PR 2.0: Managing News in a Digital World


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A report written for the CIPR Education and Skills Sector group looking at use of online tools for education PR and trends in adoption of web 2.0 technologies for press and media relations.

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PR 2.0: Managing News in a Digital World

  1. 1. PR 2.0: Managing News in a Digital World A report prepared for the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) Education and Skills Sector Group November 2009
  2. 2. Contents Acknowledgements p3 Introduction p4 Executive Summary p5 Methodology p6 Current practice in Further and Higher Education p7 Journalist use of digital media for news gathering p17 Reviewing the press release p22 Recommendations for education PR practitioners p23 2 PR 2.0: Managing News in a Digital World CIPR Education and Skills Sector Group, November 2009
  3. 3. Acknowledgements Our thanks must go to the following people who have contributed to this research report:  All 153 individuals who completed the online survey  All journalists who agreed to give us their time to participate in telephone interviews  The CIPR, HEERA, AoC and for helping to distribute the survey and raise awareness of this piece of research  Emma Leech, Marc Reeves, Robin Hamman, David Wooding, Dr Tom Watson, Drew Davies and Eddie Hammerman for speaking at our May 2009 conference and helping to inform this research  Andy Merchant for providing information on social media news releases and  Linda Doyle and Adam Edworthy for help with conducting telephone interviews  CIPR Education and Skills Sector Group for commissioning and supporting this work. PR 2.0: Managing News in a Digital World 3 CIPR Education and Skills Sector Group, November 2009
  4. 4. Introduction Social and digital media is revolutionising the way in which we communicate. It has achieved a scale of adoption unmatched by any other form of new media developed in history. Radio took 38 years to reach 50 million users, yet Facebook added 100 million users in less than 9 monthsi. The components of social and digital media – blogs, podcasts, micro-blogging, online video, social networks, wikis – are fundamentally changing the way in which we communicate, giving anyone a voice and a platform on which they can make their views or opinions heard, or share their own news. Thanks to the development of mobile technologies and continued commitments in the UK to universal connectivityii, now people can communicate anytime, anyhow, and anywhere. Public Relations (PR) and marketing professionals across the education sector are identifying new ways of communicating with key audiences through the use of social and digital media. For the PR professional, such platforms provide a means to communicate directly with their target audience, and to generate their own news, allowing them to bypass the journalist and assume the role of news provider for themselves. And yet traditional journalism and news channels remain an important means by which individuals consume information. People haven‟t stopped buying newspapers, or watching the evening news. And rightly so, organisations still aim to channel messages and stories through traditional media. This report therefore addresses the role that social and digital media can play in news gathering, and considers how PR professionals in education organisations are already, or can, use new media tools and platforms to enhance their relationship with the media. We question the role and value of the traditional press release in all of this, and consider whether a new approach is needed now that we live in a digital world. The research for this report has taken place over a 6 month period in 2009, and is led by Pickle Jar Communications Ltd on behalf of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) Education and Skills Sector Group. 4 PR 2.0: Managing News in a Digital World CIPR Education and Skills Sector Group, November 2009
  5. 5. Executive Summary The Further and Higher Education sector is currently beginning to use online and digital media to enhance their PR activities. The vast majority of organisations currently put press releases online, and many enhance this with the use of social media platforms to help build and maintain relationships with journalists. However, technical know-how or capability, lack of time, uncertainty and a lack of confidence in using social media, coupled with at times restrictive management structures and risk adverse management, are considered to be barriers that are currently preventing PR professionals in HE and FE progress their use of social and digital media further. At the same time, while many journalists are sceptical about the value and reliability of information gathered for news stories through social media platforms, our research reveals that many of them are relying increasingly on such channels to source new stories, source expert comment, and find additional resources to enhance stories such as photographs or video content. Journalists have also told us that as a whole, they place little value or emphasis on using press releases in their approach to producing news stories, and some have called for a new approach to providing such information. We consider the evolution of the Social Media News Release as a possible alternative to traditional press releases. PR 2.0: Managing News in a Digital World 5 CIPR Education and Skills Sector Group, November 2009
  6. 6. Methodology Our research began early in 2009. For this piece of research we have specifically targeted Further Education (FE) Colleges and Higher Education (HE) Institutions. Our research included:  A online survey of a range of PR, marketing and communications professionals, to better understand: o Current use of social and digital media for all activities o Use of online presence for disseminating press releases o Target audience of press releases when put online o Management structures governing PR activities and web management.  In-depth telephone interviews with a cross-section of PR professionals to gain greater insight into their use of digital media and, where relevant, barriers to use.  In-depth telephone interviews with a range of journalists and news producers to understand how they use social and digital media for news gathering, and to understand how they would prefer to receive „press release‟ information from organisations.  A conference in May 2009 bringing together PR professionals and journalists to explore and discuss use of social media in press and media relations. 6 PR 2.0: Managing News in a Digital World CIPR Education and Skills Sector Group, November 2009
  7. 7. Current practice in Further and Higher Education Our online survey aimed to gain a picture of current practice in the use of social and digital media for press and media relations in the FE and HE sectors. Following up the survey with some in-depth telephone interviews shed further light on current practice, concerns and barriers to effective practice. Who completed the survey? 153 individuals completed the survey, with 46.1 per cent from FE and 53.9 per cent from HE, representing a range of roles: How would you describe your role? We specifically targeted a range of roles, though the nature of our circulation lists for distributing the survey, and the subject of the survey, would automatically make it more appealing to press and media relations professionals. PR 2.0: Managing News in a Digital World 7 CIPR Education and Skills Sector Group, November 2009
  8. 8. Putting press releases online The survey asked respondents whether they write press releases (73.7 per cent did) and whether they publish press releases online themselves or whether someone else does it for them. Of those who do write press releases, 79.1 per cent were able to publish them to their organisation‟s website themselves. The survey then questioned the motive for putting press releases online by looking at who individual participants perceived to be their target audience for their release. The results revealed that even though they were press releases, the primary target audience for reading these online is prospective students: When you publish your press releases online, which of the following audience groups are your highest priority (please tick a maximum of three)? When we drill down deeper into these findings, we find a different picture depending on whether the respondents are from HE or FE: 8 PR 2.0: Managing News in a Digital World CIPR Education and Skills Sector Group, November 2009
  9. 9. Target audience for press releases online in FE: Target audience for press releases online in HE: PR 2.0: Managing News in a Digital World 9 CIPR Education and Skills Sector Group, November 2009
  10. 10. Tailoring releases to different audience groups 59.8 per cent of respondents claim that they adapt their press releases for online use, but this means that there is still over 40 per cent of organisations in the FE and HE sector who are not adapting their press releases for use online. Current use of online media for press and media relations We asked participants which online media tools they are currently using for press and media relations. Which of the following online tools does your organisation use to communicate with journalists? Results in the „other‟ category included several people saying they use the telephone, some outlining press release distribution sites, and one mention of RSS. No organisations were offering an online instant messaging system for journalists to contact them. 10 PR 2.0: Managing News in a Digital World CIPR Education and Skills Sector Group, November 2009
  11. 11. Despite 77.8 per cent of respondents claiming that they use their website to communicate with journalists, only 47.9 per cent of respondents claim that their organisation has a dedicated online press centre or newsroom, suggesting that in many cases press releases are put online as news items, but not in a dedicated space where journalists can gather enhanced materials to go with the release. What does an online press centre or newsroom contain? Those participants who do have an online press centre for their organisation were asked about the features that their press centre contains. Which of the following does your online news room/press centre have (please tick all that apply)? Although the majority to provide contact details for a press officer or equivalent, it is interesting to note that some online press centres in the HE and FE sectors still do not provide contact details for journalists to follow- up for more information. PR 2.0: Managing News in a Digital World 11 CIPR Education and Skills Sector Group, November 2009
  12. 12. Line management of PR and web The survey explored the question of line management of PR and web functions to determine whether internal management structures are a barrier or enabler for some organisations using online media for press and media relations. The results, while purely based on personal perception, are nevertheless quite telling. 79.3 per cent of respondents claimed that their websites and PR functions were all managed as part of the same directorate (in FE this figure was 73.4 per cent, and 84 per cent in HE). Participants were then asked how they felt management structures for web and PR impacted on the ability to use online media for press and media relations. How do you feel the difference in line management of press/PR and web functions impacts on your organisation's PR activities? Impact on PR when web and press relations are not part of same directorate 12 PR 2.0: Managing News in a Digital World CIPR Education and Skills Sector Group, November 2009
  13. 13. Impact on PR when web and press relations are not part of same directorate Participants who worked in departments where web and PR were managed as part of the same line management structure clearly perceived this to be a good thing and an enabler in helping them to enhance press and media relations through online tools and activities. In contrast, those who were in different departments, albeit a smaller portion of the sample, perceived this to have a negative impact on the ability to enhance press and media relations through online tools and activities. PR 2.0: Managing News in a Digital World 13 CIPR Education and Skills Sector Group, November 2009
  14. 14. In-depth: thoughts, views and barriers Our research then turned to conducting in-depth telephone interviews with 20 participants. A common theme emerging throughout those interviews was that the more likely an individual was to use online media and social media tools in their personal lives, the more value and emphasis they placed on those tools in their professional lives. A summary of key comments from the telephone interviews is outlined below: General sweeping statements about an organisation’s use of online media:  We‟ve signed up to Twitter but we have now got stuck and are not sure how to use it  We have ambitions to use online broadcast media tools and channels but our website currently cannot host videos and podcasts so we‟re waiting for it to be updated  We don‟t yet use online media tools but we do have ambitions to use them. How do you think your institution should be using online and social media to communicate with journalists? (NB the responses in bold were repeated by several interviewees)  We’re not sure, we need to look into it  We won’t change our current methods of working: journalists prefer telephone and email communication  We should use it in addition to email and telephone  It needs to be used carefully  We‟ll use Twitter to watch journalists‟ conversations  We are using Twitter to supplement traditional methods of communicating with journalists  We should be using social media  We don‟t think it adds value when you already have a one-to-one relationship with a journalist  We should use it to establish open, two-way communications How do you think social media is changing the way we work and how we should be working? (NB the responses in bold were repeated by several interviewees)  We need to feel comfortable with it  We need to be open-minded about it  We can get an awful lot of feedback from social media sites, and that can be quite alarming – some will be good, some will be bad. We need to be realistic.  If used in a structured way it can free up communications across the organisation. However it can also cause a distraction to staff less focussed or less motivated.  Use of social media needs to run alongside a social media policy  It has made everything more instant – we now have less turnaround time 14 PR 2.0: Managing News in a Digital World CIPR Education and Skills Sector Group, November 2009
  15. 15.  It has changed the type of information we need to release into the public domain  It has forced us to be more open  It is now the key to managing reputation so we need to be proactive  It is destroying newspapers and reducing need for journalists  It has made feedback less bias – anyone can comment now  It has increased the volume of information available and media outlets available – we now work in a multimedia environment  It allows me to keep as up to date as possible by checking chat rooms and blogs, not company websites  More informality is creeping in  We feel that social media creates much duplication when it should be doing the opposite  It hasn‟t changed how I work – yet  It is time consuming and needs additional resource  It is very useful to my role What do you feel are the key barriers, if any, to changing PR practice at your institution regarding the use of social and digital media? The main barriers across the board were time and staffing and attitudes towards social media. Many respondents, however, didn‟t perceive any barriers. Other interesting comments included:  It‟s hard to keep on top of all the new technologies  There are no guidelines in place - we need rules  Social media sites are blocked at our institution which causes problems What do you think are the key barriers to developing more interactive, multimedia online newsrooms? The main barriers across the board were once again time, staffing and a knowledge or skills gap was evident. There was also a requirement to understand the needs of journalists and many interviewees were not convinced that the journalists would want an online multimedia newsroom. Other barriers included IT-based security, requirement to develop best practice, keeping up with the latest trends in social media and building staff confidence in the use of such sites. Other interesting comments included:  Management can be problematic – they want us to use social media but at the first negative comment they question why we are using it  We haven‟t developed an online newsroom – we don‟t believe there is a market for it at our institution  In my role I am expected to deal with press and events amongst other things – I just don‟t have time  We are still expected to maintain traditional methods of communication and it duplicates our workload PR 2.0: Managing News in a Digital World 15 CIPR Education and Skills Sector Group, November 2009
  16. 16. Do management structures or press and web functions at your institution impact on your ability to evolve in this area? Amongst respondents from HE institutions management structures were perceived to be an issue. Interesting comments included:  Management structures are changing all the time and our focus changes to meet their agenda  We need technical support or a social media expert in order to evolve  The key players just aren‟t on board  Our departments work to a different set of priorities  We can‟t get the service we need from other departments  Management is willing to embrace the idea but there is a lack of understanding. Social media needs to be represented at the highest level  The IT department shapes how and what we can do in the communications team. Until that changes, we are stuck. What type of training do you think you and the wider sector needs in order to progress your use of online media?  Writing for the web  Basic „how to use‟ and „how to make the best use of‟ social media  Practical tips for using social media  Something not student-recruitment focussed  How to use to social media to engage wider stakeholders 16 PR 2.0: Managing News in a Digital World CIPR Education and Skills Sector Group, November 2009
  17. 17. Journalist use of digital media for news gathering Through a series of telephone interviews and panel discussion with journalists we have attempted to gain an insight into how they are using online tools and social media for their work and for news gathering. This section summarises the key points and trends that have emerged through our discussions, including attitudes towards current practices of PR officers (PROs) and thoughts and reflections on the future role of PROs and press releases. Attitudes towards ‘traditional’ press releases Across the board journalists expressed a dislike towards traditional press releases. One journalists even commented that at his newspaper many journalists have their email inboxes set up to automatically delete any emails that appear with the words „press release‟ in them. One journalist commented that “most press releases are crap and badly targeted”. The timeliness of press releases was also questioned by one journalist, who suggested that news travels faster on the grapevine and that press releases are often 2-3 days behind the news. Therefore press releases are rarely their first port of call for new stories, instead only occasionally providing additional information for a story they are already working on. The same journalist also complained that many press releases are often so buried in organisations‟ websites that they are not easy to find. Information overload The biggest concerns that journalists had around use of social media for news gathering were to do with information overload and reliability of sources. They felt that even if they did source a quote or a piece of information on a blog, for example, the reliability of that information would still require further investigation. However, it was acknowledged that while some journalists are ignoring social media comments on particular issues or stories because of concerns about reliability, ultimately those who choose to ignore such „eye witness‟ accounts are making a mistake and missing an opportunity. New sources for information gathering Throughout our research the following online sources were mentioned by journalists as sources of information gathering:  Google  Wikipedia  MySpace  Facebook PR 2.0: Managing News in a Digital World 17 CIPR Education and Skills Sector Group, November 2009
  18. 18.  Twitter  Flickr  YouTube  Online press rooms from organisations  Using „embed‟ code from video or audio sharing sites One journalist shared their approach to gathering information to enhance a story: When writing stories, if we need background info about companies we will normally first check our own archives, which are pretty comprehensive when it comes to anything since 2002. Next we would check relevant Wikipedia entries, being wary of the accuracy of such things, though I'd say 90 per cent of the time they are right, and they are helpful because a lot of the information we actually need is already in our heads and we're only really looking for something to back up our existing hunch. If neither of those things provides the background we need, then we'll do a wider Google search or maybe call a relevant press officer. Our own research of recent news articles also revealed several instances of social media sites, particularly blogs and micro-blogs (Twitter) being used for journalists to directly take quotes from individuals. We also found instances of photographs on Flickr directly inspiring articles, or being used to illustrate articles. The journalists involved in our panel discussion at our May conference echoed this practice, particularly for picking up opinion and comments from politicians from sources such as Twitter and Facebook. One panellist even suggested that when big news stories break, some journalists are now heading straight for social media sites. Another commented that “online media means that people can no longer hide. Even if they turn off their phones, there will still be information available online.” In our telephone interviews another journalist also claimed that he regularly uses Twitter to „test the waters‟ and gather a sense for popular opinion on particular events or activities, citing in particular the G8 protestors on Twitter, and claiming that fellow journalists had used Twitter to find individuals to be interviewed on live programmes. Finding stories any time, any where During our conference held in May one journalist on the panel revealed that while travelling into London that day on the train, Twitter had revealed two new story leads to him that his colleagues were now following up. He commented that social media is changing the role of the journalist and enabling them to do much more while on the move. Another journalist also commented that with the decline in number of journalists working for papers these days, social media is enabling those that remain to do their jobs quicker. 18 PR 2.0: Managing News in a Digital World CIPR Education and Skills Sector Group, November 2009
  19. 19. Another interviewee also commented that Twitter is widening the horizons of journalists and inspiring them to write stories on subjects that they wouldn‟t previously have writer, commenting “things will come to you that never came before." The ability for new technologies to provide materials and insight anytime anywhere was also considered to be valuable to the role of the journalist. One commented: We journalists can't be everywhere at once, but people are where they are and they can do just as much to report what they see around them as we can. Sure, they may not be trained reporters, but there were some lively discussions about the validity of certain pieces of information posted to the network. People aren't as stupid as we sometimes think, especially when the information they seek is in close proximity to their daily lives. Personal contact still most effective Despite all the favourable comments of journalists towards social media for newsgathering and evolving the way in which PROs work and how stories are presented to them, the role of personal contact and telephone conversations was still considered one of the most effective means of engaging journalists. During the conference in May one journalist panellist mentioned that at his newspaper all journalists have two email addresses: one that is published in the paper and filtered by secretaries, and their own personal email address that they will only ever give out to people whom they know and trust. Developing a relationship of trust with that journalist is key to getting hold of that information. Journalists also warned that social media shouldn‟t be used as simply another way of „spamming‟ them with press releases. Using Twitter to send links to press releases to journalists was frowned about and considered to „wind them up‟. Personal engagement was considered to be a more preferable route, and social media considered to be one way to help maintain those relationships. Ultimately, however, face-to-face contact or a telephone conversation was still deemed the best way to approach a journalist with a story. Future directions: evolving the press release and the role of PR professionals Some of our interviewees highlighted concerns that social media just provides new platforms for PROs to use their same age-old approach. They outlined the need for PROs to use new approaches when using new tools to engage with journalists. One interviewee commented: The last few weeks I’ve started noticing some PR people I follow on Twitter give a heads up to twittering journalists about a press release they’ve sent them. It usually goes something like ‘@journalist just sent you a release. Let me know what you think...’ I’m not saying PR 2.0: Managing News in a Digital World 19 CIPR Education and Skills Sector Group, November 2009
  20. 20. that this is bad etiquette. However, it does smack a little of old school PR tactics. One journalist commented that the beauty of Twitter is the ability to block annoying PROs who „spam‟ them. At our conference in May one panellist questioned whether social media spells the end of the press office as we know it. They predicted a shift in the role of the PR office towards monitoring and flagging up with others what the buzz is, then pushing others out to comment and engage in different spaces. He commented “your people become your branding tools, instead of the organisation itself”. Examples of how some journalists saw PR approaches evolving now and in the future included replacing the press release with, for example:  Strong images on Flickr to tell the story for you  Links to videos on YouTube (such as was the case with Gordon Brown‟s comments around MPs expenses – Number 10 press office simply emailed journalists a link to the video)  Sending embed code to unbranded flash videos or audio files for online media sites. The fundamental issue of appropriate targeting raised its head again when discussing the role of online news rooms. It was commented that no amount of additional resources provided online would make a journalist work on a story that just wasn‟t interesting to them or relevant to their publication or site. However, it was noted that if the story is relevant and well targeted then additional multimedia materials, such as unbranded embeddable flash videos, would be useful particularly for online versions of stories. Finally, a former Financial Times journalist kindly shared his views with us by email on the future of PR-journalist engagement, as follows: Press releases are nearly useless. They typically start with a tremendous amount of top-spin; they contain pat-on-the-back phrases and meaningless quotes. Often they will contain quotes from C-level executives praising their customer focus. Press releases are created by committees, edited by lawyers, and then sent out at great expense through Businesswire or PRNewswire to reach the digital and physical trash bins of tens of thousands of journalists ... this madness has to end! His “proposal”: Deconstruct the press release into special sections and tag the information so that as a publisher I can pre-assemble some of the news story and make the information useful.  Provide a brief description of what the announcement is, but leave the spin to the journalists. The journalists are going 20 PR 2.0: Managing News in a Digital World CIPR Education and Skills Sector Group, November 2009
  21. 21. to go with their own spin on the story anyway, so why bother? Keep it straightforward rather than ‘spintastic’.  Provide a page of quotes from the CEO.  Provide a page of quotes from customers, if applicable.  Provide a page of quotes from analysts, if applicable.  Provide financial information in many different formats.  Provide many links inside the press release copy, and also provide a whole page of relevant links to other news stories or reference sources. Of course, journalists can choose which parts of the press release to use, and add other material, as they do today. But by using news tags, a newspaper/news site could pull together larger numbers of news stories and the PR industry would be helping the news publishers to gather the facts and present them in a near-publishable format. [...] And this way, the PR industry becomes a partner in communicating truthful and factual information. And we save the millions of person- years wasted in producing press releases. We should produce new media communications releases. In the next section, we explore a new approach to disseminating news through the „social media news release‟. PR 2.0: Managing News in a Digital World 21 CIPR Education and Skills Sector Group, November 2009
  22. 22. Reviewing the press release In the previous section we saw that while face- to-face engagement with a journalist, or a telephone conversation, remains the preferred method of communication. We also identified trends to suggest that journalists:  Do not place much value on traditional press releases  Are turning to social media sites for news gathering, though some remain sceptical  Have outlined their thoughts on new approaches for PR professionals. Recently some organisations have begun to replace traditional press releases with the „social media news release‟ (SMNR). To help with our research, we turned to the creators of, a new (free) SMNR publishing platform. Using a platform such as Pressitt, organisations can deconstruct their press announcements, as the former Financial Times journalist in the previous section calls for. A release might begin with a brief summary, present the key facts as a bulleted list, include a list of quotes as a separate section, include high-resolution downloadable photographs, embed video or audio content, present plenty of useful links and clearly display contact details for journalists who wish to follow-up in person. Each Pressitt SMNR is „tweeted‟ through Pressitt‟s own Twitter feediii and, of course, can be linked to from an organisation‟s own online press centre, website, or email to a journalist. Each SMNR also includes social bookmarking icons and an RSS feed for releases from each organisation. A wide range of public and private sector organisations are already using this platform, which launched earlier in 2009. To the right, you can see an example of how a SMNR appears on this service. 22 PR 2.0: Managing News in a Digital World CIPR Education and Skills Sector Group, November 2009
  23. 23. Recommendations for education PR practitioners Our research and this report has revealed some changes in the way that press and media relations can be enhanced thanks to developments in digital media, and barriers that restrict those changes being speedily adopted within FE and HE organisations. As such, and by way of conclusion, we make the following recommendations:  Any form of digital and social media should not replace the opportunity to develop a strong relationship with journalists via face-to-face contact or telephone  PROs within HE and FE organisations would benefit from CPD/training opportunities that specifically focus on using social media and help to build confidence in understanding the role of such communications channels  Management of web and PR functions should be controlled within the same organisational directorate and not treated as separate „IT‟ and „Marketing‟ functions  Organisational leaders in the education sector need greater understanding of the role of social media for enhancing PR activities and the implications that this has on organisational culture  PR offices need to include personnel with the technical skills to support the use of digital technologies to enhance press and media relations  Dedicated time and resource within organisations should be given to social media to monitor online reputation, identify new opportunities, develop new relationships or build on existing ones, and develop new ways of communicating with key stakeholders  Press officers should review their approach to writing and disseminating press releases, and consider new approaches that make information easy and accessible to the journalist, and make themselves visible as key contact  Press officers should use social media tools to monitor „buzz‟ and „trending‟ topics as a means of identifying potential opportunities for placing expert comment. PR 2.0: Managing News in a Digital World 23 CIPR Education and Skills Sector Group, November 2009
  24. 24. References i „Statistics Show Social Media Is Bigger Than You Think.‟ Blog post, 11 August 2009, think/ ii Digital Britain, Final Report, June 2009 iii 24 PR 2.0: Managing News in a Digital World CIPR Education and Skills Sector Group, November 2009