You know the saying the more things change, the more they remain the same.Well I was at a gathering of PR professionals recently and a number of issues came up. None of them were new, which was no surprise. But what did surprise me was that the topics that received the most attention were not new media and social networks on the web, what received the most dialog were the century old press release and press conference.
I was blessed to be a PR professional working at a media house for a very long time so I understand intimately the stance and motivation of the journalist versus that of the pr professional. And all the professionals that thought that I had it easy… well, yes the journalist and I did have the same organisation at heart which was our bread and butter, but each editor had different motivations, tolerance levels, deadlines and egos that had to be pandered to, to get releases in the papers. In other words I had to do some pitching like any other PR professional working on the outside.
Early in the game I studied the newspaper’s style of writing and matched it as best as I could, because I came to understand and appreciate the long hard hours that journalists work and how taxing it is to produce an informative, educational, entertaining, error free publication everyday. Editors are usually working on tight deadlines and a well written story already in their style is more likely to be placed immediately than one that they had to try to interpret and doctor to suit the paper’s style. I have seen a number of press releases that came to the paper and wondered where exactly is this person going with this – no news value and poorly written.
From my experience as long as the news value is high editors may look pass the quality of the writing because at the end of the day, what they want to put out is an interesting product. Press releases are looked on firstly as companies’ propaganda. In more recent times they are being viewed as ads. This has created a new set of tension between the media and pr professionals, especially in those organizations where the measure of the success of the PR is judged only on column inches in the newspaper. Is it then correct to say that if your releases don’t get publish that you are not doing good work? (This sets me off on a totally different road of what is the role of the pr professional and how should success be measured? To be explored in another article.)
Editors try to be fair and impartial in placing releases. Of course with tons of releases hitting their desk everyday and the space in the paper for stories rapidly diminishing due to ever increasing aggressive ad ratios, the onus is on PR professionals to do what I consider to be job 101 of the profession – build relationships.
Relationships should be established with all the persons on whom your success and the success of your company or client depend. It is not enough to write a great press release because it may be shelved because a bus load of people crashed in St. Joseph and seven people died and suddenly all the vacant slots in the newspaper are taken up with all the human interest, eye witness stories for weeks. And hey, this will sell a couple thousand more papers, your release won’t. You need to have a relationship with the editor so that you can pick up the telephone and remind him or her of your great release.
I have spent a mighty long time on the press release because I think that it is a useful tool and should be used in a lot of instances instead of a grand press conference. (To be continued).