Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The news editor who used to read your press releases retired three years ago. Now, they just go into the garbage.

We all know about PR, don’t we? You just write up a few overly-complex quotes that sound like a committee wrote them and add some very long sentences that use very, very long words, and, presto, it’s done. You send it to every journalist, reporter, editor, news reader and publisher, alive or dead. Then they either print every word or assign their crackerjack, but sympathetic reporter to do a cover story about you. The next day, you’re smiling on the cover of the newspaper. Sound familiar?

Forget it. Doesn’t work anymore. In some cases, it’s not even worth the effort.
I say this as a former award-winning journalist and editor. I worked for a decade in newspapers and broadcasting. I respect the media. It fulfills a very important public services. But as a communications channel, it sucks, pure and simple.

That’s because the world has changed, and so, too, has the media. Today, the media has fractured into a billion pieces. There’s fewer local media outlets, but millions of others on the Internet. And there’s lots of newsletters, emails, and blogs as well. It’s messed things up so that local readership and listenership is down, but we’re all consuming more news than ever. An interesting twist is that many of us now get all our news from away – we don’t read, watch or listen to any news from our home town. And the media that is out there is so saturated with ads that finding your story is like looking for a fig leaf at a nudist colony. It’s around somewhere, you just have to find it. The bottom line is that the audience who used to consume local media just aren’t there as much as they used to be.

If that’s not bad enough, the media itself has changed. They’ve all cut their newsrooms. The experienced old hands are now gone, replaced by young, inexperienced reporters or even interns. Space for news has shrunk – fewer pages, shorter newscasts, etc. And they don’t have the resources to do much more than the headlines. Their stories are mostly reactive – fires, drowning, car accidents and the like. In short, the media itself just isn’t there as they used to be to help you in your cause. Unless, of course, your cause happens to be on fire, drowning or in a car accident.

To seal your fate, there’s the myth that free publicity is cheap and easy to obtain. You used to believe this, others still do. That means every non-profit, government agency, politician and business out there is also writing press releases. So, the media isn’t just getting your press release, they’re getting literally hundreds of them. At the same time.

So, what are the chances your press release will actually get some traction in the local media? Depending on the story, it can be pretty dismal, even zero.

The solution is not to give up on press releases and media relations. It can still work. And for some non-profits who serve a public role, such as hospitals, social service agencies and the like, it is part of their mandate to talk to the media. No, don’t abandon press releases, but do understand that it has limited value. Don’t expect your press release to work every time. So, don’t base your entire communications program on it.

Use your press release in conjunction with other communications channels (more on that in future Blogs). Find other means to hit your key audiences.

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