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!”


Re-Engaging Engagement, or How Many Different Ways Can We Use the Word Engagement?

29 07 2011

Have you heard? We’re in the Age of Engage. Like the 95% of us who can’t help but stare at an accident on a freeway, pull out the smart phone and snap a picture, I think we’re all wide-eyed, deer in the headlights for “engagement”.  The problem is, I’m not sure we really know what we’re looking at. While Marketers have their eyes glued to the list of “friends” and “followers” their campaign has earned and public relations practitioners are starry-eyed at comments and forwards, I think we’re all missing the mark because we’re only looking at the results.

Don’t get me wrong, results are quintessential. It’s not the focus on results that’s the problem, it’s the singular focus on results that’s the problem…it’s spawning tunnel vision. Looking solely at the results leads to blind validation of the composite of what we’re doing, lumping what might not be working with what is. In the end, what we’re left with is the Dilbert-esque proclamation: “We must have done something right, so whatever we’re doing, keep doing it” when we have no idea what it is we’re even doing.

The point of engagement (and its value) is in the process. Let me illustrate with, what I consider, is a particularly “engaging” campaign.

Late last year, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) relaunched as a social media site, and has moved its online efforts from a “request more information” model to a “get to know us and join us” model. used to be a site for answering questions about the Church’s beliefs, and while it still serves that purpose, it is now a site to connect. Call it a religious facebook. Now it’s a place where hundreds of Church Members create a profile and provide their unique viewpoint on the purpose of life and their beliefs in the Church, echoing the late Church Leader, Gordon B. Hinckley, who once told Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes that, and I paraphrase here, the Church wanted to people to bring their beliefs with them and see how the LDS viewpoint added to what they already believed.

The Marketing Director of the Church told me that the site was to facilitate the connection between the Church and potential members by giving the mic, so to speak, to the members, with whom it would be easier to relate and more effective to create and build a relationship. To that end, the Church has highlighted dozens of member profiles with videos that accompany the member profile to paint a broad picture of the diversity within the Church. Here’s an example:

And the Church hasn’t stopped there, tapping the talents of the increasingly common digital acumen among online users to build even more “engagement”. For years, the Church has been known, at least inside its chapel doors, for feel-good stories put to video, with the occasional tear-jerker and the famous 8-cow wife. Today, they’ve moved passed that and have launched to tap the digital acumen of its own members and engage them to make their own stories. This subsection of the Church’s main site is dedicated to assisting members to create their own videos, including providing images and b-roll for video production, and of course, the occasional contest and call for videos to light the proverbial fire.

In short, the brilliance of the campaign is in the focus on the process of engagement–they’re eliciting involvement and therein lies the digital magic of the buzzword we have come to love and overuse.

So, I return to the beginning. We’re all talking about engagement without being clear on all that it stands for. Yes, it’s results. Yes it’s “followers” “frienders” “sharing” “tweeting” etc…but that’s the fruit. Engagement is actually in the process. It’s a concept of participation and involvement that yields the results that marketing and communication management has set its sights on. If engagement is participation, even partnership, then yes, engagement is also risky, because it means yielding part of your communication control over to people who may have little to no interest in representing it well. But then again, that’s happening whether you intend it to be or not.

Fox 26 News Feature: Mythbusters

27 07 2010

Fox 26 News in Houston interviewed me for a story on the Houston Independent School District’s new web feature labeled “Mythbusters”–in which they address the “rumors” circulating the school district.

Not a bad report, though, I will say that I had offered positive advice as well as the constructive criticism that they featured in the report. In fact, it sounded quite a bit more negative than I explained it. I guess that whole “the media is unbiased” thing has gone out the window?

The point I discussed with the reporter was that too many organizations see the internet as a place to promote, and this is problematic, because internet audiences see it as a place to get correct information (the “if it’s printed it must be true” perspective). This creates a problem for organizations like HISD, who 1) choose the topic to be discussed, 2) do not provide a place for feedback or interaction on their site about the issues, and, 3) perhaps worst of all, label the issues as “myths” from the get go. Frankly, it’s not a very symmetrical relationship they’re trying to create.

On the flip-side, the bias in reporting can’t be ignored either, and I was disappointed in the obvious negative slant the piece had. The way it was produced, HISD was the obvious bad guy. It would have been nice to get some opinions of teachers in the school district or others involved.

An Experiment in Twitter-Ology

1 12 2009

I’m teaching a digital  PR and Advertising class this semester, and recently I conducted a few experiments in Tweeting. Trying to capitalize on some of the most recent and relevant developments on Twitter, I went right for the big guns, and did a quick search on:

New Moon.

Now, if you are not familiar with the Twilight saga, or the current fascination with model-like Vampires and rugged Werewolves, which seems to have an amazing effect on girls between the ages of 10 and 50, causing them lose all reason and surrender complete mental capacity, then find any girl and ask them this question: Edward or Jacob?

At any rate, during a class on Twitter, we decided to explore the wiles of Twtter users (or Twits, as one satirical site called them) by searching the trending topic “New Moon” ON the day the movie was released.

The results were intriguing. Most of the posts included something to the effect of “Can’t wait to see New Moon” and included some other pedestrian anecdote. For example: “Took a nap, woke up, ready to see New Moon!” “Sitting in class, thinking about seeing New Moon! Jacob’s hot!” and “Brushing my teeth, can’t wait for New Moon tonight!” Of course, there were the obligatory: “New Moon Sucks” posts and the “Check this new trailer out for New Moon” posts.

Perhaps what was most staggering about these posts…new posts on New Moon were coming in at 30 per minute, or, to paint the picture: We conducted an in class search, and by the time the results posted, we read the first one or two and I asked for any comments, 30 more posts appeared. I decided to leave the page on as we discussed Twitter, and in the space of my 1 hour and 30 minute class, we saw 9,000 posts about New Moon come up.

We surmised 3 things from this VERY informal research

1. People use Twitter to associate themselves with a fad, theme, or event as a way to label themselves. In this case, Tweets about New Moon labeled individuals as “fans” and, perhaps, part of the “real fandom” of Twilight because they were seeing it on Day 1 of the movie release. This was similarly seen in blog posts and forum posts shortly after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows book was released, as fans posted how quickly they finished the book (many posts simply read: Subject: Harry Potter 7. Message:  Done!)

2. People use Twitter to take sides on a current event or issue: There were probably just as many “New Moon Sucks” posts as there were “I love Edward Cullen” posts.

3. People use Twitter to connect with others who share their affinity or dislike for an event or issue or fad. Many of these posts were not rich in content, in fact, they were mostly simple accounts of intentions to view the movie. But in doing so, it appeared that New Moon Tweeters (uh…twits) were echoing the refrains of other fans, and, in doing so, building a community of fans who could share their excitement for viewing the film.

Now, these aren’t necessarily eye-popping results, but they are revealing in their own right. Twitter may be more than an “information engine”…it’s a community building engine. What’s even more astounding is that community building is taking place in 140 characters or less.

The real question is, who is harnessing this power for community engagement? And who is blowing it? …and that’s the subject of my next post.

Ogilvy Blog: Social Media and PR

11 11 2008

John Stauffer interviewed me for Ogilvy’s 360 Digital Influence blog at the Grunig Lecture a week or so ago. Here’s the interview he posted on the blog:

I enjoyed the conference and the chance to hear from John, who discussed public relations and social media, and offered some interesting insight on measurement and evaluation. Frankly, I think these are the kinds of discussions we need to be having–practitioners and academics need to work together to navigate PR’s relevance in social media, and create innovative ways to use the medium to help organizations build relationships with a public base that is evermore technologically savvy and has more access to interact with organizations on a personal level.

Becoming Quirky? PR enters the blogging world

12 08 2008

This last week I was at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference in Chicago, and presented my research on bloggers and public relations. Kaye Sweetser at Univ. of Georgia surprised me when she said she would be videoing it and posting it on her site. Here’s the video…and THANKS Kaye!

PR as Education

21 07 2008

In May, I won the Plank Award for Graduate Student Research at the International Communication Association conference in Montreal for a paper I did on PR as education. O.C. Tanner, a global employee recognition firm, focuses its communication efforts on educating organizations about the merits of employee recognition.

That was my first research paper I produced as a doctoral student, and I’ve always been intrigued by other examples of organizations/individuals emphasizing education in public relations efforts. Why? Because teaching is an important interactive experience, where one individual edifies the other. It represents one of the noblest efforts. I think that’s why it is so effective. I can think of no better way to build a relationship than when someone reveals the tricks of the trade, the secrets of success…which is why I like this video, below, of Barenaked Ladies’ front man Ed Roberts teaching viewers how to play one of the band’s popular songs. I think there’s also an evident level of Grunig-ian Two-Way Symmetrical communication here too…

One other thing I like about this is bands seem so loathe to share their music. Anyone who has gone to a music store to purchase a book on playing a song on guitar, piano, etc., knows the frustration I have felt so often…the notes usually reflect what the singer sings, not what he or she plays.

Anyway, good public relations, kudos to BNL.