This is a summary of a talk I gave recently. There was enough slack-jawed astonishment from public relations folks that I thought it might be helpful for others.
My name is Fraser Cain, and I’m the publisher of Universe Today. A space and astronomy news website read by more than 3 million people a month. We have 65,000 RSS subscribers and email readers. We’ve published about 25,000 articles on Universe Today over the last 12 years, and deeply understand what our readers want.
So, if you’re in public relations, and you want to reach out to publishers and news editors, to get them to publish your news, let me tell you what we want. Although I’ll give you examples for space/astronomy, I’m sure this is exactly the same in every news market on the internet.
We want scoops!
We want to be able to publish news first, that nobody else is going to be reporting on. We know that if we can publish that news first, and if it’s going to resonate with our readers, it’s going to go viral. It’s going to get read by our own readers, and then it’s going to get picked up by Slashdot, and Reddit, and Stumbleupon, and discussion forums, and Twitter, and Facebook, etc, etc. Instead of a few thousand readers, we’re going to get hundreds of thousands of readers.
We know that the likelihood of our story going viral depends entirely on the amount of competition we face for the story. If you write a press release and send it out to 1,000 news editors, you have destroyed any chance that we’re going to get a scoop. Somebody higher up the media food chain – an established news agency like the New York Times – might get the chance to go viral since they have so many people following them. David Pogue, or Robert Scoble get a viral boost no matter what. We don’t.
But here at Universe Today; if we know 1,000 other news agencies are going to be covering this story, there’s a slim chance of a story breaking out of our own readership. We’ll cover the story if we think our readers can benefit from it, but we’ll often avoid it too. We’re more than happy to link over to our friends at Discovery News, MSNBC, io9, or Space.com. They can do a great job of reporting the story, why should we reinvent the wheel. That’s why we link out so much on Universe Today. Only old media sites are afraid to link away from their site.
We’re always looking for scoops. We’re scouring research journals, watching Twitter, and listening to chatter on the internet. We’re looking for really interesting stories that we know nobody else is covering. If we can report on an interesting piece of research, that didn’t come from a press release, we know we have an exclusive. We’ll be the recipients of the viral effect, because nobody else is working on that story. Everyone is going to be amplifying us.
So if you’re going to send out a press release, remember this. The amount of people who receive your press release is inversely proportional to our interest in covering your news. In fact, we know the lazy media is just going to copy-paste your press releases, nullifying themselves in the Google search results. We want scoops, remember.
Obviously, we understand that you can’t show favourites, only sending scoops to some editors, and leaving others out of the loop. We hate embargoes, and refuse to participate in the embargo process.
But we know our audience very well, and we have a keen eye on what they’re looking for. We also have the judgement to recognize a cool piece of research or technology, and the resources to turn that into a full story. We can take a fuzzy Hubble image and some interesting data, and put it into context; explain what has been discovered, and why it’s so important. What you thought was a silly side project might be enormously interesting to space enthusiasts, and we don’t need a press release to slow down communications.
If you’re doing research or testing technology. If you’re creating simulations, or taking photos or videos; get the word out. Let us take a look at all the stuff you’re doing, without a press release filter. We’ll know what’s worth reporting, and we’ll do the work to get it organized for our readers. We’ll help your ideas go viral to the larger internet audience, and it’ll take you a fraction of the effort – no press releases are required.
For starters, make sure you have every single publicity method covered. Get your videos on YouTube, photos on Flickr, info in RSS, Twitter and Facebook. If I need pictures, videos, or text to support a story, I need to be able to get it right away from your site. That’s a Media Relations 101.
And then here are some examples of ways you can let us get scoops:
– have your team tweet interesting accomplishments during the day
– take cool photographs of your research, technology, hardware, vistas, etc and publish them to Flickr or on your site
– take some time to answer questions from the public, post the answers on your site
– post cool videos of your research, techniques, interviews with researchers
– make your journal articles available on your website
– blog about what you’re working on, so we can read between the lines and report news
Remember, we’re less interested in the big press releases. Think instead about micro releases. Update the world much more often with smaller pieces of information, which reporters can jump on, and turn into news.
If you like, here’s a link to my presentation. It loses a lot without me jumping around in front of it, gesturing wildly, but I hope you can get something out of it.