Tag Archives: campaign management

Striking Out ALS, One Ice Bucket at a Time

If you have logged into Facebook over the last couple of weeks, you most likely witnessed many of your peers dousing themselves in ice water in the name of charity. At the time of writing on August 22nd, this grassroots campaign known as The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge had raised $41.8 million dollars in donations for the ALS Association. As of August 26, the campaign has accumulated a whopping $88.5 million dollars total from existing donors and 1.9 million new donors.

The enormous surge in donations for what was once a largely overlooked cause is in part due to elevated exposure from celebrities, political figures and corporate executives worldwide. What is even more amazing is that the ALS Association had not planned this massive fundraising initiative. So how did the Ice Bucket Challenge campaign work and what did the ALS Association do right in order to capitalize on these past few weeks?

The story behind the Ice Bucket Challenge

The social explosion  began when former college baseball player Pete Frates, whose career in sports ended when he was diagnosed with ALS in 2012, posted a video to Facebook on July 31st calling on friends and public figures to take the Ice Bucket Challenge in an effort raise awareness and donations toward research for the disease.  A short 3 weeks later, the ALS Association has experienced an exponential increase in donations –  $88.5 million vs $2.5 million raised during the same period last year (July 29 – August 26).

The significance of the Ice Bucket Challenge

Communicators who are unsure of how to tell their corporate social responsibility stories more effectively can learn a few lessons from the ALS Association and the Ice Bucket Challenge. It’s no secret that many mistake corporate-charity partnerships as a shameless effort by for-profit businesses to generate positive publicity. What many fail to realize is illnesses that affect a smaller group of people tend to have smaller initiatives and fundraising efforts surrounding them. Therefore, the organizations dedicated to fighting these rarer illnesses have to use every opportunity they can to get the same attention that more common illnesses do.

If you haven’t already donated to #StrikeOutALS, follow the link to donate now: http://prn.to/IceBucketChallenge

Lessons for communicators

Here are the key takeaways from the Ice Bucket Challenge that communicators should make note of:

1. Use positivity to tell a powerful and emotionally compelling story

The effects of ALS are devastating and there is no known cure, but the Ice Bucket Challenge shed light on the issue by combining humor and compassion to get people to pay attention. ALS patient Anthony Carbajal recently made headlines for his Ice Bucket Challenge video, which told the emotional personal story of being diagnosed with the disease at age 26 and how its hereditary nature has affected his family for generations.

With regards to the previous lack of attention surrounding ALS, Carbajal said, “Nobody wants to see a depressing person that’s dying and has two to five years to live. They don’t want to talk about it, they don’t want their day ruined.” Carbajal sums up a heartbreaking reality for many people and organizations who are trying to raise awareness for certain causes, and illustrates why the Ice Bucket Challenge is so important.

2. Know your social audience and what platforms will work best

One of the biggest reasons why this grassroots campaign proved so successful was the social media component. Most of the videos were housed and shared on Facebook, and there are several reasons why this was the best social channel to showcase the ice bucket challenge.

  • First, Facebook’s auto-play video platform meant that users scrolling through their newsfeeds didn’t even have to hit the play button to view the Ice Bucket Challenge videos that were shared, a key feature for grabbing attentions and piquing viewer interests.
  • Secondly, even though Twitter’s Vine videos also contain an auto-play feature, Facebook videos have no time limit. Challengers were able to nominate as many people as they wanted without having to race against the clock, proving that elongated content formats are still quite relevant.
  • Finally, when nominees were tagged in the videos, it appeared on their respective profiles seeding further awareness among their network of friends and family.

However, relying on social channels to power the campaign leaves important publicity on the table.  Even though the Ice Bucket campaign developed organically on social media and amassed an astonishing amount of media attention, the ALS Association has also capitalized on the visibility generated online, using paid distribution via press releases to continue seeding awareness around the issue and supplying the media with newsworthy information and data points such as the growing number of donations the organization has received thus far.

PR Newswire’s Support of ALS

Congratulations to our client, the ALS Association, on their tremendous success these past few weeks. As this campaign has spread like wildfire, PR Newswire employees from across the country stepped up to the challenge including Ken Wincko, SVP of Marketing, who graciously accepted the nomination from our friends at CommPro.biz. We’re proud to support such a worthy cause and be part of the fight to help strike out ALS!

For more on how the ALS Association turned a grassroots effort into a fundraising machine, read “The 3 Tactical Elements That Made the “Ice Bucket Challenge” a Viral Success”: http://prn.to/1vNqNhK

Co-authored by: 

ShannonShannon Ramlochan, PR Newswire’s Content Marketing Coordinator



Danielle croppedDanielle Ferris is a member of PR Newswire’s marketing team.


The “Slow PR” Trend: Building Traction Over Time

Dear Q&A Team,

I was reading an article that mentioned a movement called “slow PR.” I had not heard of this movement before, so it would be great to get a better understanding of it. What does it mean? How is “slow PR” different or similar to traditional PR? What should companies do to move into the “slow PR” movement?

Need for Speed?


Dear Need for Speed,

Most people have heard of the “slow movement,” so it is interesting to learn how this relates and affects PR. Here are six ProfNet experts who explain this movement:

Definition of “Slow PR”

Steve Capoccia, account director at Warner Communications, says, “If you want to move your objective forward in a meaningful way, you want a firm that demonstrates empathy, compassion and knows how to tell a story that builds relationships – this is ‘slow PR.’”

Christopher Penn, vice president of marketing technology at Shift Communications, adds, “Instead of aggressive outbound pitching and mass emails, ‘slow PR’ (inbound PR) is about cultivating relationships with journalists first and foremost, putting the relationship first; asking detailed inquiries of journalists to make sure the pitches that do get sent are 100 percent on target; and creating a ‘house’ audience that you can selectively direct to newsworthy pieces.”

“’Slow PR’ is about building relationships, mutual respect, trust and credibility with reporters and through the product of that, the larger audience,” reiterates Edward Hershey, principal of Edward Hershey & Associates. “This was never about releases, press conferences or staged events.”

There is also a greater use of social media in “slow PR” — particularly Twitter, explains David Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision. “‘Slow PR’ highlights getting to know a journalist, their interests, and how they write by following them and then pitching them via social media rather than through massive emails and media lists that are often ignored.”

Capoccia warns that “slow PR” must not be confused with “forever and a day PR.” Speed is important. You can have “slow PR” and achieve results quickly if you are using a firm that knows how to deliver meaningful content in an integrated way that is appreciated by the intended audience.

“Slow PR” vs. Traditional PR

Johnson explains, “‘Slow PR’ takes a step back and is less hectic and isn’t about being fast-paced and the number of pitches sent to a reporter.  The more traditional PR is about the number of pitches you sent, how many reporters contacted, how many hits and is more fast-paced.”

Anne Isenhower, principal of Anne Isenhower Communications, agrees with Johnson. She says, “Traditional PR too often employs a scattershot approach to outreach that can reach too wide and thus miss the mark. “Slow PR” ensures that outreach is very carefully planned to generate the best coverage results and the best long-term relationships with influencers.”

Penn provides this explanation: “In traditional PR — which is a lot like outbound sales — you have a product and you shop it around until someone buys. In inbound marketing and ‘slow PR’ (inbound PR), you create and manage the audience, and then fit the product where it belongs.”

However, “slow PR” strategies still strive to preserve traditional PR while also educating, planning, and evaluating without time constraints, says Aliah Davis-McHenry, president and CEO of Aliah Public Relations. “As we see now with social media, PR practitioners have to act and react in the now so those that engage in ‘slow PR’ cannot afford to not take advantage of these timely opportunities. There is a need for churning out our client’s information in a fast pace but there is also a need to build those meaningful relationships and use technology in a slow way as well.”

Penn agrees that you need both traditional PR and “slow PR.” “Slow PR” won’t replace outbound PR, it’ll supplement it.

Transitioning into “Slow PR”

Johnson thinks: “A business should begin by evaluating if their efforts at traditional PR with massive pitching is working or not.  From that evaluation they should then begin adopting practices that fall into the ‘slow PR’ movement and explain to clients if they are an agency how this ultimately benefits them with better quality stories and stronger relationships with reporters. “

In addition, “you must see the relationships with your influencers and media as being a higher priority than that of the stories and pitches, and be willing to invest in the time and people it takes to make those relationships happen,” says Penn. “It also means possibly no longer working with some clients who are pushing you to make short-term pitching choices that can harm the long-term relationships — you have to be willing to walk away from a story or even a client.”

Capoccia’s suggests avoiding “robo-contact” at all costs. This can be accomplished by setting it up as a best practice with an individual or several key employees who are in charge of analyzing how the team/s are approaching journalists to make sure they are offering information that will impact and support the client’s and journalists objectives.

Most importantly, Davis-McHenry believes, “A company can move more into the ‘slow PR’ movement by putting care and consideration into their public relations efforts by not engaging in ‘spray and pray’ via email and social media and developing meaningful relationships with journalists, bloggers, and influencers; companies will see that their PR initiatives will grow and build business.”

Successful Examples of “Slow PR”

Isenhower felt the effectiveness of “slow PR” after spending about four hours preparing a single pitch to a very senior editor at The New York Times. She says that five minutes after she hit send, the editor called her and said, “I get at least a hundred pitches a day about this column alone. Yours was the only one I opened today, and I appreciate the time and thought you’ve obviously put into it.  I’d like to interview your CEO.”

“A good chunk of what we do at SHIFT is ‘slow PR’ (inbound PR), focusing on the relationships first,” says Penn. “For example, we’ll have a lunch and learn with a reporter from a beat and ask them straight out what they need, what stories they’re looking to cover, what especially they do not want, and then we use that guidance to decide which clients and stories are the best fit.”

Penn adds, “You know you’re succeeding when journalists are calling your account staff asking if they have any stories on X topic, because they did such a fantastic job the last time they worked together, and that happens on a fairly regular basis to our staff.”

Capoccia’s company works with an industry analyst firm as a client. Even though they are often in “breaking news” situations, they are also very careful to deliver what they say to the reporter contact and “drip-feed” information to the reporter by way of background to further establish credibility and relationships.

The use of “slow PR” resulted in a blockbuster exposé that made a difference for Hershey’s client. His story: “When a lead emerged about a potentially significant story earlier this year that would accrue to my client’s benefit I contacted the managing editor of a local weekly and sold him on assigning his top reporter (a Pulitzer Prize winner) to pursue the story. The reporter, too, was someone I had worked with before. Over the next two weeks I connected him with sources (who needed buttressing and reassurance as well) and otherwise maintained close contact without crowding him.”

But keep in mind that “slow PR” is in its infancy, warns Johnson. Yet, “one thing is true; reporters appreciate it and are more willing to work with those who take a slow and nuanced approach.”

Written by Polina Opelbaum, editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. To read more from Polina, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

Sponsored Content Poses Opportunities for PR

Steve Rubel, chief content strategist at Edelman, and our guest this week on webinar titled “The Future of Sponsored Content for Communications Professionals.”

As brands spool up their publishing engines, many are seeking outlets for their messaging.  At the same time, traditional media outlets are continuing to re-engineer their business models, and are seeking new revenue opportunities.   The confluence of the two – brand content and availability of space on publisher platforms – is behind the increasing amount of sponsored content we’re seeing on media properties today.

Today’s forms of sponsored content often appear commingled with or in close proximity to editorial content.  Herein is an opportunity for PR professionals to add a new dimension to their long relationship with the news media. Centered in advertising, communicators can now combine paid and owned programming across a spectrum of publishers, and can earn some media while they’re at it.  With the exception of the last phrase, this doesn’t sound too much like traditional PR.  In advance of our webinar about the evolution of sponsored content and what it means for PR scheduled for Thursday of this week, I spoke with Steve Rubel, chief content strategist for Edelman and LinkedIn Influencer.

Source: Edelman

“The core work in PR remains earned media,” Rubel noted straight off the bat.  “That remains the primary purpose – to use earned media to develop a stronger relationship with stakeholders and consumers.”

However, he also noted that it’s increasingly difficult to ensure a story – even a great one – reaches its intended audience.  Against an overwhelming supply of content, demand remains finite.  The competition for attention is continually growing.

Enter sponsored content.

Sponsored enables you to amplify your content,” says Rubel. “It creates a launching pad for awareness and consideration – and this is helpful for changing minds and behaviors.  But it is not a replacement for earned media.  It is a way to amplify that which is either earned or owned.” [Tweet this!]

The earned – sponsored opportunity for PR

Sponsored content can generate newsworthy information that can ultimately spawn earned media elsewhere, Rubel noted, providing as an example the Economists’s intelligence Unit, which supplies a variety of forecasting, advisory and research services.  The Economist will never cover reports the EIU produces for a third party within their own editorial, but other outlets may do so.

“The campaign itself can generate paid or earned coverage that is the start of a conversation,” says Rubel. “There is that connection between that which is sponsored and that which is earned, and that is where the sweet spot happens. It gets you into orbit. The two are connected but not within the same locale.”

Governing ethics – a necessary framework

Edelman has created an ethical framework to guide and govern their firm’s work in sponsored content, and this excerpt nicely frames the role of PR in developing a sponsored content strategy:

The PR firms will use paid to accelerate or amplify earned or owned content, while the media buyer will have the paid content that is recommended and executed by the media company stand on its own. The PR industry will have journalistic sensibility on what makes a good story and how it fits into the earned stream, then to decide whether it merits further promotion.

There is an important caveat, however.  Transparency is crucial, and both brands and publishers need to clearly delineate between sponsored and editorial content.  Relevance, not deception, should drive consumption of sponsored content.  Rubel noted that Edelman evaluates each publisher’s approach to displaying sponsored content, and requires clear disclosure.

“Come at this with the reader in mind first,” he suggests.  “What is right for them?  What level of disclosure do they want? Does the media partner execute to satisfaction?”

Additionally, the processes around media buys and publicity need to be kept strictly separate.

“We advocated in the paper that the processes for negotiating sponsored buys and editorial pitching need to be done by separate people,” commented Rubel. “Ideation can be shared, but the process needs to be separate.”

We’ll be digging further into this topic on Thursday with Steve Rubel, in a webinar hosted by the Business Development Institute titled “The Future of Sponsored Content for Communications Professionals.” Attendance is free.

Webinar details:

Thursday, August 22

2:00 ET


Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and

is the author of the e-books “Unlocking Social Media for PR and the soon-to-be-published “New School PR Tactics.”  Follow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik

Using Storytelling to Drive Business Goals

PR Newswire and CommPRO.biz hosted a Google hangout on using storytelling to drive business goals. Lead by Blair Caplinger (@bcaplinger), co-founder of Telling Media Inc.,  the hangout also featured Ben Zenick (@bzenick), COO of Zencos, a full-service business intelligence consultancy, a client of Telling Media Inc.

Definition of a Business Story

A business story is essentially a narrative that explains how a business or an aspect of a business satisfies the needs and aspirations of a target audience.

It is important to remember that people make decisions based on stories, Caplinger noted, and every story is intended to convince or sell people something. This something can be a product or service, or even an idea or business plan. Whether businesses know it or not, they are constantly telling a story to consumers through their communications, which can be as small as a tweet to something as large as a campaign. The biggest problem is that companies start telling their story before they even know it, and this doesn’t produce very good results.

When Caplinger first sits down with clients, he initially focuses on the different issues the client is encountering, whether they’re in marketing, PR, sales or another department.  The commonality across all these different functions is the simple story they are telling.  Zenick noted that prior to working with Caplinger, Zencos realized that the message they were providing wasn’t differentiating the company from the other business intelligence vendors that were out there.  They knew how they wanted to convey themselves, but ended up promoting themselves the same way as the other organizations.

Your Business Has a Story Problem If…

  • Prospects/clients have a difficult time committing and signing on the bottom line.
  • Employees don’t understand your company vision.
  • Qualified leads visiting your website don’t see how you can help them solves their problems in a short amount of time.
  • There are varying descriptions of what your company does, e.g., three different salespeople provide three different descriptions of what your company does.
  • Difficulty obtaining funding — and this may be a problem for startups that have a flawed story that doesn’t communicate the value of their startup organization.

The Stories Your Business Must Tell

  • Strategic vision stories that can help people gain buy-in for strategy and direction for different levels of management and audiences, both internal and external.
  • Brand stories where companies talk about their brands in a way where people can form an emotional connection with it.
  • Product stories that explain why the particular products will make your life better.
  • Recruiting stories, and if there are brand stories around an organization then this should be translated into what it means for your recruiting department and for hiring the best talent.
  • Success stories, these end up being case studies and white papers, which provide the proof of your product or service.

Your business must never tell stories that are excuses. If things go wrong, your business needs to be prepared to address things honestly and openly, and then move forward.

Reasons Why Your Business Story Failed

  • Leading a story with facts doesn’t engage people and is really boring. Facts end up being “what” and “how” stories, which don’t sell. People buy on feelings and then they use facts to justify purchase decisions.
  • A story that serves up too much information. Caplinger refers to this as story stew, and this story contains too much detail and industry jargon. This type of story overwhelms an audience and deters them from making a decision.
  • The brain disregards 99 percent of all it perceives and is constantly filtering for what is unique. People need contrast to make decisions, so companies need to make sure their stories don’t fail to be remarkable.

Process of Storytelling

If you want it to be successful, storytelling needs to start at the top of the organization. Every business leader and C-level executive should embrace the concept of being a chief storytelling officer of their company, because you can’t drive a story up through an organization, but you can only drive it down from the top.

Tips for Creating Stories That Sell

  • A business needs to lead with emotion. People make purchase decisions based on some type of emotional and personal driver. It’s all about “what will it do for me, how will it help me,” etc. Apple’s signature campaign does this very well by showing how Apple’s products have changed the way people listen, live, learn, play, etc., and it talks about the company’s reason to exist.
  •  A business needs to be in touch with its “why.” It is why you do you what you do, it’s your purpose for being, and it’s your passion. Zencos has worked on their “why” and why they want to differentiate themselves amongst over business intelligence vendors. They wanted to be a company that was able deliver to customers what they were promising on time and on budget. They also wanted to be a company that focused on building relationships with their customers.
  • It is important that a business understand its buyer’s mindset, which is composed of beliefs, values, biases, and personal experiences. People like to work with people who see and believe things similar to themselves. Target did this very well by creating a great campaign that allows millenials to buy a product that will end up helping their community by feeding people. This campaign helps understand the mindset of millenials who care about their community and want to look and feel good.
  • A business needs to find common ground. As a business researches their customer’s beliefs, biases, etc., they then have to map that against their own. Once they do that, that’s the realm from which all story flows.
  • Stories need to be visual to drive understanding. A businesses needs to include visualization and visualization exercises in the process of conceiving the stories. Telling Media creates these visuals when they are working with executives on their narratives, and then sometimes these end up as precursors to infographics.

Example of a Zencos Infographic

Final thought: When a business talks clearly about why they do what they do and what they do, they will naturally attract the right customers.

Written by Polina Opelbaum, editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources.  To read more from Polina, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

3 Ways to Capitalize on the Longer Lives of Press Releases


How long do the press releases you issue maintain news value?

Conventional wisdom says that the news value of an announcement degrades after a day or so.  However, changes in how people find and consume information has given press releases and other content considerably longer shelf-lives.

It’s also worth noting that announcements professional media may overlook at the outset can gain momentum over time and eventually garner coveted pick up, fueled by social buzz that essentially proves the interest in the story.

Press releases have longer life spans, generating views months after they’re issued (tweet this)

PR Newswire’s own data shows that press release views are accruing over longer periods of time.  A few years ago, the majority of views would have accumulated within the first several days of issue.   Today, that timeframe is significantly elongated – on average, releases acquire the majority of their views over a period of four months.

Why is this happening?  The answer is simple.  Audiences can find niche content easily today, and when they find something they like, they share it socially.  However, they are doing all of this according to their own timeframes.  Good content that gains credibility with audiences will also develop better visibility in search engines.  A well-written and informative press release can easily generate this sort of traction with audiences, thus increasing the longevity of the message.

3 ways PR pros can capitalize on the long life span of press releases (tweet this)

The longer lives of the messages we issue brings new opportunities to the public relations departments.  Here are three ways to take full advantage of them:

Write for the long tail.   Craft the message so it speaks to and appeals to your target audience – the actual people your organization wants to take action your message.    Make the content easy to find and share, to encourage readers to post it on their social networks and amplify your message.

Measure results over time.   If you stop measuring results after one news cycle, you’ll leave a lot of value on the table.  Keep an eye on traffic to the message, social shares and media pick up in the months following its issue.

Keep an eye on “dark traffic.”   If you’ve ever seen a web analytics report, you probably noticed that a big chunk of the referring traffic to the web site was described as “unknown.”    This traffic, which does not pass referral information to the analytics program, is generated one of three ways:

  1. When someone uses a URL shortener (very common on social networks,)
  2. When a person conducts a Google search while they’re logged into a Google account
  3. When a person accesses a page either by typing the exact URL into their browser, or clicking on a bookmark they’ve previously stored.

In most cases, an organizations’ dark traffic is generated by the first two activities, and this is especially true of press releases. So savvy PR pros should keep an eye on the unknown dark traffic their releases generate, because that traffic is an indicator of social sharing and search activity – both immensely valuable sources of message amplification and qualified, interested readers.

New School Press Release Tactics: Free Webinar 7/18

Image via Cyclone Marketing

We’ll be devoting more time to the discussion of press release life spans, news value, calls to action, audience engagement and a whole host of “new school” press release tactics in a free webinar this Thursday, July 18.    We’ll look at a variety of condensed case studies and the innovative press release approaches and tactics used by a variety of organizations, and the results they generated.

Panelists include:

Anne Donohoe, (@agdonohoe) Managing Director and Director of Public Relations, KCSA

Beth Monaghan (@bamonaghan) Principal & Co-Founder, InkHouse Communications

Jason Khoury (@jasonkhoury) Director of Communications,  Jive Software

Jenni Rammenger (@jenniramminger) Director of Marketing & Stephanie Pflaum (@stephflaum) Online Marketing Specialist,  Fathom

We hope you can join us! The free webinar will be held July 18, at 1:00 ET.  ** REGISTER **

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of the e-book “Unlocking Social Media for PR.”  Follow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik

PR: The Big SEO Trend for 2013?

A lot of search engine optimization professionals are incorporating PR tactics into their optimization strategies these days, and there’s a very good reason for this trend: the search engines are placing premiums on authentic earned media.

The very nature of earned media has evolved, however. In addition to pick up in the mainstream media, earned media credibility also occurs when content generates social shares and develops high-quality website traffic.


So, as we are writing press releases and other content intended for online publication, it’s a good idea to be thinking about how to encourage social sharing and to keep readers on the website page posting your content.  And to achieve these objectives, first and foremost, it’s crucial to attract readers are truly interested in the message topic.

Thinking like a marketer when it comes to outcomes

This means we need to take a critical look at the press releases and other content we’re publishing, with an eye toward garnering reader attention, holding it on the page, and inspiring some sort of action such as social sharing or clicking through on links we serve. 

These types of outcomes aren’t traditionally found among the intended outcomes of a campaign, but these are the sort of things the digital marketing crowd pays close attention to, because of the importance of these factors to everything from search engine rank and social buzz to lead generation and conversion rate.

And let’s face it.  If we fail to grab reader attention, hold it and inspire the reader to take some sort of positive action, the press releases we send out and the blog posts we publish won’t be seen. Content that is overlooked by readers does not generate any of the positive signals that search engines are looking for that ultimately increase the visibility of a message,  and also improve the rank of the corresponding website.

Put the audience first. 

What is coming next may surprise you, however.  Instead of picking apart the the structural mechanics of the press release, I believe it’s important to spend a little time thinking about the overall message and the focus. We have to do a better job of presenting content in our readers’ context, not within the brands messaging framework.

How do you build that audience context into messaging? A good way to start is by answering the following questions pertaining to the announcement you’re drafting:

  • What are the problems are opportunities the readers want to solve or harness?
  • How does what you’re promoting improve their lives or make it easier for them to do their jobs better?

These are the sorts of questions we need to be asking ourselves as we start to build our message strategies.  If we fail to incorporate the audience’s point of view into our messaging, our brands are going to feel out-of-touch, inaccessible and uninteresting.

Forget SEO tactics.  Focusing the message is job one. 

Another problem I see often in press releases is jumbled messaging, with angles and themes piled haphazardly on top of one another. The release may start off talking about a partnership or a new product, for example, but then all of a sudden it veers off into a discussion of business strategy, a new hire or the upcoming product pipeline.  It starts to read like a late-night infomercial.  But wait! There’s more!

Content that has too many topics jammed into it presents a number of problems for both the readers and for search engine.

Readers lose interest when the content fears away from the topic in which they were pursuing more information.

And search engines have a hard time understanding what the content is about when it involves too many themes. That causes problems for them when it comes to indexing and categorizing the content and ultimately serving up to interested searchers.

Simply put, that once thousand word press release containing three months’ worth of announcements is probably doing the issuing brand more harm than good. Important resources were expended in the writing and distribution, but because it’s so long and so unfocused, readers are dropping off the pages, they’re not sharing the content and search engines frankly can’t make heads or tails of the meaning. The content doesn’t have a fighting chance. Before long, it will sink under its own weight, all the way down to the graveyard of boring stuff at the bottom of the interwebs.

The embedded slide deck offers some additional insight into developing content designed to attract engage and hold audiences and encourage interaction. Included in the deck are some tips for structuring the content and tactics you can employ that will make it easier for your readers to understand and scan your press releases, blog posts and other written content.  If you want to drill into this topic even more, scan the copy in the SEO section of our blog.  Here’s the link: http://blog.prnewswire.com/tag/seo/

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of the e-book “Unlocking Social Media for PR.”  Follow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik .

3 Tips for Formatting Press Releases for Maximum Online Readership

Summary:  There are 3 important lessons for public relations professionals  in crafting effective press releases and other digital messages to be gleaned from the Financial Times’ launch this week of FastFT, a short-format news service. 

A news summary on the PaidContent.org site grabs attention and creates a perfect tweet.

A news summary on the PaidContent.org site grabs attention and creates a perfect tweet.

The Financial Times this week launched FastFT, a nimble and ultra-short-form news service publishing extremely short (<250 word) stories.  The reasoning behind the new service?  While the 140 character limit on Twitter is a bit too confining, nonetheless, it’s clear that readers prefer short snippets rather than long-form.  The FT is adding the short-format service to their mix, in order to, according to an interview with FastFT’s chief correspondent Megan Murphy that was published by PaidContent, “Create more portals and routes for readers to consume the publication’s content.”

The idea of using alternative content formats to create portals leading readers to other related content is an excellent idea.

From the KPCB 2013 Internet Trends deck

Global PC & tablet shipping data, from the KPCB 2013 Internet Trends deck

  • For one thing, short stories are mobile-device friendly.  And in case you missed it, as of the fourth quarter of 2012, more tablets shipped than PCs and desktops combined – just three years after the launch of the first tablet.  FastFT is, by its very nature, designed to render well across devices and platforms.


  • The short format also caters to online reading behaviors, which differ significantly from how people interact with print content.   Online readers browse content quickly, scanning pages and following links to rapidly hone in on what is interesting to them at that moment. 

Fast FT is going to be a winner for the FT, and there are important lessons here that PR pros need to pay attention to when crafting press releases and other messages.

Focus your message on the reader’s interests, not the company’s agenda.

Let’s be brutally honest.  Your audience doesn’t care about the fact that your company is unveiling a new product or announcing a new venture.   They care about how these announcements will impact them.    Does the new product solve a problem or enable users to capture a new opportunity?  If it does, lead with that angle, and reflect it in your headline and lead.

But don’t stop with just the headline and lead.  Allowing the story to wander off course will cause your readers to exit the page.  Keep the pedal to the metal on the key story, and ruthlessly edit out all those attempts by others to hitch a ride on your message.    This is not the time to try to appeal to every potential vertical market.  You’ve undoubtedly heard the old adage “Jack of all trades, master of none.”  Don’t let you press releases turn into a confused pile of messages that lack a central focus.  Every paragraph and every quote need to support the core message.  If they don’t, chop them.

Consider employing a news summary.

Many news sites and blogs are now providing readers a short summary of articles and posts, highlighting the key points of interest and offering a bit more detail than the headline, subhead and lead traditionally do.   While purists might balk at summaries and complain about how they interrupt the flow of a story, in reality, summaries provide great functionality for the reader, and provide one more element that can hook the reader.

Summaries must be short.   If your summary requires more than a single sentence or a few short bullet points, the content itself may need a bit more focus, because there may be too many stories or angles packed into the content lead the readers to the course of action you’ll prescribe.

Pro tip: To ensure correct rendering of your content, if you do employ a news summary and plan on sending the press release over a newswire, place the summary in the text of the release, after the dateline.  Do not attempt to replace your subhead with a bulleted summary – doing so could play havoc with how the story appears on the thousands of web sites that syndicate PR Newswire content.

Move the call to action to the top of the page

Last week we spoke to a client that was disappointed that their press release hadn’t generated the hoped-for boost in web site traffic.  Upon inspection, the underlying reason became clear – the release was almost 1,000 words long, and was bereft of any links for readers to follow.  The only URL to be found in the press release was at the very end, in the boilerplate.

How do people read on the web?  According to Jakob Nielsen, a leading expert on web usability and a principle of the Nielsen Norman Group, they don’t.

Nielsen’s research on how people read on the web is 16 years old, but its findings are as true today as they were when originally published.  Our reading behaviors are different when consuming digital content, and this means that many readers won’t make it to the mid-point of your press release, much less the bitter end.   To get the best results for your message, it’s crucial that you channel the reader’s action, and you do that by placing calls to action (“CTA”) strategically in your message.

To create the outcomes desired, the calls to action need to be placed near the top of the press release.  The CTA can be subtle, offered in the form of an anchor text link from a descriptive phrase within the first paragraph.  Or, when the CTA is an event registration or access to a free download or trial, the CTA can much more overt, in the form of an actual link placed directly below the first paragraph, and accompanied by a clear invitation to the reader – something like “Download the free white paper” or “For a free 30-day trial.”

Employing these tips will result in a press release that looks a bit different, but our bet is that it will perform differently as well, attracting more readers, keeping their attention longer and ultimately driving more of the desired actions and outcomes the organization hoped to achieve with the message.

Related reading: 

The press release as a tool to drive discovery

How content distribution drives message discovery & results  

sarah avatar

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing,  and is the author of the e-book “Unlocking Social Media for PR.”  Follow her on Twitter at@sarahskerik .