Newsroom downsizings have resulted in overworked journalists with more stories and deadlines than they can handle. Fewer journalism jobs have resulted in more “republishing” or “ripping and reading,” of news releases word-for-word with no editorial oversight.
The new media business cycle is as follows:
In December, The Conan O’Brien Show hilariously demonstrated the embarrassment of ripping and reading on local TV news in a video segment. The segment features dozens of local news anchors reading the same words from a press release about Christmas gifts. Watch the video below:
The video demonstrates how overworked (or lazy) news departments now depend on PR to fill news space. In one way, it’s a PR dream: the press release runs with no change in multiple outlets, scoring a titanic PR success.
But…and it’s a very, very big but… the new PR opportunities to place stories without change in mainstream consumer media and trade journals imposes a new responsibility to develop more newsworthy and even-handed content.
To quote Uncle Ben from Spiderman: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
In the old order with independent editorial review, journalists often protected PR from itself (or the corporate bosses) by ignoring non-news news releases or by toning down improper claims.
With its new power to place stories in the media without the filter of independent editorial judgment, PR must exercise better news judgment and produce more balanced content. PR must also become more circumspect in the content it produces and more careful with hair-trigger “newsjacking” stunts to create publicity.
Not doing so will result in slow erosion of credibility for the media — and bad PR, like the notorious PR stunts named in Virginia Pelley’s 8 of the Most Disgusting PR Moves of All Time.
Some of the more horrifying cases in which PR overshot boundaries of good news judgment include:
- The “Rolex is Worth Living for” campaign: Rolex credited its own brand as aiding in the recovery of celebrity Owen Wilson after his well-publicized suicide attempt. Included in their press release:
After returning home from the hospital, Owen was captured by a photographer walking on the beach, wearing his Rolex Submariner. Later, he was seen riding his mountain bike in Santa Monica with the Rolex Submariner on his wrist. Obviously, the quality of a Rolex watch helped Owen realize and appreciate the quality of his own life.”
- Anchor Communication’s Klout score: One way to lose credibility as an agency: issue a press release about a CEO’s Klout score. Anchor thought the change in CEO T.J. Kirgin’s Klout score was important enough to write and issue a press release.
- Valentino’s bags at Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s wake: Valentino, a fashion group, sent out a press release last week that actress Amy Adams was spotted at Hoffman’s wake carrying one of their bags. According to the New York Post, the release boasted:
We are pleased to announce Amy Adams carrying the Valentino Garavani Rockstud Double bag from the Spring/Summer 2014 collection on February 6th in New York.”
Later, Valentino apologized for the release and claimed they were not aware Adams was en route to the wake.
PR should seize the opportunity to create and manage news. However, caution is crucial. More so than ever before. And especially with announcements that are quickly assembled and distributed or “newsjacked” to blend in with trending news. Discretion and journalist-like news judgment will keep your company or client off the #PRfails list.