Saturday, March 24, 2007

Writing press releases specifically for the web

The mark of a good professional is one that keeps up on new trends in their industry, reads and follows the examples of others who have integrated new ideas into their craft. In my following other PR blogs, I came across what I think will truly revolutionize media relations.

In proposals made to our client, the EQAO, we've been pushing consideration of reaching out into the blogosphere and towards the growing number of opportunities to spread news virally. What do I mean by virally? By getting bloggers and reader-driven news sites like Newsvine to carry a story, there are enormous opportunities for the same story to be covered elsewhere on the net. Press releases tagged with markers for Digg, De.li.cious, and other social book markers mean that a communiqué's place on the net can help boost search engine rankings and give coverage where traditional media may not. What's another benefit of social bookmarked news? In the case of Digg, after you submit content, other people read your submission and Digg what they like best. If your story rocks and receives enough Diggs, it is promoted to the front page for the millions of visitors to see. Digg bookmarks placed on your release will lead over to the Digg site and as you can imagine, increase your story popularity. Every person can digg (help promote), bury (help remove spam), and comment on stories.

Here come's the problem: The average attention span of an internet reader or a journalist researching a story on the net is very short. You have even less time to convey a message than you would in a traditional release. Online types want the ability to quickly get a sense of the story. They want to be able to leave comments on the spot and if possible, access relevant video and audio clips as well.

In comes the new template for social media press releases.

As you can see from the example here provided by Shift Communications (click the image to see an enlarged version), the new template takes a very different look.

Starting with your headline (as in traditional releases), you need to have a message that quickly grabs the reader's attention. From there, lay out your essential points of why your story is newsworthy. Preferably, this should be laid out in bullet form. This is where the internet communiqué differs from its traditional cousin. In traditional releases, you need to convey a story. On the internet, you need to make your release sound like an ad: punchy, to the point, and eye-grabbing.

Your next step is integrating De.li.cio.us, Digg, and RSS news feeds over to your site. I've discussed why Digg and De.li.cio.us tags are needed, but why RSS feeds? Here's the beauty! Wouldn't it be great if bloggers and the media knew about your next release the moment it came out WITHOUT you having to call or email them? That's what an RSS feed can do.

After your tags, the internet press release allows you to include video clippings, b-rolls, or the specific photos you would like highlighted. No need for a would be journalist to contact you for photos! They can simply download the photos you provide. Other multimedia items or ''downloadables'' can be included as well.

Finally, and what I find as the most interesting is that the new template only then encourages quotes from a client and other statements relating to the story (explanations). In traditional releases, these are placed throughout.

Varying versions of the social media press release are out there. At EQAO, video b-rolls are integrated into the press release in a number of instances- changing the format of releases themselves (click here for an example EQAO release). The results have spoken for themself. Through effective monitoring, Action Strategies found that TV stations throughout the province of Ontario used the pre-developed video clips of the agency. This meant that EQAO's message went out exactly as desired with visuals wanted as well.

With the help of Action Strategies, EQAO is demonstrating the power of news releases and the internet.

Mark Buzan is Principal and Chief Magnifier in Action Strategies, a full service Marketing Communications, Public Relations and Public Affairs Consultantcy. Make sure to contact him for advise on reaching audiences you may or may not have yet considered in your marketing communications and PR campaigns. Drop him a line if you are looking for help in developing an internet media relations campaign. You can view his website at www.actionstrategies.ca.

10 Copy Writing tips for the Web

Writing for the web is a challenge. You need to juggle writing that drives a message with delivering copy that catches the attention of Google, Yahoo, and MSN Search. While in total, there are 20 principles to web writing, here are the first 10:

1. Tight writing - not bad writing. Watch your syntax! :)

2. Copy of about 600-800 words is better for SEO and catching the long tail of search.

3. Title – Subject – Support, in that order, like subject, verb, object.

4. Titles should be snappy and informative – clickable, but clear.

5. Leads (first sentence or paragraph) should get to the point. Tell the reader what the article's about first thing.

6. No fancy, wordy intros where it's not clear what you're talking about.

7. Information beats fluff every time. Pretty is for books and newspapers (and only sometimes).

8. Information does not beat style every time. Style keeps people awake.

9. Sans serif fonts are easier and faster to read on computer screens.

10. White space is awesome – even better than big, pretty pictures.

Well, there you have it! For more tips, contact Action Strategies...I've got 10 more for those interested!
Mark Buzan is Principal and Chief Magnifier in Action Strategies, a full service Marketing Communications, Public Relations and Public Affairs Consultantcy. Make sure to contact him for advice on effective marketing writing and copy writing. You can view his copy writing services website at www.actionstrategies.ca.

My God...in all this time, no talk of Press releases!

You know...it's come to my attention that all this time, I may just have skipped over one of the basics of PR...writing a press release. Well, without further adieu, here are the principles:

1. Follow the standard structure

Starting with a powerful headline, use power-words to add excitement to your release. The first line of your release should be the most impressive and informative. Starting with the date and location, the first line should give just the right amount of info to trigger the reader to read on.

Follow it up with a brief and powerful description and supporting paragraphs answering what, when, where, why, who and how questions. Give relevant quotes to highlight some of the important elements. The closing paragraph should summarize and restate the entire contents of the release. Give the "about us" section in the end.

2. Avoid fancy language; be direct for the reader

The press has a very short attention span. Write short and easy to understand sentences. If you get stuck, keep a good press release in front of your eyes while framing yours, this will help you stick to the structure and give you more ideas. Do not forget the sources of the facts that you mention. Also, don't be afraid to use quotes.

3. Provide relevant contact info at the end

Give complete contact details at the end of the release. Include name, email, phone number and mailing address if required. Remember that some of the journalists will take info from your website.

To give you an idea of some of the work I've done for clients and former employers, here's an example ''traditional news release'' you can click on to see for yourself.


Mark Buzan is Principal and Chief Magnifier in Action Strategies, a full service Marketing Communications, Public Relations and Public Affairs Consultantcy. Make sure to contact him for advise on reaching audiences you may or may not have yet considered in your marketing communications campaigns. You can view his website at www.actionstrategies.ca.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Ottawa's Latest Movers & Shakers Magnified

As with last month, Fred Sherman of Fred Sherman Communications is adding his comments on some of the inside movers and shakers in Ottawa. Here's some of the most recent scoops in who's moving where:

Government relations stakeholders await the four investigative reports recently forwarded to Treasury Board President Vic Toews by Lobbyists Registrar Michael Nelson. The reports, which have to be tabled in Parliament within 15 days of receipt, cover lobbyist Neelam Makhija's activities vis-a-vis funding under the Technology Partnerships Canada program.

And the Government Relations Leadership Institute is hawking half-day advocacy improvement courses for next May. Their speakers include Scott Thurlow and Huw Williams of Impact Public Affairs, former MP Joe Jordan, and former Privy Council employee Barbara Campbell.

Fred Sherman
Fred Sherman is Principal in Fred Sherman Communications, a PR and Political Consultancy based out of Ottawa. Fred Sherman Communications is a partner firm with Action Strategies

...as a note to those in the know, GRIC offers seminars every year. In my own opinion, their courses offer merely the basics. These people will be some of the more prominent people in Ottawa Action Strategies and its Magnifiers will be watching.

Mark Buzan
Mark Buzan is the owner of Action Strategies, a public affairs & marketing communications consultancy. You can subscribe now to his monthly public affairs newsletter by visiting www.actionstrategies.ca and dropping down the newsletter menu.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The How-to's of Commissions, Consultations, & Committees

The challenge of presenting before a commission or committee is ensuring that your message stands a reasonable chance of being adopted. Witnesses must make the best of their testimony. They must get an edge over other groups which compete for the ear of the member. Expert witnesses are not necessarily expert communicators. While many preliminary steps are required to get ready, the following “last minute checklist”, conducted just prior to appearing, might help you take your message to the Hill.

Whether it is to present a case on a fact-finding enquiry or to be embroiled in debate on the merits or costs of clauses in a bill, committees enable Canadians to intersect the policy and legislative process. Parliamentary committees are also the place where members truly roll-up their sleeves to delve into the issues.

Of course, all public policy advisors would agree on one key point: that to influence the policy-making process its best to get in at the earliest stages. This confirms the importance of the constant flurry of departmental consultations, caucus briefings and private one-on-one meetings between parliamentarians and groups. Still, parliamentary committees are unmatched in channelling Canadians’ views to government.

There are other compelling reasons for witnesses to enhance their committee performance. A committee visit may involve managing media relations; testimony may be of interest to ministers or regulators; what is raised at committee could become an issue in Question Period (which is particularly significant for public servants). If CPAC is covering the hearing, a witness is also communicating to a national TV-audience. In short, a committee appearance can be a linchpin for broader communication efforts. (This explains why groups may use committees to table fresh research or announce new initiatives.)

Effective testimonies can also hinge on whether a relationship has been developed with members or those in the bureaucracy who may have organized the consultation process. Witnesses that just blow into town for one meeting, drop their testimony and leave risk being marginalized. Seasoned witnesses rarely air their solutions with members for the first time at the committee table. Working at the constituency level, for instance, helps familiarize members to the issues. The rule of thumb for witnesses appearing before committees is tailor your strategy.

Also crucial is finding additional partners with whom which you could partner, double up, or reciprocally further back a position. As mentioned in Corridors, Action Strategies' Government Relations Newsletter, we've been working with a national trade association looking to present before Quebec's Energy Efficiency Agency. Crucial to this process has been identifying partners and determining the relevance of the message we have to offer.

In future postings, I'll get more into detail on the make ups of committee hearings and how they can be best leveraged.
Mark Buzan is the owner of Action Strategies, a public affairs & marketing communications consultancy. You can subscribe now to his monthly public affairs newsletter by visiting www.actionstrategies.ca and dropping down the newsletter menu.