Business owners: Tell your story

Samantha asks the Wall Street Journal how to get the press to cover her service-based business. WSJ opens the question up to a group of experts – proving the point that every business has a story to tell. It just takes a creative approach and effective communication skills to connect with a reporter.

Don’t wait for the media to call when mistakes are made

Think the traditional news media no longer have power? Viewers aren’t watching TV news? Listeners aren’t tuning into local radio? Readers aren’t picking up the local daily or weekly newspaper?
Yes, viewership, listenership and readership numbers are down as we all have so many more options for our news. But, there’s still some life in the old-school stand-by’s.
Take a look at what happened in Yakima, Washington recently when neighbors complained about a few weeds near a Wal-Mart construction site. The city was supposed to keep the public land cleaned up – but apparently didn’t. Neighbors called a TV station, the TV station made a few calls, and by the time the cameras arrived on scene in the neighborhood, the city crews were on location, responding to concerns.

For the news media, yes, it’s a win. For the rest of us, it’s a lesson learned. Don’t let any situation get to the point where people are so frustrated they start calling news media to find resolution.

Whether a public entity or business, if it’s too late, and customers become disgruntled, act now. If the local news media is already working on a story, reach out to all involved. Admit mistakes, fix the problems and explain steps being taken to keep a similar situation from recurring. Transparency goes a long way in righting a wrong.

A Call for Business to Speak Up

Now is the time for people in business to be telling their stories, sharing expertise and connecting with potential customers.

Gregg Sherrill, Chairman and CEO of Tenneco Inc. wrote a great piece for the July 15, 2010 Wall Street Journal opinion page. Sherrill writes about the inherent goodness of business, the opportunity, freedom and liberty afforded by capitalism in the United States and the importance of people speaking up in support of the system.

“Business has taken a pounding on Capitol Hill and at the White House, and for the most part has remained silent,” Sherrill writes. “It’s time to make our case.”

Here’s how: Embrace the media.

Sherrill proves an excellent example. He wrote an opinion piece – drawing on his expertise in the auto industry – and was published in a national newspaper and online (see the column at

As of this writing, the column had more than 300 ‘likes’ on Facebook and had generated more than 100 comments on the site.

Yes! People in business have important things to say, and there are countless opportunities to provide expert analysis, thought-provoking ideas and insight.

Maybe the Wall Street Journal is a bit intimidating. Start with your local newspaper. Be bold and write an opinion piece. Build a relationship with a local news/talk radio station. Seize the opportunity to be a credible voice in your industry.

Obviously, whatever you write or say needs to be good (preferably great).

I just received word that a local TV station is laying off 13 people in its news and production operations. However, the station isn’t cutting back on the amount of local air-time it needs to fill. That’s a huge opportunity for the savvy business owner to provide valuable content. Yes, it takes an investment of time and skill development to build the relationships, understand what is newsworthy and how to provide solid content, but the end result provides value beyond belief.

Create the content. Multi-purpose the content. Become a voice for your industry. As Sherrill says: “It’s time we find our voices and speak up. We have a powerful story to tell.” The local news media is waiting for a few good voices.

The Port-A-Potty Crisis

How would you respond?
I arrived home tonight and the conversation with my wife turned to the lack of port-a-potties at a local builder’s construction sites. I know what you’re thinking: “Really?! That’s the best you can do for conversation?” Her next question to me reveals the reason: “You’re a crisis communication guy, what would you do?”
It’s definitely a crisis.
The local news ran a port-a-potty investigation (or lack-there-of) after being tipped off by an employee. Sure enough, the reporter and videographer found plenty of people to talk anonymously about the situation. They also found plenty of evidence that crews were finding alternatives to the lack of on-site facilities. Yeah, makes you go yuck.
So, to answer my wife’s question: I would have put the plastic portable bathrooms on the construction sites at the very beginning. I know, that’s an easy-way-out for the arm chair quarterback.
Let’s dive into the anatomy of a crisis response.
Here’s text transcribed from the conversation between the reporter and builder:
Reporter: “The amount of toilets you had significantly went up from May 4 to May 6. Would you say that on May 4 you were in error and on May 6, after talking with OSHA, you corrected those errors?”
Builder: “If there’s a problem, we address it and take care of it.”
Reporter: “So are you saying there was a problem?”
Builder: “When OSHA brought it to our attention they said they wanted more – with the amount of workers that there are today – we want this many toilets; and of course, we overkill.”

Clarity is not the first word that comes to mind when I read the statements. Clarity and transparency are crucial when working through any crisis.
There are three simple rules to dealing with a crisis.
First, admit to it. Come on. The builder was caught red handed. No potties one day, a TV investigation and OSHA investigation and the potties appear. Not exactly a coincidence.
Second, explain what is being done now to remedy the situation. Here’s what the builder should have said: “No excuses. We made a mistake. There are now port-a-potties at every build site.”
Third, be clear about what you’re doing to be sure the situation doesn’t happen again. Be specific. Stop with the generalized statements that mean nothing to the TV viewer. What does “…we overkill,” mean?
How about: “We have developed daily on-site reviews that every foreman completes first thing in the day. First thing on the checklist is to be sure port-a-potties are present, clean and ready for the day.”
All that said, I still opt for my first statement: Do the right thing, first.
But, here’s the clincher: The TV station took a bottle of yellow liquid they found in the crawl space of a recently finished house to a lab for testing. Yes, it was urine. And, yes, it tested positive for marijuana. Next crisis, please.

Want the attention? Take the good with the bad.

Watching the local news tonight, I saw a story about a national politician making a local campaign stump stop.  The TV reporter met up with the politician at the airport, literally chasing the person down the hall.  I sat there, shaking my head.   The politician created a situation that looked like a Hollywood star running from the paparazzi.

Here’s the deal:  If you’re a politician – or someone actively seeking the news media stage – you can’t turn the reporters on and off at your whim; especially when you’re flying into a town to stump for a fellow political candidate.

It was especially disappointing to see this from someone who should have been heavily coached in how to deal with the news media – both local and national.

Running from a reporter with an outstretched hand holding a microphone while the camera is recording video presents a terrible persona.  The person on the run looks like they are… on the run; trying to hide something.

Stop.  Explain to the reporter you have sixty-seconds to talk.  Take a deep breath, compose yourself and answer the questions.  Then, politely excuse yourself.  You’ll look so much more dignified.

Do you really want the job?

Watching people speak in front of a crowd is always a fascinating learning experience.  Today, I watched about a dozen people get up, one-by-one, in front of a crowd of about 120 people.  Each person had up to three minutes to convince the audience why they should win a seat on what appeared to be a few sought after board seats.  There were more people than seats.  It’s the ultimate elevator speech.

As you can imagine, there was a bit of evident anxiety.

Here are the quick lessons:

If you don’t believe you’re the best person for the position (whatever the position is), no one else will believe it, either.  Self confidence comes from practice and knowing who you are and what you’re doing. Faking self-confidence in front of a crowd rarely – if ever – works.   Yes, there were a few candidates who I’m not too sure really wanted the job.

Honesty, transparency and being real trumps everything.  If you want to impress the crowd, win the vote and get the job, be prepared and be yourself.  It’s a refreshing way to stand out from the crowd.

Coaching Session With A Client

I had a great coaching session with a new client today – stepping into that intimidating world of excellent performance in front of the camera. I told the client the only point I wanted written down during the first session was, “Spontaneity is conditioned reflex.” I borrowed the line from Denis Waitley’s The Psychology of Winning. The line definitely sparked a perplexed look. “What does that mean?” was the reaction.
The next time you watch a really great on-camera personality, watch for how easy they make it look. There’s a spontaneous nature about their performance. Actors, TV news anchors, reporters, you name the on-screen presence, and the good ones make you forget the technical aspect of what you’re watching. They bring you in, convey a story – or a message. The ones who lack practice make the technology yell. They’re reading a teleprompter! They’re nervous in front of the camera.
If you’re in front of a camera or in front of an audience, you want to convey a level of spontaneity. The only way to get to that point where great communication is a natural outgrowth of what you do and who you are – won’t happen spontaneously. It will take much practice – to create a conditioned reflex.

Miss Idaho Scholarship Program Testimonial

“Dale is very knowledgeable about media avenues and local markets. He has the the unique perspective of having been on television as an anchorperson, as well as now being on the other side of the camera…”

Brenda Tanabe, Executive Director, Miss Idaho Scholarship Program