Wednesday, November 28

Killing Media Advisories: For Immediate Release

A recent Ragan extra more or less declared the term "media advisory" dead, along with "for immediate release" as good measure. In fact, the eight reasons why public relations professionals ought to stop using these phrases was not only good for a laugh, but also shareable in some circles. Maybe so.

Number 5 was especially funny: "Just because a college professor or some PR agency taught you to write 'media advisory' or 'for immediate release' doesn't make it meaningful or right. (sic)" Keith Yaskin, who wrote the piece, is somewhat right. Those reasons alone don't make using the terms right or meaningful. But then again, neither does taking advice from a random hack.

Have news release headers lost their luster?

Maybe, but not for the comical reasons that Yaskin provides. If news release headers and instructive phrases have lost their meaning, it's because many public relations professionals never learned what it all meant from the beginning. Something was missed during their transition from copy editor to reporter or administrative assistant to public relations practitioner.

Let's start with the obvious. Headers are simply meant to tell journalists and television reporters what the content might be. A new release was supposed to contain news. A press release was supposed to contain information that may or may not be news (although some old school television reporters used to tell me they hated the term, given the association with printing). A feature release might contain soft news. A media statement was commentary from someone with an opinion or comment on something.

And a media advisory? Contrary to the chortle that media advisories are an attempt to masquerade as the U.S. Coast Guard, the header used to have real meaning. Media advisories were a heads up to media that something was going to happen — such as an event, opening, tour, press conference, public statement, etc. — that might be worth dispatching a news crew or photographer to cover it.

A media advisory wasn't meant to earn column inches or publicity pixels. All it was supposed to do was let the media know that something was going to happen that could constitute news —from the mundane (like an opening) to the bizarre (a new world record for the biggest hoagie). It was predictive. And as such, it wasn't necessarily ready for print or broadcast because it hadn't happened yet.

Why "for immediate release" lost its meaning in the hands of flacks. 

Much like news release headers were meant to be instructive, so was the cutline "for immediate release." It was never meant to be a standalone. Like headers, there were other options until some agencies (and now most agencies) started to use the phrase ad nauseum, causing people like Yaskin to toss up their hands and chuckle.

Joining "for immediate release" was "for release at will," "for releases before or after [date],*" "for release by [date]," and so on and so forth. It worked, until public relations firms and in-house organizations thought that "for immediate release" carried a greater sense of urgency.

They were guided by the mistaken belief that everything they sent required immediate attention and immediate coverage because that is what they taught their clients to expect. Never mind that journalists used to hang onto "for release at will" content a little longer in case the news of the day dictated that the story might fit (and hadn't gone stale).

Sure, it's less likely they would keep it today because content is cheap and there is a steady stream of it, every single day. As I pointed out in one of my presentations, there are approximately 1.4 million news stories put out every day and 4.3 million news releases. Of those, only about 140,000 news stories are inspired by news releases, making the odds of coverage rather slim beyond a blurb or passing mention.

Those figures, by the way, are two years old. There is a good chance we've doubled the content overload in the last two years, without even counting all those posts, white papers and whatnot.

Don't blow things up until you have a backup plan. 

If there is one thing I've learned after a few decades in business (as well as community advocacy), it is that ignorant people are quick to cut anything they don't understand. It's especially easy when they don't have any industry knowledge, insight or history.

Right. All those meaningless little things might actually mean something, but you have to take the time to know what they are and why they are perceived to be important. If the answer is useless — such as "we do it this way because we've always done it this way" — then it makes sense to let it go. But if there is a meaning behind the apparent madness, then it might be worth preserving.

But then again, I'm not making a case to preserve "media advisory" or "for immediate release." If neither the journalists and broadcaster nor public relations practitioners know the meaning of these headers and instructional phrases, then they might as well be dropped. Or maybe not.

The choice is really up to each professional or quasi practitioner. Use it or don't use it, but at least you won't be ignorant as to why it was used in the past. As for me, personally, I'll include whatever clearly communicates to the intended audience whether others want to muddle the meaning or not.

*As a side note, it might be helpful to know that "for release after [date]" is different than an embargo. 
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