I've also had a spate of people saying 'we mailed you the press release; please tell us whether you're using it'. This is always better than people phoning to say 'did you get the release?' but the mathematics of time compels me to explain once that unless it's an individual invitation I'm not likely to come back and say 'I won't be covering this'. Take the 50 emails I've had this morning with press releases in. If I can get a 'no, sorry' mail done in say 45 seconds (assuming I use a signature I've already created), I'm going to spend a good couple of hours a day just saying no. So if it is a generic press release rather than an individual invite, I apologise for not getting back to you but if I don't respond, it's probably no, at least for now.
But it still seems to need saying.
I'm posting this piece from Andy Marken, an American PR of my acquaintance, practically in toto because I don't really need to add anything to it but I'd like companies and pr folk to read, mark and learn... I'd like to see a standard button on every corporate site that says Media Information, with the obvious categories in - including a click-to-email contact, with a phone number right next to it. When your company wants to reach me, they're all eager - when I'm wanting to reach them, it's like getting the Vogon hyperspatial bypass planning application. Over to Andy
PR/publicity folks are just like every trend follower..always ready to jump to the next "new/hot" thing. In their case to prove they are like way in front of the communications curve. Blogging? Fading. Facebook Like page (Fan page is out), Tweety? Oh yeah!
Writing clean/concise/meaty releases, checking the Press Web Site? That is so yesterday!!!
So what if the site is where media folks go to find/get news/data and where they go to get contact info? Just because the lowly company press room is pivotal for everyone, everywhere why should the person leading the charge stoop to make certain the company's press site had just the right information and that the information is easily available and fresh?
Recently we had to conduct some on-line research for a client.
We searched through more that 50 on-line press rooms.
We found news releases, white papers, literature, financial statements, product reviews and more.
The Web delivered up a veritable gold mine of information.
Almost everything you would want to know…except!
Way too often, we couldn’t find an editorial contact.
Tech support? Sure.
Sales? No problem.
Webmaster? Buried but there.
But no fast, easy way for a member of the media – professional and citizen media person -- to contact someone who would give them additional information.
For many we did find the editorial contact information…had to search but we found it.
But the “problem” bothered us so we returned to the office the next day to continue the unscientific research.
We chose five different product categories – video post-production, storage, streaming video, network management and network security.
We randomly chose web sites of large and small firms around the globe – 10 in each category.
The results? • Seven sites had no PR contact information…anywhere
• Five sites had PR contact information posted in the corporate information area, not in the press room
• Eight sites contained IR contact information which we guess could be used in a pinch
• Five sites required media people to register before they could access the press room area
• Eight sites instructed members of the press who had questions to fill in the name, publication and email blanks and send their queries to the company. Then someone would get back to them probably only with an email.
• Seven sites listed a general public relations email contact address
• Ten sites listed the PR contact information on the first page of the pressroom with a specific person’s name. Sometimes only an email address was listed and at other times they included email and phone contact information.
Nearly 2/3 of the companies only wanted one-way communications with members of the media…outbound.
Hey, we can’t produce world peace but we can make life a little easier for a reporter, editor, blogger, analyst or producer to find the contact information.
Most of the client sites now have one or more names and contact information listed.
We just completed a detailed analysis of the reports we received on global editorial traffic to one of our clients press kits posted on VPO (Virtual Press Office) following a recent trade show.
It’s great the way their reports provide detailed analysis of our show press materials -- access numbers by press release in the on-line kit.
Based on the perspective of quality, quantity and global reach the event was good from the PR perspective.
The information also raised questions:
- what happened after they read the releases?
- did they get everything they needed – photos, information?
- did they do an article, blog report?
VPO is a good service but it is only part of the solution for serving members of the media 24x7, around the globe. The PR web site – as Shel Holtz, author of Public Relations on the Net, points out in his books – is or should be an even more vital tool in your PR program.
Every editor/reporter we have talked to in recent years has accessed/used information from VPO on-line kits.
We asked members of the media what they expected from a PR web site.
Everyone had his or her list of what a PR web site should contain.
PR Site Checklist
What company PR web sites need isn’t brain surgery…its journalism 101:
• Contact information – real names, phone numbers (office, cell), email addresses, not email@example.com. Forget those forms we often see that requires reporters to fill in with their query and someone, sometime will get back to them. Clearly written PR policy commitment to get back to the editor, reporter, analyst in at least 24 hours (faster if possible). If the company has PR people responsible for various product or company areas list contacts so the press doesn’t have to practice the email shuffle or play phone tag
• Current news releases as word documents, not HTML or a month-long data stream. List them by most current date and release summary with a live link to the complete release
• Company and product background
• Technical/application white papers
• Product Q&As, FAQs, product data sheets
• How-to pieces and customer case studies
• Stock and in-use, environment type product shots they can download immediately without having to jump through hoops – low and high resolution
• Key executive photos and bios
• Industry and financial analyst contact information
• Screen shots and PowerPoint presentations
• Demos of products/services
• Executive speeches with approval to quote freely with direct PR access for added information or assistance
• If you want the product reviewed by the media; have a fast, easy method for the reporter, analyst, editor to request evaluation product…then deliver immediately after they have been qualified (you do know most of the journalists in your space right?)
• Prices – company stock and product (suggested retail and street)
We have received mixed signals from journalists about PR sites that request members of the media to register for access to the web site and the content.
Some think it’s a company excuse to grab his/her contact info to inundate them with “news.”
Others don’t mind.
Most won’t register for PR web sites.
They’ll get their information from VPO, calling helpful/available PR folks or by doing subject searches using their search engine.
The exercise proved the point.
By changing our clients’ PR sites information we’ve noticed an increase in the number of emails and phone calls from members of the media.
It isn’t an overwhelming increase but noticeable.
What is remarkable is how often they on the fact that the contact information was easy to find and easy.
Of course others on the Internet found the contact information as well.
The number of customers who wanted to “talk” with a real person when they had an installation or application question or problem also increased.
But that’s okay because we’ve found it is important to solve the issue before little items get blown out of proportion.
Editors, reporters and analysts need the information when they need it.
Not when it is convenient for public relations.
They should be able to obtain general information round the clock and round the calendar.
They shouldn’t have to “request” basic information.
Other Points to Ponder Every company can benefit from having and maintaining an online newsroom to provide documents, graphics and press kits to the media. Public relations shouldn’t be a gatekeeper in today’s global access world.
They should be facilitators.
Online PR materials are an increasingly important part of the mix. The problem is the PR site has to be easy to access, easy to use and be constantly updated.
Public relations needs to be able to use the content management software so they can update information, add breaking news and deal with crises without waiting for IT or the web team.
You need their assistance to promote news, events and activities on the company home page and have links to more in-depth information.
You need their help in understanding how you can track who accesses the press information and what news or areas are accessed and used most.
You need their expertise in gathering data that can show the value of the PR web site and the return on investment the company gets from the site.
And the point is?
The job isn’t to simply send out news releases and expect members of the media to use them.
The release should be just the beginning of the conversation, assuming it is well written, newsworthy and sent to the right person.
That’s the beginning of the PR process, not the end.
More importantly, because of the 24x7 availability of the Internet more and more members of the research and media communities are using these tools to flush out their reports, news items and articles.
If they can't easily find the PR contact information they will simply click through to the next source – your competition and another opportunity slipped through your fingers.
If you want the press to call, make it easy for them to call…BAM!!!
Or don’t complain (usually its management that complains about your “lack of performance”) when your company, your management and your products aren’t getting the full coverage they need and deserve.
We, as journalists, get dozens, sometimes hundreds of press releases a day (you should see the backlog of announcements from CES I'm still looking through and just wait for MWC). If you phone to ask if we received your release, it's very likely we will tell you that we don't appreciate this; some of us will do it more politely than others (I've heard colleagues deliver some truly ear-blistering retorts). The problem isn't just that if everyone phoned to find out if we'd received their release, we'd spend the day answering the phone rather than writing stories (or indeed reading any of the releases we get). After two decades of mentioning this to the PR folk I work with, I'm glad to say that it's much less common to get these irritating phone calls (because actually, the call doesn't ask 'did you receive our release?' because if you were worried about it arriving you'd use a delivery receipt or an email tracking service; it asks 'did you ignore our release and if so can we change your mind?' and if there's information that would make me want to know more about your announcement, shouldn't that have been in the initial release?).
I know juniors get to make these calls, which certainly doesn't help them build relationships with most journalists; your account director should be teaching you better. I've been told that PR-chasing calls are 'the client's idea' and that means you're not doing your job as a PR, which is to tell the client when they have a bad idea as well as when they have a good story.
What kind of calls do we appreciate? The ones that say 'Mary, we sent out a release on X and we think it's right up your street for reason Y and while we know that if you want to know more you'll contact us, we have this specific angle that we think fits the kind of story you write for Z and we have an opportunity for you to talk to A or B about it'. The ones that say 'we didn't just buy a list of journalists, we actually do our job as PRs by knowing which writers are a good fit for our client's products and press releases and how to get their interest'. Yes, with all that flood of announcements, it's possible we will miss a good story and if you're sure your announcement is so precisely the kind of thing we cover that you're surprised we haven't got in touch straight away we will appreciate you mentioning it - but if you know us that well, you won't be phrasing it as 'I'm phoning to see if you got our press release...'
1. Leave a message. A lot of the time I get a missed call and no message; now, I prefer messages by email and my answering service messages all say this, but if you don't leave a message one way or another, you're out of the race at the first fence.
2. Leave a message that tells me who you are, why you're calling - and why I care. Your full name, your email address, your company, your product - and why it is I'll want to speak to you. New product? Event? Interview offer? Feature list request? Job offer? Alien abduction report? How do I know which is which, if you don't say - and if you don't say, I assume it's not interesting. If the message says 'call X from Y on number N', I'm probably never going to call you back. Sorry if that seems harsh; but we're just too busy.
3. Leave your email address. (I know I said this already, but hey). The phone isn't my primary outgoing conduit. It's far more likely that I'll hit reply, search my inbox to reply to you or even type in the email address than that I'll call.
4. That's it!
Incidentally, none of this makes me any more likely to write about you...
You: a PR with a non-MWC client. You phoned me last week, may have emailed, proposing a meeting this week - you caught my interest. If only I could find it in the overloaded tangle that is my inbox.
If this is you, I believe such ads would say, contact me for discussions. PO Box MARY@. Must have GSOH, own client.
Will I please spam your product and use your SEO terms? Er, no. If I were to cover your product it would be in my own words. And by asking for free SEO, you're not flattering my outlets or making yourself look savvy; you're making it hard for me not to delete your release instantly on principle. Also, your press release is full of grammar mistakes (its/it's). If this is PR 2.0, heaven help us.
Thank you, I am interested; can I review it?
Who are you and what titles do you write for?
Don't you know who I am? After all, you contacted me in the first place - presumably you had a reason for putting me on the list?
This certainly isn't a 'don't you know who I am' reaction, but it seems quite inefficient to me that a marketing organisation would take a list of unknown journalists, send them information and then respond by not knowing who they write for. Did they not qualify or research the list? Do they not think that knowing which journalists to talk to is a key part of their business? Is it hard to see who I write for by looking on www.marybranscombe.com? Am I expecting too much and asking too many questions?
All the phone calls that Simon picked up while I was asleep were asking 'are you going to Mobile World Congress?'. Sadly the answer is 'not unless someone would like to host us. We'd love to go and meet up with your clients, it's a really useful show, but we just don't have the budget for the flight and hotel at the inflated conference rates. If you'd really like us there the diary would allow it, so last-minute invites most welcome ;-)
Also, I shall try to collate the posts I wrote on the road that post-by-email swallowed because LJ believes my mail is spam.
Current cat state; Pebbles has her head in Jeffrey's armpit and her foot on Calli's back, Calli has her feet under Jeffrey's tail. It's an extended furry patchwork... unfeasibly cute!
- Current Location:London!
Predictions for next year are common at this time of year and dailies and online titles will find them useful (print titles wrapped those prediction pieces up some weeks ago; dead tree media needs time to kill its trees). Sending them as a flavour of the areas your client can address or to see if there's a trend we'd like to ask you to extrapolate, with a note saying you're looking into the 5-10 year span we asked about is fair enough. Sending them to go into the 2015 piece because it's easier than doing the work involved in actually answering the query and being surprised when we come back and say they're not suitable isn't.
And if you're going to ask 'why 2015?' I'll be more impressed if you ask whether we're picking that year because of the AMD targets, the Cisco predictions, the Millennium targets, the Crossrail completion date, the climate predictions or simply because it's a round number in the 5-10 year period - because having thought about any of that before you ask makes me feel you're more likely to have useful predictions for the piece rather than just an attempt to get your client a mention, which gets the answer in the title...
BTW, for the benefit of my most-welcome PR readers who may be wondering what happened to 'the sweet Mary Branscombe' as characterised by TWL: this isn't a swipe at anyone in particular but at something of a trend in my mail in the last 24 hours.
You wouldn't want to sound as if your company actually had a plan now, would you...
I find mysef pitying the intern over at Rainier who had to read (or hopefully search with a macro) 150 press releases posted on Sourcewire to see how many such words I'm ignoring. "Out of 150 press releases posted on Sourcewire in June, “best” appeared 68, times followed by “latest” recurring 29 times and “largest” 24 times. Descriptive words such as “biggest”, “fastest” and “hottest” weren’t far behind." Andy Smith points out that you can blame the client and the PR both; and lots of comments abuse journalists for everything from cutting and pasting to refusing to work the way PRs want to needing superlatives to take an interest.
That's a six gun's worth of messenger shooting. Current press releases are almost uniformly trash even without superlatives. I often can't work out what a Microsoft press release is talking about because the language is so rounded and diffuse and marketed (like the email quotes santised by a marketing department to take out all interest, that I'll never use and regret wasting time on asking for when they arrive). But to me a press release is nothing more than a lead or a trigger, like a blog post; the real story I'll go find rather than waiting for it to arrive in a spoon. And I wonder. How many journalists do need to be 'woken up' by bombast and adjectives? How many do swallow the best/first/further, faster, furrier claims? Surely not many?
And are we to blame for being polite when we see terrible press releases? I cover the excesses of press releases when I do media training and I don't normally tell PRs their job without being asked to do so. But should we start saying 'this is meaningless - I had to look on the client Web site to work out what it was talking about' or 'that's plain wrong - it's not the first such but it is interesting because of x' or 'don't tell me what's hot/cool/significant - it's my job to decide that for myself'? It could take up a lot of my time - and I don't want to sound as if I'm insulting people who work hard and deal with deamnding clients. But if we don't say anything, are we implicitly condoning releases that make our journalistic lives harder?
If you are setting up a phone interview for me with a US spokesperson, please take a look at the calendar and check what UK time corresponds to the US time you've booked and bear in mind that the US switched to daylight saving time last Sunday (I know because I was there and because I haven't had my head in a bucket for the last month: your IT team/calendar software/OS updater might have told you too, especially if you work in tech PR/have a client in the US/read the news). That way I won't get the call an hour before I'm expecting it, or phone in an hour late when the spokesexpert is packing up to leave.
Ditto if you're telling me about the conference call that's the only chance I'll have to speak to the high level representatives of the company about your new aquisition. You may think you're giving me nearly an hour's notice but actually you're telling me five minutes after the call starts (and no, listening to the recording isn't quite as useful).
I know March is a weird time to put the clocks forward. I know we're not actually in the US. I do always try to double-check times myself because I find timezones very confusing (that's why I nagged the Office team until Outlook 2007 now does timezones properly, why I've bookmarked http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/ and http://www.worldtimeserver.com/ and why I appreciate being able to have two extra timezones on my clock in Vista). But this is one more thing in the rich tapestry of PR life that you need to get right, because it's part of the 99% perspiration that makes for good PR...
Especially if you're a journalist who has an alternative line in PR and email marketing...
If you receive a piece of email that has 252 people in the CC line, it's absolutely fine to mail back and point out that this is poor email etiquette. It's a great opportunity to pitch your email marketing services to someone who obviously needs them. But if you're going to suggest that it's a grey area for data protection and you also plan to include screenshots of your service in action complete with screenshots of a report for a previous project - perhaps you want to go delete those 251 other people in the CC line, or just not hit Reply All in the first place.
Just a thought...
Spotting inconsistencies, evasions, uncertainties and other clues: all in a day's work for us technology journalists. Even better if there's a drink in it ;-)
Hitachi on the other hand has a whole page of press contacts with email, phone and fax contacts plus press releases organised by region and subject, not just 'new is interesting'. The site is well designed for search engines so the right page is the top result when I search for 'Hitachi UK PR'. It's so well done I'm looking for other Hitachi products I might need to know about and I'll forgive them for claiming the VCR is the most essential piece of living room kit (if you don't say PVR you have to say TV).
It's not hard to be accessible; in fact it's quite hard to hide all your contact information so thoroughly that I can't find it. (Insert the obvious comments about marketing and PR being about telling people about your company as I did my fish in a barrel quote for the day this morning.) But I'm stumped! Come on Panasonic, I won't bite..
Magazines and newspapers produce features lists so the ad department knows what to try to sell ads for. PRs use them in place of building a good relationship with the journalist so that they're sure that if a relevant feature comes up, the journalist will ask if their client can contribute. A few freelancers do their own features lists and if it's the way you work, more power to you. I write for so many titles in so many markets on such specific features at often such short notice that my list is unlikely to have more than one entry that's relevant to any one agency and very few tht you could pitch on. Phrasing it right, keeping it up to date and distributing it would take a lot of time. I usually know exactly who I want to talk to before I sell the story. If I want comment for a specific feature I'll put that feature on a service like ResponseSource that publishes it to all the PRs who sign up. And if you tell me ResponseSource is too expensive, I'll ask you to explain why I should do more work to save your company money.
My features list for the next few things would read:
reader questions on Windows XP - sourced
Microsoft consumer-related people to interview, mostly from the US offices - I already have the relevant contacts
Battery and power issues for the FT - on the FT features list and I've had maybe 50 pitches already
ditto three other pieces for the FT
Camera reviews - sourced
MP3 reviews - this one I do need more contacts for
Failures in identity systems and what developers need to know - if I want to talk to your client I've been houunding them by email for a month
Motorola, Google and the mobile enterprise - sourced
A PR who knows me already knows this. A new junior account exec won't know this.But they'll have been hired by someone who ought to know it. Particularly if they work on the account for BigSoftwareCorp#5 who I have been writing about for years. If you ask me a daft question, I wonder how well you've been briefed. I won't blame you; I'll blame the person who must have asked you to do it. And if it's the third request I've had this month I'll wonder if we need to do a little... re-education.