Best Practice Online Newsroom Part I: Getting the Basics Right

With an ever-changing media landscape and the rise of social media, the need to be able to react quickly is greater than ever before. Online newsrooms have become an essential tool to allow brands to better manage relationships with the media, key stakeholders, the general public and therefore the company’s reputation. Having developed newsrooms for a large number of leading brands, I would like to share some best practices I have identified over the last few years. These guidelines will help you to increase your visibility online and make sure that your newsroom becomes a valued source of information for your target audience.

1. Identify your key audiences

Your online newsroom must be able to cater for a varied audience.  Increasingly, newsrooms are accessed by journalists, stakeholders and consumers alike so you need to have content readily available for each audience member.

2. Branding

The look and feel of the newsroom is important and must be considered carefully. It needs to be authentic and consistent to your brand and your main company website, using the same layout, fonts and headers.

3. Make your newsroom visible

  • First of all, I highly recommend that the newsroom sits seamlessly within the main company website. Otherwise make sure that your company site has a clear link to your newsroom.
  • Publish multimedia content – adding images, videos and other documents will help SEO and transform your newsroom to a valued source of information.
  • Adding email, social media share and RSS feeds functionalities is good way to let your audience disseminate your stories and assets for you.
  • Tagging all of your newsworthy content with key words is a great way of increasing the visibility to search engines.

4. Fresh content

Update your newsroom regularly to make it sticky.  Refreshing your content frequently will generate regular visitors and help SEO.

5. Clearly laid out and easy to navigate

  • Include a simple and advanced search functionality to allow your audience to easily find the information they are looking for.
  • Classify your releases by date and by category (if relevant).
  • Provide high and low resolution images that are easily downloadable.
  • Supply embed codes for your videos.
  • Allow your audience to enter their email address to receive a newsletter about your latest news.

6. Relevance is key

It is essential to provide information that is relevant to your audience. You should then monitor the most popular stories and assets to refine your communications.

A good way to access more data while providing more relevant content is by giving your visitors the opportunity to create an online profile within your newsroom. During the registration process you can ask them to select their preferences. This will allow you to reach them with targeted emails and even tailor the information that they see within your newsroom (when logged in).

7. Keep the engagement high

  • Wherever possible, make sure your stories are visually stimulating by including images, videos and other digital assets.
  • Enable your audience to react to your stories by adding some “comment” boxes under your articles.
  • Include some social media feeds to allow your audience to access a larger source of your information.

8. Regain the control of your communications

I would strongly recommend using some sort of CMS (content management system) which lets you take control of updating the content on your media centre, without the help of any IT department.

Some more advanced tools can also allow you create, distribute and publish your stories all in one simple platform.

These tools are very valuable. They will help you to increase your reactivity, achieve higher quality reporting and significantly streamline your processes.

PR and corporate communications teams are required to be more and more accountable for their activities. A good online newsroom can allow them to measure and report on the impact of their communications in terms of online metrics and coverage.

This type of information enables them to refine and improve future communications.

The second part of this blog will outline how you can measure the success of your online newsroom.

The evolution of PR – operational complexity is here to stay

In 2005, the UK’s largest PR firm, Bell Pottinger, published an excellent whitepaper on The Future of Public Relations, based on interviews with CEOs and Communications Directors from some of the UK’s biggest organisations.

It is worth looking back to see how – if at all – the issues and concerns of five years ago have been addressed and whether those issues will continue to dominate the PR landscape of the future.

PR needs radars rather than loud-hailers

One of the key themes of the original report was that public relations has become much more difficult at an operational level.  Five years on, those operational issues have only intensified and in the future, organisations can expect more of the same. The key drivers of this situation are unlikely to change either – smaller teams of people who will be tasked with managing more information and relationships with fewer resources.

In 2005, the view of senior communications directors was that PR practitioners were particularly alive to the notion that they must use “radars rather than loud-hailers” to communicate – the emphasis shifting from talking and transmitting to listening and receiving.

In the intervening years, new tools have been developed to overcome the challenge of listening to huge volumes of brand conversations in the public domain and to speedily and appropriately respond to them.  For example, the plethora of sentiment analysis tools currently flooding the market is indicative of the demand from organisations to better understand what people feel towards them. However, the promise of this technology has largely not met customer expectation. More specifically, there is much skepticism about whether technology can truly automate the process of analysing large volumes of content to produce an accurate picture of sentiment. Nevertheless, the demand remains – and surely a technological breakthrough in this area can’t be long off.

Who said what from where

But sentiment analysis is not the only area that will have a large part to play in the future of PR. As the original Bell Pottinger report pointed out: “New technology, the fragmentation of delivery through complex digital media channels, the problems of knowing who is saying what – and where they are getting it from – and the increased reputational risks created by speed and ease of access to public audiences, make it extremely difficult for Communications Directors to keep on top of what is “out there”.”

The biggest change from five years ago has been the incredible growth in social networks and the volume of content that organisations now need to monitor. What has clearly changed from five years ago is the increasing development of “digital listening posts” to help organisations deal with this. But even though specific tools and services have emerged to address individual aspects of the communications lifecycle (digital press release distribution, etc), the challenge today and over the next few years will be meeting the demand from organisations to smoothly integrate these currently disjointed activities.

Consistency of brand messaging

Another key challenge facing organisations then – and now – is how to achieve consistency of messaging across so many channels. As senior communications directors opined at the time “There is no longer the option of targeting one audience in isolation – the internet has put stakeholders in touch with each other and we face a much better networked set of stakeholders than ever before. Communications planning simply has to take this into account. At the same time, ‘shot-gun messaging’ is not an option; we face a growing need for ‘segmentation’ and tailoring of messaging if we want to achieve cut-through in the information age.”

And yet, if “shot-gun messaging” is not an option, why do so many organisations still employ this tactic?  This is surprising given that the technology to allow for the “narrowcasting” of information has definitely improved in the last five years.  In terms of the press specifically, the online pressroom technology of today is vastly superior to that of a decade ago. The ability to deliver quickly and cost effectively a wide variety of multimedia content in a targeted manner is available now. Whereas in the past this might have seemed a “nice to have” feature, this will surely become an essential part of any successful communications department in the future.

Technology has a key role to play

Finally, the view of senior communications directors in 2005 was that “Intelligence, intuition and research must be the key to tracking the chaotic and fragmented world of communications. This requires investment. Is this happening on any meaningful scale? Our view is that it is not.”

Anecdotally, things have improved in this area since 2005 – although whether they have reached a “meaningful scale” is a moot point.  The future of PR almost certainly involves greater investment in technology to help organisations gain greater insight into the feelings and behaviours of key stakeholder groups – as well as being able to respond to this intelligence with highly targeted and engaging content.

If anything has changed in five years, it is that a greater array of tools have become available to help PR and communications teams “read the world” and to help them more effectively communicate to all relevant stakeholders. Even if investment still hasn’t reached the “meaningful scale” referred to previously, the indications are – at least in this area – that things are moving in the right direction. Nevertheless, operational complexity is here to stay – those communications directors who will sleep easiest at night are those that are preparing to deal with those future scenarios today.


connect with me on Twitter @samphill

Engaged Listening

While it’s vital to create good digital listening posts, there’s little point in knowing what’s going on if you don’t have the means to respond and engage effectively in the new landscape. I call this ‘Engaged Listening’.


Market-leading companies are changing the way they communicate, putting far more effort into creating dynamic, discoverable content that is easy to digest and propagate. More about this in my up-coming ‘Newsroom of the Future’ post. In the meantime, here are some examples of companies putting out news in an engaging media-rich format:

Integrated platforms

There is a trend among leading bluechip companies towards integrated digital platforms. That is, integrating the content-creation tools into the listening tools. This allows everything to be measured and joined-up.

By consolidating content, publication, relationships and results into one Integrated Platform, it not only increases the efficiency of the team’s ability to listen and engage, it also uses measurement as an integral part of our day-to-day activity. Take this scenario;

An organisation responds to an insight by building and deploying some key content.  The content is then published and distributed through the same platform.   The organisation then uses the same platform to measure all parts of the engagement cycle, not just the end results.

An integrated digital listening platform will measure the number of emails read, images downloaded and links clicked on. In turn, this will get fed back into the CRM database so that we know what lights the fire of our key stakeholders and influencers. Coverage will similarly be linked back to the same database, giving us vital intelligence about interest areas. All of this increases the organisation’s intelligence and improves future targeting accuracy.

Centralised knowledge

Yes, it is possible to do this with separate tools. But separate tools create separate knowledge pools and most organisations now are working hard to centralise and share knowledge, ideas and creativity.

The explosion of data that we are all experiencing, while sometimes intoxicating, causes most of us organisational issues. What do we look at? What don’t we look at? We have to find ways of simplifying our data view and cutting out the chaff.

Large teams, often spread across different locations, also need central repositories where key content, relationships and intelligence can be housed in one place to ensure consistency of message, effective distribution of media assets and up-to-the-minute awareness of brand reputation.

Finally, all of this has to happen fast because the Engaged Web is constantly mutating and evolving. Joined up platforms create joined-up thinking that’s quicker than the step-by-step approach.


The Stockholm Accords and the Barcelona Principles – how can PR demonstrate its value?

Two capital cities played host to two major PR and communications events in June – both of which have far reaching implications for the industry.

Sweden was the venue for The World Public Relations Forum where the Stockholm Accords were unveiled. Their stated aim is “to articulate and establish the role of public relations within a fast-evolving digital and value-network society.”

In Barcelona, the world’s experts in research came together under the umbrella of AMEC to agree a set of measurement and evaluation fundamentals called the Barcelona Principles.

The unspoken premise behind both of these two initiatives is that the PR and communications sector has to make a bigger effort in demonstrating its value to business and society at large and to lay claim to a greater involvement in organisational success.

At the heart of the Accords is the notion of a “communicative organisation”.  It suggests that organisations that put more effort into communicating with stakeholders and acting rapidly to feedback are those most likely to succeed. More ambitiously, the Accords suggest that PR should be involved not only in its traditional communication role – to both internal and external audiences – but should play a part in other issues such as sustainability, management and governance.

The role of technology

Perhaps understandably, the Stockholm Accords make little reference to how the industry is to achieve this specifically.  But there can be no doubt that technology must have a role to play in surmounting some of the big challenges ahead.

For example, in terms of communicating with a key external stakeholder group – the media – online media centres have come a long way since they first made their appearance over 15 years ago. Whereas early forms of online media centre acted as little more than glorified press release archives, the modern day media centre allows communications departments  to rapidly provide highly targeted content to relevant media contacts while at the same reducing the overhead traditionally required to maintain brand and message consistency.

Another  key component of the Accords is the desire to support a “listening culture”.  The biggest challenge to adopting this approach in recent years has been the rise of social media in the shape of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn (that said, not every senior corporate communications director is convinced about this – Rolls-Royce’s Peter Morgan being the most recent high profile dissenter).

However, there are areas where technology has not yet delivered in terms of aiding the PR industry’s mission to demonstrate more value. Automated sentiment analysis perhaps  being the most obvious example of where the promise and the reality have failed to match.

Measuring outcomes, not outputs

Ultimately, what links online media centres, automated sentiment analysis, social media and research is the overriding need to measure and evaluate PR investment. And to do so far more rigorously than in the past. The Stockholm Accords and the Barcelona Principles are both in agreement on this point. The Barcelona Principles are all about abandoning the use of AVE’s as a way of measuring the value of PR and instead, focussing on outcomes rather than outputs.  As the Accords state: “Evaluation implies the prevalent use of qualitative tools while measurement implies a prevalent use of quantitative tools. The new frontier, as is happening for other management functions, relies in “quantilitative” tools which integrate both evaluation and measurement.”

Aside from the rather ugly coinage of “quantilitative”, this raises the biggest question. How is the PR profession to demonstrate its value to the organisation’s multiple stakeholders now and in the future?  There is no shortage of technology and tools available to address specific parts of the problem. However, those that focus on integrating technology to address all aspects of internal and external communication must surely have a head start in creating the organisational success the industry so craves.


The Challenges of Measuring the Engaged Web: The Engaged Web Part III

This is the third and final part in my Engaged Web series of blog posts.  If you missed the previous posts, you can access them using the links below;

Part I: The Engaged Web, Part II: Speed is the New Currency

3 key challenges

There are 3 key challenges which organizations face when measuring engaged two-way media:

  1. Sentiment is fluid and can change rapidly online. What begins as positive can change to negative and even back to positive. In other words, it evolves. It’s crucial, therefore, to look at trends and movement rather than just volume.
  2. Defining what is positive or negative is based upon your point of view. What good for one organisation is not necessarily good for another. Perspective is paramount.
  3. The engaged web has its own language. The syntax used on Facebook and Twitter is very different to that of conventional prose. Think hash tags, emoticons etc.

In my view, the measurement industry needs to move from looking at ‘what has happened’ to ‘why it has happened’. But, as we see above, there remain some real challenges.  Effectively measuring reputation requires measuring all reputational influence.  We must measure traditional media (newspapers, magazines etc) alongside the Facebooks and Twitters of the world. If we don’t, we will fail to understand trends and patterns and establish the true connections.

The Case for Automated Sentiment Analysis

So how does an organisation know at the right time what is being said about it across tens or hundreds of thousands of media channels? It simply cannot be achieved quickly enough (let alone cost-effectively) with human evaluation methodologies. This is why more and more companies are turning to automated sentiment analysis.

Sentiment analysis engines have traditionally used a dictionary-based approach to measuring and identifying sentiment.  This method needs a dictionary of at least 250,000 words to be anywhere near effective.  It also means that it must be constantly updated with new words if it is to stay on top of the latest linguistic nuances.

However, superior tools are now being developed which operate around rule-based methodologies that do not use dictionaries, but instead analyze grammar and context.  This allows them to have a far greater level of language independence plus the ability to cope with slang and the other syntax challenges previously mentioned.  Tools which use this approach also have the ability to self learn and automatically adapt to language change as it happens which is critical when measuring the constantly-evolving engaged web.

Over the years, automated sentiment analysis has had a few false horizons and there is, quite justifiably, cynicism from some as to its efficacy. But this is now being cracked. Huge gains are being made in accuracy, speed and usability.  As this develops, the world will become divided into those who great reputation management software and those who don’t.  There will be clear winners and losers. The winners will be using sentiment analysis platforms to elevate the human role to high level analysis and decision making, while those who don’t will be left drowning in thousands of pages of posts and tweets, wondering where it all went wrong.


‘The Engaged Web’

I delivered a presentation entitled ‘How to measure the “Engaged Web” to gain competitive business advantage,’ at last week’s Marketing Week Live event.  For those of you who were unable to attend, I thought I’d share this presentation with you via a series of posts on our blog. This is the first installment.

The Engaged Web is a term I coined back in April during a talk at Internet World.  I prefer to use it to describe today’s media landscape.  Why? Because I don’t like the term social media which I consider to already be a bit of an anachronism. I believe that organisations have to stop thinking about social media as something new and separate from their current web activities because everything is now social. It’s just what the web is.

So, what does the engaged web look like?

The engaged web looks much like the microscopic view of cells in the diagram below. Unlike the old world which was structured and block like with clearly defined media channels, the engaged web is organic and fluid.

The organisation sits at the centre of the engaged web, surrounded by a landscape of influencers which is constantly changing and interconnecting.  This fluid world consists of traditional old media (newspapers, magazines, tv etc) and the new giants Facebook, YouTube, Twitter et al.

Each of these channels has the ability to interconnect with each other i.e. a story can break on a blog, hit the news stands and then find itself on the evening TV news.

So what does this mean for businesses?

It means that our world has become both larger and smaller.  Larger, because the sheer volume of people able to influence our brand has increased exponentially. Smaller, because the speed and the reach of the internet removes geographical boundaries and constraints.

The engaged web also has the ability to touch all functions of a business; PR marketing, customer service and sales are the obvious choices but product development and HR can also be influenced.  Development teams have rapid exposure and market insight into the minds and expectations of their audiences.

Similarly, a company’s ability to recruit may be hampered by candidate’s exposure to negative postings about their working environment or practices.

Still think that the engaged web is something you don’t have to worry about?

Consider these three recent facts

  1. A recent report from Morgan Stanley says that the time people spend on social media has now surpassed that spent on email
  2. Facebook has over 400m users, each spending an average 55mins per day on the network
  3. Recent research from Gigur has found that social media sites are driving more traffic to sites like ESPN and CNN than Google

People are empowered by online communities which give them a share of voice.  No business can afford not to know what’s being said about their brand.  It’s no coincidence that in 2009, the number of companies looking for “buzz monitoring” tools rose from 21% to 40%.

The engaged web demands complete transparency and visibility by removing barriers which some companies may have used previously to silence critics or hide mistakes.

HTML5 ‘v’ Flash or Apple ‘v’ Adobe?

The first battle of the technologies I remember was Betamax ‘v’ VHS (only just I might add, actually, it was more the old top loader I remember) and having witnessed Blu-Ray win the battle over HD DVD format, are we about to witness another head to head with HTML 5 and Flash.

This time, in the HTML5 corner we have technology behemoths Apple and Microsoft and in the Flash corner, we have software provider and owner of Flash technology, Adobe.

Now, those of you who own an iPhone, iTouch or iPad (jealous) will know that Flash is not supported by any Apple device.  To add to Adobe’s woes, Microsoft’s latest edition of Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) has been built to support HTML5 video playback in H.264 (or MEG-4), rather than flash.  Take a look at this to see IE9 HTML5 video playback in action – jump to around the 26 minute mark.

In a letter addressing the Flash issue, Apple’s Steve Jobs discusses the history between the two companies and the main reasons why Apple has chosen the HTML5 route as opposed to Flash.

Firstly, he takes a pop at the “openness”, reliability, security and performance of Flash, stating that it’s the number one reason Mac’s crash (ouch).  He also mentions the fact that Flash has not performed well on “any” mobile devices and that they’ve been waiting on Adobe to deliver a Smartphone ready version since the beginning of 2009 (double ouch).

So that’s Apple’s stance.  What about the rest of the web?

Now, as with all new standards, questions arise around adoption.  Jobs touches on this too, taking a pop at Adobe’s claim that 75% of video on the web is in Flash.  Jobs’ retort? Almost all of that 75% is available in another format (H.264) which is also HD ready.

So if so much Flash content is available in another format, how much of that 75% Jobs mentioned has adopted the new format?  According to, a massive 66%.  Based on that stat, I think Adobe might be fighting a loosing battle as it would seem the choice has already been taken out of their hands.

That stat coupled with the fact that Microsoft’s IE9 will only support H.264 video surely has to be the final nail in the coffin of a format which was produced for yesteryear and continually fails to impress on the Smartphone’s of the future.

Jobs makes an interesting concluding point – “Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice… But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short.”