Bar of soap


The appropriate channel for your message

by Jack Shepherd
March 24th, 2017

Digital Design Director

Sorry, but not everything you think, do or say is newsworthy.

In most cases, the thoughts we post in this space are dedicated to a discussion of branding.

But sometimes we need to diverge from the norm—at least in part. This is one of those times. In this case, we need to talk about communications and the impact it can have on an organization’s brand.

I was reminded of this point recently when I read a press release written and distributed by a large corporation (that shall remain nameless) designed to make a big splash about a new product. Trouble is the press release really said nothing. The reason was simple: it wasn’t newsworthy, or even noteworthy, in the first place.

This is a common problem among senior executives or managers of large companies who become so tied to the products or services that they’re trying to sell, that everything related to their brands becomes news. Except it isn’t, at least not in the eyes of most of the audience members they hope to reach. This is a major challenge for organizations hoping to make PR waves via social media, mainstream media outlets or through other tactics such as content marketing.

The good news: it’s a pretty easy fix, if those same executives listen to their (hopefully astute) PR and communications people.

Check out our new soap!

Reading that aforementioned press release reminded me of my days as a journalist in Toronto. Because I worked in a small newsroom with only two reporters (myself included), I covered beats ranging from politics and general news, to entertainment and sports. Not surprisingly, I got pitched by every PR person in the city—and some outside—to attend their next event, try their new product and write about whatever it was they were trying to promote.

The one pitch I remember most clearly, and the one that pushed me towards a post-journalism career in marketing-communications (surely I could do a better job!), was from a large multinational maker of personal care products. Their PR person was charged with pitching an article on a new soap scent they were about to release. Not a wonderful, game-changing type of soap that improved human hygiene by leaps and bounds, perhaps alleviating the suffering of a great number of people in some far-off land. Not an innovation in the personal hygiene experience. No, she was merely promoting a new scent.

After politely inquiring as to the newsworthiness of the wonderful opportunity on offer—I think they were pitching an interview with a company exec—the PR person eventually conceded that the ‘news’ was really just about the smell. In my view (having never tested the soap), the pitch stunk. I kindly turned it down.

When a little role playing comes in handy

If a major multinational can get trapped into thinking non-news is worthy of BREAKING NEWS treatment (more on that in a moment), it can happen to any company. Indeed, I’ve worked with more than a few business owners and managers who felt insignificant developments across their company were worthy of front page coverage. Sometimes an idea could be massaged and built into a viable media pitch. Most often it was a non-starter.

In situations such as these, some CEOs or managers are quick to shoot the messenger. They don’t want to hear that their idea or new product/service/thing-they-think-is-cool-but-isn’t, is a dud. They’ll sometimes accuse their communications person of being lazy or not buying into their vision.

An experienced marketer should not only be an idea generator, but also a check on the occasionally delusional instincts of the executives they serve.

Companies that try to make news out of everything should ask a simple question before hitting ‘send’ on their next press release or e-blast: Would you care about this information if you were a member of your organization’s target audience? Does what you have to say deliver value to that target audience? Is it worth disseminating in the first place? Then be careful to be highly objective when coming up with an answer. Having a few independently-minded people in the room to contribute opinions to this discussion will help make that important determination.

Your brand will be defined by the information it broadcasts

Most of us think of a brand as being an organization’s look and feel, its voice. All of that is true. But the information an organization chooses to disseminate on a regular basis will also shape how it’s perceived by a target audience.

Our recommendation is to advertise information as news only when it really fits the definition. That could include a new product or service line—if it’s more than just a new scent—maybe a deal to sell into a new market or the announcement of a new acquisition. But companies should be wary of burning out their audience with BREAKING NEWS! You’ve probably seen that crawl on cable news channels when almost every morsel of information is promoted as a game-changing headline.

But audiences eventually start tuning out information they don’t regard as timely, relevant, interesting or informative (see one of our previous blogs for a more detailed explanation of that magic content-generating recipe).

Instead, focus on disseminating information that makes sense from a brand-building perspective.

Typically, that’s content that your audience will find useful in some way. That could very well include commentary from a CEO on recent developments across her industry, or insights that deliver value to readers. Knowing what to communicate and when means sometimes playing the role of journalist, or at least an objective reader, to make a call as to what news can help the organization gain (the right kind of) attention and grow its client/user/audience base.

Unless that happens, your organization runs the risk of alienating that audience. So, remember this simple rule of thumb: if your ‘news’ appeals only to a small cadre of individuals, most of whom are employed within your company, then save it for your company blog, forget pitching it to the media, and give up on trying to position it as BREAKING NEWS.

Until next time.

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