446 Articles Can’t Be Wrong
By Howard Rauch
Routine E-news Coverage Will Be Our Downfall!!
This commentary is based on the 50-site e-news survey I just finished and is a combination of my e-news philosophy and information that I found during the study that goes against that philosophy.
Reaction A: “Wow!!! What a terrific article!!”
Reaction B: “These people just don’t get it?!!?”
These two outbursts – clearly at opposite ends of the opinion poll – came to mind often depending upon whose e-news I was evaluating. The occasion of this evaluation was the several months spent conducting a 50-site study of B2B e-news delivery. Unfortunately, the former reaction was rare. The latter squawk occurred more often as I examined 446 e-news articles encompassing dozens of B2B industries.
Was the anguish justified? Maybe not. It depends upon which e-news philosophy you embrace. Mine is simple enough. No matter what day it is, breaking news highlighted in e-newsletters must be “best in show” calibre. Specifically, when assessing the presence of urgency on the basis of being High, Medium or Low, there is no room for Low. Knowingly or not, that is what we all signed up for when we embraced the web. Further, if enterprise is being judged on the basis of High, Medium or Low, “No” is not an option. Even so, two-thirds of the articles rated were in the “No” category.
Of course, there are obvious reasons – we all know them – why “best in show” remains elusive. “Time” tops the list. “Resources” also is up there somewhere. Most of us have had to add website responsibilities to a job description that includes print, show business and, most recently, digital. In some cases, the need to deliver hot news on a regular basis is a new adventure for veteran staffs.
With all this, we must do everything possible to avoid making routine coverage a regular habit. Here are five items … some major, others admittedly minor … that we might consider as we plan future e-news:
(1) Every e-newsletter edition must lead off with dynamite coverage. What is dynamite? Try this: When it came to reporting regulatory news, most items rehashed a press release and stopped there. On rare occasions, writers saw the wisdom of producing a reaction story. In at least one case, the staff in question definitely was hard pressed in terms of workload. But the desire to excel won out and a terrific reaction story was the result. When evaluated during my study, the article earned 89 out of a possible 100 points, making it number two out of 446 on the e-news delivery scale. The “best in show” article scored a remarkable 98. Most articles fell into the 40-50-point range.
(2) Clearly distinguish your coverage from competitors’. Before starting this blog, I was running some “like item” analysis as part of a competitive analysis project. “Like item” refers to how two competitive sites cover an identical event. In the case of one article, it immediately was clear that both parties rewrote the same news release. Even the quotes were exactly the same. Unfortunately, this happens a lot. It’s lack of enterprise coming back to haunt us.
(3) Make statistical articles more digestible. Numbers generate hot news, so it’s no surprise e-news reports often focus on the latest survey results. However, when you run a 600-700 word article that recites all sorts of percentage increases and decreases, you’ll probably lose the reader. Instead, follow the “one picture is worth 1,000 words” principle and run one or more quick-read charts.
(4) Use at least one stimulating quote in every article. Quote-barren articles definitely are insufficient if we’re looking to engage e-news visitors.
(5) Ban “source first, news next” articles. Yes, I keep harping on this one. If a person’s name, title and affiliation use up 11 words or more, please don’t launch an article with that albatross weighing it down. One factor measured in my survey is lead value. This is the number of words wasted before a key story point is reached. Most articles reviewed were pretty good, meaning the key point was made within ten words. But there were enough cases where anywhere between 20 and 150 words elapsed before a meaningful connection was made. “Source first” was the culprit in almost every case.