I know how Rip Van Winkle felt when he woke up after 20 years to find the world had changed.
Recently I decided to send out a news release to promote my book Write Like You Talk—Only Better. Sure, I had written news releases in the past couple of decades. But, increasingly, they had become marketing hype posted on companies’ web sites, of little interest to reporters.
Different kinds of front pages
When I researched press release distribution sites, I discovered that they have become more about search engine optimization, splattering your links and keywords across the web. Even though I had been thinking about the more traditional approach of actually meeting reporters’ needs, I saw the value in this.
The trouble was there are so many sites. Most claim to offer “free” services, though few actually do. I asked my LinkedIn groups in my field to recommend specific ones. Nobody did, though some favoured the traditional one-to-one journalist approach.
Seeing as Google has its hooks in everywhere, I decided to pay a small fee to Google News, which should be filling up search engines and news services as we speak. I was astounded that Google will write the news, I mean press, release for you for just $20. I know I can do a better job than someone who could make more flipping burgers.
Then I randomly picked a few of the free services, nothing to lose: Briefing Wire, Press King and Newswire Today. I also tried a new service from Ezinearticles.com that I happened to discover when I was posting an article there.
One of the clues that these sites were more for search engines than journalists came from their insistence that titles be capitalized, contrary to the requirements of Canadian Press and many similar news agencies. The Ezinearticle service had a word-length requirement, even though I know from experience that short how-to releases are often welcomed by editors who have awkward spaces to fill. And let’s not forget how tiny those snippets are on the home pages of news sites.
No journalists have called, though I did pick up some incoming links. These sites serve a purpose, but it’s not reaching reporters.
Back to traditional media basics
I’m lucky to have started my career in government, with veteran journalist mentors, teaching me how to attract coverage on the front page of major dailies and television networks. It made my parents so proud to open their morning newspaper and see me quoted as “ministry spokesperson.”
I was flattered when busy reporters would add their byline to part or most of my media release or kit. I laughed when a major daily put my photo on the front page of their business section, instead of the dark-suited bankers I was trying to hype, simply because I was wearing a red suit and they were shooting in colour.
I didn’t pursue media relations because I didn’t enjoy following up with reporters, as the private sector demands. I also lacked the chess-like skills of my colleagues who knew how to leak strategically or brief off the record. I bristled at suggestions I “spin” the news, knowing full well that media relations is about honestly telling your client’s side of the story, not distorting it.
Changed, yet the same
Although the web has changed media relations dramatically, many of the same skills still apply. As the French more elegantly say: “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”
My press release to the online news services was just a warm up. The best results will come from identifying the reporters who might be interested in my book and tailoring a news release that meets their individual needs.
The question is: can I still fit into that red suit?
Thanks for the photo, Roy Prasad.