Adapting media relations to the Internet age: more to it than bloggers

January 9, 2009

Most PA and PR professionals have understood that the web is important, which is great. However, they often get very excited about bloggers and then seem to stop there, as if the web had nothing more to offer. This is a mistake. No only do they lose track of the many other online tools at their disposal, but their lack of a “bigger picture” focus also results in them treating blogger relations as nothing more than an extension of media relations.

I’ll be writing about this again in future, but here’s a first few points I’d highlight. Simply treating blogger relations like media relations, and approaching bloggers like you would journalists, is a mistake. Sure, there’s room for building relationships with bloggers just like there is with journalists, but whereas journalists write for a living, bloggers write because they want to. What’s the difference? Journalists have deadlines, and need to satisfy readers and editors, and thus appreciate good pitches. On the other hand, bloggers write about whatever they want to in their own time. Result? While a good, relevant and tailored pitch is likely to interest a journalist, it’ll hardly ever interest a blogger. It might even annoy them, and worse, they could publish your email address on their blog accompanied by a rant about how annoying PR people are.

To entice a blogger you’d need much more time and patience. In short, you’d need to listen and engage in their community i.e. comment on their blog (relevant comments – not “here’s a link to my press release”) and perhaps even have your own blog which taps into and contributes to that same community. Or an alternative would be to seek bloggers’ expertise to enrich your story i.e. involving them, whether by testing your product, completing your experts survey, or whatever. That’s more likely to get them interested than a mere press release. Read my previous post on this for more detail. Or even better, read Brian Solis’ book on blogger relations.

Moving beyond blogger relations, what I think can actually add more value to your communications efforts is the integration piece i.e. how you can use online tools to improve media relations and vice-versa. What could this mean in practice?

You can enrich your press releases: rather than just giving your take on an issue and providing a quote, have a more complete press offering where you have video interviews with stakeholders that you’ve filmed with a basic hand-held camera and uploaded to YouTube, and include hyperlinks to other relavant material.

In addition, you should look more at the “pull factor” i.e. making it easier for the press to receive updates from you automatically rather than simply pushing it to them when they might not even be interested. The standard functionality here is RSS, which is now available on most sites, and allows people to subscribe to updates at the click of their mouse. In future, Twitter is also likely to take off, so journalists can simply choose to receive tweets from PR professionals (and vice versa). To anyone not acquainted with Twitter, it’s a microblogging platform that allows you to issue short entries (140 characters max.) which will automatically be picked up by anyone who “follows” you i.e. who has linked to you on Twitter.

There’s also another element to the “pull factor”. The web empowers individuals and organisations, meaning that they’re less reliant on intermediaries, like say journalists, than ever before to find the content they want. Online, you’re the publisher, so PR and PA people should shift some of their focus from pitching stories to the press to actually making it easier for people to find the story if they actually go looking for it. This first involves producing good quality content that people would want to find, link to, and even spread. Second, you should then bring in a techie who can tell you how to produce content or adapt existing content so that it is optimised for search engines i.e. SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), meaning that your content will appear high in Google and other search engines if a user enters a relevant search item. Many people underestimate the importance of SEO. It sounds dull, it’s techy; surely nothing to do with good PR? No, in truth over 90% of sites accessed online are done so via a search engine, so having a high ranking in Google is invaluable. And a lot of it you can do yourself, by using the right keywords and titles in your content.

As for the other side of the coin, using media relations to improve your online content, at the basest level, this can simply involve showcasing news stories other than your own by hyperlinking to them. But you can also take it a step further. This may be a bit unconventional, but why not get the journalists you have an established relationship with to help improve your content via a comments feature? Or even interview them and put a video snippet on your site? I’ve interviewed journalists for a client, and they tend to really appreciate being on the other side for a change, they have a good take on the issues, are effective communicators, and are often well-respected (depending on the publication they work for).

In the near future, I’ll be writing more detailed posts on what a PR/PA professional can do to a) produce more appealing content online; and b) how to lead people to it.

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