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The art of getting better press coverage (Part 1)

Why press releases get rejected

Having been the editor of Canada’s two leading IT management magazines for over 20 years, I’ve been approached countless times by IT vendors looking to get articles, case studies, news stories, executive viewpoints, and new product announcements published in my magazine or on its web site.

Every IT marketing executive knows the value of free ink – especially when it’s provided by a respected and authoritative source – and many of them spend a considerable amount of time, effort and money trying to get it. Why, then, do so many attempts at obtaining press coverage fail or fall short of expectations?

This blog series looks at some of the most common reasons that IT vendors underperform with the media, and it offers marketing executives some sound ideas for turning the situation around.

Part One of this series focuses on the press release, one of the IT vendor’s best tools for getting the word out on key products and company news. Press releases are also one of the biggest areas of missed opportunities for IT vendors. There are many reasons for this, some of which are out of the marketing executive’s control. For example, there is always a numbers game at play when it comes to media coverage. Because so many companies are competing for a limited amount of ‘space’, editors will often reject perfectly good press releases in favour of others – even others that may not be as significant – in an effort to provide balanced coverage. Major IT vendors in particular are prone to this type of rejection because of the sheer number of releases they produce.

Marketing execs in large firms would do well to focus on quality rather than quantity when it comes to issuing releases. As a major firm, you’re going to get your share of coverage. The important thing is to make sure that that coverage relates to your most significant news and product announcements. Rather than increasing your chances of coverage, sending a large number of releases to a media outlet serves only to muddy the waters as to which of them are most deserving of coverage. Inevitably, some of your more important releases will lose out to others of lesser significance.

Something as simple as a bit of missing information can also result in lost media coverage. Editors are very busy people and often don’t have time to do legwork on something as basic as a press release. All things being equal, sometimes an editor will choose one release over another simply because it doesn’t require the chasing down of missing information. Canadian availability is a key piece of information often omitted from releases. Because many products released in the US have no imminent availability in Canada, most editors are in the habit of providing the Canadian availability date, especially if the product is announced by the US parent. Having to track down this information can be enough of a nuisance to cause a busy editor to reject a release in favour of another that does not require checking. Other information often missing is Canadian pricing and, if applicable, the source for the product in Canada. While this information is not essential, it can tip the scales one way or the other when a choice is being made between two releases of roughly equal importance.

Fuzzy targeting of press releases results in many of them never finding their way into the media. Writing a one-size-fits-all release may save you time and money, but it also may kill your chances of being published. Editors are interested in one thing only – content that is relevant to their readers. Putting a little more effort into press releases – tailoring them for different media markets (e.g. IT management; IT technical staff; general business) – can pay big dividends in terms of coverage. Taking the trouble to add some Canadian content, such as a quote from a Canadian executive or customer, can also go a long way towards getting a release published.

A great frustration for Canadian editors and journalists is the inability to identify the source of significant company news and product announcements originating in the US. Suddenly bloggers and Internet news sites will be all abuzz with a key vendor announcement, but often it’s a maddening task trying to find where it came from. It’s apparent that some sort of company statement or press release must have been issued to various American media outlets, because everybody is quoting from it. But it’s nowhere to be found on the company’s US web site, let alone the Canadian site. Usually a call to the company’s Canadian PR department results in bafflement at their end, and finding the right person to speak to in the US can be an adventure in itself. As most editors won’t touch a story unless they can get proper corroboration from the company, news stories like these often never see the light of day in Canada.

While we’re on the topic of tracking down press releases, I should mention another factor that discourages editors from writing about certain vendors: the difficulty in finding their online media centre or “press room”. The “press room” is a great place for journalists to obtain recent press releases or key background information for articles, but for some reason, locating it can be akin to finding the Lost Treasure of the Incas.

If you don’t want to throw up needless roadblocks to journalists who want to write about your company, make sure your “press room” is easy to find. If you’re not sure how easy yours it to locate, ask a friend outside the company to go to your site and find the section containing your press releases. Don’t provide any extra help by using the name you’ve given it – press rooms go by a variety of monikers. If it takes your friend longer than 20 seconds to locate it, it’s too hard to find.

As well, make sure you put new material in your press room on a regular basis. If the most recent press release now on your site is two or three weeks old, you’re bordering on irrelevance. If it’s more than a month old, you’re history.

Part 2 of this series will, as the old tune goes, accentuate the positive. I’ll have several tips on how to grab the editor’s attention and make your press releases sing like a nightingale on steroids.

(Part 2: Creating press releases that get noticed)


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