Monday Morning Media Minute Weekly media tips you can read in a minute or so. Mon, 19 Jan 2015 13:00:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Media Minute: Changing my story Mon, 19 Jan 2015 13:00:22 +0000 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: To popular to fail? Mon, 22 Sep 2014 17:21:51 +0000 Media Minute: To popular to fail?

By Jerry Brown, APR

Media Minute: To popular to fail?Is the NFL in trouble? Or is it too popular to fail?

With all the recent headlines about domestic violence involving players and the ongoing saga about professional football and brain injuries, the NFL clearly is in crisis mode.

Is it too popular to fail? Or is it in trouble? Only time will tell.

As I see it, the brain-injury issue is a bigger long-term threat to the league than domestic violence.

After years of more or less ignoring domestic violence incidents involving its players, the league and Commissioner Roger Goodell have finally been forced to crack down because of the publicity and public reaction to the incidents involving Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and others. The league has been burned bad enough that its punishment for players involved in such incidents is going to be more severe.

There still will be players involved in domestic violence. But the incidents are less likely to be ignored or tolerated. And that means domestic violence involving players probably will fade as the hot potato it has become for the league.

The brain injuries are tougher to deal with. And it’s an issue that affects kids playing organized football. Fixing this problem won’t be easy.

My reason for writing about these issues isn’t about football. It’s about the nature of crises.

Some crises that put companies in the headlines and/or threaten their viability happen suddenly. But, despite popular belief to the contrary, most don’t. Most of them evolve over time — with plenty of warning signals that something’s wrong and needs to be fixed.

The crisis happens because the warning signals are ignored. That’s certainly true of both issues confronting the NFL right now. There were plenty of warning signals, going back many years.

I once worked for U S WEST, one of the Baby Bells created by the 1984 breakup of AT&T. The company’s leadership skimped on investments in the company’s network infrastructure for years to make their quarterly and annual financial statements look better. Despite complaints and warnings from customers, employees and public utilities commissioners, the company ignored the warnings until we had a full-scale crisis on our hands that cost the company millions of dollars and major damage to our reputation and credibility.

So, here’s my question for you: Is your company ignoring warning signs of a coming crisis? Is there anything you can do now to help fix it? If the warning signs are there and your company isn’t doing anything to fix the problem, then get your crisis management plan in order. There’s trouble ahead.

We all have stories to tell. Let’s talk if you need help telling yours. 303.594.8016.

Media Minute: Use headlines to make headlines Mon, 18 Aug 2014 12:00:59 +0000 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 Mon, 04 Aug 2014 16:00:39 +0000 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 Mon, 14 Jul 2014 13:35:15 +0000 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: Redskins should change name now Mon, 23 Jun 2014 14:00:51 +0000 Media Minute: Redskins should change name now

By Jerry Brown, APR

Media Minute: Why Redskins should change name nowThe Washington Redskins should change their name now — or as soon as possible.

I’m not making a moral argument. Just offering some PR advice.

When you’re in a fight you can’t win, it’s usually a good idea to find a way to end the fight. The Redskins can’t win this fight. So, they should find a way to end it. The only way they’ll do that is by changing their name.

This issue isn’t going away. It’s a moral and cultural issue for opponents of the Redskins’ name. It’s hard to argue that keeping the name reaches the same level of moral importance for those opposed to changing it.  They’re fighting for the status quo.

It’s hard to see how supporters of the status quo gain any strength. If anything, the tide is moving in the other direction.

The critics are likely to get stronger over time. Fifty members of the U.S. Senate signed a letter last month urging the Redskins to change their name. And the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office cancelled the team’s trademarks last week on grounds that the team’s name disparages Native Americans.

All of the senators who signed the letter are Democrats. So, it’s still a one-party issue there. And the Patent Office’s action apparently won’t have any major practical impact. But you can count on there being be more pressure applied until the inevitable change ultimately happens.

Team owner Daniel Snyder claims he has poll results showing most fans want to keep the team’s name. And some fans undoubtedly will be upset when (not if) the name is changed. My guess is most of them will get over it pretty quickly. The popularity of athletes and sports teams rises and falls with their performance. A winning NFL team in Washington — whatever its name — will have strong local support if it wins.

To build local support for a name change, Snyder should ask fans to come up with the new name. I wouldn’t commit to using whatever name gets the most votes no matter what. You might end up with a successful campaign for naming the team something like the Washington Gridlocks. But a workable name with strong fan support would provide community goodwill from the start.

And there are marketing opportunities for the team and the NFL. Just think of all the new jerseys, pennants and other team paraphernalia that would be sold.

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

Media Minute: An apology isn’t always enough Mon, 09 Jun 2014 15:52:08 +0000 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 Mon, 02 Jun 2014 14:00:38 +0000 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 Tue, 27 May 2014 14:00:10 +0000 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: Credibility Crater Mon, 07 Apr 2014 17:13:30 +0000 Media Minute: Credibility Crater

By Jerry Brown, APR

Media Minute: Can you say too much?Have they finally found Malaysia Airlines Flight 370? I hope so. But I’m a bit skeptical. And, I suspect, I’m not alone.

Normally, I’d probably assume the “pings” heard over the weekend were from the plane. But there have been so many conflicting stories and false hopes that I’ll believe they found the plane when there’s solid proof.

There’s an important lesson in that: Once you’ve lost your credibility, it’s hard to get it back.

As I see it, the search for the missing plane has been nothing short of remarkable. And the ships picking up the pings aren’t responsible for all the conflicting stories and false hopes. But it’s sometimes hard to make those distinctions.

Whether you’re dealing with a crisis or everyday business, honesty is important. And transparency is absolutely essential when you’re addressing a situation in which people’s lives have been lost or are in jeopardy.

It’s important to tell us what you know. But it’s also important not to speculate about what you don’t know. Unfortunately, there’s been far too much speculation in this case.

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


Looking for tips for telling your story more effectively? Check out Jerry’s content-focused blog at