Creation Versus Distribution

I could have headlined this post “What PRs can learn from the word’s most successful chefs” but then I’m a little bit old-skool and object to clickbait-type headlines.  However, that the world’s best chefs and restaurateurs focus not only on the quality of the food they serve, but on the total presentation – from how the food is presented on the carefully-chosen plates, to the cutlery and glassware provided and the overall design of the restaurant itself – is a lesson many PRs can learn from.

Too much of one means too little of the other.

Too much of one means too little of the other.

I once asked my team to keep a record of the amount of time they invested researching, writing, editing and getting approval for the written materials they produce for journalists to use – from news releases to byline articles – as opposed to the time they spent building targeted distribution lists/placing/selling-in that content to the media. The answer – 97% creation versus 3% distribution – both surprised and worried me.  Discussions with colleagues across the industry and with a number of agencies since suggest this split is not so unusual.

That the media still complain bitterly (as they’ve been doing for 20+ years) about poorly targeted PR materials clogging up their inboxes can be explained in this data. It’s the equivalent of a Michelin-starred chef cooking up some fantastic food and then throwing it onto a plate and dropping the plate from a height onto a diner’s lap.

Technology is partly to blame.  It’s too easy to just click ‘attach’ and ‘send’ a press release to a pre-built media email list or to a database provided by Cision or Gorkana. As there is no perceived additional cost in sending the press release to the widest number of journalists possible, some PRs must be asking themselves “why the hell not?”

Distribution is also left to junior staff because it’s often seen as an administrative task. What does this tell us about priorities? Would a company leave engagement with its most important customers to its junior sales people? Anyone care to hazard a guess why the press release is becoming seen increasingly as junk mail by so many journalists?

The best press content in the world has no value until it helps a journalist publish a story. If you consider tweeting a link to an online press release ‘value’, you’re not dealing in press releases. Issuing a press release over a paid for wire distribution service that gets picked up by several news aggregation sites also provides a poor return, unless the person that sent it out is trying to boost meaningless ‘press cutting’ statistics.

In the days before IT-based automation, press release distribution was a heavily manual and time intensive process – whether it meant shoving press releases into envelopes or standing for an hour over an overworked fax machine. Because of this, every target was carefully selected. There was inherent cost embedded in the processes and because of this, care was taken to maximise value. If you couldn’t clearly answer the question “Why are you sending this release to X”, it didn’t get the opportunity to trouble X.

Until the PR industry finds a better balance between content creation and content distribution, between defining the story and identifying the right journalists to take that story to, and then taking time to carefully engage with those journalists, the industry will continue to kid itself it’s doing a good job.