The Death of the Press Release

On another note altogether (I’ll get back to “As the Glucose Meter Turns” soon enough), I am pondering the PR question again today.  I am doing this because I’ve received an advance invitation to be part of a panel discussion on how healthcare and pharma enterprises should approach bloggers in “serious disease categories” — i.e. bloggers like us.  Big question.

I have worked on both sides of the communications fence and understand the in’s and out’s pretty well.  But back in my day, there was no such thing as Social Media (i.e. blogs, podcasts, message boards, vlogs, etc.) 

And now, as a diabetes blogger being ever-more-aggressively inundated by organizations hoping to promote various products and initiatives, I must admit I am not exactly clear on how I would instruct them to do things differently in an ideal world.Diepressrelease

First off, there’s been much tadoo over the death of the press release (kicked off by Financial Times refugee Tom Foremski).  The idea being that the “Old School” method of crafting a carefully worded announcement and blasting it out over the wire isn’t going to cut it with today’s interactive media.  We want something less “fluffy,” more concise, and certainly more genuine. 

In fact, when Business Wire recently hosted a gala event marking the 100th anniversary of the news release, one fearless PR agency asked, “Shouldn’t it be a wake, rather than a birthday party?“:

“If the low-hanging fruit of boring corporate releases is in the process of becoming irrelevant, what does this mean to companies like Business Wire and PR Newswire? Well, join the club! Newswires, PR agencies, corporate communications departments, journalists, bloggers: we all have the *opportunity* to rethink our jobs and the reasons for our professional being: adding value.”

So in our case, a bunch of companies out there want to promote their health books, informational videos, diabetic-friendly foods, D-gadgets and devices, etc., etc.  How should they approach us?  And how can we cover their stuff without coming off like commerical mouthpieces?

Rethinking the format of the traditional news release is a start.  But to me, the guidelines for approaching us patient bloggers are much more elemental:

- send me a personal note, rather than a “form pitch”

- tell me in 25 words or less why your stuff is truly interesting and newsworthy (how does it change  patients’ lives?)

- offer me something concrete to go with the announcement, like an interview with a luminary, or a trial version of your software (ideally online where anyone can try it)

Stuff like that.  * HEY! HEALTH BLOGGERS OUT THERE, DO YOU AGREE? *  Got any tips on how companies should best interact with you?  (Certainly not by asking how they can “use” your site to promote their own new website, as the agency for one Pharma giant recently tried to pull…)

btw, on the blogging ethics issue, have you heard of Flogging?  Yeah, Wal-Mart recently got caught with its pants down trying to parade some cutsey, ostensibly grassroots RV-trip-across-America blog that turned out to be nothing but a staged PR campaign in disguise.  Bad, bad, blogging practice!   

Note that Dmitriy K over at The Medical Blog Network (TMBN) is working hard to establish a new set of standards for integrity of health/medical blogs.  See the HealthTrain Manifesto, and sign on to support the effort if you see fit.

I also happen to know that the UK medical journal The Lancet is currently working on a story about potential conflicts of interest in blogging and the practice of Flogging — the use of blogs as promotional tools, masquerading as genuine citizen journalism.  Somebody grab that dagger!


10 Responses

  1. Scott K. Johnson
    Scott K. Johnson November 7, 2006 at 8:21 am | | Reply

    Boy, you’ve said a mouthful Amy! Great points, great questions, great info.

    I think that the integrity question is always there when dealing with money. Money can change the motives of even the best intentions a person can have.

    For what it’s worth, I appreciate your openness and honesty about things that you have had the opportunity to do, and I don’t question your integrity at all. In fact I hold it in pretty high regard. I can only imagine the weird offers and propositions you’ve had to deal with.

    I think that it is hard to get the real story on new products or promotions when you are getting nothing but “marketing speak”. Getting a chance to talk with real people who have used the stuff, or having an opportunity to sample the product would be very helpful.

    But there is also the question of how the heck a single person can thoroughly evaluate all these things! Too much for one guy/gal to do on their own sometimes!

  2. Allison Blass
    Allison Blass November 7, 2006 at 9:13 am | | Reply

    As a student of public relations (finishing up my major this term!), we are talking a lot about this sort of viral marketing that you were talking about. One of the senior account executives for Edelman (the PR behind Walmart) actually came in to talk to us a few weeks ago and I grilled her about “corporate blogging” and how I thought it was almost ridiculous in some ways.

    I suppose I consider ourselves to be “grassroots bloggers.” That is, individuals who, with their own dime and energy, are putting together a world of their own where they can express their opinions without fear of Big Brother’s influence. I’m almost afraid that if we have too much of this PR influence, we will lose that spark that makes the O.C., and the whole blogosphere so appealing. We will become just another marketing tool, another avenue, another method of using someone else for our own personal gain, which I think flies in the face of the genius of blogging.

    That being said, marketing via blogs is happening, and I’m not sure this is a train we can stop. I think as bloggers we have to be responsible for the content of our own blogs. If a blogger wants to accept solicitations from companies, then by all means, don’t let me stop you. And PR groups should be aware of what kinds of blogs will be most capable of handling that kind of targeting. I think PR groups need to be aware of what kind of blog they are soliciting. Not just that it falls under the “Diabetes” category, but that the person might actually have some interest. Do some background research, folks, know who you’re talking to. It really annoys me when people try to send me press releases for “herbal remedies” or “type 2 treatments.” Anyone who has read my blog for even a day would know that’s not something I talk about.

    Not sure if I answered the question, and I could go on for hours about blogging and public relations, my two pet subjects.

  3. Bill the diabetesdoc
    Bill the diabetesdoc November 8, 2006 at 3:24 am | | Reply

    Amy: I’m also getting these requests to promote “new exciting” products from PR flacks. My approach is simple:

    1) I verify on-line that the return e-mail address is from a PR firm (so far, they’ve had the integrity to do that rather than use AOL or hotmail type of addresses)

    2) I call the flack (they always include a phone number “for more information”, and ask for payment, pointing out that they are being paid to promote the product and it’s only fair that I get paid also. To date, this response has resulted in comments like “oh, I never thought of that” or “this is so important you should do it for free”. I reemphasize that no payment, no publicity until they hang up in disgust.

  4. AmyT
    AmyT November 8, 2006 at 7:08 am | | Reply

    Thanks, Scott. And Allison, I’m with you on every sentiment here.

    And ooh, Bill, I would never use the term “flacks.” PR is as respectable a profession as any other. Of course, some do it better than others. And I’m struggling to figure out my ideal blogging modus operandi with these folks.

  5. Fard Johnmar
    Fard Johnmar November 8, 2006 at 7:09 am | | Reply


    Fantastic post. As a marketing professional, I think that providing information to bloggers about initiatives in an appropriate way is certainly fine (but, I know I’m biased). I think it all comes down to knowing who you are approaching, understanding what they write about and providing them with value.

    On the other hand, I get pitches from PR folks all of the time about products, services and issues. I tend to react positively when people give me stuff that adds real value to my readers, like an interview or inside information. In that way, bloggers are like journalists. We want good info that we can share with our readers.

    One of the reasons HC bloggers are getting pitches is that they are steadily gaining more influence. I think this is a good thing. However, “blogger relations” must be conducted appropriately and transparently. By the way, I’m very interested in that Lancet article and am looking forward to it coming out.

  6. RLH
    RLH November 8, 2006 at 11:14 am | | Reply

    Amy – just came across your blog and it’s fantastic. OF note:

    PR and blogging: As a person with type I diabetes and working in the communications healthcare industry, I appreciate your candidness and truth that you bring! I go back and forth on this issue all of the time.

    Pumping: way to go. I started only a couple of years ago – keep at it. It is hard work (is there something related to diabetes that isn’t?!) but well worth it. I will be a regular to your blog – and this is new to me!

    This is fantastic!

  7. Connie Bennett
    Connie Bennett November 8, 2006 at 9:55 pm | | Reply

    Amy, fascinating, fascinating post. And for me, your timing for this post couldn’t have been more ideal!

    For starters, let me say that I’m in a situation similiar to yours in that I’ve been at both sides of press releases — a recipient (as a journalist getting swamped by them) and a writer (as in doing some periodic PR work).

    But now I need to start writing press releases as a vehicle to get the word out about my book SUGAR SHOCK!, which comes out late next month.

    So you’re making me think!

    * What kind of format should I use — the traditional one?

    * How could I personalize a press release?

    * Sure, I can tell the press why in 25 words or less my stuff is “truly interesting and newsworthy,” as you put it.

    * Offer something concrete? Hmm.. Working on that!

    Thanks for the food for thought!

    Connie Bennett

  8. Joan Stewart, The Publicity Hound
    Joan Stewart, The Publicity Hound November 9, 2006 at 9:09 am | | Reply

    The traditional press release, as we know it, is dead.

    The smartest PR people are writing direct-to-consumer press releases and posting them online where people can find them. Readers can then click through to a website and enter your sales funnel, even if journalists think your press release isn’t worthy of their time and attention.

    As for pitching bloggers, here are two more tips from a fellow blogger:

    –Let me know you read my blog. The best way to do that is to start posting comments, which gets my attention. Then pitch me.

    –Your pitch should communicate the message “I’m here to help you or your readers” versus “I want you or your readers to help me.”

  9. Blog Business Summit
    Blog Business Summit November 10, 2006 at 7:14 pm | | Reply

    How Do You Reach Out to Your Clients When They All Have a Serious Disease?

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