Media relations professionals are always wondering when the press release is going to bite the dust. Well, it isn’t anytime soon, says a panel of speakers I put together for this year’s Kentucky CASE (Council for the Advancement and Support of Education) conference.
The panel was comprised of four speakers purposely chosen from a broad spectrum of traditional media outlets: an NPR radio news director, a monthly print magazine editor and publisher, a TV news anchor, and a pop culture reporter for a major daily newspaper. This blog post looks at the radio news director and the daily newspaper writer; in a few days, we’ll see what the others had to say.
More important perhaps than if the press release is dead or not was the need for each journalist to discuss how she or he uses social and new media to find, create and distribute news stories. How do we combine these press releases we spend so much time writing with the social media we’re all on in order to more effectively get our messages out to our audiences?
The first speaker to take the floor was Charles Compton, news director at NPR affiliate WEKU. In addition to transitioning in the near future to a more interactive web site, his station has a presence on Twitter and Facebook and a strong new media presence on listeners’ phones. An iPhone app and an opt-in text message system allow listeners to quickly learn about breaking news and upcoming stories, says Charles.
He warns us that we must be careful about overusing social and new media: “You’ll disappear into the static.” Indeed: it takes just one unfortunate experience to be unsubscribed from, blocked, un-liked and opted out of.
“I still enjoy news releases,” Charles says, who uses them especially as supplemental material when he’s getting a story. “Of course I take notes during an event or interview, but it’s always nice to have something to go back to.” Okay, check: traditional press releases are still good for background information.
What media relations folks need to consider, Charles says, is creating a more interactive press release: one that’s not just e-mail copy, but that also contains short audio bites and video clips. Even though NPR’s primary presence is on the radio, as Charles explained earlier, their station’s web site is evolving past text and the occasional photo into a fully engaging and interactive newsroom.
As the press release continues to be relevant, what’s even more relevant, Charles says with a smile, is a press release that’s well written.
“I’ve found many a good lead at the bottom of a press release,” he told the room full of higher education communicators.
Next up is Tamara Ikenberg, pop culture reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal, who has written about how people incorporate social media into their everyday lives, not just professionally. By the way, while she’s a huge Facebook fan, don’t talk to her about Twitter. They don’t get along.
One of the topics Tamara and I discussed at length to prepare for this session was how media relations professionals fit into a journalists’ social media presence. Can I contact her on Facebook just as I might using e-mail and phone? Is there a separation of church and state, so to speak? For instance, would she accept my friendship on Facebook, and if she did, would it cross boundaries to “talk shop” there?
“Facebook is an endless source of stories and sources,” says Tamara, whose professional and personal Facebook presences overlap. That is, she has one Facebook account that she uses for both personal and professional purposes. One status update might be a movie quote, and the next one might be a call to former boy-band lovers for a story.
She says that recruiting sources for her pop culture stories is especially good for quick-turned reaction pieces. Example: for a reaction story on the Lost series finale, within 15 minutes Tamara was able to reconnect and draw feedback from the same sources she had previously used for another Lost story.
“My source list on Facebook keeps growing,” Tamara explains. “When I create a note for a query, I tag friends and friends of friends, and then they pass along the query.”
This journalist prefers that media relations folks e-mail her press releases, rather than send them to her via social media (and certainly not through the U.S. mail). She makes sure to point out that of course communication preferences have a lot to do with the existing relationship between journalist and media relations professional. Very true: and I’ve found that just asking at the beginning of the relationship is the easiest way to settle the matter.
And like Charles, Tamara touches upon the importance of an accurate press release: “Make sure it’s correct before you send it my way!”