As manager of release monitoring and measurement at PR Newswire, this is perhaps the most common question I get asked by clients. It’s the right question, and if answered properly, it can change the course of an organization’s entire communications strategy.
When looking at reporting details, either for one specific release, or for an entire string of releases, there are always two areas we need to focus on: the good news, and the bad news. Usually there’s a little of both in every report, and both can teach us volumes about the decisions we’ve made in terms of formulating our communications.
Give me the good news first
As in every other field of human endeavor, the universe rewards communicators richly for strategic approaches to their task. In the arena of writing news releases, success is easy to see: high numbers of online views, solid search results, soaring media numbers and amazing engagement; all of these are the rewards of a well-conceived message. But this begs the question: What exactly needs to be ‘well conceived” about a message?
Experts tend to emphasize one of two possible answers: Some focus on the need for optimum and perfectly weighted keywords in the release, while others harken back to the first principles of good communications — writing the release well. For success in today’s online world, you obviously need both.
In terms of SEO, we know that optimized content stands a better chance of connecting with target audiences than content that has not been optimized for search. The question for most communicators is, how does one achieve effective SEO? Here we all have many resources at our disposal, from industry-leading SEO sites such as SEOmoz, to customized services such as PR Newswire’s step-by-step content optimization OptimizationMax tool, all the way to full scale SEO consulting services. The source of one’s information matters less then making sure that you have the SEO info you need, and that you know how to use it. Keyword research, gauging the competitiveness of synonymous terms, understanding keyword density, and knowing where the hot spots are in a release or website where keywords matter most, this is the nub of the SEO gist.
That said, SEO is far from the end of the story.
Communicators forget at their peril that they are not, in fact, writing for search engines, but rather, for real people. As Maria Perez captured in her Day in the Life of a Freelancer post, audiences give your content only one shot, and it starts with your headline. If you don’t get reader attention there, then all the SEO you’ve implemented in your release is for naught. It truly is all about the “snappy, grabbing lead,” says freelancer journalist Roberts-Grey. “If [a headline] doesn’t grab me right away, it’s outta here.” Rod Nicolson recently reminded us of a universal truth, which is, that “Everything is a story,” ( Storytelling Rules & Writing Better Press Releases ). Especially in this age of content marketing, communicators need to make absolutely sure that their news releases – i.e., their ‘stories’ — are compelling. It’s simply a fact that the visibility of your entire message is at stake. I see customers get reminded of this every day.
“Break it to me gently”
Reporting never lies. It’s easy to tell when we’ve hit the mark with our releases; it’s equally easy to tell when we haven’t. You may have generated good online views, but poor media resonance; your first two releases might have gotten very high index scores, but your third release did not; the amazing numbers of spider hits you obtained with your last release looked great, but the release garnered surprisingly fewer search views than any release you’ve issued so far…. What happened? What’s the pattern?
This question was posed to me recently by a very large and well-known company. They couldn’t fathom why one of their releases got surprisingly lower-than-average scores. This prompted us to look at the results from their past 10 releases. Lo and behold, a clear pattern emerged. For starters, we noticed that this company’s earnings releases seemed to always garner the same amount of visibility –high but not through the roof. This makes sense, as the audiences interested in earnings releases differ from those who follow more consumer-type releases, etc. Also, these audiences tend to be stable. Next, the company had issued two personnel releases, but one that announced the hire of a more well known individual than the other. No surprise that the former got much higher views. The biggest incongruence did indeed relate, as the client noticed, to the two more ‘lightweight’ releases recently issued. One got head-spinning results, and the other didn’t. They both dealt with the same topic. Upon closer look, we see that the headline of the popular release mentioned a high-profile tech-y gadget; the other didn’t. Otherwise, the releases were very similar. Quite simply, the tech gadget angle ended up being a writing decision that paid nice dividends in terms of visibility.
In writing news releases, success should be our guide, but we need to also note the patterns. Results garnered from soft news shouldn’t necessarily be compared with those for conference call announcements. These two types of communications have very different goals and will show very different viewer and engagement information. We should first learn to compare apples to apples, and THEN analyze similar releases to see why one apple fared better in the marketplace than the other.
Effort still matters
Even when you think you’ve covered all your bases, however, think again. As NBA finals draw near, those of us who follow basketball painfully remember the occasions when our favorite championship teams have lost critical basketball games during the regular season. After any one of these shocking losses, it’s worth noting the coaches’ reaction. NBA coaches never come out and criticize the skill level of their players. Instead, what you hear over and over again is the lack of ‘effort’ in the game. This actually does have a parallel in the news release world! Let’s say you’ve just issued your news release: you’ve written it well and you’ve optimized your content. What’s left? There’s actually a lot of footwork still left to do. Did you post the release to your organization’s Facebook page? Did you Tweet about the release? Did you follow up with journalists and bloggers who usually cover this area? Are you actively networking, and building your own social networks for the areas you cover in your releases? Are you actively tuned in to the context of your message?
High scores are ‘earned’
In the end, ‘earned media’ is what it says, ‘earned’. It takes both skill and effort to pull off an effective communications campaign. Looking at the patterns in your reporting results will tell you quickly what you did right, and what you might improve on to get better results next time.
Author Denise Perez is PR Newswire’s manager of release monitoring & measurement.
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