Archive for the ‘Public Relations’ Category

It Gets Curiouser and Curiouser

It gets curiouser and curiouser.

Donald Trump Shouting, You're Fired © Can Stock Photo doddisPresident Trump fired FBI Director James Comey over something he did months ago, which Trump praised at the time. Comey was not informed of his firing by the president, but instead found out about it when news broke on a TV screen behind him while addressing agents in Los Angeles. President Trump denied the firing had anything to do with the investigation into Russia’s interference with the 2016 U.S. elections, but made sure to reference the investigation in his statement. He did not reference the supposed reason for the firing, however. The next day, he met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the Oval Office. The U.S. media was blocked from attending the meeting, but a photographer for the state-owned Russian media outlet Tass was allowed in.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer was left to literally hide in the bushes because he was not given ample warning of Comey’s ouster so he wasn’t prepared to address it.

In other news, a reporter was arrested for “yelling questions” at Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

And the president wonders why the latest Quinnipiac University poll, taken before the latest misstep, shows his disapproval rating at 58%, with 51% strongly disapproving and 56% saying he lacks good leadership skills. (Fifty-seven percent trust the media over the president to tell the truth, by the way.)


Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

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3 Elements to Writing an Attention-Grabbing Press Release

Photo of a pyramid that has been flipped to be inverted.

© Can Stock Photo Inc./ANZAV

According to one public relations blogger, the three largest press release distribution companies issue a combined 1,759 press releases every day. But a 2014 study found that journalists spend less than a minute perusing each one.

To break through the clutter, you must write a compelling press release that grabs an editor’s attention. Press releases have been eulogized by many, but they’re not dead. On the contrary, they remain an essential tool to anyone who wishes to get the media’s attention. Even in today’s climate of blogs, online releases, Facebook, and Twitter marketing, the press release maintains its relevance.

Three elements are essential to writing a compelling press release that grabs the attention of reporters and editors: the inverted pyramid, the lead block, and the headline.

Press releases are written in the inverted pyramid style

Speeches, columns, feature stories and most other forms of writing have a beginning, a body, and a conclusion. A press release, however, is written in the inverted pyramid style. Because of that, the lead paragraph(s) and a strong headline are crucial to grabbing an editor’s attention. In the inverted pyramid style, we begin with the conclusion. There are no surprise endings in a press release. You must put as many of the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and/or How elements in the first paragraph. Remember, you only have a few seconds to grab the reporter’s or editor’s attention. If he or she needs to wade through the press release to find the pertinent information, you’ve lost them. The most important information leads your press release, followed by the next most important information, followed by the next most important information, and continues until you end with the least important information. Hence, the inverted pyramid.

The lead paragraphs must give the most pertinent information

Aside from the headline, your first paragraph or two are the most important element in a press release. In PR parlance, it’s called the lead. Remember, you must put as many of the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and/or How elements in the lead. Let’s consider this lead I wrote for a food truck rodeo sponsored by Alexandria, Virginia’s West End Business Association. It’s a two-paragraph lead:

“ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA – Everything from Maine lobster to fresh pizza will be offered at this year’s West End Business Association’s 2nd Annual Food Truck Rodeo as the number of food trucks increases to 10 from the seven offering grand grub last year. In addition, an expanded general store of four mobile merchandise outlets will provide the optimal shopping experience – from plus-size women’s fashions to skateboards.

“Presented by WEBA and the DMV Food Truck Association, the event will take place from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, June 5, at Southern Towers Apartments, 4901 Seminary Road, Alexandria. Entry to the event is free. Up to 5,000 buckaroos and cow belles are expected this year.”

  •  Who: You have the food trucks, the merchandise trucks, WEBA, and the DMV Food Truck Association.
  • What: 2nd Annual Food Truck Rodeo
  • When: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday, June 5
  • Where: Southern Towers Apartments, 4901 Seminary Road, Alexandria
  • Why and/or How: Not specifically spelled out in the lead, but good grub is why people should attend.

Under that I have a quote from the president of the organization that adds more information to the 5 W’s, followed by information on the specific food trucks. All important information, but not critical to capturing the editor’s attention.

Write a compelling and editor-grabbing headline

The headline is your first chance to grab a reporter or editor. If you’re emailing the press release, it’s in the subject line. If you’re faxing it, it’s bolder and larger to stand out. If you’re posting a link to it from your web site, it needs to cause someone to want to click the link.

A headline should not exceed 15 words. If you need to add information, a drop head – a smaller headline under the main headline – is acceptable. Here’s the headline and drop head I wrote for the food truck rodeo.

10 Food Trucks to Rustle Up Some Great Grub at 2nd Annual Food Truck Rodeo
4 merchandise trucks includes a mobile skateboard boutique

What makes that a compelling headline – aside from the fact that I wrote it? Several ingredients make it so. One, it contains numbers. Humans are attracted to numbers. 10 food trucks, 4 merchandise trucks. Second, it uses verbiage that reflects a rodeo atmosphere. Rustle Up Some Great Grub. It has an action verb. Rustle Up. It has a bit of alliteration. Great Grub. The drop head includes a surprise entry – a mobile skateboard boutique. But mostly it contains Who, What, and Why – three of the five essential questions you need to answer in the lead. (One could argue that 2nd Annual Food Truck Rodeo is What, Where, and When as written. But it would be presumptuous of me to point that out.) (See the full press release: 052115_WEBA_Food_Trucks_Announced.)

So there you have it: The three most essential elements of an attention-grabbing press release:

  • Inverted pyramid style that has the most important information at top and continues in a hierarchy of importance until it ends with the least important.
  • A lead paragraph or block that not only provides the Who, What When, Where and Why and/or How – but makes it sing. And,
  • A strong headline that quickly and accurately summarizes your release in 15 words or fewer and contains an action verb.

Practice those three elements and you, too, can grab the attention of reporters and editors.

Want to know more? Download your FREE copy of "14 Press Release Best Practices."


Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

Don’t Let the Trolls Win

Caution road sign against a background of puffy white clouds in an otherwise blue sky. Sign reads: Do not feed the trolls.When I read the Washington Post headline “Fairfax County supervisor race heats up over ‘troll’ remark on Twitter,” I thought to myself, “Another political operative who forgot to count to 10 before hitting ‘send.’”

The troll characterization was lobbed at Democrat Janet Oleszek by the Fairfax County (Virginia) Republican Party Committee. Oleszek is campaigning against incumbent county Supervisor John Cook, a Republican.

In its defense, the committee accused Oleszek of ignorance.

“Anybody who knows anything about social media and the Internet knows what a troll is,” Matt Ames, chair of the Fairfax County Republican Party Committee, told the Post.

I’m a social media junkie, but I hadn’t heard the term used before in a social media context, which the Post wrote “can be interpreted” as “someone who is critical without supporting facts.” Granted, I’m a Boomer who still believes social media posts should be grammatically correct and free of spelling errors. I also tend to ignore stupid social media posts and stupid people who post on social media. I have better things to do with my life.

Curiosity grabbed me by my Don King hair, however, and I Googled “social media slang.” Apparently troll is not among the “9 Millennial Slang Words That Improve Your Social Media Voice.” Nor did troll make the “Big-A List of Twitter Slang and Definitions.” Ditto with a post simply titled “Social Media Slang.” (Though I did learn that “Whoa” is an “expression of surprise.” Whoa! I’ve been using “whoa” for five or more decades! How cool am I?)

I then Googled “social media troll” and found this definition on Techopedia:

“A troll is a member of an Internet community who posts offensive, divisive, and controversial comments.

“Often, a troll will make obvious and inflammatory statements that are meant to bait new users (newbies) into reacting. This is sometimes called trolling. Despite multiple attempts at limiting trolling on the Internet, it is still widespread in social networks, comment sections, and anywhere else where users can post in relative anonymity.”

I am now better informed. But having not found the definition on two comprehensive and one must-know social media slang lists, I have to caution Mr. Ames not to assume everyone knows Internet slang. The old rules of communication still apply: Count to 10 before hitting send and if in doubt, don’t. Otherwise, the trolls win.


Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

Pencil Tips: A Question of Style

Aug. 1, 2013
No. 2

703-447-8319 / Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com

A Question of Style

I posted a Grammarly photo on my Facebook page last week titled, “10 Signs You’re a Grammar Nerd.” Not surprisingly, a number of my friends hit all 10. As did I. A musician friend, however, was lost on item #6, “You have an opinion on the Oxford comma.”

I am not lost on #6. I do have an opinion on the Oxnard comma and here it is: Use it consistently or consistently don’t use it. It’s not something to mix and match.

I’ll explain.

In a series of three or more listed items, the Oxford comma, also known as the serial comma, is used before the word “and.” Therefore, one would write, “She was blond, petite, and brilliant.”  Without the Oxford comma, it would be written, “She was blond, petite and brilliant.”

Depending on what stylebook you follow, either can be correct. Most mass media outlets follow the Associated Press style and drop the Oxford comma. The Chicago Manual of Style, among others, insists on it. Generally, when I am writing for mass media, I drop the Oxford comma. When I’m writing for anyone else, I include it. My rationale for inclusion is because people who believe in Oxford commas tend to be zealots. They believe if you drop the comma, you will spend an eternity in Hades. Non-Oxfordians, however, tend to be laid back, almost Californian. “If you want to spend the energy for the extra keystroke, dude, hey, knock yourself out.”

If you’re not tied to a stylebook, use it or don’t use it. But be consistent. Several months ago, I edited a brief biography for an award-winning television journalist and weeknight anchor at a Washington, DC, affiliate. The bio writer used Oxford commas in some sentences and not in others.

And that, in my humble nerd opinion, is the only time either is unacceptable.

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Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

Write Right: The art of consistency

Estate attorney Paul deHoll provides a meeting prompt for our fellow colleagues’ short presentations at our weekly business networking meeting. This week, the prompt was to “create your own personalized license plate frame” and describe “how would it relate to your business.”

I created “WRIGHTE” and printed it out as a speaking prop. On the back side, I spelled it out in color to make it clear: “WRIGHTE” “WRIGHTE.”woman wearing a paper bag with a black question mark on it

My vanity plate popped into my head quickly because earlier in the day I had edited a non-profit’s event program. The program was mostly clean, except for the emcee’s bio. The emcee is an award-winning television journalist and weeknight anchor at a local Washington, DC, affiliate.  His bio, which had been sent to us from the station and plopped into the program verbatim, contained numerous punctuation and style errors.

I wasn’t surprised. I know a number of professional speakers who are entertaining and educational. They can grab an audience and keep them enthralled for an hour or more. My favorite TV journalists tell engaging oral stories. But, in many cases, the promotional materials provided by professional speakers are poorly written and executed.

In this case, the lack of consistency is what appalled me most.

For example, in some places the writer used serial commas and in other instances not. A serial comma, for the uninitiated, is also called the Oxford comma and is used before “and” in a series of three or more listed items. Therefore, one would write, “She was blond, petite, and buxom.”  Without the serial comma, it would be written, “She was blond, petite and buxom.”

Depending on what stylebook you’re using, either can be correct. Most mass media outlets follow the Associated Press style and drop the serial comma. The Chicago Manual of Style, among others, insists on the serial comma. Generally, when I am writing for mass media, I drop the serial comma. When I’m writing for anyone else, I include it. My rationale for inclusion is because people who believe in serial commas tend to be zealots. If you drop the comma, you are damned to Hades. Non-serialists, however, tend to be laidback, almost Californian. “If you want to spend the energy for the extra keystroke, dude, hey, knock yourself out.”

Another inconsistency in the bio was italicizing or not italicizing the names of television programs the anchor worked on. (Yes, I know I ended that sentence with a preposition. Sue me, preposition zealots.) Again, depending on the stylebook, the program name can be italicized, in quotes, or just capitalized. (Did you notice the serial comma there!?) Personally, in an event program, I don’t care. What I do care about is consistency. Pick a style and stick with it.

That’s part of writing right. There are many styles. Sometimes it’s wise to choose one over another. But whatever you do, be consistent.

At the very least, a television promotional person should know the rules to good writing and apply them consistently.  I don’t think that’s too much to ask.


Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

Public relations: You’re already living it

Can you be a public relations practitioner? What if I told you that you already are?

Woman in green dress presentingThroughout your life, you practice some of the basic tenets of public relations. In its most basic form, public relations is the process of favorably promoting an organization or individual to other organizations or individuals.

The Public Relations Society of America defines public relations further as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

In a blog post, Gerard Corbett, immediate past chair of PRSA, stated: “Simple and straightforward, this definition focuses on the basic concept of public relations – as a communications process, one that is strategic in nature and emphasizing ‘mutually beneficial relationships.’”

The key phrases are “communications process” and “mutually beneficial relationships.”

Public relations professionals employ several practices to achieve these goals. They:

  • send out press releases,
  • stage special events,
  • take and post favorable pictures and videos,
  • provide backgrounders, and
  • speak in public.

If you, too, are employing these practices to favorably promote yourself or others with the goal of building or maintaining mutually beneficial relationships – and you are – you are practicing public relations.

How many of you are married or have a significant other? When you speak with your spouse or your significant other, is your goal strategic in nature and emphasizing a mutually beneficial relationship?

Congratulations. You’ve been practicing marital PR.

How many of you have a boss or are a boss? Are discussions within your organization strategic in nature and emphasizing a mutually beneficial relationship?

If so, you have been practicing organizational PR.

Of course, marriage and jobs are internal relationships. PR professionals primarily focus on external relationships, but the concept remains the same.

So let’s look at external relationships. Have you ever sent out a wedding or birthday party invitation? Congratulations! You have sent out a personal press release. A press release – a staple in the PR arsenal – contains Who, What, When, Where and Why or How – the Five Ws and an H. Does not an invitation contain the same information?

Once you sent out the invitations – press releases – to a party or wedding, I bet you had a hand in organizing and executing  the party or reception. Did you cook the food or hire the caterer? Did you blow up the balloons or hire a decorator? Either way, congratulations! You have staged a special event.

Did you photograph, videotape or make a scrapbook of the event and share it? To what end? To show what a good time was had by all. To show the love that you shared as a parent, spouse, son, daughter or significant other.

Bust of Julius Caesar from the British Museum

Bust of Julius Caesar from the British Museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By doing so, you are a modern-day Julius Caesar. Larry Litwin, associate professor at Rowan University and a PRSA fellow, cites Julius Caesar as one of the first practitioners of PR. Julius published the first campaign biography, “The Gallic Wars,” in 50 BC to persuade the Roman people that he would make the best head of state.

Your video, photos and scrapbook of your event promote you like Caesar did.  Except instead of persuading the masses that you’d make the best head of state, you’re persuading others that you’re a loving spouse or parent.

How many of you have prepared a resume? Congratulations. You have compiled a backgrounder on yourself to let others know what you’ve accomplished and to persuade them that you can accomplish even more on their behalf.

Have you ever stood around the water cooler telling your buddies about how great your kid did in Little League? Have you discussed a strategy during a business meeting? Did you discuss your day at the local bar with your friends? You have been practicing public speaking.

Throughout your life, you favorably promote yourself with the goal of building or maintaining mutually beneficial relationships. You send out press releases, stage special events, take and post favorable pictures and videos, provide backgrounders and speak publicly. You are a public relations practitioner. Perhaps not a professional PR practitioner, but a PR practitioner nonetheless.


Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

It’s your voice

I met a woman last week who told me she went to hear a politician speak because she really liked his writing. She was shocked, however, because he didn’t sound anything like how he wrote.

In my personal writing, I use similes, metaphors, alliteration and, I’ve been told, I’m pretty punny at times. A politician I worked for didn’t like what he called that “flowery stuff.” He spoke in simple, straightforward, declarative sentences and everything I wrote for him was written in simple, straightforward, declarative sentences.

Another gentleman I wrote for was a history buff. When he assigned me a project, I researched historical facts that fit the message he wanted to convey. He tells people, “Tom really got me. He got me right away.” He sounded like he wrote.

A professional ghostwriter takes the time to learn his client’s voice and to use it in every written word. No one should ever be shocked when the tone of the written word diverges from the tone of the speaker.

Therefore, the first question you need to ask any potential ghostwriter is, “Do you hear voices?”


Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

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