Sunday, July 18, 2004

Website Pressroom - A Key PR/Promotional Tool

Ned Barnett, © 2004

NOTE: This article was first developed as two articles for my website - the first a broad overview, and the second a more in-depth discussion of specifics. Both of these are included here -overview first. Both are written to the PR consultant, but applies equally to the in-house PR Professional.

The media – local, national, trade and specialty – are important targets for the client’s online and off-line promotional efforts. A major online pressroom, resident on the client’s website – and appropriately echoed on the product websites (as they’re developed), should be a major asset in the client’s promotion of – by reaching the press. In this way, the pressroom will be positioned to pave the way for the use of the media in the promotion of the client’s services. The following are some ideas on ways to accomplish this ideal – to create a fully useful website pressroom.

The website’s pressroom should be a welcome resource for reporters and trade journal editors – and it should be virtually a stand-alone site (everything they need to write about the client or any of our services should be here – even if it’s also located elsewhere on the website). At one site, they should have access to as much of the information they might need to tell the client’s story as we can pack in there. And though some might consider it redundant, information found elsewhere should be “echoed” in the pressroom – so reporters and trade journal editors can find what they need without having to leave the client’s pressroom. We definitely don’t want to encourage them to surf away.

An effective pressroom has several distinctive, effective features designed to meet the information needs of working reporters and trade journal editors. These include posting both press releases and links to substantial supportive documentation (when available), including downloadable photos, logos and other illustrations (making reporters’ and editors’ jobs easier).

This depth of material, easily accessible by reporters and trade journal editors, will make it possible to generate coverage by distributing brief, provocative press (teasers) – an approach that can be (when done properly) ideal for supporting cost-effective brief wire-posted announcements. In addition, a strong website pressroom can support faxed or e-mailed briefings or press advisories and announcements.

Taken together, this becomes a cost-effective alternative to mailing out (or especially to posting to wire services) longer press releases and full-blown press kits. Research indicated that, in addition to controlling the costs of press release distribution, this approach actually improves press interest – and coverage.

There is a very simple reason for this. Reporters and trade journal editors tend to be (or at least see themselves as) overworked, underpaid, rushed and impatient. A pressroom that, by design and content, does much of their work for them, is a pearl beyond price. Reporters are not, by nature, “lazy” – but they are loathe to recreate the wheel. When the client provides them with usable material – assuming there is a legitimate story behind the material – they will strongly consider using that material.

Some key information in the client’s pressroom (more details on some key features follows the bullet-point list) should include:

* Bios of the key players at the client – CEO, President, CFO, Directors, sales reps in the regions – anybody we’re likely to write about or quote

* Downloadable graphic images of the key players (as well as company and service line logos – in short, good, solid PR photos and images that we’d like to see used)

* A “story” about the company – one that should be updated with each change

* Background (features and benefits of all the service lines, profiles of target users for each of the service lines, etc.) – this may be on the website elsewhere, but it needs to be echoed here so reporters aren’t asked to navigate away from the pressroom to find what they need

* Captured web pages from the client’s subsidiary websites (those for individual service lines)

* the client business philosophy and high probability sales approach philosophy (but told in a literate, not a “corporate,” style)

* Kudos from satisfied business partners and end users – these are vital to create a sense of strong support – and we need to make sure that we have an avenue in place that will help reporters contact these satisfied customers for follow-up quotes

* Case studies from or about both partners and client and partner patron end-users (including photos of the people involved in the case studies, contact info, etc.) with permission-to-quote from them (so reporters know it’s OK)

* Screen-shot captures (or digital reproduction) of articles about the client and the various service lines – these should be sorted by topic as well as by date (at least) – we’ll want to gain permission from the publications for each of these. A good way of doing this is to include complete contact and subscription information at the bottom of each article (this should also be – along with most of the above information, echoed on the sales-portions of the website)

* Any business performance information (sales trends, etc.) we are permitted to include – while privately held (meaning we don’t have to tell anybody anything), we should strive to be as aggressively forthcoming as the owners will allow, in order to earn the trust of the press

* Press releases and press advisories (sorted by topic and then again by release date)

* Breaking Industry News (updated whenever we can – daily is unlikely without a significant investment, but weekly should not be out of the question) – this can often be “bought” from a service that monitors news for just this purpose (cost may be an issue) – but it helps to give reporters and trade journal editors easy access to this kind of information (which brings them back, or at least makes them feel welcome)

* Links to background information on each press release (ideally, these links should lead to a frames page – so the reporters can see the material in the linked sites without leaving the client’s pressroom (examples could be the clients’ or partners’ websites)

* A geographical sorting of business partners’ websites (for times when they want to contact a “local” business partner (all the usual cautions need to be applied here about turning the press loose on our Partners without a head’s up to the Partners).

* A calendar of upcoming (planned) events, including (where possible) launch dates of upcoming service enhancements, pilot programs, etc. – kind of like an editorial calendar … we’ll need to update this regularly as dates slip or change, etc.

* Research findings from the website’s ongoing online survey (and other sources) – more details are below

* Fun stuff (like downloadable or online Buzzword-Bingo and Trade Jargon "Bullshit-Bingo" games)

* IMPORTANT – Contact information – who (and how) to contact to follow-up with media interest.

There are other things that could be included in the pressroom – this is just start (a template, so to speak) and something with which to begin discussions.

For those who want to explore this topic in more depth, please read on ...

In more detail, the client’s Pressroom should include:

* Hard-hitting, well-written (in accessible language) case studies featuring successful (and well known, especially at first) partners using the client’s products and services to meet their important patron relations loyalty-building and business-building goals. It’s helpful to have two or three for each kind of client and partner type – you’ll never know what will catch a reporter’s eye. This can be echoed (much of this can be echoed) from elsewhere in the website. We want these case studies to be written in such a way that a reporter could just lift it and publish it (i.e., we want to use a professional, trade journal-style prose)

* Breaking news relevant to the client – this could be national or regional news, or it could be trade-industry news. This will require monitoring the news or licensing access from a news service to give topical reporters a second- or third-choice for information they want and need in order to keep their constituencies informed. There are low-cost information feed services that can provide a core of information – this is useful to the media; and it gives users and prospects a reason to come back to the website. This really works – it helps you become a “portal” for trade reporters, which is definitely a plus for us (this feature would also be interesting to Partners, suggesting we might also want to have a partner-only website section).

* New organizational news and service-line news press releases, along with all appropriate back-up and supporting materials – including bios, position papers, financial statements (think data analysis here), etc., as well as links to supportive documents and related websites. These should be updated regularly – in the initial phase of our re-introduction to the media, we need to try to put out (at a bare minimum) three to five press releases each month. This volume of releases suggests “activity” and growth to reporters – and in the client’s field, “activity” is a very good thing. The importance of providing organized background information (bios, case studies, etc.) WITH these press release cannot be over-stated. Reporters and trade journal editors are busy people – the easier we make their jobs, the more likely they are to respond to us. Initially, we won’t have much to offer (besides, perhaps, some sales literature, rudimentary bios, company and product logos – and head-and-shoulder PR photos), but we need to offer what we have while building a better archive of useful information.

* Lists of useful spokespersons (within and without the client), along with their contact information – this also makes the reporters’ “digging” job far easier, and wins them as friends. The ‘outside the organization’ spokespersons should be with our partners (with their advanced permission, along with impartial trade associations, or perhaps respected academics (or similar, based on the nature of the releases). By reaching beyond our own staff (though they absolutely should be included, and focused on), we gain visibility and enhanced credibility – and the patina of the credibility those spokespersons bring to the table will rub off on the client.

* Archives of all former press releases, grouped by topic as well as by date (and sorted by date within each topic) – these are often useful for reporters wanting to back-track information. Go one step further and add a search-by-keyword function – reporters really appreciate that extra help. We won’t need it immediately, but we should immediately plan on having that feature.

* Archives of all former press COVERAGE, grouped by topic (and by date – and also sort the material within each topic by date – and we’ll need to have a search function here, too). This extra material provides a “balanced” counterpoint to the archived press releases, making this site a further benefit to reporters. Every favorable mention should be included. Whenever possible, this press coverage should involve screen-capture material from the media’s websites, rather than links (that might grow stale). We’ll need to obtain permission, but in my experience, as long as we include full contact and full subscription information, the publications will play along. Occasionally there’s a small fee for use (and for reprints – a separate topic, but one we all know has important sales implications); when the articles have value, we should pay the fee. We do NOT want to risk ticking off the media by “borrowing” their favorable coverage without permission.

* Full background information, including service lines, history and officers, along with whatever financials we care to release (the client is privately held and is under no obligation to report anything – but there is often benefit to being as open as an SEC-regulated company, at least in press relations). We want to include other relevant information on the client and our services – carefully cataloged for easy identification. Again, if the reporters do not have to dig, they can do a quicker story (and will be subtly grateful for the assist, ensuring more balanced coverage). Companies with something to hide are red meat to reporters; companies with full open-door websites are seen as reliable and are generally not the target of exposes. the client should seem open.

* Website survey “findings.” Elsewhere on the client’s website, we can – and should – ask, in survey form, provocative questions of web-visitors. These questions should have a special orientation to issues of interest to prospects (this can be achieved by focusing the questions) – but we should also ask questions that will deliver slam-dunk media coverage. For example we’ll be sure to get solid press coverage if we report that “62% of “white-tablecloth” client and partner GMs surveyed think that their business will rebound within six months after the successful conclusion of a war with Iraq.” We may not want to get that political, but we can be certain such provocative questions will intrigue the media. This is yet one more version of the “factoid” approach I keep advocating. Once we have the statistical “facts”, we then, “announce” the findings (we do not hide the fact that this kind of opt-in research has no meaningful scientific value – but the media won’t care because such findings still makes for great, quotable factoids). We need to feed the media’s need for plausible-sounding statistics and quotes – and when we do, we’ll see the results in coverage.

* “Kudos” – favorable comments from users/readers/customers/clients who have benefited from, and praised in writing (or e-mail) – along with notations that these individuals’ bylined comments can be reprinted without further requests for specific permission.

* Graphic illustrations that can be downloaded – corporate and product logos, photos of the products and the people, and other appropriate illustrations. When we can create data-based charts-and-graphs that can be reproduced (with credit) note that on the site – and provide for their easy download. The same holds true for self-tests and other crowd-pleasing tools and gimmicks. Promoting the site is important – if reporters don’t know about it or use it, the best pressroom site on the Internet is all but worthless. A few ideas that work include:

* Not on the site itself, but in promoting it, use e-mail “teasers” to encourage reporters to revisit the pressroom site to view the site’s response to emerging or breaking news within the company or within the industry. These can be distributed to opt-in e-mail lists, or by individual e-mails that I’ll handle. Colorful postcards are also low cost and useful in promoting reporter visits to the website, especially when not tied to timely breaking news.

* Another time-tested website pressroom promotion strategy involves producing weekly or monthly “potential story idea” sheets – then distribute these tip sheets to the media by fax, e-mail or other means (and post in the pressroom to catch reporter visitors). Follow-up using usual PR response systems set up for handling media calls. Most of these should relate to the client – but if we see a trend in the industry (even if our involvement in the story is peripheral), we should include these in the tip sheets. Why? Because if we help reporters do their jobs, we’ll build goodwill that will eventually help us in generating coverage that will help us. There’s no formal quid-pro-quo, but reporters remember (and often cultivate) helpful sources.

* Related to that, but of a more individual nature, distribute individual or breaking story idea pitches to local, regional and national trades (ideally by e-mail to a standardized/customized opt-in list) to generate potential trade coverage. We would then make sure that all the info they need to follow up on the suggestion is easily found in the pressroom (we’d put it there before we sent out these press alerts). Again, if they see us as a “source,” we will reap the benefits of that evolving relationship.

In summary, the client’s online pressroom must become an inviting location for reporters to visit and use. The site can also be a place where we (together) can build “virtual” relationships that will help make you better respond to press needs – and to generate more, and more favorable coverage for the client.

About Ned Barnett:

Ned Barnett, the owner of Barnett Marketing Communications (, is a 32-year veteran of high-stakes crisis-management public relations, and is a frequent “source” for print and broadcast journalists. Barnett has advised many corporate and personal clients on effective crisis relations – often stopping a crisis in its tracks, even before it gets started.

As a political consultant and speechwriter, Barnett has worked for candidates and officials from both parties, as well as for public interest advocacy groups in areas involving the economy, the environment and healthcare. As a historian, Barnett is widely published in military history magazines, and has appeared a number of times on the History Channel, discussing military technology.

Barnett has taught PR at two state universities, and has written nine published books on public relations, marketing and advertising. He’s earned PRSA’s coveted Silver Anvil, two ADDYs and four consecutive MacEacherns; in 1978, he was the youngest (to that time) person to earn accreditation from PRSA, and in 1984, he became the first person to earn a Fellowship in PR from the American Hospital Association. But mostly, Barnett provides PR counsel to a range of corporations, authors and advocacy groups.

© 2004 – Ned Barnett
Barnett Marketing Communications