my 500 words

Tips for placing commentaries

Since February 2017, our team has placed nearly 40 commentary pieces primarily in education trades, blogs, and digital news sites including EdSource, The74, SmartBrief, GettingSmart, The Edvocate, and EdScoop. In the next few months, we expect to see three more placements, two of which are on the tip-top of our target list (I dare not reveal the names for fear of jinxing the outcome).

Why is our small firm so successful in this regard? We have an uber-talented group of freelance writers who work closely with the authors who have the byline. Our writers help the author craft the commentaries, helping them hone the important messages and discard the unnecessary. Back-and-forth collaborative work can be a little time consuming, but it’s well worth the effort. It is critical that the commentary appeal to the publication’s readership, which is difficult for company executives, academic researchers, educators and administrators. They are too close to their story to be able to strip out nonessentials and see the story from another angle. This is THE KEY. Commentaries cannot simply restate a company’s key messages. A problem-solution story also rarely works. Editors don’t care about products. They care about people so commentaries have to address something bigger than the product.

Where does product fit into commentaries? It is true that our clients are seeking visibility for their products but in many commentaries, the product doesn’t get mentioned. If it does get included, it must be material to the story line and not wrapped around self-promotional marketing-speak. A few outlets are willing to include mentions of a product providing it is relevant, but most top-tier publications are looking for more significant statements. Commentaries about social issues or interpretations of data, for example, are far more interesting to editors and more likely to get picked up.

Can you make value from a commentary without product mention? Usually the “about the author” section can include the company name and a URL, but there are several other ways commentaries are valuable without a product mention. At the onset, the primary goal should always be to build positive relations between the media and the client company. If a commentary piece is submitted to an editor and it does not abuse the opportunity to self-promote, the editor may develop a favorable impression of the company and the author. Furthermore, they might consider the author as a source for a future story.

If a product is not mentioned anywhere (and even if it is), the company can circulate and share the commentary. Editors appreciate when their content is shared in social channels or included in email campaigns (just be careful to respect copyright, don’t make claims beyond what is printed, and use the correct attribution). To connect to your product, give kudos to the highlighted school district or explain the backstory. Don’t overlook the simple value of having drawn attention to your users, engaging in public discourse, or in sharing your expertise in interpreting some research or data.

I’ve also recently discovered which adds a call-to-action link to direct readers of the commentary piece (or any content item) to your website. This is a great way to connect a relevant page on your client’s website to a commentary, especially when there is no mention in the piece itself.

Of the pieces we’ve recently placed, here are a few of our favorites. When our other pieces go to press, you can be sure we’ll share the good news.

By |2018-09-18T21:38:44+00:00September 17th, 2018|commentary, my 500 words|

Best Practices in Public Relations: Product Screen Grabs

If a media outlet is going to mention your new product or, you will probably need to supply a product image. Some publications will only have a very small space to show your product so pick wisely. Over the years I’ve seen this done well and done poorly so I’m sharing a few tips to maximize the opportunity to share images representing your product in print or online.

Logos or Product Images
If given the choice, I believe a product image is better than a stand-alone logo. However, if you cannot get a really good product image, use a logo because at least it reinforces the brand. If the space is very small, a logo may be preferable unless you can get a critical point across visually in that very small space. In these instances, do not pull a full screen grab or show numerous products like the entire group of supplements for a curriculum package. Instead, use one portion of the product screen. Note this image of Turnitin Feedback Studio. Most people will recognize the recording “play” icon. Without having to write this explicitly, the reader realizes there is an audio element to the product which might not have been mentioned in the write up.

Screen Grab Resolution
A screen grab taken on a monitor is only as detailed as the resolution of the monitor itself – 72 dpi. It isn’t possible to add pixels into image grabbed off the screen as most people do with the print-screen command. Furthermore, taking a really BIG screen image and then scrunching it down to a smaller physical size does not improve the resolution. The best product images come from the native graphic files used to create the product webpage. Talk with a graphic artist and let them either rebuild the image from the native files, or let them work their magic on images they have captured with specialized software. There are workarounds but it takes a specialized skill set. When we need an image quickly that will only be used on the web, my team uses Snagit set to its highest resolution, however this does not mean it is boosting the pixels in the image itself. It only means it will not degrade the image in saving it as a jpg or png file. If we need an image for print purposes, we take the extra steps to ensure the image is 300 dpi per the publication’s specifications, which means our graphic artist gets involved.

What to Show
Speaking of screen grabs, what should be shown? A screen grab might be scrunched into a 2 x 2 inch square. What could the reader possibly gather from such a small image? Simple images make the greatest impression so rather than showing everything, show a small portion. Take the Turnitin image above (with the audio icon) and this full screen from Feedback Studio on an iPad. The audio icon will have far more impact than this large screen. Stand your ground when making these decisions. We often have clients who want to show an impressive report or as much as possible of a product but we have to advocate for what will work best. Even better, grab an image showing a person or a simple graphical element like a custom icon or progress bar set at its highest point.



If the image space in the publication will be large, include the company name or logo on the product image but only if it can be artfully included and actually looks like it belongs there. Stay away from charts and rows of data. Instead, use an image evoking some type of emotional connection like a face or photograph.

The publication might not ask for a caption but it doesn’t hurt to include one. Include your company name and a few keywords but only as they naturally fit the topic. I like to supply two versions: one with less than 10 words and another slightly longer. The caption might not be needed but if it there is space, you reap the benefit. Best captions include action language about how the product benefits the user. Stay away from marketing lingo and instead write about the user or end result.

By |2018-01-20T00:09:47+00:00January 20th, 2018|my 500 words|

Tips for Sending Press Releases to Reporters

This is a great summary of to-dos and not-to-dos when sending press releases to reporters. My addition is to remove some hyperlinks, especially duplicates. Too many hyperlinks could trigger a spam filter. I remove all redundant hyperlinks or change non-essentials into a text format.

Email etiquette for PR pros

By Mickie Kennedy | Posted: February 27, 2015
1. Put a subject line on your email. I simply don’t understand why people send out emails with no subject line. The purpose of the subject line is to inform the recipient what the message is about. If there’s no subject line, you’ve apparently got nothing to tell me.
Read the full article.
By |2017-09-29T20:57:39+00:00February 28th, 2015|my 500 words|

My 500 words: News Releases are DEAD!

Someone told me “The day of the news release is long gone!” Here’s my preferred statement: The day of the news release used in the traditional way is long gone.

When starting off in PR in the late 80’s, we wrote news releases, put them on the wire and called the newspaper reporters or beat editor. When faxes became ubiquitous, we started to broadcast faxes. When email became the preferred mode of communication, we started using emails.

Throughout all this, we still relied on the wire especially when the news was of a timely nature. We could always be sure that the most respected wire services were feeding into nearly every news room. However, there are a few distinct changes in today’s PR that has made the traditional use of the news release obsolete.

  1. More companies exist and more people can use the wire services. With more companies come more PR people and suddenly, there is so much “news” that newsrooms are simply awash in irrelevant information.
  2. Newspaper (and broadcast news) staff are shrinking faster than glaciers in the northern hemisphere. Ink is shrinking, too (i.e. editorial space). Wires keep spilling out news releases and emails keep coming into the editors’ and reporters’ desks.

With so much “news” and so little “ink”, a news release used in the traditional way is truly dead. Someone without a clue writes it and sends it out hoping that somewhere, someone will take an interest and call them because their phone number is on the bottom.

If you are Apple or GM or Microsoft or Intel or another highly visible entity, that might work. Sadly, I don’t represent those companies. My clients are small companies and we have to be scrappy.

News releases now are used with multiple aims:

  1. Sometimes we PR people use them in the traditional manner by pitching them to a specific reporter who we think may be interested in our story idea. We pitch these stories carefully, research our target and make sure we have a REAL story to pitch. The good ol’ phone call and hard work gets that story going, not what went out on the wire.
  2. We use the news release for social media. A well-crafted news release with accompanying multimedia might be passed along because of some interesting tidbit or a cool video. We have to get creative about distributing these (see a future post about the wire service offerings).
  3. We issue news releases on the wire because they now feed into thousands of online news outlets. The best wires feed to Wall Street Journal, CNBC and the like). Wires also reach our local newspapers and broadcast news and we get “reprints” because they take the release verbatim.

The strategy is to get that news release on as many online sites as possible so that when someone searches on your company or your keywords, the release pops up.

Darn…I’m out of space…but I promised!

By |2017-09-29T20:57:44+00:00December 9th, 2009|commentary, my 500 words|