I want you to go on a diet, communicators. A press release diet.
While you’re fanning yourself in horror, let me explain. This idea stems from two separate trains of thought.
The first is my conviction that not enough communications shops are using social media to replace old and outdated practices in communications, instead piling on social tasks along with the traditional to-do list.
The second is the persistent drumbeat I hear from reporters who keep telling me how overwhelmed they are with press releases—press releases that rarely wind up generating press coverage, because they’re not newsworthy, too long, or have been sent to reporters who will never, ever use them because they don’t cover anything remotely like what’s in the release.
Are some news releases full of real news and fiber? Sure, but most are not.
I’ve been wondering for some time whether the press release was dead, but communicators keep defending and issuing them, and reporters keep deleting, ignoring, and not using them. Instead of listening to that feedback, an entire industry of activity has sprung up around the reporters’ persistent ignoring of press releases.
Call them the “empty calories” in the press release diet: There are phone calls to see whether the release was received, phone calls to pitch the ideas contained in the release, phone calls to see if the voicemail was received, images attached to the release, HTML-laden “social media news releases” so reporters can share the releases to social sites (as if), and best of all, reports to clients about how many of these please-don’t-ignore-the-release tasks were accomplished—which are not really measures of anything nutritious. And please don’t tell me how useful releases are for other audiences. That means they aren’t targeted to reporters.
So let me suggest what you will do (and not do) during the time you’re on the diet. It is (ahem) a 12-step program:
1. Set a reasonable time period: Try three to six months. Call it a pilot project internally and externally—something you’re going to try, measure, and evaluate. This isn’t an overnight thing. You can burn off stress by ripping up your media directories, or going for a run. You remember running.
2. Stop doing this: You will not research, write, edit, release, or pitch press releases during the time you’re on the press release diet. (Quiet “Woo-hoo!” allowed.)
3. Make a baseline: You will, however, tote up the hours and people used to do the activities in No. 1 above, on average, as a comparison baseline. This is a must.
4. Blog your news: Start using a blog (an existing one or one created for this purpose) to post announcements large and small. Don’t write up your news in news release format. Just don’t. Instead, write it as it deserves: A short congrats to your award winners, a bulleted list of new resources, etc.
Each blog post will include any photos, links, and additional material (full documents, etc.) to make clear what’s in the announcement, and you’ll tag each of these posts something like “news announcement” to make clear what it is. Try this before you dismiss it. In two weeks, it’ll feel normal.
Read More ammo for the press release diet: Blogs as sources of news to get recent data on how journalists are sourcing more from blogs and less from press releases.
5. Make the blog easy to follow: You’ll make sure the blog has an RSS feed, and that you use it to offer email subscriptions and feed-reader subscriptions so users can get direct notifications of new posts.
6. Make a reporter’s day: You’ll send out an email (no phone calls, please) to reporters on your list, with “X Organization is Going on The Press Release Diet” as the subject line. Let them know the pointers to the blog where you’ll be publishing new announcements and let them know you won’t be sending news releases any more. Don’t forget to let bloggers in your subject areas know about this approach and where your announcements will be. At this stage, your shoulders should be lower, or at least not up around your ears.
7. Replace pitches with Twitter alerts, AllTop, Digg, and Reddit: Add a Twitter feed that links to the blog announcements. Use hashtags and keywords judiciously to make sure the announcements are findable. Don’t pitch reporters using Twitter, but do let them know in your email to them (see No. 5) which Twitter feed will let them see what’s new on the blog.
Make sure you post to Digg and Reddit, and apply to AllTop to get your blog posts fed directly to that site under the most pertinent category. Take an hour to update your LinkedIn profile, using that voluminous free time.
8. Give them a high sign: Once a month, post to your blog about the topics for upcoming news you can anticipate in the coming month. You can do this. Bonus points if you do it on a consistent day of the week or month and alert reporters to that in the email you’re sending (see No. 6).
9. Get shared: Post the blog posts to Facebook, and add tags for any named sources, institutions, or companies on Facebook mentioned in the post. Got video or images in this announcement? Post it on YouTube and Pinterest with links back to the blog. If a slide presentation is part of the package, post it on SlideShare. Add your favorite sharing sites to this list, too. Figure out who on your team or circles is being followed by lots of reporters, and be sure to share things with them. Keep track of shares. Thank people for sharing. Share their stuff in return.
10. Measure time: Keep tabs during the pilot project on who spends how much time doing what, so you can compare it against your baseline in No. 3. Take your lunch hour. Leave work on time.
11. In your spare time: I’m expecting this to cut down your hours filled with non-nutritious activity. What to do in those empty hours? Start to tip more, pitch less to reporters and figure out how to get called back again when you do talk to reporters. Go to some meetups where reporters hang out and talk about your press release diet. Start following reporters on Facebook and Twitter to learn about what they’re really covering instead of your press releases. Throw out those media list directories.
Celebrate how nice it is not to pitch like a robot. Take some freelance writers out to lunch to learn what they want to cover. Spend time thanking the reporters who do cover you and give them an exclusive on something they would actually cover. I could go on…
12. Keep track of extras and benefits: Keep track of the secret sauce of this experiment, from comments from reporters to your social media statistics. Are you seeing coverage from more and different places? What’s that doing to your traffic? Who’s sharing your stuff, where and with whom? Who has made it a point to thank you for doing this? Most important, how many person-hours do you now have available to deal with more important stuff?
Everyone loves to cheat on a diet, and I can already hear you thinking, “What if I have Real News, and I promise only to send the release to reporters who cover that topic?” That’s where this experiment could get interesting, frankly. If you cheat on the diet at that point, you’ll never really know whether my method works, will you? So stick with it, even for your big news. If you’ve done the right set-up, as noted above, you’ll get coverage for Real News. (Now, go have a heart-to-heart with yourself over what Real News means.)
It will take time to break the habits involved in a traditional approach to getting media coverage, and, yes, you may see a downtick in coverage during this experiment. But I’m expecting you’ll make up for that in improved productivity, better relationships with reporters, and excellent views and shares now that you’re using social media more productively.