What journalists are looking for

Most reporters would rather log in to your website than hack your phone even though many companies could do more to help them, David Bowen says.

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How well do big companies serve journalists online? The FT Bowen Craggs Index suggests the answer is ‘not very’. Its Serving media metric consistently has the lowest average score of any of the audience-based metrics – this year 17, out of a possible 32, against 21 for investors. It is, however, one of the most interesting areas, largely because the internet is busy shifting the nature of the media itself.
The best way of looking at it is to see what journalists want and to consider how they think. We do that by talking to practising journalists, though it may help that I was one for many years. There are obviously great differences, depending on the media and the individuals, but here are some generalisations.
The last thing they want is to write the same story as other people. What they do cherish is leads, which explains the keenness with which they have taken to Twitter. Companies need to understand Twitter – both to feed journalists leads and to get early warning that a nasty news storm is about to blow in.
p((. They are sceptics – or should be. Journalists are not inclined to believe anything a company tells them and they have a sharp nose for spin. That said, they are big users of corporate sites, because these are the best source of facts and figures.
p((. They tend to be in a hurry and be impatient. Their inclination is often to pick up the telephone rather than trawl a site. Companies risk making themselves unpopular by failing to make press contacts easy to find. But if they provide a site easy enough to use, they can stop people reaching for the telephone. Journalists also like material they can print out and read on the way to an interview or meeting: fact-filled but concise and easy to absorb.

Reporting how needs are met

For the Index, we look at three elements that reflect journalists’ needs: how well press releases are arranged and presented; contact points and mechanisms (including social media channels); and availability of background material (not just in the media section). We also look at the image library. While this is not necessarily aimed at journalists themselves – magazines have designers, newspapers have picture desks –providing pictures is arguably a ‘killer function’ for the web.
One of the most significant trends this year comes from the image library metric. The big move forward is the increasing use of Flickr as a complementary library: see, for example, Nestlé and Novartis. It has several practical advantages and is fashionably part of ‘the cloud’. Oddly, some companies do not link the Flickr feed from the main library, but from a subsidiary site: General Electric from its GE Reports microsite and BNP Paribas from its For a Changing World Blog. Silo mentalities here.
A remarkable number of companies do not provide an image library at all – almost a quarter of the companies in the Index, including most of those from China but also a slew of banks, among them Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Santander, Westpac. Why? If you do not provide images yourselves, media organisations will surely go to your rivals or to a library. As baffling is Google’s recent decision to restrict downloadable pictures to low-resolution images.

Headline providers

Siemens stands out well ahead of the other companies in the media metric overall, because it ticks all the boxes with style. It makes it exceptionally easy for journalists to check facts by putting all its press releases and other ‘assets’ (including pictures and background material) into a huge database, divided into businesses and functions. So if you are interested in healthcare or automation or corporate news, you get material aimed at you. Country sites are not included; will they be?
Siemens is a master of detail, which is reflected even in the mundane provision of press contacts – combine a couple of dropdown menus with a database of information, and get an impressively detailed service. Siemens does so well here because it does not try to show off – it simply gives journalists what they need.
Another company to stand out is Cisco. Its ‘The Network’ site makes impressive use of social media, which in turn reflects the fact that journalists who follow IT are almost certainly experts themselves. They want to be treated as part of a community, which is what Cisco gives them. Would it work for, say, a bank or a pharmaceutical company? I’m not so sure.

Excellence in the essentials

Companies that do not need this sort of elaboration can provide an excellent service by getting the basics right. Roche presents its press release archive well, gives journalists plenty of contact and alert options (including Twitter) and provides a simple but effective image library. Similarly, Nestlé has a deep and well laid out release archive and a good library including a useful ‘quick facts’ document.
But it is depressing how many companies offer a really weak service, even of press releases. Why? Maybe because press officers are so often former journalists from the pre-internet age. Time will move them on, but web managers should do their bit to make them understand that the world really is changing.

First published 13 July, 2011
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