Pity the Poor Press Release

newsroomWhen Christopher Penn dropped his post about the ineffectiveness of press releases, it verified what many of us already knew:

The press release, as a go-to communications tool, is yesterday’s news.

You might very well have information, insights and knowledge your audience needs, cares, and should hear about, but the press release ranks lowest on interest, effectiveness, and clickability.

Reporters, editors, and bloggers rarely read them. News organizations no longer cotton to them. A press release means the inevitable follow-up call that asks the one question a reporter never and still doesn’t want to hear: Did you get my press release?

Press releases are vain.  

Just because your organization thinks something is newsworthy, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is.

Who cares about being “pleased” and “proud” about the newest VP?

Is the latest but not very important iteration of your software, unless it does something phenomenally first, like Tesla’s fully autonomous vehicle announcement, worth an editor’s time?

Does your CEO like seeing his or her name in the press just…cuz?

Press releases are passive.

Your audience, editors and the web crave information that is relevant to what they care about, in forms they want to consume.

When a press release offers no context, no understanding of the receiver, and no story, it is lazy “action”.

Creating news and sharing vital market-building information takes time and research. If the information you supply doesn’t meaningfully speak to the receiver, you’re wasting your budget and the target’s time.

Press releases lack utility.

It was once upon on a time before Google Panda, Google actually indexed press releases and hence, provided some SEO utility. No longer. Using a syndication service and having your information plastered on a UHF station website out of the 50th biggest media market is definitely something to sneeze at.

If you must…

If you feel compelled to write a press release (many of you must for regulatory reasons) or you have actual real news (like Tesla, for example) keep the following in mind:

Is it really news?

When we discuss PR initiatives with prospects and clients, we always ask if the information passes the “who cares” litmus test. If you can’t come up with a compelling reason to communicate, think of another way to get that information into the hands of your prospects. Or, ditch the idea altogether.

If press releases come up, we counsel that the media, who wear many hats and cover much more ground, REALLY don’t care about a commercial messages poorly masquerading as news. They want objective knowledge and information to create meaty stories that keep readers, viewers and subscribers glued to their screens.

Know your target

The endemic banality of most press releases – and reporters’ negative reaction to them – show the majority of the people who send them know little to nothing about the publication, blog, or broadcast outlet or the reporters’ area of coverage.

You can weaken the reporter’s impulse to ignore your news with a well-written release directed to them, better yet, work your media contacts via email and phone with a tightly-honed pitch. Of course, we all have stories about a press release that led to an impressive placement. But routinely blasting news rather than taking a rifle approach isn’t effective in a world of building inbound links and winning hard-won domain authority.

Get to the point

Overly verbose and quote-heavy releases get deleted fast. Releases that take four paragraphs to get to the point often including details that cloud the reason you’re contacting the reporter in the first place. Releases don’t tell a story; they should offer up reasons why your story should exist.

If your information doesn’t create curiosity about a new story or add to an existing story and discussion, be ruthless with finding valuable particulars. Such specificity takes time and research.

Be available

A minimalist approach to news releases needs to be supplemented with additional info. Supply links to your website for the rest of the information about your product or service so reporters can determine if it’s worth a deeper dive.

Always include contact information at the end. And always reply to inquiries. If you add an email address, check it; a phone number, answer it. Be there and be responsive.

As with all marketing tactics, use the right instrument for the right task. Press releases have their utility. Practically, though, they now occupy a much smaller space in the tactical tool belt.

This is not to say that media relations isn’t relevant. It certainly is. But now your other content assets – blog posts, white papers, ebooks, infographics, and presentations – deliver your news and content more directly to prospects you aim to influence and want to consume your product or service.

A far better option is to plan and spend your valued marketing dollars on strategies and tactics that will propel your brand, enhance your domain authority, build traffic and entice your prospect to buy.

The “Be Less Like A Guy” Approach To Marketing

Sometimes, the approach to a problem lies right in front of our eyes. It can be as big as a parking lot.

On the sun-splashed asphalt of our local high school, I saw visual demonstration that proves that sometimes the direct approach to solving a problem may not always be the best course. Typical male thinking, right?

Generally, guys don’t want to talk about problems, they want to fix them. Guilty as charged. And that’s the general issue about how some companies go about their marketing.

Working in agency marketing/pr/social media/whatever you want to call it these days, we’re hired to solve a problem – build awareness, increase sales, suppress a crisis, tackle an issue, etc.

There I sat at a four-way intersection, waiting to pick up my daughter from a mid-afternoon summer music class. Cars to my left and my right were stacking up, some leaving with and some arriving to pick up their kids.  No one seemed to be able to move.

Waiting there, I quickly noticed a pattern. In an area with five rows of parking spaces and an outer access way, all the cars, and I mean all of them, were converging on just one row of spaces closest to the door where the kids were exiting. Yet, with all that available real estate, no one thought of going out of their way just for a few seconds more to circumvent the choke point to access the pick up line.

Except me.

Finding an opening, I went straight and made the wider arc, bypassing the bulk of the traffic. This got me to the front door where my daughter was just coming out. I pulled up. The car door opened and closed and we were on our way home.  All of it was accomplished faster than some of the cars that arrived before I did, but instead of jockeying for position in that single, cramped row of parking, I drove a greater distance, but got my result more quickly.

I realized that what I did physically was what we need to do more of with our marketing. Instead of trying to cram in where everyone else is, we need to take a wider view of the landscape to see where the opportunities for access are. That means taking a longer pause and a harder look at your position in relationship to everyone else’s.

This “do-it-now, get-it-done-yesterday” attitude of business is only getting worse.  I’m not saying don’t hustle. We have the tools to get more stuff done faster, but in the same vein, those same tools shouldn’t force us to truncate the processes of discovery and research.

Similar to many women who like to discuss and talk out issues, what we men tend to do, rather than assess and discuss, might actually deliver a less informed and slower action. Active observation and listening can deliver a faster result.

How actively do you observe before setting off in a particular direction?

Fight B.A.D.D. (Business Attention Deficit Disorder) with a Five-Point Approach to Tying PR Strategy to Business Goals

Part I of II

So many businesses suffer from Business Attention Deficit Disorder (B.A.D.D.), a condition that can strike any part of a company when inattention, poor planning, indifference or taking on too much at one time takes focus away from mission critical operations and initiatives.

One of the bigger victims of B.A.D.D. is marketing and PR. With all that those words encompass today, many businesses wrestle with the wide range of PR and content marketing strategies that can enhance their brand and visibility via traditional, online and social media platforms.

The tools at your disposal to engage your audiences have grown precipitously: social media press releases; on-the-fly video; tweeting, liking, and linking via social media; blogging; and converting via landing pages offering advice and free content. The uses and combinations are astounding.

For some businesses afflicted by B.A.D.D., PR and marketing could indeed be more than just window dressing … more than “just send out a monthly press release” … more than that thing you or your agency does by rote without much regard to “why” or “what’s next.” To effectively capture customers and the media – and make your marketing department look good in the process – you need a game plan.

Don’t we all face more “business objectives” than we can work against in 24 hours?  I know I do. I find that organizing a plan complete with objectives, strategies and specific tactics grounds my work, putting me on the right path of knowing what we’re producing  is true progress against our client’s goal.

It’s not doing for the sake of doing – it’s doing with purpose. Taking the time to think your communications strategies through can also lead to some fun, new creative ideas for getting your message out there (but that’s a whole other topic).

PR with Purpose

To deliver value, you have to know what you’re trying to accomplish (starting with the business plan) and you have to think through all the possible strategies.

Begin with your set of business goals. Most companies’ number one business objective is growth.

E.g., Business Objective: Grow business by 10% in 2012.

Business goals then translate into marketing/communication/PR goals. How can PR affect that growth? What exactly should it accomplish (the more specific, the better), and how should be measured (in website/social media visits; leads; other metrics)?

E.g., Communications Objectives: Generate greater exposure among targets with goal of 20% increase in leads.  Support sales outreach to direct prospects and influencers.

PR strategy (as well as strategies for using other communications tools) can then be built.

E.g., PR Strategies: Examine/expand on messaging to sales targets.  Establish stronger voice in the industry with proactive outreach to traditional, social and digital outlets with contributed articles, participation in ongoing editorial coverage, guest columns, blog and LlinkedIn posts, white papers, etc. 

Exposure is relatively easy to achieve via publicity, if you are committed to being proactive and available to participate in editorial coverage.  And of course, the right content is king. The kind or flavor of exposure you plan depends on your objectives and PR strategies.

Next week, see Part II for the Five PR Variables you need to consider to better tie PR to your business objectives.