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When the Headline is You

October 25th, 2010 / 7:00 am

Every day I apply skills that I have acquired from the several mentors with whom I’ve been fortunate to associate during my career. When it comes to the art of media training – one of the core services of PR that I enjoy the most – over the years I have prepared several hundred leaders in North America and Asia for interview encounters with journalists. There’s no doubt that I would have never been able to develop this track record absent my proximity to the great Jeff Ansell, the legendary former news anchor from my home town of Toronto, Canada.

In the early 1990s, Jeff ran the media training practice at our old public relations firm, Hill & Knowlton Canada. During those formative years, I watched in awe as Jeff would mesmerize often petrified executives with his oratory and his on-camera prowess. While sometimes visibly shaken about what Jeff would do to them playing an aggressive journalist in interview simulations (and he sure played rough!), all of them left the room indelibly engraved with the mark of Jeff’s training excellence. As a young 20-something executive, I was fortunate to learn by osmosis from this master of the communications craft.

Fast-forward to 2008, when I was back in Canada re-connecting with friends and family after 14 years overseas. Jeff called to let me know he had written a book about media training, and asked me to read an early copy of When the Headline is You and provide opinions. At first when I flipped through the draft, I was concerned that Jeff – who would never share his training decks electronically lest their precious content fall into ‘the wrong hands’ – was releasing the ‘secret sauce’ of media relations. Sort of like KFC disclosing Colonel Sanders’ confidential recipe, or Coca-Cola revealing the ingredients of their proprietary formula. But as I plowed through the pages, I realized what a wonderful service Jeff would be providing a large community of readers by transparently sharing with them the same wisdom and experience from which I had so richly benefited over the years.

Jeff just launched the book, and I recommend it without reservation (especially for PR students and as a refresher for long-time media relations professionals looking for some original perspective). I can’t put it any better than I did on the back cover:

When the Headline is You is the world’s most sophisticated yet sensible guide to making the most of journalist interactions.”

Congratulations to my old friend on becoming a published author of a great PR book.

Categories: media relations
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A revolution coming in Japanese media relations?

November 23rd, 2009 / 12:00 pm

Yesterday’s edition of The New York Times contained an interesting article that caught my eye: “New Leaders in Japan Seek to End Cozy Ties to Press Clubs.”

Japanese media event

When I was building a communications consultancy in Tokyo from scratch in 2005, I remember being told repeatedly that one reason foreign-owned PR firms would never be successful in Japan is the unique press club system of that country, where the mainstream media continues to loom very large with newspapers reigning supreme.

Like a lot of the dire predictions I heard in a discouraging way in those days (e.g. “Japan is too expensive for a profitable business,” “You will never find talented employees,” etc.), it proved to be grossly overstated, but I did experience the power of the press clubs and saw their critical role in making or breaking successful media relations campaigns.

I remember one time [2007] we issued a news release announcing the new CEO of a company. We distributed it via e-mail, with a picture of the new leader attached. We also dispatched one of our team to the relevant press club (who needed to seek permission to do so beforehand), and she distributed the release by hand, which was accompanied by a hard copy of the CEO’s picture (on photo stock). As the newcomer to Japan, I was surprised how much of the resulting coverage came from the hard copy material circulated via the press club rather than via electronic means.

These press clubs have been analogue anachronisms in a digital age, but that is part of the challenge and the charm of PR in Japan. This is a country where press releases are still credible, where large-scale press events remain commonplace, and where PR agencies still send faxes to reporters. It’s also a land where through ‘desk-side’ briefings, there can be a more friendly relationship-rich approach to media relations.

Neighboring Korea also had a similar system of press clubs, but with the propagation of e-mail addresses several  years ago came the ability to communicate with media point-to-point, thus breaching ‘the wall.’ Things can take longer in Japan — often for the better, sometimes for the worse — and now that there’s real reform coming in the ‘news cartel’ system in Tokyo, the pent-up demand for modern communications consulting will rapidly boost firms able to compete on consulting quality, not just media relations quantity.

Categories: blog, media relations
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