Friday, January 18

Improving Press Releases: A Two-Part Social Test

People tend to give press releases plenty of flack. But in many cases, the problem isn't the tool but the practitioner who created it. If you want better release performance, start with the source — the author.

I'm not suggesting that public relations practitioners need to be canned. What I am suggesting is that public relations professionals test themselves by taking advantage of other in-house professionals and social media to see just how great (or not great) their press release (or social media release) crafting skills might be.

Pass a press release draft to a colleague, but not to edit. 

Rather than passing the press release to someone to edit, ask them to write a news story from the release as if they were a journalist working for whatever new niche the story is intended. The public relations professional might even be able to test themselves, assuming they're objective enough to do it.

This process will immediately reveal any flaws in the press release before it ever sees the newswire. It might even produce some new ideas for better leads, hooks, or angles that no one ever thought up.

1. Did the release pass the news test?
2. Did it offer enough hooks to inspire different angles?
3. Did the person acting as a journalist have to ask follow up questions?
4. Did the quotes stand out enough to be used or were they too canned and cut?
5. How hard did the person have to work to ferret out any story from the content?
6. Did the story turn out interesting enough to read or was it as dry as what was supplied?

Always keep in mind that the measure of a press release is not whether or not it will run as written. On the contrary, it needs to be written so that any journalist can immediately see the news value in it and feel confident that they can put their own spin on the story. Ideally, it contains the news they don't know.

Publish the story someplace like a blog; give it a social media test.

Make no mistake, journalists are under increasing pressure to prove their content is being read. And right or wrong (mostly wrong), more publishers are tracking how many hits, shares, and time on a story to determine whether or not people are interested in the content. (This data is then turned into ad sales.)

The only way to really know is to publish the potential content yourself. Publishing the story (not the release) on an intranet, website, or blog could provide some indication of its potential success. And in this case, the objective doesn't have to be viral as much as benchmarked for success.

1. Did the story attract more or less interest from intended readers?
2. How long did the average reader stay on the story page?
3. Was any of the content shared across social networks?
4. How did it compare to stories already published across the industry?
5. Was any of the content recycled or used for other story purposes?
6. Were there any patterns in terms of reader demographics or special interests?

The bottom line is that just like public relations pros ought to challenge themselves to find newsworthy content on the inside, journalists are challenging themselves to find newsworthy content on the outside. What they don't have is unlimited time. As newspapers and publications have scaled back on staff, the general function of a news release ought to make it easier, not harder, to get the job done.

Testing the potential of the news story that press release, internally and/or externally, can provide some insights to ensure you're on the right track. In fact, even if the stories are only tested internally (especially useful for larger companies), readership patterns will likely emerge. Some stories will sink, others will win interest. But more importantly, it will help improve the story catalyst — a press release that editors know has the potential to attract some interest and traffic to their publication and reporters know will make their jobs a little easier and, perhaps, more interesting.
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