AOL's Hyperlocal News Project "Patch" Coming to Sonoma County

Note: This post was initially published in November 2011, but was accidentally taken down in 2012. Gina Cuclis beat the area's daily newspaper, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, in breaking the news about Patch sites coming to Sonoma County.

By Gina Cuclis

Newspapers in the Sonoma County, Calif. towns of Sonoma, Petaluma, Healdsburg and Rohnert Park will soon find themselves with additional online competition. AOL's Patch project is gearing up to launch the hyperlocal news sites Petaluma Patch, Sonoma Patch, Healdsburg Patch and Rohnert Park Patch.

Petaluma Patch's Twitter profile says it'll launch November 23. Sonoma Patch's Twitter profile says it's launching November 30. No launch date is provided on Healdsburg Patch's Twitter profile. Rohnert Park Patch doesn't have a Twitter profile yet, indicating its launch is further off.

What Is Patch?

Patch is AOL's network of local news sites serving communities roughly in size from 15,000 to 100,000. In August, AOL's CEO Tim Armstrong announced Patch would be expanding its network of sites to 500 by the end of the year. Read more about this on Newsonomics. According to Patch's website, it looks for communities "that are drastically underserved by media and would benefit by having access to local news and information about government, schools and business. These could be inner-city neighborhoods or distinct towns."

It also says: "Patch is run by professional editors, writers, photographers and videographers who live in or near the communities we serve, and is supported by a great team in our New York City headquarters. Patch also gets advice from our Editorial Advisory Board and from many members of the community."

Patch has already opened shop in Marin County, Calif. Check out Mill Valley Patch and San Rafael Patch.

The Petaluma and Sonoma Patch Editors

The individual Patch sites also say: "Every Patch site is staffed with a full-time, professional journalist who acts as reporter, editor and all-around manager."

These one-person news departments in Sonoma County are Karina Ioffee for Petaluma Patch and Alexis Fitts for Sonoma Patch. According to the Twitter profile, Healdsburg Patch's editor is still to be identified. Learn more about what Ioffee and Fitts are doing by following them on Twitter – @PetalumaPatch @SonomaPatch. While there's no individual associated with the @HealdsburgPatch Twitter handle, it seems to have occasional activity.

Are Petaluma, Sonoma and Healdsburg Underserved?

Petaluma, Sonoma Valley, Healdsburg and Rohnert Park are each served by long-standing community newspapers. Petaluma has the Argus Courier, Healdsburg the Healdsburg Tribune and Rohnert Park the Community Voice. Sonoma Valley has two papers, the Sonoma Index Tribune and the Sonoma Sun. Sonoma Valley also has a community radio station, KSVY. In addition, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat follows the major news events in these communities.

Do you think there's a need for Patch sites in Sonoma County? I'm particularly interested to hear from you if you live or have a business in Sonoma County. If you follow the Marin County Patch sites, what do you think of them?

I also want to thank Frank Simpson, of the Petaluma Spectator blog, for telling me about Petaluma Patch.

How to Add Value with Twitter @Reply

By Gina Cuclis

I recently made a pledge to myself to be selective about how I use the Twitter @reply function. This is to align with the goal of providing a high signal to low noise ratio. I noticed how the stream of people I follow would often contain @reply tweets that were meaningless to me. If I hadn't seen the original tweet the follower was replying to, I often didn't understand the meaning of the response.

The Issue with Thank yous

Saying thank you with the @ reply feature seems popular. (I cropped he identifying information from these examples.)
So why didn't these people use the direct message function instead? I don't know what the individuals were being thanked for, or why I should care. While those being thanked probably appreciated it, the tweets above are noise for the rest of us.

Examples of Using @ Reply Correctly

With these tweets below, I learn something. I know why the person is being thanked. If I was into Latin music, I may decide to check out the YouTube videos. The second two replies are even better examples, because they provide links.

Say Something Relevant

Before tweeting an @ reply think, "Would what I'm writing be relevant or interesting to more of my followers than the just the original tweeter?" If not, rewrite the tweet. Try to include the link from the original tweet. Or, consider sending your tweet as a message instead.

What do you think? Do you see too many irrelevant @reply tweets in your twitter stream? Do you wish more people would use the message function?

This New Facebook Page Feature Saves Time

By Gina Cuclis

A frequent topic of discussion in the media advocacy workshops I teach is the time involved to monitor a page for inappropriate posts and comments. Media advocacy is the strategic use of media to influence public policy. Often there's an element of controversy when an organization is working for community change. For example, I have heard from groups working to prevent youth alcohol or drug use that their Facebook pages have become targets from oppositional teens.

You Can Now Be Notified of New Posts and Comments

Facebook now allows Page administrators to be notified whenever someone comments or posts on your page. No more having to keep checking to see if there's a post you need to remove. On the positive side, this feature can help build relationships by making it possible for you to respond immediately to helpful and interesting comments. Simply go to Edit Page > Your Settings.

How to Permanently Ban a Follower

You've found yourself having to delete several comments from a particular individual. You can permanently ban that person from being connected to your page. He won't be able to "Like" it.

There are three ways to do this. The simplest is to click "See All" under the "Likes" section. Find the individual you want to ban, then select the "X" next to his name > Click "Remove." Learn the other two methods for banning a follower by reading this on Facebook help.

Hope you  have found these tips to be helpful. Please let us know how you've dealt with troubling posts and comments on your page. 

For more on Facebook's new page layout features, I recommend this post on Kerry Rego's blog.

Coverage of a death invades privacy

By Gina Cuclis

Updated 1/20/11 - Thank you to the Press Democrat which responded to criticism with appropriate action. It moved the story from its politics site to its main news site, and also changed the headline. 


Our community is struggling today with the sad news of the unexpected death of the husband of a Sonoma County Supervisor. This tragic situation is made worse by how the area's daily newspaper is reporting it.

This is not a political story

The Press Democrat  has posted the information about the death on its politics website, Watch Sonoma County. This site is designed to elicit comment for the purpose of readers discussing news about political campaigns, government and other political issues. It's insensitive and misguided to treat this tragic story as political news just because the individual was married to an elected official. This is not a story that belongs on a platform intended for political debate.

Should be treated with sensitivity

I'm backing into the main issue surrounding this story — the issue of reporting suicides. How the PD is covering this raises serious questions in my mind about invasion of privacy.

I remember when I was in college taking journalism classes we were taught not to report suicides unless the person was well known. I suppose by local standards, one could say the spouse of a local elected official is a well known individual.

But where is the line in terms of protecting the family's privacy? Just how much information should we expect to be given about this family's personal tragedy? I believe in government transparency and the public's right to know what our elected officials are doing on the taxpayer's dime. But do we really have the right to know the details, as reported, of how this man chose to take his life, and where and by whom he was found?

Consider future coverage

This story's digital footprint will likely be online forever, reminding family and friends of the tragedy with every Google search of Sonoma County. I hope the PD, and all local newspapers, will take a step back and consider what is the right thing to do to respect family privacy in our digital age.

What do you think? Do the families of local elected officials have a right to privacy? How should suicides be reported? Please share your thoughts. Thank you.

Sonoma newspaper gives up on pay wall

By Gina Cuclis

Call it an experiment that didn't work.

This week Sonoma Index Tribune publisher and editor-in-cheif Bill Lynch announced he "pulled the plug" on his historic newspaper's online subscription. As he said in Tuesday's editorial (the Index Tribune publishes on Tuesdays and Fridays) the subscription program, "was not 'user friendly.'" Read his editorial.

Good Decision

In August the Index Tribune stopped making content available online to those who didn't have a subscription. I wrote a post August 30 expressing this could be a bad idea. With another newspaper in Sonoma Valley offering its online content at no charge, I questioned whether people would pay to access the Index Tribune online?

The situation became more questionable in the last couple weeks with the launch of another source of free local online news, Sonoma Patch. Sonoma Patch is a hyperlocal news site sponsored by AOL. It's one of three Patch sites recently launched serving Sonoma County communities. A fourth Sonoma County Patch site is coming online soon. For more about Sonoma County Patch sites, read these posts from November 9 and December 3.

Finding a Business Model that Works

The Index Tribune's experience is another example of a newspaper trying to figure out how to stay profitable in the digital age. I think the owners learned they took a step that may have alienated readers. However, they are justified in their quest to try new things, and to expect their readers to understand the paper can't survive if it isn't profitable.

I would appreciate hearing what you think about the Index Tribune's change of mind. Please leave a relevant comment.

Three Sonoma County AOL Patch Sites Now Live

By Gina Cuclis

Petaluma, Sonoma and Healdsburg each now have an additional source of news, as AOL recently launched hyperlocal Patch news sites for those communities. As I reported earlier this month, four Patch sites were being planned for Sonoma County. The first, Petaluma Patch, went live November 23. Sonoma and Healdsburg Patch sites launched Tuesday. Rohnert Park Patch is slated to launch this month.

Sense of Community and Local Knowledge Uneven Among Sites

Both Healdsburg and Petaluma Patch sites benefit from having contributors who are long time local residents. One of the four long time locals on the Healdsburg Patch Team, Ann Carranza, is the former Healdsburg Community Blogger for the Press Democrat's Your Town Hub and a former stringer for the Healdsburg Tribune

Petaluma Patch has extensive Sonoma County based experience on its team with three former Press Democrat writers among its contributors. Two, Shelley Klaner and Rayne Wolfe, are long time Petaluma residents. A couple other Petaluma Patch contributors are also south County residents.

Anecdotal comments I've heard from Petaluma residents regarding Petaluma Patch have been favorable. If you live in Healdsburg, please share your opinion about Healdsburg Patch.

Sonoma Patch, however, seems to suffer from a lack of contributors who know the community well. This is evident in how contributors use Sonoma and Sonoma Valley interchangeably when it's not always accurate to do so. The name of a well known local official was misspelled. A series called Neighborhood Files has the tone of a travel writer or other visiting journalist, instead of a local discussing his community. Maybe if the series' title used another word then "neighborhood" I would react differently.

Experienced Journalists

What is impressive about all the hyperlocal Sonoma County Patch sites is that the contributors are all experienced journalists and writers. No entry level staff here. Errors and omissions aside, I generally found the writing entertaining and interesting. Sonoma Patch's editor Alexis Fitts has been meeting with city councilmembers and other community leaders to learn about the area. I am optimistic that over time, Sonoma Patch will grow into a media source we locals will appreciate.

What do you think about Sonoma County's Patch sites? I would love to hear reactions from folks in Petaluma and Healdsburg? Comments from Sonomans are welcomed also.

How to Write a Crisis Communications Plan

By Gina Cuclis

This Thursday (November 18) I will be on a panel presenting information to the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce's Leadership Santa Rosa class about crisis communications. I will have15 minutes to explain how to prepare for, and manage communications during, a crisis.

The best way to prepare for a crisis is to have a crisis communications plan. Here is an outline I will present Thursday of what to consider when writing a crisis communications plan.

Components of a Crisis Communications Plan
  1. Anticipate crises: Determine what types of crises your organization most likely could experience.
  2. Create a detailed procedure for contacting whoever must be notified that a serious incident has occurred.
  3. Designate who will be on the crisis team and assign roles for each member, including who will be in charge and who the spokespersons will be. Also identify who will be responsible for communicating with employees.
  4. Create a detailed database of the contact information for everyone on the team and for everyone who needs to be notified when an incident occurs.
  5. Determine how members of the team will communicate and coordinate.
  6. Develop response strategies for each anticipated type of crises.
  7. Identify and prioritize key audiences and how you will reach them.
    a. This includes how you will listen to them. Who will monitor social media?
  8. Outline how messages will be developed and updated during a crisis. Draft potential initial messages.
Exactly what is in a plan depends on the nature, size and complexity of your organization. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Association) also has advice for writing a crisis communications plan.
Any suggestions about what else should be included in a short presentation about this subject?

I "Liked" Your Facebook Page, so Why Don't I Hear From You?

By Gina Cuclis

When looking at my Facebook profile today I noticed I have "Liked" 209 Facebook pages. I was surprised. Not because of the number. But because I never hear from the vast majority of these pages. Political candidates often appear in my news feed and they send frequent updates. (An update is a message a Facebook page sends to all its fans.)

Post Frequent Status Updates

I saw that some of the pages I have "Liked" haven't posted an update in weeks. Other pages I "Liked" post status updates about once or twice a week. Because the odds are that only a small percentage of your fans will be watching their news feeds at the right time to see your status update, you need to post more often to be noticed. Post a status update at least once a day. Three times is not too many.

The Best Time to Post Status Updates

This is an ongoing conversation and research topic among social media marketeers. As with analyzing the effectiveness of any marketing channel, the best days and times to post can depend on who you want to reach. However, from research I've read, it seems evenings and weekends are best. Consumers are more likely to be on Facebook then.

Use the Updates Message Feature

While Facebook pages can't send individual messages to their fans, you can send a message to all of your fans or a a group of your fans. These messages are called Updates and appear in individuals' Facebook profiles under the "Message" tab.

Junipero & Co in Sonoma is one of the few businesses I'm a Facebook fan of which uses this feature effectively.

I recommend using this feature if you have information that would be of high value to your fans. You don't want to simply leave it to chance that they'll see important information in their news feed. For example, I happened to stumble upon this status update from the Sonoma County Library. I think this announcement should be sent to us fans via an Update.

If your business has a Facebook page, how often to you post your status or send an Update? If you are a fan of certain Facebook pages, do you wish you heard more from them? Are there pages which post too often? I look forward to your comments.

Can Social Media Save a Local Park - Case Study Follow up

By Gina Cuclis

I wrote a case study in May 2009 about how a group of concerned citizens in Petaluma, Calif. calling itself Save Shollenberger Park was using social media to organize its base to fight a proposed asphalt plant adjacent to the park. The group lost a critical vote yesterday when the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to approve the plant. For more on what occurred at the meeting, read today's article in the Press Democrat.

The leaders of Save Shollenberger Park say the fight will continue. I expect a lawsuit is forthcoming.

Update on Social Media Use

This case continues to be one of the best example's in the North Bay of a local cause using social media to share information and build support. During the passed year and a half, the Save Shollenbeger Park folks kept me apprised of their cause through their social media channels: Facebook, a blog, Twitter, YouTube and e-mail. (Although I don't consider e-mail social media.) This case demonstrates the power of new media to help advocacy groups bypass the traditional media gatekeepers to reach an audience.

Two social media accounts the group actively used in 2009 but didn't keep up were its Facebook Cause and its Ning site. It hadn't added new information to its Facebook Cause page since June 2009, and its Ning site is no longer active. I assume this is because Facebook Causes keeps a percentage of donations, and is not a very lucrative fundraising tool, and Ning now charges to have an account.

If you've been active with the Save Shollenberger Park group, or have used social media for a environmental or social cause, please share your thoughts on how social media has helped you organize and reach people.

Anonymous Comments Are No Better than Spam

By Gina Cuclis

I don't allow anonymous comments on this blog. I delete them. I usually mark the e-mail and IP addresses of anonymous comments as spam, because that's what they are. If you have a business or professional blog you know what I mean. Individuals who provide relevant and helpful comments don't disguise who they are.

Cowards Don't Use Their Real Names

There's also another kind of anonymous commenter I dislike. People who hide behind fake names in order to be vitriolic, nasty, or lob personal attacks. These people don't identify themselves because they don't have the integrity to be held accountable for their behavior or their questionable facts. People who form opinions based on research or direct experience with an issue don't need to hide who they are.

Anonymous Commenters Degrade Discussion

I particularly notice these fake persona, negative commenters on political blogs where they become online bullies and ruin the discussion. An online bully rarely has anything factual or thoughtful to say. Blogs that allow anonymous bullies drive away participation by reasonable people. This hurts the blog's credibility. Blogs that refuse anonymous comments are more credible, because they have set a standard that commenters must be willing to stand behind what they say.

A North Bay based blog that I think has been ruined by the negative behavior of anonymous commenters is the Press Democrat's Watch Sonoma County. I looked at watchsonomacounty.com today for the first time in weeks. I used to read it regularly when it first launched last Spring. I occassionally posted a comment. But as the tone of the discussion went downhill, I stopped participating. Soon, I stopped reading.

Don't Allow Anonymous Comments

If you want the discussion on your blog to be interesting and civil, the solution is simple. The Sonoma Index Tribune realized this months ago when it stopped allowing anonymous comments.

What is your opinion about anonymous comments? Have you ever written one and why? (Don't try it here.)

Media Interview Case Study on How to Be Quotable

By Gina Cuclis

Being interviewed by a newspaper reporter doesn't guarantee your name with a quote will appear in an article. You must say something that's worth including. Reporters are looking for quotes that make significant statements

How to Be Quotable

When being interviewed, your objective should be to make a concise and compelling statement illustrating the issue or situation. Preferable still, is a statement that also communicates emotion. The news media like emotion, because it enhances human interest.

Case Study Example

This example is from my personal experience. I was quoted in an article in the August 22, 2010 Santa Rosa about the community's reaction to the FDIC seizure of Sonoma Valley Bank. The PD reporter called me for an interview, because he saw my comments on  Twitter.

Before I returned his phone call, I thought about what I should say that would capture what the closing of the bank meant to me and others in the community. I thought of the statement, "It almost feels like the death of a friend." This quote was included in the article. It's concise, compelling, has emotion and illustrates the situation.

Twitter's Impact

I can't conclude this example without pointing out the role of Twitter. This case study shows how Twitter is a powerful tool for getting publicity. Journalists follow it. If I hadn't tweeted my reaction to the bank seizure, the PD wouldn't have contacted me.

What's your experience with being interviewed, or with getting publicity because of a tweet? Did you get new ideas from this post? Please share your comments. Thank you for reading.

An Interview on the Benefits of Twitter for Nonprofits

By Gina Cuclis

Pedro Toledo is the Director of Community and Government Relations for the Redwood Community Health Coaltion (RCHC). RCHC is a network of community health centers in northern California's Sonoma, Marin, Napa and Yolo counties.

Pedro and I have been following each other on Twitter since 2009. I've been impressed with his informative, engaging tweets. I believe he sets a good example for how local nonprofits can effectively, and meaningfully, use Twitter. I say meaningfully, because too many nonprofits in our North Bay region haven't gotten beyond using Twitter to announce their events and information about themselves.

Advice Worth Following

I interviewed Pedro about his Twitter use. Initially I shared his advice at workshops I conducted for nonprofits and public agencies. Here is most of that interview, which was conducted via e-mail.

Why did you start using Twitter for RCHC?
Every year, the national association of community health centers hosts a an advocacy conference  in Washington DC. Two years ago, they promoted getting community health center advocates onto Twitter. I already had an account, but had not been using it much. I started using it after this conference. I thought it would be a good way to keep in touch with health center advocates from across the country. Initially, the goal wasn’t to promote health centers or increase our visibility locally, but to communicate information about what community clinics in Sonoma, Napa, Marin and Yolo counties are doing in our local community to state and national health center advocates.

What do you tweet about and why?
I tweet about issues that are important to health care advocates, our community clinic leaders, and to our 160,000+ patients (most of whom are Latino). Twitter provides an opportunity to keep multiple stakeholders aware of our progress and helps me to keep up with the latest information on policy and advocacy issues of interest to health centers. Increasingly, I also use twitter to disseminate information about events and programs that our local partner organizations are doing.

 How has Twitter helped you promote RCHC and Health Centers?
Twitter has helped to communicate our local advocacy agenda to our sister clinics and clinic networks across the nation. It's an easy way to stay connected with health center advocates from all over the country. Thanks to Twitter I have developed strong relationship with health advocates from all over the country (many of whom I haven’t even met in person). The best thing is that I get as-it-happens information directly from the people who are leading change in their communities.   
RCHC clinics are in the news quite a bit, and I share this information with my “tweeps”. This helps to increase the visibility of what we are doing. Also, our national trade association regularly highlights my tweets in their weekly bulletin, which helps to increase our visibility with community clinic leaders who are not on twitter.

Do you get feedback from your health center members about your use of Twitter? What?
I get quite a bit more feedback from community members, including members of the media, than from our health center members.   Community members usually want to know more about RCHC or our health centers, others want to learn how they can partner with us on projects or programs. Reporters usually tweet me for information about our health centers, or to ask if I know someone in other parts of the health care delivery system that can help them understand an issue they are working on.

What one or two pieces of advice do you have for nonprofits who are thinking about using Twitter?
Twitter is very easy to learn once you learn the basic rules. I would recommend creating an account and linking up with your current partners immediately. Once you become a proficient twitter user, you’ll find that people start finding you. It is a great tool for forging relationships with other people and organizations. Maintaining and building relationships requires some level of investment, but you should start an account as soon as possible.

What else does Pedro advise? To follow @ginacuclis for PR and social media tips. And I recommend you follow him, @pedrotoleda, to learn by example.

What do you think about Pedro's advice? If you're not using Twitter, does this inspire you to get started? Your comments are appreciated.

Community Newspaper to Charge for Online Subscription

By Gina Cuclis

No More Free Access to the Sonoma Index Tribune

Would you pay to access your community newspaper online? The publisher of the Sonoma Index Tribune, Bill Lynch, hopes the answer is yes. He announced, in the current issue of the twice-weekly Index Tribune, that starting September 1 you will need a subscription to read his paper online. A web only subscription fee is $5 a month. A subscription to a combination of the web and print editions, along with the Index Tribune's quarterly Sonoma magazine, is $10 a month.

Contrary to Survey Results

Polls asking people who read news online if they would pay to read newspapers online repeatedly indicate they won't. So this is a bold move for the Index Tribune. Compounding the question about whether it'll get much response, is that the Sonoma Valley has two community newspapers. And the other one — the weekly Sonoma Sun — can be picked up free at locations throughout Sonoma Valley.

What's your reaction to this business decision? If you currently read the Sonoma Index Tribune online, would you pay to continue doing so? Please leave a comment.

How a Local Elected Official's Tweet Made Front Page News

By Gina Cuclis

The subtext of this post answers a question I hear frequently, "Why be on Twitter?" People still tell me they think Twitter is silly. However, if publicity or public relations is part of your organization's marketing mix — which it should be — then you must be on Twitter. Why? Because that's where the journalists are. They watch Twitter for story ideas and to get a pulse on the community.

A Tweet Makes Front Page News

Today's Santa Rosa Press Democrat has a front page story about a controversy caused by a tweet from Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane. The tweet expressed her opinion about the proposed mosque near ground zero in New York City.

This single tweet was met with rebuke from a local leader of the Islamic Society of Santa Rosa, Said Mansour.

In addition to Zane and Mansour being interviewed for the story, Petaluma software developer Dan Lyke was quoted. He warranted an interview simply because he replied to Zane's tweet with a different opinion.

This example also illustrates how the news media likes controversy.

If you have other examples of how tweets have made news, please share. What do you think about the Press Democrat's coverage of this issue? I invite your comments.

How to Increase Online Visibility of a Local Press Release

By Gina Cuclis

As I said in a recent presentation to individuals from nonprofits, press releases are no longer just for the press. I encourage organizations to have online newsrooms and post press releases on their websites. But if your small business or nonprofit isn't prepared to do that, you can still take advantage of online opportunities by posting press releases on free press release distribution sites. You can then promote your press release using Facebook, Twitter or your e-mail list.

Example from a Sonoma City Councilwoman

Sonoma City Councilwoman Laurie Gallian donated the first six months of her council pay to provide a scholarship for a 2010 Sonoma Valley High School graduate to attend Santa Rosa Junior College this fall. I wrote a press release and took a photo of Laurie and the scholarship winner. I sent them to Sonoma Valley's two community newspapers. The weekly Sonoma Sun ran the press release with the photo in its July 29, 2010 print edition. The press release is also on the Sun's website. The twice-weekly Sonoma Index-Tribune included information from the press release in a July 30, 2010 article about the cost of city government, which mentioned council pay.

After the press release was picked up by the community newspapers, I got further mileage by posting the press release with the photo to EarthPublisher.com.

Laurie doesn't have a website, but she does have a Facebook profile. So I posted links to the EarthPublisher.com press release on the walls of her and my Facebook profiles.

I also tweeted a link to the EarthPublisher.com press release.

There are several other free press release distribution sites from which you could do this. I like EarthPublisher.com, because it allows you to include a photo.

Comments or helpful insights about this PR tip or others on this blog are always welcome.

New Sonoma County Leadership Improves Communication

By Gina Cuclis

This is a follow up to answer the question I asked in a December 2009 post after the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors announced it had hired the County's first woman Administrative Officer, Veronica Ferguson. I had asked, "Will first woman administrative officer improve Sonoma County's communications style?

The Answer Is Yes

I had the opportunity to hear Ferguson speak Wednesday night to the No Name Women's group. No Name Women is an informal networking group, run by Susan Moore, with about 400 members who are Democratic leaning business and professional women. (No website.)

Ferguson was fun to listen to. She has a great sense of humor. She also came across as approachable and friendly. Traits missing from the previous Sonoma County Administrative Officer. Ferguson credited her hiring to "the feminists" on the Board of Supervisors. Naming the three men as well as the two women.

Discussed Challenges

Ferguson discussed the County's services and its challenges in providing those services with the dwindling budget. She also discussed how the County plans to develop a long range plan for restructuring to manage the ongoing decline in revenue. She asked for our input, emphasizing community input would be important to the process. Ferguson also provided statistics on the numbers of women in leadership roles in local government in Sonoma County. Sorry to say, I didn't write them down. But I remember thinking they were impressive.

Positive Reaction from the Grapevine

Over the past few months I've spoken to other county government watchers and county employees. I've heard an overwhelming response that there's been much improvement. While this year's budget process and employee contract negotiations were not easy (understatement), employees seem to feel they were more in the loop than last year. It appears the new CAO is more willing to take the time for people.

Poor Communicators Make Poor Leaders

There's something to be said about the need for management that is good at crunching numbers and improving efficiencies, especially in difficult economic times. But if you're not good at dealing with people, are too arrogant to listen to others, and don't treat your employees or members of the community with respect, you will make too many enemies to be effective.

What is your opinion about the change in Sonoma County leadership? I would especially like to hear from county employees, who I would allow to post anonymously.

Recalled Cotati City Councilman Tries Again

By Gina Cuclis

This is a follow up to a Nov. 18, 2009 post about the recall of former Cotati City Councilman George Barich.

Barich Says He'll Run Again

In November 2009, less than one year after taking office, George Barich was recalled by 65% of Cotati voters casting ballots in a special election. Barich became the subject of a recall drive after posting a photo of himself in blackface on his website. He also caused controversy for using City letterhead to send a personal letter to President Obama criticizing the economic stimulus package, and for using Cotati's logo on his personal website.

But that isn't stopping Barich from trying again. He recently announced he will mount a campaign to reclaim a position on the Cotati City Council. There are two seats on the five member council up for grabs this November. The two incumbents, Pat Gilardi and Mark Landman, are also planning to run.

The 52-year-old Barich told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat that response to his campaign "has been overwhelming in support of me representing a voice in the community that is currently missing on the City Council."

Trying to Be the Comeback Kid

You can give Barich credit for his tenacity. It would be surprising if he wins, considering his history. His political views also tend to be more conservative than the majority of progressive leaning Cotati voters. Like the rest of Sonoma County, registered Democrats out number registered Republicans in Cotati roughly two to one.

What is your opinion of Barich's latest campaign? Do you think he has a chance of getting back on the Cotati City Council?

Why I Stopped Publishing an E-Newsletter

By Gina Cuclis

This week I published the last issue of PR Tip of the Month, which I started in July 2005. At the end of the issue, I said I would write a blog post about why I decided to stop publishing "PR Tip of the Month."

The Blog Became More Popular

Several months ago I started reevaluating why I was publishing an e-newsletter. This process started, because I noticed significantly more people were reading Cuclis PR's blog than reading "PR Tip of the Month." I started Cuclis PR's North Bay New Media blog in April 2009 to provide case studies and PR tips related to the changing media landscape in the region where I live and work. Within a few months, I was getting a lot more feedback about the blog than the newsletter, hearing from readers via online comments, Twitter retweets, e-mail responses, and in-person comments. The significance of this trend hit a particular chord with me after I republished "PR Tip of the Month's" April 2010 issue on the blog, and found several times more people read it as a blog post.

Newsletter Would Need to Be Revamped

I then came to the conclusion that the e-newsletter needed a face lift and a refocus if I was going to continue it. I also took into consideration that a large percentage of the subscribers where people located in regions far from my target market territory, or were other PR pros. They were not the audience I hoped to reach when I started an e-newsletter.

As an independent consultant, I must evaluate how I spend my time. For awhile I tried maximizing the reach of "PR Tip of the Month" by simply republishing it on the blog. But there were months when I didn't, if a particular issue didn't fit the blog's theme. So I found myself asking if the time I spent on an e-newsletter was still worth it, since I now have a blog? A lot of consultants do both.

Time to Change or Quit

Then I asked myself, did I feel like putting the time and energy into redesigning and refocusing "PR Tip of the Month?" Did I think it would help increase business prospects more so than the blog? Although the answer to both of these questions was no, the first one was key. I had lost my desire to continue an e-newsletter. Especially when I was having more fun and response with my blog.


I decided "PR Tip of the Month" had lost effectiveness. However, one reason is because I had grown tired of producing it. I was more interested in the North Bay New Media blog. That is where, I concluded, I felt like putting my energy. I share this to illustrate that no marketing or PR activity is going to work for your company if you've lost interest.

I hope my experience has given you something to think about. Please leave a comment and let me know. What is your opinion about e-newsletters versus blogs?

Archived issues of "PR Tip of the Month" are available on Cuclis PR's website.

Your Business Needs a Communications Plan

By Gina Cuclis

This is republished, and slightly revised, from the final issue of PR Tip of the Month. After five years, Cuclis PR has decided to cease publishing a monthly e-zine to focus on this blog. An upcoming blog post will discuss how and why Gina Cuclis made that decision.

Why Have a Communications Plan

A couple of the initial 2005 issues of PR Tip of the Month discussed communications planning. I'm discussing that again, because I've seen what happens when organizations don't have a plan. They complain about not being known in the community. Business owners wonder why a competitor keeps being quoted in the newspaper as an expert, and they're not. Nonprofits wonder why they can't grow their donor or volunteer base.

You Need a Consistent Strategy

Sending out an occasional press release and creating an underutilized Facebook page is not a plan. A plan starts with asking the questions: with whom do we want to communicate, why, what do we want our target audience to know about us, and, more importantly, what do we think they want to hear about from us? Ask these questions to develop your message and strategy. After you've defined a strategy, decide which tactics and channels will best reach and engage your desired audience. Create a calendar identifying which communication activities you will do each month.

Where to Find More Information

Read this back issue about how to write a PR plan.

Have You Written a Communications Plan?

If you have experience with writing PR and communications plans, please share your advice. What do you think is the most important thing to keep in mind? Who did you involved in the process? Thanks for sharing.

Sonoma County Budget Woes Require Good Communication to Build Trust

By Gina Cuclis

An article in Friday's Santa Rosa Press Democrat, about the Sonoma County budget, inspired me to deviate from this blog's usual theme to discuss the relationship between communication and trust.

Budget Cuts, Employee Concessions

As the Press Democrat reports, Sonoma County administrators are seeking concessionsfrom county employees to help close the county's $61.6million budget gap. What raised the communication = trust issue for me were the statements by union leaders that they had not received information from county managers about how many jobs would be saved with concessions.

I know the newspaper likes to find controversy and focus on the drama of disagreement. So I realize the county administrator may not have that information yet and may intend to soon provide it. But I'm compelled to discuss the trust issue, because this situation provides an example for why a commitment to frequent communication during a crisis is important.

Lack of Communication Breeds Mistrust

PR pros and crisis communications experts know this. Lack of communication will make an already tense situation worse. Without frequent, honest and clear communication during a crisis, the stakeholders most impacted won't trust those in charge. If the situation involves groups or individuals with a history of being adversarial, the relationship will quickly deteriorate.

Respond to Questions Even If You Don't Know the Answer

It's common that during a crisis, management won't have all the information stakeholders want. There will be questions that can't be answered. However to maintain trust, all questions must receive a response. If the information to answer a question isn't currently available, whoever is speaking on behalf of management should say that. The spokesperson should also state that when the information is available, he/she will answer the question. An estimated timeframe for when the information will be available should also be provided.

I'm interested in hearing your thoughts about communication and trust. If you have experience with communicating during a crisis, or other difficult situations, please share.