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Seven online press material no-nos

I was a full-time news reporter for about 10 years before becoming a full-time freelance writer last spring, and for four of those years, my beat covered retail, marketing, advertising, public relations and entertainment. This means I’ve read a lot of press releases and media kits, and even written a few myself as a consultant. And I’m a huge fan of the online press room and the electronic media kit for convenience and round-the-clock access.

Still, it can be done wrong, hence my Seven Online Press Material No-Nos listed below, compiled over the last year and directed at no agency or corporation in particular.  They’re not the Deadly Sins, but I think they can make things go a little more smoothly.

(Please let me sincerely reassure my many talented friends in the media relations business that I do, in fact, know you’re dealing with endlessly-demanding clients and deadlines and gruff journalists and that many things are beyond your control. Most of you are fantastic and patient people, so, where appropriate, consider these complaints  aimed at the clients who insist on making your life more difficult.)

Hard-to-find or nonexistent contact information: If you’re big enough to have a PR agency or even someone in your company who takes media calls, you’re big enough to put your press contact button right there on the front page of your site, with at least a name and an email address. No one should have to wade through your Babel Fish Puzzle to follow up about the press release that you sent out. Automatic contact forms that provide no helpful information to the seeker are inadequate and frustrating.

Flash-driven or other “super nifty” interactive web pages. Look, I get it if the landing page is all Sparkles and Wow, and if I absolutely have to go there first and then click on a “press information” or “media” link, that’s fine. But you can lose all that whizbang once I’m on the media page: If I’m there, I’m working. And if I’m working, I’m likely on a deadline, and if I’m on a deadline, then all that carefully-crafted eye-popping stuff is just getting in my way.

That also goes for putting press photos into embedded photo slideshows or otherwise disabling the handy right-click “save as” ability that makes for the quickest and easiest way to download those pictures that you want everybody to see and share. (Because that’s why they’re there, right?)

And don’t go forgetting the photo captions, because even though you think it’s perfectly obvious who’s in that picture and where it was taken and what model that machine is, you’ll save yourself an exasperated follow-up call seeking the details. Captions for a whole set of photos gathered in a separately downloadable file is a pain. My personal preference: Thumbnail previews and downloadable ZIP files that include captions with each picture.

Requiring registration: I know that in most cases, you’re email farming so you can tell who’s accessing your press material, and I’ll even grant you that that’s not entirely unreasonable. What bugs me are the “fill this out and we’ll email you back when it’s approved” forms. Really? It’s not like I’m asking to for free admission to a conference you’re sponsoring or a ticketed event here: Who’s trying to “sneak” into your virtual press room? And while we’re on it,

password logins for media/press pages are ridiculous, especially when they lead to URLs which can later be directly accessed. There’s no better way to tell someone, “See, we just wasted your time.”

Last gripe: No archived press releases. Maybe I don’t cover your company all the time, or maybe it’s been awhile since we’ve touched base. I’ll be able to do my job better and you’ll find my requests less frustrating if I can do as much homework as possible ahead of time and read all about that preceding product release/line cancellation/relocation/new vice-president that you announced last month. If you’ve put the news out there, keep it around for reference and you’ll save yourself some headaches.

March 22, 2010 - Posted by | Web/Tech, Weblogs, writing | , , ,

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