Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Need help with a press release?

At C+E, we get asked for help with press releases all the time.  I've also addressed the topic on this blog a few times before.  But since it seems to come up often, I thought it was worth another short post. 

Of course, press release writing is one of the services we provide for our clients, but if you're looking for some quick DIY tips, read on.

Start by writing a short response to each of the questions below:
  1. What's the big news? What's the one thing you want people to know?
  2. Who is it about?  Give a little detail on the human being(s) behind the announcement, and what makes them special.
  3. Why is it important? Is it the first time this has happened?  Is it a brand new idea? 
  4. How can people get involved? Is there a place they can sign up? Find out more?
  5. Who are you? What's your story in 3 sentences or fewer?
Once you have these key building blocks to work with, put them all together so your final release looks something like the template below (note that everything contained in [brackets] should be considered instructional, and replaced/removed before your final is ready for release):


[Your name and title]
[Your group or organization's name]
[Your phone#]
[Your email address]


[Secondary headline - if needed]

[Your city, State] -- [Today's date]  Use the first paragraph to answer item #1 from above.  You want this paragraph to be about 2 or 3 sentences long - not longer.  And it should be written to make the reader want to hear more about the thing you're announcing.  Avoid exclamation marks and words like "amazing" and "spectacular" and "out of this world" - editors might think you sound a little silly.

The second paragraph is your answer to item #2 above.  This is your chance to make your release feel human.  Quotes from key people, a personal story, or a little fun fact is a good way to help the reader connect with your story.  Editors are still trying to figure out what makes your announcement of interest to their audience.  If you can't help them answer that question, they'll ignore your release - and rightfully so.

The third paragraph is your chance to answer item #3 from above.  If you believe your announcement is important enough to be considered "news" - this is your chance to explain why.  What's newsworthy about it?  Why should it make the papers or the evening broadcast?  What's makes it special?  Here's another opportunity for a quote from key players, or a human interest anecdote.

Finally, wrap up with an action item.  How can people get more involved? Where can they find out more about the thing you're announcing?

[Traditionally, a set of ### symbols is used to indicate the reader has reached the end of your announcement - it should appear centered underneath your final paragraph]   

About [you or your group]
Include a 2 or 3 sentence summary of who you are immediately under your release.  This is your chance to explain why you're qualified to make this announcement, and how to find out more about you.  Be sure to include a URL to your website if you have one.

[Traditionally the word 'end' should appear at the end of your release to indicate there's nothing else to read - it should appear centered underneath your 'about' paragraph]   
--- END ---

When you're ready to send your release out into the world, consider using the following (free) services:
- PitchEngine (one of our favorites at C+E - check out our agency's newsfeed to see how it works)
- Facebook (you can publish your release as a "note" on your group's fan page and publish it to your followers that way)
- PresseNews (for international distribution)
- Gay Media and Press Network (for LGBT media distribution)

Have other suggestions?  Feel free to leave them in the comments section below.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Fighting Hate With History

The Southern Poverty Law Center issued a report this week confirming that membership in extremist groups in the United States saw exponential growth in 2009.  The report, titled "Rage on the Right," said anti-government "patriot" groups saw a 244 percent increase in new groups in 2009 - with the total number of groups growing from 149 in 2008 to 512 (including 127 new militia groups) that year.
"This extraordinary growth is a cause for grave concern.  The people associated with the Patriot movement during its 1990s heyday produced an enormous amount of violence; most dramatically the Oklahoma City bombing that left 168 people dead."
--  SPLC Intelligence Report editor Mark Potok.
Hate comes in all forms, but at its root it's not complicated.   Change frightens people.  Cultural shifts in cultural norms related to skin color, language, religion and gender roles have rocked this country to its core on a regular, almost rhythmic, schedule.

One of the more recent of these shifts centers around sexual orientation.  As the overall climate of hate in this country has intensified, hatred specifically directed towards the LGBT community has intensified as well.

On one hand, this new climate has set the LGBT equality movement back on its heels.  Those working to pass marriage equality at both the federal and state levels have faced multiple setbacks.  Activists are still both stunned and frustrated in the aftermath of California's Proposition 8 still.  Larger LGBT organizations face uphill battles over ENDA and DADT.  LGBT individuals and communities are witholding political contributions around the country in protest.

On the other hand, though, it appears that the general pattern of social change is simply taking its course.  Before each breakthrough -the Suffragettes, the Civil Rights Movement, and others - the tectonic shifts of culture are inevitably preceeded by an intense moment of cultural conservatism.  As  change looms in the distance, those that are most opposed to its approach expend unusual amounts of energy to stop it.

I choose to believe that is where we find ourselves today.  This moment - as we face unprecedented backlash against the very idea that LGBT people could be legally and socially equal to their non-LGBT neighbors - is a necessary evil.  Our job is to survive it.  And to ensure that our community's children survive it free of the physical, psychic and social scars that so many of us have had to bear.

The truth is, there is only one way to survive intact.  And that is to carry our stories - our history - our truths - with us.  Without them, we have no community of our own.  We have no way to reassure our youth that they have solid, safe roots from which to draw strength when things get hard.

If we don't actively preserve our own stories, our community's history and legacy, we will lose them forever.  And we will lose a critical part of what we have been fighting so hard to acheive.  Political and legal equality will mean less if we don't collectively remember what it means to live without it.

The only way to win against those that are working so hard to destroy us, is to faithfully remember how far we've come - and that this is simply the last, painful - but so very necessary - step at the end of a very, very long road. 

There are many efforts underway to collect and preserve the LGBT history that is all around us.  A small handful of them are below. Please feel free to suggest additional resources in the comments section.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Superbowl, Sexism and CBS

There's been a lot of discussion about CBS's rejection of the ManCrunch ad proposed for this Sunday's Superbowl game. Some have decided it was all a PR stunt (which, as someone in the PR business, I'm not entirely opposed to), and some have decided it's yet another indicator of how entrenched homophobia and sexism are in our society today (which, of course, is probably true).

[image source:]

Both sides of the argument have a point. The fact that our culture is still so uncomfortable with the idea of two men kissing is precisely why this event has generated so much attention for

From a PR perspective, ManCrunch was likely to get news coverage whether or not the ad ran this Sunday - a PR win regardless of the actual outcome. From a cultural perspective, there was likely to be some kind of backlash whether or not the ad ran this Sunday - confirming that we still have quite a way to go in our community's quest for acceptance.

From my perspective, though, the real question is whether all of this attention benefits our community as a whole. Is this the kind of storytelling that moves our message forward? Or does this create as many, if not more, problems than it solves?

Of course, I understand that many, many Superbowl ads play to the basest of our culture's sexist impulses. Women in bikinis are inexplicably used to promote technology products. Fast food retailers readily cast obese men, but will only consider emaciated female actresses to market their calorie-laden meals.

I'm certainly not suggesting that Superbowl ads are fair-minded, or culturally-sensitive as a rule. My concern is that the ManCrunch ad is a missed opportunity for our entire community. This is not an ad about same-sex love. It's an ad about sex. And while there's nothing wrong with sex per se, the ad's submission to (and subsequent rejection by) the Superbowl places it squarely in the existing public debate about whether same-sex love is worth protecting.

Rather than using this an opportunity to help put a human face on the validity of same-sex love and relationships in one of the most public forums available, I worry that the ManCrunch ad appears to reinforce the stereotype that gay men are purely sexual creatures. The ad suggests that a simple brush of the hand in a shared bowl of potato chips is enough to catalyze sexual aggression - leaving love and relationship dynamics out of the equation entirely.

What concerns me is that the LGBT community has no ability to offer a counterbalance to images as prominent as those connected to the Superbowl. We know for sure that, for the most part, people who are not themselves LGBT but know someone who is, are much less likely to vote against us when our issues are on the ballot. If this ad was our one shot to introduce the LGBT community to more mainstream Americans than ever before, I'm not sure it's worked to our advantage.

As a community, we can choose to connect with people in our own backyard, and show them that our rights are no threat to theirs – or we can take advantage of their fears and ignorance to further our own commercial enterprises.

The choice is ours, but the long-term impact of that choice must be weighed very, very carefully.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell Is More Than A Military Issue

With everything else going on - natural disasters, economic meltdown, foreign wars, and more - it might seem short-sighted to fixate on whether President Obama will choose to address Don't Ask, Don't Tell (the military policy that effectively prevents LGBT people from serving their country) in his upcoming State of the Union address on Wednesday evening.

[photo credit: ILRI Clippings]

I disagree. The impact of Don't Ask, Don't Tell on the LGBT community extends far beyond the military. The existence of an environment in which LGBT people are unable to tell their own stories underscores just how far we, as a community, still have to go.

At a basic level, it could be argued that our community only exists as a function of our personal, shared stories. LGBT people grow up, often with a vague feeling that we're somehow different, but we're not sure why. We come out, often in turmoil and fear. We live and love, often in the face of real danger and hardship.

It's these shared experiences, and our varied and personal stories about our journeys through them, that form the foundation of our community. We don't share gender or skin color or geography or language. There's nothing visibly apparent that binds us together. It is the telling of our stories - and our ability to find ourselves in each others experiences - that makes us who we are.

When we can neither ask about, nor tell, our stories we are effectively cut off from community. We are robbed of our ability to connect with one another. We are left isolated and vulnerable.

Whether President Obama addresses the military policy or not in his speech, the fact remains that LGBT people must have the right, and the ability, to tell our stories before we can truly make progress.

At Cause+Effect, our mission is to make sure that the stories of our community's shining stars, fearless leaders, and determined entrepreneurs are told. Their stories, their work, and their experiences, strengthen all of us.

Friday, January 1, 2010

It’s 2010: Time to Toss out the Old Lingo

by guest commentator, Rachel Pepper

As we know well in the LGBT community, words have the power to unite, disgust, divide, empower, inform, and inspire us. There is a shared lingo among many LGBT folks that give us a source of strength, pride, and humor. On the flip side of this, there are also many words that can and have been both used against us and to describe us in ways that hurt.

[photo credit: torisan3500]

At C+E, part of our job is to promote our community in print. We always strive for the best language to both honor our clients and get others excited about them, too. This makes us especially sensitive about how our words are perceived, and also how others write about LGBT issues.

This got us thinking about words and phrases that we’ve seen over the years, and that we’d prefer just go away. Outdated words. Snide words. Words that the media has regularly used, but shouldn’t anymore. You probably have your own list, and we’d like to hear them. But as we launch into a new year, here are some terms that we could do without in 2010. So say goodbye to incorrect terminology, outdated lingo, offensive ideas, and inaccurate acronyms. And hello to a year where we’re treated—and treat others--with compassion, caring, and consciousness.

Incorrect terminology

“AIDS patient”
AIDS forever changed our community, its culture, and language. However, this term, first used in the epidemic’s beginning, has yet to fade away. The idea of the helpless, un-empowered patient doesn’t jive with the reality of how our community courageously took on AIDS. The LGBT press and other more enlightened media have continually used the phrase “person with AIDS” or “person with HIV” instead, and it’s way past time that this became the standard phrase.

Offensive ideas

Ok, let’s be clear. Sexuality and even gender are fluid, and we don’t all have to fall at one end or the other of any spectrum. But the evidence is clear that people cannot be “converted” from an innate gay sexual orientation to a straight one. Even the major medical organizations admit this now. So who are these people who claim they can “convert” gays? Usually evangelical Christians who believe that people choose to be gay (and therefore can change), and who believe that being gay is so evil that choosing not to be gay is the only path to happiness and ultimately salvation. As the recent debacle over Uganda’s proposed anti-gay laws in part inspired by Richard Cohen, author of the "sexual reorientation" manual Coming Out Straight, shows, often those claiming to be experts on these matters are religious bigots with no formal therapy training, and certainly no license to actually practice psychiatry. Some are actually people who have struggled mightily with internalized homophobia or traumatic experiences of being gay themselves, and have even gone through “reparative therapy” to try to lose their own same-sex attractions. It’s a dangerous issue, and can only lead to unhappiness and more bigotry.

Inaccurate acronyms

“Act Up”
This year, let’s banish inaccurate acronyms. It’s amazing how many times in the media acronyms for activist groups are misspelled or used incorrectly. Since its inception, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power—referred to from the beginning simply and powerfully as ACT UP has been cited in newspaper articles as “Act Up.” No, people, it’s an acronym. This is just something that people writing about the gay press should know, or find out if they’re going to cover us. Disappointedly, the groundbreaking activist group is often referred to incorrectly even in well-written stories by reporters obviously knowledgeable about LGBT issues. Why can’t our history be such that our stories are told well, by those who really get it? At Cause+Effect, we do get it, and we promise to get the story right.

Outdated lingo

Using appropriate language and terminology is a must for respectful coverage of the LGBT community. And language is far from static. So why has the term “hermaphrodite” stuck around for so long? Originally a term born from Greek mythology, and used for scientific purpses since, it has consistently been used to refer to organisms that can change sex or possess both male and female sex characteristics or reproductive capacities. It has also been used to describe people born with “ambiguous genitalia,” living lives of secrecy and shame. That means it’s time to toss out the word hermaphrodite, and both educate ourselves about conditions of intersex, and adapt to this new phrase that we will increasingly see in the upcoming year.

“Fag hag”
Sure, we may all feel we know one, or even be one ourselves. And the idea behind having a term for straight women who flock to gay men isn’t so bad in and of itself. But isn’t it time to rid our culture and vocabulary of the term fag hag? It’s misogynistic and implies that there’s something inherently wrong with women who love gay men. Recently other terms such as “fairy fly” have popped up to take its place, but this isn’t great either. By all accounts, the term fag hag may soon disappear into oblivion: even a supportive national pro-gay organization comprised mostly of self-professed fag-hags, “SWISH-Straight Women in Support of Homos,” is changing its name to include more types of people in its membership. Since it seems even the fag hags themselves are tired of this term, let’s drop it, at once, in 2010.