There’s many ways to skin a cat, according to the old saying – and it holds true in the assessment of a good media release. For example, is it ‘news’? Are its contents valid and legal? Is it well-written? Is it ‘a good read’? Does it contain strong quotes? Does it have a catchy headline? Is there an appealing picture to go with it? How many column centimetres does it achieve? Most importantly in PR terms: does it convey its message clearly and in a manner that should encourage a desired response from readers?
When PR people wrote press releases (as they used to be known before the internet became such a powerful medium), it was a relatively straightforward matter of producing a good story in ‘newspaper style’, which would either provide a ready-written item for publication, or present sufficient information for the reporter or editor develop the story themselves.
Now that we have to supply internet news services as well as traditional print publications, the term ‘media release’ is more appropriate. And while many of the ‘good’ criteria are still applicable, PR people looking for real results also need to make the copy search engine friendly – using a range of relevant keywords to increase visibility of the release in ‘organic’ search results.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a vast subject in itself, and both this website and this blog depend on various SEO techniques to achieve some prominence on the web. So, too, every new media release has to compete to be seen – and then to capture the reader’s attention long enough to transfer its message.
One of the key functions of PR is to provide target publics with information that enables them to make an informed decision and choose a specific action – anything from making a key purchase to supporting a certain political ideology. This leads to the view that a good media release, quite simply, is one that earns editors’ and readers’ approval – and triggers a desired behavioural or attitudinal change.
Where will your next media release come from?
Somebody found this website recently while searching for the qualifications needed for a career in B2B or B2C PR. There will be many opinions, but for my money, it’s a good mix of formal and informal training, creating graduates well-equipped to become ‘experts’ almost as soon as they start work.
Historically, people came into the profession from journalism and other disciplines or straight from school or university. Before the advent of ‘media’ degrees there was no specific course of learning for aspiring PR people, although various combinations of subjects may have been more or less appropriate. Some entrants made a tremendous success of their time in PR; others were less fortunate.
Today, the wide availability of degrees covering every aspect of communication is good news for the PR sector as it strives for a greater professionalism. It means that most newcomers to the profession have a theoretical grounding that many of the older practitioners lacked, as well as some practical experience – through placements and coursework – of traditional and new media. Unfortunately, even a good media degree is no guarantee of career success.
In my view, a good degree of any sort can be the starting point, because it shows the student has achieved the mind-expansion that tertiary education provides. Successful PR practitioners need to be well-educated, but they also require a range of personal qualities that develop informally through training and experience. These include written and spoken communication skills, the ability to analyse problems and then to create and implement solutions, a good business brain, and the ability to mix with people at all levels. This is, of course, not an exhaustive list, but there is one more special quality to highlight: the ability to get excited about a client’s products.
A significant part of my PR time has been spent writing about bricks and plasterboard – two highly commoditised building materials that could be labelled ‘bulk and boring’. In fact nothing could be further from the truth: both define the environments in which most of us live and work, shaping our lifestyles and raising our quality of living. But it takes a special blend of skills and passion to tease out enough information and create a convincing, newsy media release that makes bricks and plasterboard attractive to the reader.
So if I were to sum up in a single word the aspiring PR practitioner’s qualities to go hand-in-hand with a degree, it would have to be this: Passion. For every aspect of the job.
David Goddin was born in the UK and educated in South Africa. He began his career on daily newspapers and trade journals, before moving into public relations consulting. He produced award-winning writing and became an Accredited PR Practitioner, the highest qualification of the Public Relations Institute of South Africa. Since his return to the UK 17 years ago he has also contributed to a number of highly successful PR and marketing communications campaigns for major national and multinational clients. He is currently also President of the Haslemere & District Chamber of Trade & Commerce.