One of the things that happens when you have a time-sensitive project like the HP Sundance blog …. You end up blogging there a lot, and “at home” not at all. And a lot of interesting stuff has been piling up in my bloglines for “when I get around to it.”
So here’s the first issue that caught my attention when I wasn’t perusing WireImage for pictures of Jennifer Aniston, Wilmer Valderrama, Amber Tamblyn and Josh Hartnett for posts about the stars in the celebrity auction.
Todd at Topaz Partners and Amy Gahran of Contentious have been discussing whether press releases (and the newswires) are really required to meet SEC disclosure requirements for public companies.
The Topaz post that indexes a series of posts on the topic: Blog series: Press releases, public companies and blogs .
Amy’s post on same: Disclosure, Press Releases, and Life Support: Can We Pull that Plug After All?
So far, their conclusion is that yes, the wires are still probably the safest bet for a public company to guarantee compliance for material disclosures, but they seem to be moving to an argument that the form of the press release could change and the company would still be in compliance.
Here are some of my thoughts on the subject.
- Navigating the material versus non-material question is not easy, especially for smaller public companies. Sure, the financials and major corporate changes are easy. Material. New reseller. Not material. Unless it’s a major new channel for you and then it might be. New product. Probably material. Product upgrade. Not material. Or maybe it is….if it is likely to affect your results materially. And so forth.
There are a lot of gray lines when you get going and that’s why corporate communication directors at public companies (a job I have had more than a few times) have a tendency to treat everything with the same process as material news. It is safer, and in the total scheme of things, the fee for a release on pr newswire or business wire is WAY cheaper than the fines and damage to reputation of the firm if you’re wrong.
So, in order to really explore new methods for the dissemination of non-material news, we need a bit more clarity here. Until then, public companies are a bit stuck.
- I notice they are going to touch on audience in later posts. This is key, because one of the principal audiences for public company news is the financial markets. Financial analysts are trained, and I mean trained, to watch the wire. You have to go where the audience is, and deliver the info to them in a way they will understand. And they want to go to one place for every firm – not lots of different places for different companies. So, even though RSS delivers the info to them, if everyone isn’t using the same method, it’s more work for them.
- The press release. Anyone who does corporate communications for more than two minutes learns that the press release is almost irrelevant to the ultimate dissemination of the news. It satisfies disclosure requirements, and as I’ve written before, it has a form that we can easily decipher.
It is important that it be well written but as far as reaching the media, the word gets out because you contact the right people with the information with the right “pitch.” And because you provide access to newsmakers, fact sheets, photos and other back-up materials that flesh out the story.
I think we are asking an awful lot if we jettison the press release, and begin subjecting media to multiple different formats that make it harder to understand what is going on. And for some things (financials), the format is pretty well defined. For good reason. Creative approaches are generally frowned upon when it comes to financial results.
Bottom line: we need a standard format for organizing the news. The press release works okay for me so I am in no hurry to replace it. But that doesn’t mean that it is the only thing I do to reach media (and other audiences) for clients.
- In this context, I look at the new media as simply another way to get the word out. A blog can be very effective, but you still need your PR person, for a variety of reasons, not just to reach out to MSM. And you need your sales force or channel partners to reach out to end user customers. And so on.
When an announcement is definitely NOT material, it makes sense to use a blog to start getting the word out. That’s exactly what we’ve been doing with the stars in the HP charity auction I’m working on right now. A press release about the auction went out before Sundance started, and a PR person is doing her magic at Sundance. But we’re officially announcing each participant on the blog. Another press release won’t go out until the very end of the festival summarizing everything we’ve already announced on Backstage at Sundance.
But the blog is not sufficient in and of itself. We’re still using regular PR outreach. And we still have to reach out to fans, which is a process of online research and individual emails to fan sites and blogs to let them know that their favorite celebrity’s signed photo is in the auction. And of course, remember when you reach out to bloggers and Web sites, you had better target your audience. Know that they’ll likely be interested in what you are sending, or it’s just spam.
It is the sum of the activity, not any one activity, no matter how cool, that gets the result.
Anyway, I’m looking forward to more of their discussion. Check it out, and join in.