Public Relations Train Wrecks

This just in: Your CEO’s birthday is not newsworthy; get over it.

The influx of available information, or shall we say the deluge of information on the Web, along with the search engine marketing benefits of press coverage, has created a cottage industry focused exclusively on garnering search positions based on public relations efforts.

Smart companies know the interaction between search engines and public relations is critical for garnering search traffic. Universal search and personal search are changing the way we view results with multiple resources placed at our fingertips.

This week’s Search Engine Strategies event is speaking to a cast of thousands, and while search and optimization are important, I thought it might be worthwhile to take a step back and consider the plight of journalists in the space. Those die hard masters of their trade are struggling to break the stories and dig through the clutter so you can get the real story.

So what’s all the fuss? Issue a press release, get some traffic, and call it a day. Well, maybe there is a bit more to it than that.

The Old Math

We helped kick off SES this week with a discussion that included two of the interactive marketing industry’s top journalists. I hoped (through sharing some disastrous attempts) they might shed some light on the issues facing journalists in the interactive space.

Rebecca Lieb, Editor-In-Chief of the ClickZ Network, and Brad Berens, Ph.D, Chief Content Officer of iMedia Communications, Inc., offered smart insights about how to get the attention of editors everywhere.

In the old days, one planned, prepared, and two-martini-lunched his or her way into the hearts and minds of target journalists. The press kits were executed in a most efficient fashion, and the story went to press (hopefully in the right context), and the world was a more informed place.

The New Math

In today’s world of blogging, social media, and speeds-to-market previously thought unimaginable, the considerations of old just aren’t practical, particularly in the interactive space. Sure, the old guard of press makers and public relations folks are still out there, but they have enormous budgets and a fleet of corporate communications and marketing folks to help them along.

Search marketers want to get their message out there, sometimes without thinking about the implications of issuing a press release. Compared to wining, dining, and relationship building with industry journalists, the wire service fees are relatively inexpensive. And sure, there are plenty of really good reasons for generating and issuing press releases, particularly if your company is required to publicly release information such as earnings reports.

Lieb was quick to point out that once the information is out there via a press release, the story has already broken. “When you issue a press release, you just broke your own story,” Lieb said. “With the exception of blog content areas, we don’t quote press releases.”

Now, there’s something to consider when comparing costs and benefits of simply pushing information out the trades.

You Buy This Now!

Among the tales of press release disasters was a firm that issued a release containing an article that was written by one of Lieb’s staff writers. While this example is certainly an extreme, mistakes like this occur all the time.

Another disaster waiting to happen lies in the lost art of the embargoed press release. Some newsmakers release information early to give journalists time to digest the information and prepare a story. Lieb noted that embargoes are all-too-often broken by competing publications or offer such short lead time, the embargo is ultimately pointless.

Dr. Berens offered some helpful hints in trying to determine what might interest a writer as well. Internal promotions probably aren’t newsworthy unless they represent a significant industry shift. When in doubt, ask the editor, but recognize there are 1,000 other people who believe their information is critically important.

“There are very few who are on my short list of people who get immediate returned phone calls,” Berens said. “Don’t assume you are on that list and understand that demands on our time are great.”

The editors agreed that carefully considering an exclusive for a publication is a good way to broaden coverage; but again, suggested that exclusive rights are often not honored.

Another way to ensure your story won’t be covered is to broadcast (spam) your entire press list with an email that is not appropriate for all publications. Berens suggested that taking the time to “get to know” the publication you are targeting is a much better approach to getting noticed.

Six in One, Half Dozen in the…

Are there circumstances when a press release is appropriate and the point of this communication is simply to inform? You bet. Does each and every move your firm’s senior management make require a press release? Probably not.

Above all, remember to coordinate your teams internally when reaching out to target journalists. A common frustration point between both editors was the duplicitous pitch; two or more people representing the same firm pitching the same story was identified as a key frustration point and a colossal waste of time.

If your trade is communications or public relations, chances are you have to make these decisions on a fairly regular basis. You have to weigh the benefits of breaking your own story against the likelihood of getting the attention of journalists.

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