ESPN video shows PR pros’ press release pains

The spot was created to promotes a behind-the-scenes ‘SportsCenter’ special and embraces brand journalism efforts as it points to the struggles of those who work in media relations.

“It’s never as easy as it looks” is the message ESPN’s PR pros want fans to know.

The sentence closes out a video titled, “The Making of a Release”—which was created to promote a special “SportsCenter All-Access” episode, which will air tonight at 10 p.m. Eastern.

Taking a nod from the program’s special episode, which will give viewers a “real-time look into what it takes to create the iconic sports news and information program,” the promo shows what it takes to create a press release:

SC All-Access – The Making of a Release from ESPN Visual Communications on Vimeo.

It’s a highly relatable video for any PR pro tasked with the job of pitching. It’s also a great example of brand journalism.

Creating ‘The Making of a Release’

The video was created by ESPN’s senior director of communications, David Scott, along with ESPN senior publicist Molly Mita and ESPN director Andy Hall. Scott says that once “SportsCenter” confirmed the All-Access episode, the team brainstormed a way to promote the special in a “similarly fun and different” manner.

“In everything we do within ESPN PR, we want our content and messaging to stand out in a very crowded marketplace where traditional releases and tweets can sometimes get lost,” Mita says.

Scott says:

We presented the ideas to our boss, VP Josh Krulewitz, and he thought the concept of an all-access look at how a press release is put together—done in a tongue and cheek manner—would have resonance. We enlisted Rich Arden, our department’s Director of Visual Communications and began plotting shoot locations and reaching out to anchors to get their buy-in.

The video was produced in three days, with Arden pulling “some extra late nights,” Scott says.

The effort was an exercise in creativity—something that Mita says all PR pros can do:

When you have a fantastically creative group like the SportsCenter team planning a special project, it inspires all of us in the company to step up our games in support of their efforts. If SportsCenter is going to show the fun and “mischief” behind the scenes, we should be willing to do the same. Take your inspiration from your clients!

Making the video also taught ESPN’s communications team an important lesson about following instructions. ESPN’s vice president of corporate communications, Mike Soltys, is the person inside ESPN’s “Buster Brackets” costume featured in the video, which Scott says he first put on Soltys backwards.

“[Soltys’] mascot skills were exceptional,” Scott says. “Our dressing-him-up skills, much less so… It took Molly’s participation to realize there was a step-by-step manual included with the costume.”

Ditch the traditional press release and focus on stories

The video was posted on ESPN’s corporate blog, along with this short post:

How’d they make that highlight? Who chooses the SportsCenter Top 10? Are there really mascots and athletes roaming the halls and studios of ESPN?

These and other eternal questions will (hopefully) be answered on Tuesday April 10 with “SportsCenterAll-Access” (ESPN, 10 p.m.-Midnight ET, following Yankees-Red Sox). For more details on the special night of your favorite show, visit ESPN MediaZone.

In the meantime, to get everyone in the all-access mind-set, Front Row shares the above video, “ESPN PR All-Access: The Making of a Press Release.”

Scott says:

We’re fortunate at ESPN PR because we have several tools that allow us to think “outside of the release.” Chief among them is, our public-facing corporate blog. We often encourage our publicists to throw away their press release template and instead come to the Front Row staff with an alternative way for disseminating their message—often through video and/or short form storytelling (written, pictorial, audio, infographic, etc).

Scott advises PR pros to forgo the traditional press release template in favor of other brand journalism and storytelling efforts—no matter how big your organization or client.

“[Y]ou don’t need an award-winning corporate blog in order to [skip the press release]—social platforms give everyone their own publishing venue,” says Scott.

Mita agrees. “[T]here are a multitude of ways of pushing out your own story,” she says.

Scott and Mita did publish a press release for the special, but the copy focuses on show details—including its time, format, anchors and guests. The release reads, in part:

Anchored by Steve Levy and Michael Eaves, this special SportsCenter will include roving reporters Elle Duncan and Marty Smith bringing fans to seldom seen places around ESPN’s Bristol campus. Planned access includes a live look inside SportsCenter‘s home, Studio X, and the SC control room; entry into the screening room, where highlights are created; a visit to the SC Top 10 laboratory; a stop in the SC Green Room and other unseen workspaces within the state-of-the-art Digital Center 2, where the show originates from.

… Fans will get a regular SportsCenter viewing experience amplified by integrated cut-ins depicting how the show is assembled and presented. For instance, after airing a particular game highlight, viewers might get a live report from screening explaining how that highlight was assembled.

Even with a corporate blog and branded social media profiles, you might still have to publish a press release—but you are better served using Scott’s and Mita’s advice.

Along with relying on other methods to tell your story, write your release as a journalist would pen a news story.

Mita says:

“… [A]s we are planning campaigns, we ask publicists to think about what a newspaper/magazine/web editor would assign as a story IF they received a press release announcing whatever the particular initiative is. Then, instead of writing the press release, write/tell/show the story that a journalist would try and execute with the information they’ve [been] given.

Though you probably won’t have luck pitching non-news items or a hook that comes after a journalist’s deadline, Mita says PR pros who tell compelling stories and use short, visual pieces of content to pitch can find media relations success.

She continued:

… [T]here are some pitches that are doomed from the start for whatever reason—poor timing, a less-than-sellable piece of content, or simple redundancy—but the ability to use visual storytelling and provide “atomized,” small bits of information, instead of large, drawn out releases is an effective way to pique the interest of even the busiest, most hardened of journalists. Less is often more for people who are getting scads of pitches every day/month/year.

“It’s all about standing out and not forcing your message,” Mita says.

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