A couple of years ago a Silicon Valley tech/media blogger sent a challenge out to the PR industry: “Die! Press release! Die! Die! Die!.” His point was that the traditional press release wasn’t helpful to journalists working in a Web 2.0 world. He offered some ideas for a better model, gave a business example of how one might work, and asked for help from the PR industry in coming up with more ideas. The industry responded.
A few months later SHIFT communications in Boston issued a pretty revolutionary Social Media Press Release template. While the total package outlined in the format isn’t yet in wide use–in part because many journalists don’t completely inhabit the Web 2.0 world yet and in part because of the comfortable familiarity of media relations practitioners with text press releases—it’s caused widespread discussion about how communications professionals seeking media coverage can be more helpful to journalists.
Take a look at the template, and its equally interesting follow-up—the social media website newsroom template, also developed by SHIFT. Start thinking about pieces of these two that might make sense for your nonprofit to adopt. SHIFT itself is quick to point out these two templates are not rule books, but tools to get you thinking about new ways of doing things. And yes, they make take more work to create and maintain.
As for the news release, it’s unlikely you need Technorati or Digg options, podcast or video links, or comments capability. But pay attention to the way the information is presented—this is not writing the story for the reporter, it’s giving reporters the background and basics to write a better story themselves.You’re anticipating their needs by providing photos, graphics, and pre-approved quotes, all in a hierarchical format that reflects their work process. For more complex or dynamic news, a link to a specially created social bookmarking page offering a breadth of related resources could be worth its weight in gold.
What I especially like about the release template is that it forces you to be more strategic. The quality of the release isn’t based on how well you can write but on how well you understand what you want the media outcome to be. You’re shaping the story in a bigger way—linking to other online resources that can lead a reporter to information and insights. (Admittedly, for small news organizations, you still may want to write the story for them.)
If your news can’t stand on its own—I think it’s going to be harder to build a robust release using this format. And that’s good, because no matter what kind of release you issue, the single most important thing is its genuine newsworthiness. You need to be unsparingly realistic when you’re deciding that.
If your organization generates enough news to warrant a newsroom on your website, the newsroom template offers terrific ideas and a great way to think about organizing rich content that keeps it easy to navigate. Here’s a little presentation that explains the template in more detail. Also, here are more tips from R. Craig Lefebvre on what to include in your online newsroom, based on research with reporters.
It’s worth noting that few of these communications pieces are really new—traditional press packets always had backgrounders, photos, institutional boilerplate, quotes, lists of potential interviewees, even reprints of relevant news articles. But new delivery strategies save reporters’ time and trouble, while helping them understand the story better.
Adapting old practices to new technologies is never easy, but at some point we all have to acknowledge that the tools of communication are changing fast and to stay relevant, we’re going to have to use them intelligently.