Mower’s Partnership with MassRobotics Rings Gold and Silver Bell Awards

The Mower Boston team won both Gold and Silver Bells at the 50th Annual Publicity Club of New England Bell Ringer Awards.

Presented by the Publicity Club of New England (now the PR Club), the region’s leading communications trade organization, the Bell Ringer Awards are a symbol of outstanding achievement for New England public relations and communications professionals. The awards celebrate and honor the teams that raise industry standards of creativity and craftsmanship.

Mower’s “Creating the Hub of Robotics” campaign moved MassRobotics from concept to reality as the two worked together to develop the organization’s aspirational story (Rallying Cry), brand identity (logo, website), strategic public relations and marketing program that helped brand and promote the compelling concept.

The MassRobotics team had this to say about our work:

“The team at Mower is a significant contributor to the success of MassRobotics and has been an integral part of our team since the beginning. Their creative staff has provided support from logo design and website development, to setting up and managing social media accounts. Our Twitter and LinkedIn are always fun and engaging, and it’s amazing the number of shares and comments we get every day. They manage our content, press releases and media outreach – we’ve had a tremendous amount of media coverage this year in print, online and on TV.

They created promotional videos that capture the essence of MassRobotics; these videos are key tools in our growth as we approach additional partners, sponsors and new residents. Most recently, they helped us celebrate our first anniversary in our space with a video commemorating all we’ve accomplished in a year. The video has been watched thousands of times and is being shared all over our social networks. 

Simply stated, the Mower team is our marketing department. We rely on their recommendations for marketing campaigns, messaging and more – we even asked them to help us figure out what color scheme to paint our office!

This extremely responsive team keeps pace with us, and that’s not easy in the startup world where you’re never sure what the next day will bring. For example, when we hosted this fall’s Robot Block Party, it was like throwing a party, inviting everyone you know, but really having no idea if anyone would show up. Mower secured so much coverage and facilitated so much conversation in advance of the event that when we showed up for it, there was already a line out the door to attend. It became one of the most attended and memorable events for all of HUBweek.

We can’t say this any more succinctly: Mower has built our brand! And we can’t thank them enough for their continued support of our mission.”

In addition to the tremendously successful launch, which received both regional and national print, TV and radio coverage, MassRobotics was also awarded a $2.5 million MassWorks grant, allowing the organization to triple its space, which was more than 80 percent occupied upon opening and reached 100 percent within the first three months.

Mower also contended for the Super Bell for the first time in agency history, the Bell Ringer’s “best in show” award, by earning one of the five highest scoring entries of the evening. 

Learn more about our work with MassRobotics by clicking here.

 

Measuring PR Performance Against Budget – An IPREX Conversation

sip_share_logo_finalYears ago a public company CEO told me: “I hate PR. I  know we need it, but I never know if it’s worth the money. I don’t know if it’s doing well. I don’t know how much I should pay. Yet I know we have to have it.” I was shocked because I had a deep conviction about the short- and long-term value of good PR. Yet over the years I have met many other business leaders who felt the same way. Sales are easy to measure. PR, not so much.

 

That has shifted with social media and easily-destroyed reputations, and an increasing number of executive teams see PR as a necessary part of building and maintaining a strong reputation while making deposits into the “bank of goodwill,” as one IPREX partner notes below. Yet they still have trouble measuring PR’s value.

 

At the IPREX annual meeting in Berlin, I asked a few of our colleagues from various regions and countries how they measure PR performance against budgets. It turns out, unsurprisingly, that performance metrics vary dramatically according to company, marketing manager and campaign. In a business where the only certainty is what you give — the effort and creativity devoted to building awareness or shifting audience perception — there’s a wide range of ways to look at what you get in return.

 

Michael Fineman, President, Fineman PR, San Francisco
First, it’s critical to benchmark campaign goals at the very beginning and obsessively measure and report on the agency’s progress specific to these goals.

 

Second, there is the intangible element. We all know when our client is doing well. When that’s the case, a campaign or program can fall short of its goals and there can still be a sense of success. This can be enough to keep a relationship healthy and moving forward, and obviously adjusting for better results. Conversely, if a client’s business is struggling or failing, it might make no difference if the agency meets or exceeds program goals — the relationship is at risk.

 

Kathy Tunheim, Principal & CEO, Tunheim, Minneapolis
It’s all about taking responsibility for being understood. That is what we help our clients to do, and we know we need to hold ourselves to the same metrics.  So value is achieved – and measuredas a combination of our level of effort and the difference we made in our clients’ business.  If we spend lots of effort but don’t impact their results, that is low performance.  The goal, of course, is high impact with optimal effort:  Score!! 

 

Casper Jenster, EMEA Director, IPREX, The Netherlands
We often will look at the level of effort and help our client understand what this should have cost with other firms or, based on results, if they bought advertising for that kind of space. They often don’t realize the value of what they get. Also, it’s important to note that level of effort is clear and easy to quantify, but results are not always predictable in our business. Sometimes they can be disappointed, even though there was great effort put into a program.

 

Nick Vehr, President, Vehr Communications, Cincinnati
We measure against expectations and report regularly for most clients. Our goal is to initiate a conversation with each client engagement/project focused on the client objective. When it is increased sales or market share growth, we look at how we influenced leads understanding that we cannot close sales — the client’s sales team must do this. Some of the metrics we use include:
  • Ouputs: the work we do/things we produce (content, plans, posts, white papers, etc.).
  • Outtakes: attitude change in target audiences as a result of outputs generated. This often requires original research for which not all clients are willing to pay.
  • Outcomes: desired target audience action (inquiries, leads, sales, etc., which typically become the client’s responsibility).
John Scheibel, CEO and Mary Scheibel, Founder and Principal, Trefoil Group, Milwaukee, WI
John: “You need to work with the client to find metrics that tie as closely to the client’s income statement as possible. And if you wait until the end of an initiative or campaign to do this, it’s too late.”

 

Mary: It’s important to counsel companies who are transitioning from sales-centric to marketing-centric cultures. When they are just beginning to invest in marketing and public relations, they often invest just enough money to be dissatisfied.”

Helga Tomtschick, Managing Partner, Lang & Tomaschtik Communications, Austria
One of the key metrics is the CEO’s personal satisfaction. The client CEO needs to feel like PR is an insurance policy. Whether there is a crisis or difficulty, whether there is good news or bad, the PR agency is there to help. If the client CEO understands that his marketing team and agency feel responsible  for his or her well-being, then the relationship will be strong.

 

John Williams, CEO, Mason Williams Communications, London
We have an agency mantra – Did It Make Any Difference? (DIMAD). We use this as a measure against all activity. We work really closely with all our clients to understand what results THEY want and, in our case, it is usually sales or influence of one kind or another. All communicators need to understand that a nice big piece of media coverage is great, but if it doesn’t make any difference to the parameters against which the activity is judged by their client the only benefit is to the ego.

 

Andrei Mylroie, Partner, DH, Spokane, WA
One of the things we’ve seen over the past five years is marketing and communications being viewed as a core business strategy for many of our clients. This is a big shift from the past, where it was viewed by many organizations as a more tactical service or department. Along with this shift we’re measuring differently as well. So it’s not just reach, frequency, ad equivalency, etc., but we’re tracking reputation, consumer sentiment and business outcomes in far more holistic ways.

 

Alyn Edwards, Partner, Peak Communications, Vancouver, Canada
Unfortunately scope-creep is part of our industry, and in media relations we are always trying to do more for the same budget. We often have to measure by number of impressions, and while it’s not the only measure, it’s a pretty strong one. For some clients, such as in real estate, the sales effect can be quickly measured.

More importantly, clients need to understand that PR is making deposits in the bank of goodwill. When you make those deposits in the bank of goodwill, which is commonly called your reputation, this will:

  • help sales
  • help recruitment
  • help with instant recall
  • and help dramatically in times of crisis.

We have had clients with significant food recalls, but their decades of deposits in the bank of goodwill have helped them through it. What is the ROI for having a good reputation? It’s unending.

 

PR Lessons from New England’s ‘Evil’ Empire

An informal poll conducted before the start of the 2014-15 NFL season showed the New England Patriots to be the NFL’s most hated team.

We can expect the recent Deflategate scandal, in which the Patriots are accused of deliberately deflating footballs against the Indianapolis Colts, to only fuel the rage of ordinary fans across America.

The Patriots have a lot of image cleaning up to do in the coming weeks, but it’s worth using this episode as a way to think about how New England can learn from its PR mistakes for the future.

Here are 4 rules for the Patriots to think about in 2015:

     1. It’s Okay To Be Hated, Just Not For The Wrong Reasons

While growing up, my parents used to tell me that people “love to hate you” for the things you’re good at. Baseball fans everywhere hate the Yankees for grossly outspending every other MLB team, for their ability to consistently make it to the playoffs, and of course, win championships.

It would be fine if America despised the Patriots only for their ability to win an impressive three Super Bowls in the last fifteen years. But I sense that emotions run high when New England is brought up for other reasons. It was only a few years ago in 2007 when the Patriots were implicated in another scandal, “Spygate,” where head coach Bill Belichick admitted to videotaping opposing teams to gain an unfair advantage. Belichick was personally fined $500,000, while the Patriots coughed up $250,000 and a coveted first round draft pick in that year’s draft.

During Spygate, Belichick immediately apologized and took full responsibility for his actions. To regain the trust of fans and revive the Patriots brand, it would be wise to follow in similar fashion. To clean up their image, the Patriots should stay away from sabotage and return to what they do best–winning games. Its okay to be hated, but New England is doing it for all the wrong reasons.

     2. Smile When You’re On Camera

According to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal, Bill Belichick smiled only 7 times this entire season. After reviewing 114.5 minutes of video from this season’s postgame news conferences, the WSJ learned that those 7 smiles come out to an average of once every sixteen minutes.

Some perspective: the Patriots’ season record was 12-4 this year and the team is heading to the Super Bowl for the sixth time in fifteen years. There’s certainly more to smile about there.

For a team that is mired in controversy, it might help if Bill showed a different side of himself than the one he’s normally used to. An attitude that’s more personable and willing to engage reporters would go a long way in shoring up the team’s image.

     3. Give the Media Something to Work With

Bill Belichick is notoriously known for conducting odd press conferences filled with a combination of curt answers that he then proceeds to repeat continuously. Here’s just one example from September of last year:

While the above conversation got a good chuckle out of the average fan, answering the press with vague, repetitive answers is only going to create more problems for the Patriots as they battle through Deflategate.

Perhaps Belichick doesn’t care to think about it, but someone working in Robert Kraft’s offices should take heed. This coach needs coaching. Giving five seconds of thought into the answers he provides the media isn’t going to cut it anymore.

PR works when there is a standard message being repeated confidently and consistently to the public. Pats fans have stood by their team, but a new poll shows that 50% of NFL fans label the team cheaters. Belichick’s shenanigans might win him Super Bowls, but it won’t help the New England Patriots regain the trust of NFL fans.

     4. Don’t Talk About Things You Know Nothing About

At a press conference, Belichick surmised that rubbing the footballs to break them in was the main culprit for the loss of pressure.

Speaking on Good Morning America, Bill Nye The Science Guy called out Belichick’s “science” as bogus and simply wrong. The only way to really change the pressure of a football, according to Nye, is by using a pump.

The best way to put your foot in your mouth is by jumping into topics you have no knowledge in.

Good PR means being authentic, sticking to what you know best and not veering off into unknown territory. Belichick and the Patriots should stop talking about the physics of pressure and focus on their strengths: stopping the run and making sure Tom Brady throws at least 30 passes every game.

What’s Next for Pats PR?

The only thing harder for New England than winning the Superbowl is shoring up its NFL image. Patriots fans will always love their home team, their star quarterback, and mastermind coach. But to be remembered in the the great halls of history, the Patriots will need to do more than just win. They need to engage the public and remind fans that they play by the rules. After all, no one likes a cheater.

Balancing Eyeballs, Wrecking Balls and Hardballs: Journalistic Integrity and Native Advertising

wallNewsrooms always put up a solid wall between the business and journalistic sides of publishing. This wasn’t something imposed by readers, viewers or listeners, but by the newsrooms themselves. For journalists it was a point of ethics, and they spent many hours discussing the ethics of influence. Being a journalist means that people trust you to tell them what they can’t see; if they can’t trust you do that, then you lose your ability to speak.

To see these ethical standards at work, just look at the ethics sections on places like AllThingsD or TechCrunch. Writing on the Huffington Post, Associated Press Standards Editor Thomas Kent points out that a key way to identify a journalist is asking “Does the person or his organization guard against conflicts of interest that could affect the product? If conflicts are unavoidable, are they publicly acknowledged?”

This barrier between journalist and business interest is becoming increasingly muddled thanks to native advertising. These strategies are very interesting for those of us who need to reach the audience of a given publication, but there is also worry about eroding the very integrity that public relations is designed to harness, thereby hurting just about everything we do.

Back in the 90s as a young news producer I tried launching a business segment. My ultimate boss, the station general manager, the woman who approved my paycheck each week, walked into the newsroom and handed me a company to profile. Of course it was a potential advertiser, something I didn’t realize until after running the story. We killed the segment not long thereafter.

Still, in small-town New York State, this semi-permeable wall was the norm; commerce influenced coverage. Big cities and big newsrooms had the luxury of building a far more solid barrier, and it was a regular topic in journalism school. We’d spend hours every Friday discussing the role of influence, what constituted influence and its impact on reporting. One of my favorite professors exhorted us to not eat the food put out at press events, lest we be influenced by some really great smoked fish.

In This Town, Mark Leibovich points to all the ways in which politicians and journalists become influenced by the money and access that flows freely around the former swamp on the Potomac. In this world, parties, fame, cash, food and access are all commodities, as long as no one openly admits to being influenced. In this world, Hardball host Chris Mathews can move from the political world to the “journalistic” world without missing a beat. The whole thing makes turning down a spread of bagels laughable.

This obviously has great implications for someone in PR, which is, after all, about “influencer relations.” Our goal is to be ethical even as we position our clients to be part of journalists’ stories. It can be a tough balance. An extreme case in point is Miley Cyrus. Sure, her antics gain lots of attention and selling albums, but is the attention she’s receiving helpful for the long-term viability of her brand? Sinead O’Connor seems to think not, though Cyrus acknowledges that her antics sell music. Why should she stop?

Here at HB we operate in the business-to-business world and don’t often encounter cases as extreme as a foam-finger-waving, hyper-sexualized, barely-of-age twerker on national television. Well, not yet, anyway. I haven’t had a client CEO publicly swing naked on a wrecking ball (at least not our client).

With this balance in mind, news organizations continually face a tough decision: how far do they go in trying to make money while also informing the public? What do they give up when placing one above the other?

The other day I sat in a meeting of people participating on a hyper-local blog and the subject of hiring came up. Given the troubles facing hyper-local news, including cutbacks at AOL’s Patch and layoffs at the Boston Globe hyper-local sections we broached the idea of hiring a full-time reporter to do the daily work of collecting news and information. To do so, of course, means having some sort of budget and among the ideas were display ads and native advertising. Display ads got shot down as impractical and native advertising had an “ick” factor that seemed to turn off nearly everyone in the room.

Still, local publications have begun embracing the concept. In a Digiday article, one editor noted that asking local organizations to pay for press release placements isn’t all that far afield from what they had been doing. “Preston Gibson, director of development at the Cape May County Herald said, ‘The content is the exact same content we’ve published [in print], but now we’re getting paid for it.'”

The fear, according to the purists, is a blurring of the lines between content that is paid and that which is editorially independent. Over on Business Insider, Henry Blodget points out that entertainment has always paid the news bills and sites like Buzzfeed have simply built on that concept.

Journalism snoots love to snicker about Buzzfeed’s cat pictures. What they’re missing is that Buzzfeed’s formula takes a page right of the playbook of traditional media: Successful publications and networks in print and TV have always funded expensive journalism and news with feature content with broad appeal.

The best course of action here is to clearly let readers know when they are reading “sponsored” content. As an example, traditionally we’ve understood when an ad is on TV, it interrupts the flow. Now, however, many shows are selling the content itself. Watch Hawaii Five-0 and see the good guys drive GM vehicles (the model names carefully written into the script) while the team uses Microsoft products. That’s advertising, but a lot less overt.

On the digital side my fear is that even with clear notification readers won’t really notice.

Years ago as a freelance writer I did a story about a local tea store for a beverage magazine. The shop’s owner loved the piece, but kept calling it an “ad” and even offered me free tea (I turned it down, see above). The idea that she confused a paid advertisement with an editorially independent article bugged me. She wasn’t the only one. How often do we hear people quoting something they heard about on a TV advertisement as “fact”? When a person argues a point and references something “they read,” do we question the source of the information?

While the stakes may be low when reading a car review and one may go easy on an advertiser, they rise considerably when that same level of influence is put behind more government-driven news, like a local article sponsored by a developer touting a change in zoning laws. This is already happening in the business-to-business tech media, in which many sites freely mix independent editorial content with paid submissions. The flags acknowledging paid content are often so obscured as to become irrelevant.

The bigger question may be “what’s lost?” If people don’t really notice or care when something is sponsored as opposed to editorially independent, then what happens to the quality, breadth and depth of the news they receive? How can they make informed decisions if the information itself comes from paid sources?

5 Tips for Before You Put Out "News"

How social media is taking over the news industry

If this is how you think the media will react to your release, time to rethink.

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.

PR Pitches Are Valuable Real Estate

In the spirit of effective pitching, I’m going to keep this post short and sweet. PR Knowledge

Communication is expressed in different forms. I get that. So why try the same communication approach across channels? Specifically, why do some pitches reaching journalists’ inboxes start something like, “Hi, XYZ. I hope your day is going well. I wanted to talk with you about …”

“I hope your day is going well.” – Let me tell you why that’s wrong.

The potential ROI of leaving that line in does not surpass the risk you take leaving it out.

Every word in a pitch is real estate, from the subject head to a signature. The value of that real estate is dependent on the order the journalist would read the pitch. Meaning, your email subject is the most important. It’s the first impression and what will get that person to delete or open.

The second most important copy is the first two sentences of your pitch. This is where the journalist decides whether they delete or keep reading. Chances are if you’ve got them to read that far, you might actually have a shot at closing the deal or at the least a response.

So why waste this valuable real estate on an insincere-looking greeting? Do you “really” care how this reporter’s day is going or do you care if this person will cover your client?

I asked my Twitter friends to chime in on this today and had some thoughtful feedback from a few journalists. Mitch Wagner, editor in chief of Internet Evolution, said “It’s a courtesy. It’s fine.” He followed up to clarify, “Pitches are entirely impersonal. I assume they’re generated by bulk email software. And I’m fine with that.”

While conceding that the greeting is a waste of real estate, Senior IT Reporter for Ars Technica, Jon Brodkin, followed up with “…the ‘hope you’re well’ doesn’t really bother me so much. There are tons of worse things.”

Roberto

So the basic point here: While it’s not always considered a rookie mistake to include a warm greeting in your pitch, you’re wasting valuable real estate and potentially lowering the value of your pitch.

Veni, Vidi, Vici PR

jobhuntersWhen I heard my client say “I was appalled,” I knew we had a story. It invoked emotion and played up the urgency of the topic at hand, which is cleaning up your social profile for the job hunt.

But it’s not the whole story. As I reflected on the success, I thought of Bill Murray’s wonderful adaptation of Julius Caesar’s famous tripartite: “We came. We saw. We kicked it’s ass!” There were essentially three stages to getting into that piece: Getting on the reporter’s radar, getting in the story, and getting the lede of the story.

Last week, Fresh Grounder Ruth Bazinet wrote about the importance of relationships in PR, reminding us that, while story is important, relationships and tenacity are just as important.

In this case, the story would never had happened without relationships and trust. Relationships opened the door and made my phone ring. Tenacity (not so much with the reporter in this case, but with other folks who might be able to help the reporter out) got both me and my client in the article. The story my client was able to tell got her the lede.

"Belgium Pastries" by David Blaikie

“Belgium Pastries” by David Blaikie

It’s not rocket science. But it’s not a simple story vs. connections dynamic either.

They say that cooking is an art, but baking is a science. That makes the PR pitch more like making pastries: you need a little bit of both.

Oreo's Tasty #Dunkinthedark Tweet: Deeper than cream filling

Millions were spent on Super Bowl advertising and in reality, it all comes down to a Tweet. That’s how Kai Ryssdal portrayed the well-shared tweet from Oreo during the Super Bowl in which the cookie’s branding people jumped on the Superdome blackout, saying “you can dunk in the dark.”

But to call this simply a tweet misses the point. Around the same time, Audi tweeted that it was sending Mercedes Benz some LEDs, a reference to the battle of the lights between the two premium brands. Certainly both were good pieces of content on their own, but Oreo was retweeted nearly 16,000 times while Audi got about 9600. Then there is the follow-on publicity, in which Oreo came out the real winner.

[Read more…]

Press Releases Aren't Dead! But We Should Bury Some Myths

Just because we don't type on a typewriter, doesn't mean typing is dead. Photo from geoftheref on Flickr

Just because we don’t type on a typewriter, doesn’t mean typing is dead. Photo from geoftheref on Flickr

I’m tired of hearing that the press release is dead. Sure, it was a great meme in 2006 and it spawned great discussions about a social media release or the press release of the future, but those discussions are over and here’s the fact: press releases aren’t going anywhere. In reality, a release is just a way to distribute content. It’s part of the process, but not your ONLY process.

The problem lies not in how press releases are written or what they do, but in our perception of what they can accomplish.

When we talk with clients about their news we discuss “news flow” not “releases,” because news and information can take different forms. That doesn’t mean we reject all releases. They have a place, but we need to understand that place and how they help a broader influencer relations program.

Here are 5 myths about the lowly press release:

  1. Reporters clamor to read your latest release: Most people think “oh, I’ll just put a press release on “the wire” and reporters will beat a path to my door.” That’s just flat out wrong. Most reporters never look at “the wire” and few will read a release that’s simply sent to them. That doesn’t mean it’s worthless. During our pitch process many reporters still ask for the release as a starting point for their story. They then add in some interviews, research on competitors and bring up past stories. You know, all the really hard work. So the release plays a role, no matter how small.
  2. Outreach begins with the release: In reality a release is the last part of a news process that begins weeks or months prior with messaging and planning. By the time the release hits the wire your PR team should already have spoken with the key journalists telling them what’s coming. Not all journalists are going to be interested for a variety of reasons (some don’t want news that will be shared widely, others don’t like to sit on information) but at the very least use the news to start a conversation.
  3. All our news is super important: Not all information is equal. That personnel announcement may mean a lot to the mom of the VP you just hired, but unless you just stole a huge, important player from Google, TechCrunch probably isn’t going to care. The question you have is whether to spend the money to put the release out on the wire service or just post it on your site.
  4. The “release” is the only way to get “news” to the public: Another strategy is to only put out important news as a release but put the rest on your corporate blog. Have a small feature coming out? Put the product manager to work on the blog post. Have a long list of minor features in an otherwise major release.
  5. A release is only good for getting: Why put out a release on “the wire” if it’s not going to be read by the top reporters? One reason: SEO. For many of our clients release distribution is more about SEO and Google Alert pickup than it is about gaining news coverage.

The biggest tip is to find yourself a good writer and let them have at it. While the release itself may not get all the big news coverage you want, some of the language could come up in stories. If it’s vague or somewhat confusing, then reporters have a tough time getting your story right.

Also, releases tend to be archived on your own site so they reflect on you.

Who Killed Journalism? You Did

We’re easy targets, those of us in the PR field. It’s easy to say that we’re slimy, dumb and get in the way of good journalism. Over my PR career I’ve worked with my share of morons and liars.

But not all of those were in PR, many were also in journalism. Many were also in technology. Many were in printing. Many were in auto repair or many were investors.

Yes, morons and liars are everywhere.

So when an unnamed PR pro writes that many PR folks really aren’t that good, he’s right. But he’s also just enjoying the fact that PR people are an easy target. Why? Because really, we shouldn’t exist.

Let me explain: the theory goes that if you have a good product or a good story, then you’ll get exposure. People who report the news will find you, they’ll do the digging and the work to grab the important nuggets of information and present those to you.

You believe that? Really? Are you sure?

I’ve had reporters tell me that they believed a certain topic was very important to their readers, but they couldn’t report on it because they just didn’t have time. I’ve gone to others with a story and been asked “can you just send the release?” Then a story would appear without any interview or additional reporting. Is this the fault of the PR pro?

Yesterday I attended a forum on the First Amendment at Suffolk Law School that included Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Eileen McNamara, Media Critic an all-around-good-guy Dan Kennedy, leader of the Nieman Foundation Ann Marie Lapinski and Linda Greenhouse, whose long list of accomplishments doesn’t begin to sum her up.

All agreed that truth is a major casualty of modern reporting. McNamara lamented the fact that today’s reporters don’t seem to do research in their own archives. They lamented the use of Beltway Insiders who regularly offer up quotes just to provide a story with “the other side” of an issue.

But Dan Kennedy made the point that sometimes sources have one key selling point: they return calls when you’re on deadline.

This is a real problem in political reporting. It’s also a problem in technology PR. Too often reporters take on the easy story. Audrey Watters, in writing why she left Read Write Web, noted that no one seems to care about Education Technology. This is a huge story overall, something that impacts not just parents and students, but our future as a nation. She writes:

What I learned — and what I continue to be reminded of with unfortunate frequency: the tech blogosphere really doesn’t notice education stories. Not really. Not unless teachers do something untoward on a blog. Not unless a tech CEO, past or present, makes a major education-oriented donation. Not unless there’s an rumored iPhone 5 angle involved.

Back at the forum, when I stood up to ask a question, I mentioned that I work in PR. A woman laughed. Yes, she LAUGHED. Yet, everyone in that room had been subject to PR at that moment and didn’t know it. The forum itself was an attempt to raise the visibility and importance of Suffolk Law School, especially among its alumni. That’s because Suffolk operates in a competitive environment that includes Harvard, BU and BC, all with law schools that have strong alumni networks. As a proof point, consider that Greg Gatlin, a former Boston Herald staffer and current PR flack for the school, was on the panel.

So who is at fault for the lousy and lazy journalism? Is it the journalists? Is it their editors? Is it the PR people who feed them crap?

No. It’s us, the media consumers.

You see, reporters write stories that get them noticed, stories that will satisfy their editors. Editors are under pressure to satisfy their bosses, the publishers. They need to drive traffic to the website, grab clicks, gain conversation, build “mindshare” and all those other marketing things. They do this by writing stories that are attractive to an audience.

If you write about the iPad, your clicks go up. If you write about education technology, you can hear the crickets. Write about large constitutional issues, no one cares. Write about Rush Limbaugh and you’re front and center.

So, do you want to blame PR folks for being stupid? Sure, go ahead. Want to blame reporters for being lazy? Feel free.

But next time you click on a headline, think about why you’re doing it and what really matters to you. Then consider if you really want to click there.