Should Your Site Have an Online Press Room?

Should your site have an online press room? It Takes a lot More than Press Releases (Yawn)

by B.L. Ochman

What should be included besides press releases .yawn . in the Press Rooms you design for clients? What about your own company’s media center?

The Number One rule for developing an online Press Room is to think like a journalist. Think about the information that could be most helpful to someone writing a story about your client’s company and then make it available. Like many things that can impact on how a company is perceived, doing a good job at an online Press Room is a complicated process. And it’s one that can have a substantial positive payoff.

To learn the best and worst practices of Web site Press Rooms, we analyzed the content of approximately 50. We looked at the Fortune 10, at top Internet-only companies, bricks and clicks companies and companies whose which have had controversial or negative news in the past year.

In the best online Press Rooms journalists are given solid, relatively fluff-free information – sometimes even negative information – that can help them write their stories. And while press releases in a media area of a site may be helpful for financial results, they don’t have much use beyond that.

Publicly traded companies are obligated to feature press information on their web sites. But a lot of smaller companies can increase their chances of getting press coverage by learning from the Best Practices of giants.

The Number One use of the Internet by journalists is research. They come to the Press Room of a site needing to quickly learn how to contact the PR department for information. Incredibly, many Press Rooms of major corporations give only a general email address and not the PR staff contact names and phone numbers. In those cases, the purpose of having a Press Room is hard to fathom.

Don’t Hide the Press Room

You’d never know some companies even have a Press Room because they use a completely separate URL, which is not accessible from the main site. Only the incredibly persevering or the invited may visit those Press Rooms. And only God knows why.

In a widespread practice that makes no sense, a lot of companies require registration for entry to the Press Room. Some take 24 hours to provide a password. Not much help to a reporter on a deadline, looking for a PR contact. I call the lack of contact names and phone numbers the Web Wizard of Oz Syndrome, and consider it a worst practice.

Some companies allow public access to the Press Room but password protect the names and numbers of the PR staff. This is understandable because the home, office and pager numbers of PR staff are provided in the password protected areas.

When specific PR staff names and numbers are inaccessible to the public, it is absolutely crucial that a direct contact number for the department be provided. It is advisable to note on the contact page of the Press Room that the PR staff deals only with the media and to offer names and numbers for consumer concerns.

Presumably companies believe requiring registration will help them keep track of who’s keeping track of them. And they seem to want to keep riff-raff like customers from knowing the company story. Given that most Press Rooms contain little more than press releases, it is hard to understand why in the world would they issue releases and then deny public access to them. Besides, there’s a name for most customers who want to know all the details about a company: investors. Why turn them away?

Are they concerned that they will hear from customers, who may have figured out that the PR department is an effective place to take a complaint? If so, they should realize that customer complaints can be an early warning system for potentially significant problems. And they should be glad to get the chance to help the customers resolve the problem before it becomes widespread.

Few Press Rooms include articles about the company that have run in the media. Almost none include negative coverage in their site. Yet it is futile to hide news about a company because anyone who knows how can find the information quickly and easily by using a variety of online research facilities.

Media-friendly Press Room Features

The point of the Press Room is to make finding information about the company easy for a reporter. Companies that understand this have media-friendly Press Room features including:

  • Search of the Press Room by date, topic, keyword, type of file, archive or current
  • Documents available for download in PDF format
  • Company Position Papers and Statements to the Press on issues
  • Background and public record information on legal issues
  • Email alert service when news is added to the site
  • Links to outside sites which may contain negative information on issues
  • Photos and graphics in three resolutions and download sizes
  • Lists of job changes in the media covering the industry and job changes/new jobs in the PR department
  • A “geek section” with technical information in plain English as well as products specs, R&D; info, etc.
  • Forms for reporters to order video and stills
  • A list of the company’s key competitors
  • Customer demographics
  • The name, address, home and work phone, fax and email of worldwide PR staff and key personnel for the company’s offices, plants, worldwide locations, with maps
  • Calendar of trade shows and industry events

The common denominator of outstanding features in the top online press rooms was an acute awareness of the needs of journalists and a desire to make getting information about the company as easy as possible. Here are some of the best features we found.

Examples

Lycos has an extraordinary information policy with a press area integrated into its main site. They set a shining example when they say, “What do you want to know? We’re pretty much an open book. So click on any topic below and you can learn all about our company, how to add a site to our catalog, how to link to us from your homepage — virtually anything. And if you’d like to talk to us, just drop us a line.”

A direct phone number for the department would be a 1000 percent improvement!

Microsoft perhaps once reticent about providing details of legal actions against it, now provides a wide range of services to both press and public through its Press Room

  • An extensive legal issues area is included
  • They offer to do some work for the media. Right under contacts they say “As you develop trend or lifestyle stories related to Microsoft products or technologies, we are available to help in these ways:
    1. locating “real people” for you to profile
    2. providing you with artwork
    3. arranging interviews with Microsoft representatives
  • For feature stories, Microsoft’s “digital diva” does double duty for both press and consumers. She travels around the country speaking to community groups addressing topics like online safety, the role of computers in education, software-based personal finance, etc.She also has her own web site that makes technology easy to understand and use. The Diva’s Dictionary provides plain English definitions of computer terms.

Verizon gets the good PR contacts award from Forbes and other editors. They even list contacts state-by-state. No passwords required.

Monsanto is no stranger to controversy as a result of its bio-engineering of food products and its manufacture of noxious chemicals:

  • Has the best and most outside links for further research AND they are organized into categories. This is a gift for any researcher.
  • Contains a range of industry studies.
  • Includes an impressive second site, called “The Life Sciences Knowledge Center,” gives in-depth info, third party news, up-to-date news on health and environment/food issues.
  • While they are not posting articles that “bash” them, they do have negative articles, from Time Magazine for example, along with critical University of California white papers, etc. They aren’t walking away from the issues. They present them but also explaining their positions.

Gateway has the best way to say their PR staff only works with the media: “Gateway press contacts are only able to provide assistance for qualified members of the news media. They are not qualified to respond to product or technical support needs, nor donation requests. If you are not a member of the news media, please feel free to visit our pages for Product Service and Support and the Gateway Foundation.”

  • The Press Room’s Interactive Gateway will soon have webcasts from live events, speeches and conferences.
  • “Where We Stand” gives their policy on privacy. This is a major online problem and they are smart to acknowledge it as such.

Phillip Morris has a Corporate Fact Book downloadable in PDF. It would be even better if it was not the thinly veiled hype that they say it isn’t.

Wal-Mart has the best integration of media info with consumer site.

  • Includes the company’s Good Works through foundations, etc.
  • Data Sheets quick Fact Sheets on the company
  • “Economic Impact” is a great idea! It shows jobs created by Wal-Mart, money spent on suppliers, building, etc. in each state; top 5 vendors; total taxes paid; financial contributions to communities.

Exxon Mobil evidently learned from the negative press resulting from its dreadful handling of the Valdez and other incidents. The Press Room:

  • Gives their views on public policy issues
  • Links to other sites which may have negative information about the issues
  • Provides an online press kit on the merger
  • Company history includes myth of Pegasus and the Tiger’s history
  • Lists worldwide operations with companies and affiliates

PR on the Internet is a whole new game. Play it well and you and your clients may reap substantial rewards. The Press Room is a good place to start.