PR TECHNIQUE: ONLINE COVERAGE - The politics of online placementThe Internet has made reporting an around the clock affair, and onlineoutlets sometimes scoop their offline counterparts.

Retrenchment is the current trend in the online news industry. Many

traditional media outlets that started separate online-only news

divisions are folding them back into the main newsroom.

"Online news media is in a state of flux," says Steven Blinn of Blinn

Public Relations. "Positions are being cut," he adds, citing recent

layoffs at as an example. This only adds to the complex politics

of online/offline pitches.

So, where do you pitch? First, determine the relationship between online

and offline components of the same outlet. "You can't say online

publications and put them all in one bucket," observes Michael Bradshaw,

account director with Provo, UT-based Connect Public Relations. "In some

cases they're doing editor sharing (with an offline sister outlet). In

other cases they are separate, and you have to talk to both."

The type of story you are pitching often determines who you talk to


"If it's a really newsy story, print guys aren't going to be that

interested in picking that up after it appears online," says Bradshaw.

"So you might want to talk to print first, then talk to online the day

the release gets issued."

"A lot of the online versions of publications are looking for the down

and dirty, the five basic questions - when, where, what, how and why -

whereas print is more feature oriented," says Strategic Communications

VP Alex Zavistovich. "If you understand that you can tailor your


Urgency sometimes dictates that you go straight to an online editor.

"When we had that 6.9 earthquake in Seattle and we wanted to communicate

immediately to our customers and stakeholders that our company remained

online during that time, the first call I made was to online media,"

says Bill Hankes, PR director for Internap Network Services. "We got the

word out within 30 minutes."

Online and offline outlets naturally have different deadlines, so know

exactly what the drop-dead dates are for each. "It takes a lot of

research to know the schedules of online editors," says Trylon

Communications CEO Lloyd Trufelman. "Some update daily, some update

hourly, and some weekly. The New York Times recently began updating

throughout the day."

Tricia Ritterbusch, SAE with Sterling Communications, says timing has

become far more important when figuring out who to contact and when.

"The piece can appear online over the weekend before it appears in print

on Monday, but you've already talked to the print reporters and they've

already put the article to bed," she says.

Most PR execs say today's reporter realizes the Internet has changed

many traditional journalism rules. Thus, there are rarely hurt feelings

if a publication's online component breaks a story first.

Many reporters do double duty for the both the online and offline

versions of publications, so Hankes recommends establishing embargoes

and exclusive agreements with individual reporters rather than the

newspaper itself.

This gives the reporter the flexibility to decide if they want to break

a story on their online site before it appears in print.

But the number of news-hungry online sites has made it increasingly

difficult, if not impossible, to make sure an outlet holds a story until

a particular time. As a result, embargoes are far less common,

especially with online journalists.

"We've gotten into the habit of not doing embargoes," notes Matthew

Meigs, account supervisor with Copper Iverson Marketing. "There's too

much competition. Reporters don't think they can hold information and

keep it from being offered to others unless they're The Wall Street


Ritterbusch says you can use the blurring of lines between online and

offline editions of the same media brand to your advantage. "There is

more staying power with a print publication, and it is often seen by a

wider audience," she says. "But whether you get coverage on

or - as opposed to Forbes or Fortune magazine - it doesn't

impact the reprint that will appear on your client's Web site or in

their media kit. Forbes is Forbes and Fortune is Fortune."

The online media's insatiable need for new content means online editors

often end up offering the best chance of getting your client noticed by

an offline news organization. "Stories that appear in the online version

of Time are vetted by the editors for their print worthiness," says


"In many cases, an online version may become the springboard for print


Zavistovich represents, a Web site offering music

lessons over the Internet. The site succeeded in getting to

write it up. While the story ultimately never made it into Time's print

edition, the online version resulted in follow-up coverage in The Wall

Street Journal "Marketplace" section, CNN Headline News and Reuters.

"The spectacular print placements we got were definitely carried on the

backs of the online," Zavistovich says.


1 Do research various deadlines and keep up with whether online outlets

update hourly, daily or weekly

2 Do give online journalists breaking news and save feature pitches for

print and broadcast outlets

3 Do research how online and offline editors work - some share resources

and editors while others have completely separate staffs

1 Don't be an offline news snob - online stories can lead to a pick-up

by the print or broadcast outlet

2 Don't rely on embargoes - competition is too fierce - unless the

publication can guarantee it across online and offline publications

3 Don't use the same pitch to offline and online editors - each has

different needs and should be approached differently.

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