It is easy to get distracted. Electronic media are transforming public forums and public relations into a new information culture where spokespersons
THOMAS J. ROACH
It is easy to get distracted. Electronic media are transforming public forums and public relations into a new information culture where spokespersons can have direct and immediate contact with their audience. Communication specialists have to know social media, but don't throw away your AP Stylebook yet.
Newspapers may be struggling, but they are still the backbone of the public communication system in the United States. As effective as e-mail messages going viral can be, they cannot constitute a public forum. Public issues are still made, digested and driven to consensus on the pages of newspapers. The ability to write and disseminate press releases remains the main skill for practicing basic public relations. However, while the power of the press release has not changed, the method for getting it published is impacted greatly by new technology.
Here is a primer for the contemporary public relations practitioner on how to publish press releases as we enter the second decade of the 21st Century. It may be particularly useful for those of us who earned our degrees and received our training in the 20th.
Most importantly, we need to remember that the old rules for news writing still apply. Inverted pyramid, objective third-person narrative, attributions, dropping the last comma in items in a series, indenting paragraphs ó all of that is still required.
The main difference is in how the press release is delivered. Snail mail is out. The same goes for the fax. It takes too long, and no one at the newspaper has time to scan or type up your story. News has to be sent electronically so it can be easily and quickly pulled into the newspaper's electronic web and processed.
Ten years ago, I advised both to mail and to send electronically. Then five years ago, I was telling my students, or rather they were telling me, that mail was a waste of time. The main quandary became, do you send the release as an attachment or include it in the e-mail message? Today that issue is resolved, too: the press release is the e-mail message. What used to be the suggested headline now goes in the subject line of the e-mail. Next, the entire text of the e-mail message is the press release, starting with the lead sentence.
WHAT IS DESCRIBED above is for typical releases going from a local business, like a quarry, to a local publication. This would not necessarily be the process for a national campaign that needed a pitch letter. Local publications will be familiar with local organizations, and the niceties can be dispensed with. Give them a headline and news copy, and don't make them have to edit out any extra material.
Photos can be reproduced and sent at no cost. Who would have believed that 25 years ago when sending photos was a big budgetary decision? There is no reason not to send a photo with every press release today. Photos are more in demand than news copy, and they increase the odds of publication. Every public relations practitioner needs to be able to take a basic news photo and edit it for publication.
The old rules for photos still apply as well. Always include people, get an unposed action shot, and do not use flash. Printing presses still lose contrast on photos, so it is always important to have lots of good contrast in the image. The new rules for photos have to do with sending them. They should be color, two megapixels, 300 dpi and in JPG format.
It is true that newspapers do not reach as wide an audience as they once did. Potentially more people can be reached through television and social media. What keeps newspapers viable is that their audience is made up of opinion leaders in the local community. And, everyone with a legitimate news story has a reasonably good chance of getting coverage.