Thursday, February 11, 2010

Localized releases get a new engine

In every communications operation I've ever worked, the most reviled -- and most effective -- news releases we issued were not those about the sweeping trends or newest breakthroughs or grand plans. That prize was reserved for the dreaded awards release, localized to ensure that at least one news outlet (the winner's local newspaper) would use the contents.

Why dreaded and reviled? Good media relations officers know that awards releases rank at the bottom of the list of what reporters want to receive.  (I know--I've done the surveys.) The sheer number of awards issued (many, ironically, to get attention for a cause or organization) means no news outlet can cover them all at the same time. The information's pro forma, the most basic kind of news release to write.  And if your organization has dozens of awards, writing the releases becomes the moral equivalent of writing "Mary Had a Little Lamb" a few dozen times.  Way to motivate your press staff for releases that don't generate much coverage.  But they were effective, the base hits of the press office, getting good, solid coverage where it mattered.  And by localizing headlines ("Barnstable Man Wins National Chemistry Prize"), they worked wonders in search engines.

Fast forward to now: these stock announcements have become vital content for local newspapers' websites and embraced even more because "hyperlocal" coverage is among the few enduring trends in news.  The change is prompted in part by an automated press release generator described in this blog post from Lost Remote (itself a great source on local news issues).  From the post:
Albany, NY-based readMedia has developed a press release engine that can take a dean’s list from a college with 5,000 names on it and generate a unique “story” for each zip code and pump out hundreds or thousands of individual press releases to local media outlets based on the students in their local areas. A particular town or some zip code can receive a press release from the school about one student....[the company's president says] instead of aggregating content, his company is aggregating the creators of the content. Schools, military and state agencies pay for the readWire service because it allows them to localize and distribute information quickly and efficiently. While still in its early stages, the company is on track to generate 250,000 “stories” this year for the 15,000 zip codes it is currently covering.
It offers newspapers free widgets for their websites that serve up all the awards (or other) announcements for their zip codes.  Some may be horrified by this news generator, but I know more than a few journalists and press officers who will wonder why this couldn't have been invented sooner.   Perhaps you should take a second look at that boring, repetitive content you've got sitting around.  Can it be turned into useful content to share with your audiences or local news outlets?  (A hat tip to Joe Bonner, who pointed me to this item.)

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