your hands, but you can make the effort to interact with people and their digital presences more genuinely.

Ask and answer questions, got beyond what’s required for clients or consumers, and really listen to and notice what’s going on around you. Don’t forget to connect with yourself, too, because engagement isn’t about answering questions, it’s about being a connected part of a community, and you can’t engage if you aren’t taking care of yourself.

There will be a tomorrow – use it

Phil asks a phone operator, “What if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.” In the real world, there’s always a tomorrow, and unlike Phil, you can’t act like there won’t be.

Our actions now impact what happens in the future. What’s great is that in knowing that there’s a tomorrow, you can make plans, so don’t skimp on the metrics. Analyze your situation, measure the progress and efficacy of your PR campaigns, and examine recent patterns and trends to accordingly reorient your direction.

Turn negatives into opportunities

When Phil realizes he’s living the same day over and over, he turns to suicide and crime. But he makes a real turning point once he realizes that he has the opportunity to do things he’d never done before: ice sculpt, play the piano, learn a foreign language, get to know everyone. Phil turned a negative – eternity – into an opportunity to improve himself.

We all know the adage about learning from your mistakes, but it’s true. However the only way to learn from said mistakes is to acknowledge them in the first place. It can be embarrassing or disappointing to stare your imperfection in the face, but coming to terms with past errors can make you more effective at what you do.

Don’t keep doing things that don’t work

Phil may have turned to crime and suicide, but he stopped once he realized it wasn’t working – he didn’t stay dead, and it seems the allure of crime wore off. Neither should PR pros continue doing things that don’t work. Not getting enough bites from media pitches? Change your pitching style, who you’re pitching to, and the content you’re pitching. Not getting enough shares from online content? Change your content and the way you share it.

Change seems hard, and it is, but shaking up your game – and measuring your progress – is the only way to break bad habits and see real results.

The overall takeaways? Use your setbacks and failures as opportunities to learn. Didn’t get as much media coverage as you’d hoped? Examine what happened and use that experience to pivot into more coverage next year. Stalled on a project? Use that lag to determine what went wrong and how it can be fixed, and you’ll avoid that problem again, making tomorrow’s projects even better.

And oh yeah, don’t drive on the railroad tracks.

Issuing Citations: How to Quote Wisely and Accurately

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014
flickr user Gage Skidmore

flickr user Gage Skidmore

A political and media kerfuffle ensued late last week after Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor and former Republican presidential candidate, spoke at a Republican conference. Below is his full quote:

If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it, let’s take that discussion all across America because women are far more than Democrats have made them to be.

Soon after, CNN journalist Dana Bash tweeted this:CNN Dana Bash Tweet BurrellesLuce Fresh Ideas

Then NBC reporter Kasie Hunt tweeted something similar:NBC Kasie Hunt BurrellesLuce Fresh Ideas

These tweets, which did not accurately represent the context or content of Huckabee’s remarks, spurred a number of clarifications and a whole lot of discussion. Even in a political and media issue such as this, there are plenty of takeaways for PR pros:

Be sure of the proper context

Bash’s tweet made it sound like Huckabee said he thinks women are “helpless without Uncle Sugar.” The reality is he accused Democrats of thinking women are “helpless without Uncle Sugar.”

Quoting someone? Triple check you’ve got the context right. Sometimes there’s a disconnect between what we know and what we write, so if you’re quoting anyone, make sure the quote and the surrounding content very clearly state the context of who said what. This is just as important, if not more so, when you’re summarizing in 140 characters or less. If it’s not crystal clear, don’t tweet it.

Tweet Wisely

Especially if you’re live tweeting. As Bash and Hunt both exemplified, tweeting with no or incorrect context leads to backlash and completely derails a conversation, especially if it’s political. Suddenly, the story focused not on what Huckabee said, but on the media getting it wrong (even though it was only two reporters out of hundreds).

PR pros are in a similarly visible field, and this is an era in which out-of-context or ill-thought-out tweets can land you in hot personal and professional waters (as Justine Sacco proved late last year), whether it’s warranted or not. Particularly if it’s your message at stake, or that of your industry, you don’t want the focus to shift from your message or meaning onto a silly mistake.

Edit without losing context

There’s an easy fix to Bash’s tweet. Had it been worded: “At RNC meeting @MikeHuckabee says ‘Dems believe women can’t control their libido w/o birth control,” the problem never would have arisen.

The first way to edit within context: listen fully. This means paying attention and not letting your personal opinion get in the way. Then, distill selectively. Determine what the two or three main points of the quote are and summarize from there. Remember: quotes are not malleable; either it was said, or it wasn’t. Be accurate from the get-go, because issuing clarifications or retractions detracts from credibility.

Quality over speed

The nature of Twitter means that live-tweeting has become not only de rigueur, but practically mandatory not only for journalists, but for people attending anything of note, like awards ceremonies or industry events. It takes a lot of concentration to listen to someone speak while quoting what they said two or three sentences back. Unless it’s expressly necessary and you can be sure you’re representing the quote accurately, be very careful when tweeting of-the-moment.

The demand for immediate tweets is a classic GIGO scenario: it takes our focus off of the importance of what’s being said, places it on being first to tweet it, and disregards sharing quality tweets.  When we put out words that haven’t been verified, checked, or thought-out, it shows.