Tuesday, February 2

Writing News Releases: CBS vs. Visa

Yesterday, the first high-definition 3-D projection display was unveiled in New York City's Grand Central Station, allowing consumers who accept 3-D glasses from "brand ambassadors" to view 3-D commercials.

The idea alone, attempting to stop some 70,000 consumers to watch commercials as they pass by the display every day, is oddly interesting because it requires consumers to volunteer to watch 3-D commercials that are only shown between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. with regular broadcast commercials being shown the rest of the time. (The display is supported with 3-D dioramas and other elements, which do not require glasses.)

However, determining whether the 3-D concept is remotely effective requires placing it on our watch list. On the other hand, no waiting is needed to appreciate how CBS Outdoor, which owns the 8 x 14-foot 3-D display, and Visa, which is the primary media buyer, essentially released the same news very differently.

1. Format. Short vs. Long-Format News Releases.

CBS issued its release primarily via PR Newswire and PR Web. It is a short-format release, with just under 400 words, excluding the boilerplate. Visa, which issued its release via Businesswire, sent out a long-format release, with more than 1,200 words, which includes a list but excludes the boilerplate.

Conventional public relations instruction suggests that news releases ought to be confined to one page (roughly 400 words) as followed by CBS. Visa broke from this conventional wisdom, providing richer content and substantive details about the 3-D outdoor and how it ties into its Go World Olympic campaign.

While Visa might have broken the story into two releases, its release is the better read. They are much more in line with the non-conventional wisdom I teach, which reinforces writing tight but without any constraints or rules. Simply put, the best releases share the story in the amount of words required to tell it. Nothing more. Nothing less. Visa, point. CBS, zero.

2. Content. Exclusive vs. Inclusive Content.

The CBS news release is exclusive to CBS Outdoor. It contains two quotes, one from CBS and another from N4D.

While the release does give a nod to its client, Visa, and N4D (which creates and converts video/film content into a 3-D format), the message is confined to a singular story. Even the headline suggests what it ought to be: "CBS Outdoor Brings 3-D Outdoor Advertising to New York's Grand Central Station."

The Visa release is inclusive, covering multiple topics such as the 3-D display, the Go World campaign, the Olympic-related content, the exact times street teams will pass out glasses, and the Team Visa Olympic members to be featured. It includes two quotes, one from Visa and another from CBS.

The headline underscores the nature of the release: "Visa Uses 3-D Video to Bring Go World Ad Campaign to Life in Grand Central Terminal."

Without question, the Visa release is inclusive, with a headline that suggests why we might care. Point, Visa. CBS, zero.

3. Quotes. Expected vs. Interesting.

The CBS quotes, in both the CBS and Visa releases, talk about CBS, its outdoor technology, and the location of that technology. In the CBS release specifically, both quotes read as the expected response, with sentences that include tried and tired nails-on-chalkboard fodder from CBS and N4D.

"CBS Outdoor is very proud..." and "And we're thrilled to be doing so with Visa..." and "Working with CBS Outdoor is a tremendous opportunity for N4D..." Yawn.

The Visa release quote emphasizes the Olympic Games, the campaign, the technology, social media, and how they intend to tie everything together. Antonio Lucio, chief marketing officer, tells us exactly what they are attempting to do.

"With the help of innovative 3-D technology and popular social media sites, we're able to strengthen our connection to the Olympic Games and drive transactions during the Games with a breakthrough promotional offer – a trip to the Olympic Winter Games for life.” (The CBS quote in the Visa release is better too, but still smacks of a pitch.)

Quotes are important to the release. They are best served up with supportive content and interesting perspectives. Anything that begins "We're pleased," "thrilled" or "proud" ought to be added to the cliche list. It's boring. Visa, point. CBS, zero.

4. Expansiveness. Standalone vs. Find More Here.

While PR Newswire and PR Web have social media features, the CBS release doesn't really include in-content links beyond the internal ticker symbol tracking provided by PR Newswire. There is another generic link to the CBS Web site, but no link to CBS Outdoor or any online location with more information or visuals. What you read is what you get.

The Visa release includes two in-content links. The first is to its Go World YouTube channel. The second is to its Go World Facebook fan page (link omitted because the fan page had not launched by post time). Within the boilerplate content, it included five links, two of which store downloadable Visa Olympic images, videos and assets. It also included a link to the Visa Web site.

While the amount of content is almost overwhelming, it clearly supports anyone who has an interest in any portion of the story. Point, Visa. CBS, zero.

5. Modernization. One-Way Broadcast vs. Social Connections.

Again, while PR Newswire and PR Web both have social media sharing functions, the CBS release only includes "blog it," "e-mail it" sharing options. There is nothing to comment on, or connect with beyond a singular media contact.

The Visa release, as mentioned, provides links to several sites, including two social media outlets: YouTube and Facebook. It also includes 12 sharing options and two points of contact for the media. In many ways, YouTube is limited as a two-way communication channel and Visa had not launched the Facebook page prior to the release.

Clearly, it would have been more effective to launch the fan page two weeks ago, with a different release. This would have provided Visa the opportunity to promote its NYC campaign to its members. As an additional option, it could have purchased Facebook advertisements, with an emphasis on a proximity purchase in New York.

Not perfect, but Visa has a fine start. Half point, Visa. CBS, zero.

Conclusions and Outcomes.

If you were keeping score, it isn't hard to deduce that the Visa release wins 4 1/2 points to 0. But what about where it really matters?

To be fair, we might mention that Visa had a head start with its release being sent out yesterday. CBS issued its release this morning. However, from strictly a total exposure standpoint, CBS captured about 25 media/quasi media mentions and one blog post. The Visa release captured at least 200+ media/quasi media mentions and five blog posts, plus inclusion on the Team USA site.

In addition to total exposure, almost all of the CBS releases are release reruns, essentially filler for online and offline publications with no time or nothing better to report. The Visa mentions performed slightly better, with approximately 40 percent of the stories focused on specific angles within the release, especially its contest. The Visa release also went further with sports niche publications, which is precisely what it wanted to do.

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