What PR agencies can learn from news organizations.
The hard drive of every PR pro is crammed full of them. The inbox of every reporter is groaning from them. Even as pundits predict their passing, the market for them in Google AdWords is competitive and costly.
What are they? News releases. Unloved but ubiquitous, the release dates back to the founding of our industry. Of course, that was in 1906, when you needed a full-length novel to capture the public’s attention. A few things have changed since then, yet the staple of our industry resists modernization. No wonder every year brings forth those declarations of death.
In fact, we can resuscitate our old friend with a variety of tactical tweaks. The trick: we need to stop thinking like a flack and start thinking like a hack—specifically, like editors at today’s buzziest news outlets.
For example, think about the message you’re sending when you refer to your emails as a “blast.” Do you really want to conjure up an image of spam (or bacn) clogging an inbox?
Or consider your sign-up form. Do you thoughtlessly ask people to “subscribe” or to “submit” their email address? C’mon, you can do better than that! Take a cue from the presidential aspirants, who carefully label their CTA buttons “I’m in” (Ted Cruz) and “Join us” (Hillary).
In other words: seize every opportunity for a semantic nudge (a subject I’ve plumbed at length in another deck, Sweat the Small Stuff).
A few more questions to spur your mental gears:
In today’s the-world-is-flat era, few things can differentiate you better than polished communication skills. Indeed, even at the world’s top PR agencies—among people who make their living off the written word—those who can write well are shockingly few (and increasingly well-compensated).
Happily, the mechanics of good writing are eminently learnable. For most of us, the problem is readily diagnosable: our last English class was in college, and from our corporate perch today, we look down on continuing education—“Do I really need a two-hour seminar on something I do every day?”
News outlets should be mortified by the way they describe themselves on Twitter.
Every high schooler knows that you can’t choose your nickname. Happily, social media offers a remedy for people of all ages: the chance to write your own bio.
This ability to self-brand is priceless. Yet many fumble it. In fact, major media outlets approach their Twitter bios as if they were students cramming to finish their homework on the bus, rather than world-class wordsmiths. At a time when publishers are increasingly interested in driving social traffic to their sites, such box-checking results in a lost opportunity
Does this description hit close to home? Does your Twitter bio read like a homework assignment dashed off en route to class? Fear not: here are 11 ways to burnish your brand.
For today’s communications pro, it’s the $64,000 question. When you describe it, your clients roll their eyes. When you report it, you’re lampooned. If you’re honest with yourself, you know that every now and then you fake it.
And yet, the requests for it never stop.
What is “it”? It’s the return on investment (ROI) of social media. After all, if you can’t measure it, you can’t market it.
This is what happens when you let an engineer write your website copy:
“Sorry, this page isn’t available. The link you followed may be broken, or the page may have been removed.”
Gee, thanks, Facebook. Couldn’t you at least have displayed a list of similar pages? Maybe linked to some frequently asked questions? At the least, you could have conveyed a witty apology or summoned a brand-appropriate quote. And, if all else fails, bring forth a kitten pic!
Sadly, Google is no better than its neighbor to the north. Here’s what the minds of Mountain View deign to tell the poor soul who gets lost on google.com:
“404. That’s an error. The requested URL was not found on this server. That’s all we know.”
Really—that’s all? That’s the best message a company known for its NSA-like amount of data, along with its whimsical and beloved doodles, can conjure up?
Surely, you jest.
You can tell a lot about a person from the way he emails.
Who would you want to have a beer with?
That question kept racing through my mind as I read the replies to a solicitation I recently sent out. The emails, which within an hour numbered more than a dozen, ranged from the pedestrian to the eloquent.
I’m publishing a representative handful to correct a widespread misperception among consultants in every industry: from publicists to painters to pet-sitters, what ultimately separates the winning vendor from the runners up isn’t the quality of your work. It’s whether people want to work with you. In other words, your likability.
Whether you love it or love to hate it, the New York Times is the king of digital journalism for a simple reason: it’s always innovating. Beyond making “snowfall” a verb, the so-called Gray Lady has in recent months overhauled its website, introduced new revenue streams, produced a viral video based verbatim on a deposition, bought its own native ads, launched an explainer microsite, and built a suite of apps.
These bells and whistles aren’t just pretty ornaments for a press release, but enlightening enhancements for the everyday user. Indeed, there’s something for every audience: the designer, the stockholder, the videographer, the advertiser, the reporter, and the reader on the go.
For the social media strategist, the paper’s most significant innovation is a tiny tactic that makes stories easier to tweet. Often overlooked, this trick ought to be standard practice on every major website today. Let’s take a look.
Why PR pros should never say something is too boring/dry/abstract/long/complex to generate buzz
Piers Morgan says he’s a big fan of Aaron Sorkin’s writing. So big, in fact, that Sorkin’s latest show—which begins with the brilliant, impassioned monologue of a news anchor—inspired him to infuse his own reporting with the zealotry of a convert.
And yet, Morgan’s passion runs only so deep. During an interview last year with the cast of the show, Morgan extolled CNN’s coverage of the Carnival “poop cruise”—how the network steered something “I had absolutely zero interest in” into something “I got completely engrossed in.” The payoff for this programming: the ratings doubled.
Seizing the moment, Sorkin zinged Morgan with the $64,000 question: why can’t the media dedicate the same energy and resources to serious, important news? “Do you think there’s a way that Jeff [Zucker, CNN’s chief] … can apply that same talent to, for instance, the sequester?’”
“Honestly, no,” Morgan shot back. “I think the sequester is one of the most supremely boring stories ever told on television ... There are many political stories which are just incredibly dry, and trying to make them come to life … it doesn’t rate.”
The most common social media fail is easily correctable.
People are lazy. Web publishers are no exception. When they install social-sharing buttons, all too often they leave the default settings in place.
As a result, when a user clicks the ubiquitous “tweet” button to promote your content, nine times out of 10, what he ends up sharing is simply, unforgivably the article’s headline.
Big mistake. Under this setup, all your efforts prodding people to share your content are negated when they actually do.
What should you do instead? For every post published, you should embed a teaser that you’ve tailored for Twitter. (This can be accomplished by adding a new field or plug-in to your CMS.) Under this setup, when that share button is summoned, your fans will be sharing text specific to the medium, not a one-size-fits-all compromise.
“Upworthy is the worst site on the Internet.” So says Bob Powers of HappyPlace.
Jack Flanagan of the Daily Beast concurs: “Sites like Upworthy cater to the basest and most recklessly childish of human instincts.”
PandoDaily’s Hamish McKenzie rounds out the contempt: “The hammer of [Upworthy’s] unrelenting moralism starts to feel not so much as if it is breaking barriers as it is cracking your skull.”
Absent the rancor, their collective contention boils down to this: websites like Upworthy are the modern-day heirs to the disgraced practice of yellow journalism. If, say, the Podunk Herald wanted to prostitute itself to page views, it too could make things go viral.