#b#Editor’s Note: This event has been postponed until Thursday, March 11#/b#
#b#Tom Ewing#/b# is an actual magician. Before your very eyes, he cuts in half an eight-inch press release that you have labored so hard to place in the newspaper. He passes his hand over it — somehow the message is intact. He cuts it to quarters, eighths, and even odd angles.
Each time, magically, the message is restored to a whole.
Ewing, director of external relations at Educational Testing Service’s , explains as he performs how your belabored press release may get cut successively smaller by editors, advertising needs, or to make room for other stories.
Yet if it is well written, it can still be restored to an effective message. You hope.
Ewing will present “Getting Your Copy into the New York Times, USA Today, and Similar Publications” at the New Jersey Communications and Marketing Association on Thursday, February 25, at 6 p.m. at Sotto Ristorante and Lounge, 128 Nassau Street. Cost: $15. Visit www.njcama.org.
For Ewing, magic has been a lifelong passion, and the mystery of media, a lifelong career. A native of Philadelphia, Ewing took to magic at an early age. Guided by his history-buff father, young Tom not only learned the tricks, but studied all the past magicians.
The result has been his fascinating magic history website www.mahatmaland.com, where one can learn how the famed Morphet Brothers amazed all in the 1850s, and what stunt Houdini pulled that resulted in a riot in the City of Brotherly Love.
Realizing that magic would never be his livelihood, Ewing set his sights on broadcasting. He credits his mother’s book reviewing talents with nudging him toward a love for public speaking. Graduating with a bachelor’s in electronic journalism from Indiana State, Ewing entered radio, producing his local news show just before the talk show of his college classmate, David Letterman.
After five years of much work and little remuneration, Ewing enrolled in Ball State University, seeking a public relations master’s. Amid his first classes, he made a contact, and with a twist of talent and circumstance, became the point man for the lieutenant governor of Indiana. Then, following a three-year stint providing public relations services for All State Insurance, Ewing came east to ETS where he has spent the last 26 years.
#b#Rouging your assets#/b#. “ETS has been blessed,” says Ewing “by having a product in which the press is naturally interested.” Every aspect of education falls under its nationally accepted tests — the SATs, the GREs, the international student tests that help decide the fates of thousands annually. ETS’ prometric division similarly determines the careers of those seeking to enter everything from real estate to accounting.
However, ETS is scarcely alone in this level of authority. Even newly launched companies should, with a little self-examination, find several areas in which their expertise is worth noting and quoting in the media. A good public relations professional will find these proficiency fields and set about making others aware of them.
“Simultaneously, you have to study the issues that are capturing the press around you today,” says Ewing. “Know what papers want to write about and report on.” Then find a company spokesperson to address these issues publicly who is cogent, unflappable, and has a manner that naturally appeals to the media.
#b#Scope your audience#/b#. The most effective way to get news received is to deliver it straight to the source. Call the reporter, introduce yourself, and let him know that any time he needs a quote or expertise on certain subjects, he may call on you. Send him your contact info. “This way, you are setting yourself up as a resource,” says Ewing. “You are giving this busy editor a thing he needs, rather than pushing your interests into his face.”
Finding major media reporters and editors may, of course, take a bit of hunting. One method is to scour the various media that write about your field to find which publications and reporters cover your beat. Also, most good public libraries have excellent directories of media by type and geography.
Probably the most complete and up-to-date sources of media personnel may be found through contract databases. These online services, such as Mymediainfo.com, collect the writers’ names, publications, areas of coverage, and all contact information for their subscribers’ usage. The $2,000 to $4,000 annual subscription fee, in the case of Mymediainfo, opens the door to over 400,000 news reporters and editors, whom the user or the service can sort and cross index in dozens of ways.
Regardless of how you find them, it remains the job of the company media relations professional to present journalists with something of value. If he can put himself in the journalist’s shoes, see his needs, he is much more likely to have his calls taken and his press releases read.
#b#To release or not#/b#. “Press releases are very much to be valued,” says Ewing. “But in this 24/7 electronic news cycle, their use has changed.” Incessant search engines are pouncing on today’s buzz words — words that will be eclipsed by the following morning. If your company has a steady stream of press releases spread out widely, Ewing explains, your odds of hitting this news-need roulette are much greater.
“At the same time,” he says, “you want a short list of journalists — individuals to whom you send custom tailored releases, and follow up with a phone call. This combination of short and long lists provide your best hope for landing your firm’s news in the major media.
With perhaps more irony than jest, Ewing notes, “I have a one word secret about getting your name in the Times, and that word is ‘Toyota.’” The auto maker, renowned for its customer care and solid products, recently recalled more than 2 million cars and SUVs because of problems with gas pedals, floor mats, and steering. And it made a complete hash of it, in no small measure because the company admitted to knowing about the flaws for more than a year. One attempt after another to effect a recall and manage a public relations campaign has made Toyota a victim of what Ewing terms the train wreck scenario. One derailment is a story. But a second derailment sends every journalist with a free pen scurrying about to unearth a trend and find a flaw. And that’s exactly what happened.
“Given enough time, every company does something bad or makes some major mistake,” explains Ewing. “Your very best hope in such cases is to step up early, act aggressively, and show the public that you are still concerned and in command.” When Toyota finally got its spokesperson to address the media, he wore a surgical mask, which folks frequently don to ward off auto fumes and disease. “That might have not presented the very best image,” says Ewing wryly.