Speed is Not Always of the Essence

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From time to time, in the British Guardian media section there is a tongue-in-cheek ‘Quick Draw McGraw’ award for the PR pro who mails out a press release the fastest after a big on-diary news event ended. Reading one particular sarcastic award recently it was a good reminder to PR of how bad a so-called ‘Quick Draw’ press release can look.

I get that on-diary news is a nice and easy way to bag a few points for the client. A Presidential address, the latest figures from the Fed, annual surveys – everyone knows they are coming, they are usually packed with news and why not get your client’s point of view over to the right target audience?

Also, they are great for the PR because many on-diary events can be predicted. Most people know where the Fed is going to swing for example, you kind of know what a politician is going to say and most released numbers are either ‘bad’ or ‘good’ from one standpoint or another. So a client can rattle off some contrary comments, a few different stats can be dug up and presto! A release set for launch, whatever the outcome.

The problem is between you and the audience is a cynical, coffee-stained hack and they hate hate hate any releases that come with the slightest whiff of corporate pre-production. And none come more pre-prepared than the Quick Draws that hit mailboxes minutes after an on-diary event. Many a-time would I sit through an address or receive some official notification when ping! A moment later one of my contacts sends me a seven-paragraph, corporate-friendly diatribe commenting on the news that had just been released. Urgh, straight in the trash.

Why?  Well, if the comment or view is that obvious and vanilla then it’s not news and no one is interested. A gutsier release may have stuck its neck out a day or two before – then that’s news – but to send something you could have sent an hour ago is more often than not garbage.

I understand why PR pros have their fingers on the trigger, with news now cranked up to the speed of the Internet and yes, journalists do sometimes need comment very fast. But there are ways of doing it that are more interesting, more likely to get picked up and more likely to make you a better communicator.

Use social media for example – 140 characters can be sent to a good journalist in seconds and they might be all that’s needed to get them (or others) on the phone or even tweeting back. Change your Facebook status, add a comment to the end of the story a few minutes later or even (shock horror) pick up the phone – you can be fast, as long as you are imaginative with your communication channels.

I don’t think press releases are dead, they do serve a function. But they are not Ferraris; they cannot communicate effectively at the speed of the Internet. But thankfully very clever people have come up with many ways in which we can communicate with each other. Just use some more of them.

Lee Jones is a British business journalist looking to make his way into the US PR industry through examining and learning about social media, a form of communication he has scorned for so long…until now. To read about him keenly stumbling through social media experiments like a technophobic octogenarian see his blog.

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  • http://prbreakfastclub.com/ Keith Trivitt

    Spot-on commentary, Lee, and frankly, something that all PR pros should pay attention to. Quite often, in our zeal to always be on top of every story (or “on-diary” as you Brits call it), we fail to see the bigger picture of what is actually news. And as you point out, when we send a reporter a canned press release two minutes after a big story breaks, it’s pretty easy for that reporter or blogger to tell that what we just provided them isn’t really newsworthy, nor does it add any value, relevance, insight, etc. to the story to make it worth their time reading.

    And thus, we have reduced the value of our work in an our own effort to actually try to add some value. That’s a vicious cycle, and one we can easily end. But it’s going to have to come from all sides. From PR pros? Absolutely. But also our efforts to educate our clients, bosses and others that while yes, it is important for executive Steve to have his voice out there about the latest movement from the Fed, what is really more important is that we take to the time to properly understand what value and insight we are going to offer with that outreach.

    And that means informing clients that patience, especially in a media cycle that all too often seems to be filled with vapid, canned responses, can most definitely be a virtue … if we’re smart about it and we do our proper work to make sure everyone (client and reporter) gets some kind of value out of the effort.

    Now, I wonder how many overly canned releases and comments were sent 30 seconds after Prince William and Kate announced their engagement??? :)

    Great post, and thanks for the wonderful insight from a reporter’s perspective.