Public Relations

Press Release Death – Why they don’t work, and how they should

Press releases are designed to get the attention of journalists, and recently, bloggers and search engines. They are supposed to be a means to an end – getting someone to write about your company or product.

These days, press releases and optimization seems to have become their own end. Press releases no longer boil down a company’s event or product to its bare essentials so a journalist has something to write about. Instead they are written as the best-case scenario of what the resulting article would read like: Praise for the product, praise for the company, and an “onward, Christian soldier” quote from the owner or CEO of the business.

Using a press release in this way, as a naked promotional tool, doesn’t elicit anyone to write about the story. Having submitted these for clients in the past, I know what a rarified thing it is to get calls from journalists to follow up on these stories.

Of course, I have done these to help with search marketing, not PR. The focus of an SEO release is quite different. Rather than getting a story to be widely written about, the SEO release is simply a way to get the links in the story posted on as many websites as possible, quickly. This too is only moderately effective, since bloggers still won’t care to provide a forum for press release spam. The best hope is for a spam blog, which auto-posts anything with the right keywords in it, to pick it up. Of course, sites like that have little in the way of PageRank, or readers, and only exist to get web searchers to find them and hopefully click on one of the paid search ads they host.

So press releases are noise that no one hears. Journalists toss them out, bloggers ignore them, and readers don’t care.

Why is this? Often because press releases are a sure-fire way of defending one’s work. They can be shown to a manager with report on the release’s pick-ups and reads. Both of these stats will be much lower than they should be, but compared to the last five that were sent out they look like average stats. If you’ve only ever gotten 12 pick-ups for a press release, people reading your reports won’t have any frame of reference to tell if this is a good number or a bad one.

Social Media and Press Releases

Traditionally, press releases did not have this degree of fluff to them. They are supposed to be concise, have contact information, and give journalists and bloggers a head’s up. If they are interested in the story, they should then contact you for more details. Also, if you know a journalist interested in said story, you then call them up and let them know it is coming.

This is where social media becomes such a useful tool to public relations, as it lets you keep in constant contact with the journalists you can pitch stories to. If you make friends with these journalists, and chat or help them out on stories when it isn’t necessarily time to promote a client, you’re greasing the rails for the time when you really need them. Journalists are always looking for a story, but a friend helps a friend when they can.

Press release companies are also offering their own solution for social media, namely releases with links, videos, pictures… things that catch the eye and make you feel like you’re doing something with this whole “social media thing,” when really you’re only adding creative elements that are currently en vogue. These types of releases are sold on their ability to “facilitate” conversations, which in fact rarely happens. The ability leave comments on a YouTube video does facilitate conversation – knowing people who are interested in what you are saying make them happen.

These kinds of releases are also usually several hundred dollars more than the standard release. This comes with no guarantee, of course, that there will be cross-talk from readers on the social media applications you list in it. It is a fire-and-forget tactic for social media, something that by definition requires your constant attention.

What you should you do instead

First, write a short release. Stick to the details. You want to give people enough of the story to whet their appetite, and get back in contact with you for the rest of the story. Don’t try to write the story for them – it just makes more work for them to cut out your spin and then write their own.

Second, if you have a lot of media you want to share, create a landing page or a microsite with the rest of your information. There you can easily provide your videos, forums, Twitter feed, etc. What’s more, you won’t have to pay extra for a social media optimized press release. This is also a far better option if you’re releasing for SEO attention, as you can optimize the page however you need to, and all of the linking will come into this page, and not the company you sent the release through.

Provide relevant information on your story – quotations, financial information and relevant stories, whether they are necessarily about you or not. Usually press releases contain only what the PR account executive wants the journalist to see. But a journalist doing their job is going to go out and research this information on their own anyway if they decide to cover your story. All you do is hamper their ability to do their job, which will not bode well with them.

Finally have a list of people you wish would write about your story in hand before you submit the release. Spend time reading the work of people who write about your industry, and leave comments on their blog, or DM them, or even call them up. Creating a network of writers to cover your story will help the odds of their actually doing it.

The easiest way to summarize this is to know why you’re submitting a press release: To get journalists to cover you, to get inbound links, to create relationships with existing or potential customers, or to be able to say you did “something” when there’s a need to promote. All but the last one are laudable goals, and each has its own strategy you’ll need to research before you begin.

The last one, though, just means you need to be fired and stop bothering the rest of us.

Responding to Negative Blog Posts

I have a secret to let you in on: I am not very charming.

I’m cynical, which to some sounds pessimistic – though to me it’s just critical thinking at work. At times it comes out sounding harsher than it should, which often bothers me, because I have such distaste for people who slag others and then defend themselves with a weak, “I’m just telling it like it is.” So when I get feedback about posts that come from this, I take it fairly seriously.

Last week I wrote a review of 12seconds.tv, a site that, I feel, has great potential, but has not realized it yet. I laid out some of my observations about why I felt the site was not as big as it could be – and most of those observations were negative.

I received responses from two of the people at 12seconds, and I think they exemplify how one should react to a negative post when it is about their company. If you find that someone is talking about your product or company in a similar manner, you could learn a lot from how they reacted.

The short version: Listen to what others are saying about you, respond to negative press quickly and personably, and be open to hearing from anyone who might read it later on. This is what 12seconds did, and I applaud them for it.

First, they found the post about themselves. This is a great example of the power of listening to social media. Anyone at any time of day could be talking about your company. How would you find out about it? Would you wait until someone told you their kid, who’s big on all this Internet stuff, found an article about you saying you rip people off, or make faulty products, or worse?

That could be weeks too late. In the meantime thousands of people could have come across that post and made permanent decisions about you. For example, I am a huge fan of the Fresh and Easy stores. I told my Mother about them, but she had read a negative review about them and decided to stay away. With her help I found the review, and it was a blog post that was three years old, and actually about their British parent company, Tesco. Despite all of the other positive press they may have gotten in that time, this one post made her mind up for her.

Second, getting back to 12seconds, neither response was an angry retort. Instead they were eager to share with me their differing opinions, and more importantly correct me where I was wrong. (Where I had said it wasn’t possible to embed their video, it turned out it simply didn’t work well with WordPress.) As a result I did append the post.

If someone blogged about your company and said something that wasn’t just negative but wrong, do you think you would get the same response by posting an angry comment on their blog? In most cases venting on the author will only make matters worse. They could keep your comment from getting posted at all, or worse, they could get their cockles up and just spew back at you. Then you’d be in a flame war with someone who’s only important because they created a blog account.

Also it leaves a far worse impression of your company to slam people than it does to calmly correct them when they misstep, and respectfully disagree with their differing opinions. Remember, when you print something on the Internet, it can last a good long time. While it may feel satisfying to lash out at a critic, doing so could follow you and your company indefinitely.

Finally, both responses posted an e-mail address where I – or anyone who reads the post – can get in touch with them directly. Rather than simply offer their side of the story, they went that further step to offer their time to anyone with similar comments or complaints.

Certainly responding to negative blog comments is important to show your side of the story. Asking people to contact you directly shows you are equally interested in helping people have the best experience possible with your product. The people at 12seconds did not need to offer this to me or the people who found (and will find) that post. I definitely commend them for their openness.

So always listen for mentions of your brand, and be ready to react when you find something negative or incorrect.

When you do, remember that you are not going to battle. Your job is not to change the author’s mind, but to get your side of the story out. Most bloggers are reasonable people and will be more than willing to let you respond to their readers. Posts like that can be turned into opportunities for you, if you play it right.