How Social Media Has Changed PR

I’m really not that old, but a lot of my friends will tell you I have an ‘old soul’ – mostly because I like to watch 70’s westerns and go to bed early. But that’s beside the point. My point is that I’m not that old. I graduated college 3 (almost 4) years ago. My degree is in PR and I feel like almost everything I learned in my PR classes is so out of date it’s like I learned it all 25 years ago.

While writing a press release the other day, it hit me that I still make my releases fit the rules that were drilled into my head every class, even though they’re not really necessary anymore. Now that social media is such a huge news source for many, you’d think most of the ‘rules’ I learned would be out of date. However, I’ve come to find that these rules are still relevant today, just for different reasons.

Rule 1: Make your release fit on one page
The reason my teachers pushed this was because, of course, you’d be faxing your releases into XYZ newspaper and you wouldn’t want them to lose one of the pages of your release with the hundreds of releases they would be getting throughout the day.

Why it still makes sense
Though there is no longer a need to fax your release, it is still a good practice to keep your releases short.  It is so easy to distribute information these days and many people are on an information overload. They don’t have time to read lengthy news articles and want their information to be short and skimmable.

Rule 2: Follow the AP Stylebook
The AP Stylebook is put out by the Associated Press. It is a list of guidelines regarding grammar, spelling, and punctuation. It’s basically a guide book for almost any question you have about an article. Is that word hyphenated? When listing the president of the company, do I capitalize the word ‘president’?

We were told to follow this guideline like our lives depended on it. Journalist pull their news from the Associated Press. It’s their language and since you’re pitching to journalists, you better speak their language.

Why it still makes sense
Now when you distribute news releases, you’re not just writing for journalists, you’re writing for the average reader, and it’s ALWAYS a good rule of thumb to follow guidelines to be sure you stay consistent in your writing. Remember though, there are some things in the AP Stylebook that may be correct, but they look odd to the average reader. For example, the AP Stylebook used to say you should write it “Web site”. I never liked that and happily for me, they changed that rule so we can all just write “website”.

Rule 3: Use an inverted pyramid for your release
If you’ve never heard of it, the inverted pyramid means you put you most information at the top of your article followed by second most important, third most important, and so on (basically, flip a pyramid upside). We used this because this is how news articles are written. Next time you read a news article, notice that the who, what, where, when, why, and how will be in the first few paragraphs of the article. This goes along with keeping your release short, people like to skim and they usually only read the first few paragraphs (or even sentences) and then move to the next story.

Why it still makes sense
This answer also goes along with keeping it to one page: People like to skim. It also helps you focus your story. People want to know the meat of the story so they can quickly move to the next news piece. Those of you who are big Twitter fans are probably already pretty good at focusing your story to 140 characters or less.

These are just a few of the rules I learned in my PR classes that I still use today, just in very different ways. Being a semi-English snob, I must say that I think following the AP Stylebook is the most important. I hate reading articles that have improper grammar or punctuation. So if you ever see me do it, let me know.

Also, I’ll try not to let several months pass between posts next time.

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