Posted by Tom Foremski - February 27, 2006
I've been telling the PR industry for some time now that things cannot go along as they are . . . business as usual while mainstream media goes to hell in a hand basket. I've been saying this privately and publicly and having some very useful discussions on this topic.
Since I have a disruptive role to play in mainstream PR, here is my demolition of the press release as we know and hate it today:
The press release is a statement announcing a product, service, office opening, financial results, partnership, customer win, and a hundred other types of commercial activities.
Press releases are nearly useless. They typically start with a tremendous amount of top-spin, they contain pat-on-the-back phrases and meaningless quotes. Often they will contain quotes from C-level executives praising their customer focus. They often contain praise from analysts, (who are almost always paid or have a customer relationship.) And so on...
Press releases are created by committees, edited by lawyers, and then sent out at great expense through Businesswire or PRnewswire to reach the digital and physical trash bins of tens of thousands of journalists.
This madness has to end. It is wasted time and effort by hundreds of thousands of professionals.
Here is my proposal:
Deconstruct the press release into special sections and tag the information so that as a publisher, I can pre-assemble some of the news story and make the information useful.
-Provide a brief description of what the announcement is, but leave the spin to the journalists. The journalists are going to go with their own spin on the story anyway, so why bother? Keep it straightforward rather than spintastic.
-Provide a page of quotes from the CEO or other C-level execs.
-Provide a page of quotes from customers, if applicable.
-Provide a page of quotes from analysts, if applicable.
-Provide financial information in many different formats.
-Provide many links inside the press release copy, and also provide a whole page of relevant links to other news stories or reference sources.
And tag everything so that I can pre-assemble my stories.
Let me explain:
In most news stories, the spin or angle, is set by the journalist in the first couple of paragraphs.
Much of the rest of the news story is factual: what the CEO said, when the company was founded, where it is based, the stock price, the specs of a product, the price, etc, etc, etc.
There is no need for journalists to rewrite this stuff, as they currently do and then for production staff to copy-edit and to put in a whole bunch of links into the copy, etc. It is wasted effort because it duplicates work already done.
The journalists should focus on their spin on the story then assemble the news story from the tagged sections of the press release package.
Of course, journalists can choose which parts of the press release to use, and add other material--as they do today. But by using news tags, a newspaper/news site could pull together larger numbers of news stories and the PR industry would be helping the news publishers to gather the facts and present them in a near-publishable format.
The tags would be things like: recent share price, founders, first quarter revenues, analyst quotes, etc.
The company-provided content can be clearly marked as originating from the company (which it isn't in the news stories in mainstream media today.) And there is less opportunity for errors to creep into published news stories because of rewriting stuff from press releases.
And because we are dealing with tags that are attached to facts--there is no spin so there is no problem in printing the information as it is received.
If we can get the tags to be finely tuned, as a publisher, I could spec out a story and assemble it automatically and then quickly edit it by hand before publishing.
For example, if I am publishing a Google earnings story, I could say to GOOG's pr folk, for this story give me the content with the tags that compare this quarter revenues with a year ago and the prior quarter. And I want the share price tags that show percentage change in last six months, along with the share price graph and a photo of Eric Schmidt. Give me only the analyst quotes of Merrill Lynch, and give me a package of links to related stories in my publication, and also in other publications.
I can then give my two paragraph spin on the news story and assemble much of the rest from the tagged content, which can be edited further. In today's hard-pressed newsrooms, having access to some usable, pre-produced copy would be incredibly useful.
And this way, the PR industry becomes a partner in communicating truthful and factual information. And we save the millions of person-years wasted in producing press releases. We should produce new media communications releases, imho.
Come and help me figure this out, I don't have all the answers, I'm making it up as I go along--but hey somebody has to :-)
I'll be at the New Comms Forum conference this week, come along and chat with me about this and other stuff.Tweet this story Follow @tomforemski