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"Attention wave" a new way to approach publicity

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of www.cuttingedgepr.com

Blogger and PR commentator Dan York advocates looking at publicity activity in terms of an integrated “attention wave” of traditional news releases combined with social media.

He has written a thought-provoking article on how the attention wave approach makes publicity activity more effective:


Disruptive Conversations

- View blog

A blog by Dan York on PR/communication and the "social media" of blogs, podcasts, wikis and virtual worlds - and the way our conversations are changing ...

So you have some news you want to get out there. You are thinking of issuing the standard old news release... Yet in the era of the "real-time web", when new stories are found through services like Twitter, Face book, and FriendFeed; when the ranks of formal journalists are shrinking and the ranks of online writers are growing - and the pressure to publish is greater than ever; when there are thousands upon thousands of stories coming out each day...

In all of that mess, how do you get people to pay attention to your news?

I've seen many of us in the PR and marketing space sending out more than a news release ... creating a "package" of related stories in multiple media. As I've tried to explain this method to other people, I have recently found it useful to talk about this in terms of aiming to create an "Attention Wave." Let me explain - and I'd love to hear your thoughts on whether this framework helps in explaining what it is we aim to do.

The goal

Ultimately, of course, you want customers to read about your news and buy more of your services, products, widgets, etc. or promote your cause, goal, etc. Naturally for them to read about your news, you need to get people to write about your news.


Can you do this with a single news release?

Unless you are Apple announcing their latest sexy gadget - or Google announcing their latest free service, the answer is almost certainly ... no. The reality is that journalists, bloggers and everyone else writing online are inundated with a zillion stories every hour of every day. And they are scanning those endless headlines through Twitter, FriendFeed, RSS readers, email inboxes, search results and other aggregation means.
You have one, maybe two seconds to get their attention and have them open your content.

That's it.

Naturally, you need solid headlines that catch their attention and make them want to follow the link to read your content... but that's the subject of another post.

What I am talking about here is assembling a "package" of content centered around your news release that hits the web in one wave... multiple stories, some from you and some from others, cascading through the "real-time web", followed ideally by retweets and other redistribution / re-posting so that journalists and those writing online have multiple opportunities to see your content - and potentially will investigate for no other reason than that they are seeing many mentions of it.

The goal is to lengthen the time of exposure of your story to journalists, bloggers and anyone else writing.
Instead of 1 or 2 seconds while a writer is scanning new headlines, maybe you get 10 or 20 seconds ... maybe a couple of minutes as stories appear and are redistributed ... maybe more ... maybe significantly more.

Today's fundamental difference

Nothing I've said so far is really different from "PR 101." It's always been the goal of PR to earn coverage of your news. We've always done pre-announcement briefings with the goal of getting people to cover you and come out with stories around the time of your news release.

The difference in our new world of social media is this:

The opportunity has never been greater to tell your story in your own words.

I'm talking about more than just the social media release, although that may be one of the communication tools you use in your overall package.

I'm NOT talking about creating a series of Twitter accounts to spam Twitter... or generating bogus stories on bogus web sites linking to your content. Those are games played by people who usually lack a story to tell - and in this world of transparency you will probably be caught out doing that. I'm also NOT talking about getting listed on TechMeme, Digg, or whatever the major news aggregation site may be for your industry - that may be an outcome of your work ... but I'm talking about before you get to that.

You. Sitting at your computer. Putting together a package around your news. Aiming to generate a wave of attention focused on your news.

The major caveat

First, before I go further, there is of course one major caveat:

YOU MUST HAVE A STORY WORTH TELLING!

No amount of packaging can really help a worthless story. People now have a pretty high B.S.-detector. You might succeed in getting your story a bit more attention - but the backlash might also not be to your liking.
Let's assume you have a decent story to tell ...

Package components

The pieces of your overall "package" will obviously vary according to your industry, your specific announcement, etc., but would typically include items such as:

  • a formal news release, including components targeted at making it easier for people to tell your story:
    • company/organization logos
    • pictures of the executives or others quoted in the news release
    • pictures of the product, or visually interesting screenshots
    • links to a video and other components of your package
  • a post on your corporate blog (you have one, right?), "humanizing" the more formal language of your news release and explaining the release in a more conversational tone
  • one or more embeddable videos, posted to your blog site or YouTube channel, providing a video interview, a demonstration, or other content. This could be multiple videos ... perhaps one an interview with someone quoted in the news release going into more detail and a second providing more of a demo of the product. They need to have "embed codes" that allow writers to embed the video directly into their blog or news site.
  • a "deeper dive" post that goes into more detail around whatever was announced. Ideally with some interesting diagrams or other images that could be incorporated into other posts. Potentially, depending upon your industry, some sample apps or source code or items that others can try out.
  • companion posts on company/employee blogs: if you have other blogs for your company, perhaps targeted at specific audiences, can you plan a post related to your news that is relevant to that audience or vertical? can you ask employees to post on the topic of your news on their own blogs (assuming it is relevant to do so)?
  • companion posts on external/friendly blogs: do you know of people in the community around your company (you have one, right?) who might be eager to write about your new product or service?

posts on media/blog sites, resulting from pre-announcement briefing of appropriate media outlets.

Note that I am advocating the use of a formal news release. This is for many reasons, including the fact that news releases through wire services reach people who might not otherwise see the news - and also appear in news aggregation sites. They also serve as a formal statement of public record for many companies. The act of creating a news release also ideally has the effect of helping you tune your message and get it down to the essentials. (Or not, given some of the lousy news releases I've seen come through my inbox.)

Keep in mind, too, that my list is just a guideline. Maybe you want to include an audio podcast - or a slide presentation posted to your SlideShare account - or a supporting white paper. Whatever works for you ... the point is that you are just creating multiple pieces surrounding and complementing your news release.

The rationale of multiple components

Beyond the obvious effect of having multiple pieces go out at the same time and create the wave of headlines, there are some other reasons for creating the package:

  • Reaching different subscriber bases - Some people will want to read your news in Twitter. Some will in RSS. Some in email. Some in dedicated sites like YouTube. Some will be interested in a particular aspect of how your news applies. In some cases you might be able to distribute pointers to your news release in all those channels. In some cases you may want to create channel-specific content.
  • Addressing different learning/consuming styles - Some people want just short, brief summaries. Some people want detailed technical info. Some people will prefer to watch a video or a screencast rather than read an article. You can address these audiences through different pieces. Have the formal news release... then put the concise summary on your corporate blog, or perhaps a "news summary" page. Post a technical deep dive on a developer blog. Put a video up on YouTube. Create a summary post somewhere linking all of this together.
  • Enabling others to tell your story - You want to make it easy for other people to tell your story to their audiences. If it's a compelling story that people will want to share, make it easy for them to do so. Provide the pictures, the screenshots ... make the video embeddable (and please don't make it "auto-play"!) ... make this all easy and "self-service" so that people who want to write about your story can do so.

Creating the "package" of pieces lets you do all of this.

The multiple headline effect

An advantage of building a package like this, too, is that you can also try out different headlines in the different components of the package. The main news release can have the more formal headline:

XXXXX ANNOUNCES REVOLUTIONARY PRODUCT YYYYY

The main corporate blog post can say:

Our Product YYYYY cures cancer, solves world hunger and more

while another post on a targeted blog can say:

How Product YYYYY Delivers 6-Month ROI to the Financial Industry

or:

Hey, check out how Product YYYYY smokes the competition

You get the idea ... multiple headlines, each of which appears then in those various tools and searches monitored by media/bloggers/others. You have a chance to see what will work.

Assembling the package

Obviously, putting together all the pieces like this can take a good deal of effort... and time. Generally the process will be something like this:

  1. Finalize the news release in advance of the launch date. Depending upon your capacity to produce online content (i.e. how quickly you can do so), you'll need that news release some amount of time in advance... 24 hours? 48 hours? 72 hours? More? You need the news release signed off on for your final messaging - and also to get to those who will prepare companion pieces.
  2. Determine the URL of the news release. If you can know the URL where your news release will be when it goes live, you can pass this along to those writing companion pieces so that they will link back to the release on your site.
  3. Determine the launch time and date. (And remember time zones when relaying the info) This is important for communicating to those who will write supporting pieces. Ideally you would like the various pieces to hit in the same general timeframe. This is also incredibly important with regard to who will see your stories. If you are in the US, do you want to go live in the early morning US Eastern time? (probably) Or for a European audience?
  4. Develop your companion pieces. Some of the companion pieces can be developed in advance and tweaked with final messaging - others may need final messaging before you start them. (For instance, video may involve too much post-production to re-do, and so you may want to wait for final messaging.)
  5. Deliver pre-announcement briefings. To anyone writing companion pieces, internally or externally, as well as to media sites interested in writing about your news.

And so on... of which most is "PR 101" in how you gear up for an announcement.

Unleashing the wave

At the designated time and date, ideally your news release goes out over the wire ... your own blog posts appear... your video is live on YouTube ... and the stories start appearing.

Some of this you can prepare in advance. Most blogging platforms let you schedule posts. Videos can be uploaded to YouTube and set to be private (which then also gives you the URL you can add into the wire service when setting your news release to go). Other content can be ready in offline editors for posting. Regardless, there will be work to do to make it all start flowing.

Once it starts, you need to make sure you have a tweet (or several) going out in Twitter, a message going out on your Facebook fan page, in Friendfeed and any other services you use.
After that, it's engaging in the conversation in the real-time media, responding to comments, retweeting other stories you see appearing, and all the other things we do these days.

Measuring the wave

It should go without saying that if you are going to put this much work into preparing for a release, you need to understand in advance how you are going to measure the results. What kind of web analytics do you have available to you? Can you include custom (and therefore trackable) URLs in your pieces? Can you use URL shorteners like bit.ly that can track usage?

At a higher level ... do you have an idea of what constitutes success?

Entire blogs and blog posts are written on the subject of measurement - be sure you have a plan.

Preparing for problems

What happens if someone runs with the story before you are ready? What happens if your video doesn't work? Or your web site goes down? Or one of the companion web sites? All the usual concerns you need to think about ...

In the end

If you do this right ... with a compelling story ... a solid "package" of complementary materials ... good headlines, etc., the opportunity is there to see this "attention wave" pass through the real-time aspects of the web today and generate some coverage. If it works well, you may indeed see the wave grow for a while.

There are no guarantees, of course. You may do all of this and at the time you go live there is some major disaster ... or some celebrity action ... (or Apple product release) ... or something to divert attention away from you. But your odds of getting attention are way better than when you were thinking of just issuing that one news release.

 

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