The BLACK paPR Report


PR from an African American Perspective

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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. 


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


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 [] in the subject line, for easy filtering. If you see a query you can answer, go for it! 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

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

Shaquille O’Neal on Twitter

To hear me tell it, Twitter is not for the faint at heart or the impatient person. It’s just something you cannot over-analyze, you just have to do it. I’d had a Twitter account (@thejstandard) for months before I took the plunge and decided to tweet or post my updates. Like most things, I took a day and played with Twitter, studying how to follow (add) and be followed (be added); how to engage other tweeters and how to maneuver around the page.     shaq_twitter2

Quick tutorial: Twitter is a micro-blogging system that allows a person (tweeter) to post (tweet) short messages (tweets) up to 140 characters (not to be confused with 140 words). It’s a really great way to tweet random thoughts that can actually be used later in a larger blog, which is how my friend Ty uses Twitter. Or you can use tweets to post links to articles, photos, music and almost anything under the Internet sun. 

You can also use Twitter to communicate with other people. Some of the most irritating tweeters are people and businesses that tweet their sales, product info and other forms of advertising without engaging the people who follow their tweets. Tweeters will let you know when you’ve crossed that precious line. 

There are a few athletes using Twitter but few are actually tweeting for themselves and have interns or personal assistants micro-blogging on their behalves. But there are a few exceptions and the most recent is Shaq. If you are on Twitter or thinking of joining, you can go here to find Mr. O’Neal. His Twitter I.D. is @THE_REAL-_SHAQ and as of this writing Mr. O’Neal has 9,175 people following him though he only follows 159 people. Not a great ratio for engagement but easier for him to navigate. That 159 is an elite group who will be able to communicate back and forth with @THE_REAL_SHAQ on Twitter. If Shaq doesn’t follow you back, he will not be able to see your tweets to him unless your tweets are unlocked and on the public timeline. (That’s how Twitter works, folks.)

Here’s a great story on by Adam Ostrow about a Twitter user, @lord_b who didn’t believe that Shaq was actually on Twitter. He obviously caught @THE_REAL_SHAQ at the right time because his doubtful tweet turned into a telephone call from Mr. O’Neal.

I think a certain doubting Thomas is going to a basketball game now. 

Best, Robin

Filed under: African Americans, Public Relations, Social Media, Sports PR, , , , ,

Contagious 2

royaleLast week I introduced everyone to the amazing vlogs I’d discovered on There are more and this vlog by Royale Watkins somewhat explains the power of these videos on — they engage and connect:

If I had the embedded code I’d share one of the most poignant vlogs recorded by Royale addressing the suicide of Abraham Briggs, the 19 year old Floridian who took a lethal dose of pills on-camera and then laid down on his father’s bed to die as people observed via a camera he’d set up. That camera ran for over 12 hours and someone finally had the courage and sense to contact the company hosting the streaming video to report what happened to Abraham to authorities. 

Comedian Stevie Mack created the FBTV Network to serve as a hub for the vlogging talent pool on the social network. Members of the group are privileged to information regarding intellectual property issues and video hosting.          

Last night I discovered another gem, a real GEM (Good Enough Mother), René Syler, the author of Good-Enough Mother: The Perfectly Imperfect Book of Parenting (Simon Spotlight Entertainment). René spent four years as an anchor on CBS’ The Early Show, and is a spokeswoman for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Read about René HERE. René’s vlogs are incredibly smart and witty, they also incredible marketing tools that engage readers of her book and engage a legion of new fans. (PR Tip: Wanna sell a book? Sell the author first.)

Watch here:

Connect and engage. Vlogging as a marketing device or networking device will not work without making an effort to connect with people and then engaging them on a personal level. The beauty of these wonderful vlogs is that people, famous and infamous, are building the field and people are showing up. This is real reality TV. 

Best, Robin

Filed under: African Americans, Public Relations, Social Media, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , ,