The difference between meaningless press releases and substantive content

This week Birmingham Strategic partnership and the BBC announced the launch of the Big Screen TV in Birmingham city centre on their sites and on Twitter.

This was great: it did what all press releases should do: it got my attention and I wanted to know more.

Then it utterly failed in terms of online marketing; once it had instilled the desire to take action there was nowhere to fulfil it.

As soon as I knew about the Big Screens I thought about the upcoming Six Nations rugby and how it would be a very good way of introducing my son to a crowd of people watching the rugby without actually shelling out the 250 quid per ticket plus that Twickenham would cost.

But could I find an actual timetable of events?  Of course not! – these old-school, offline PR flacks consider their job done when when they have made the context-less announcement.

I mean – seriously; how hard would it be to put up a timetable of events?

Actually – very hard indeed as it would take a total shift of mindset.  These people are doing what they are told – getting stories, websites and tweets published about their specified event / news story.  They are measured on how many column inches they achieve or how many retweets they get or how many incoming links they achieve or how many other websites reprinted their story.

All of which are absolutely meaningless measurements: they measure “busy-ness”: they make sure that the designated minion is massively busy in the eyes of their boss.  There’s no measurement of anything that means that the person who looked at the page actually did something you wanted them to.

In this case it would mean measuring them on something very hard to measure admittedly – such as how many people turned up to the Big Screen as a direct result of seeing these websites.

However “very hard to measure” does not equate to “impossible” to measure.  Off the top of my head I can think of a couple of ways: put a competition entry form on the website that needs to be printed out and can only be handed in at actual events; or publicise a URL at the event itself on the Big Screens that allows people who attend to enter a competition and as a condition they must state where they heard of the event

The trouble is that these people – and even worse the people that hire, pay and reward the PR people – have a “just put it online” mentality.  They have served their superficial interests by putting up a posting, but they have not made more people attend.  This is the mentality that needs to change: it is not enough to just put something on Twitter if when I follow the link I cannot see the specific details for the event that interests me.  You’ve instilled a desire in me to follow through and complete the call to action… – and then when I get there all I see is meaningless phrases like “The Big Screens relay a combination of major broadcast events, news, sport and music.” – great! – what? – when?

As it is I feel annoyed at having my time wasted and now they will have to do a lot more to regain my interest or goodwill.  Is that really how you want people to feel after they initially reacted favorably to your PR activity?!