Why social media news releases won’t work – yet

In the comments Tina Lang-Stuart of Shift Communications (of Boston and San Francisco) is questioning my stance on the death of the news release and the benefits of the alternative ‘social media news release’. She wants:

To deliver some background information to the journalists via embedded links, attached photographs or video segments and related coverage and tags allows a journalist to put a spin on things. PR can provide the full picture – by being a new aggregators – but we should give the journalists the courtesy and freedom to use whatever information they find most valuable and then add their own perspective.

Tina so do I, but as John Cass has already said I think you’re missing the point. Personally I love the idea of the social media news release – after 15 years of crafting news releases in much the same way to be able to do something radically different would be great. The only thing that has really changed in creating news release is the delivery mechanism – most now go by email but I still know one or two journos who still want traditional post or fax and not email). For me it could be much more fun, challenging and interesting to play with a social media news release.

But that’s what it would be. Playing. You see outside of the ‘cutting edge’ tech journalists I seriously don’t think it would work. Many of the journalists I deal with like good news releases. It’s the only way they can fill all the pages in lots of trade and professional magazines and the business pages of regional newspapers. These are my stock in trade. For many of my clients a news story in Manufacturing Computer Solutions or Local Government Chronicle is far more valuable than one in the Financial Times or the Wall Street Journal – because it’s what their customers are reading.

Receiving well-written news-worthy news releases (and that’s one of the reasons for the distinction between news and press release) means journalists have more time to work on features and other news stories. Without news releases the quality of the rest of the publication would suffer. The only way to prevent this would be more journalists which costs money that usually isn’t available. They might want to write everything from scratch but the brutal reality is that most don’t have time.

Traditional news releases do “give the journalists the courtesy and freedom to use whatever information they find most valuable and then add their own perspective”. They can use them, edit them or discard them. The main thing is to make it as easy as possible to use them. That does mean cut the hype and try to use real quotes instead of the usual “Joe Bloggs is delighted with Widget XYZ…”.

The main reason that many journalists detest press releases is that they receive too many of them that are badly targeted, irrelevant to their audience and badly written.

The other problem I have with social media news releases is that they strike me as being rather similar to the traditional media kit that some of us have always created. Back in the early 90s I produced media kits that we posted out or handed to journalists. They would contain much the same INFORMATION as your social media kit. You’re only adding video or audio clips because the technology is now cheap enough and available enough to enable you to do it. I’d question if the content is that much different. The social aspect is tagging, but that’s still not too far removed from the idea of pointing to related coverage of the topic/product/person/company and suggesting some different ideas or perspectives on it.

I remember persuading clients that it was OK to point journalists towards their competitors and include facts about them in the media kit. If the journalist was going to cover the story they’d want to find it out anyway so why not make it easy for them and demonstrate we were good, fair, helpful, honest people they could rely on. That way they’d be more likely to come back to us for more.

At a previous agency we used this technique when producing a media kit for a law firm acting for the plaintiff in a landmark asbestos/mesothelioma litigation case. By providing journalists with a wealth of medical, historical, social, economic background, old cuttings and a wide selection of photos it made it easier for them to cover the story. The other side simply presented its case, with no added value. The result was a greater volume of coverage and journalists came to our lawyers for quotes resulting in numerous name checks for the firm.

I guess this means I was a manual ‘news aggregator’ before I knew what it meant.

However, that type of media kit wouldn’t be appropriate to all situations. If I was repeating it today I would no doubt deliver it as a ‘social media release’ with electronic photos, video, podcasts, a wiki of definitions, tags etc. But it would have to be the right story, for the right client and at the right time.

I don’t think some aspects of social media releases are really that different to what we’ve always done. Good PRs have always provided added value. And most journalists will continue to not have time to do the background research, no matter how easy you make it, so will continue to use news releases.

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About Stuart Bruce

International communications consultant and PR trainer specialising in online public affairs, digital corporate communications, online PR and social media; frequent national media commentator and conference speaker.