Showing posts with label news release. Show all posts
Showing posts with label news release. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 17

Writing Content: What Happens When PR Inherits The News?

When newspapers first began to appear in America, there wasn't much to them. Even in Philadelphia before 1730, there were only two news sheets being published there. One of them mostly published definitions from the dictionaries and nothing else.

When Benjamin Franklin took it over, he did away with all of it. He envisioned something else, and almost none of it had to do with news. Franklin made his newspaper a vehicle for instruction on moral virtues that often masqueraded as satire and mischief. General news was not on anybody's mind.

In fact, American newspapers wouldn't even pay much attention to general news until after 1750. And its use to spur and spurn politics would occur a few decades later, right in time for the American Revolution. And with politics, a tradition for including local items of interest took hold, one that isn't much more than 200 years old.

Where is all the news going and need we be concerned? 

When Bruce Spotleson, group publisher for Greenspun Media and an editor-at-large for the Las Vegas Sun, spoke as a guest in Writing For Public Relations at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, he raised several powerful and poignant points. Much like I wrote last week, he doesn't see print going away.

Niche publications are particularly strong. Special interest content can still find subscribers. But what he does see slipping is the notion that newspapers are important to a community. And this makes me wonder, what then?

After all, they alone publish local items of interest and record. They alone publish in-depth news stories that act as a community spotlight. They alone have the opportunity to make a last stand in favor of objective journalism, at least those that haven't already rolled over into the ranks of affirmation media.

Bruce SpotlesonAnd along with that, as Spotleson pointed out, the public has grown increasingly unaware of local news and community interest. Some of them don't know whether their police department is good or bad, beyond any personal experience or biased opinion. Many of them are too busy too keep up on government accountability beyond their front yards. Most, if pressed, wouldn't even be able to hazard a guess what the leading local headline might be today.

Spotleson knows. He's asked. Even people who are applying for a job, he said, tend to have the same answer. They haven't gotten to it yet. And in all likelihood, they never will get to it. They're too busy.

Unless it's a national headline, breaking news, or entertainment, people tend to skip the middle ground. They know what is happening from their front door to the sidewalk or their self-selected tribe, which means the group of people they pick on social networks.

The rest of it, unless it touches them directly, tends to be a question mark. The issue is compounded in transient communities too. In such communities, people are much more interested in their hometowns than towns where they own a home. And if these trends tend to hold, news will eventually be gone.

Television news won't fare much better. Unless they find a niche, it's all just more noise on the Web.

Public relations isn't free anymore. It's all about paid content. 

In the wake of unsupported community news, all that will be left is a steady stream of public relations perspectives. Take a recent NV Energy story as an example. Although only a few people are aware of the story, the lack of any reporting arm would only leave several dozen biased voices in its wake.

On one side, there is the utility. On the other, the gaming industry. There are dozens more, including government, consumer advocates, and the public (despite their apparent absence). Without a newspaper to organize the issue, the public would either be largely left in the dark or perhaps exploited by public relations, not with malice but with each representative's own preconceptions as the story shows.

And who would win in such a world? My guess would be the one with the better and heavily budgeted communication plan, especially if they have properly leveraged social media. Except that win isn't free.

While public relations as an industry has been clamoring to take over content marketing and social media, it will come with another cost. As outlets for free exposure continue to diminish, companies and special interests will have no choice but to ramp up direct-to-public communication programs so each interest can publish the "news" as it sees fit. Right. They will publish all the news fit paid to print.

While some might guess the result will be similar to the ever-increasing price to enter politics (with state senate races starting as six and seven digits), I'm not even asking whether it will be this good, bad or indifferent. I'm asking something else. Are public relations professionals even ready to get what they wished for and are we, as the public, ready for it too?

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.

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. 
 

Blog Archive

by Richard Becker Copyright and Trademark, Copywrite, Ink. © 2021; Theme designed by Bie Blogger Template