Why Online Newsrooms Are As Important As Ever
For many PR and marketing professionals, our first taste of Web content management has also become the bane of our existence – creating and managing a company’s online newsroom. Call online newsrooms whatever you like – Press Room, For Media, For Investors, even ‘About Us’.
Regardless of your preferred nomenclature, the common denominator for anyone responsible for a company news site is that they are an editorial challenge to manage -- keeping the site up to date, making it easy to edit and post content, clean navigation, and, most importantly, the ability to search and find information -- all crucial functionality, especially for time-pressed reporters or analysts.
Whether it’s a Website refresh, or a ‘greenfield’ launch of a new site, the online newsroom is frequently the afterthought of a marketing, customer engagement, or Web design czar entrusted with the unenviable task of building a site that pleases everyone with an opinion that matters. Unless PR has overall responsibility for an entire Website, or if PR is even polled for recommendations when building the online newsroom section, we’re usually forced to grapple with managing and organizing extreme amounts of content into an existing design. Often, we have to learn yet another content management system (if we’re directly entrusted with updating the site), or worse yet, we continue to wait in line for a Webmaster to post timely news and other updates.
So why should PR people still ‘fight for our right’ to help create, evolve and manage online newsrooms? Because many journalists still rely on digital press rooms to access and research company news and background information.
As reported in the recent 2011 edition of its annual survey, TEKGROUP, a provider of PR software, found that 25 percent of working journalists surveyed make at least a daily visit to an online newsroom, while approximately 28 percent visit online newsrooms at least once a week. And, it’s not just Web reporters/bloggers that find online newsrooms useful. 47 percent of the reporters responded were working for newspapers, while 29 percent were based at magazines (and nearly 20 percent of respondents identified themselves as online journalists). The online survey measured the acceptance, use and expectations for online newsrooms amongst nearly 1,500 journalists worldwide. (IRL, I suspect the actual percentage of journalists who rely/visit online newsrooms and other similar Websites may be much higher - this was just a representative survey, and not everyone polled responded.)
If You Build It, They Will Still Come
So what does this mean for PR teams entrusted with oversight for online newsrooms? Here are a few key areas to ensure your online newsroom is not only a valuable tool for the media, but that you don’t drive reporters away in frustration:
Don’t hide from the press: Some PR practitioners often forget the meaning of the word ‘relations’ when it comes to managing relationships with the media. Make it easy for a reporter or analyst to actually find and reach your PR (and investor relations) contacts. Nothing frustrates a reporter more – especially if they are new to a beat or media outlet – like going to a Website and finding only ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ with no name or phone number. In fact, 98 percent of the reporters in the online newsroom survey responded that they prefer to have direct PR team contact information clearly visible via the online newsroom. So, while it’s understandable that some PR departments prefer not to post direct contacts to avoid bots, spam and unwanted vendor solicitations, there’s many creative techniques to embed contact info so reporters can quickly reach the appropriate member of your PR team.
Online newsrooms are for all audiences, so optimize them for everyone: It’s naive to think just reporters visit Web press sites. So while it’s perfectly acceptable to call a page ‘Press, Media, News or Newsroom,’ there’s little to be gained by organizing company news, information and search so that only an experienced working journalist can navigate your content.
Keep the search simple: While many Web developers love to create their own revved-up search engine that’s ‘just as good as Google,’ reporters with any level of Internet proficiency should be able to easily find company information they are seeking on the first try. What’s worse is the dreaded phone call from inside a company when a member of the C-suite can’t easily search and find that one important news release. And, somehow, broken search and links will always be PR’s fault, not caused by a Web designer who cobbled together a lame search engine, picked the wrong off-the-shelf solution, employed faulty indexing, or selected a content management system replete with job security.
And, of course, update the newsroom constantly: A bio from a long-departed executive, a news release on top of the list from last August, and other stale information communicates a poor corporate image, not to mention lack of a concerted and consistent PR effort.
We welcome your thoughts on any aspect of creating and managing online newsrooms, including some of your horror stories of when “good online newsrooms go bad.”