Editor’s note: Daryl Toor, who has worked in marketing and public relations for more than 20 years, is founder of Atlanta-based “Attention.” He writes a regular column on Mondays about trends in marketing and communication.Prior to the advent of email, the managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, Paul Steiger, asked his reporters for copies of all materials received from public relations people – press releases, press kits, editorial memos, letters, faxes, etc.- over the course of one, single day.
The result: a stack of boxes and bins–two feet high and 10 feet long. That was prior to e-mail!
It is little mystery why few public relations releases- research suggests five percent or so – ever see the light of print. Not only are there too many of them, but reporters complain about everything from too much hype to too little spell check. But far and away, the most overwhelming reason why journalists summarily reject 19 out of every 20 public relations releases is that they usually don’t contain any “news.”
Most public relations releases contain lots of claims and fluff and overblown quotes, but little “news.” And every time a beleaguered reporter is forced to open yet another envelope containing a newsless news release – the public relations person responsible earns another demerit. After a stream of such worthless releases from the same companies and public relations professionals– reporters won’t bother to open the envelope.
So it’s in every public relations person’s best interest to include some “news” in a news – not just “press,” which a suggests promotion and publicity release.
What is news?
Well, in journalism school, they used to tell us that “dog bites man” isn’t news, but “man bites dog” is. In the new movie, “15 Minutes,” big boss editor Kelsey Grammer declares, “If it bleeds, it leads.” Since few public relations people ever write about bleeding men biting dogs, a more prosaic approach to “news” is necessary.
There are five discrete news elements are enough to influence an editor’s decision to use a news release.
Will the release influence society, industry or the community?
Will it affect people’s lives or how they do business?
Will it be construed as meaningful to many people?
Obviously, when a company announces layoffs, it’s news.
Indeed, certain announcements, such as mergers and acquisitions, expansion plans and layoffs almost always qualify.
But so, too, does the announcement of a truly new product or service, the relevance of which can be clearly demonstrated by a release writer. On the other hand, if your insurance company is the fourth in the market to announce a variable annuity product, the impact is debatable and maybe you ought to save your powder.
The recipient of the 100 millionth hamburger sold at McDonald’s is news. So is the 10 millionth passenger to fly Southwest Airlines. This could also be called, “human interest;” the employee, for example, who has been with the company for 60 years. Anything that goes against the grain– what we used to call “counter intuitive”–qualifies as news.
In a recession environment, for instance, if you have an Internet-based consulting company that is not losing business and not laying off workers, when all around you are– you’ve got a viable news story.
When Microsoft CEO Bill Gates and Oracle CEO Larry Ellison square off in public, they create news. People like to read about arch-competitors, especially those who hate one another. The same goes for organizations, which disagree with the mandates of federal legislation or state regulation or local administration.
A hospital administrator, for example, willing to speak out against national healthcare policies will certainly attract media attention. So will a nonprofit agency head who disagrees with the President’s emissions policies or a corporate CEO willing to challenge Alan Greenspan’s muddled management of monetary and fiscal policy. (But try to find one!)
What this means is that the higher the rank of the person doing the announcing, the more likely will be the media’s use of the story.
That means a vice president is more likely to merit publicity than an assistant vice president, and a CEO more likely than a product manager.
This is not an insignificant consideration. If the director of research unveils the firm’s study of consumer attitudes, it’s one thing. But if the CEO is the one doing the announcing, it suggests the importance that the firm ascribes to the research. This helps achieve publicity, because it suggests the study is more newsworthy.
This refers to two variables: localization and timeliness. Localization means, as virtually every organization in the world claims for itself, “thinking globally but acting locally.” In a news sense, this means modifying releases, so announcements are made by local officials and skewed to emphasize local developments. The rule is, the closer to home the news, the more likely the release will be used. Timeliness, of course, refers to piggybacking on breaking news events. Any such individuals or organizations willing to come forward in such an environment would more than likely have their views aired by the media.
All of this suggests that public relations people must not only be opportunistic and creative in their development of news releases, but also that they make certain that what they plan to disseminate –especially to the media– can fairly be construed as qualifying.