Despite repeated attempts to kill it, or change it, the “Press Release” remains alive and well. In a way it remains shorthand for “we have news.” For many companies it’s almost like a security blanket. Quite often the first thing I hear from a client with news is “what should be our timing for the release.”
In that context, the release becomes the core document for a larger news initiative. Meaning, we may put out a release to support media outreach around a product or service launch, but the release itself isn’t the goal, nor is it the driver. It’s a piece of a larger news plan.
Despite their complaints about releases, many reporters continue to ask for them, since well-written ones provide the basic information in a handy, comfortable and easy-to-use package. Most will also want interviews, graphics, supporting materials and additional data, but the release gives them the basics.
But if you’re looking at your corporate information flow and only looking at releases then you’re missing the biggest opportunity of the changing media landscape. Sure, people talk all the time about “content marketing” and treat it like an abstract concept, but for companies looking to create a content marketing program beyond a simple blog, modifying how you think about corporate “news” can bring you halfway to a better content marketing program.
Here are five ways you can rethink news:
1) Examine your Online Newsroom
Nearly every company has a “news” section of their website where they show select coverage as well as a list of press releases. As you’re developing a communications program you need to think about the story you want visitors to understand when they scan headlines on the press release page. Do you want them to see a bunch of minor customer announcements, personnel changes and me-too features? Or do you want them to see milestones like funding, key partnerships and major product upgrades? Save your releases, and your budget, for those that you want people to look back on and say “I can see where this company came from and where they were headed.”
2) Don’t Start with a “Release”
The first mistake most companies make is starting with the idea of a release. Look at the news in front of you as information, then figure out what form that information should take. As an example, rather than saying “we need a customer release” think about the story you want to tell about the relationship with the customer. It could make great fodder for your blog, it could be an amazing video, it could even be something to put into another paid channel. Maybe your media relations team can use it to support another part of their outreach, but is the release necessary?
3) Think Visually
Even if you decide to put out a release and back that up with solid media relations outreach, any reporter who writes a story based on the information you provide will need a graphic. Sally Falkow will tell you that releases with graphics get 9.7 times more views than those without graphics, but also many reporters tell us that their CMS won’t even take a story without some kind of visual. You can make due with the basics such as a logo or a screenshot but you could be giving up a great opportunity for messaging and branding.
4) Set Realistic Goals
Not every piece of news you produce is going to set the world on fire, but not every news item you put out needs to lead to coverage either. There has been plenty of discussion about whether press releases put out on a traditional “wire” actually work for SEO. Some of our clients say it’s a valuable method of distribution; others say it hasn’t brought them enough to justify the expense. Some tests prove that the right release with the right SEO focus does work, but Google is constantly tweaking how it handles search, so what works today could be gone tomorrow. Much of it depends on the content, market, goals and, frankly, how much you want to spend. That 800 word release fully optimized for SEO with a solid infographic is free to put on your own website and in your digital newsroom, but if you put it out on a wire service it’s going to cost an arm and a leg (yes, paid works better than free). But if your goal is building backlinks, hitting Google News and activating people’s news alerts, then it’s worth doing.
5) Build the News Around Other Content Initiatives
Your news doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s there to build to your overall marketing goals, whether that’s driving traffic, building awareness, courting channel partners or just stroking your investors’ ego (don’t discount the last one). Your “news” may be a few me-too features that your CEO wants to get out, but chances are you have a white paper somewhere on your site that talks about an overall industry need. Tie the two together. Think about what support your news needs to be successful beyond just a standard 500 word press release.
Bottom line: Be creative!
You don’t need to just put out one thing, you have the world open to you. Think big, but don’t think just about the “media.” Sure, you may be putting out a new product, but what is it really about? It’s the core of your business, it’s the heart of something major. If you have a little money do a study, collect some additional information, put together a microsite the lays it all out. Maybe you can even create a fictional video series designed to build excitement. Even if you have few multimedia capabilities you can still be creative. Sure, put out the basic release, but then use the blog to put personality behind the information.