Using the Web to Get Traditional Publicity
by Reid Goldsborough
For many people, the Web is all about hits, unique visitors, and links. Approached this way, the Internet becomes a more or less closed system where you primarily get the attention of others on the Web.
Despite the competition from the Web and other new media, such old-media outlets as newspapers and magazines remain hugely influential in disseminating news and molding opinion. If you set up a Web site to promote your organization, or anything else, it pays to make your site friendly to new-media and old-media visitors alike.
But according to the latest study by usability expert Jakob Nielsen (useit.com), most Web sites fail to give journalists easy access to information and contacts so they can perform their jobs in a timely way.
Among the mistakes that sites make:
Using generic, buzzword-filled mission statements that don’t differentiate the company from other companies in its field.
Burying press contacts under several layers of links and not clearly labeling those links, making it more difficult for journalists to find the information they need to arrange interviews.
Providing press information using PDF and other technologies, rather than plain HTML, making it more time-consuming for journalists to access it.
Failing to make the site easy to locate via popular Web search engines.
Offering only internally generated press releases instead of also providing links to independent sources of information such as articles in general-interest or specialty publications.
Failing to provide the material most sought after by journalists, including names and telephone numbers of press or public relations contacts and such basic facts about the company as the spelling of executives’ names, their titles, and the headquarters location.
Providing only Web forms or email addresses for press or public relations contacts rather than phone numbers as well.
People who are used to communicating electronically could improve the way they communicate when contacted by journalists through the phone or in person, according to Adrian Weckler, a journalist from Dublin, Ireland, who specializes in technology (yourtechstuff.com).
Among Weckler’s recommendations:
Focus on facts and figures—hard data—rather than opinions. Most journalists find the former more interesting and useful.
Minimize jargon and industry cliches. Use words that communicate instead of trying to impress.
Provide the information a journalist requests instead of sticking only to a preapproved memo or continually referring the interviewer to other people.
Be prepared to provide information about competitors so the journalist can write a more complete and balanced story.
Don’t try to control things by making the interviewer sit through a PowerPoint or other presentation.
Let the interviewer decide whether to conduct an interview over the phone or visit your offices to see your setup.
Don’t force a journalist to email you questions beforehand, though there’s no harm in asking what the questions will cover.
Never tell the interviewer afterward that the information you provided is off the record. Set the ground rules beforehand about what’s on or off the record, and what can be attributed to you and what is background information and not for attribution.
Be prepared to be recorded, which is a way some journalists help ensure they get the quotes right.
Don’t ask to review an article before publication; this is typically seen as heavy-handed move to control the way others do their jobs. Instead, mention that you’re available if the journalist needs to double-check any information.
Don’t be cynical and presume that the interviewer has an agenda designed to show you or your organization up. Most journalists try to be fair, balanced, and accurate.
If, after an article appears, you feel that you’ve been wronged, contact the journalist. Most journalists take professional pride in what they do and will try to correct mistakes.
The moral is: Make yourself useful. That is the best way to get positive press.
Along with Web sites, you can use other new-media technologies to reach old-media outlets. The latest is a new offering from PRWeb (prweb.com) that taps into Twitter, the social networking and microblogging service that lets people exchange updates with one another.
Called TweetIt, this new service lets PRWeb customers share their press releases through Twitter at the same time they’re distributed through PRWeb’s other channels, which include search engines, RSS feeds, and email.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at email@example.com or reidgoldsborough.com.