Creating Your Online News Room: How To Build a Site The Media Will Love

From time to time, people ask me how public relations has changed
during the two decades in which I've been seeking publicity. My
answer: technology. Twenty years ago, the fax machine was a
newfangled novelty. Our primary means of communicating with
journalists was the telephone and the US Mail. The advent of e-
mail and the web has made life easier in many regards and tougher
in others - namely, thanks to hordes of clowns with money making
schemes and software that "blasts" press releases
indiscriminately to reporters, it's become very hard to get your
e-mails through to spam-weary reporters.

But there's another great advantage provided to publicity seekers
by the Internet -- the ability to create an "online news room".
In the "old days", the press kit reigned. Big bulky folders
loaded with press releases, glossy photos and slides were
standard. They were expensive to design, costly to reproduce and
required lots of manpower and postage to assemble and distribute.
Today, you can simply direct a reporter to a web URL, where all
your press materials and high definition artwork awaits, ready to
be used. It's a huge time and money saver.

A quick note: the traditional press kit isn't dead. It's still
handy to create some physical kits to use with key journalists,
as the very novelty of printed material can give you an edge at
times. Also, some journalists still prefer a physical kit. Press
kits are an important tool at trade show booths & press rooms,
and special events. However, gone are the days of sending out
large press kit mailings. Keep the kits for targeted use only.

Creating a useful online news room is really pretty simple. One
of the main things a busy reporter wants is easy access to press
releases, corporate and executive info and artwork. A well put
together media room should provide a seamless walk-through.

Where Should the News Room Go?

There are two schools of thought on where to put your online news
room. Some companies prefer to have it as a section on their
main site, visible to all as a link on a menu bar or other
navigational element. Others build entirely separate sites just
for the media.

There are pros and cons to each. Putting it as part of your main
site allows a journalist to "poke around" your site, absorbing
more of the feel and culture of your company and its products. It
also makes it easier if the reporter wants more information about
a particular product than can be found in your media materials.
Of course, since you'll need to provide clear links to the online
news room to help such reporters find their way back, anyone
visiting your site can access your press materials. This is
probably not an issue but, if you feel potential customers may
become confused if they wander into the online news room, this
could be worth considering.

Creating a separate site allows you to tailor everything to suit
the needs of the reporter and prevents the possibility of
confusion for potential customers visiting your main site. The
reporter however, will be unable to quickly "poke around" the
main site as described above, so you may consider that in your
decision. If you do choose a separate site, give it a name that
incorporates your company (if you're the Acme Company, go for or Also, provide clear
links to your main site throughout, and code them so that they
open in a new window, allowing the reporter to see your main site
without having to backtrack to the online news room.

Some Do's and Don'ts

DON'T force journalists to register or sign in for access.
They're busy folks and may very well decide not to bother. Make
life as easy as you can for them.

DO offer the opportunity for journalists to enter their e-mail
address if they wish to be kept abreast of the latest news from
your company, but don't link it in any way to the ability to
access any portion of the site. DON'T confuse non-journalists who
may wander into the site. Make it clear at the top of your main
page of your online news room what it and who it's for.

DO provide a link to your consumer FAQ page and an e-mail link
for customer service to give non-journalists a place to go to get
their questions answered. This will save you a great deal of
time responding to messages from non-journalists asking "why am I
looking at a press release? How do I download a new driver" or
some such thing. Here's what Gateway says, "Gateway press
contacts are only able to provide assistance for qualified
members of the news media. They are not qualified to respond to
product or technical support needs...If you are not a member of
the news media, please feel free to visit our pages for Product
Service and Support."

DON'T try to lay out the online news room if you're not a
talented web designer. Don't use flash, heavy java scripts and
other doo-dads. The face you put forth to the media must be
highly professional, and the ease of navigation and logical flow
of the news room is vital.

DO hire a professional designer who has a portfolio that includes
simple, easy-to-navigate, clean-looking sites.

What To Include in Your Online News Room:

Personal Contact Info. The name, address, e-mail, phone number,
fax number and cell phone number of your primary media contacts
must be front and center. If you have an Instant Messaging ID,
put it in there, too.

Press Releases. Place press releases in chronological order
(most recent at the top). Keep traditional press release
formatting and use easy-to-read fonts.

Executive photos, product photos, charts, graphs, and other
appropriate artwork. Provide multiple versions -- 72 dpi (lower
resolution) for online publications and websites, and 300 dpi
(higher resolution) for offline publications. Put instructions
such as To download, right-click and choose "save" next to the
graphics. Make sure your pitch letters and press releases
provide links to the appropriate artwork on your site.

Backgrounders, executive bios, white papers, investor relations
info (if applicable), fact sheets, speeches, awards, streaming
media of: press conferences, product demonstrations, president's
speeches, etc.

Search Tool. Make it easy for journalists to find just what they
want, by making all your press materials fully searchable.

Online News Rooms to Study:

The best way to learn how to put together an online news room is
to see how some very smart folks have done it. Here are three
outstanding examples....

Bill Stoller, the "Publicity Insider", has spent two decades as
one of America's top publicists. Now, through his website, eZine
and subscription newsletter, Free Publicity: The Newsletter for
PR-Hungry Businesses's sharing -- for the very first time -- his secrets of scoring
big publicity. For free articles, killer publicity tips and
much, much more, visit Bill's exclusive new site:

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