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Kiss, Kiss: Make Your Site Really Press Friendly

By Kristin Gambill and Christy Crews

Originally Posted

PR professionals are masters at wooing the press, placing stories, and creating a buzz for their clients and organizations. However, the Internet has changed the way everyone does business –- including both the PR professional and the journalist writing up the pitched story. On his Larry’s World Web site, technology journalist Larry Magid published an open letter to PR pros telling them, "the only good way to get my attention is via e-mail" and begging them to fully integrate the Web into their business practices. After all, the first place Larry or any self-respecting journalist is going to look for information on a company is that company's Web site. So, why do so many companies who should know better have Web sites that suck ... especially for journalists?

After last week's The Best and Worst Dressed PR Web Sites of 2002, we're not going to waste our breath reminding you of the bare essentials of good Web site design. After we've beaten you over the head about constructing your site with cleanly designed, fast-loading pages that contain accurate, up-to-date, easy-to-find information, if you are still too drunk to "get it," you need to be bounced.

Okay, who's still with us? Here's the Bar Babe bottom line on making your site press friendly: It's like dating. It's a three-step process equivalent to landing that hot guy you winked at from across the bar. First, you have to be visible, put your package out in front of them, and make it easy for them to notice you. Then, you have to make it easy for them to get your number and call you for a date. Finally, you have to continue to massage and build the relationship so that they don’t drop you like last night's one-night stand.

Step One: Working the Scene If you expect the press to visit your company's or client's Web site, you'll need to develop a media section. If you don't plan on visits from the press, that's fine too. Just help yourself to another martini and be sure to dust off your resume. Show 'em your package. The media section should include everything: all news releases, company backgrounders, product and service spec sheets, executive bios, and downloadable photos. DuPont is a sexy little number with a visible link to a News & Media section from their top-level page that includes daily news items, news releases for the past two years, and speeches sorted by speaker or by date. They put it on display for the world to see, and they should have no dearth of dates. Skimpy and Sexy. The average Web surfer has the online attention span of a stoned gnat. Journalists pressed for time and under deadlines are no different. Your Web site copy should make it easy for them to get in and out, without even a thank you, ma'am. Write your copy like you buy your lingerie: brief, easy and pleasant to digest, gets straight to the point. Tax preparation giant H&R Block’s Press Center makes it easy for journalists to get busy with them. The bullet-pointed copy can be skimmed in a glance, allowing the user to click on the item of interest and gather the information he needs in seconds. Don't be stale. Even the world's best product, service, or company will look out of style with a Web site that contains outdated information. Publish releases on your Web site at the same time you distribute them to the media, and review your site regularly to guarantee freshness. While a site with information just a few days or weeks old won't look as passé as Rick Springfield's look back in the '80s, there is just a fine line between fashion and farce. Disney has an Online Newsroom component on their Web site. Yes, it required three pints to finally stumble upon it, but it does exist. However, the most recent press release or news article on their site is more than two weeks old. This is despite the fact that the Money & Investing channel at Excite runs several stories a day about Disney. Strut your stuff. Once you have added this section to your Web site, don't hide it, flaunt it! Make your Media Section as obvious as that sleazy barfly's rack billowing out over her too-tight dress. Include a link to the Media Section in a prominent place on your navigation bar, header, or footer. Although they don’t follow through as well as they could, HP does a good job of this on their top-level home page. As you read their site, left to right, top to bottom, the first thing you see is a prominent "contact HP" link in the upper left-hand corner of the site. Step Two: Landing a Date Occasionally the inquiring mind of a journalist generates a question or two that cannot be answered with the information available on your Web site, so be sure to make your number readily available. Call me. No self-respecting PR pro would distribute a press release without a contact person's name, telephone number, and email address. Why should your Web site deserve any less? Be sure that the name, direct email address, phone, fax, and areas of responsibility for each media contact are in an easy-to-find location on your Web site. Again, be sure to keep the list updated. Hallmark has a detailed media contact list that makes it easy for the press to hone right in on the appropriate person within the company based on their geographical location, subsidiary, and function. Remember, if he doesn't have your number, waiting by the phone won't do any good. Don't play hard to get. In addition to providing contact information for all company representatives authorized to speak with the media, include a Web-based form the press can use to request more information or an interview. Be sure to respond to these inquiries immediately –- no later than the same day received -- and post your response time on the form, so the journalist knows to expect that up front. There are lots of other beautiful, single blondes trolling for dates in the PR meat market. Journalists may lose interest if they can't find a quick, easy way to contact you with more questions or if they don't receive an expedient response to their request for more information. Networking solutions company Equant has a media contact form that should assure they're not sitting at home on a Saturday night waiting for their story to be picked up. Step Three: Massaging the Relationship Now that you've made it through your first date, if the relationship is worth keeping, it will take work to make it blossom. Join the club. Cultivate a media following by growing and using a journalist email list. Consider it the little black book of the 21st Century. This makes it easy for writers to keep track of the latest and greatest at your company without taking any initiative. In Microsoft's PressPass section, journalists can subscribe to the PressPass Newsletter. Be interesting. You don't want to drive off your new beau after you went to all the trouble of catching him, so don't be boring or waste his time. Contacting journalists with press releases that aren't newsworthy is the surest way to get them looking for greener pastures. Any contact with your journalists should be timely, relevant, and newsworthy. Make time spent communicating with you valuable, and you'll keep them making time with you. Be easy to get ahold of, be forward with your information, be choosy about the information you send out. What other advice would your trusty Bar Babes dish out? And, as far as your Web site goes, it could turn out to be your biggest tool, so don't sit around like dateless chess club geek, use it. Having an informative, easy-to-find online media section will pay off in accurate stories and goodwill with the media. But, unfortunately, not in beer (which is, of course, OUR favorite payoff).

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