How Newsworthy Are Personnel Announcements?

Yesterday, McBru Blog (a weblog published by the advertising/PR firm McClenahan Bruer Communications), offered an intriguing and potentially instructive post.

In “We Know What Readers Like,” “Jeff H” wrote:

“The thinking, among journalists, is that nobody in readerland gives a care about the fact that you’ve brought on a new vice president of customer-facing solutions. Or so we thought.”

According to Jeff H, that newsletter issue included several types of items. (He didn’t say, but I’m guessing the e-mail newsletter offered teaser or summary items, each with a link to the complete piece on the web.) In this issue were announcements of a white paper, recent media coverage, and “a little news release about a couple people who had joined our client’s advisory board.”

Surprisingly (well, at least to me :-)), the advisory board announcement attracted the highest clickthrough rate for that newsletter.

This is indeed an interesting result. I left the following comment on McBru blog, in order to try to put this result into context…


My comment:

That is very interesting. I’m curious why you got that result. It is indeed contrary to everything I’ve heard about press releases announcing new personnel, especially from journalists. Hey, everyone’s wrong sometimes – it’s possible I missed something here. But I suspect that your results offer some interesting lessons.

Could you please describe provide more background on this newsletter, to help me put your results in context?

Here’s what I’d like to know:

  1. Who’s the audience for this e-mail newsletter? For instance, if most subscribers already have a longstanding connection with your client, then perhaps that might explain an unusually high level of interest in personnel or advisory board issues.
  2. Were the new advisory board members particularly famous, notable, or unusual in any way? For instance, if the new advisory board members were, say, Julia Roberts, Jeff Skilling, and Paul Wolfowitz, that might explain an unusual level of interest in those items. 😉
  3. Where were the advisory board announcements positioned? Did they appear at or near the top of the newsletter? With long e-mail newsletters, most people don’t scroll down much.
  4. Comparatively, how interesting or fresh were the other newsletter items?
  5. Was anything notable or unusual happening with your client at the time the newsletter was published?
  6. Was there anything else different about this newsletter issue that might have affected measurable response patterns?
  7. Does this newsletter go out to journalists? It would be interesting to gauge their reaction vs. the rest of the audience.
  8. Overall, do you get much response to this newsletter? I mean, if you get a lot of clickthroughs per issue, that’s great – but if clickthrough response is generally low, redistributing the types of clickthroughs within that low response rate wouldn’t address more pressing concerns.

…This is a very interesting experiment you did. Thanks for publishing it. I’d love to hear more about it. Newsletter clickthrough results are interesting, but they’re even more interesting and useful when you put them into context and try to understand why readers are clicking through.

I’m letting my readers know about your results in a posting to Contentious.com today. Thanks again, and I look forward to this discussion.

– Amy Gahran
Editor, Contentious.com


I do hope McBru chooses to respond to my questions, I think there’s something here we all can learn from. Maybe they could even get permission from the client to publish the e-mail newsletter to the web, to further this discussion and aid understanding.

One thought on “How Newsworthy Are Personnel Announcements?

  1. Hi, Amy. Thanks for your thoughtful comments and questions. I have to admit that I had read only the first couple paragraphs of your blog post before referencing it. I needed a citation, if you will, for support of the well-warranted notion that M.R. practitioners shouldn’t rely on the news release as their main tool. I literally Googled “the press release is dead” and stumbled upon your blog. : ) Shame on me for not reading your post in its entirety — I was in a hurry — because I just noticed that you mention the new-hire release as a particularly good example of “utterly useless” content!

    I didn’t intend for my post to focus on news releases. I could have discovered surprisingly that e-newsletter recipients had clicked mostly on another secondary section (e.g., conferences you can find my client attending). Yet my conclusion would have remained: You never know what individuals are going to find useful.

    I think marketers — and here’s a sweeping generalization in and of itself — are prone to making hard-and-fast rules about what their audiences want and how. Truth is, everybody is different. The best we can do is survey our audiences — customers, journalists, whatever — about what kind of information they like to receive and how. I know that many mainstream reporters whom I deal with abhor soft news releases, and would prefer that I send a short e-mail ahead of the announcement. However, some journalists, such as those in this particular client’s very technical industry, view the news release as a useful tool. Perhaps they regard the news release as an official document with information approved by experts. Versus having an e-mail or phone conversation with a communications person degreed in English, not engineering.

    Funny thing is! I agree with much of what you maintain. M.R. practitioners shouldn’t anchor announcements to the news release. (Just as they shouldn’t anchor “open conversations with the market” solely to blogs.). If you’re trying to garner media coverage for, say, a technology client in The Wall Street Journal using a news release (new-hire or otherwise), you’d probably be better off sending an e-mail. Or maybe building grassroots support for your client among bloggers. What about creating customer case studies to share with reporters? To mainstream media, the news release often comes off too stilted and impersonal like those photocopied, my-family’s-year-in-review letters we all receive from old neighbors, schoolmates, whatever. (Don’t worry, Aunt Martha, I love your letters about cousin Jimmy and Uncle Frank! I promise!)

    I don’t think this is a right or wrong situation. In many cases, you are right: news releases are not as useful as they used to be. But, I think those of us who loathe the news release should ensure that some journalists don’t. It’s simply personalized communications — what the new millennium is all about, right?

    Anyway, I’ve addressed your questions below. I think that you’ll come to the same conclusion that I did: News releases are attractive to this particular audience, but not to everybody. That’s why we must survey our audiences for what information they’d like to receive and how.

    1) Who’s the audience for this e-mail newsletter? For instance, if most subscribers already have a long-standing connection with your client, then perhaps that might explain an unusually high level of interest in personnel or advisory board issues.

    People who work for companies in the electronics industry: engineers, CEOs, marketing folks, etc. In this particular area of the electronics industry, what so-and-so is doing is very important because many of the players have been in the industry for decades. That, as you point out, could be why there’s an “unusually high level of interest.” Perhaps we should create a gossip e-newsletter for the industry. I bet it would receive unbelievable click-thru rates!

    2) Were the new advisory board members particularly famous, notable, or unusual in any way? For instance, if the new advisory board members were, say, Julia Roberts, Jeff Skilling, and Paul Wolfowitz, that might explain an unusual level of interest in those items 😉

    Everybody on this client’s board is very notable and deserves fame! 😉 Let’s put it this way, they’re not household names.

    3) Were the advisory board announcements positioned at or near the top of the newsletter? (With long e-mail newsletters, most people don’t scroll down much.)

    The new release links were deliberately placed at the very bottom of the newsletter. We, like you, predicted that they’d prove the least attractive content.

    4) Comparatively, how interesting or fresh were the other newsletter items?

    Very interesting! Have you ever read a 20-page technical white paper? No, seriously, research points to technical information as being very attractive to electronics engineers (who comprise the bulk of our list).

    5) Was there anything notable or unusual happening with your client at the time the newsletter was published?

    No.

    6) Was there anything else different about this newsletter issue that might have affected measurable response patterns?

    No.

    7) Does this newsletter go out to journalists? It would be interesting to gauge their reaction vs. the rest of the audience.

    Not yet.

    8) Overall, do you get much response to this newsletter? I mean, if you get a lot of clickthroughs per issue, that’s great — but if clickthrough response is generally low, redistributing the types of clickthroughs within that low response rate wouldn’t address more pressing concerns.

    Thanks for the tips.

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