Award-winning PR veteran Rhonda Rees is an independent practitioner who runs Rhonda Rees Public Relations Company, as well as Aseity Press Publishing, and who has represented a wide variety of clients. She has been instrumental in creating both traditional and grassroots PR campaigns that have garnered extensive media coverage through traditional and social media placements. In addition, Rhonda has appeared as a guest on radio and television talk interview programs and news broadcasts, and has lectured extensively on the subject of public relations to businesses, universities and organizations.
But it was her diligence in bringing visibility to the global issue of online book piracy that set her efforts apart this year. And she had a valiant incentive—after discovering that her own book was being illegally distributed by a network of book piracy sites, she exhausted every possible avenue to bring the issue to the forefront (and Bulldog Reporter was proud to help her champion this effort). Her tenacious and inspired effort to shed light on the cybercriminals also earned her the honor of being named 2015’s Publicist of the Year in Bulldog Reporter’s Stars of PR Awards.
Rhonda’s PR industry book is a hit. In 2013, she wrote an award-winning industry book, Profit and Prosper with Public Relations®: Insider Secrets to Make You a Success, which she self-published through her own Aseity Press Publishing, and for which she received recognition from a range of industry orgs, including the USA Best Book Awards, the Axiom Business Book Awards, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, an appearance at the Book Expo America and a finalist honor from the Next Generation Indie Book Awards competition. In 2015, she was invited to speak at the Book Publicists of Southern California on the topic of successful book-fair strategy.
But in the midst of her book promotions, she happened to stumble upon a cybercrime crisis that affects countless unsuspecting victims—online book piracy, a widespread yet virtually unreported issue that continues to plague authors and publishers around the world.
The Challenge: Bring this costly injustice to the media’s attention. According to the Association of American Publishers, the publishing industry as a whole has lost $80-100 million dollars to online piracy annually. From 2009 to 2013, the number of e-book Internet piracy alerts that the Authors Guild of America received from their membership had increased by over 300%. During 2014, that number doubled. Yet the matter still receives very little attention.
Initially, Rhonda ran some detailed Google searches on her book to see how the sales were doing online. She discovered that her book (along with many others) was being given away for free as an illegal download, without her knowledge or permission. One website offered close to 600 copies of her book, and another cited 1,500 copies, with still more to come—and her copyrighted, trademarked and registered work was suddenly being compromised with the click of a button. As the situation progressed, Rhonda realized that it’s not just famous recording artists and celebrities who are facing this global problem, it is having an impact on average people in a very big way—and she decided to take action to bring the issue more attention.
The Strategy: Dig up the facts of the issue and get the media engaged. Through a carefully orchestrated public relations plan, and with her position as the Publicist of the Year, Rhonda has helped to lead a crusade to educate, enlighten and bring more awareness to a topic that needed much more media attention. A future PR objective is to push for greater education and legislation that would help to change our current laws.
When she first discovered the online piracy of her book, Rhonda clicked around one of the unscrupulous sites looking for information on the culprits, and showed what she found to some computer-savvy colleagues. She ran a search to discover information, such as who owned the domain names, where and when they were registered, and when the Internet addresses would expire. She then wrote emails to try and find the companies hosting the site so that she could send them a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown notice, which required the web hosting company to notify its clients (the culprits) within 24 hours to remove all of her details. She did this with each illegal site.
The campaign takes shape. In order to help promote her book—and also to get the word out about online piracy—a carefully orchestrated campaign was created and targeted to appropriate media using Vocus software lists. Press releases were sent out to editors and producers by email. Newspapers, magazines, newsletters, radio and television talk shows (daytime and evening shows) and news stations (both local and national) and online blogs were included. Categories covering books, education, business, computers, technology, advertising, marketing, public relations, legal and entertainment fields were emphasized. Information was directed to lifestyle, business, marketing, technical and consumer editors and producers where appropriate. Optimized press releases containing links to relevant information about her book were created and included. Detailed media relations follow-up calls to editors and producers also took place. Social media postings were sent out via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.
Additionally, specific calls were made to the consumer news desk of KNBC-TV Channel 4 News in Los Angeles to pitch for an interview, as this station does many important investigative reports. Right away, the station granted a feature segment with Rhonda and their award-winning consumer reporter and journalist Randy Mac.
The Results: Two waves of outreach result in widespread media and consumer attention. A prominent story highlighting online piracy and her PR book appeared on the station’s 6:00 p.m. news broadcast on August 13, 2014. An article and video was also listed on the station’s website. Publicity from this one placement reached Google News, and features ran across the country and around the world. Over 50 mentions appeared in the United States, as well as in countries such as Mexico, Canada, the UK, Vietnam, China, India and Germany, with many social posts and re-tweets.
After the broadcast, ongoing contacts were made with the Global IP Center, a division of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington D.C., the Counterfeit Report Company, the Piracy Trace business, and also with a lawyer from IPWatchdog—groups that are very interested in putting a stop to online piracy. Feature articles appeared in the Counterfeit Report online publication highlighting her book, with pictures of the unauthorized sites, and in the Piracy Trace blog, which also showcased her book as well. In addition, the Global IP Center ran a mention on their Facebook page.
During her acceptance speech for the Publicist of the Year award from the Book Publicists of Southern California on October 16, 2014, Rhonda discussed the problems of online piracy, and asked for audience support to get behind this most important cause. Watch a video of her speech here. A second push of the PR campaign involved using her position as the IRWIN award winner Publicist of the Year, to help bring more awareness to the issue of the online piracy of books.
Clever newsjacking escalates outreach—and media coverage. An additional press release was created to tie in the Sony Pictures hacking scandal with the ongoing issue of book piracy, and was sent out on December 16, 2014. Again, Rhonda used her new position as Book Publicist of the Year to help get the world out. The media lists included publishing, PR, marketing, entertainment, business, technology, legal publications and blogs, along with ongoing calls and redistribution of press releases. Feature articles were granted in the March 11, 2015 issue of Bulldog Reporter’s Daily ‘Dog, and in the July/August 2015 edition of Independent Book Publishers Association Magazine (IBPA) and also in the August 3, 2015 issue of Independent Publishing Magazine and other trades. USA Best Book and Next Generation Indie Book Awards also ran Facebook articles.
Continuous social media mentions appeared on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google News, blogs and on YouTube. In addition, regular notifications and letters were sent out through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to their membership lists. Many of these groups are working with Congress to help change the laws – and strengthen the rights of authors who are directly impacted by this silent crime. A contact was also made with the Authors Guild of America, Inc. They are considering re-running one of Rhonda’s online piracy articles mentioned above.
Greater Awareness: To build on that momentum, a newer press release was created, optimized and sent out through PRWeb, on August 18, 2015. Once again, it emphasized her position as Book Publicist of the Year, and served as an important PSA to alert readers to the threat of online book piracy. It was distributed to editors of computer, education, arts and entertainment, legal/law, technology, opinion/editorial, business, lifestyle, podcasting, tools and service, and media categories. The distribution had an enormous reach. It was delivered to over 3,571 media outlets including the Associated Press (AP), covering the U.S. and International markets.
Results Go Global: Results far exceeded expectations. Within the first two weeks, the press release generated over 87,000 headline opens, with more than 2,700 full page reads and 209 online mentions, reaching a potential audience of over 226,115,300—figures which more than doubled what PRWeb generally sees with a first time solo press release distribution. Online pick-up reached national and international levels, breaking into the top U.S. media markets. Examples included the Boston Globe, the Miami Herald, Star Tribune, El Nuevo Herald, Broadway World and International Business Times. In addition, Silicon Valley.com, Forward Geek.com and Solid State Technology ran information, along with numerous TV news stations across the country, including many FOX affiliates.
The press release made its way to Google News with two separate listings. Pick-ups also appeared internationally in Russia, Portugal, and in many other countries. Google UK also had a wide presence, along with social media engagements on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. To date, the press release is still receiving pick-up, exceeding over 94,633 headline opens, with more than 2,924 full page reads, and reaching potential audiences of over 219,026,100.
Secrets of Success: Rhonda offers the following tips from her career of work that demonstrate why her efforts won a Gold Award as 2015 Publicist of the Year in Bulldog’s Stars of PR Awards—and to help other pros gain insights that could propel them to Bulldog Awards of their own:
- Remain true to yourself: Don’t feel pressure to conform to what everyone else is doing.
- Fact-check: Before sending out anything to the media, make sure that your facts are correct. Be careful, and go over all information with your client prior to distributing it.
- Follow up: When sending out pitches or releases, don’t rely on the hope that a written correspondence will do the trick—instead, never underestimate the power of good media relations. It’s important to actually get on the telephone and talk to someone. If not, at least follow up via traditional and social media, as “no’s” can eventually be turned into a “yes.”
- Be polite, pleasantly persistent and never “pushy”: If you do get a definite “no,” say “thank you,” and move on. Never come across as an aggressive salesperson—there are plenty of media to choose from.
- Customize: Be sure to match your correspondence, press release, pitch letter or other info to the appropriate editor or producer for your topic or unique subject angle—and by name, of course.
Rhonda offered additional great insights in a Q&A with Bulldog Reporter:
What are the biggest challenges for today’s PR professionals, and how have you overcome them?
To me, the greatest challenge that today’s PR professionals face is to reconcile the past with the present. Many of us (myself included) had been trained using traditional PR methods, and with the advent of newer technologies and the mushrooming of social media, it is often very complex and confusing to stay relevant in today’s climate. As a long-time independent PR person, I have had to weigh out what worked previously, with the pressures (and belief) of what works now. I find that it’s still better not to throw out the baby with the bath water—in other words, many of the solid practices that I relied upon then still hold true today. I am happy to say that in the end, traditional training, experience, know-how, and ultimately results still count. My book, Profit and Prosper with Public Relations®: Insider Secrets to Make You a Success goes into this in greater detail.
What key attributes define your approach to PR and communications?
When approaching PR and/or communications, the main attribute I like to follow is to live by the “golden rule.” Treat both clients and the media with the utmost courtesy and respect at all times. Specific qualities to carry out when representing a business, cause, individual or organization are to strive to remain fair, open-minded and ethical. Good public relations requires an eye for what is trending, what resonates with the public, how people respond, and knowing the best way to reach your audience with your message. An attention to detail, sincerity, and solid follow-through are all important attributes to live by in both the PR and communication worlds.
In what unique ways do you approach and build rapport with reporters and influencers?
I find that the old-fashioned way still works out the best. Sometimes I contact the media ahead of time to first get feedback on my idea before sending out any information. At other times, I like to give them a press release first, and then follow up with a personal call to gauge where my idea is at. With reporters and influencers, it is always a good idea to remain honest with them, and not do a “bait and switch.” If you tell them that a particular person, celebrity or business executive is available for interview, then it is very important that you don’t replace that individual with someone else at the last minute. After all, the media can have a long memory. When orchestrating a special event, or other occasion, it is also smart to bring extra materials with you to hand out to reporters. Never assume that they already have all of your background information at hand. Many times this material can still get lost in the shuffle. When an event is over, I always like to send out thank you notes to the reporters and people behind the scenes. They truly do appreciate this.
Here’s a look at some of Rhonda’s accomplishments and distinctions earned over her career:
Rhonda is an active member of professional business and civic organizations, and has served as president of the former Publicity Club of Los Angeles, and as a public relations counselor for Entrepreneur’s Network International. She was also appointed to the public relations advisory committee at California State University, Northridge. Her affiliations have also included memberships in the Paley Center for Media, the Encino Chamber of Commerce, the British American Business Council (BABC), the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), the Book Publicists of Southern California (BPSC), the Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group (IBPPG) and the Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network (SPAWN).
Awards and Honors
Over the years, Rhonda has won many public relations honors. She is the recipient (2014-2015) of an IRWIN Award (Industry Recognition of Writers in the News) Publicist of the Year, from the Book Publicists of Southern California. In addition, Rhonda is presently listed in the Global Directory of Who’s Who (2014-2016) in recognition of her hard work, dedication, perseverance, and for demonstrating leadership and achievement in her profession.