POST RELEASE: Life After the Press Release Dies

LandscapeIt’s seven years since the ground-breaking post ‘Die! Press Release! Die! Die!’ was written.

Tom Foremski’s this-can’t-go-on wail reads as powerfully as a Martin Luther deconstruction of one of the central pillars of the public relations industry.

“I’ve been telling the PR industry for some time now that things cannot go along as they are,” Tom wrote, “business as usual while mainstream media goes to hell in a hand basket.”

There is no point, he says, in writing slabs of text in journalese, and sending them to journalists when the traditional newspaper industry is dying and the news landscape is undergoing a digital revolution whether it likes it or not, Tom argued.

He’s right. The future is the message being shaped as web content and as social media conversation that has to be two-way and authentic, fun and interesting. Public relations people, no, communications people need to realise this if they are to still be relevant.

But that’s not to say that the press release is dead overnight. It’ll be here but diminishing.

Twelve months ago at an LGComms event I pointed to Tom’s post in a presentation and explained why this was something people needed to know. For five years I’ve been pointing to rapid change from my very small corner of the digital allotment.

Other louder voices have seen what I’ve seen too.

Government director of communications Alex Aiken made a similar point although more forcefully in a speech to the PRCA conference reported by PR Week. 

Ashley Brown, Coca Cola’s global director for social media and digital communications, recently talked about the wish to end not just the press release but the corporate website too.

“For the first time ever, our PR teams are being asked to think beyond a press release or beyond a toolkit or beyond a launch package. They had to think: ‘Wow, what is a two-minute really high quality video that someone would really want to share with the friends?'”

“We’re finally breaking the last connections to the corporate website. I think the corporate website is over.  I think it’s dead. I think everyone needs to start thinking beyond it. How can you turn it into a media property and hopefully the age of press release pr is over as well.

“I’m on a mission. If there’s one thing I do it’s to kill the press release. We have a commitment to reduce the number of press releases by half by the end of this year. I want them gone entirely by 2015. That’s our goal.”

That’s fine for Coke. But how easy is it if you work somewhere else?

Actually, press release murder is a pretty tricky subject to raise amongst comms people. It’s akin to telling people the skills they’ve spent a career crafting are now not so important. It’s telling a room full of sailors to put down their 8301863218_bdbac61ef4_oreef knot and lore and learn how to service an outboard motor. PR people are often former journalists who have in any event spent years as juniors crafting the ability to write press releases. Every word is pored over and shaped by committee. That control gives power. To attack the use of the press release is to launch a personal attack on the career history of PR people.

In the UK, the Government Digital Service published a fascinating study – the half life of news – of more than 600 press releases on gov.uk that looked at the traffic they got. Many spike quickly then fade like digital chip paper.

But if the battle is to be won it’s probably not the revolutionary cry of ‘Die, press release!’ that will win in it. It’s not even a study of how effective the numbers are in getting a story across that will lead the victory, although that will be important. It’ll actually be you, me and the people you went to school with who vote with their feet and share the sharable content.

There is nothing so boring, I’ve heard it said, as the future of news debate amongst journalists because what they say will have no bearing whatsoever on what the outcome will be.

It’ll be things like Oreo’s mugging of the Superbowl with an image of a biscuit created on the spot and tweeted and Facebooked within minutes to take advantage of a powercut. It wasn’t the lavish TV ads that was talked about. It was the real time marketing team who made the sharable image and the 15,000 retweets and 20,000 likes it achieved.

Oreo-Expion-Screenshot

What’s real time marketing? It’s people making content that capitalises on real time events. Look it up. You’ll need to know it.

All this is why I’m finding communications utterly fascinating right now.

And you have to ask yourself the question, if you are not thinking of what post-press release life looks like now, what will you be doing in five years?

Creative commons credits

Sorry, no gas http://flic.kr/p/7vtFzZ

Coke http://flic.kr/p/dDBdGJ


COMMSCAMP: Die Press Release! Die! Die! And six other things PR people need to know…

There was once a horror train crash that claimed the lives of 56 and changed communications forever.

In 1906, a de-railed train plunged into the icy waters close to Atlantic City railway stations. Within minutes thousands of onlookers lined the banks to witness the rescue attempts. Journalists were close behind.

As every PR student will tell you Ivy Lee of the West Jersey and Seashore Railroad Company persuaded his employers to issue a statement direct to the gathered hacks… and thus the press release was born.

But in 2013 that trusty war horse, the granddaddy of comms channels is no longer the only show in town.

Shaped for journalists often by ex-journalists it has intro, headline, quotes and notes to editors. It works best as a means of providing content for print. Cut, paste and stick it into other channels it works far less effectively. It’s like starting a telephone conversation: “Dear Sir, With reference to your letter dated June 10…” it’s the wrong language for the wrong platform.

That comms teams – can we call them Press Offices these days? – are so geared up for press releases and print has troubled me for some time. In a digital landscape where digital by default is the aim not just of newsrooms but any forward thinking organisation they appear as outdated as the idea of getting your football scores by waiting in the newsagent at Saturday tea time for the Pink football final to arrive.

All this worrying about press releases isn’t new. Former FT writer Tom Foremski wrote his seminal blog post ‘Die Press Release! Die! Die!’ in 2006. I only came across this a year or two ago but it captured perfectly an iconoclastic wish.

He wrote:

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.

You can read the original here and I suggest strongly you do.

Now, I don’t agree with all of what is written. And yes, I think the press release still has a future. If a declining one and part of the mix rather than being the only ingredient of the mix.

At LGComms in Manchester I gave a presentation on this and six other things every press officer should know. Some of the points me or others have blogged about them. With commscamp imminent it’s high time I chucked it up onto the web for wider debate.

Six other things…

Every organisation needs a digital comms specialist – I’ve heard the theory that we should all be doing this stuff so we shouldn’t have people specialising in it. In practice, this is cobblers. To make this works every member of the team needs to be as keen and forward thinking as the keenest. Look around yours. That’s not quite true is it? Every team needs someone who is passionate about it. Whose job it is to hunt out new platforms, try them for size and then… share the sweets.

Share the sweets – Because it’s important that comms shouldn’t be the only people to be using social media. The best content comes from people in the field and at the coalface. Look at Walsall Council countryside officer Morgan Bowers, for example, and tell me that’s not brilliant, engaging and wonderful. https://twitter.com/walsallwildlife Footnote: tell the measure-all comms people that this stuff is supposed to be conversation and they can get their tape measures out for when Morgan sells out her courses using Facebook and Twitter pretty much alone.

Marry the traditional with the digital – Don’t just do one channel. Or all. Do the ones that are likely to work. A press release about a street being evacuated is just silly. A web update and a tweet isn’t. Look at Gatwick Aiport. They tweet snow disruption and post children’s stories to Soundcloud so fractious parents can keep their offspring occupied. You can see what they do here. http://www.gatwickairport.com/at-the-airport/gatwick-and-social-media/

Evaluation: Channel shift – It’s not the 100,000 people who read the press release that’s the measure. It’s the 150 who signed-up for smoke detectors as a result that’s the measurement. Even better is the £10k – or whatever the figure is – not spent on call-outs because the smoke detectors give better cover.

Be human – Sometimes comms people in their quest for evaluation forget that being human really works. Or as blogger Adrian Short says: ‘Speak Human.’

Innovate – Experiment, do things differently, see what works, look at what people are doing outside comms for ideas too. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll learn. Go to an event like commscamp. See what ideas are bouncing off people.

Lastly, a quote I love from 20-something PRO Jarrod Williams on what the new generation of comms people offer. You can read his post here: 

 “My generation of the Web 3.O PR will be a digitally native team with skills… yes there will be the specialists, but I’ll be the cost effective one, the one who will build your campaign, take the photos, make the videos, stick it on a web site, tweet about it and get your brand the press attention you want.

“The future is diverse, and the industry needs people who can adapt and change across all platforms, digital and otherwise.”

If that’s not a wake-up call to experienced comms people then for heaven’s sake what is?

The 1906 Atlantic City train crash.

The 1906 Atlantic City train crash. Pic: Wikipedia

Creative commons credit:

1906 train crash http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:1906AtlanticCityTrainWreck.jpg


BOW SKILLS: 37 skills, abilities and platforms for today’s comms person

Before the internets were invented life must have been so dull. Y’know, really dull.

You wrote a press release, you organised a photocall and once in a while TV and radio would show an interest.

A few years back the yardstick of success where I work was getting the local TV news to come host the weather live from your patch.

There’s been a change. Like a glacier edging down the mountain valley blink and not much has happened. Come back a while later and things have unstoppably changed.

Truth is, it’s a fascinating time to be a comms person. We’re standing at the intersection between old and new.

Former Sunday Times editor Harold Evans once said that he loves newspapers but he’s intoxicated by the speed and possibility of the internet. That’s a quote I love.

Here’s another quote I love. Napoleon Dynamite once said that girls only like men with skills. Like nunchuck skills, bo staff skills or computer hacking skills. For a digital comms perspective Napoleon’s quote could be applied there too. What you need are social media skills, press release skills and interactive mapping skills. And a bit more.

Sitting down recently I calculated the many strings to the bow that are now needed. I counted 37 skills, abilities and platforms I’m either using on a regular basis or need to know. Some more than others. Or to use Napoleon’s parlance, bow skills.

Out of interest, and to save me time in googling their associated links, here they are:

TIMELESS SKILLS

The ability to understand the detail and write in plain English.

The ability to understand the political landscape.

The ability to communicate one-to-one and build relationships.

The ability to work to a deadline.

The ability to understand comms channels and what makes interesting content on each.

WRITTEN CONTENT

Write a press release. The ability to craft 300 words in journalese with a quote that’s likely to tickle the fancy of the journalist who you are sending it to.

Use Twitter. To shape content – – written, audio, images and video – in 140 characters that will be read and shared.

Use Facebook. To shape content – written, audio, images and video – that will be read and shared.

Use Wikipedia. To be aware of what content is being added knowing that this belongs to wikipedia.

Use LinkedIn. To shape content – written, audio, images and video – that will be read and shared.

IMAGES

Arrange a photocall. The ability to provide props and people to be photographed and to work with a photographer and those being photographed so everyone is happy.

Use Flickr. To source pics, to post pics to link to communities, to arrange Flickr meets.

Use Pinterest. To source pics and share your content. To build a board around an issue or a place.

Use Instagram. To share your pics.

AUDIO

Arrange a broadcast interview. The ability to provide an interviewee when required and give them an understanding of the questions and issues from a journalists’s perspective.

Record a sound clip to attach to a release, embed on a web page or share on social media. I like audioboo. I’m increasingly liking soundcloud too. It’s more flexible to use out and about.

VIDEO

Create and post a clip online and across social sites. Using a camera or a Flip camera. With YouTube or Vimeo.

WEB

Add content to a webpage. That’s the organisation’s website via its CMS.

Build a blog if needs be or add content to a blog. That’s a blog like this one or a microsite like this one.

To know and understand free blogging tools. Like wordpress or tumblr.

COMMUNITY BUILDING

To know when to respond to questions and criticism and how. The Citizenship Foundation’s Michael Grimes has done some good work in this field.

To know how to build an online community. Your own. And other communities.

HYPERLOCAL

To engage with bloggers. Like Wolverhampton Homes’ policy suggests.

To be search for blogs to work with. On sites like openly local.

LISTENING

To be aware of what’s being written about your organisation, issue, campaign or area. By tools like Google Alerts.

MAPPING

To build and edit a simple map. Like a Google map. And be aware of other platforms like Open Street Map.

ADVERTISING

To understand the landscape to know which audience reads which product. Like the local paper, Google Adwords and Facebook advertising.

MARKETING

To understand when print marketing may work. Like flyers or posters. Yes, even in 2012 the poster and the flyer are sometimes needed as part of the comms mix.

INFOGRAPHICS

To understand when information can be better presented visually. Through a simple piechart. Or more interestingly as a word cloud or via wordle. Or if its packets of data in spreadsheets or csv files through things like Google Fusion Tables or IBM’s exploratory Many Eyes.

OPEN DATA

To understand what it is and how it can help. It’s part of the landscape and needs to be understood. Internet founder Tim Berners-Lee’s TED talk is an essential six minutes viewing.

NEWSLETTERS

To understand what they are and how they can work. In print for a specific community like an estate or a town centre or via the free under 2,000 emails a month platform mailchimp to deliver tailored newsletters by email. There’s the paid for govdelivery that some authorities are using.

CURATION

To make sense of information overload and keep a things. With things like pinboard.in you can keep tabs on links you’ve noticed. Here’s mine you can browse through. For campaigns and useful interactions you can also use storify to curate and store a campaign or event. You can then embed the storify link onto a web page.

SOCIAL MEDIA

To know the right channels for the right comms. Social media shouldn’t just be a Twitter and Facebook tick box exercise. It should be knowing how and why each platforms works for each audience. Same goes for the smaller but important platforms like Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn and Flickr.

HORIZON SCANNING

To know what’s on the horizon and be prepared for it when it lands. Same for emerging fields like Augmented Reality. What is science fiction today will become commonplace in years to come. People like hyperlocal champions Talk About Local who are already working in this field.

ANALYTICS

To know how to measure and when to measure. The measurement for traditional comms have been around. Potential readership of newspapers. Opportunities to view. Opportunities to see. The new digital landscape doesn’t quite fit this and new ways are being worked out. There isn’t an industry standard means just yet. But the gap has been filled by those who claim to be. The very wise Dr Farida Vis, who took part in the Guardian’s acclaimed research into the English riots of 2011,  pointed out that sentiment analysis wasn’t more than 60 per cent accurate. There’s snake oil salesmen who will tell you otherwise but I’ve not come across anything that will be both shiny and also impress the chief executive. Tweetreach is a useful tool to measure how effective a hashtag or a tweet has been. Google Alerts we’ve mentioned. Hashsearch is another useful search tool from government digital wizards Dave Briggs and Steph Gray.

CONNECT

To connect with colleagues to learn, do and share. Twitter is an invaluable tool for sharing ideas and information. It’s bursting with the stuff. Follow like minded people in your field. But also those things you are interested in. Go to unconferences. Go to events. Blog about what you’ve learned and what you’ve done.

WEB GEEKNESS

To truly understand how the web works you need to use and be part of it. That way you’ll know how platforms work and you can horizon scan for new innovation and ideas. It won’t be waking up at 2am worrying about the unknown. You’ll be embracing it and getting excited about it’s possibilities.

Good comms has always been the art of good story telling using different platforms. No matter how it seems that’s not fundamentally changed. It’s just the means to tell those stories have. That’s hugely exciting.

This blog was also posted on comms2point0

Creative commons credits 

Who are you talking to most? http://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/6810200488/sizes/l/

Reading a newspaper upside down http://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/2542840362/sizes/l/in/set-72157623462791647/

Photographer http://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/2744338675/sizes/l/in/set-72157605653216105/

Reading http://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/2477046614/sizes/l/in/set-72157614042974707/

Eternally texting http://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/4473276230/sizes/l/in/set-72157614042974707/

Toshiba http://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/4711564626/sizes/l/in/set-72157614042974707/

Smile http://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/5542156093/sizes/l/in/set-72157614042974707/