November 2016

Monthly Archives

  • How to Respond When the Media Gets It Wrong

    Most journalists pride themselves on checking their facts and informing the public about all manner of information. However, mistakes happen and in the world of digital media, the old proverb holds truer than ever: a lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is still getting its pants on.

    So what can you do?

    First, stay cool. While it can be frustrating and expensive to correct misinformation, attacking the person who made the mistake rarely has the desired effect. When was the last time you bent over backwards to help someone who yelled at you or embarrassed you in front of others? So, take a deep breath and be polite.

    The nature of the mistake and the public response should guide your next move. categorizes journalistic mistakes as follows:

    • Error of Omission
    • Ethical Issue
    • Fabrication
    • Faulty Statistics or Math
    • Headline Problem
    • Misquotation
    • Mistaken Identity
    • Other
    • Photo/Illustration Error
    • Simple Factual Error
    • Typo, Spelling, Grammar

    Clearly, some of these are more damaging than others.

    If a story includes a factual error, a typo, or some other black-and-white mistake that’s relatively easy to correct, most reputable media outlets will print a retraction and correct the online version of the story. To facilitate this, call or email the journalist and outline the error. If you have documentation supporting your position, share it.

    If a story misses a critical fact, it’s still important to share this with the journalist, but it’s less certain as to whether the media outlet will print a correction. As journalists scramble to keep up with a 24-hour news cycle, they sometimes go to press before they’ve collected all the salient facts. The hope is that by bringing the omission to the journalist’s attention, he or she will, at the very least, use the new information if the story continues to develop.

    Almost regardless of the mistake, it’s important to get the corrected information out as soon as possible. Depending on the severity of the mistake, informing the journalist is only the first step. If the mistake threatens your reputation, get in touch with your stakeholders directly to share the facts (see my article on how to develop clear, concise messages). Consider using social media, advertising and other media outlets to tell your side of the story. Hold press conferences. Schedule radio interviews. Make a YouTube video. Find reputable surrogates who will share the truth for you, and who will strongly defend your integrity.

    Please note that I said, “Almost regardless of the mistake… ” Before you go completely nuts, pounding your chest and excoriating the folks who got the story wrong, make sure it is not your bruised ego making a mountain out of a molehill. Sometimes, it’s best to let a little correction run and leave it at that. You don’t want to draw more attention to the mistake than would have occurred otherwise.


  • The All-Important Elevator Speech

    How many times has someone asked you to describe what you do, what you’re promoting, or what you believe in, and you fumble the opportunity? If you aren’t prepared to answer, it’s easy to fail. What people are often asking (without asking) is “What’s the IMPACT of what you do, what you’re promoting, or what you believe in?” They want to know why it matters, and how it affects them.

    Let’s use my communications work as an example. What do I do? I do a lot of writing: columns/blogs, press releases, marketing plans, and website content. Are you bored yet? I am.

    If I have the length of an elevator ride to share what I do, it’s gotta be interesting. I try to figure out what it is about my work that would be valuable to someone.

    To the experienced CEO with too much on his or her plate, I could say something like, “By ghost-writing your blog, I help broaden your influence, establishing you as the expert and thought leader you are. I can take your ideas and use your voice to connect with your audience. That leaves time for you to do what you do best.”

    I like the direct, concrete approach, but there are many great approaches. Using advice from one of my favorite marketing books, Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick, I recommend incorporating several of the following attributes into your elevator speech: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, an emotional appeal, and/or a great story.

    If you’d like help developing your elevator speech, let me know.

  • Intent v. Impact: Is What You’re Saying What They’re Hearing?

    Communicating effectively requires paying attention to the intent of a message as well as its impact. In their book, Be Quiet Be Heard: The Paradox of Persuasion, husband and wife authors Drs. Peter and Susan Glaser beautifully illustrate the difference between a message’s content (the facts) and its interpretation (the meaning). Whether you’re communicating in the board room, the classroom, or the living room, recognizing how your message is interpreted can help you connect so what you mean to say matches what others hear.

    Acknowledging the power dynamics in a relationship and considering your message from your audience’s point of view can help reduce miscommunication. If you are a leader asking a subordinate when he or she will finish a project, you may simply be trying to plan your next move; however, your employee may feel attacked. You ask, “When will your project be done?” He or she hears, “Why is this taking so long? I’m unhappy with your performance.”

    If you see body language that suggests your message didn’t land as intended, check it out. If your employee crosses his or her arms in a defensive stance, takes a deep breath and looks away from you, or seems generally put out, ask a follow up question or attempt to clarify your position. “I’m asking so I can figure out how to plan for the steps that follow your project. I really appreciate your work on this.”

    Genuine, specific praise is a great way to help people feel more confident, and to interpret your message in the most positive light.

  • Dealing with Bullies in the Workplace

    When we graduated from high school, many of us hoped we were leaving behind the petty, annoying behaviors that made adolescence so unpleasant at times. So what do you do when you arrive at work to find the classic bully who tormented peers as a teen has been added to the management team at your company?

    First, breathe. While this guy clearly failed to mature, most of the leaders in your organization probably grew into thoughtful adults, and they do not care to put up with bullying behaviors. Chances are, if you can help create a culture that explicitly rejects intimidation and negativity, the bully will not get the reaction he’s hoping for–leading him to either change his behavior or leave the organization.

    How do you create this type of culture? According to bullying expert Dr. Scott Ross at the Colorado Department of Education, many of the principles that work effectively to manage childhood bullying can also work with adults: specifically, establishing clear social norms.

    To begin establishing these norms, work with your colleagues to identify the core values they seeks to promote as a leadership team, values such as respect, inclusiveness, collaboration, creativity, and whatever else fits. Rarely do groups suggest values like self-aggrandizement, cut-throat competition, lack of trust, and divisiveness.

    Then discuss how those values translate into behaviors; for example, not interrupting others during meetings, delivering criticism in a forthright and constructive way, and taking time to appreciate what’s working well (e.g., sending thank you notes to staff who go the extra mile). As the bully continues to behave in ways that are incongruent with the values established by the group, he will feel more and more out of place.

    What we permit, we promote.

  • Free Press Release Template – Learn to Write a Professional Press Release

    Here are instructions on how to write a press release in the form of a press release.



    CONTACT: Name, Title
    (707) 462-1954

    Headline – First Opportunity to Pull the Reader In

    Subhead – A little more enticing information

    City, ST – Start with the “lede” (the first sentence). The lede should be the most succinct way to share who, what, when, where, why, and how. By the end of the first paragraph, all the most important information should be clear. You do not have to cram the “who, what, when, when, where, why and how” together into the lede, but you must address enough of these critical questions if your communication is to be acted upon.

    The lede should include elements that make a press release newsworthy, such as timeliness (recent event); significance (how many people are affected by the news); proximity (geographic or affiliation—can we relate to the news?); prominence (famous people, elected officials, local opinion leaders); and/or human interest (appeal to emotion, the way we are all connected – this will often be your hook). Answer the questions you expect people to ask.

    Format the release with most important information at the beginning to the least important at the end (“inverted pyramid”) – a news editor should be able to cut from the bottom up and still include the most important information. Use quotes to illustrate or expound on subjects; don’t use quotes to repeat exactly the point made in the press release verbiage. Attribute opinions to the people who express them. Otherwise, use short, simple sentences to share facts. Avoid flowery writing, and do your best to adhere to Associated Press (AP) style.

    Double-space printed press releases. Single space electronic press releases. If submitting the press release in paper format, include –more– at the bottom of every page until the last page. On the last page, include a triple hash mark (###) at the end of the release. After the hash mark, you can include the organizational footer text.

    Always submit a photograph with your press release, if possible. The photograph shouldn’t be static, but interesting and illustrative of the news in the press release (e.g., rather than having a donor handing a check to the executive director of an organization, photograph something that helps the audience understand why the donor was compelled to give–take a photo of people in the organization doing their thing!).

    In the final paragraph, be sure to include details about time, place, and contact information (especially if the press release is about an event). Leave readers with a desire to get more information and then tell them how to do so.


    Jendi Coursey is a communication strategist based in Northern California. She loves helping clients communicate so they get what they want. Learn more at