Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The News Release and Its Role in PR

One of the most oft-debated topics in public relations is the news release, it's purpose and whether or not there's any future for it left in PR. Like most contested issues, ask a half dozen PR people for their opinions on the issue, and you're likely to get half a dozen answers.

While there hasn't been much new in terms of news releases in quite some time, there are movements afoot to change it, most notably with the social media news release. In a nutshell, the social media release revamps the traditional version to address new technologies through the use of linking and multimedia elements, add context about the issue being discussed, make news more search friendly, and help build community.

Do these efforts matter? I suppose that depends on one's assessment of a news release's value. There are many journalists that deplore blanket e-mail blasts of news releases they'll never read. While some in the PR community think those sentiments are harsh, think of it this way: you're getting 100 e-mails a day from a PR person, each with a news release that's 2 pages long. If you even tried to read it all, there would be 200 pages of material every day. Now, ask yourself who would possibly have time to read all that?

There are certainly times when a news release has value. Some examples are personnel announcements, mergers/acquisitions, and other routine news. But PR pros are wise to remember that most of the outreach we do on behalf of clients doesn't involve something that's definitely going to get covered because of its newsworthiness. Rather, it involves news that will interest some reporters and not others. If PR practitioners spent more time developing a pitch that answers the age-old "why should I care?" question and targeted only reporters interested in that topic, the profession would be better for it.

Like everything, a news release will continue to have its place, simply because the emergence of a new medium/technology rarely means the complete death of something else. But as with any element in a PR campaign, careful thought should be given as to whether it adds value to a client's program. For it's those elements that add value that make clients feel their expenditures on a PR program is money well spent.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Public Relations and Writing

Unfortunately, if you were to rank the skills that a public relations agency or practitioner is judged upon, writing would probably be eclipsed by one's ability to get media placements.

It's not surprising, since most people see the value in a public relations program as being demonstrated by the media placements secured and set a benchmark for their value based in part on the publication in which they appear and its importance to their current and potential customers/clients. That said, we'd do well to step back and take another approach that views the whole public relations process as more of a communications medium, and less of a sales medium.

To see examples of how PR is dominated by a sales culture, all one has to do is read some of the written material put out in conjunction with campaigns. You'll see sentences like "value-added solution," "best-of-breed," etc. What's the problem here? These phrases and the writing that often accompanies them is seen as being so sales focused that the perception of its total value is decreased.

Companies wanting to raise the value of their writing and their overall PR program should instead construct their written communication much like a typical inverted-pyramid news article. Start out with a lede that addresses the main points and from there, provide more detail on each and how everything ties together. Taking this route will give your written communication much more credibility and, most importantly, would decrease the chance that what you send out will end up in the proverbial "round file."

I can't fault PR agencies alone for this phenomenon because, after all, we're in the client-service business. Any smart practitioner in a client-service business knows that the fastest route to success is to give the client what they want (e.g. are willing to pay for). So, how can we really bring change in this area? PR practitioners should work with their clients to get them to see the value in reconstructing their written communication. They should show them how hype isn't the only direction to take and, most importantly, how toning things down won't decrease the attention your written material receives, but increase it.