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Monday, December 8, 2014

New technology, sound principles

This past Thursday, my wife took me and our two sons over to the Kennedy Space Center to watch the launch of the new Orion crew vehicle. We got on the road at midnight and drove through the night, arriving at the space center at 2:30 a.m.  We boarded buses and headed to the Saturn V center on the Banana River to watch the launch.

And, it got scrubbed. So, we headed home, disappointed and exhausted.

The successful launch of the Orion crew vehicle on a Delta IV Heavy
The next morning, NASA was able to launch the vehicle on the first attempt. Oh, well, that's the way space exploration works.

At the end of the four-hour flight, the Orion oriented itself for re-entry, and after a fiery burn, the capsule parachuted gently into the tropical Pacific Ocean, just west of Baja California.

The splashdown of Apollo 17
While it is 2014, the scene was eerily reminiscent of the splashdowns of the Mercury, Gemini or Apollo programs which took place more than half a century ago. The Space Shuttle did enter the atmosphere and land like an airplane, but the engineers who worked on the design of the craft that will take our next big step in human exploration have decided that the capsule arrangement is safer and more cost-effective. Thus, we are back to the future in our design.

I find this step backwards to be fascinating, especially when it comes to the field of emergency public relations in the day and age of social media, instant messaging and direct community engagement.  What role does the lowly press release play in today's day and age?

An honest to goodness paper press release
Believe me, I have heard from many PIOs who say they have completely abandoned the idea of writing a news release, relying instead to Tweet, Facebook and YouTube their way to communications. They argue that residents turn to social media to find out what's going on, and the faster the news can be delivered, the better. They also point out that most assignment desks in newsrooms carefully monitor social media to get their story ideas, so feeding the internet beast is - in their minds - the best way to get in touch with the public.

I beg to differ. In my experience, I have found that even in the age of social media, the news release is still a valid form to use, and it can help get the exposure your story needs.

First, it gives you the opportunity to write a complete thought. Unlike Twitter's rigid 140 character limit, you can expound on your idea to put a little bit more meat on the bones. You can build your story out in a more complete form, which gives reporters a little bit more to work with.

You can also ensure that the reporters have your contact information when you e-mail the release to the editors. This way, they know exactly who to contact, instead of guessing.

If the release is written in Associated Press Style, and you can include a few photos to illustrate the main points of the release, there's a good chance that some reporters will pick the story up and run it as is.

News releases and your online presence can help push your message out
If you post the news release to your organization's website, you can Tweet or Facebook the link out to the release, again, giving your residents and the media the whole story, instead of having them have to search your organization's website to find the right page.

No, I'm not encouraging you to give up on social media for your organization. In fact, I think that the press release and social media work together closely, hand in hand, to give you the best exposure possible.

You see, those NASA engineers were really on to something after all!

Tom Iovino, Public Information Specialist
Pinellas County, Florida
https://www.linkedin.com/in/tomiovino

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