12 April 2006

by Jeffery D. Zbar
Special to the Sun-Sentinel

April 10, 2006


When it comes to corporate online pressrooms and media relations sites, journalists have simple expectations of companies they're researching or whose executives they need to reach. Through a single site, they want to find press releases, be able to search for the information they need, and have access to company PR representatives.

Those "essential elements" were part of the findings of the 2006 Online Newsroom Survey, an annual survey of 100 journalists conducted by TEKgroup International Inc., a Fort Lauderdale developer of online pressrooms for corporate clients. The firm helps clients build effective tools and sites that aid journalists in better doing their jobs faster, and with less interaction with corporate communications personnel.

Journalists have become accustomed to visiting a company's Web site and online pressroom, or newsroom, to find information critical to writing or producing a story. Presenting that information in a format that makes it easy to find can help journalists do their jobs better earn kudos for the corporate communications team.

According to the survey, journalists increasingly are willing to use online pressrooms and give up their own information to gain access. For example, eight of 10 journalists said they were willing to register in return for password-protected access to a pressroom, the study found. Yet at the same time, only 49 percent of journalists said they were somewhat to very comfortable being contacted by media relations staff after registering for access to an online press room, said Ibrey Woodall, director of marketing with TEKgroup.

That means that more than half preferred media relations execs not use that registration information to contact them directly, according to the study. This further strengthens the role of an online pressroom, she said.

"That's the asset of a newsroom," she said. "You want journalists to be able to access information."

Among the preferred means of receiving information directly from a company, 20 percent of journalists said the pressroom, and 79 percent said via e-mail, Woodall said. By using an e-mail alert with an abstract and link back to the pressroom, journalists can see the news and elect whether to further pursue the item.

This year, the company didn't ask whether journalists wanted photographs or other visual elements attached to e-mails.

"We don't even ask that question any more," she said. "It's just common knowledge: don't send attachments to journalists."

When creating an online pressroom, executives recommend companies craft a separate Web site link or "minisite," starting with "media" or "press." Examples include press.aol.com, America Online's press site. TEKgroup-created sites include Volkswagen (media.vw.com) and Delta Air Lines (media.delta.com), among others. There, press releases, corporate background, biographies, and low-resolution photographs with captions are posted for journalists' open access. If they want highest resolution images, journalists must first register or log in.

By posting images, companies can save money on courier and shipping costs related to sending actual images to journalists. It also helps companies track site usage and future media hits.

"A request for a high-resolution image means the journalist probably works for a glossy magazine, and we want to know about those requests," she said. Newspapers often can use lower resolution images for reproduction than can magazines.

Also, having the dedicated site helps executives mention the link when talking with journalists. "It's easier to remember than a long thread," or Web site address, she added.

Growing in popularity are "content management systems" that allow media relations personnel to post and update their own news items, photographs and other elements without relying on the Webmaster or IT, or personal knowledge of Web language to post articles.

Not gaining much interest from journalists or fellow publicists are "fads" like corporate blogs or podcasts, she said. When considering new PR tools for implementation, think about whether the media prefer to use the product, if the product serves a purpose, and if the company has the resources to fully develop and maintain its implementation.

"You might have the tools," she said, "but is there a purpose?"

Jeff Zbar is a freelance writer. Reach him at jeff@jeffzbar.com.

Copyright © 2006, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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