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TIME TO DEFEND THE PRESS RELEASE

18 April 2012 – The comms dept today called on the public relations industry to call time on the bullying and harassment of its oldest and hardest working ally, the press release.  More sinned against than sinner, the press release has been undermined first by early integrated communications campaigns, then online news sites and, more recently, social media platforms.

“Not a month goes by without someone suggesting the press release takes its pension to be replaced by blogs and tweets. One PR consultant has suggested we ‘re-think the press release’. Here’s a thought. Why don’t we rethink public relations which has been inadvertently undermining the press release for years,” said a spokesman.

The systematic ill treatment of the format began in earnest in the mid 1990s, when ‘integrated communications’ became fashionable. Many organisations got confused, believing that sending a press release to every stakeholder and audience, internal and external, meant they were integrating their communications.

At the turn of the new millennium, with the dot com bubble at full stretch and the number of online news aggregation sites growing, press releases were issued in increasing volume as PR agencies and their clients tried to pump press coverage stats and stock market valuations.  At around this time, many stopped using the term ‘news release, mostly because they seldom contained ‘news’.

Now in the social media age, companies are experimenting with blog posts and tweets as an alternative way of making corporate announcements.  Aside from the fact that this approach risks breaching selective disclosure rules among publicly-listed companies, a press release should engage a journalist to write a story, not the world at large.  Few journalists will consider a widely available tweet or blog an ideal cue to follow up a story.

The purpose of a press release is the same today as it was when Ivy Lee, working on behalf of the Pennsylvania Railroad, issued the first ever release in 1906. It was in the aftermath of a major train crash in Atlantic City, New Jersey and the agency wanted the newspapers to cover the tragedy with accurate, verified details. The press release was born.

The only audience for a press release should be the press.  Other forms of collateral, including social media platforms, are available for other audiences. Journalists, meanwhile, often tweet links to their published stories.  In all likelihood, they’ll have more followers than the PR account, so let them do the tweeting for you.

In the days when each press release had to be put in an envelope, sealed and an address label and stamp attached, PR teams took great care over distribution lists. We called it targeting.  Sending an email might be less time intensive, but that doesn’t mean that the targeting is any less important than it was then.  Some forget this, deciding it very little trouble to add a few more journalist email addresses to the email circulation.

Finally, as the sheer number of press releases has grown, the quality and levels of newsworthiness they carry has fallen, with untold crimes against the English language committed regularly by press releases writers. US technology companies have been primarily responsible for this.

“It’s time to come to the aid of the press release and to show some respect for a format which is over 100 years old and upon which the public relations industry was, in large part, built.  Just because social media is gradually replacing traditional newspapers doesn’t mean that a well written press release with real news can no longer deliver the press coverage a business wants,” added the spokesperson.

ENDS/…

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BUILDING DIGITAL CLOUT

You know you’re getting older when you think you’re discussing current affairs and the other person thinks you’re talking history.

For the first time ever, we have an economically active generation that knows life only with the Internet.  The net generation is unlikely to have ever experienced the pleasure of queuing at a travel agent to book a flight or at a bank to cash a pay cheque. I doubt they’ve waited in the rain to make a call from a public phone box either.

While people like me view the Internet as a technology that has challenged and transformed traditional industries like music distribution, newspaper publishing and communications, the net generation doesn’t see the Internet as disruptive – it’s just how they do stuff.

Return on Influence

Last night, I went to hear Mark W Schaefer*, an American marketing consultant, author and university lecturer, give a talk about the changing nature of ‘influence’ in the digital or social media age.  Mark is a charming man, passionate about his subject and, like me, lived in the world before the birth of the world wide web.

“We are on the cusp of a marketing revolution led by a new breed of influence marketers. Social media is democratising influence.  Anyone can have it. Everyone can have a voice.”  OK, a bit over the top maybe, but he is American and he did have a new book, Return on Influence, to plug.

Schaefer believes that social media is eroding the old marketing segments of ‘B2B’ and ‘B2C’ which have dominated thinking for decades, in favour of what he calls P2P, or person-to-person. The net generation is more likely influenced by individuals than institutions, making online influence an important and valuable commodity for marketers to tap into.

The key question is how to tap into this evolving army of new web-based influencers. It starts, Mark told us, with understanding who they are.

Thankfully, companies like Klout and Peerindex have been developing social influence scoring systems that determine social influence on the web.  On Klout, everyone is scored between 1 and 100.  The higher the score, the more influential you are. The average is 19, while 30 is pretty good and 50+ makes you a little bit special.  Justin Beiber is the only person with a Klout score of 100.  That’s higher than Barack Obama.

Measuring digital clout

By assessing your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, and looking at your blog and the level of interaction, engagement and ‘followship’ and running this data through an algorithm that’s as secret as Harland Saunders’ secret seasoning, these companies can identify and stack rank who has influence and who doesn’t. They can drill down to areas of specific influence too – like photography or music.

Some people are now publishing their Klout scores on their CV in the United States. The company, meanwhile, hopes that one day when a customer calls a call centre for customer service, the system will know their Klout score and place them in a fast or slow moving queue – businesses need to treat influencers better than those with none.

For people that grew up in the traditional, pre-internet world of marketing and communications, all of this could be a daunting development.

But wait. The comms department has been identifying influencers, stack ranking them and treating them differently since the bogeyman was a bogeyboy.  We’ve always known who the most influential journalists, analysts and commentators are. We know exactly how to work with them.   The new generation of digital influencers are no different.  We can work with them too.

The Internet has not yet created a new industry, except maybe itself. What it has done is to disrupt existing industries and existing processes, make them more efficient, reduce the barriers and cost of entry and moving marketplaces online.

I came away from Schaefer’s talk with a copy of his book under my arm and a clear thought in my head.  If you’re a ‘seasoned’ comms person fearing the inexorable rise of social media, there’s no need to stick your head in the sand and pretend it isn’t happening. There really isn’t any need to be a communications dinosaur.

Honestly – and whisper it – but we already know how to do this stuff.

 

*The event was organised by TechMap and hosted by Fishburn Hedges

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DIVINE INSPIRATION

With God on your side, you can miss the target and still win the game.

Core Issues Trust, a little known ‘Christian’ organisation, believes in the power of prayer and what it calls ‘reparative therapy’ to convert gay people to heterosexuality.  Another, called Anglian Mainstream, share these views.

They booked £10k worth of media from Transport for London so that their views could adorn the sides of 24 London buses.

Their message – “Not gay! Post-gay, ex-gay and proud. Get over it!” – was clearly designed as a retort to Stonewall’s mobile media same-sex marriage campaign – “Some people are gay. Get over it.”

News of the campaign broke yesterday and elicited an immediate thumbs down from the liberalati.  Twitter went all a twitter at the news.

Boris Johnson, the current Mayor of London, wasn’t going to tolerate such views and banned the adverts.

“London is one of the most tolerant cities in the world and intolerant of intolerance,” he said.

“It is clearly offensive to suggest that being gay is an illness that someone recovers from and I am not prepared to have that suggestion driven around London on our buses.”

“Censorship”, cried Core Issues Trust.

“We’ve just lost £10k, cried Transport for London.

Ken Livingstone, Johnson’s key opposition in the forthcoming Mayoral election, is all cried out after watching his campaign video a second time and just said we couldn’t trust the Tories.

The result: regional and national press coverage, guest appearances for Core Issues Trust and Anglian Mainstream spokespeople on national radio talk shows, Twitteratwittering, numerous blogs (yes, I know).  People even talked about it down the pub – the full set.

I oppose the views expressed by Core Issues Trust but this was a master class in guerrilla PR that Trevor Beattie would have been proud of, whether that was the intention or not.

In footballing terms, an away win – aided and abetted by a mayoral own goal.

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