I had a telling encounter the other day with an “editor” at a distribution service Bouvier Kelly uses to disseminate news releases online. After the service had repeatedly rejected a news release that I knew was reasonably newsworthy and journalistically sound, I finally recognized the issue: The belief has developed in some PR circles that when it comes to putting news content on the web, the journalistic model for creating news releases is passé.
Three rewrites and all of the rancor I could convey by telephone did nothing to change the judgment of my twenty-something gatekeeper to online news sharing. “The release does not meet our standards for identifying sources of information,” she tried to explain. She was unimpressed with my contention that spending a good chunk of the last 35 years either working as a reporter or writing releases to pitch to them has given me a decent idea of what makes an effective release.
The “standard” I ultimately had to meet was to prominently and liberally seed the release with company and brand name mentions and links. “That makes it easier for online audiences to identify the source of the news,” I was told. Of course, it also made the release read like product brochure copy, but that was not a problem to my “editor.”
I get SEO. And I’m not an “old school” Luddite who discounts the value of maximizing the potential for a client’s news to become online content. But just because we want a news release to show up on business oriented web sites does not mean the copy should have to resemble an infomercial script.
A news release that’s a credible product of sound brand journalism, rather than a blatant attempt to pander to online news aggregators is possible. I have seen it done. Self-promotional drivel masquerading as business news has never worked, regardless of the delivery platform.
We all know about today’s savvy consumer who forms opinions and brand relationships with the help of information gathered from online conversations. PR people who think we are engaging this consumer simply by saturating the online space with brand mentions and links to self-generated content not only underestimate our audience, they lack a fundamental understanding of how strategic, relationship-building PR works.