Pondering the question as this incredible film screens again tonight.

Tagline for Stephen King’s screenplay? ‘Miracles do happen’ and on the face of it, we might just see a few yet. In time.

In a week which saw the juxtaposition of the first annual Golden Twits awards in the UK for top tweeters alongside concerns over the threat posed to British creative industries from filesharing, it seems hard to see anything miraculous evolving for many media types in the current online climate. Jobs continue to be cut, journalists continue to leave the industry, the media platforms continue to lumber forwards. Where, oh where, are the miracles?

If we follow The Green Mile, miracles arrive from the most unusual sources.A scampering mouse, a gigantic lifer on death row.

For example, the growth of digital agencies and their focus on utilising content in the development of search engine marketing: the days of putting content online for the sake of it seems to be a dying activity. The gigantic lifer on death row can be likened to traditional media operations, whilst the scampering mouse could be a social media start-up, offering hope and new revenues.

The lesson is this: miracles can happen for our hard-pressed journalists, but they have to be carefully sourced.

And for these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to be discovered, both newly-graduated journalists and experienced Hacks alike need to be adaptable, open-minded and above all, willing to accept things they cannot necessarily see evidence of.

Such as social media: it doesn’t seem to represent anything other than a time-consuming fad to many hard-nosed, traditional media types and online marketers. The ROI isn’t immediate. Bin it. Lose the platforms and re-invest in what’s been done before.

However, what these old-school diehards fail to see is that for a miracle to work, it needs nurturing. Devotion. And time.

Time to engage, grow, and excite audiences. Time to allow offers, services and products to be introduced. Time for social media channels to become the miracle opportunity which a select few organisations and individuals are starting to see presently.

In the dark? Wondering how social media can be your next content-based miracle? Thinking it’s just a waste of time?

Watch The Green Mile – the mouse has all the answers.

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The proliferation of social networks represents both an opportunity and a threat to many. Therein lies the juxtaposition of ‘We know our audiences are there, but how do we engage them?’

Here are some low-cost, high-impact ways in which you can engage audiences using social media:

Community-building

Social media networks are useful for attracting, engaging and building a community of loyal audiences. This can be powerful for online communication efforts on a number of levels, including talking to existing audiences, building rapport with potential readers and advertisers, and linking them together to increase a sense of community.

Many communicators have used Facebook, with more than 300 million current users, to set up fan pages and inform their audiences of products, services, news and offers.

Product Research

Social networks are a powerful research and development tool. The collection of people mixing and exchanging news, information, spending patterns, dialogue and feedback can give you a wealth of information for current and future products and services.

This can be delivered through crowdsourcing, or direct one-to-one contact with established readerships.

Customer Service

Social networks are a powerful research and development tool. Social media networks can provide a plethora of opportunities, and without an expensive marketing research campaign behind them.

Twitter, for example, has been leveraged by a number of companies, such as Zappos, which set up an account on this social network specifically to deal with customer service queries. Their Twitter account is followed by more than 1.3 million people.

The company has 400 employees, all of whom have Twitter accounts and who contribute to the company’s Twitter feed. This has helped to bolster customer service, provide an excellent point of contact for customers, and also to act as a showpiece for the firm’s outstanding approach to servicing customers both online and offline. It has also helped to increase revenues over time.

Marketing & Promotion

One of the biggest benefits of social media networks can be the speed, ease and global efficiency with which new products and services can be launched. Routes to market, via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, iTunes and blogging, can be leveraged effectively and in a timely manner.

Competitions, product launches, service initiatives, online forums and polls – there are countless ways social media networks can be utilised to add value to an audience online whilst increasing the buy-in.

Transparency

At a time when traditional advertising has less impact than at any previous point, and customers are able to voice poor service or treatment instantly across social media networks, the ability to show transparency via social media networks is a great credibility-builder.

The days of purely broadcast messaging as we know it are coming to an end.

The audience, particularly the increasingly social media-focused customer, now requires a rapid response to queries, great service, information to be readily available, and not to be sold to.

In short, transparency wins with the modern audience.

Is your social media engagement reflecting this?

Re-posting this after a query from a non-media relations-savvy business contact:

The aim here is simple – to give you a winning formula to create attention-grabbing press releases. So you can create a new press release from a proven template, and gain publication – hopefully every time you submit the editorial to a Press contact.

Outline:
According to many in PR, writing a press release for media consumption is filled with little-known nuances, subtle twists and turns, a special language understood by the press and PRs only, and a myriad of other ‘rules’ to gain entry into the privileged position of gaining publication.

This, basically, is not the case. Writing a winning press release is not a secret formula, part of a Dark Art, or rocket science. It is a straightforward process.

Obviously, a PR Consultant or Agency wants you to think this. They don’t want you to have the skills to write your own highly-effective, relevant, newsworthy editorial items, because then they wouldn’t be hired to do it for you. Simple.

But the truth is, a press release is only a news-conveyance tool. It informs and educates. It inspires debate, attention, confidence in a company or individual. It also, conveniently, raises profile and passes on key messages. And sales.

So, let’s get you on the road to creating a prefect press release. Remember, it is not rocket science – but there are a few basics you’ll need to implement.

First things first:
There are five basic ingredients which will make up your press release, namely
* Angle – what is the main thrust of the news in the editorial
* Unique – you will have something unique, different or interesting to say
* Relevance – you News will be highly relevant to the readership
* Value – your news will add value to the publication’s content
* Timeliness – the editorial will be timely, contemporary and factual

These five key ingredients are worth looking at in a bit more detail, to fully understand how crucial each one is in gaining publication time after time.

* Angle – the thrust, or storyline, of your press release is the driving force and main ‘hook & hold’ for the media. Your angle, therefore, needs to be focused, based on a News item in your business, and with no superfluous details.

* Unique – your press release must convey news that is different, unique and interesting. To put is plainly, it must tell the readership something useful which will enrich their lives. And this doesn’t just mean try to flog them something.

* Relevance – to be truly relevant to a publication, you need to be able to offer the readership a product, service, opinion or similar which is of benefit and use to them in their everyday business or personal lives.

* Value – to add value to a publication’s content is a potential minefield, as ‘value’ is determined by the editorial team, rather than what you think is of value to the readership. Extreme and common sense are needed here.

* Timeliness – to provide a timely press release essentially means that your news is contemporary, factual and ‘now’ rather than about an event or launch which happened three months ago. Be aware of current affairs and impacts.

Press release template:
Every press release is formed from a basic template design, which follows the same structure and layout: in essence it goes like this:

* Headline – one line in length, snappy, no clichés, hints at story and angle
* First paragraph – sums up the entire news item in one brief element
* Second to tenth paragraphs – bulk of news item, with relevant quotations
* Final paragraph – ends the news item, ideally with a confirming quotation
* Contact details – of the press release supplier. Email, phone and website
* Notes to Editors – additional information, case study hyperlinks, statistics

Press release PR photography:
This element is as important as the editorial you produce and issue to the media. A professionally-taken, appropriately-formatted image to accompany every press release you send is an absolute must. Never forget the image.

Most offline newspaper and magazines will require jpeg format images at a resolution of 300dpi: this standard will be of the right standard for pretty much any daily newspaper and glossy magazine in the UK.

Images for online reproduction require different formatting, of course, and the best option is to hire a professional photographer – preferably an experienced PR press photographer – who will be able to produce relevant online and offline-ready images for you to submit to the appropriate media.

You may argue that the additional cost involved with hiring a professional photographer is prohibitive, but in reality if you’re serious about gaining publication and delivering a polished press release, images must always be part of the package delivered to the media. Ignore this at your peril.

Timeframe: 0-3 hours
Here’s a rough guide on how to produce a winning press release in a three hour timeline. You should aim for the following:

* First 30 minutes: establish angle, write leading paragraph, form key quotes – first paragraph completed only no headline
* 30 minutes-1 hour: Write paragraphs 2-6, including bulk of News details – first six paragraphs completed no headline
*1-2 hours: Write paragraphs 7-10, including concluding quotation – 10 paragraphs completed no headline
* 2-2.5 hours: Formulate image caption and Notes to Editors sections – paragraphs and Image Cap & Notes completed no headline
* Final 30 minutes: Proof-read the entire press release. Then do it again.

Ready to submit:
You’re nearly there. The final points are important to remember as you tidy up and finish up. Before you collate your media list and email the press release:

1. Make sure you have not repeated any information, quotations, statistics.
2. Check the press release by reading it out loud. This is vitally important.
3. Finally, write the one-line Headline. Always do this last of all. It flows easily.

And finally:
Relax. Take notes about your business, products, service and people. Do not worry if the editorial doesn’t flow at first. Stay with it. Re-draft until you are happy with the tone, layout and newsworthiness of the press releases you produce.

Ultimately, you’ll make it easier for myself and other Editors to carry on with other editorial tasks.

Re-posting this after a request from a fantastic contemporary PR contact, asking to highlight the ways media relations has changed in light of social media – and how the Ab Fabs have a LONG way to go to catch up…if ever.

Well, I thought the week had been going a little too smoothly. And, as if by magic, within three minutes of that thought, a PR relative of the infamous Rubella Pymley-Bowles from Ostentatious PR was on the phone. And she truly surpassed herself.

In the words of Run DMC, it goes a little something like this:

Phone rings.

Editor: Hello, ****** speaking.

Rubella MkII: Hi. Do you have a Features List?

Editor: Sure, for which magazine. We publish two here and a number of business Directories.

Rubella MkII: Oh right. Erm. Don’t you do the Disability magazine now?

Editor: ‘Fraid not, that title was pulled more than a year ago. Don’t you have any up-to-date Media databases?

Rubella MkII: Erm. We might have something of use to you.

Editor: Only if it’s relevant to the printing and/or sign industries – do you?

Rubella MkII: Erm. Aah. We promote hearing aids.

Editor: Can’t see how my Readerships will be too bothered about that. Do you have anything relevant?

Rubella MkII: Isn’t that relevant? Can you use that for those magazines?

Editor: Not unless we launch a niche magazine to hard-of-hearing print directors. Or deaf sign-makers. Ahem.

Rubella MkII: Erm. (No laugh, or indication of a joke having just been made)

Editor: Thanks for the call, I must get back to production on our totally-irrelevant-to-your-Client mags.

Rubella MkII: Erm. OK. Bye.

And there we have it. Now, before any of the fabulously effective, switched-on PRs and PR Account Directors out there deem it fit to tell me I was harsh and unfair on an individual who is so clearly an inexperienced, ill-informed, and pretty damn green PR Account Exec, think on this – who instructed her to put the call through in the first place?

Aah, yes, an Account Director, looking to write something/anything under the ‘Media Relations’ column of Deaf and Dumb Hearing Applications Ltd’s PR Client Contact Report for the month of November.

Give me strength. Thank God for the savvy, intelligent, PRs out there.

A wholehearted thumbs-up to Freelance Unbound here – a great blog.

The ‘then’ and ‘now’ list of how journalism operates after the progression of online activities is a gem. If there are any old-school editors out there who needed convincing of the benefits of a digital approach, this list is the defining moment in the era of a new era in how journalism is sourced, crafted and distributed.

Really powerful stuff – for those that are able to listen and rise above the fear of what is happening to out-dated newspaper business models. The digital approach makes so much common sense – after all, it’s all about market demand.

Media publishers in the States have learnt these lessons in the last 18 months, and the hard way: it could even be argued that our American editorial counterparts have suffered far more horrendous losses and cutbacks than those in the UK at the hands of the global recession. And we see the USA media sector bouncing back with innovation, open-mindedness and a willingness to try different business models, embrace digital opportunities, and move into the next evolutionary stage of journalism.

But hey, I am biased as you know.

Having seen Northcliffe Group slam down their digital ‘this is’ series of online offerings back in 2000 and watching bloody good journalists losing their livelihoods as a matter of course from London-based number-crunchers and an appaling lack of sales ability in the advertising departments (there was no global recession for them to hide behind then), it strikes me that it could be more about a non-willingness for the newspaper managers to adapt than it is about a changing and migrating audience.

But that could just be me being cynical.

Surely, on balance of probabilities, moving forward with digital journalism is better than wallowing in editorial nostalgia?

Ever noticed how most Editors don’t seem to highlight much in the way of positive news these days?

Not this guy.

A strong believer that when you give you receive, it is with great pleasure that the announcement of an online publishing deal can today be made – and it’s from myself, actually.

I’ll be adding comment to the Bristol247.com web site from 01 December, in the form of a weekly column, covering journalism, social media, online content, regional media issues, business bits, and the odd rant about crap PRs and bland marketing.

I thought it would be, more importantly, an excellent opportunity here to promote the sterling editorial work being carried out by Chris Brown’s site Bristol247.com on my blog. A bit of shameless self-promotion is fair enough, but my main aim is to highlight the brave standpoint of Brown’s editorial and online values. Here’s a guy who’s passionate about News AND the Web.

I’ve been singing the praises of this fantastic site since the Summer, mainly due to the fact that the Editor there Chris Brown is a great journo, but also because he really gets the digital opportunities available for British journalism – and he’s grabbing them, too. The readership of the site has risen considerably in recent weeks, and with good reason. It’s bloody strong content.

Anyway, looking forward to adding value where possible with the column, and if you’re wondering where else you might find my musings and ramblings, check out here if you’re interested. Well, it keeps me off the streets.

According to Sarah Hartley’s experiences here, that may well be the case. Great blog.

There seems to be a north-south divide in the uptake of social media, according to Hartley’s encounters of bloggers, tweeters and media types in London and Leeds. The overall account of the London ‘meeja’ was not entirely inspiring, in that the appearance of City journos being ‘switched on’ 24-7 does not necessarily give the reality of being in touch, utilising social media for a wider purpose, or even, ultimately, demonstrating a larger understanding of social media.

The Leeds experience, however, seems to be a different story. Engaged, interactive, questioning, challenging.

Pushing boundaries. This seems to be one of the main areas where media types – particularly traditional media  – are jumping onto social media because they think they ‘should’ rather than because they actually want to, or have something to contribute.

Social media is social. Obvious point? Well, put it this way: when was the last time you contributed something useful, valid and valued to the stream of social media editorial? Is it all second-hand news, no real voice, nothing authentic or genuine?

I’ve seen lots of media and marketing types observing, re-tweeting, idea-stealing and copying (for want of a better word) the work of others online and across various social media platforms. And yes, the old “nothing is original” argument is true to a point, but the copiers and plagiarisers still appear on social media spaces too. Ho hum.

It appears, at least according to Hartley’s participation in the north and south social media encounters, the northern participants are actually questioning and challenging why they are taking part in social media, rather than just being there and adding nothing of value for the increasing voices we see online. I, for one, know that social media is about what you put in, not take out.

And this is the unfortunate lesson many traditional media folk and old-school marketers are still missing. Give, give, give a bit.

The proliferation of online users and accompanying social media networks in the last three years can confuse, bemuse and excite in equal measure. Editors included. There are some basic considerations for effective social media engagement.

Here’s my Top 10 Commandments for social media:

1. Thou shalt not spam

Whatever you do, don’t spam your target markets. They won’t appreciate a barrage of poorly-researched, irrelevant and inbox-clogging spam emails. Spamming inboxes – whether it’s company email addresses, Twitter accounts or Facebook will win zero brownie points and alienate you from any further contact. Once credibility is lost, it’s not coming back anytime soon, if ever.

Hyperlinking and acknowledging external sources on your blog makes common sense.

2. Thou shalt not steal

Stealing links to stories, news items, funky new websites, and wonderful products from another source, then passing them off as your own is a huge social media no-no. For example, on Twitter the re-tweet or RT function is an essential part of Twitequette, whilst hyperlinking and acknowledging external sources on your blog makes common sense. It engages and links you with the world.

3. Thou shalt not covet your competitor’s blog

One of the most unattractive and unprofessional social media rules to break is that of taking your competitor’s content, services, products and online offerings – and copying it. And there’s a lot of it about. After all, ideas and innovation do have a commercial value. Advice? Brainstorm and generate new products and services instead. It’s actually good fun too!

If you sell directly to them via your social media channels, you’ll lose them. Instantly.

4. Thou shalt not sell – anything, ever

The whole point of social media is to attract and engage an audience – hopefully a significant one – who will them promote your business on your behalf. Your audience are NOT there to sell to. They are there because they value your content, insights and advice. If you sell directly to them via your social media channels, you’ll lose them. Instantly. Play it smart – give, give, give. Never sell.

5. Thou shalt not kill

Nothing is quite as bad in social media-land as an account which is established and then sits there. Dead. No content. Nothing contributed. Setting up a social media space, such as a Facebook fan page, Twitter feed, or company blog, and then not adding content to it regularly is a sure-fire way of killing your social media credibility in front of a global audience. Add content. Add value. Just add!

6. Thou shalt not take the name of social media in vain

Remember that despite the fact social media can seem quite light-hearted, harmless and fun, your inputs on social media networks are on the web for Time Immorium. So be careful what you post. Add value, contribute to the flow of conversation. Think carefully before you post anything, anywhere, anytime, which can be viewed as an attack or negative comment in your industry.

7. Thou shalt not commit adultery

Social media adultery can be committed without thinking, but the effect and long-term damage is hard to recover from. Because many social media networks operate on an informality level which standard marketing does not recognise, the rules of engagement are still the same. Remain professional, polite and polished at all times. Remember your social media content is your legacy.

Make sure you cater for your audience’s requirements, needs and wants.

8. Thou shalt honour thy audience

Simple really – without an audience, your social media inputs are little more than an exercise in commercial vanity. Without followers, readers, commentators and fans of your social media content, being there is effectively a waste of your marketing budget and time. Make sure you cater for your audience’s requirements, needs and wants. It is, unfortunately, all about them. Always.

9. Thou shalt not forget the Sabbath Day

So, you think social media is a Monday to Friday exercise? Afraid not. In our 24/7, always-on, on-demand culture, social media plays an essential part of the online marketing mix, and your inputs need to cover the full seven days of the week. The good news is that you can pre-schedule posts, tweets and social media content using established tools to maintain an ever-present presence.

10. Thou shalt not worship any false Gods

What this means, essentially, is that just because an individual or company has oodles of followers or friends on a social media network, it doesn’t make them God. Challenge them, make them think, debate their content, get involved. This adds to your credibility and also hooks you into the audiences of the big players. Think of it as a subtle way of piggy-backing for exposure.

Not sure, but it’s looking like the traditional PR providers are on their death knoll, according to recent reports.

Such as this article from PR Twitterati and non-traditionalist Mark Borkowski, highlighting that tools such as Sidewiki are pushing the Ab Fab brigade to the brink of extinction. Not that he cares of course – his kind of PR is contemporary.

Then there are the new breed of PRs, such as We Are Social – instigators of the Innocent Drinks Twitter feed and much, much more. I can imagine traditional PRs reading this new kind of PR delivery and quite literally crapping themselves when a client mentions the words ‘social’ and ‘media’ in the same sentence. Great work, and totally audience-focused for Innocent.

Wondering what a traditional PR looks like? Check out Rubella Pymley-Bowles from Ostentacious PR for a few clues. Awful.

Let’s face it – editors are pulling sources of news and articles from a multitude of areas now, including social media channels. The availability of news, comment, and public interaction means that the Press no longer ‘relies’ on PRs to fill up empty spaces offline and online when deadlines draw nearer. That’s right, PRs – the Press don’t need you, even if newsroom numbers have been cut.

Another important fact for those buying PR is this – the “It’s who you know” argument – so often rolled out by PR firms to newly-signed clients – is less and less relevant: let’s be honest, most media contacts are shifting weekly at the moment, let alone staying put on a publication or news site online for months on end. Those days are relegated well and truly to pre-Recession.

So, the death of PR? Maybe the end of a certain type of PR. As an editor, I’m not sorry to see it go. I welcome in the new and say a goodbye to the bad old days when up-their-own-arse PRs controlled far too much content supply into the British media.

My predictions? More and more media channels will open up, leading the Press to work with fast, reliable, non-pretentious distributors of information. Contemporary PRs have nothing to fear. Old school Ab Fabs? Time for a career change, I think.

At least, that appears to be the case according to this story recently concerning the drastic drop in profits for magazines.

As the downward slide continues for offline publishers, it is clear from the statistics presented in the Paid Content report that if you’re in editorial in the magazine sector, unless your publishers have online versions of the print edition, it’s lean times indeed ahead for you as we slide into the pre-Festive season. And to think journalism has been in this position for nearly two years now.

Incredible.

No tangible support or respite for the journalists, section editors, editors and senior editorial employees who’ve been cut, cut and then cut again from the heart of poorly-managed newsrooms. Dammit, stop the rant before the soapbox bends and breaks.

Couldn’t it of been seen coming?

I know from the colleagues I have worked with and spoken to in the last 12 months, we all knew magazine and newspaper editorial staff needed to diversify, re-train, get upskilled, and even consider another sector to work in.

The fact that we’re still seeing no assistance for the flailing British magazine sector is appalling.

And the message from the number-crunchers is still the bloody same – sorry, got to lose editorial, too costly to keep all the journos. Oh, the sales department? No, they’re all still there. Twiddling their fingers and talking about football results. Nice.

Once again, I wonder why it is such a bed idea to not simply consider letting senior editorial manage the business of managing newsrooms as business entities, including forward planning of news diversification, digitisation and online expansion.

Let’s face it – they couldn’t do a worse job than the inept neolithic management teams have done on their behalf to date. Ahem.