As a university student, I had to write an essay on the diversity of sources in Australian media. I wrote another essay on Australia’s cross-media ownership laws. While I no longer have a copy of those essays, I remember much of the content, and it’s as relevant today as almost 20 years ago.

Times have certainly changed regarding the layout of Australia’s media landscape. The rise of online media has put substantial financial pressures and seen the demise of outlets, including newspapers.  The “two out of three rule”, the basis of Australia’s cross-media ownership laws, preventing a single media company from owning both a television and radio station or both a television station and a newspaper in the same market no longer exists.

Changes to the legislation have now seen Fairfax Media, publishers of Australia’s oldest newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald (1831), taken over by the Nine Network with its entirely different editorial style and ethos.

I attended the Walkley Foundation’s Storyology festival in Brisbane on the weekend. The Walkley Foundation’s annual awards for excellence in journalism are the pinnacle achievement for journalists. Their annual Storyology festival explores what makes excellent journalism, changes to the media and includes panel discussions with some of Australia’s finest journalists.

Discussion at Storyology was much around massive changes to the news media in recent years including the takeover of Fairfax, the rise of digital mediums, so-called citizen journalism, and the term “fake news”.

Fairfax journalists have always prided themselves on editorial independence, in 1988 fighting for, and winning, a formal charter of editorial independence. The charter meant journalists could report free from commercial pressure to satisfy their advertisers. Journalists are hoping this charter will be honoured by Nine.

In my essays as an enthusiastic young student, I remember vigorously writing about the need for diversity of media ownership and media sources.  A variety of media sources and ownership of media outlets to me remains a sign of a well-functioning democracy.  Gender, age, and cultural diversity ensures meaningful discussion from different perspectives. In essence, it makes us all think about issues from a different perspective.

How I cover an event may be different from how a colleague views an event or issue and this is part of makes us unique as people. As a journalist, unless I’m presenting an opinion in an editorial, I’ll try to remain impartial. However, inevitably my thoughts on how a topic should be reported and what is the angle of the story may be different from that of another journalist.

The differences in perspectives are essential for all consumers of news to make up their minds about issues and stories. However, if as journalists we all come from similar ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds and work for the same organisation with a particular culture (even if a for a different medium) then inevitably coverage of issues will lack diversity.

In a multicultural democratic society, we need a diversity of sources in Australian Media with a range of opinions.  My work centres around changing this status quo of women as media sources providing them with the training and public relations to be more confident to get their voices heard.  A survey by the Women’s Leadership Institute Australia has found women still only represent 21 per cent of sources directly quoted in news articles.

Today, Which-50 media has come out and said this July they secretly erased men from their platform only sourcing women in all of their articles. It’s not that Which-50 was against men. Instead, they just realised they were not quoting women enough.

“It turns out we are as bad as everyone else, as the stats around our stories reveal,” wrote editor Tess Bennett.

“In June 2018, Which-50s editorial coverage mentioned 111 men and 24 women (and seven of those women appeared in a single story).”

Race and age diversity are also still under-represented as news sources. In a country which for many years has prided itself on multi-culturalism, cultural diversity of media sources is still lacking.  The recent debate about the media coverage of so-called African street gangs in Melbourne has highlighted this need for more culturally diverse voices in the media.

More people are growing older and healthier all over the world, and the population aged over 65 is projected to triple by 2050.  We need to value, the voices of older Australians. I appreciate working with colleagues and partners older than myself. Their life and career experience are vast and their mentorship invaluable.

I’ve been pondering the question how do we ensure more diverse media sources, voices and reporting in the media?  To me, one of the solutions lies with the rise of an independent media sector and businesses publishing content.

When I was a young child, a family friend owned a small, independent weekly newspaper. He was a thorough investigative journalist who was very outspoken and inspired me to go into journalism. Over the years, he uncovered corruption in local councils, put forth a diverse range of voices and thoroughly covered stories often not given attention in the mainstream media.

In the face of many cutbacks, buyouts, and demise of mainstream outlets in recent years, we have seen the rise of independent publications. It is the rise of these independents which I now see as a significant solution to ensuring diverse coverage of stories and sources.

Like the independent newspaper in my local town as a child, blogs, digital and hardcopy publications, podcasts can all ensure a diverse range of voices and views.  Similarly, if you’re planning an event then look to provide a diverse range of speakers and panel guests.  Promote and train as media spokespeople a diverse range of people of different ages, gender, and race.

Denise Shrivell is the founder of MediaScope, Peggy’s List, Don’s List and a rising political activist. She founded Peggy’s List a couple of years ago to encourage speaker and panel gender diversity at conferences. More than 330 women in the marketing, advertising and media sectors who are available to speak at events are now on the list.  As a follow-on, she created Don’s List, which promotes men who support gender diversity on panels.

“Australia has a solid and vibrant public interest journalism space, and they’re often ex-journalists out of the larger media houses,” she says.

“They are pushing out content on a daily basis that is often deeper and detailed than you may get in mainstream media but they often struggle in reach and monetisation.

“But to me, that’s where public interest journalism really lives even though I don’t want to take away from some of the very good journalism we still see out of mainstream publishers.”

Denise says we should all be seeking out and finding these publishers to show our support by consuming their content, subscribing to newsletters, clicking on and buying from their advertisers.

She says as an industry the media has a huge responsibility to promote diversity because it influences culture.  She is now focusing on not just promoting gender but all types of diversity.

“We are an industry which very much influences what you see in the culture, so there is certainly a responsibility to reflect the very multicultural landscape that is Australia,” she says.

“We are having good discussions about gender, but other forms of diversity such as age, socio-economic, ethnicity, disability all also need to be addressed.”

The Ancient Greek Philosopher Heraclitus said: “The only thing that is constant is change”.   The Australian media in the past few years has certainly gone through change but so too has our society and culture.  Rather than feeling despondent about changes to the traditional media, I’m feeling hopeful that the rise of new media could see a more diverse range of reporting on topics and lead to greater diversity.

If you would like to learn more about developing a strategy to bring greater diversity to your content and events get in touch via email to: nadine@nadinemcgrath.com.au

No one likes to have their work criticised and as a business or professionals, we want to maintain positive reputations. I’ve always been a particularly sensitive person by nature. However, the rise of online reviews has made it more complex to control our reputations. Dealing with a negative review has become an important component of any public relations or marketing strategy.

Recently, I met with a highly experienced medical specialist. She is renowned in her field, intelligent with a very kind, nurturing mannerism which no doubt serves her well as a doctor. She had received positive reviews online but there was one which was particularly negative.

“I can almost pinpoint the patient and why it happened,” she told me. “They wanted a treatment which I just didn’t think was indicated and upsetting for them to hear.”

The patient wrote a review criticising this doctor for being rude and not listening to their needs. The review was unsettling for the doctor, even though she had tried to put it in perspective. I have given keynotes to doctors on medical marketing and social media. Dealing with negative reviews dominates discussion afterward.

A friend of mine, who owns a successful food eatery was asking my advice too recently on a long walk. In their many years of operation, they hadn’t received a negative review so a harsh one about coffee being cold and their food menu hit hard. My friend was upset and said it had given her an uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach.

She had her suspicions the anonymous review came from someone connected to another eatery, which had opened nearby. Whatever the reason, a mistake, miscommunication, even unfair attacks by a competitor, at some stage you’ll get a negative review. However, how you handle that review will be a sign of your character as a brand or professional and further affect your reputation.

‘The Economy of Trust’ & power of online reviews

We’re living in an age and marketplace fuelled by reputation and trust. Rachel Botsman, an academic and writer focusing on how technology is changing the way we work and consume, uses the term “Economy of Trust”.

In a now famous TED Talk, Rachel speaks about the shift of trust from corporations or governments to people. This new era of trust, which Rachel terms reputation capital is transforming how we do business. At the centre of this Economy of Trust is online reviews.

BrightLocal, a reporting platform for SEO professionals needing local SEO data, shows just how powerful online reviews are in their recent study on the subject.

Key findings include:
• 85 per cent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
• Positive reviews make 73 per cent of consumers trust a local business more.
• 49 per cent of consumers need at least a four-star rating before they choose to use a business.
• Responding to reviews is more important than ever, with 30 per cent naming this as key when judging local businesses.
• 79 per cent of consumers have read a fake review in the last year, but 84 per cent can’t always spot them.
• Yelp and Facebook are the most trusted review sites, followed by Google & BBB.org
• Consumers read an average of seven reviews before trusting a business – up from six last year.

The Power of online reviews study reveals a one-star rise on review site Yelp leads a to a 5-9 per cent increase in business revenue but one negative review can cost you up to 30 customers.

No wonder many business owners and professional service providers are particularly nervous about online reviews with such statistics. In this fast-paced digital world, the speed at which information and content can spread including reviews is phenomenal, meaning it’s important to implement a strategy to monitor and respond to reviews.

My policy is to ensure clients have a crisis management plan (see earlier post) in place because at some stage they’ll be involved in a situation that could potentially impact their reputation, operations and financial stability. Managing reviews is part of this plan because people have many avenues to express their grievances and with more intensity than ever before, severely damaging targeted organisations.

However, the impact of negative reviews on reputations can be minimal if handled with professionalism. Indeed, a negative review handled well can even have a positive impact overall on a reputation of a business or professional service provider.

One of the first points I try to make to clients is to try not to panic about negative online reviews, as they are just a part of a digital economy and often all positive reviews about a business are not good anyway.

Typically, users want to see a mix of good and neutral reviews when researching a business or service because all five-star reviews on a site look a little ‘contrived’.

I’ve even seen a business owner respond well to a bad review from a disgruntled client and turn them into the greatest evangelist for their business.

Nine steps to deal with a negative review

1. Stay calm and don’t respond hastily.

You work hard in your business or profession and a negative review will, of course, stir up all sorts of emotions, including anger, frustration and disappointment. However, you should remain calm and avoid these emotions showing up in your response.

Look upon a negative review as an opportunity to further build your reputation. If someone is critical, don’t react with haste or be rude in response. A negative review will hurt but are an inevitable part of doing business. As the old saying goes: ‘You can’t please everyone all the time’. By having a review strategy in place, this will guide you towards a calmer, consistent approach.

A strategy doesn’t mean using the same response to every review as each should respond on its independent merits. However, you will have guidelines and a system in place to follow.

2. Have one senior person investigate & respond.

Online reviews and reputation have become an important component of ‘The Economy of Trust’. It’s therefore, crucial to treat these reviews and responses seriously. To maintain consistency in messaging only the business founder or authorised person should respond to the reviews. I’ve seen the mistake where juniors or marketing people are often in charge of monitoring and managing social media or reviews because the business owner thinks they have more understanding of the technology.

Often, the business owner isn’t even aware of negative reviews or responses issued. While a junior person or marketing people may alert you to a negative review and have good suggestions for a response, it should not be their responsibility to respond without your input.

3. Respond promptly but thoroughly investigate first

If you take too long responding to a negative review, it may look like you’re trying to ignore your unsatisfied client or customer or hoping it will go away. However, while responding promptly demonstrates your responsible and attentive, you should investigate the circumstance of the complaint and not respond with haste.

Work to obtain as many details as possible about what happened leading up to the negative review. When you have gathered as much information as possible about the situation, then write out key points you don’t want to forget to start formulating your response.

Work towards taking an impartial approach to your investigation. People who write a review will honestly feel their complaint has a basis, while your employees will, of course, be defensive. Try to maintain a balanced middle ground in analysing circumstances surround the negative review. It may highlight a problem with your business or service, which you should work on overcoming in the future.

4. Prepare for further attacks.

When you’ve gathered as much information about the negative review as possible, you may feel you have a comprehensive understanding of what happened. However, until you’re able to discuss the complaint with the reviewer, you don’t have the complete story. You must plan for both your online and offline response to the negative review along with any further attacks by them upon your reputation. There are some important points to remember including:

5. Use an empathetic and personable tone.

When writing a response validate the negative reviewer’s feelings and feedback in a way which shows you are genuinely respectful of their experience. Don’t lose control of the conversation. No matter what your opinion is on the situation acknowledge and validate their concerns and don’t get into an argument.

6. Offer to discuss the complaint privately

Avoid arguing on the review site. Have a response on the public platform which includes an offer to discuss the feedback privately, for example, please contact us to organise a time to discuss your concerns.

While in the public domain, responding to a negative online review isn’t all that different from handling other conflicts you may experience in your business or profession. Be prepared and remain authentic to your professional or brand voice.

7. Try to drown out the negative review with positive ones
Encourage clients and customers pleased with your service to provide a review, which can push the negative review further down the feed. NOTE: This doesn’t mean getting your family and friends to write reviews or having fake reviews. Australia, like many countries, has legislation to protect consumers from misleading or fake reviews, see ACCC online review guidelines.

8. Request a site remove a review

Most review sites have a Terms of Service, where they list all things allowed or not allowed on their site. If you believe a review is in violation of a site’s Terms of Service, then you may have grounds for it to be taken down.

9. Seek Legal Advice

If you feel the situation surrounding the negative review is complex and could have further repercussions, then seek further advice. This can be important legally, especially for professions such as health and medicine. If you feel a review is defamatory then consult a lawyer, legal action may also be able to be taken. Unfortunately, I think the international nature of digital media and rapid changes in technology means the law is still lagging to catch up. However, there have been cases of successful legal actions taken in regards to negative reviews which have damaged reputations.

Conclusion

For most people, it can be hard to deal with criticism. It’s important not to blame yourself but at the same time be accountable. Investigate what happened to see if you can prevent such an incident happening in the future. Sometimes, what happened may not have been preventable and perhaps you did everything by the book but still got a negative review. As mentioned you can’t always please everyone and you may not even know who wrote the negative review. If you have mainly positive reviews, then this will read well overall. Develop a mindset where you every negative review becomes an opportunity to improve your processes and practice public relations skills.

However, if there are quite a few negative reviews and especially if there is a common problem then perhaps it’s time to look at your processes. Take control, recognise and accept the problem then work towards improvement. There have been some great success stories of businesses turning around dramatically by learning from negative feedback. Negative reviewers may even remove their reviews and replace them with a positive one.

Recently, I’ve seen a few women-run businesses face a PR crisis. No one likes to be criticised, especially publicly so I’d like to ensure women entrepreneurs feel equipt to handle a situation which can make us feel vulnerable, scared and angry as the reputation of our business is at stake. It has been adapted from a public relations crisis management plan normally handed out to corporates.

Every business will at one time or another experience a situation that could potentially impact its reputation, operations, and financial stability. In these fast-paced digital times, the speed at which stories and issues can unfold is phenomenal. We’ve seen the rise of citizen journalists who can take photos and videos of incidents on their mobile devices to send instantly to media organisations. Lobby groups and individuals can now report their grievances through social and traditional media more quickly and with greater intensity than ever before severely damaging businesses.

Larger organisations, political parties or public figures have media advisors on their team trained to both avoid a crisis and deal with one if it unfolds.  But as entrepreneurs, most of us don’t have the luxury of a PR or media advisor on our team to handle a crisis. We may have marketing people to look at the odd negative review or trolling on social media, but even then you need a more consistent and diligent response. (I will write about this issue soon)

The advice I’m giving here is generic. It’s not intended to fill all needs but outline options for if and when you are in the midst of a PR storm. Be aware of other issues, including legal and financial consequences, must be taken into consideration at this critical time.

What is a PR crisis?

A PR crisis is any situation threatening the reputation of your brand. There are many examples of PR crisis situations including immoral or inappropriate conduct by an employee or senior figure in your business, a disaster or accident causing harm to employees and/or members of the public. It may also be where the media or general public perceive business didn’t act in an appropriate way

1. Select a Crisis Management Response Team (CMRT)

When a situation arises which is perceived to be a PR crisis or possible crisis the first reaction should be for the business head or next in line to confirm all facts relating to the incident and select a Crisis Management Response Team (CMRT). Even if you are a solo entrepreneur, you’re going to want and need advisors, whether that be PR, legal or both.

A CMRT meeting should be held as soon as possible after you become aware of the incident and also include anyone who can provide insight into how the disaster unfolded, such as a witness or employees.

The meeting should:

  • Ensure everyone is aware of the seriousness of the situation, short and long-term consequences.
  • Establish if an external expert needs to be called in to consult on the crisis.
  • Identify who may criticise the business publicly.
  • Develop an action plan around what to say and how to inform your stakeholders, e.g. clients or customers and suppliers plus media.

2. Plan for a media onslaught

It’s vital to have a guide for handling the media. The frontline staff of a business will often have the initial contact by phone, email, social media or in person with journalists. How they handle this contact is a reflection of the business and will reflect its media coverage. Frontlines staff should:

• Treat the media at all times respectfully.
• Tell the journalist they’re not authorised to comment on behalf of the business.
• Take the journalist’s details and tell them you’ll arrange for a call back as soon as possible.
• Immediately tell the appropriate supervisor of the query.
• Avoiding giving information to the media as “off the record” or even say “no comment”. Treat any information or comment to journalists as going to be used in coverage, even if given in confidence.

All of your frontline staff should receive basic training on the points listed above even before a PR crisis because often the first you’ll hear about it will be from a journalist seeking a comment.

3. Select a media spokesperson

To maintain consistency in messaging only the company head or an authorised person (decided by the CMRT) should provide comment. Public relations advisors will decide upon the best format for each media response such as:
• Phone call/interview.
• Holding statement (see below) or press release.
• In person interview or media conference.

4. Write a holding statement

In the event of an incident attracting immediate media attention, it may be necessary to issue a holding statement before all the details are available such as:

“We confirm that (state the nature of the incident) occurred at (state place) at (state time). This incident is being investigated and dealt with at the moment by (who). We’ll issue a full statement at the earliest possible time. We appreciate your co-operation on this matter. For further media information contact (details of public relations officer).

5. Have media training before a crisis hits

When a crisis happens, there’ll be minimal time for training, so its best to ensure all potential spokespeople are given media training in your organisation. This training should include information sessions on how the media operates along with role-playing and interview practice.

A business involved in a public relations crisis must understand it will be highly emotive and the media can be relentless in their pursuit of someone to blame. It is vital everyone stays calm, works together, anticipates likely worst-case scenario interview questions and assists the spokesperson prepare answers to what could be a media onslaught.

Below is a list of possible questions you may be asked by a journalist:
• Can you tell us what happened?
• Who is to responsible for what happened?
• How long have you known about the problem?
• How could you have not known about the problem?
• Why didn’t you act earlier to prevent the situation?
• How much will this situation impact your business?
• Do you admit negligence?
• Do you admit you were at fault?
• What are you doing to help those affected?

For many of these questions, especially those that may have legal implications such as around negligence and admitting fault, public relations and legal advisors must together to determine appropriate ways for the spokesperson to answer.

To add to this post, I’ve also asked colleague Publicity Genie founder  Annette Densham for some of her tips. Annette is also a highly experienced journalist with stints across various leading media organisations, including The Australian newspaper.

Annette’s number one tip is to remember a public relations crisis can be extremely stressful.

“My biggest advice is to make sure you have emotional support because you’ll need someone you can trust and let your feelings out in confidence,” she says.

However, Annette warns about acting emotionally during the crisis.

“You don’t want a knee-jerk reaction so think through the worst-case scenarios about what they can say about you or your business then work out a response.

“You’ll feel like running and hiding or shutting up shop but don’t panic because the storm will pass.”

If you look at the news on a daily basis, you will see individual public figures political parties, companies, schools, health care providers and yes smaller businesses too dealing with a PR crisis. Unfortunately, we can’t make you immune from criticism, but help guide you to “weather the storm”.

Red Ring Binder with Inscription Press Releases on Background of Working Table with Office Supplies, Laptop, Reports. Toned Illustration. Business Concept on Blurred Background..jpeg

Digital PR has become an integral part of a communication strategy to grow the profiles of businesses, their leaders, domain authority and boost SEO. When I first started in journalism, public relations consultants would fax or email us through press releases and they’d call us to see if we received the release and were interested in doing a story.

When I moved over to public relations, we were still emailing press releases and it’s still a common practice to do so today. However, PR leaders like Hubspot’s Illiyana Stareva, who invented the new concept Inbound PR, encourage a different and more effective approach.

Illiyana says focusing your PR strategy on digital has now become vital as content is the name of the buying game today.

“We make our decisions based on our research online by reading blogs, magazines, social media recommendations and any other online materials,” Illiyana says.

“If you haven’t focused your PR efforts on your digital appearance and building up your domain authority through more inbound links, you are not setting your business up for success in our content-driven world of digitally savvy consumers.”

The days of writing a press release and sending it on mass to journalists hoping for mainstream coverage are becoming less effective. Building your own digital PR strategy through media channels to focus more on the people you want to reach is delivering impressive results.

It’s not to say don’t write a press release or alert journalists or publications in your industry about a good story you may have for them. However, make the most of your online presence through great content to entice journalists, your target audience, influencers and other bloggers to your site. It’s all part of the inbound method where you entice people to take notice of your content rather than pushing it out upon them.

How Inbound PR can improve SEO

Inbound PR combines the techniques of traditional PR approaches – building relationships, identifying stories, creating news – with the approaches of inbound marketing. A benefit of inbound PR strategies is its boost to SEO. Gone are the days of dodgy black hat backlink tactics to show the popularity of your site by getting backlinks to irrelevant sites. Google technology and algorithms are much cleverer now and will penalise such underhanded tactics.

However, features of your brand and links to your website still play a vital role in improving your search visibility, that is the number of people able to find your business, products and services via the search engines. You need to build quality backlinks and raise your profile as an authoritative source, which is where digital PR shines. Inbound PR can help boost your SEO and profile through:

  • Promoting quality content.
  • Driving traffic to your website and owned media.
  • Building relationships with your brand and highly authoritative industry influencers, press publications and bloggers.
  • Create quality content and raise your profile through citations, mentions and links.

Make the most of co-citations

The co-citation algorithm is where Google is starting to look at what people are talking about on a page. For example, if public relations and Nadine McGrath appear in the same article, even if there’s not a single link if enough different sources cite the two together then that will carry authority. Google will start to see Nadine McGrath keeps coming up repeatedly with the words public relations so must be associated with public relations.

Google is constantly trying to discover what matters when someone is searching. Do elements like social signals, shares, mentions matter? It’s no longer just about linking strategies anymore. You need a social presence and want other people talking about you so Google can see you are credible. Anything Google can find and analyse using its crawlers then it will, including Twitter and public Facebook. It’s worth noting that Google+ is rated highest in search rankings. Make sure anything you publish is also on Google+.

How to build a valuable earned media strategy

digital PR collage of computer showing analytics and a hyperlink and logos.jpg

When people look to earned media they often have grand plans of contributing or being interviewed for top news sites or publications in their field. However, my advice is  start small and work your way up. Earned media means “earned” for a reason. Look first at getting in your local paper, radio or television news. Your local community is often where your target audience is, so it makes sense to try for coverage in this area. Once you establish your media profile locally, then look for bigger opportunities or industry media.  A good place to start is sites like SourceBottleResponse Source or Help a Reporter Out. Offer your knowledge and opinion by registering on sites like Quora or Savvy SME.

Have a good working website that reads well for people and is easy to navigate. If you’re content is boring or reads like you’re trying to cram it with keywords then chances are it won’t be interesting. All effective media strategy equals quality content plus network. If you have quality content, it may or may not get found. If you have quality content to share with a strong network, then that’s a solid formula for success. Start building your network.

Remember chasing a number one ranking for certain keywords doesn’t matter anymore because of personalisation. Nadine McGrath will come up when I search public relations not necessarily because I’m number one but because I have shared it so many times. Google is guessing Nadine McGrath is what I want to show up when I type in public relations. People connected to me who have seen my shares will see it higher up than other people who may not know Nadine McGrath.

Digital marketing manager for award-winning UK agency Impression Laura Hampton advises people to take a layered approach to their digital PR strategy with reactive and proactive techniques used side by side. Laura has written extensively on digital PR and spoken at numerous conferences including Brighton SEO, the UK’s largest search marketing conference.

What is the reactive and proactive PR technique?

A reactive PR technique means responding to what is happening within your business or topical issues in your industry that you can make a comment and might get coverage.

“On the reactive side, consider the use of Twitter hashtags like #journorequest and #PRrequest to find journalists looking for help with their stories,” Laura says.

Proactive PR is where creativity comes into play and businesses can start creating ‘news from nothing’.

“This means developing a strong understanding of your target publications and audience, to create content which suits their desires and therefore gains widespread high-quality coverage,” Laura says.

“For example, we wanted to achieve coverage across high authority publications in our industry and I found they often covered interview style content,” she says.

“I, therefore, put together an interview, which was filmed, and from which I was able to draw stories and subsequently gain coverage.”

Conclusion: Know your audience and PR goals

When developing a digital PR strategy do your research and consider your goals. Public relations is not a quick fix solution to gain more sales or clients but is about building up your credibility and influence. Public relations should be considered an essential component of any communications or marketing strategy for your brand. As Virgin founder Richard Branson says: “A good PR story is infinitely more effective than a front page ad.”

 

 

I was speaking with a leading public speaking coach today about International Women’s Day. Marc Miles is the owner of Accelerated Training Academy. Marc was pointing out to me there’s a lot of possible articles that as a journalist working to raise the voice of women I could be writing about today.

Marc is right – I could be writing about the gender pay gap, more support needed for working mothers or those wanting to return to the workforce, the financial empowerment of women – my list could go on. These are all issues close to my heart and will no doubt receive coverage today by other journalists on different platforms.

However, I enjoyed discussing Marc’s work with him. He offers public speaking coaching to both men and women and has noticed similarities to what I have about women putting themselves in the public arena. It was why today I want to write an article about the need for more women speakers and media sources.

As many of you may know this year, I’ve undertaken a career pivot away from digital marketing back to my love of journalism. I have a new mission of helping the voice of women leaders and changemakers be heard in the media and more publicly for impact.

There are more women in positions of leadership in news organisations worldwide than ever before in history. However, women are still quoted as sources less often than men and this was pointed out to me at a recent conference by a leading female journalist. Former colleagues have been overwhelmingly supportive of my plan to work with women.

My list of sources as a journalist was disappointingly filled more with the names of men. In the business pages and for stories on finance, health, science, law and education men are still more prevalently quoted. Many women in the world are doing extraordinary work, but their opinion and leadership often go unheard.

According to Marc a main reason we don’t have more women speakers is they are more likely to suffer anxiety than men around public speaking.

“The majority or people that come to my public speaking workshops are females,” says Marc.

“Statistically, they say 75 per cent of women suffer from speech anxiety.”

Marc says women often feel insecure about “speaking up” and “speaking out” for various reasons.

“The number reason is they’ll wonder what right do they have to speak? or what if someone hears their message and takes it out of context,” he says.

“There’ll be concern they haven’t done enough to have credibility as a speaker.

“These comments often come from men as well, but women seem to have a much higher sensitivity to audience evaluation of themselves and their message.”

This too is what I have noticed in my work with women. However, despite their general lack of confidence, Marc says women tend to make excellent public speakers.

“My advice is people pay you for your unique journey, not for what you know,” he says.

“As a speaker, your journey is to touch, move and inspire an audience to take action and often females are far better at doing this because they can speak from both sides of the brain – emotional and logical in a very balanced way.”

Sarah Cannata is the founding editor of This Woman Can, a leading online community and magazine where women share their versions of success.

According to Sarah, the reason women are under-quoted in the media is that we’re still under-represented in fields such as politics, business, sport, science technology and the list goes on.

“We can point the finger at the media and question why they aren’t broadening their horizons and digging deeper than reaching out to the same people who tend to be men again and again,” Sarah says.

“We must realise that journalists are over-worked and often, are expected to do two people’s workloads.

“Another issue is the same women being quoted in the media on the same topics again and again.”

Sarah says there is very little diversity, which means a lot of women don’t see themselves represented in the media, which is never ideal.

Sarah says the path to changing the status-quo lies with us the consumer of media coverage.

“At the end of the day, if we didn’t add to ratings, click on news articles with juicy headlines and were more picky with our consumption, the media’s hand would be forced,” she says.

“Contrary to popular belief, the power is in our hands – the media exists for and because of us and together we can drive change.”

At This Woman Can, Sarah has created a platform that is accessible to everyone and brings women together by tapping into the power of storytelling.

“Our mission is to create an inclusive environment where people feel safe in sharing their stories, can discover, connect and engage with a like-minded community of women.”

So on International Women’s Day 2018, I want all women to remember just how valuable you and your story is to the world. Let’s move to raise the voices of women and think to yourself “This Woman Can”.

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I want you to ponder a question. Do you consider how what you say on social media, at networking or social events, on the sidelines of your children’s sporting activity or in a speech impacts on you, your brand reputation?

Everyone will have a bad day now and again, want to have a spat at someone on social media, call themselves a “bad-ass” or a “hustler”, meaning they’re successful in business. However, is this really how you want to come across in the long-term?

I work with women leaders and change-makers who have already achieved a level of success but want a more national or global reach for greater impact. My ideal clients are humble but have established leadership and are making a difference in their field. I can usually tell very quickly who I want to work with and who is a red flag.

One of the first things I do with a potential client is become a pseudo-detective. I openly stalk their social media accounts. I do a web search for their name and work to discover other facts and get an understanding of them as a person. I may talk with their friends, clients or family members. All of this information will help me mine and craft their story.

I want authenticity in their marketing to build impact. The word authentic, meaning real or genuine, has become somewhat trendy in recent years. However, If you want to be authentic, then it needs to be across the board. If you’re an entrepreneur, then there’s inevitably going to be a cross-over between your personal and business life.

You need to consider how you act will impact on your brand reputation. The resignation of former Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce following an affair with his former media advisor, who is now expecting his baby, is a testament to harsh judgement the public will bestow upon inauthenticity.

Many argue the father of four’s indiscretions are part of his personal life and shouldn’t impact his work. However, Joyce held the National Party of Australia’s highest position. He publicly was against gay marriage, the Gardasil vaccine for teens to prevent cervical cancer saying it would promote “promiscuity” and was a proponent of traditional family values.

Being authentic doesn’t mean you can’t speak out on issues. By expressing your authentic self and values, you’ll attract people who resonate with your message. But don’t put on a show in public because you think it’s good for your image or on trend as incongruencies like with Joyce will show through.

If you’re going to debate someone on social media, then be respectful and stick to the issue, avoid swearing or personal attacks. Consider do you want to be known as a “bad-ass” or “hustler” now or in five years? If yes, then use the term and if no or I’m not sure then leave it out. Your brand reputation and digital footprint, what you say and do now will be around for a long time. As I tell my clients the best way to deal with a PR disaster is to avoid it in the first place.

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At the end of each school year, my children bring home a pile of used exercise books. While in the spirit of being a minimalist, most of these get thrown out. However, their journals or creative story writing books I cherish and love to read. I can tell what they were thinking through their stories. My son Scott wrote a story about a wicked witch named Kate (his sister). At another time, my son Jack wrote a story about a family’s holiday adventure based very much on one of ours.

We are naturally all storytellers but somehow lose faith in our ability to connect with people through story and instead fall into what I term PowerPoint or marketing language. I’ve worked in marketing but now run a program where I use my background in journalism and PR to help women leaders clarify their story and get media exposure for impact. I always say to clients drop your PowerPoint and marketing language, instead start with your story.

We naturally tell stories every day to our friends, in coffee shops, to our family members. We’ll talk about what has been bothering us or something interesting that has happened in our daily lives. A story has a power to connect us as human beings.

Stories also have a power of making the complex clear. My kids and husband are a fan of the scientist Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, who uses storytelling principles such as anecdote, analogy and metaphor to explain complex scientific principles.

He speaks in simple, relatable terms and yet in no way makes his audience feels like he is dumbing science down. Almost every leader has a vision, but the challenge is to relate and connect with people, so your vision resonates with others and comes to life. Think of the great leaders who stick in your mind – they’re usually the ones who humanise their message and deliver it in ways that connect with everyone at some level. Leading author and researcher into shame, courage and vulnerability Brene` Brown is a great example.

Through her stories about herself and others, she is about to turn complex psychological concepts into relatable messages that help and inspire others. Her vision, in turn, becomes clear.

When you’re thinking about your vision and purpose, don’t get caught up in the vanity metrics of marketing such as social media likes, logos and websites. The stories you tell and messaging is what will connect you with your target audience to build trust and grow your business. Reach out to learn how to clarify your story and get exposure for greater impact.

I love getting positive feedback or a review from people who have worked with me or enjoyed reading my articles. As human beings, we all like to be praised and validated for our efforts, while it also is a positive endorsement to others who may be considering my services. In turn, I like to sing the praises and give positive reviews for people who have delivered a great product or service to me.

However, I feel strongly about giving fake reviews or testimonials. From a personal perspective, false reviews go against my values. As a PR consultant and journalist working with women entrepreneurs and leaders, false reviews can just do more harm than good.

A recent post on a Facebook group for women in business asked people to give fake reviews of each other’s websites or Facebook page. The post to date has had almost 1.5k comments and most in favour of giving each other false reviews. The popularity of that post has led to similar posts and shout-outs for fake reviews.

I was one of a small number of business women to speak up against false reviews. The reasons I included were:

1. You’re damaging your reputation and potentially causing a public relations crisis for your business if word gets out you’ve been conjuring up reviews.

2. Search engines and social media platforms can penalise you for trying to beat the system. I have studied an written an article on this topic – it forms part of what is known as “black hat tactics”.

3. Made up reviews are dishonest, unethical and a reason why people have less trust in marketing. (Research the many articles on this topic)

4. False reviews go against best practice. You may want reviews but as the old saying goes “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Do the hard work and earn reviews. In the long term, your business will benefit from the trust you’re building.

Leading social media marketing strategist Anna Kochetkova advises you should not provide or ask for false reviews.

“You eventually disregard all the real reviews businesses get, making customers trust less,” she says.

Reviews mean you’ve worked with someone and helped them – they’re incredibly precious.”

Anna says fake reviews can damage your business if any of your prospects find out and contribute towards a complete disintegration of marketing.

“People get upset when Facebook changes the algorithm, but all they’re doing is updating their business model because people abuse the system through dodgy practices like fake reviews,” she says.

“The more people do fake reviews then, the bigger a hole is being dug.”

Business coach Sonya Stattmann, who has been helping women entrepreneurs for almost two decades, says women are focusing on the wrong strategies to build their business.

“You won’t get income from Facebook reviews, especially fake ones,” she says.

“You get income by having your attention on the customer, not yourself or vanity metrics.

“You get income by offering a unique solution to someone else’s problem and by having legitimate and real conversations that turn into sales.”

Book Coach Cathryn Mora has some great tips for engaging and connecting your target audience without the need for fake reviews.

“I’ve had much better results from just being ‘social’ on social media,” Cathryn says.

“Engaging in groups, answering questions, being curious, enjoying talking to people…I no longer use my page and am considering deleting it.

“I have many more clients now that I genuinely engage with people than I ever did when I focused on how many likes my page had, pushed ‘one-way’ content out every day and gave away free resources.

Having hundreds of people like your page as a ‘favour’ hurts more than helps you anyway as Facebook essentially punishes you for low engagement by pushing you further and further down the news feed.”

Some women defending fake reviews in these posts say they’re part of “networking” or “marketing”. However, by definition networking means to interact with others to exchange information and develop professional contacts. Marketing is the action of promoting products or services. Neither should involve being unethical or fraudulent.

Public relations which is my speciality area, although I also have experience in marketing, is maintaining and protecting a person or business’s favourable public image. For this reason, I feel compelled to speak out against fake reviews.

I acknowledge building a successful business is hard. There are other ways though to engage with your target client – be creative, tell stories about your work. I’ve heard some beautiful stories of hope and inspiration from women in business. Tell how you are making your products or benefiting clients? I heard a lovely story from a woman importing jewellery to the US made by women in African villages. By selling their jewellery, she is helping raise these women’s families out of poverty. Another woman is making gorgeous shoes from her garage. Inspire and engage people – fake reviews isn’t the answer.

Congratulations! You’ve just won a business award and no doubt you’re feeling very proud.  A business award can elevate the status of your business, improve morale and demonstrate your proficiency.

However, business award recipients often become disappointed that their win, which while important to them and their staff, doesn’t get covered by the mainstream media.

In a woman’s business group recently, a woman expressed her disappointment and frustration that despite winning four awards in as many months, the local newspapers were not interested in writing a story.

The woman said she’d sent a press release each time every time they’d won a business award but received no coverage even though they support hundreds of other local businesses and charities. She asked advice about how to get the media to tell her story.

So, what went wrong and why didn’t this woman get any success with getting coverage in her local media? Simply put the media hate cheque hand-overs and award stories. While the win is important to you, news and PR is not marketing.

As a journalist, I would receive press releases daily in my inbox or calls from eager PR consultants or business leaders wanting to publicise a business or industry win. However, our editors were simply not interested in the story.

One award story which stands out to me was in 2016 when a Brisbane firm won the 2016 Good Design Award of the Year. Evolve Group had been commissioned to create a honey harvesting system that tapped into a hive and extracted the honey without having to disturb the bees. It was a great invention and win for the company. What made it so newsworthy to other journalists and myself? The company had beaten global powerhouses Tesla and Google to win the award.

The new honey harvesting system was revolutionising beekeeping making it safer, easier and more efficient to extract honey.

You see even if you’ve won one of the most prestigious prizes in the world, such as Nobel prize you have to remember the story is more about what you have done for society, how you are improving the lives of others than yourself.  Abruptly put news is not about massaging your ego.

I had lunch with two good friends and colleagues recently. Both were trained journalists with one now with her PR firm and even specialising in helping business leaders prepare and nominate for awards. The other has a successful podcast and also trains others how to podcast create a leading podcast.

I asked my podcasting friend how she chooses her guests, which is a topic warranting a whole other post in its own right.  “When they just start talking about themselves, all their achievements and awards then I know straight away, they’re not a good fit,” she told me.

“But when they tell me they’ve listened to my podcast and have a whole lot of ideas about how they could add value to my listeners then I know they’re a good fit.”

For my PR friend who enjoys helping businesses to receive recognition through awards, she told me when writing a press release or contact the media about a story for her clients she never focuses purely on their win.

5 Tips for getting a story about your award win into the news?

  1. Highlight the Spectacular: Like the new honey harvesting system, if there’s something quite spectacular about your win, it will become newsworthy and appealing to journalists. Some awards are also considered more newsworthy and important than others. The Telstra Businesswoman of the Year is an example of an award which attains considerable media coverage
  2. Pitch your origin story:  Talk about the personal story of how you started your business and it’s growth. We all, including the media, love a good hero story of overcoming obstacles and triumph. Why did you start your business? Were you filling a gap in the market? How many people have you served?
  3. Offer journalist a story appealing to their audience: You can inadvertently mention your award but don’t make it the focus of your pitch.  For example, if you’re in property or real estate what have you noticed about the local market?  What are the property trends in your area?  How are you changing your industry, like the beehive story?
  4. Keep interested in the news: read your local newspaper to see what type of stories journalist pick up. Can you offer a fresh angle or different perspective? For example, if you’re a financial advisor can you comment on any changes to the budget or economic policy, interest rates etc. Again, you can mention your award inadvertently.
  5. Be honest with yourself: Before you send any release or contact a journalist ask yourself honestly: “Would the audience care half as much as we do?” Often, the answer is an emphatic “No” so go back and brainstorm another angle.

Remember, business awards are still an excellent opportunity to gain recognition with a lot of great ones coming up in the next few months. Some of the best stories about business award win discuss trends, topics and insights into an industry. Your business award may be shiny, but by itself, it’s often not news so think of a more creative way to make it so.

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I remember as a young journalist reluctantly having to write up advertorials or what we now more commonly refer to as native advertising. Doors would slam as editors battled with advertising heads, reluctant to take their journalists away from a good story to write a “damn marketing fluff piece” as I remember one editor calling advertorials.

Traditionally, journalists and advertisers have been dubious of one another with a relationship akin to church and state. This uneasy relationship was predominantly due to journalists wanting to remain impartial and separate from paid marketing. Revenue brought in by advertising made it possible to fund journalists, whose work in turn attracted an audience appealing to advertisers. However, News Limited Chief Rupert Murdoch who would describe advertising as “rivers of gold” was conceding more than a decade ago that sometimes rivers dry up, saying he doesn’t know “anybody under the age of 30 who has ever looked at a classified ad”.

As journalist Christopher Warren wrote recently the digital challenge for the mass news media has never been about finding readers. It’s always been about advertising and getting revenue.

Ad blocking is not helping the cause and grew by 41per cent globally in 2015  with about 198 million users using these blockers. Display ads are hugely affected by these blockers.

With the decline of advertising, printed papers and the rise of digital, journalists in major news organisations worldwide have been contemplating their career futures.  Fairfax Media is cutting 25 per cent of its remaining metropolitan journalist staff, equal to 125 full-time jobs,  in an effort to help save $30 million across its Australian newspaper operations. A move which has seen journalists strike across the country.

Advertising dollars are desperately needed to keep mainstream media alive and the model for marketing is changing as consumers turn away from traditional advertising.  Statistics show that by 2021, native display ad revenue in the US will make up 74 per cent of total US display ad revenue, up from a 56 percent share in 2016.

What is native advertising?

So what is native advertising other than a fancy buzzword toted by online marketing gurus.

Well, also known as sponsored content it’s editorial in style and designed to blend in with a publication but paid for a business.  We used to call it advertorials. This increases the readability and reach of the content and requires a well-balanced writing style that gently nudges the reader rather than lambasting them with ads.

Some of the most well-regarded newspapers in the world such as The Washington Post, New York Times and Sydney Morning Herald have adopted this practice, which while controversial to many as it blends so closely with editorial looks like it’s here to stay.

An example may be an informative, educational article on changes to the tax system and how it will affect taxpayers lodging their next return. It will simply have a note saying sponsored by a certain firm.

One of my favourite pieces of native advertising appeared on the New York Times website promoting the Netflix series Orange is the New Black.   At almost 1,500-words, the native ad featured stories, video and charts about female incarceration in the U.S.

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(Photo courtesy of the New York Times)

How native advertising impacts brands and the media?

Online news sites are packing a punch and are now the more popular form of consuming news over traditional television, print and radio news. The traditional advertising dollar is also falling as businesses start to explore other ways of connecting with consumers.

Editorial and news departments may still like to maintain their independence of each other in a way similar to the doctrine of the separation of powers. However, the media landscape has become increasingly complex in a matter of only a few years with vast changes in consumer behaviour along with how news is dispersed and received.

Like it or not native advertising is becoming an imperative part of content marketing strategies and how brands communicate, increasing loyalty and a strong following.