Online Press Rooms That Perform

“Whoever gives me the information first.”

Time and again, journalists tell me in today’s pressure cooker to quickly publish news, they’ll almost always give the most ink to the source that comes through with good information in the shortest amount of time. Tell a journalist, “I’ll get back to you in a day,” and you’re almost certain to lose the limelight.

How to ensure you’ve got the timely, meaty information journalists crave? Every PR pro worth her paycheck knows a great electronic press room means the difference between multiple column inches and a mere mention.

What to Include in Your Press Room

Electronic press rooms have evolved. Most now include “virtual press kits,” which aren’t a substitute for the traditional paper version (you don’t want to tell journalists to “just go to the Web site” or even “it’s all on this disc” when they’ve taken the time to show up at your press conference or event). A virtual press kit should provide what’s in the paper version, and then some:

  • The absolute latest news. Journalists who’ve come to expect the most up-to-the-minute information from your site will seek out your virtual press kit; it’s a matter of consistently fulfilling expectations.
  • Downloadable, high-resolution pictures. Take a cue from Sony, which provides specs for all the downloadable images in its press kits.
  • Audio and video clips. Definitely include multimedia. For extra punch, include a transcript for time-starved reporters.
  • Backgrounders. Make sure the information in the backgrounder is relevant to the latest announcement/product you’re pitching. Some backgrounders are too generic and simplistic to fill journalists’ needs.
  • Up-to-the-minute event calendars and timelines. Keep your calendars and timelines updated to the point of changing them daily. You want journalists to keep coming back for all the latest.

Of course, the more relevant information, the better. Don’t flood the press kit with useless content. Above all, avoid going overboard with hype or flash. One journalist I know says she often uses those 8 x 10 head shots for scratch paper, or, worse, gag gifts for other reporters.

Words of Advice

For an example of a good working press room and virtual press kits, Red Lobster’s site. Red Lobster’s Communications Director Wendy Spirduso is a former reporter who’s intimately familiar with journalists’ pressure to grab information as quickly as possible. Her site’s media information center includes FAQs, press releases, downloadable logos, media kits, and a comment form for media inquiries.

“I want to be sure we’re respecting journalists’ time, their deadlines, and their needs,” she says. “Virtual press kits are one part of that. People can download high-resolution pictures, get background information, and our latest news without ever shuffling a piece of paper. And the information is there instantly — whenever they need it,” Spirduso says.

Every press kit Red Lobster sends in the mail is put on the Web as a virtual press kit. Spirduso also posts current TV spots online, as well as background information on the company (number of employees, annual sales, etc.).

Spirduso says she’s pleased with the response. A total of 2,122 virtual press kits have been downloaded since January 2004. She cautions there’ll always be a need for hard copy, as well as virtual press information.

“Different publications have different needs,” she says. “For example, we know that the size of our high-resolution photos can be a problem for some publications and crash systems. Every hard copy press kit contains color photos of our food. I prefer that because the journalist can see immediately what the food we’re talking about looks like, rather than having to take the extra steps and put a CD into the computer.”

Moscow-based ABBYY also has a press room worthy of exploration. As a global company, ABBYY has journalists from all over the world visiting its site. To meet the needs of this audience, it wanted to ensure the site provides sufficient baseline product information and images, says Imelda Valenzuela, the company’s North American press contact.

Valenzuela says she doesn’t monitor who comes to the site to respect reporters’ privacy. “We want media to feel that they can peruse our site without concern of what they may deem as unnecessary follow-up,” she says.

However, Valenzuela says, “I think the biggest indication of its usefulness is not hearing from the journalists once they get to the press room. Once, [I sent] an online journalist one of our products; before I knew it, his article was finished and posted, complete with a box shot taken from our press room.”

My best advice for what to include in your online press room? Ask the journalists you work with most frequently. They’re your customers. It’s all about meeting their needs.

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