From time to time, people ask me how public relations has changed during the two decades in which I've been seeking publicity. My answer: technology. Twenty years ago, the fax machine was a newfangled novelty. Our primary means of communicating with journalists were the telephone and the US Mail. The advent of e- mail and the web has made life easier in many regards and tougher in others - thanks to hordes of clowns with money-making schemes and software that "blasts" press releases indiscriminately to reporters, it's become very hard to get your e-mails through to spam-weary reporters.
But there's another great advantage provided to publicity seekers by the Internet -- the ability to create an "online news room". In the "old days", the press kit reigned. Big bulky folders loaded with press releases, glossy photos and slides were standard. They were expensive to design, costly to reproduce and required lots of manpower and postage to assemble and distribute. Today, you can simply direct a reporter to a web URL, where all your press materials and high-definition artwork await, ready to be used. It's a huge time and money saver.
A quick note: the traditional press kit isn't dead. It's still handy to create some physical kits to use with key journalists, as the very novelty of printed material can give you an edge at times. Also, some journalists still prefer a physical kit. Press kits are an important tool at trade show booths & press rooms, and special events. However, gone are the days of sending out large press kit mailings. Keep the kits for targeted use only.
Creating a useful online news room is really pretty simple. One of the main things a busy reporter wants is easy access to press releases, corporate and executive info and artwork. A well put together media room should provide a seamless walk-through.
Where Should the News Room Go?
There are two schools of thought on where to put your online news room. Some companies prefer to have it as a section on their main site, visible to all as a link on a menu bar or other navigational element. Others build entirely separate sites just for the media.
There are pros and cons to each. Putting it as part of your main site allows a journalist to "poke around" your site, absorbing more of the feel and culture of your company and its products. It also makes it easier if the reporter wants more information about a particular product than can be found in your media materials. Of course, since you'll need to provide clear links to the online news room to help such reporters find their way back, anyone visiting your site can access your press materials. This is probably not an issue but, if you feel potential customers may become confused if they wander into the online news room, this could be worth considering.
Creating a separate site allows you to tailor everything to suit the needs of the reporter and prevents the possibility of confusion for potential customers visiting your main site. The reporter however, will be unable to quickly "poke around" the main site as described above, so you may consider that in your decision. If you do choose a separate site, give it a name that incorporates your company (if you're the Acme Company, go for acmepress.com or acmeonlinenewsroom.com). Also, provide clear links to your main site throughout, and code them so that they open in a new window, allowing the reporter to see your main site without having to backtrack to the online news room.
Some Do's and Don'ts
DON'T force journalists to register or sign in for access. They're busy folks and may very well decide not to bother. Make life as easy as you can for them.
DO offer the opportunity for journalists to enter their e-mail address if they wish to be kept abreast of the latest news from your company, but don't link it in any way to the ability to access any portion of the site. DON'T confuse non-journalists who may wander into the site. Make it clear at the top of your main page of your online news room what it and who it's for.
DO provide a link to your consumer FAQ page and an e-mail link for customer service to give non-journalists a place to go to get their questions answered. This will save you a great deal of time responding to messages from non-journalists asking "why am I looking at a press release? How do I download a new driver" or some such thing. Here's what Gateway says, "Gateway press contacts are only able to provide assistance for qualified members of the news media. They are not qualified to respond to product or technical support needs...If you are not a member of the news media, please feel free to visit our pages for Product Service and Support."
DON'T try to lay out the online news room if you're not a talented web designer. Don't use flash, heavy java scripts and other doo-dads. The face you put forth to the media must be highly professional, and the ease of navigation and logical flow of the news room is vital.
DO hire a professional designer who has a portfolio that includes simple, easy-to-navigate, clean-looking sites.
What To Include in Your Online News Room:
Personal Contact Info. The name, address, e-mail, phone number, fax number and cell phone number of your primary media contacts must be front and center. If you have an Instant Messaging ID, put it in there, too.
Press Releases. Place press releases in chronological order (most recent at the top). Keep traditional press release formatting and use easy-to-read fonts.
Executive photos, product photos, charts, graphs, and other appropriate artwork. Provide multiple versions -- 72 dpi (lower resolution) for online publications and websites, and 300 dpi (higher resolution) for offline publications. Put instructions such as To download, right-click and choose "save" next to the graphics. Make sure your pitch letters and press releases provide links to the appropriate artwork on your site.
Backgrounders, executive bios, white papers, investor relations info (if applicable), fact sheets, speeches, awards, streaming media of: press conferences, product demonstrations, president's speeches, etc.
Search Tool. Make it easy for journalists to find just what they want, by making all your press materials fully searchable.
Online News Rooms to Study:
The best way to learn how to put together an online news room is to see how some very smart folks have done it. Here are three outstanding examples....
Bill Stoller, the "Publicity Insider", has spent two decades as one of America's top publicists. Now, through his website, eZine and subscription newsletter, Free Publicity: The Newsletter for PR-Hungry Businesses http://www.PublicityInsider.com/freepub.asp he's sharing -- for the very first time -- his secrets of scoring big publicity. For free articles, killer publicity tips and much, much more, visit Bill's exclusive new site: http://www.PublicityInsider.com
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