PRSA, news releases and the news media

Bill Sledzik has another excellent essay on his ToughSledding blog. He’s looking at the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and critiquing a news release that organization distributed Jan. 4 about Jeffrey Julin becoming PRSA’s chair and CEO. Terrible news release – but excellent points and comments by Bill and others such as Jack O’Dwyer and Les Potter.

When I first read Bill’s essay yesterday, my first reaction was that most of these “appointment” news releases are doomed to failure. They are long on words and jargon – but short on news value. The announcement about Julin goes on for nine long paragraphs. And if a newspaper or other media outlet had any interest in printing this what would be the result? I’ll bet not more than this:

“The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) has announced that Jeffrey Julin has become PRSA chair and chief executive officer effective Jan. 1.”

That’s typical.  Most of us know that. But we keep churning out the Julin-type announcements nonetheless. Why? Well, if nothing else, they take up space on the organization’s Web site. I used to believe that had some value. Not sure anymore.  But the bigger reason is that our management or clients will settle for nothing less. Stop the presses. Rob Jewell has been named third assistant sales representative at Widget Inc. So off we go.

And then I may be wrong about this. I read a lot of newspapers every day, including the Akron Beacon Journal and The New York Times. I haven’t seen the Julin announcement in either as yet. But I’ll admit that the Times appears to be preoccupied with politics and other matters. And maybe I missed the story in both papers.

Just to be sure, I’m going to send an e-mail to Joseph DeRupo next week. He is PRSA’s associate director of public relations and was the media contact on the news release. I’ll ask him how many newspapers and other media outlets received the Julin announcement? How many printed a story? And how much information was contained in each story? Now that the pro football season is over, what else do I have to do?

And then there is the question of the news media. Reporters say they dislike being bombarded with these kinds of announcements: too much detail, no news, and many times no connection to local readers. Yada. Yada. Yada.

But wait. Before I was able to post these comments to ToughSledding, I picked up Saturday’s business section in the Akron Beacon Journal.  And one of the very few stories was about the appointment of Christine Sabo as the newspaper’s marketing and community relations director. (Story only available online free for a few days.) First, good for her. I’m sure Christine is excited about what appears to be a great opportunity. And I may know her from the Akron PRSA Chapter or elsewhere. So this is in no way a criticism of her. Here’s a snippet:

“The new marketing and community relations director for the Akron Beacon Journal grew up reading the newspaper and has 22 years’ experience in the  industry in other parts of the country that she can bring to her new position.”

(And then there is Julin. His announcement says in part: “Julin brings to PRSA 30 years of public relations experience, with special expertise in stakeholder engagement and issues management.” Sure hope that sentence makes it into print somewhere beyond the PRSA Web site.)

I find it interesting that the Akron Beacon Journal would print this very comprehensive story – which certainly rivals in detail and length (and in many ways nonsense) the Julin release.  Clearly, the Beacon Journal can print whatever it wants. But this isn’t about a new editor or publisher, which would be news. Oh, well. I guess that’s why Al Gore invented the Internet so all of us could have blogs to opine on these kind of things.

So the point of all this is that I am always amused at the double standard that many journalists apply: one set of rules for themselves; another set for everyone else. This, by the way, is one reason why teaching a class in communication ethics is so much fun.

The next time Goodyear, for example, has an announcement about a marketing and communications director see how the Beacon Journal reports it. And then have some sympathy for the PR person who has to explain to his or her boss why the announcement barely rated one sentence in print.

But regardless, PRSA should be able to do much better. There are lessons here for all of us in the PR business. And reporters and editors sometimes have very different standards that influence news decisions — regardless of what we hear during those ever-popular “meet-the-media” meetings and luncheons organized by PRSA and other organizations. Just something I was thinking about while running in the drizzle this morning.


3 responses to “PRSA, news releases and the news media

  1. The toughest job in media relations in not convincing editors to run your story, but convincing management you shouldn’t send it in the first place. We all know that the egos in the C-suites are large ones, but we simply can’t give up. Pound the table if you must, but find way to tell the C-level execs the world does not revolve around them.

    The announcement in the Beacon Journal also had me scratching my head over the double standard. I’m betting it had the business editor biting his tongue, as you can be sure that story came down from the publisher with specific instructions. How else do you explain the B.S. quotes?

    Like I’ve been saying, you gotta keep your eye on those marketing types. They over-hype everything.

  2. As a solution to routine personnel releases: What about changing the paragraph explaining the persons past, to a paragraph explaining what they are going to do to change the future of the company from their new position?? This might give a reporter more to work with; it begs more questions like “how?” and “why?”

  3. Bill,

    You’re absolutely right. One of the hardest things in the PR business is to say no. But it is also extremely important. To say no to management or clients, however, you need to have credibility and trust. That’s one of the reasons I liked working in a corporate environment. Over time, as you become viewed as more of a member of the management team, your ability to say no without it being a major battle every time increases. Does a public relations firm ever tell a client no? Certainly, but I’ll bet not as often as it should. This situation will only get worse as PR becomes more integrated with marketing. And thinking strategically about public relations and communication in general really is one of the points with the PRSA release. Couldn’t one of the professional PR staff have said no? Or at least changed the release in some meaningful way? Many argue that news releases are dead. They aren’t and never will be. So the challenge is to make them better and more effective. PRSA has the resources to take the lead here.

    And Elaine,

    I’m not sure exactly what the answer is to improving the standard personnel announcement. Your suggestion certainly has merit; at a minimum it would force the organization to give some thought to what is happening strategically. Also, these kind of announcements, at a minimum, should be less wordy and less filled with jargon. And they should only be sent to newspapers and other media outlets that realistically might have an interest. Eric Mansfield, a reporter and anchor at WKYC in Cleveland, said once at a PRSA (or maybe Leadership Akron) “meet-and-greet” that he was amazed at how many faxes and e-mails the station received involving routine personnel announcements. His point. When was the last time you heard one of these announcements on any TV newscast?


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