As best as I can piece the data together, the three largest news release distribution services (PR Newswire, BusinessWire and Marketwire) sent out roughly 642,000 news releases in 2013.
If you’re keeping score, that’s about 1,759 news releases per day.
Too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing. You can quote me on that. Put a half gallon of rocky road ice cream in front of Fat Albert, and even he’ll turn away before he hits bottom.
Exacerbating this dynamic, the ranks of journalists continue to decline. The number of reporters toiling in newsrooms is actually less today than in 1978 according to the Pew Research Center.
The upshot – more news releases raining down on fewer journalists.
But explaining the commoditization of the news release as a form of supply-demand economics misses the root cause.
When distribution of the news release reached only the domain of the media, journalists enjoyed a free lunch. With little effort, they could write stories based on a news release, and those stories appeared fresh to their readers because they couldn’t find them elsewhere. This advantage disappeared around 1996 when news release distribution services started flinging out news releases to the masses via the Internet.
Stepping back in time for a moment, the timeline below offers the 10,000-foot view of how news release distribution has evolved.
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<div align="center"><a href=" http://www.ishmaelscorner.com/2014/02/26/the-commoditization-of-news-releases-ends-the-free-lunch-for-journalists” title=" The Commoditization of News Releases Ends the Free Lunch for Journalists"><img src="http://www.ishmaelscorner.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/01_23_timeline_newsdist_500pixelswide_zpsc46ad8b2-2.jpg?utm_source=infographic&utm_medium=main&utm_campaign=infographic" alt=" Infographic- the history of distributing news releases” style="border:none;" /></a><br /> <small>The Hoffman Agency is a public relations firm that emphasizes storytelling in <a href="http://www.hoffman.com">business communication</a></small>.</div>
Journalists had a 90-year run of leveraging the news release as non-public information. When the gravy train ended in 1996, it changed everything, though it took some time to erode the status quo. Muscle memory doesn’t change so easily in the world of journalism.
Now, roughly 18 years since earmarking news releases for the public domain, it seems fair to say the commoditization of the news release is complete.
Given that journalists rarely write from news releases these days, why does the massive effort behind news releases – figure around 10 man hours per news release at $175 per hour translating into $3,078,082 of cost last year – continue?
That’s a good question.
Disclosure requirements explain only a small percent of the total pool. Plus, I’m sure this $3,078,082 number doubles or even triples taking into the account the news releases not earmarked for paid distribution.
Perhaps the PR industry has its own challenge with muscle memory.1 comment
Who cares if Warren Buffett is still getting the hang of this Twitter thing?
The man knows how to apply storytelling techniques to business communications (heard he’s a pretty good investor too).
There’s no better example of Buffett’s storytelling acuity than his annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders that came out over the weekend.
The typical shareholder letter is so dry that an action verb comes off as racy. But Buffett treats his letter to shareholders as a platform to bring out his humanity and show he’s just “one of the guys,” no easy feat when he’s one of the wealthiest people in the world with a worth of $53 billion and change. His shareholder letter as much as his regular TV appearances — “Hi Charlie, good to see you again” — is a tool for brand building.
Turning to his 2014 letter, even as he walks the reader through a narrative on the numbers, he breaks up the cadence with an “aw shucks” moment:
In a year in which most equity managers found it impossible to outperform the S&P 500, both Todd Combs and Ted Weschler handidly did so. Each now runs a portfolio exceeding $7 billion. They’ve earned it.
I must confess that their investments outperformed mine. (Charlie says I should add “by a lot.”) If such humiliating comparisons continue, I’ll have no choice but to cease talking about them.
Self-deprecation plays in Peoria. It’s a pattern in all of Buffett’s shareholder letters and one repeated in his most recent composition:
Fortunately, my blunders usually involved relatively small acquisitions. Our large buys have generally worked out well and, in a few cases, more than well. I have not, however, made my last mistake in purchasing either businesses or stocks. Not everything works out as planned
Buffett’s storytelling also makes ample use of metaphors and analogies.
Woody Allen stated the general idea when he said: “The advantage of being bi-sexual is that it doubles your chances for a date on Saturday night.” Similarly, our appetite for either operating businesses or passive investments doubles our chances of finding sensible uses for our endless gusher of cash.
Not every executive can get away with 266-word anecdotes. Still, the following offers a storytelling lesson in how to take the reader behind the curtain with words that ring with realism:
I think back to August 30, 1983 – my birthday – when I went to see Mrs. B (Rose Blumkin), carrying a 1 1/4-page purchase proposal for NFM that I had drafted. (It’s reproduced on pages 114 – 115.) Mrs. B accepted my offer without changing a word, and we completed the deal without the involvement of investment bankers or lawyers (an experience that can only be described as heavenly). Though the company’s financial statements were unaudited, I had no worries. Mrs. B simply told me what was what, and her word was good enough for me.Mrs. B was 89 at the time and worked until 103 – definitely my kind of woman. Take a look at NFM’s financial statements from 1946 on pages 116 – 117. Everything NFM now owns comes from (a) that $72,264 of net worth and $50 – no zeros omitted – of cash the company then possessed, and (b) the incredible talents of Mrs. B, her son, Louie, and his sons Ron and Irv. The punch line to this story is that Mrs. B never spent a day in school. Moreover, she emigrated from Russia to America knowing not a word of English.
If I were going to quibble (I suppose I’m about to do just that) I didn’t see the flawless finesse in the 2014 letter compared to previous years. Buffett has always treated bragging and the “obvious” like a penny stock. Yet, the 2014 narrative includes phrases like “amazing growth” and “another reinsurance powerhouse” and “our little gecko continues to tell Americans how GEICO can save them important money.”
Perhaps Carol Loomis, Buffett’s trusted writing assistant, is delegating down the final polishing these days.
Regardless, Buffett’s shareholders letters could underpin a MBA class on how to bring storytelling techniques to business communications.
Regardless of your politics, no president has brought out the humanity of the Oval Office like President Obama.
How much comes from President Obama himself as opposed to his advisers?
The question misses the point.
He gets it or he wouldn’t sign off.
As exhibit A, take a look at the statement from President Obama on the passing of Harold Ramis.
Michelle and I were saddened to hear of the passing of Harold Ramis, one of America’s greatest satirists, and like so many other comedic geniuses, a proud product of Chicago’s Second City. When we watched his movies – from “Animal House” and “Caddyshack” to “Ghostbusters” and “Groundhog Day” – we didn’t just laugh until it hurt. We questioned authority. We identified with the outsider. We rooted for the underdog. And through it all, we never lost our faith in happy endings. Our thoughts and prayers are with Harold’s wife, Erica, his children and grandchildren, and all those who loved him, who quote his work with abandon, and who hope that he received total consciousness.
Speaking of Animal House, I periodically channel Otto in Animal House — “Now we could do it with conventional weapons, but that could take years and cost millions of lives.”
Back to President Obama’s narrative and why it works —
First, he sounds like a real human being, not a bunch of handlers haggling over an adjective.
The conversational tone continues with “a proud product of Chicago’s Second City.” Hey, even a president can take pride in his “hometown.”
The zinger comes in the third sentence when he shares that Ramis’ movies inspired them to “question authority.” (No wonder he has issues with Republicans.)
And he even channels Carl Spackler, the groundskeeper in “Caddyshack” in the close.
All in all, there’s a storytelling quality to the statement.
Unfortunately, the PR function continues to generate executive quotes with the stiffness of plywood. It’s such a waste in today’s media environment in which journalists are moving so quickly, they increasingly need a quick way to plug in fresh perspectives in quote form.
Done right, an executive quote should reveal something that doesn’t come across from the facts. Sharing an anecdote that takes the reader behind the curtain or offering a crisp viewpoint can be effective.
President Obama’s statement reflects these storytelling techniques and explains why publications ranging from USA Today to The Washington Post “borrowed” his words.
Yes, I recognize that the man behind movies like “Caddyshack” – “Cinderella story. Outta nowhere. A former greenskeeper, now …” – will garner more attention than a new tool for software programming.
Still, regardless of the space, a quote that actually says something extends its reach.2 comments
The intelligence community devotes massive amounts of time in trying to decode information from the bad guys as well as advancing their own encryption technology.
The communications business – and specifically the client/agency relationship – has its own code.
With the help of the worst mathematician in the world – that would be me – I went to work on cracking this client/agency code.
The good news –
I was successful in decrypting the true meaning of several code phases that I happily share as a service to the entire PR industry in the following infographic:
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<div align="center"><a href="http://www.ishmaelscorner.com/2014/02/23/the-client-pr-agency-relationship/”title=”decrypting eight code phrases in the client/pr agency relationship"><img src="http://www.ishmaelscorner.com/wp-admin/Infographic For Decrypting the Client/PR Agency Code?utm_source=infographic&utm_medium=main&utm_campaign=infographic" alt=" Hoffman infographic- decrypting the client/pr agency code" style="border:none;" /></a><br /> <small>The Hoffman Agency is a public relations firm that emphasizes storytelling in <a href="http://www.hoffman.com">business communication</a></small>.</div>
This is a starting point.
I welcome any crowdsourcing.
With enough additions, we can create an e-book for the profession.2 comments
No blogger, including me, wants to toil in obscurity.
Those of us who work under the marketing umbrella adhere to this twist on the “Field of Dreams” adage, “If you build it, people won’t necessarily come.”
It’s now time for an update with a fresh wrinkle:
Specifically, many RELEVANT people still won’t come.
When it comes to blogging, it took me several years to figure out that the “product” is only part of the equation. More than just marketing, the channels for reaching your target readers have a major say in how many people touch your storytelling.
I hate to say this, but I’m convinced that strong marketing and channels of distribution will bring readers by the busload to a mediocre blog. On the other hand, storytelling with fresh points of view in a blog with weak amplification results in a modest readership.
Something happened last month that hammered this point home.
A little background –
Traffic to my blog jumped 29 percent in November 2013 thru January 2014 compared to the same period a year ago. While I’d like to think I continue to hone my craft, this has zero to do with more people finding their way to my neighborhood. The increased traffic is largely a byproduct of varied channels flinging my posts to more people. For example, thanks to an arrangement with friend and colleague Steve Farnsworth, shares on Twitter have gone through the canopy.
All in all, I was feeling good about the progress … until January 31.
That’s when I looked at the social shares for a post on how to optimize LinkedIn that PR Daily republished.
Nearly 700 shares!
Obviously, I don’t have access to PR Daily’s analytics. Still, combining the social shares with the traffic numbers to the media property tell me that the post on PR Daily enjoyed at least 10X the readership of the same content on my blog.
That’s the clout of distribution.
Given our quest to be an advocate and even an evangelist for the communications industry – not monetize clicks – it makes no difference where people read our takes.
We just want to be heard.
Note: This post riffs on comments from the Frank Strong post, “Reflections: 5 Lessons Readers Taught Me in 2013.”No comments