9 Easy Tips for Talking to the Press

Jay Croft, Atlanta, writer, newspaper, Journal-Constitution, Cox Enterprises, storytelling, corporate communications, content, gay, pop culture, movies, music, TV, Poncey-Highland, Virginia-Highland, Inman Park, Old Fourth Ward, who is a good writer in Atlanta, public relations, marketing, social media expert

As a former journalist, I’m sometimes asked for advice about speaking with reporters. Just this week, for instance, I addressed a group of healthcare professionals who want to get quoted in the press and to raise their media profile as experts.

They’d never been interviewed before, and they wanted my advice for what to do when they’re connected with a reporter.

This has come up frequently in my experience in corporate communications, as well, and in digital and social media. I’m always happy to have these interactions and to share a few tips, including these.

1. DON’T start the conversation by saying, “What’s your angle?” It’s defensive and somewhat insulting. Better to say something like this: “I’m happy to help if I can. What’s the story you’re working on?”

2. DO know who’s calling. Reporters are not investors or analysts — they don’t have time or interest in the James Michener version of the topic. And a journalist from, say, a trade publication might be seeking a different level of depth than your local daily.

3. DO have two or three key points sketched out in advance of the interview. It’ll help you stay on track and to keep your responses short, simple and quotable. That will increase your chances of making it into the story, whether it’s in print, online or for broadcast.

4. DO humanize the story. Reporters often need real examples to bring stories to life. Make it easy on them with credible, compelling people and contact information.

5. DON’T think you have to have an answer for everything. If you don’t know, or if you’re uncomfortable discussing something that might be outside your scope, just say something like, “I’ll have to look into that and call you back. When is your deadline?”

6. DO return the call – on time. Reporters are often busy and stressed out – especially today when newsrooms have fewer staff members than ever. You can establish a good relationship by doing what you say you’re going to do, and by honoring basic courtesy like this.

7. DON’T ask to see the story before it’s printed or airs. Better to say, “Feel free to call me back or email me if you have any questions later.” That way, a reporter will feel confident fact-checking if he or she needs to.

8. DO pitch your own ideas for follow-ups and offer yourself as an ongoing resource to the reporter. A good one always wants to meet smart, savvy people on their beats – not just when they need a quick quote.

9. DON’T lie. Seriously.

How about you? Any questions or suggestions? Let me know!

Little Girl’s Perfect Little Story Will Make You Smile

Bella Ortega, flowers, sunflowers, kid, child, girl, garden, gardening, happy, smile, story elements, perfect little story

Bella blossoms along with her flowers. Click to make bigger.

Here’s a short story that can help all writers in our search for content.

My friend Evelyn Amaya Ortega posted this photo of her 8-year-old, Bella, on Instagram and Facebook with the following caption.

She planted the seeds. She waited patiently all summer as the plants grew… And grew… Getting taller and taller. This week, the flowers bloomed. #Happy

More than 140 people liked the photo on Facebook, including writer Karen Rosen who astutely noted, “That is a perfect 24-word story with illustration. It should be in a magazine.”

I agree. Evelyn’s short tale contains all the elements of a narrative. Character, location, conflict, rising action, climax — even a sweet denouement.

The next time someone tells you they don’t have enough material or space to craft a story, show him this.

In business writing, the same holds true under the content-marketing definition of story. The image and text are compelling, engaging and emotional. They could hold the interest of customers looking to buy flowers, seeds, tickets to a summer camp or even in a Public Service Announcement about good parenting and spending time with your kids.

Look at that face! That smile!

That’s a story, by any definition.


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13 Easy Tips for Better Storytelling, Content Marketing

Ann Handley, Content Rising, content marketing, Skyword, Tom Gerace, Robert McKee, storytelling, brand journalism, everything the light touches is content, The Lion King

As I like to say, “Stories are everything, and everything is content.” Thanks to Ann Handley for this clever way of putting it, which she shared at Content Rising in Boston.

What’s the difference between a story and a narrative?

Between a story and information?

And what does it mean to run #LikeAGirl?

Such were the questions about 300 content marketers, storytellers and other media pros discussed last week at a conference I attended in Boston. Content Rising, put on by the Boston-based Skyword agency, focused on how to engage audiences with useful, compelling content — articles, video, photos, social media and more. It was one of those energizing experiences you hope for from a professional gathering, with lots of smart people, goodwill and creative energy bouncing around.

I love how events like this get covered now via Twitter. It’s like having a roomful of reporters sharing best quotes and reactions. Here are 13 tweets from the experience that give a pretty good overview of what’s being discussed about content marketing and storytelling these days.

Marketing Stats amid the Media Evolution

Tom Gerace, founder and CEO of Skyword, opened with stats that show brands need to stop interrupting what consumers want and instead become what they want. Take a look at these photos. Marketers believe their work has changed more in the last two years than since the dawn of television. On Facebook, 15 billion pieces of content are posted each month.

Storytelling Tips from a Master

Robert McKee, a screenwriting coach and author on storytelling, shared some thoughts on what  a story is and is not — and pointed out that young adults and teen-agers are too smart for traditional, B.S. marketing that’s little more than bragging.

I love a wise curmudgeon who calls people on their B.S.

Finding Your Voice

Author Ann Handley is always thoughtful, engaging and entertaining. Handley says finding the right tone and voice is the “secret sauce” of effective content marketing.

Look for little opportunities to enliven such traditionally dull, perfunctory spots as the “About Us” page with copy that can be fun and deliver your brand voice.

Finally, A Few Words on Innovation

Dan Pallotta, inventor of multi-day AIDS and breast cancer walks, closed with some inspiring thoughts on innovation.


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How to Link Your Love for Food and Travel

Atlanta Curb Market, Atlanta Municipal Market, Atlanta, Curb Market, Martin Luther King Historic District, Sweet Auburn, black history, African-American history, produce, meat, pork, Grindhouse Burgers

Love the neon sign in the middle of the Curb Market

Everybody loves food and travel, right? Put them together and you have a dream vacation when you’re traveling, or a great itinerary when guests come.

Millions of Americans consider the availability of food (and drink) activities when making travel plans. That can mean going to Northern California for tours and tastings in wine country, or looking for cheap, local eats wherever you happen to be headed. The “culinary tourism” trend isn’t slowing down, according to foodie experts gathered to discuss it in Atlanta this week with PR and communications folks.

It was a great conversation, with interesting points about Georgia and metro Atlanta’s top spots and trends.

  • We have our own “wine country” in the North Georgia that can make for a fun day.
  • Ethnic “niche” marketing is growing.
  • Buford Highway remains the best location for endless “hole in the wall” ethnic spots.
  • West Midtown is still booming with fun restaurants and shops in a few walkable areas.
  • I’ve gotta get to Gun Show.

But for me, the most interesting aspect was the setting: the Sweet Auburn Curb Market in the original Municipal Market on Edgewood Avenue. I’m ashamed to say I’d never been, and I felt like a tourist in my own town browsing the food and produce of 24 businesses – including produce and meat shops, a bakery, bookstore and about a dozen great little spots to eat.

Here are a few reasons why I’ll be taking my next out-of-town guests. There’s probably something similar in your town. Check it out. Here are just a few reasons why. (Click pics to enlarge.)

1. History

Atlanta Curb Market, Atlanta Municipal Market, Atlanta, Curb Market, Martin Luther King Historic District, Sweet Auburn, black history, African-American history, produce, meat, pork, Grindhouse Burgers

The market, built in 1924, is located within the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic District. From the market’s website:

Whereas blacks were permitted to shop inside of the market when its doors opened, they were relegated to vend outside along the curb. Transforming that segregated time in the market’s history, it is today affectionately called the Sweet Auburn Curb Market, a name that was adopted in the 1990s. The name also reflects the market’s proximity to Auburn Avenue, which in 1956 Fortune magazine called “the richest Negro Street in the world” and was dubbed “Sweet Auburn” in a nod to that prosperity.

2. Streetcar

Atlanta Curb Market, Atlanta Municipal Market, Atlanta, Curb Market, Martin Luther King Historic District, Sweet Auburn, black history, African-American history, produce, meat, pork, Grindhouse BurgersThe market has its own stop on the new Atlanta Streetcar, which is free throughout 2015.

3. Miss D

Atlanta Curb Market, Municipal Market, soul food, Miss D's, praline, popcorn, soul food

Come in through the back door (where the parking lot is) and you’ll encounter delightful Miss D and her mouthwatering pralines, peanut brittle and gourmet popcorn.

4. Lunch

Atlanta Curb Market, Atlanta Municipal Market, Atlanta, Curb Market, Martin Luther King Historic District, Sweet Auburn, black history, African-American history, produce, meat, pork, Grindhouse Burgers, soul food

Atlanta Curbside Market, curb market, Grindhouse burgers

Curb-Market-Boy

In Atlanta, ya gotta have your “meat and three.” The food court includes Metro Deli Soul Food, Grindhouse Burgers, Sweet Auburn BBQ, Tilapia Express, Awesome Juicery and more.

4. Produce

Atlanta Curbside Market, Municipal Market, produce, peppers, meat, poultry, MLK, soul food

Curb-Market-Peanuts

Fresh fruits and vegetables from local farms. (Peanuts, too.)

6. Meat

pigs, pork, butcher, Atlanta Curb Market, Municipal Market, 1924, MLK, Atlanta, buy your whole pigs here

Atlanta-Curb-Market-Butcher

prices

Because you never know when you’ll need a whole pig.

The food experts on the panel also gave some other suggestions for where to eat around town. I love how they weren’t focused on the most expensive spots. Good food is about more than white tablecloths.

  • Fred Castellucci, @fwc3, owner of The Iberian Pig, Cooks & Soldiers, and other restaurants:  “The new Victory Sandwich Bar in Inman Park is awesome. It’s a very cool spot and the guys who own it are super-nice. They do a great job.”
  • Kate Parham Kordsmeier, @KPKords, food writer: Depending on her mood, she loves Umi Sushi, Bocca Lupa, and Gun Show.
  • Lindsey Isaacs, @Explore Georgia, from the state Department of Economic Development: “If somebody says Six Feet Under by the Oakland Cemetery some time, I’m there in a heartbeat.”
  • Dale Gordon DeSena, @TasteofAtlanta, suggests people try something new, “a little out of your comfort zone,” at least once a week.

Great advice, Dale — whether you’re traveling or at home.

Thanks to the panelists and the Georgia Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America for putting the discussion together. 

One of Atlanta’s Most Exciting Chefs Takes It to the Streets

Westside Provisions, Atlanta, Westside, West Midtown, Hector Santiago, El Burro Pollo, Pura Vida, latin food, restaurant, latin restaurant, latin eatery, burrito, chicken burrito, Atlanta, street food, fair, market, Ponce City Market,

Chef Hector Santiago, of Pura Vida and Top Chef fame, serving his delicious burritos at the Westside Provisions District Farmers Market.

The Westside Provisions District Farmers Market, which just started for the season, was humming Sunday with sunny browsers picking up produce, handmade candles and kimchi. But the draw for me was Chef Hector Santiago, whose insanely missed Pura Vida tapas restaurant was my favorite spot in the city for years.

At the El Burro Pollo burrito stand, he rolled me up a  lunch so tasty it took me back to the orgiastic delights of Pura Vida — those flaky empanadas packed with juicy meat, the sweet and sticky pork puff pastries, the silky fresh seafood ceviche… and the avocado ice cream. Ah, yes and truly … the avocado ice cream.

Hector also had Pura Vida’s sister sandwich shop, Super Pan; appeared on “Top Chef;” and served as executive chef at Abattoir for a while. Lately, he’s been doing “pop-ups” like this one at fairs and markets around town. (You can keep up with his appearances on Facebook and Instagram.)

Hector Santiago, El Burro Pollo, Pura Vida, latin food, restaurant, latin restaurant, latin eatery, burrito, chicken burrito, Atlanta, street food, fair, market, Ponce City Market,

Santiago rolls up my lunch, El Burro Pollo.

Now he’s planning a one-night return on June 25 to Pura Vida, with a pop-up at the old spot, 656 N. Highland Ave., now home to Sweet Auburn BBQ.

Any of that avocado ice cream planned?

“Oh, man,” he said. “You know, I could do that as one of the desserts for the pop-up.”

And he says he’s about ready to share details of his upcoming spot, which could be El Burro Pollo or Super Pan. He didn’t want to talk about the location on Sunday, but media outlets have reported it will likely be in Ponce City Market.

That’s almost as close to my home as the old Pura Vida. I’ll take it.

Here are some pics from Sunday’s market. It will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Sunday through September, at Howell Mill Road and 14th Street. Click a picture to make it bigger; mouse over to see the captions.

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Letterman’s Top 10 Tips for Better Communications

David Letterman, The Late Show, 33 years

Letterman keeps it real.

We all know David Letterman just ended his 33 years on late-night TV. You don’t have to be a comedian, or even a Letterman fan, to have picked up some communications tips from him over the years.

In keeping with one of his most cherished bits, here’s my Top 10 Easy Tips for Communicators  from David Letterman.

  1. Be yourself. Letterman was a goofball from the start, cranky, ironic and snarky. He was no Hollywood smoothie like Johnny Carson, and didn’t try too hard to make people like him, as so many do. He always was Dave, the one and only.
  1. Be consistent. Even on two networks and with two names, Letterman’s show was remarkably steady. They’d try new bits, of course, but it all felt of a piece, of one sensibility and in a respectful routine.
  1. Guide the discussion. That cranky side of his personality was a bit much sometimes, but he also knew how to keep bloviating celebrities in check.
  1. Branding, branding, branding. The Top 10 lists, Stupid Human Tricks, The Velcro Suit, Stupid Pet Tricks… What were your favorites? We’ve been talking about them all these years.
  1. Share the Spotlight. Paul Shaffer and the great band. Larry “Bud” Melman. Neighborhood deli owners. Audience members… Letterman was always the center of his show, but he knew that he shines best, and the message is best delivered, when he’s surrounded by a team that complements him.
  1. Share yourself, but not too much. Letterman’s been super-famous for most of my life, but I know almost nothing about him. His adorable, white-haired mother made a series of appearances. He talked about his health troubles and young son from time to time. But the show was about the audience, not the host’s personal life. That’s a nice, difficult balance of message and messenger.
  1. Be real when you need to be. Letterman’s style of “crisis management” was to drop the irony and reticence to be serious – notably in 2009 when he discussed an extortion plot and confessed to having affairs with staff members. The lesson for everyone: Address a crisis promptly, honestly and directly.
  1. Be versatile. Letterman seemed just as comfortable and skilled talking with presidents, movie stars and common folk. All communicators should strive for such a deft touch.
  1. Give good content. In addition to being authentic and consistent, Letterman’s show was funny. Very, very funny — almost all the time, night after night, for 33 years. If we all give our audiences a good product, we’re more than halfway home.

… And the No. 1 Easy Tip for Communicators  from David Letterman is… 

  1. Know when to wrap it up. Could Letterman keep going? Absolutely. But it’s always best to choose your own departure and craft it yourself, instead of being shown the door. Keep that in mind next time you’re writing a speech for a long-winded executive, or going on too long on, say, a blog post about skillful communications.

Love for Atlanta’s New Icon Looks Like a Good Sign: PHOTOS

(Click the pics above to enlarge; mouse over for captions.)

Ponce City Market, PCM, Atlanta, Ponce de Leon, Sears, old Sears building, Borders, Dancing Goats, apartments, retail, restaurants, new, cool, big project, redevelopment

It pops above Ponce de Leon Avenue.

The sign for Ponce City Market went up Sunday, and Atlanta’s newest icon was met with spontaneous applause from onlookers on the BeltLine.

Seriously. People had stopped to watch the crews work and to take selfies and other pics. And when the last piece of the sign — with the ‘PO’ —  was attached, they clapped and cheered.

That’s a lot of goodwill no one can buy.

And I took it as a sign for the positive buzz about Ponce City Market, the old Sears building on Ponce de Leon Avenue that’s being famously renovated into new office, retail and restaurant space. It’s a centerpiece and symbol for positive urban renewal, and we have a lot of that going on here in Atlanta. People are proud about it — the BeltLine, too. And Krog Street Market and more.

I was out riding my bike when I came upon the scene Sunday. I stopped to take a few pics, which I shared on social media. Within 24 hours, my Facebook and Instagram feeds had plenty of examples from other folks, too.

On Monday, I walked around the site a bit, as office workers were taking a King of Pops break. PCM has drawn Twitter, Mail Chimp, athenahealth and, possibly, Google. Inside, the Food Court is shaping up for an opening around the end of summer. Some of the shops and restaurants coming soon include:

  • Holman & Finch Burger
  • Anthropologie
  • Williams-Sonoma
  • Honeysuckle Gelato
  • West End
  • Simply Seoul Kitchen

Binders and Dancing Goats coffee have been open for a while.

Here are some more shots from the ongoing development. Mouse over to read a caption, and click to make them bigger. (And here are photos from more than a year ago. It’s fun to see the progress.)

More info on Ponce City Market’s website.

Bringing Men Easy Tips, Fashion Advice from Online to Real Life

Aaron Marino, StyleCon, Atlanta, fashion, men's style, grooming, expert

Aaron Marino

Aaron Marino likes to tell a story about a friend named Steve.

“He had a hot date coming up,” Marino recalls. “And, not knowing what to wear, he asked me for some suggestions. I said, ‘Why don’t I swing by your place, check out what you have, and if you need something we can go shopping? While we’re out and about, we should visit my hair stylist for a new cut. And by the way… you have got to do something about those nose hairs!’ ”

With that initial make-over a few years ago, Marino not only proved himself a good friend, but he unknowingly started his Atlanta-based business as a men’s style consultant.

That tale also leads to an interesting example of taking online relationships into the real world, and of building your brand through social media.

Online branding

Marino started blogging at iamalpham.com and built a multi-channel social media presence that includes more than 2,000 YouTube videos.

Antonio Centeno, Aaron Marino, StyleCon, Atlanta ,men's style, fashion, grooming

Antonio Centeno

And now he’s promoting a men’s conference on style this Friday-Sunday (May 1-3) in Atlanta, called StyleCon2015. His partner on the project is ex-Marine Antonio Centeno, founder of the Real Men Real Style site The friends have invited other bloggers and Internet coaches to meet and counsel their readers and others men who are looking for help in bumping up their style and confidence.

“This is so much more than just style,” Centeno says. “This is lifestyle – fitness, relationships, career, life…”

Marino says the goal is to give men a place to talk comfortably about issues like accessorizing and manscaping – without having to defend their masculinity or listen to a bunch of lame “metrosexual” cracks. (If it matters to you, Marino and Centeno are straight, and the StyleCon agenda includes advice on impressing women.)

Looking Good as a Competitive Advantage

“It’s a competitive world, and there is nothing wrong with trying to put your best foot forward at all times,” Marino says.

Seminar titles include:

  • Modern Manliness: How to ‘Man Up’ in Your Daily life
  • 10 Masculine Style Essentials
  • Art of Charm: Going from Ordinary to Extraordinary in 7 Steps

Marino and Centeno promise tailors and hairstylists onsite at StyleCon, along with whisky and wine tastings. And the list of bloggers on the schedule includes:

Keeping It Real – and Social

I’m no style expert, but I love the idea of Internet entrepreneurs (in any line of work) taking their online personas out into the real world, meeting their readers and sharing tips and camaraderie.

It keeps the focus on “social” in social media.

And while I’m not a slob by any means, I have been in poor Steve’s worn-out shoes a few times. Maybe I’ll go and see if I can pick up some pointers.

You can get more details on the StyleCon site. Mention this blog and you’ll get a deal – three days admission for the price of one. 


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See Why Inman Park Remains an Atlanta Jewel — PHOTOS

Inman Park, Atlanta, neighborhood, festival, tour of homesOne of Atlanta’s oldest and best neighborhoods is gearing up for its yearly party this weekend. But the story of its recent, ongoing growth spurt goes beyond the 44th Inman Park Spring Festival and Tour Of Homes.

Hundreds of new apartments have gone up in just the last couple of years, along with trendy restaurants and cafes. Much of it’s centered around the Atlanta BeltLine, which currently ends next to the Krog Street Marketanother of the area’s exciting projects.

Walking around the neighborhood Wednesday afternoon, I bumped into Alex Kinjo at the site of his soon-to-open MF Sushi on North Highland Avenue near Elizabeth Street. Sushi lovers all over metro Atlanta have missed MF since Kinjo closed the flagship on Ponce in Midtown and the second location in Buckhead.

Inman Park, neighborhood, Atlanta, MF Sushi, Alex Kinjo

Alex Kinjo is getting ready to relaunch MF Sushi.

“I fell in love with this spot,” he says. “The Inman Park folks and the people in Midtown (nearby),  have been very loyal … and they support the community.”

His place is still under construction for a planned opening in late May. And that’s only fitting, since there’s so much construction going on within one of the city’s most prominent, historical zip codes. It is home to countless gorgeous mansions as well as the rolling namesake park.

The new vitality is unmistakable around the Inman Park Village area, where Fritti has been serving gourmet pizza for 15 years. Chef Riccardo Ullio, who also has Sotto Sotto down the street, is an Inman Park native.

“It’s popular because it’s the coolest neighborhood in town,” he says.

Displaced to make room for new apartments, Dad’s Garage theater company has moved to nearby Little Five Points. Dad’s is currently mounting a new musical there at 7 Stages based on none other than The King of Pops – another local hero with its base on the block.

The Inman Park festival is one of the biggest in town, and definitely worth checking out if you don’t mind the crowds. And the tour of homes promises to be spectacular – any drive or walk through Inman Park reveals a treasure of sprawling Victorian homes lovingly maintained amid impressive landscaping.

Here are a few links pieces about the neighborhood, too.

Inman Park, Atlanta, neighborhood, festival, tour of homes

North Highland Avenue, just off the BeltLine has restaurants, shops, apartments, doctors offices and more.

Inman Park, Atlanta, neighborhood, festival, tour of homes

Dining al fresco at Barcelona, a tapas restaurant and bar


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Could a Water Pipeline from Alaska Save California from Drought?

Walter Hickel, Wally Hickel, Alaska, water, pipeline, Los Angeles, Southern California, drought

Walter Hickel was Alaska’s governor twice. He died in 2010 at age 90.

News about a California drought always reminds me of a man I used to know, long ago and far away.

Walter Hickel was governor of Alaska in the early 1990s, when California was going through a water shortage, as it is now. Hickel, who already had been a wealthy developer in Alaska for decades, proposed back then building a pipeline to move fresh water from his state down south.

As a newspaper reporter there, I covered Hickel and the state Legislature. To most people, his idea sounded crazy – improbably expensive and probably impossible. Hickel always liked to say he was a big thinker; others said he was a reckless dreamer; plenty called him crazy. On many issues before and after this one, he was a lightning rod of WTF controversy long before Alaska ever heaped Sarah Palin on the country. (And, despite his eccentricities and polarizing views, he seemed like Churchill in comparison.)

Alaska, map, Wasilla, Denali, McKinley, wildlife, beautiful scenery, hunting, fishing, salmon, bear, moose, cabin, camera, Facebook, video, family, wolf

My brother-in-law Vince casts his line in one of Alaska’s countless rivers.

The “giant garden hose to California” — thousands of miles of giant pipe on the ocean floor — made an easy punchline. A preliminary study suggested it could cost $150 billion or more. (If you want to know more about it, visit the governorwallyhickel.org.)

Today I saw a headline from California about maybe building a desalination plant to make Pacific Ocean saltwater drinkable. One article from CNBC is headlined Drought of ’15: Desalination won’t save California.

Another headline, from The Alaska Dispatch News in February, asked: With California enduring record-setting drought, is it time to revive Hickel’s water pipeline dream?

From the article:

But it’s not even on an option on the table for the California Department of Resources according to a recent interview between the department and Wired.

Wired calls the idea “still crazy” and said the cost would be too high, as much of the water would go towards agriculture. But it also mentions the possible affect a pipeline could have on Alaska fisheries, and even raises the question of what could happen if our unofficial state bird — the mosquito — makes it into the pipeline.

“What kind of health risks would we face if the larvae from Alaska’s Jurassic-sized mosquito snuck into the pipe?” Wired asked.

Good point. Sorry, California.


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