Resurrecting the Press Release?

16 09 2011

3 years ago I proclaimed to a public relations class that the press release could see its virtual end in a few years, thanks to Twitter. My proof? This post from journalist Tom Foremski, and the fact that Twitter accomplishes better what the Press Release is designed to do: Get the news out quickly and concisely. Now, don’t get me wrong, getting your story to the local, regional, national and even global press will never vanish. Press agentry is a live and well. But the press release as we know it? Dead. Dead because journalists need more. Dead because social media users are changing the media game.

And then Google did this:

The tweet linked to a Google press release entitled: “Google Just Got Zagat Rated” (which you can find here). The press release is anything but traditional. Sure, it features the usual wasted-space quotes proclaiming that the company A (Google) is “excited,” “pleased,” or “hopeful” about the merger with company B (Zagat) (you know, the stating-the-obvious quotes that have no news value whatsoever). But there are a few “innovations” to this revived press release:

It Spreads the Voice Around. This press release isn’t only bylined, it’s relevantly bylined. I asked my students in my digital PR and Ad class at the Univ. of Houston last week why the VP of Local, Maps and Location Services bylined this press release. That is, why not one of the dynamic duo (Larry Page or Sergey Brin). The answer I was looking for (and which they caught on to in seconds…my students are brilliant, and yes I’m biased) was: Strategic Relevance. Zagat, the foodie ratings company, matters much more to mapping services than, say, Adsense, Blogger, or Google+. It’s quite simple actually: It makes even more sense NOW to use google maps than any other mapping service because before you get directions, you get help making the decision whether to make the trip in the first place.

The Dynamic Duo “Holy Schmidt Batman, Eric’s Gone!”

It’s written with the Audience in Mind: Foodies. The intro has “Foodie” written all over it. Local-Diamond-in-the-Stripmall-Rough restaurant reference? Check. Food rating? Check. Word-of-Mouth-Credibility? Check. Personal story? Check. Yep, it’s all there…at least in what, for all intents and purposes, would be considered the lead. Mayer even adds her own vote of confidence for the 27 point food rating of the unrelated restaurant mentioned in the lead.

It’s Quirky.  Much has been made about the quirkiness of Social Media. As of yet, no one has actually defined what it means to be quirky, but I would imagine it would include synonyms like ironic, weird bordering on uncomfortable, but funny in a strange, you’ve-got-to-be-there sort of way. By these definitions, this post is quirky because Mayer slobbers all over the press release, gushing about Zagat and the new acquisition in a “should we give you two some time alone” sort of way. It looks like professional writing watered down to be conversational, and for most media outlets (i.e. Wall Street Journal), it probably doesn’t work. Online? Fine by me.

What it doesn’t have is the usual stuffy, high-minded verbiage about company profits, projected revenue, and the other technical mumbo-jumbo that the everyday reader, not to mention the Foodie, would probably gloss over anyway. Unfortunately, that means it’s also a little bland on investor-relevant information and almost devoid of any quotables for a reporter. But then again, a “press release” this isn’t. A “social press release”–Maybe. One friend excitedly sharing news with another–definitely. A press release as we know it? Probably not. And yet, this new incarnation could spark the revival of Press Release Writing.

Editors Note: Probably one of the most odd concoction of searches and websites to put this post together, including: “Holy Batman Phrases” and this site, “Social Media is Quirky,” “Google Head Honchos,” “How to Haiku” (at first glance, I was dubious Mayer’s Tweet was a real haiku…had to be certain), and “Die Press Release Die!”


Social Capital for Social Good

10 11 2010

Social capital has been our main topic of conversation in my Digital PR and Advertising class at the University of Houston. The notion that an organization can assess communication efforts based on the resources available through social connections (particularly facilitated through digital and social media), is both an intriguing concept and one that should stretch organizational strategy beyond the normal harvesting of customer databases, or even Facebook followers and Twits. The real power of social capital is what is possible by tapping into that social capital, preferably for both organizational and societal benefit.  New England rock banders, Guster, may have discovered this spontaneously, when they harnessed the power of their social capital in a recent contest. The story goes, that they invited fans to produce their own videos for each of their 12 songs on their new EP Easy Wonderful, and one lucky fan video for each song would be chosen and highlighted on their site (Social Capital Recap: Access your followers/fans? CHECK. Get them to do something for you? CHECK. Get them to do something that builds your reputation? keep reading).

The videos produced included the usual cadre of interesting images, abstract stories, and quirky cinematography (including one video that had one poor bloke being pelted by paint-filled balloons). But one video, in particular, gave Guster more than just a quirky video credit. Check it out:

4 strangers, helping more strangers, and the giving goes viral, as the companies involved paid it forward after they heard what the pizza and flowers were for. Rather than social capital for organizational good, this is social capital for  social good, and it’s something that’s infectious, if not serendipitous (in this case).

Color Me Facebook

8 01 2010

Have you been seeing colors on Facebook? Chances are, in the last few days, you’ve seen a female friend post a status change with a single word: white, tan, pink, bright blue! Chances are, some of these posts have been unnerving, as you probably feel left out of the loop on this enigmatic code of colors  (if you’re male, that’s the point).

I’ll put you out of your misery: The Facebook color posts are part of an intriguing campaign to raise awareness for breast cancer. Women post the color of the most relevant undergarment to breast cancer currently “on their person”.

Though the origins of the campaign may be unkown, one thing is certain: within days, it has spread like wild firewalls around the virtual Facebook world, evidenced by a recent post that appeared on my Facebook page:

Buddy the Elf: Black with Gold Mickey Mouse Heads.

Critics claim this crisis of color does nothing to create awareness for breast cancer, but only drives people who aren’t in on it crazy (read: guys). But I think it works on three levels

1. Backdoor Awareness: The color campaign works because it feeds into that inner monster, curiosity. It’s genius because it effectively captures our curiosity by teasing us to search for something that we might not have otherwise: breast cancer awareness. Let’s face it, though it may be one of the most serious and critical issues in our society, most people aren’t going to go online today and type in the search term breast cancer unless they’ve experienced a recent, intimate encounter with its effects. But people are more likely to be so unnerved about being out of the loop that they’ll go online and search “facebook color  posts”. This alternative entrance into the topic of breast cancer, then, serves as a backdoor to the issue for people who would otherwise not have given it much thought…and isn’t that the audience that breast cancer advocates are most interested in reaching?

2. Creating an In-Crowd Community. Let’s state the obvious for a minute: this color thing has spread like wildfire in only a matter of days (can you think of any offline campaign that has been able to do that?).  Why? Because it joined people into a “secret” (at least it’s supposed to be) club where they felt special to be a part of something “cool”. Sure, it’s high school, but it works. Little by little, facebookers who read the posts wonder what it is, want to be involved, and join the club by doing one simple thing: posting a representative color of a particularly relevant undergarment they’re currently wearing. Which leads me to the third level…

3. Pure Ease. What’s the easiest and most efficient way to get people thinking and talking about breast cancer? Hold a fund raiser where to be involved individuals have to donate money? How about a walk-a-thon, or some other athletic event that requires people to put miles into their commitment to the cause, literally? Or…how about encouraging people to post a color on their facebook page, which requires 1. no time and 2. no effort? Bingo. Color posting is a sickeningly easy way to get involved. In fact, you don’t even have to talk about your feelings, emotions, and tragedies that might be associated with breast cancer. You just have to post a color.

So…the facebook color post phenomenon raising breast cancer awareness is ingenius, and I laud its ability to get people involved in such an important cause in such an easy way…

That is…until my mom posts a color.