Were you able to see this sentence?
It’s a relevant question to ask of online readers as many digital media outlets are now subscription-only. A familiar experience: a friend posts a link to a story about their company’s news and you click the bait. You’re taken to a media outlet, and as you scroll past the headline, a pop-up stops you. You must pay to continue reading. But, you do not. And the journey ends there.
This is an all too common and (I’ll say) frustrating experience. Paywall journalism has been on the rise for years. As of 2019, more than 76%of U.S. online news outlets had some form of paywall (Source: Nieman Lab). Even with advertising and branded content, news outlets are going the subscription route to invest in their financial future.
Much has been written about the ethics of paywall journalism and its impact on the public’s ability to make informed decisions. There is also concern it creates an echo chamber as people have access to fewer reputable sources.
I won’t debate those points but I will address the opportunity paywall journalism presents for corporate communicators.
Let’s go back to that frustrating pop-and-stop experience. While you can’t view your friend’s news behind the paywall, your curiosity gets the best of you. You start Googling for where else you might read the news. And soon you discover the unsung hero in the era of paywall journalism: the corporate press release.
The press release takes on new meaning
Most corporate communicators would agree that the press release is a basic but necessary vehicle to communicate a milestone for the purpose of getting press coverage.
Communicators will work on a press release for months, belaboring word choices, coordinating differing opinions among their leaders, and finally, stamp it with approval and schedule it for news wire distribution. They will go to bed fitfully, wake up at dawn to ensure the press release is “live” and then move on.
While the communicator moves onto securing news coverage and managing social media, the press release will sit on the news wire, in black and white text only, lonely and forgotten. If lucky, it will make its way up on the corporate website that same day, although in private companies, this can get overlooked.
This attitude about press releases as a tedious tool for coverage must change. For corporate communicators in the age of paywall journalism, the press release takes on new meaning. It is now the only source everyone has access to read.
So, how can corporate communicators leverage this great opportunity and transform the traditional press release into the main news source? A few ideas:
- Make the press release a destination, not a document. Consider the formal press release a part of a larger destination page. Like marketing builds online campaigns, make your press release a campaign page. Give it a dedicated URL, a headline, more feature content, and sharing widgets for social.
- Embed it in your corporate website for desktop and mobile. Draw readers to YOUR website; not the news wire. Coordinate with your marketing team to make sure the destination page can be found on other parts of your corporate website — like a pop-up banner on the homepage — and that it looks as good on mobile, too.
- Enhance it with visuals, video and quotes. Don’t just stop at the press release text. Leverage planned blog or social content and embed it on the destination page. Pull out quotes, lead with a summary of hard facts, or go further and incorporate original photography and video. Be creative.
- Once live, share the destination URL widely, and optimize it for social. Encourage your team to use the destination URL in their posts alerting others to the news. Make sure the destination URL appears correctly on social media by doing a test-run yourself. Ensure the text, link and image that auto-populate work. Speaking of an image, don’t just use your company logo. Create a custom image for the page that appears on social media, for greater engagement.
- See how it performs and optimize accordingly. The best part of a destination page is that you can track its performance (and arguably better than third-party reports from a wire service). Take note of average traffic to your corporate website the day or week before your news and compare it to traffic when the page is live. Over time, you can use this type of data to advocate for more resources for content creation.
The press release deserves a fresh approach and creative boost in the era of paywall journalism. And if you were able to view this article to the end, I hope you will agree.
Amanda Guisbond is founder and chief communicator at Intersection: Health where she provides marketing and communications services to leaders and brands at the intersection of healthcare, science and technology.