Here at Cult, we talk a lot about brand engagement, but usually when describing ways that brands (and those behind them) establish and nurture relationships with consumers so that they feel a stronger affinity to a brand over time. But many brands need to engage another external audience who also has relationships with consumers: News media, broadcasters and publishers of periodical content. A highly influential group that is constantly seeking stories that appeal to the interests of its readers (and one that has largely been underserved when it comes to communicating with it in creative and modern ways).
Since time immemorial, brands have spoon fed these media outlets through a formulaic – and traditionally paper-based – timely, written announcement about their products, services or organizations called the news release (a.k.a. press release). The “piece of news”, released directly to media outlets by the brand or distributed through third-party “newswire” services, was intended to attract the interest of those responsible for delivering news to their own readers or the broader public. Think of the news release as the bait brands use to win unpaid exposure by getting others to pick up and publish the story.
Think of the news release as the bait brands use to win unpaid exposure by getting others to pick up and publish the story.
Then along came the World Wide Web. It fed consumers’ desire for knowledge and information immediacy, and enabled brands to communicate directly with audiences they historically could only access through earned (or paid media) channels. Despite this, the lowly news release has endured as an artifact of a bygone era, “Because a (well-written) press release is an effective way to tell a story, and can generate a lot of leads,” explains Wendy Marx, in a recent Fast Company article.
In this world of instant access to rich media and information, news releases just really aren’t that timely, relevant or engaging anymore.
Mickie Kennedy of eReleases writes, “Reporters get bombarded with press releases, and most of them… follow the same format, use the same meaningless buzzwords, have the same stale quotes, and carry the same level of importance — none.” In this world of instant access to rich media and information, news releases just really aren’t that timely, relevant or engaging anymore. “If you want your press release to matter, you have to do something different. You have to do something that gets you noticed,” explains Kennedy. “Sticking to the same old tired press release format and rehashing the same old storylines just isn’t going to cut it anymore.”
Enter the Interactive Media Hub
Cult’s own Bradley Foster, is a bit of a visionary. Ten years ago, he helped pioneer projection advertising, elevating traditional billboards into dynamic, experiential consumer touch points for brands like Mini, Red Bull, Nike, Coca Cola and Sony. Today, he has a vision for the “news release of the future” that he calls The Interactive Media Hub – and he’s found a brand bold enough to bet on his vision: Oakley.
After experiencing Oakley’s first interactive news release announcing its new Ferrari collection, I cornered Bradley to get the scoop and better understand the emerging need for brands to effectively engage news media.
Q: What exactly is an interactive media hub, and what does it mean for brands like Oakley?
It’s essentially a controllable, responsive web platform that distributes press materials to global media outlets, as well as to regional press teams.
The hub has multiple asset management systems – that’s the ‘controllable’ aspect of the interface. So, from a single online hub, the Oakley global public relations team can release a single announcement, but tailor the release to regional audiences. So, they could send a single press release to, let’s say, Brazil, and the same one tailored to media in North America.
Q: What advantages does an interactive media hub provide brands like Oakley over traditional ways of disseminating news releases?
First, people now expect the way they consume media in their personal lives to translate directly into their workplaces. There was clearly a need for public relations departments to find a way to communicate with media outlets in the immediate, responsive manner that we’ve all come to expect when connecting with brands. The interactive press release is viewable on any platform (desktop, tablet, smartphone, etc.) and responsive when used from any of those devices as well.
The interactive press release is viewable on any platform (desktop, tablet, smartphone, etc.) and responsive when used from any of those devices as well.
Second, if changes need to be made after the release, the materials can be updated quickly in a central location, once. Historically, when amendments needed to be made to an announcement already released, someone would have to publish an amendment notice, send out the new press release, and then hope that media remembered to use the most updated version.
Thirdly, as with many global companies, Oakley needs to comply with availability or legal regulations impacting its product offerings that vary between regions. For example, that Brazilian press release might mention a product not available in Asian markets. The Oakley Media Hub ensures that product would not be touted in a press release intended for Japanese media.
Q: So, what makes the Oakley Global Media Hub “interactive”?
While the hub can’t be used to have a direct dialogue with the media, it is interactive in the sense that a brand like Oakley is able to maintain control over the dissemination of information, and because the Web is the distribution channel, the elements of the release itself are collectively “interactive”. Beyond text, each release can have rich media, graphics, engaging imagery and functionality that deliver a far more compelling and impactful message to the media.
Q: Can other brands implement an Interactive Media Hub?
Yes, it’s a semi-customizable solution that can be deployed for other brands. But only if the shoe fits would we suggest this. Cult doesn’t believe in selling the same solution over and over again just to nab a few more clients. What was right for Oakley may not be right for other brands. We always diagnose the problem before we prescribe the solution, and if an Interactive Media Hub could be beneficial to our client, then yes, it might be something we suggest.
Q: Public relations, by nature, feels a bit more ‘analog’ than other marketing communications. Does the Interactive Media Hub signal that public relations is catching up to other marketing communications to be more readily rolled into one, cohesive brand strategy?
Absolutely. All communication channels need to be equally capable, no matter the target or format. You shouldn’t have less sophisticated technology parallel to advanced technology in today’s communications climate. There’s no reason for public relations protocols and formats to differ greatly from other communications standards.
Q: Where does the Oakley Global Media Hub go from here?
We have plans to create multiple versions of the media hub for Oakley. This is really a whole new digital public relations tool for the global communications team, not just a single serving solution. Because the media hub was created for Oakley Global, regional teams around the world are granted access, even if they aren’t actually using it yet. It takes time to get everyone on board. We’re also exploring the possibility of deploying the hub for other more impactful applications throughout the company.