Monday, September 27, 2010

New Rules for Communications Chapter 10 – News Releases

In the “old days” press releases were for the press. An organization sent a press release to every newspaper, TV, or radio station they could and hoped that one of more would print a story. Many years ago I asked a magazine editor why some of the articles in his computer publication looked like carefully researched articles and some looked like “warmed over” press releases. He said because some “articles” were supplied by the organizations and were just press releases. When I wanted to raise public awareness for an issue at my children's school I supplied most of the text for a reporter. The ideas were mine, but the public thought the reporter wrote the article.

This is an older way of using press releases. In the financial markets screens display news feeds all day long. The screens sometimes display releases directly from the companies involved without editing from a reporter or editor. If Boeing got a large order of airplanes or IBM made a new discovery, they would put the news on the wire. Traders seeing the news react sometimes based on this news. That is why the financial summaries on the evening news report rises or falls of stock prices based on news events. Data bases within Factivia and LexusNexis give professionals and library users access to this news feeds. (These data bases are usually available in businesses and large university libraries. They are not available in the Chicago Public Library or the college where I work.) Listservs, direct e-mail, and groups send news releases to their members or users. Not everyone [1] in the PR business agrees that direct contact with the consumer is the best idea. I am of the opinion that PR people in the library should use any method, media, or technology to spread their message.

In business many people say that one must innovate to stave off the boredom. I don’t entirely agree. Within the library we must revise and grown on the established while we are seeking new ways to attract and encourage new users of our resources. The press release should be one of the ways we communicate not just with the press but with all interested or potential users.

A press release is an announcement to the public. It is not an opinion or explanation of how to use a library resource. There may be a semantic argument with the PR professionals. If sent to the “media or press” the item should be aimed at the “press.” If aimed at the consumer or public, it is “news.” For that reason we should be talking about “news releases.” Announcements or news releases may be made for the mundane or the special. For example at the beginning of the school year the library could announce the library hours. This is mundane, but important for everyone to know so that they can come only when the library is open. An announcement about a special award for a librarian is special and interesting, but not very important in the everyday use of the library.

New releases are written with the same style and language as a newspaper article. They should start with a catchy headline and indicate something about the content. The tone should be informative, direct and non-opinionated. Write in the language of the intended readers. Obviously if audience is children or teenagers, write at their level of understanding. The news release is more of a one-way information flow than other forms of information that are meant to be exchanges. Remember that once on the Web search engines will find your words.

Rules for News Releases
1. Don’t just send news for “big” events. Find good reasons to send regular news. New releases are for single topics that can’t wait for a full newsletter treatment.
2. Target your users, readers, and stakeholders. Don’t be concerned with the media.
3. Since the releases will be on the Web, include keywords that users with search engines are likely to use.
4. Include something compelling that will encourage comments or visits to the library.
5. Add tags for social media for additional exposure.
6. Make the length appropriate for the message. If more information is required, drive them to your web site, blog, podcast, or encourage a library visit. This is a news release not a summary report.
7. Make a separate section on your web site to gather new releases for future consultation.

Tell people what you want them to know about your library, your programs and your people. News releases do not always need to be cold and bland. Sometimes there is room for humor.

[1] Steve Rubel in his blog article, “Direct-to-Consumer Press Releases Suck” ( January 19, 2006 disagrees with David Scott. Rubel says, “I feel strongly that fluffy press releases that are not for the press are bogus. I am adamant that we should not be spamming the press releases wires. ... Put your energy into launching blogs and engaging in direct-to-consumer conversations.”

No comments: