19 April 2006

As published in PR Week

By Lisa LaMotta - 17 Apr 2006 11:00

An online pressroom can ensure that journalists get the news from the right source.

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When a big story breaks or a groundbreaking product launches, a journalist has to get on the story fast. Unless - and even if - they have an established relationship with the company, one of the first places they will turn to is the company's Web site.

"In this age of corporate transparency, if a company wants working journalists to write about it, it must make every effort to be available to the press," says Dee Rambeau, managing partner of The Fuel Team, which provides exclusive technology for PR Newswire's online media-room service.

One of the fastest-growing trends for getting that information out to journalists is online media rooms. Interchangeably referred to as press rooms or newsrooms, these Web sites provide everything a journalist will need to write a cohesive story about a company or its product. These sites generally have an address like media.companyname.com and have a similar look to the company's main site.

 "The journalist can immediately and visually comprehend that they are in the online newsroom of that company when it has the same look as the corporate site," says Ibrey Woodall of TEKgroup Media, a developer of do-it-yourself software for online news rooms.

The main components of these sites are press releases, press kits, event calendars, executive bios, and contact information, but they can include many other aspects that journalists might find helpful when producing a story. Images, both high- and low-resolution, are very helpful. Video and audio are always a welcome addition to any Web site. "B-roll is important to have in a news room; it helps feed the Internet beast," says Tim Roberts, president of Wieck Media. "The Internet media are always looking for moving images."

 New technology is also having a huge effect on the content of online press rooms. Podcasts, blogs, and RSS feeds are becoming an industry standard for communicating to the public. "Podcasts will become more useful as people get more comfortable with the technology," says Rambeau. "The biggest impact right now on newsrooms is the RSS feed." But not everybody should include these aspects in their company sites. Not every company wants to have staffers blogging freely about its inner workings.

One of the most useful aspects of the online newsroom is the ability to have a dark page; a site that can go live in a time of crisis, rather than having it all on its regular newsroom site. Cingular Wireless found its dark pages were of the utmost importance when the hurricane season hit last year and millions of its customers and employees were left wondering what was happening.

"We [had] employees scattered all over the country and in the affected area," says Clay Owen, media relations director at Cingular Wireless. "We used the site in ways we never thought we would; links for employees to get information about help, answers for customer questions that we could not directly address, and photos of the crisis for journalists."

Accessibility is a key component. Having journalists register and apply for a password can be time-consuming and irritating, but according to a poll done by TEKgroup Media, 82 of 100 journalists surveyed said they would register at a site to get the information that they needed.

Password-protecting certain parts of the site can have benefits, too. "In many cases, there are inherent advantages to having a password-controlled press office," says Peter Brand, founder and CEO of The Virtual Press Office. "You are controlling the dissemination of your news and information, more sensitive information can be made available, and it allows you to have much more detailed measurement of what and who is accessing your site."

Online newsrooms can be a key tool for any company to communicate with the media and the public. It lets journalists know about products or events that are happening in your company that they may not have been privy to prior to this technology.

"Any company actively engaged in PR that wants to reach out to the media must have one of these sites," says Brand.

Technique tips

Include high- and low-resolution images on your Web site for download

 Podcasts as a series, not as a one-time event

 Include dark pages for when a crisis occurs

 DON'T Publish anything on your site that the communications team didn't approve

 Let your site go static; keep it updated

 Crowd your site with information that's irrelevant to users

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