News Sites Face New Challenges in Getting Press Coverage

By: Steve Outing

"We're launching a brand new newspaper Web site!"


"We have this really cool new feature that we're adding to our site!"


Reporters who cover the interactive media industry these days have a lot of information thrown at them. The Internet publishing business is thriving, of course, and as I can attest, there's no shortage of new things to write about. The launching of another newspaper Web site simply isn't going to make news -- except in the host print publication -- whereas a couple years ago it might have.

The situation is a challenge for news Web sites, which might be adding a new feature, or launching a redesign, etc. How do you get publicity that will increase visibility for your news site -- among consumers, certainly, but perhaps even more importantly, among potential Web advertisers?

George Simpson, an independent New York public relations practitioner who has moved a 20-year-old PR business almost entirely away from serving print publishers to working with news Web sites, says the environment has gotten very challenging. "Most (technology) reporters are buried under faxes and e-mails" about new developments in the field and new technologies being introduced, he says. "It's very difficult for them to pick out the emerging players," and thus there is a strong need for the small players to promote themselves to journalists covering the technology and Internet fields.

Simpson likens the interactive news industry to cable television operators back when that business started to take off. "It used to be a bunch of guys stringing cable," but as the business grew and matured, the industry had to make the transition to becoming marketers -- a transition that cable did not make very well, Simpson suggests, and which haunts the business to this day in the form of a public image that puts cable operators in the ranks of "axe murderers and pedophiles." Interactive news sites -- many of them run by journalists not wisened to the ways of marketing -- need to start learning how to effectively promote themselves.

So many reporters ...

While the bad news is that it's difficult to get publicity for a news Web site, the good news is that an army of reporters is covering the interactive media industry. Indeed, that's part of the reason Simpson made the move to the online world and away from print; there simply aren't as many reporters covering the traditional print media business, many of them having made the transition to covering new media. Today, there are many reporters working for online technology news sites like ZDNet and CNET, which provide new opportunities for Web sites to gain publicity for important announcements or developments.

Simpson says that a cardinal rule learned in "PR 101" should be applied: Know the journalists to whom you are pitching a story idea, and know their publications. When you pitch an idea, you want to make sure that the reporter you're contacting hasn't already written about it; and you need to make sure that the pitched topic fits within the writer's normal range of coverage. "You have to understand the idea marketplace," he says.

Simpson does not believe in "papering the world" with press releases, but rather "waiting till you have something important to say" and targeting individual reporters who you know will be interested in the story you have to tell.

(I can attest to that, as the recipient of many story pitches made by interactive media companies. I tend to dismiss fax or e-mail press releases that are sent to me and 50 other reporters, whereas a private, personal note from a news source frequently gets acted on or at least investigated. And just in case you're wondering, Simpson did not contact me for this column; I learned about his business, thought it presented an interesting story angle, and contacted him.)

Simpson takes the tack of focusing on the business side of news Web sites, trying to get press coverage for a site that will turn up in the advertising trade press, or otherwise trying to get a client site noticed by the advertising community -- hence increasing a site's bottom line.

For a Kentucky Derby temporary "super site" organized by three U.S. newspapers, Simpson's job was to try to get the project noticed in publications and Web sites like Ad Week and Advertising Age. A story in one of those publications may get an advertiser to think, "Hmmm, maybe that would be a good place for me," he says.

Try this

Getting publicity in the advertising trade press isn't the only approach worth taking, of course. Simpson also points to more "creative" ways to get your site known to the advertising community. For example, hire a "moving billboard" mounted on a truck, and park it in front of a large advertising agency. Or have the truck drive by the major agencies in town. One of Simpson's clients is about to launch a New York City subway advertising campaign, where ads promoting this online news service will be seen by many in the city's advertising community.

And for those interactive media companies with chutzpah, consider this. One creative-thinking company got an ad agency's attention by hiring attractive female models to form a "picket line" in front of the ad agency; their signs promoted the company's latest offering. That "publicity stunt" got picked up in the advertising trade press.

Simpson acknowledges that deciding where to put your promotion effort is a difficult decision. Do you concentrate on building consumer awareness of your site to make it a better value to advertisers, or do you try to generate awareness of your site among advertisers directly? If you're going to target advertisers, then make sure you can back up what you offer with good value, he says.

He particularly urges Web news site publishers to use their parent publications or organizations to promote their sites, and wonders why the newspaper industry, in particular, seems to have so much trouble adequately promoting its own interactive ventures. The failure to promote themselves "is the single most important failure of (news) Web sites," Simpson says.

He also recommends that newspapers and TV and radio stations that are affiliated through ownership or through other joint ventures need to join forces for Web site promotion. A radio station doing a Saturday "live remote" from an auto dealer, for instance, can be "brought to you by," Simpson suggests as an example.

In sum, get creative and promote, promote, promote.

Contact: George Simpson,


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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company


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