April 02, 2009
/ by Guest Contributor
It wasn’t a promising start. To prep for this piece, I e-mailed a few trusted publicist friends asking which Web sites they check every day. My first reply: “As if I have time to check even ONE every day.” My buddy Ken Werther in the Center Theatre Group press office added cheerfully, “Feel free to quote me.” So I did.
Still, I marched bravely onward. I realized I really do visit at least eight Web sites on a daily basis, and though some might call it obsession, addiction, a time sink or the equivalent of a cigarette break – not that I smoke – it turns out that my business definitely profits from this investment.
Since I’m a Los Angeles publicist representing restaurant, arts and non-profit clients, the Web sites I frequent are naturally different from those of someone handling fashion or healthcare in, say, Kansas. Accordingly, my suggestions may not suit everyone, but I’ll be as general as I can.
Mention Twitter to some folks, and they’ll scoff at the very idea of reading about so-and-so’s hangnail and what thus-and-such had for lunch. Sure, Twitter is filled with the inconsequential, but if you use it properly, it’s the PR pro’s “mother ship” with reach to an unlimited pool of press people and media outlets. It’s certainly THE most wide-ranging resource in my daily arsenal.
If you choose well those you follow, you’ll glean more in 10 minutes on Twitter than you would by searching Web site-by-site in 10 hours. It’s like being able to read 50 (or more) newspapers in a serious fraction of the time it takes to actually do so. For up-to-the-second breaking news, I follow Reuters, KPCC, The Wall Street Journal, various Los Angeles Times and New York Times tweeters and other news sources. To keep track of who’s covering what, my list includes client-related media outlets, editors, individual writers and blogs. Not only does this provide day-by-day familiarity with these outlets (and isn’t that the number one rule of PR?) but I’m also quickly alerted when they’ve run something from a press release I’ve blasted. If you’re not already twittering, do yourself a favor and check it out.
Almost half my Facebook “friends” are journalists with whom I’ve had contact over the years but often don’t know on a personal level, so my access to them on this site produces valuable results. I obtain the kind of info I might overhear at an office water cooler or by perhaps attending a couple of business mixers a day — without giving up the time (or the valet parking charge). By setting my Facebook bookmark to the FRIENDS page (rather than the horrid junk-filled HOME link), with “Status Updates” selected as the default, I find out things like an editor is out of town or home sick that day, which tells me I’d better wait to send an important e-mail. I recently saw a comment by a writer about yet another newspaper’s demise, which spurred responses from former staffers whose reminiscences I would not normally have been privy to. When I read a journalist’s status update announcing his minutes-old layoff, I was able to express my sympathies while managing to reroute a pitch scheduled to go out to this writer that very afternoon. I definitely don’t pitch via Facebook, but many writers respond much faster to a Facebook message than they might via e-mail – if they’d even find my e-mail at all in an overflowing in box.
Sure, this site appeals to the voyeur in us – but it also gives me an advantage I wouldn’t want to do without.
3. Peter Shankman
Although Peter Shankman is technically a person, he’s pretty much a bunch of Web sites rolled into one via his Help A Reporter Out (HARO) mega-network. A self-described “ingenious worldwide connector,” he’s grown a 70,000-strong audience to validate that first adjective. (Are there really that many publicists in the world? Presumably the group includes other professions.)
A year ago, he founded HARO, which matchmakes journalists, writers and bloggers with sources, because “…reporters don’t want to hate publicists, and publicists don’t want to come across as idiots,” he explained in a 2008 interview.
Thrice-daily e-mails, free for anyone who signs up, list 15 to 20 requests from media people. They also contain an unobtrusive text-only ad, a chatty “what’s new in Peter’s life that day” (both easy to skip, as he’ll tell you himself) and periodic “pitch well,” “stay on topic” reminders. Peter scolds – and often “outs” and bans – responders who violate the rules, i.e. “come across as idiots” to journalists who let him know when that happens.
His personal Web site is www.shankman.com, and he also offers daily “What’s New On HARO” videos at www.whoh.com. I can’t say that I have time to watch them, or to read his blog very often, but I wouldn’t miss subscribing to his e-mails, which have resulted in cool client coverage for me and other publicists I know. Take this link if you’re among the few not already signed up.
4. LA Observed and the “ist” Network
Staying up to date about what’s going on in my greater-area neighborhood is made pretty seamless by two key Web sites here in Los Angeles, and I get info, news and – most important — ideas from both of these dot.coms: LAObserved and LAist.
The former, run by extremely well-connected journalist Kevin Roderick, is a “must read” covering the media, politics, business, culture, books and “life,” according to its About page.
I also frequent LAist, edited by the affable, resourceful Zach Behrens, for its coverage of (and links to) news, politics, the local music scene, sports, restaurants, arts, culture and other entertainment. This ultra-blog is part of a network that also produces Gothamist in New York and “ist” sites in San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, DC, Austin, Houston, Philadelphia, Seattle, Toronto, London and, oddly enough, Shanghai.
So even if you live in, well, Kansas, I highly recommend bookmarking LA Observed and keeping an eye on it, the way you might check out the New York Times from time to time. And although it’s impossible to keep tabs on all the “ist” sites directly, I get a sense of what’s being covered outside Los Angeles in “ist” cities relevant to my clients by following one or two on Twitter.
5. Media News and Web sites
I’m of course partial to my own PRLosAngelesMediaMoves blog, which reports changes in contacts at media outlets with a dash of slightly snarky commentary. It skews pretty local to Southern California, but you’ll also see the occasional national update, and I offer links to many of the other “media moves” Web site sources that supplement my own research. Here’s info about the ones I find most comprehensive.
Cision Navigator’s Media Updates
Cision offers valuable national and international media updates, and they also stay current with announcements of new blogs. Rather than visiting daily, I subscribe to a weekly e-mail which reminds me to check in for the latest.
Media Bistro’s Revolving Door
Media Bistro’s info-packed Revolving Door page, which you can have e-mailed twice weekly, adds a layer to its media updates by also offering personnel comings and goings in the worlds of PR and publishing.
This site describes itself as, “Your daily fix of media industry news, commentary, and memos.” It’s less about personnel changes and more about the state of the media industry in general, but its links to stories from outlets around the country are comprehensive.
If you’re saying, “Huh?”, here’s my thinking: With my crowded schedule and the number of e-mails I receive daily, I’ve found it truly beneficial to use a Web-based e-mail system like Hotmail and three or four e-mail addresses to isolate low-priority list subscriptions and other non-urgent reads from must-see-right-away communications. My Outlook inbox is reserved for the latter, while I leave a Hotmail window open to check everything else when I have a chance.
For example, mailing lists to which I subscribe are sent to one Hotmail address, my blog correspondence goes to another, online orders e-mail goes to a third, and so forth. I could use Yahoo!, Google‘s Gmail or probably any number of other free services, but Hotmail lets you link up to five (Hotmail) addresses so you can switch from one address to the other with a simple click, rather than having to log in and out. Hotmail also gets points for effectively directing spam to an easy-to-access junk folder.
Maintaining multiple e-mail addresses for various purposes keeps me better organized, and Hotmail’s specific features save me lots of time.
Don’t laugh. Wouldn’t you love a 10-second break from the daily chaos to gaze at a pretty sunset, laugh at a funny photo or zone out on an animated lava lamp? Check out iGoogle to create a personalized page populated with themes and gadgets. You’ll select from what seems like millions of options ranging from an “Ansel Adams Photo of the Day” to interactive Zen Meditation Chimes (I kid you not) and everything in between. I’ve got one of those lava lamps on my iGoggle page, plus paintings by Renoir and Monet, a hangman game, photos of “Places to See Before You Die,” world Webcams that refresh every minute, and stuff like that. I leave this page in an open window to visit whenever I need to briefly rest my eyes on something soothingly beautiful – or mindless.
8. Input from Other Publicists
Besides party-pooper Kenny, what did other publicists suggest?
Geffen Playhouse Communications Director Allison Rawlings likes Springwise, which she says is “a collection of cool new business ideas and trends from around the world. Even though most of the stuff isn’t relevant to my particular field, it’s amazing how one of the seemingly irrelevant ideas can spark something that works for your purposes.”
Tina Brown‘s Daily Beast was suggested by The Donahue Group’s uber-creative Craig Donahue, and New York-based Peter Shankman’s picks included Gawker. Chicago Symphony PR Director Rachelle Roe maintains that ArtsJournal, which broadly covers classical music, opera, dance, visual arts, jazz, theatre, media, people, books and publishing, “is essential because it pulls from international news sources and gives a great ‘state-of-the-day’ overview of what’s happening.”
Of course, for every publicist, there will be eight (or more) other suggestions. And honestly, it’s a rare week without at least one day of out-of-control deadlines, so I’m not 100% consistent about visiting my faves. But like the little engine that could, I invest my time as much as I can, and the resulting business growth is a powerful dividend.
Laura Stegman is based in Los Angeles and is the president of Laura Segal Stegman Public Relations, LLC. She blogs regularly on her own site, PRLosAngelesMediaMoves, and her Twitter handle is @LauraStegman.
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