Spring 2009     News, tidbits and thoughts on improving electronic communications www.pwrnewmedia.com
Virtual Roundtable: Conversations with the Media

graphicIn our on-going effort to make sure the projects we undertake on behalf of our clients are welcomed and appreciated by journalists, editors, producers and bloggers, we continue to talk to members of the media about their needs and preferences (and update our products accordingly). This quarter, we’ll be talking to various members of the media and posting a recap of each short interview on our blog weekly. Here's what we’re asking and what they’re saying so far…

How do you prefer to receive releases?
First, we ask them how they prefer to receive releases (via email, wire, fax, in-person deliver with flowers, etc.) and virtually all have agreed that email is the preferred method—no contest there. As Edward Morris of CMT.com pointed out, email is “much preferred” because it’s easier to access quickly, keep track of, archive, and revisit at a later date when the release may be more relevant. Several of our interviewees pointed out that they’re apt to lose hard copies and a few haven’t seen a fax machine in years!

How do you feel about getting news releases from people you don’t know?
As many of our readers know, one of the challenges with sending releases via email into a newsroom is keeping your list clean. So we’re asking our interviewees how they feel about getting email from people they’ve never heard of.  In general, they seem to be very comfortable with it.  As Julia Rutland of Coastal Living Magazine pointed out, “That’s fine! How else are they going to reach me?”  In the words of JenniferB , mommy blogger and founder of foodallergybuzz.com, “it’s helpful if it gives me a heads up about things I wouldn’t have known otherwise.” 

There is a general agreement that they are increasingly reliant on releases as the need to create more content continues to grow, so they’re happy to get your news. However, they are also inundated with information so make sure your lists are well targeted and the info is relevant.

What elements do you like to get with a release (and how)?
Third, we asked what they want to receive with a release. Many of them underlined the need for content that is relevant to their beat, region and outlet. In addition, images seem to be key for some, such as Erin Erickson of FoodProcessing.com, who is responsible for on-line content. Others, including Stephano Kotsonis of NPR’s On Point, likes links to video or recent speeches he can use as sound clips. Brian Reich, contributor to various on-line and traditional publications, points out that “the more transferable the better” so digital content with embed codes or links are ideal for moving across the web. He also likes a personal angle to stories, so video or audio that features “real” people with authentic experiences is great.

Do you have any other do’s and don’ts regarding releases you would like to share with our audience of PR professionals?
When asked for any other news release do’s and don’ts, we got some great ideas from the folks on their side of the business. Here are a few of our favorites do’s:

  • Erin Erickson is particularly impressed when PR pros add links back to her site from their newsrooms. That’s a great idea and helps digital editors like Erin build their audience.  Erin also suggested including social media info in release since it catches her eye and she likes to add information about how brands are using social media when she covers stories.

  • Julia Rutland pointed out that Coastal Living has gone through changes recently and new columns mean she is on the look-out for new information, so she suggested that PR people check in with the targeted publications on occasion to find out what’s changing on their end.

  • Stephano Kotsonis likes releases that include links to coverage from other media outlets, pointing out that coverage from prestigious outlets will grab his attention.

  • Dave Stevenson of San Francisco’s Fox affiliate, like several of our interviewees, likes it when releases get directly to the point and position the story within a larger news context.

  • Brian Reich had a few good ideas (including some we’ve been pushing ourselves), such as launching a topic and time specific blog solely for the purpose of the release. Or, giving recipients a list of 8 or 9 angles to appreciate whatever you’re pitching. Or, putting experts on your topic in front of a camera, cutting up the footage and letting people select and use whatever works best for their own angle.

The most common “don’t” mentioned was huge files and attachments—Julia Rutland called attachments her “pet peeve.” Our interviewees also mentioned irrelevant info and releases that were over-spun and poorly targeted. Sarah Caron of the New Haven Register and SheKnows.com had a new spin on an old don’t, pointing out that many journalists now work from home so calling them is more problematic than in the past (work at home moms, for example, won’t appreciate you waking that baby up at 8am so keep in mind that the new media world is less office-centric!) A few also noted that it can be frustrating when releases or newsrooms are poorly organized, making it hard for them to find what they’re looking for, so consider including thumbnail galleries or other well organized layouts to make their lives easier.

Are you using social media and, if so, how are you using it to get leads and/or communicate with PR people?
To find out how they’re using social media, we asked our interviewees how they’re using sites such as Twitter and Facebook to find stories and sources and interact with PR people. Because the media is still adapting to this phenomena, we found a range of responses to this question.  Some point out that social media is just that—social, a place to keep in touch with personal acquaintances and not a place to conduct business.  Others haven’t yet jumped on the social media bandwagon (and some have no plans to do so soon). Others say they’re using social media sites to track down sources and get ideas. Brian Reich pointed out that social media is just another communications channel and should be used like the phone, email or any other communication tool. But a few, particularly those specifically in the digital space, say anything with a social media angle is more likely to catch their eye, even if it is just an invite to join a PR person on twitter dropped into a release.  

How do shrinking newsrooms and the shift to digital news coverage and usage affect how you do our work and is there anything you think PR professionals should know about that?
Finally, we asked how staff cuts and the shift towards more digital publications is impacting their duties. The most common point made—and certainly pertinent for all PR professionals—is that they are multi-tasking more and, as a result, are more reliant on good PR people. The drive to create content makes them more receptive to good releases and excellent pitches. It also means they are more likely to grab and use the digital content you include in releases. But, as Brian Reich importantly pointed out, the quality of content is still king so be sure you’re creating and sharing great info about your brand!

To read more about the PWR Virtual Roundtable, visit our blog weekly for recaps of our conversations with the press.