April 19, 2012 4 Comments
This post is the first of a new series I am going to write about my experience as a journalist/blogger. I’ve written and continue to contribute to numerous publications – TechCrunch, Business Insider, the Telegraph, the Kernel, Betakit and more – and I cover primarily tech startups. That said, these tips are definitely relevant for all industries as journalism is going through a massive evolution with the development of new technology platforms.
Topic 1: The beloved press release.
Now, I picked a bit of a provocative title for this article on purpose. But PR and comms departments, please calm down – I DO read your press releases. Well, that is, if they are good.
What makes a good press release, you ask?
Any PR or comms expert is very familiar with a press release – an official written communication statement that is sent to the media in order to announce or share a piece of information. Most of the time, companies send out press releases to announce “official” news – the launch of a new product, new funding, an acquisition, etc.
Press releases also vary greatly from one industry to another. In tech, press releases tend to be 1-2 pages max, a little more neutral in tone with less visuals and more text. But go look at press releases from more visual industries – like fashion or cosmetics – and you’ll discover a variety of tones, colours, photos and very little text. For example, here’s a very eye-catching press release from bath & body brand Soap and Glory:
If you want to see an example of a more sober press release, take a look at Ebay’s press room. Honestly, neither of these styles is necessarily better than the other – they are actually both relevant for their audience.
Good press releases will of course feature a catchy title (I cannot stress the importance of titles enough as I often receive hundreds of emails a day that look more or less the same) and relevant information for the particular topic. Some journalists will actually publish more or less exactly what you send in the press release. But many journalists will (hopefully) want more; in fact, they’ll want to publish something exclusive that you’re not offering to everyone in your standard communication – so be sure to save some good bits of info for the journalists you really want to develop good relationships with.
News beyond the release.
Even though many traditional PR and comms teams may still hold on tight to their beloved press releases, journalists are actually excited in finding news through other means – and there are tons of terrific social platforms that they turn to in order to do so. Some of these I mentioned in an earlier post about some of the new social platforms companies should really be paying attention to: Pinterest, Quora and Instagram. But naturally, the list is much longer and often includes Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Foursquare and more. These different platforms are now considered viable and verified sources for news, so Facebook status updates, Tweets, Quora answers and Foursquare checkins can all be used in lieu of quotes in articles.
For example, here is an article in People Magazine about actress Melissa Joan Hart. Notice that the evidence in the article is a direct link to her Tweet…
Journalists love this type of thing because it looks like they’ve done some good fact-checking and they can use quotes direct from the source. PR and comms teams should think about leveraging different platforms when communicating to journalists and supplementing press releases with Tweets, Quora answers, Foursquare checkins and more. Or, ditch the press release and send this stuff in lieu – in some cases, a very powerful Tweet can be enough for a story…
Oh, careful, everyone can see.
That said, don’t forget that social platforms are public and that everyone can see. Therefore, the information published on these platforms lose their exclusivity if the journalist doesn’t publish quickly and if multiple sources pick up on the info. So be sure to manage what you publish and what you give to journalists – and always include something exclusive if you can.
No, press releases are not dead.
It may be natural to want to draw the conclusion that press releases are losing their relevancy – but they are very clearly NOT dead. They’re simply going through a bit of metamorphosis with the evolution of the social web. But we need to recognize that communication habits are changing as are the ways in which journalists and bloggers receive and relay info as well.
Some quick things to avoid…
In the past, I have seen some companies do all kinds of no-nos with press releases. For example, one company used to send along a press release every month to announce a “new” product feature. It quickly became evident that the features were rather trivial and that this was simply a poor communications tactic. Overtime, I stopped reading the releases.
Another thing to be sure of is that you send the press release in the right language (the language that the journalist will be publishing in) and the right format. If there are elements (photos, videos, links) that the journalist may want to incorporate into their article, be sure to send them as part of the original email (there are now different products that let you build dynamic and multi-media press kits, including Augure). Do not send large attachments as they can get stuck or also annoy the journalist – in fact, the journalist will probably contact you to get the elements they need if they are interested.
Now, if there are other journalists, PR or comm experts out there that would like to share additional tips and tricks, feel free to chime in.