Archive for the ‘Telling Your Story’ Category

Media Minute: Changing my story

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Media Minute: Changing my story

By Jerry Brown, APR

SativaCOMM-LogoWeed. Grass. Pot. Dope. Ganja. Marijuana. Cannabis.

Whatever you call it, this five-leafed plant has become one of the major stories of our times. And it’s the reason I’m changing my story. Part of it, anyway.

I’ve been telling stories for a living and helping other people tell theirs for more than half a century. And I hope to keep doing it for a long time. It’s what I do.

But I’m changing part of the story I want to tell. I’ve teamed up with another gray-haired PR practitioner, Peter Kowalchuk, to provide communication help to the cannabis industry. You’ll find us at

Part of the change is opportunistic, of course. The cannabis industry is growing. I believe the growth curve will continue sloping upward. And I hope they’ll share a little of their good fortune with us by hiring us to help them.

I’ve come to have a deep respect for what cannabis can do — and for the people who are growing and selling it. I know several people whose lives have been transformed thanks to medical marijuana. And almost everyone I’ve crossed paths with who works or operates a business in this exciting new industry is both smart and responsible.

The days of the guy with a grow light and a few plants in the basement who sells weed on the side are pretty much gone. Most of the people who grow and sell legal cannabis today are smart, sophisticated and responsible business people. And a strong, successful legal cannabis industry will help stamp out the black market fed by unsavory criminals.

The products the legal cannabis industry is selling, I believe, do far more good as a medicine and source of enjoyment than any harm that comes to some from using them.

The Media Minute was born on January 1, 2001. For more than a decade, I produced 50 of them a year — one every Monday except the last two weeks of the year when I figured no one was around or paying attention.

That output has slowed the last couple years as I’ve turned more of my attention to the blog on my main website, It focuses mostly on writing and storytelling tips. There were only 10 Media Minutes last year. I plan to continue offering occasional observations through the Media Minute. But most of my attention will go to JerryBrownPR and SativaComm.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours? If so, I’d love to talk to you about it.

Media Minute: Use headlines to make headlines

Monday, August 18th, 2014

Media Minute: Use headlines to make headlines

By Jerry Brown, APR

Media Minute: Use headlines to make headlinesRobin Williams, dead by suicide. Why?

Was it the Parkinson’s? The depression? Alcohol/drug problems? The threat of bankruptcy? A career declining because of aging? All of the above? None of the above? Something else?

Williams’ death has triggered stories on all those topics. And it’s an opportunity for anyone who deals with these subjects regularly to use his death to tell their story.

Why? Because the issues raised by Williams’ death are common, even universal. Almost everyone reading this has been touched by one or more of the issues mentioned in relation to his death. I’ve been touched by all of them in one way or another.

One of my heroes is a long-time Parkinson’s patient who used to be a daily part of my life.

I have a brother who committed suicide in his early 20s.

Depression has touched close friends, members of my family and, at times, me.

At 70, I live with the affects age has on my career, my job and earning opportunities and the potential for outliving my money.

And I’ve known many people with drug, alcohol and money problems.

There’s something about Williams’ death that all of us can relate to. And he was both famous and well liked. So, his death offers the opportunity to tell other, related stories.

Are you repulsed by the idea of using a celebrity’s death as a storytelling opportunity? I hope not. Because events like Williams’ suicide offer an opportunity to deliver many important messages.

As I’ve said many times: Sometimes headlines already in the news offer the opportunity for you to make headlines of your own to tell a story that would otherwise be ignored.

We all have stories to tell. Let’s talk if you need help telling yours.

Media Minute: Just Say Know

Monday, August 4th, 2014

Media Minute: Just Say Know

By Jerry Brown, APR

Media Minute: Just Say KnowAds don’t usually make news. So, you know something big is happening when one does.

Leafly, which describes itself as “the world’s cannabis information resource,” made headlines this weekend as “the first cannabis company to place a full-page advertisement in The New York Times.”

Under the headline “JUST SAY KNOW,” the ad told readers they could go to Leafly’s website to get the information they need to make informed choices “about the right products and strains for you” and to find “trusted clinics and dispensaries.”

The ad came just a week after the Times editorialized in favor of repealing the federal ban on marijuana. The editorial made news as well because it broke new ground.

What’s the point?

The retail-catalog company Hammacher Schlemmer says it offers “the best, the only, and the unexpected.” Add “first” and you have a pretty good list of things that have the potential to make news.

The Leafly ad made news because it was the first of its kind.

But there’s another important element to that: Leafly put an article on its own web page announcing that its ad was the first. I suspect they also put out a news release announcing their “first.”

To make news, it’s not always enough to be first. Sometimes you have to step up and claim credit for it.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

Media Minute: Silence can be golden

Monday, July 14th, 2014

Media Minute: Silence can be golden

By Jerry Brown, APR

Media Minute: Silence can be goldenWant to be quoted by the news media? Then be quotable when you’re talking to reporters.

But you don’t always want to be quoted. Bloomsburg University student Jake Close learned that lesson the hard way recently.

His picture and a comment about whether the Washington Redskins should change their name appeared in a “Your Opinion” feature in his hometown newspaper, the Bloomsburg (Pennsylvania) Press Enterprise.

Jake’s problem? He was wanted for skipping bail in New York. The local cops saw his name and picture in the paper, realized he was wanted in New York and arrested him.

What was the comment that got Jake into hot water? He suggested the Redskins keep their name but change their mascot to a potato. He probably got a nice chuckle out of seeing his joke in print — until the cops showed up and hauled him off to jail.

So, remember the rule: Be quotable if you want to be quoted. But you don’t always want to be quoted. If you don’t want to be quoted, keep quiet.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

Media Minute: An apology isn’t always enough

Monday, June 9th, 2014

Media Minute: An apology isn’t always enough

By Jerry Brown, APR

Media Minute: An apology isn't always enoughNow that he’s had time to see the reaction to his post-Belmont rant, owner Steve Coburn has apologized for this “coward’s way out” comment following California Chrome’s fourth-place finish in the Belmont Stakes.

Too bad he didn’t have some pre-race media training — or simply the common sense to know that his post-race rant made him a sore loser.

Despite the apology, Coburn did himself — and his horse — lasting damage. To the degree that Coburn and California Chrome are remembered at all, Coburn’s rant will live on as part of California Chrome’s legacy.

Picking a fight or losing your temper in front of cameras is generally a bad idea unless a lot of people will agree with you. There’s no reason to believe a lot of people will take Coburn’s side when he said racing a horse in the Belmont without also running it in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness is the “coward’s way out.” Winning the Triple Crown is hard. That’s why doing it is so special and so few horses have done it. If you want to win the Triple Crown, you enter all three races and run faster than everyone else who shows up.

Coburn made a mistake with his rant. He’s apologized for it. But the damage is done. Don’t make the same mistake. Know what you’re going to way, and why, before you open your mouth in front of a camera or a reporter.

And if you’re not sure how to handle yourself in those situations, get media training from an experienced professional.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

Media Minute: Good advice, badly delivered

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

Media Minute: Good advice, badly delivered

By Jerry Brown, APR

Media Minute: Good advice, badly deliveredI think it’s safe to say things aren’t going well when you feel compelled to tell employees not to use words or phrases like “deathtrap,” “widowmaker” and “rolling sarcophagus” to describe your products.

I’m referring, of course, to the General Motors memo with a list of 68 words and phrases GM employees documenting potential safety issues were told to not to use.

The GM employees were told to avoid the word “defect” because it could be seen as an admission of guilt. Other words on the list included “bad,” “terrifying,” “dangerous,” “horrific” and “Hindenburg.” The phrase “Corvair-like” was on the banned list, along with “unbelievable engineering screw-up” and “this is a lawsuit waiting to happen.”

Written in 2008, the list of banned words predates the dustup over the ignition-switch recalls that have killed at least 13 people and inflicted repeated hits to GM’s reputation over the past several months.

But it surfaced in the news media just a few weeks ago, unfortunate timing for the folks at GM because it served as an opportunity for another round of stories on the ignition-switch recalls and how poorly GM has handled them. I suspect I wasn’t alone in missing the fact when I first heard about it that the memo was six years old and not written in response to the current situation.

The admonition to stick to the facts and avoid offering opinions when describing potential safety issues was good advice, I believe.

But it was badly executed. The list of banned words and phrases was too specific, too long and ultimately caused the kind of harm it was designed to prevent.

I’ve often advised clients to avoid putting certain information in writing so their words won’t come back to haunt them in the media or a lawsuit. But I don’t put that advice in writing, either.

Anything you distribute to a large group of people — and sometimes a small group of people — is going to be shared with others, potentially including your enemies, your competitors and the media. That doesn’t mean you never share sensitive information in writing. But say it carefully. And use caution when deciding how widely to share it. Distributing a memo with a list of “banned” words to a large group of employees has a good chance of being leaked to the media.

Offer your employees guidance. But try to do it in a way that does no harm.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

Media Minute: Wrong questions, wrong answers

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Media Minute: Wrong questions, wrong answers

By Jerry Brown, APR

Media Minute: Wrong questions, wrong answersIf you ask the wrong questions, you usually get the wrong answers.

For example, I recently found these questions in my inbox:

“What does it take, in your experience, to achieve good public relations? What are good public relations? If I am already issuing periodic press releases, is that enough?

“What if I have a whole social media marketing plan and I am distributing monthly newsletters, tweeting weekly, writing articles and publishing them in online magazines and talking about everything I do (my company does) on Facebook and Linked-in. Is that enough?

“I believe the above is a more tactic(al) view of PR tools, what about the strategic view of PR?

“And the million $ question — is there real value is paying a retainer of tens of thousands of shekels to a PR firm? Sometimes I feel that despite all the tools that I use, I am not breaking a glass ceiling when it comes to awareness. Can a good PR firm help me and my business? Is a traditional PR firm or a digital marketing firm more advisable today?

“I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences on the above.”

A lot of people seem to think the key to successful PR is using the right tools. But the tools are just tools to help you reach the right audience effectively with right message.

Should a carpenter use a hammer, a saw, a screwdriver, a level, a ruler — or all of them? Depends on the job to be done. S/he probably won’t use a saw to drive nails or a hammer to cut a board. And a master carpenter is going to build a better cabinet than I would even if we use the same tools and materials.

I suggested to the author of the opening questions that she start with a different set of questions:

  • What’s your objective? What do you want to happen as a result of telling your story?
  • Who’s your audience? Unless you have a monopoly on air and we need to buy it from you to breathe, the answer is not everyone.
  • What’s your message? What do you need to say to your audience to persuade them to do whatever you need them to do to meet your objective?
  • How do you reach your audience with your message? Getting a story into the Wall Street Journal may sound like success — unless your audience doesn’t read the Wall Street Journal.

Once you know the answers to these questions, then you can start thinking about which tools to use and how often to use them.

Does the questioner need to hire a PR agency? Maybe. Does she need to hire a large, expensive agency? In her case, probably a waste of money. She’d be better off working with an experienced independent practitioner, a small agency or hiring an employee to do her PR work.

Starting with tactics is often tempting. We’ve all done it. But it’s a bad place to start if you don’t know the answers to the questions I listed above and if you don’t have a strategy for delivering your message effectively to your audience. There’s no cookie cutter list of the right tools to use. And good PR is about building relationships, not just delivering a message.

We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?

Media Minute: Debacle or normal startup pains?

Monday, November 18th, 2013

Media Minute: Debacle or normal startup pains?

By Jerry Brown, APR

Media Minute: Debacle or normal startup pains?The rollout of Obamacare has been a bit bumpy. To put it kindly. Is it a debacle in the making? Or simply going through startup pains that will soon be forgotten?

It’s not a trivial question. We all have a big stake in the success of Obamacare or, if it won’t work, it’s quick demise. Successful or not, it’s not going anywhere any time soon. So, we all have reasons to hope it’s successful.

Well, not all of us. What happens with Obamacare promises to a big factor in next year’s elections. Congressional Republicans have doubled down repeatedly on their attempts to kill Obamacare. A successful Obamacare rollout could be an electoral disaster for them. And Democrats will also have to live with the consequences, good or bad, of what happens with Obamacare over the next few months.

So the stakes are high all of us, including the politicians we’ve sent to Washington.

Which brings me back to the question of whether Obamacare is a debacle or not. My answer: It’s too early to say. But talk of the debacle will quickly be forgotten if Obamacare’s rollout turns out be successful.

Remember the “debacle” last year when Apple introduced its own maps app to replace Google maps on its iPhones. The Apple maps had some serious flaws and their introduction was PR disaster for Apple and a PR win for Google.

I recently came across a story on that says the incident has turned into a win for Apple and a loss for Google:

“Apple’s maps have turned out to be a hit with iPhone and iPad users in the US – despite the roasting that they were given when they first appeared in September 2012,” the story says. “But Google – which was kicked off the iPhone after it refused to give Apple access to its voice-driven turn-by-turn map navigation – has lost nearly 23m mobile users in the US as a result. That is a huge fail against the 81m Google Maps mobile users it had there at its peak in September last year, according to ComScore, a market research company which produced the figures from regular polls of thousand(s) of users.”

I’m old enough to remember a number of early “debacles” accepted as successes today.

Seat belts are an example. Before seat belts became mandatory, car makers spent millions telling us they’d make cars less safe and too expensive. And we all heard repeated anecdotes about people who died in car wrecks because they were wearing a seat belt and couldn’t get out of their cars.

After Russia launched Sputnik and put a man in orbit before we could, our space program was widely regarded as a failure. And, reinforcing the message of failure, we saw lots TV footage of unsuccessful launches that ended with rockets burning up spectacularly on their launch pads. John Glenn’s trip into space and the first moon landing put an end to the talk of failure.

What’s my point? All too often those of us in the PR business — and our clients — make snap decisions about success or failure based on what’s happening at the moment.

But that’s not the way the world works. Today’s PR disaster can make long-term success more difficult. And today’s PR triumph can lead to feelings that you’ve won. But today’s feelings of success or failure frequently aren’t the end of the story. And it’s how the story turns out in the long run that matters.

We all have stories to tell. Contact me if you need help telling yours.

Check out Jerry’s content-focused blog at And visit his Entrepreneur Community Online Advisor page at

Media Minute: 3 Lessons from the Wilderness

Monday, October 21st, 2013

Media Minute: 3 Lessons from the Wilderness

By Jerry Brown, APR

 Media Minute: 3 Lessons from the WildernessI came across one of those what-were-they-thinking stories last week: A Boy Scout leader destroyed one of the rock formations in southern Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park while another Boy Scout leader captured it on video and posted it on YouTube.

Now, those two men and yet another Boy Scout leader who was with them could be facing felony charges.

What were they thinking? I have no idea. But they handed the rest of us at least three good media-related lessons. Given the number of times I’m forced to learn from my own mistakes, I consider it a bonus any time I can learn from the mistakes of others.

Lesson #1: If you don’t want to see it in print or on the air, don’t say it within range of reporters. YouTube postings are within range of reporters. I was making this point to clients long before social media came along. But Facebook, YouTube and Twitter make this lesson even more important. If you do or say something stupid — and, as this case, potentially criminal — don’t document it on the Internet.

Lesson #2: Going viral isn’t always good. I frequently hear from clients that they want to produce a YouTube video that will go viral. What they really want is to produce a video or some other vehicle for their message that will get their story heard, understood and remembered by as many people as possible. But, more often than not, going viral is a bad thing. The video posted by the Scout leaders went viral. My guess is they wouldn’t have posted it if they had realized what would happen once it did.

Don’t focus on going viral. Focus on telling your story in a way that it reaches your audience most effectively. And, if that leads to a video or other social media post that goes viral, great! That may sound like a small distinction. It isn’t. Focusing on your message and how to deliver it effectively means figuring out what you want to say, who you want to say it to and how to reach them. Focusing on going viral just means figuring out how to put yourself in the limelight on a public stage. Any two-year-old throwing a temper tantrum in a mall can do that.

Lesson #3: Know when to shut up. These three guys did something stupid and posted it on YouTube. The video showed the rock formation being destroyed and their celebratory high fives afterward. Once the smelly stuff hit the fan, they kept talking to claim they did it because they were afraid the rock would fall on its own and kill some kid. Yeah, right.

We all have stories to tell. Need help telling yours? If so, let’s talk. Want to comment on this article? Go here.

Check out Jerry’s content-focused blog at And visit his Entrepreneur Community Online Advisor page at

Media Minute: The rabbit ears stunt

Monday, August 26th, 2013

Media Minute: The rabbit ears stunt

By Jerry Brown, APR

Media Minute: The rabbit ears PR stuntA tip of the hat to Time Warner Cable for their brilliant publicity stunt last week.

They offered free rabbit ears — TV antennas for those of you too young to remember rabbit ears — to any subscribers who want to watch CBS programming while the contract dispute that has kept CBS programs off Time Warner Cable in some markets for the past three weeks continues.

Many people, including some PR professionals, dismiss publicity stunts as unworthy of respect. Not me. I love good publicity stunts. And I rank this one up there with the best.

CBS wants more money from Time Warner Cable in return for allowing the cable company to carry CBS programs in cities where CBS owns local affiliates — which includes New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston.

Central to Time Warner Cable’s messaging: They’re trying to keep prices down so they don’t have to raise their prices to consumers.

Offering free rabbit ears was perfect because it gave Time Warner Cable an opportunity for a tangible, easy-to-remember way to tell their side of the story to their customers and the media and paint CBS as the villain.

Not everyone will agree with Time Warner Cable’s side of the argument, of course, least of all CBS. But you’re never going to get everyone to agree with you. The best you can do is tell your story in a compelling, visible way and hope you win most of your audience over to your side.

What about you? Have you staged any good publicity stunts lately? If not, is there a good one in your future? I hope so. And I’d love to hear about it.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?

Check out Jerry’s content-focused blog at And visit his Entrepreneur Community Online Advisor page at