Aug 22, 2005
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By Anne Holland, President
Before the Internet, press releases were very important sources for the press. I knew many journalists who spent most of their days reading, reacting to (and sometimes rewriting) them.
But now that releases are available directly to the public via Net news portals (Yahoo News, Google News, etc.), I strongly suspect most journalists have stopped religiously reading PR. After all, a good reporter's job is to dig up news and insights that the public doesn't already have at their fingertips.
So, last week when I was in a meeting with Bob Evans, CMP Media's Editorial Director and Senior VP, I asked him point-blank, "Do reporters read press releases anymore?"
"In some cases releases can still be helpful for short quick online news items," he told me. "But mostly, if everyone's got it on Google News, what's the point? I may use a phone number or a stat for a bigger story, but press releases are not the response devices they used to be."
How do you catch reporters' attention in the Internet age? Here are five suggestions Bob and I discussed.
If you're pitching a trend story (which Bob says many journalists love), try including links to several independent blogs to back up your assertions. Helps prove you didn't invent the trend just to get your CEO quoted, and there's some genuine audience interest in the topic. Also better than citing a direct competitor's story (few journalists get ahead by writing me-too stuff).
You can also use an internally produced company blog to garner some press attention. Bob said, "It could function as effectively or more effectively than a press release right now. However, canned contrived, controlled messages will draw very little interest."
Bob strongly recommends you allow and actively encourage interactive blog replies. If a reporter sees an active -- non-edited -- discussion attached to blog posts, they're much more likely to respond. Best postings would be from your marketplace.
#2. Trade show meetings
Online news deadlines mean reporters don't have time anymore for convivial dinners and hour-long briefings with your company execs at the show. Bob suggests three new tactics:
- 1/2 hour breakfast meetings before the day's deadlines hit.
- 30-45 minute "walk the floor together" invites. Your CEO walks the show floor with the reporter (who has to anyway) pointing out trends, etc.
- Work your party (harder). Position a press greeter at your party doorway and have the greeter personally lead incoming journalists to various execs they should meet. Reporters may only have 30 minutes or less per party -- don't waste their time making them mingle on their own.
#3. Customer stories
Bob says the reason why many clients turn down "Would you let us do a case study on you?" requests is that companies aren't marketing the idea from the client's perspective.
His suggestion: Explain to your client how the story could help their PR efforts by positioning them as a leader. Reassure them it won't take too much time, and no secrets will be given away that could hurt them.
Another idea: position a series of less in-depth client interviews for a trend story. Perhaps several clients are using your product or service in an unexpected way that's not been covered in the press.
#4. New and underexposed executives
In bigger companies, the PR department is often more of a gatekeeper, the "NO" department, than a story-enabler.
Bob suggests that whenever you have to say "no" to a CEO interview, try offering a substitute. Perhaps there's a new exec on board, or someone who's fascinating but underexposed.
Neither Bob nor I would ever suggest there should be a quid pro quo between ads and media coverage. However, reporters surf the Web just as much (or often much more) than your typical prospects. The more they are exposed to your ads, the more likely they are to keep your brand at the top of their mind. After all, they are humans.
That means increased press coverage may be one of the extra add-on benefits from an ad campaign. How can you measure it? That's one to ask your PR department.