The Standard Book of PR Spells

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“Words are in my not-so-humble opinion, the most inexhaustible form of magic we have, capable both of inflicting injury and remedying it.” ― Albus Dumbledore, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”

At Media Minefield, we are in the business of magic. Our Core Focus is to redefine public relations with a little magic. Words are our wands.

In honor of the 20th anniversary of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”, we thought we would give you Muggles a peek at our spellbooks to let you in on some of our secrets, the spells we use every day.

Lumos Your Message (Lumos = The Lighting Charm)

It always starts with your message. As a company and as a brand, you need to know your key messages. Once they are identified and you have some consistent language, then you can illuminate them through earned media.

Accio Earned Media (Accio = The Summoning Charm)

There are many opportunities to generate earned media for yourself and/or your business. The most effective way is to provide expert advice. The benefits of earned media coverage are an increase in visibility, awareness, name recognition and business.

Reparo Your Image (Reparo = The Mending Charm)

Unfortunately, in this day of social media reviews and 24-hour news cycles, some sort of media crisis is nearly unavoidable. It is how you handle the crisis that really matters. We recommend taking ownership, apologizing when necessary and outlining action steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again. The public is forgiving and images can certainly be repaired.

We work with media contacts across the country, and we have yet to work with a Rita Skeeter using a Quick-Quotes quill to make up inaccurate quotes for The Daily Prophet, but we certainly have helped clients dodge some media dangers reminiscent of the Dark Arts. It’s important to have a PR Witch or Wizard on your side so that earned media opportunities can work their magic for you and your business.

“What were you doing under our windows, boy?

‘Listening to the news,’ said Harry in a resigned voice.

His aunt and uncle exchanged looks of outrage.

‘Listening to the news! Again?’

‘Well, it changes every day, you see,’ said Harry.”

― “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”

What To Do When Earned Media Is Off-Message

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Talk to anyone who has been interviewed by the media multiple times and they probably have an example of an earned media story that wasn’t everything they hoped it would be. We are experts in the area, and even we found ourselves in this situation recently. With earned media, you aren’t paying for coverage, so you don’t always know how your message will be featured or the angle of the story.

Sometimes the media makes mistakes. Sometimes, they paraphrase. Sometimes, they pull out a portion of your quote. Sometimes, you wish you would have said something different. No matter what the reason, you have a few options when dealing with earned media that is off-message.

Grin & Bear It

In our case, our Core Values were edited and paraphrased for length in an online article about work perks. We certainly wouldn’t have used that language ourselves, but it is still on-message with our brand. However, we strive for consistent messaging, so we decided not to promote it on our social media channels. In our experience, writers will remove a word or two from a quote to make it fit with their paragraph. Again, in these cases, our client’s message is still delivered, and they are still being featured as the expert. It is still a win and isn’t worth seeking any action.

Ask For a Retraction

This is extremely rare, but we have had to do it for a couple of our clients. If facts are wrong or a quote is twisted and it is bad for your brand, it is worth it to go this route. Getting a retraction is typically an involved process, and it helps to have someone on your side who speaks the language and understands what can and should be corrected. This usually requires involving the higher-ups in a news organization. Any changes to a story after it becomes public will have to be noted.

Go On The Offense

Don’t wait for the media to come to you. You should be putting yourself out there to talk about stories and situations that highlight your expertise and your brand. Right now, we are working with a company that just came off a media experience they felt was off-message. We are showing them how you can control your message and generate positive press.

You may be asking yourself, why should you take the risk of pursuing earned media? The answer lies in the power of editorial endorsements. You are seen as an expert in your field. It increases credibility with potential clients/customers and your competition. Several of our clients have received calls to their office after a live interview while they were still on air!    

Earned media is so powerful, advertising is now posing as editorial endorsements. Radio hosts are paid to push a product or company. Ads today often sound like they are interviews. Print or online advertising is written to look like an article. But consumers are savvy. They know the difference between advertising and earned media, making earned media a great asset for your business.

 

An Open Letter To Journalists

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As former journalists, we remember what that life was like: always on a deadline, frantically making calls to get the interview or statement you need, under pressure to be the first to break the story. It is a stressful world.

Since Media Minefield’s inception, we have been focused on making life easier for our media contacts across the country. The needs of journalists are as important to us as the goals of our clients. But like any good partnership, there are things we need from you, our media contacts.

Reach Out
There is nothing we dislike more than seeing a story involving one of our clients without a comment from our client. If you know anything about us, you know we don’t believe in a “no comment.” We preach this to our clients, so if you give us the opportunity to respond- we will! We know you have been conditioned to believe that companies will give you nothing more than a “no comment” and that PR people will take days to get back to you. Your frustrations with the industry are the same as ours. It is why we are intentionally different, and it leads us right into our next point.

Don’t Pre-Judge Us
As former journalists, we have been in your shoes. We have received emails from PR firms that didn’t know how to spell our names. We have mass deleted an in-box full of outdated, wordy press releases. We hope to never be one of “those PR people” for you. We promise we will do our homework, only pitch you stories we believe you would actually be interested in and never send you press releases. We only ask one thing in return: don’t assume you know us, our background, our goals or our game. Unless you are assuming we are working to give you an interesting, informative, entertaining interview or story.

Remember Our Name
When we do give you that interesting, informative or entertaining interview, we hope you will remember our name. Media Minefield came from being in your world, from seeing business after business and publicist after publicist handle PR all wrong. It was birthed by a journalist who was fed up with receiving “no comment”, missing deadlines due to a PR fail and getting phone calls during breaking news. It came because we believe businesses and the media can and should help each other. We are looking to build a relationship with our media contacts, to be someone they can turn to when they need an expert or a hometown story or a response from a national company in a crisis or need an interview who understands how to talk in sound bites! And you can count on us to move at the speed of news.

Around here, we often joke our new media contact is our new best friend because we value him or her so much. We might not be able to grab coffee with each and every one of our contacts, but we feel your pain. We understand and want to give you, your audience and your editors excellent content that meets your deadline.

Redefining Public Relations with a Little Magic

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When it comes to earned media (the kind of media you don’t pay for), Public Relations is an often misunderstood, sometimes misliked and occasionally despised industry.

We are trying to change the perception of the industry. We believe in the power of the press, especially when leveraged via social media, because it offers businesses and brands a unique ability to receive legitimate recognition. 

However, after hearing so many horror stories from our news contacts and our clients, who have had bad experiences with firms, we wanted to offer some tips to help you hire the right firm and approach your current PR relationship with realistic expectations.

No hidden agenda here. We love earned media and want you to see its value as well!

Expectations

If your goal for using a PR firm is to secure media in credible outlets that target your audience, they should do it. It sounds simple, but it isn’t. PR and kids’ sports (don’t get us started) seem to be the only places where effort is accepted and even rewarded. A seven-page report outlining all of the outlets your firm reached out to, is of no benefit if they did not secure actual media interviews.

Fees

There are many different pricing models in the market. We’ve heard of firms that encourage writers to spend hours writing a press release to increase the invoice. We’ve heard of firms who significantly increase the cost of posting press releases on a news wire. We’ve heard of firms who charge thousands on media kits. Some firms ask for a long-term commitment, some charge per media interview and some charge hourly. Our advice is to find a firm that aligns with your goals. Do you want to pay for time? Do you want to pay for materials to give to the press? Do you want to pay for someone to secure you interviews? 

Experience

To ensure your firm can secure earned media, they need to think like news reporters, writers and decision-makers. The PR professional handling your account needs to understand the difference between a package and vo/sot, an MMJ and a photog. In fact, they need to have written them so they know how to write copy that could actually be printed, published or broadcast. Only a media-centered mindset can be successful in securing regular and consistent media. For example, we rarely use press releases because we know, based on our experience as journalists, they are not reliable for securing regular media coverage. We believe in securing media based on the relationships we’ve built with media contacts across the country. Ask your firm what their placement rate is? How many of their clients have they secured media interviews for? (Shameless plug: We have a 100% placement rate, which means all the clients we’ve ever worked with have received media interviews.)

Practice

You are a (fill in the blank) expert. You are not a news anchor, reporter or host. You should not be expected to know how to do a good TV, radio or phone interview. You should not know which camera to look at or how much makeup to wear or how to talk in sound bites. Request training and practice from your firm prior to each interview. Make sure they teach you how to handle a tough question during a live interview. Oh boy, do we have stories….

Provide ROI    

PR is often referred to as a marathon, not a sprint, and it can be difficult to show ROI. However, it is totally reasonable to request viewership and valuation reports so you know how many people are seeing and listening to your appearances. Whether it is client retention, new clients, new employees or increased brand recognition, you should expect to receive value from your relationship with a public relations firm.

At Media Minefield, we are redefining public relations with a little magic. We are disrupting the industry because accountability, honesty and results should be part of any PR relationship.

Masters of Sportsmanship

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In the final day of the Masters tournament at Augusta, all eyes were on two players – Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose. The two golf greats battled back and forth all day. The entire time, they were congratulating each other, high-fiving and showing the world what it is like to be Masters of Sportsmanship.

The day ended in a playoff with (spoiler alert) Sergio winning his first ever green jacket. But the classy behavior from these two continued. They hugged after the match and Sergio said Justin told him no one deserved it more than he did. In interviews, they both praised each other. On Twitter, Justin said, “Incredible battle out there. Sport in the moment is tough. But it’s just sport. Hope you guys enjoyed it.” Sergio said, “I think at the end of the day, we are all trying to win, but we’re all people and we have to represent our game… We wanted to beat the other guy, not the other one to lose it.”

Sergio is right on. He and Justin were representing their game. They have a personal brand, one that is on full display at the Masters. But as we remind our clients, athletes aren’t the only people who need to think about their personal brand. The CEO of a Fortune 500 and an entrepreneur both have personal brands they need to be aware of. Like it or not, they represent their company just like athletes represent their game or their team. Decisions, statements and actions should be filtered with that in mind.   

When it comes to public image, we have one piece of advice- make your mom proud. It is safe to say both Justin and Sergio made their moms proud. In our Media Training seminars with the Minnesota Timberwolves players, we encourage them to utilize “the mom test.” Would my mom be proud of this comment or decision or reaction? We will do our public images a great deal of good if we can avoid any situation where we answer “no.”

You may not have made all the best decisions about your public image in the past, but the public loves a good comeback story. Just ask Sergio. The Spaniard has not always made his mom proud. He has been accused of making excuses for poor play, blaming officials and even golf gods. He had a public feud with Tiger Woods that lasted for over a decade and found himself in the middle of a PR crisis after making a comment about Tiger many considered racist. Yet during this Masters, that Sergio was nowhere to be found. This was the Sergio concerned with representing his sport. This was the Sergio that would finally break an 18-year tour victory slump. This was the Sergio we were all cheering for. And this is the Sergio we are now calling a Master of Sportsmanship.

 

Death of the Press Release

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STRICT EMBARGO: Until April 1, 2017 (Who sends stuff that can’t be reported now??)

Contact: Media Minefield
Media-minefield.com
twitter.com/MediaMinefield

Death of the Press Release
~This press release is to announce the end of the press release era~

Minnetonka, MN (April 1, 2017) – On this day, the first of April, 2017, we officially declare the death of the press release. No longer will these .pdf-attached emails fill newsroom inboxes and clog fax machines. The practice of writing press releases has outlived its usefulness. Let’s be honest, how many people actually read press releases?

The press release is preceded in death by the typewriter, telegraph and rotary phone, which became obsolete when new technology and practices came along. It is the way of the world. Some like to call it “survival of the fittest.” And the press release is not fit.

“If you still rely solely on a press release, I’d suggest ditching your cell phone and mounting a CB in your car,” says Media Minefield CEO, Kristi Piehl. Mark Edwards says “It’s a waste of time.” “One time I got a press release delivered in a shoe. Fancy does not equal coverage,” says Andrea McMaster. “Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. In my world, receiving a press release was quickly followed by hitting delete,” declares Michelle Lawless. “Not to sound callous, but I’m surprised press releases have survived for so long,” says Allison Ortiz. “My favorite press releases came with food. I liked to read the headline. And anything in bold,” exclaims Conny Bergerson. “I only opened press releases half the time, and I was not thrilled I had to do it,” confesses Christina Vandre. “Oh good! Another press release in my inbox. I’m so excited to read this,” says no reporter ever! Recycling bins everywhere say, “thank you.”

Blah, blah, blah… Wait? You’re still reading? We only put this here to make the press release seem longer and more important. We don’t have anything left to say. In fact, we know you didn’t really need anything beyond the first paragraph. So, please, go about your day.

About Media Minefield:
Media Minefield is redefining public relations with a little magic. Based in Minneapolis, Minnesota and with an office in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, our growing Media Team is comprised of former journalists who know what it takes to get a story in the headlines. There is a good chance you know our clients; from coast to coast they receive positive press in media outlets most valuable to help them share their individual messages. Our clients have been featured in national news outlets like Bloomberg Businessweek and USA Today and on The Today Show. In the past 12 months, we secured features in more than 700 distinct media outlets in cities across the United States. Media Minefield was founded in 2010 by a former TV reporter and prides itself on its 100% placement record, meaning we have secured media coverage for every client we have ever worked with. For more information, visit media-minefield.com.
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What We Can Learn From United’s Legging-Gate

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It seems social media, celebrities and the news media can’t get enough of United’s Legging-Gate (as we have dubbed it!)

In case you (somehow) missed it, United Airlines found itself in the middle of a PR crisis on Sunday after refusing to let two teenaged girls board a flight because they were wearing leggings. The scene played out in a series of tweets from another passenger and sparked massive social media debate. Days later, United Airlines and its social media team are still trying to get a handle on the situation. So, what can be learned from this PR nightmare?

One Shot To Respond
When faced with a PR crisis, we tell our clients: you have one chance to respond and get it right. In this case, United’s initial social media response did nothing but fan the flames of an increasingly upset Twitterverse. United said repeatedly via Twitter in those crucial first few minutes, “UA shall have the right to refuse passengers who are not properly clothed via our Contract of Carriage.

It wasn’t until hours later that we learned the girls were “pass travelers” who were subject to different standards than paying travelers. We would argue this was the most important information for the irate public to know; paying customers will not be denied passage on United for wearing leggings. While this information did come out, it was not in the initial response. United said it tries to always respond quickly to its customers. That is a great policy, but we tell our clients that, especially in a potential crisis situation, getting the facts straight is more important than the speed of your response. As Warren Buffet said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you will do things differently.”

Empathy Goes A Long Way
Not only was United’s initial response lacking the most important information to help curb disgust with the company, it also lacked emotion. A little bit of empathy would likely have gone a long way. We encourage our clients to take responsibility and apologize when they have made a misstep, as United did with its first tweet. The public is forgiving. However, if you dig in your heels, you can expect the public will do the same. United isn’t budging on its handling of the situation or its stance. All of the responses we have seen from the company have been matter of fact and defending the decision to bar the girls from boarding the plane. We aren’t suggesting United change its policy because of social media pressure; however, showing some understanding for why the public is so upset could have helped the situation. Again, it is important to note, in order for an empathetic response to elicit empathy, it needs to be your first response.   

Be Warned When Entering The Fray
Who said flying is friendly? Delta Airlines couldn’t help itself. It entered the fray with a tweet of its own that read, “Flying Delta means comfort. (That means you can wear your leggings.)” The obvious dig at United certainly had the impact Delta wanted. It has been retweeted more than 28,000 times. But, as some have pointed out, Delta has its own travel pass program with dress standards. A Delta spokesperson said it doesn’t have item-specific clothing restrictions but encourages no swimwear, sleepwear or underwear as outerwear.

To Delta and any other company that decides to try and take advantage of a competitor’s PR crisis, we say: be careful. You are putting yourself in the crosshairs. You can bet social media will be watching if Delta refuses any of its customers, travel pass or not, to board based on attire (or lack thereof). Because Delta put it out there that comfort is its standard, the backlash would certainly be twice as bad.

What should companies do to avoid their own Legging-Gate? The same thing we would tell United. Don’t wing it. Fly the straight and narrow. If you follow our tips, your brand should really take flight!

When Spin Becomes a Tornado

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Spin is defined as a usually ingenious twist; a special point of view, emphasis or interpretation presented for the purpose of influencing opinion. It is something we are quite familiar with in our business. However, spin is not something to be taken lightly. Too much spin and you could find yourself in the midst of a tornado; one that could level your personal brand and your business.

Know Your Spin
First and foremost, spin is not bad. Whether you are concerned about a corporate or personal brand, spin is understanding who you are. At Media Minefield, your message is our mission. Businesses and individuals need to know their message and take every opportunity to reiterate and reinforce it. Dippin’ Dots recently did this well, leveraging old tweets from the new White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, into earned media gold. Instead of being upset Spicer called Dippin’ Dots the “ice cream of the past”, the company CEO wrote a letter that said they “understand ice cream is a serious matter” and offered to throw the White House press corps an ice cream social. The exchange went viral and was covered by media outlets across the country.  

Understandable Spin
Spin can only be effective if it can be understood. At Media Minefield, our Founder and CEO, Kristi Piehl, uses this Albert Einstein quote when giving speeches about messaging, “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Consumers or clients must be able to easily understand your message. Take this statement from the J.C. Penney CEO after announcing the company was closing 140 stores across the country, “We believe the relevance of our brick-and-mortar portfolio will be driven by the implementation of these initiatives consistently to a larger percent of our stores. Therefore, our decision to close stores will allow us to raise the overall brand standard of the company and allocate capital more efficiently.” What?!? Did you understand the message?

Spin, Don’t Lie
Spin is not lying. It is an ingenious twist. Lying is never the right move in life or in PR. Blue Buffalo Dog Food found that out the hard way. The company claimed it never used poultry by-product in its dog food. Purina filed a lawsuit claiming false advertising after its testing determined otherwise. The CEO of Blue Buffalo came out immediately calling the testing “voodoo science.” Only when the company was faced with undeniable proof in court did it admit any wrongdoing.   

Control Your Spin
Spin can quickly get out of control. If you don’t do something immediately, it will endanger your business and your reputation. #DeleteUber was trending on social media after the company was accused by a former female engineer of rampant sexism and sexual harassment. The company’s CEO came out calling the accusations “abhorrent” and promising a full investigation, for which they hired former Attorney General Eric Holder. Good move, until users who were deleting their accounts starting posting the email they received from the company explaining they were “deeply hurting” and referencing the former employee who made the accusations by name more than once. The move to name the former employee was called intimidating and ignorant. Uber claimed it only sent a handful of emails and has stopped sending them.

When it comes to spin, it is best to keep in mind what Edward R. Murrow said, “To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; credible we must be truthful.”

Spin carefully.

New Dictionary Words, Media Minefield-style

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Yowza! Merriam-Webster added more than 1,000 words to the dictionary. At Margarita Friday, you will often hear Miners geeking out about what we are binge-watching, so we are thrilled these terms are now official. However, because this is a safe space, we must say we thought it was weak sauce that these Media Minefield favorites didn’t make the cut.

Miners
noun | mine-ers
: one who works at Media Minefield exceeding clients’ expectations, engaging in the culture and living out the core values each day

Miners at Heart
noun | mine-ers-at-heart
: a core value at Media Minefield, one with a deep commitment to Media Minefield and fellow Miners, who is all in and not afraid to wear a cape

News Ninjas
noun | news-nin-jas
: one who understands what it is like to work at the pace of news, who works well on deadlines and is constantly learning

Octopus
verb | oc-to-pus
: to share information through our internal system which has several arms to distribute information < similar to “google it” >

Drunk Octopus
noun | drunk-oc-to-pus
: when there is a hiccup in the internal system

Unicorn
noun | u-ni-corn
: official mascot of Media Minefield, a symbol to remind ourselves and others that anything is possible

Since we are on a mission to change the PR industry, we are quite sure these terms will end up in a Merriam-Webster Dictionary someday. Don’t throw shade or give us side-eye. We are aware that is a humblebrag, but what can we say? When your mascot is a unicorn, you know big things can happen!

*In case you didn’t catch on, all of the words in bold are from the list of new words added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

The Culture of Winning

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Who would have guessed that the 2017 Super Bowl would find the New England Patriots facing off against the Atlanta Falcons? The Falcons are looking for their first Super Bowl win, under the guidance of first-time head coach Dan Quinn. Quinn, it seems, has found the secret to winning – culture.

Focus on Team
You would be hard pressed to find an interview with Coach Quinn where he doesn’t talk about his team’s “brotherhood.” “Q,” as his players call him, stole it from Navy Seals when he invited them to run drills with the team and teach them teamwork, stress management, leadership and communication. That brotherhood extends beyond the players. The Falcons owner is flying all of the organization’s employees to Houston for the Super Bowl.

Team is central to our success at Media Minefield as well. We refer to it as being “Miners at Heart.” It is one of our Core Values and means we are committed to each other, all in and never afraid to wear capes!

Speak the Same Language
Ask anyone from Quarterback Matt Ryan to the last guy on the practice squad, they all understand Coach Quinn’s philosophy, and most importantly, they have all bought in. Quinn, his staff and his players are all speaking the same language.

At Media Minefield, we have The State of the Minefield to ensure we are all rowing in the same direction.  At this bi-annual, all-company meeting, our head coach (CEO Kristi Piehl) casts the vision and gives us details about where we are and where we are going. As EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) has taught us, it is difficult to get traction and achieve goals if you aren’t all on the same page.

Have Fun
For the Falcons, fun centers around ping pong. Last spring, the team redesigned the locker room and put in a ping pong table. It was such a hit, they added two more tables. Coach Quinn has been quoted as as saying, “Usually, when you’re really good on the field, it starts in the locker room.”

At Media Minefield, we love a good dress-up day, everything from Superhero Day to our upcoming Punny Day. We have been locked in more escape rooms than we can count. We even had a personalized puzzle room designed for our last Christmas party. Weekly, our Margarita Fridays are a time for us to come together for lunch, laugh and drink amazing frozen margaritas. Team building is a key part of our culture and our success.

The Falcons may not be favored to win Super Bowl 51, but we wouldn’t count them out yet. As we have seen at Media Minefield, when you embrace the culture of winning, it is hard to stop.

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