The BLACK paPR Report

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PR from an African American Perspective

Color Vision

colorbars2My colleague, Jonnice Slaughter, principal of Chatterbox Publicity in Atlanta called me at 1 a.m. last Saturday morning. She took a big risk but a worthy one to wake me up more ways than one. Jonnice asked me if I’d seen the recent NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) report, OUT OF FOCUS-OUT OF SYNC TAKE 4 (December 2008). I hadn’t read it and within seconds I jumped out of bed to turn on my laptop and hunt the report down.

Jonnice knows a few things about me that prompted that telephone call. She knows I have an interest in mass-mediated images of African Americans, an interest that fuels my vision as a PR consultant and publicist. I taught the subject for a number of years and have synthesized information on stereotypes and the history of blacks in media in such a way that I have no choice but to pay attention to what we see and hear in American popular culture. She also knows that I have a favorite client, Hadjii, who recently had his sitcom, Somebodies, canceled on Black Entertainment Television (BET), which was hurtful to me because I believe in him and I believed in the images represented in that program. 

Now I am pretty smart, but Jonnice is smarter. She said, “This is your time to begin a movement.” At 1 a.m., I didn’t feel particularly revolutionary but I listened and one of the points she made is that this is not the first time in the 100 year history of the NAACP that it addressed what is still clearly a problem – images of African Americans. Wasn’t the movement essentially founded on our lack of representation? And the most compelling point she made was that it’s time to change our representation and images permanently.

That’s when I woke up.

The end result was the beginning of a movement: Color Vision. Jonnice is my co-creator of the Facebook group Color Vision and she is my co-conspirator in the movement. LOL So far, there are 40 members in the group and these members represent many facets of media from journalism to broadcast to publishing to music and acting. And these members are joined by media consumers, smart and savvy people, with a voice.

Color Vision will become a regular section in this blog. In the coming weeks guest contributors will share their thoughts on the many issues related to this topic and the report.

Watch these videos from 1981 that lend a historical perspective on the topic of mass-mediated images of African Americans and documents just how long this issue has been a problem.

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Filed under: African Americans, Color Vision, Mass-Mediated Images, Stereotypes, Uncategorized, , , , , ,

That Bad Eartha

Sexy she was and sexy she will forever be known …

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On Christmas day, I was stunned to learn that the incomparable Eartha Kitt had passed away. Seconds before reading a status update on Facebook memorializing her, I’d just listened to Miss Kitt sing Santa Baby. Talk about ironies, not merely that I’d just heard the song she was probably most famous for, but that she’d die during a time when the song would be most played and heard. (Funny how we remember the people who die on Christmas like James Brown and Gerald Ford, as if we would ever forget them.)  

 Miss Kitt will never be forgotten. She not only represents the end of an era, where sexy was a good thing – part subtle and classy – but also for her image as an African American woman in the entertainment industry. Few people will not know her name; I think it’s safe to assume she was a “household” name, easily recognized across racial and socio-economic borders but also across national and international borders. Will Beyoncé ever achieve the same type of icon status of an Eartha Kitt?

 Would Beyoncé be willing to stand on a chair at a White House luncheon and loudly proclaim her dissatisfaction with presidential policy and the war in Iraq? Would she refuse to perform in places known to practice discrimination? Would she endure being blackballed and CIA-investigated for her views?

Probably not, but Beyoncé probably wouldn’t have need to or impetus. And she most likely wouldn’t have to fabricate a story of being born out of the rape of a black woman by a white man like Miss Kitt did.

Miss Eartha Kitt is the product of the Hollywood machine era, when lies and illusions helped build careers and make millions of dollars for entertainment moguls. Miss Kitt’s image was crafted by both illusion and lies and we bought that image. Eartha Kitt the sexy ingénue was every bit as sexy in her latter years. And every bit as memorable.

“I do not have an act. I just do Eartha Kitt.” ~ Eartha Kitt (1927- 2008)

 

Filed under: African Americans, Mass-Mediated Images, Uncategorized, , , , , ,

Only on TV

Will the real publicists and PR practitioners please stand up?

This past week I was asked a question that stumped me: What don’t you like about your job? I’m not generally asked that question. I do, however, always discuss with a close colleague the things I don’t like about being a PR practitioner and publicist (you know those are two different professions, right?). 

My answer:

  • The “hurry up and wait” aspect of pitching stories and waiting for bites from editors, producers and journalists
  • The fact that I often have to explain, justify and instruct on what I do as I do what I do to people who pay me but who really don’t know much about publicity and PR 
  • The rejection. I don’t like it when an editor, journalist or producer passes on my pitches for my clients; I take it personally and it sucks

I need a drum roll here. 

There is something else that bugs the living daylights out of me and that would be the scores of people who have watched reality TV one time too many and truly believe that the life of a publicist and PR practitioner is glamorous and easy. They think it is so glamorous and easy, I believe they literally wake up one day and decide, “That’s it. I’m going to be a publicist!” and then they buy the business cards (passe) and stationery, and get a Web site. Those folks are the bane of my existence and an insult to the profession. And they make me wish I’d become a brain surgeon for all of the studen loan debt I’ve incurred. 

BAM!

Essentially, they just play a publicist on TV. No passion. No studying. No background or previous experience of worth. No aptitude. Nothing.

Look,  I’m not a hater, but I don’t like ineptitude of any kind – in any profession. But I hate illusions more and that’s because those of us who were born to do it and who slave to do what we love — have to clean up the messes of those who only play a publicist on TV. 

Such is my rant.

But here’s another example that probably makes more sense and is easier to digest. Some years ago, I met Kevin, a nice guy who dated a friend. Kevin’s dad was a physician at a local hospital. Now you would think Kevin had had conversations with his father about the man’s career path, maybe even his schooling. Nope. Kevin thought by applying for a job as an orderly at the hospital, he could be like his dad and work his way up to a doctor’s job. I asked him if he thought about college and then medical school and he told me no. And to suggest that most physicians go through undergraduate school and then medical school, an internship and residency was lost on deaf ears. Enough said.

I love my colleagues who make PR and publicity look easy. That’s a gift. However, I don’t like the “colleagues” who think PR and publicity are so easy, you can wake up one morning and just be a publicist or PR practitioner without knowing anything about the profession(s). 

There have been tons of times when I’ve said something to one of the publicists/practitioners who only play one on TV, and they’ve looked totally lost. I asked a colleague, ‘Is it me? Or, is this person perpetrating?’ She said, “Perpetrating.” So to assist me with this blog post I called my colleague to come up with some legitimate ways to discern a real publicist/PR practitioner from one who only plays one on TV.

  • Publicists/practitioners speak a special language. It’s the language of our trades and we speak it without thinking and to anyone, like everyone understands. We can’t help it. 
  • The good publicists are secure and share about their clients, share resources and contacts with other publicists. They are not tight-lipped.
  • A real/good publicist never has to buy her/his placements, they know how to pitch. Bad ones sell their clients based on their email distribution lists and call it guaranteed publicity. They will prey on people who don’t know anything about publicity. They don’t know how to write a press release or get real interviews. Can’t put together a press kit, but can buy an ad. They are really promoters not publicists.
  • If they don’t know the difference between PR and publicity, then there’s a good chance they are only playing a publicist or practitioner on TV.

Best, Robin

robin@thejstandard.com

Filed under: African Americans, PR Standards & Practices, Public Relations, The Business of PR & Publicity, Uncategorized, , , ,

Colleague to Colleague

The Pitching Arm

Some of my journalist friends don’t believe publicists think or read. They base that opinion on the pitches they receive from publicists asking them to produce news and feature content for their publications and broadcast/cable programming. A business reporter really does not want to receive a pitch for an entertainment story that is short on business content, and does not have a business angle. By the same token, an entertainment reporter or editor really won’t appreciate hearing about your client the dentist who once filled a tooth for Usher. 

There is a wonderful reason why PR/publicity programs are integrated into journalism programs on the college level. Both journalists and practitioners should know a lot about one another’s industries. The best publicists I know have worked at PR agencies and/or publications as journalists. 

Moreover, the very best practitioners are news junkies. They read and watch everything. (I’ve been known to receive inspiration and an idea or two from actually reading encyclopedias.) Call us know-it-alls but it is imperative to our success to know who is who and what is what and where to find who and what, which is pretty much how a journalist thinks and operates.

That stated, keep your ‘pitching arm’ in great shape to serve our clients. Here are a couple of Web sites that help me tremendously:

Help a Reporter Out (HARO)

Practitioner Peter Shankman has revolutionized the pitch by presenting queries from editors, journalists and even bloggers in need of sources. In effect, HARO offers the reverse pitch and the story comes directly to the practitioner. Shankman writes on his Web site:

“Each day, you’ll receive up to three emails, each with anywhere from 15-30 queries per email. They’ll all be labeled with [shankman.com] in the subject line, for easy filtering. If you see a query you can answer, go for it! HelpAReporter.com really is that simple.

I built this list because a lot of my friends are reporters, and they call me all the time for sources. Rather than go through my contact lists each time, I figured I could push the requests out to people who actually have something to say.

These requests only come from reporters directly to me. I never take queries from that other service, I never SPAM, and I’m not going to do anything with your email other than send you these reporter requests when they arrive in my in-box.”

Your Pitch Sucks?

ysp“YPS? works with a leading team of senior public relations professionals to help you craft the perfect pitch. That’s where we come in. We’ll take a look at your press release or pitch and fine tune it for you to ensure that it’s the best it can be.”

 

And one other strategy helps a lot in perfecting your pitching arm: Take an online publicity course or register at the local community college for a refresher course. 

Best, Robin

robin@thejstandard.com

Filed under: African Americans, Colleague to Colleague, Help for the Practitioner, PR Standards & Practices, Public Relations, , , , , ,

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