A strange story in today's New York Times talks about ways public relations people try to get attention for their news releases. With thousands of p.r. agencies and company p.r. departments cranking out thousands of news releases every day, it's a real challenge to get a news release notice, much less picked up for coverage by the media.
The Times article quotes some p.r. people who advise use of key attention-getting words like "first," "biggest,""fastest," or "tallest." Or, they say, use buzzwords that are in the news now, like "environment" or "foreclosure." Or the standby's like "sex," "green" and "cancer."
Use of these words may get you search engine attention as people Google a subject. But don't sell news editors and assignment desks short. They've seen all the tricks. Waste their time with a misleading headline or unsubstantiated claims and there's a good chance future news releases from you will get tossed.
The Times story gives an example of a story about shower curtains that were found to be toxic by a group called the Center for Health, Environment and Justice. Although the story got good media coverage at first, the testing methodology was later called into question. As The Times article said, "If the organization's testing methodology drew skepticism, it's P.R. methodology was spot on."
I would disagree with that statement. The organization may have snookered some media at first, but you can bet there are now many editors who won't go near anything they see coming from that group. The same holds true for p.r. people -- you might fool a reporter once with incomplete information or a misleading headline, but once they see you've been dishonest with them, you're name is mud. Good luck getting them to cover your clients' stories ever again.
P.R. people sometimes find themselves in the awkward position of having to tell a client or a boss "no" when it comes to bending the truth in a news release. In the long run, in my 35 years in the business, I've found honesty is the best way.
All we have, after all, is our word and our reputation.