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Hard news, soft news

The origins of public relations lie with the press agents of the 19th and early 20th centuries. While the scope of the PR profession has moved a long way from these beginnings, modern public relations still involves a lot of media (press release) work.

Some tips:

  • Credible media have no interest in placing 'soft' stories in their news pages or broadcasts. Unless your story is genuinely of public interest don't send it to these media - you will only erode your credibility with the reporters concerned. Don't ask your PR consultancy or manager to spam the media either - if they are any good at their job, they will want to protect their credibility too.
  • Exceptions:

    Business pages: 90 per cent or more of the news on the business pages of the daily papers comes directly or indirectly from the companies featured. If your business is publicly listed, even modestly interesting policy utterances are likely to get coverage. However, you won't be as lucky with your product promotional stories unless you can spin a very clever yarn.

    Fashion: Trends in art, music, theatre, film, clothing, food and wine are often seen as news, regardless of the commercial aspects.

    Travel: Newspaper and magazine travel features are virtually all advertorial. Travel editors appear to accept almost anything with a by-line in return for advertising support.

    Trade magazines: New product stories are welcomed by trade publications and their readers. If you sell widgets to professionals, tradespeople or farmers, make the most of this opportunity. But don't expect TV One or the NZ Herald to show any enthusiasm unless your new appliance is nuclear powered.

  • Some media will run your media releases in return for your paid advertising.

    If you are already committed to advertising in that medium, that's a bonus, but beware: media which rely on advertorials often have low reader credibility. And that applies to both your advertisement and your media release. As a general rule, advertisements are most effective when they are placed in an environment where editorial values are high.

    Beware also of special features in daily papers, where you are guaranteed coverage in return for an advertisement. If the feature is extremely topical it may be of value. If not, tell the sales rep to sell space on the basis of the publication's strengths, not its weaknesses.

  • Some community newspapers will run your media release as if it were a paid advertisement, without any indication that the space has been paid for. Similarly, some radio hosts will promote your product in return for payment or contra deals.

    These practices infringe accepted journalistic ethics. If they are exposed, as it has recently been in Australia, it can be publicly damaging for all parties involved.