Why waste the media's time when you don't have to?

An online press release archive should be a useful tool for journalists to do their jobs. So why are companies complicating things by separating press releases into different buckets that might be clear inside the company but make little sense to anyone else? Jason Sumner looks at a handful of the worst examples.

There is a lot of confusion at the moment about what should go in media sections on corporate websites, which reflects wider doubts about the purpose of company press offices when anyone with a smartphone can be a ‘journalist’.

My colleague David Bowen has written about this dilemma recently, concluding that press offices don’t know exactly what they are for any more, and so their online media sections don’t either; and suggests some sensible remedies.

The confusion about online media sections could help explain a trend I’ve spotted on a few corporate sites recently: separating press releases into two or more categories, for reasons that may be clear internally, but do not make sense to anyone else.

Three of the most puzzling examples are from French luxury goods maker LVMH, US-based Campbell Soup Company and Allianz, the Germany-based insurance giant.

LVMH – distinction without an obvious difference

A journalist unfamiliar with LVMH’s site but who wants to look for the latest release or search the archive, will need to decide whether to click into ‘News’ or ‘Press releases

Both are separate pages within LVMH’s media section, and they are given equal billing on the section landing page. Having two areas to search is already potentially time-consuming and frustrating for journalists, even if they might eventually work out the difference between ‘news’ and ‘press releases’.

But is there a difference? Not one that I could tell for sure.

The latest items on the ‘News’ page yesterday were about LVMH being ranked the most attractive employer in France by LinkedIn; several stories about LVMH’s brands, Loewe, Benefit Cosmetics and Louis Vuitton, etc; and a partnership between LVMH and Central Saint Martins, a London art school.

On the ‘Press releases’ page, there were releases about financial results, dividends and mergers, and the top story was about LVMH making a bid to take full control of its subsidiary Christian Dior.

So maybe the distinction is about ‘financial news’ and the rest? Except that in ‘Press releases’ there was a story about LVMH launching a cultural centre in Paris, in a ceremony attended by the mayor of the city and the French president at the time, Francois Hollande. Two other ‘press releases’ were about the company launching an innovation award and a prize for young fashion designers. All of which seem appropriate for ‘News’.

Perhaps the difference is about news about the wider group versus the brands? Or maybe LVMH sees ‘News’ as exciting and ‘Press releases’ about the boring stuff? Or maybe it is because of internal divisions within LVMH.

Hard to tell for sure, and there might be a perfectly logical set of criteria, but why should journalists have to work this out? The point is that the distinction is unclear enough that journalists will need to spend time clicking on both pages, when one page (perhaps with a set of filters) would be easier.

Further adding to journalists’ confusion, and potential frustration, is that the filters offered in each sub-section are different. Neither set is comprehensive, but journalists searching ‘News’ are given year and month filters, in addition to those for ‘All business groups’, LVMH and several of its business divisions such as ‘Fashion & Leather Goods’, etc. Journalists searching the ‘Press releases’ page only get year and month filters.

The Campbell Soup Company – baffling division

In Campbell’s ‘Newsroom’ section there are different pages for ‘Campbell News’ and ‘Press releases’, immediately confronting journalists with the same problem as on LVMH.com, where to click?

While there appears to be some kind of internal logic in the LVMH example, the distinction between releases is even murkier on the Campbell’s site.

When we looked, both ‘Newsroom’ and ‘Press releases’ led with the same release about the company’s third quarter results. The second release on each page appeared to be about the same story, the installation of a solar array at the company’s headquarters in Camden, New Jersey, each with a slightly different take. Then, further down, the release that appeared on ‘Press releases’ also turned up in ‘Newsroom’. Add to this the fact that the filters are different in each section, and the overall experience is baffling.

Allianz – filters across five pages

Allianz has one page for ‘all’ press releases – although it is badly labelled ‘overview’ in the mega dropdown menu under ‘News’. So far, so much better than LVMH or Campbell’s. However, the subject filters to help narrow down the list are on separate pages – ‘company’, ‘studies’, ‘financials’, ‘commitment’ and ‘business’, each with separate links in the mega dropdown panel, and on the media landing page. Clicking on ‘financials', for example, leads to a page with the original list filtered for finance-related releases. If and when journalists figure out the unusual system, they will potentially still need to click in and out of five pages, if they are searching for more than one release.

The above three are not the only examples. Caterpillar, the US-based farm equipment company, has ‘Caterpillar news’ and ‘Corporate press releases’. Another company divides theirs between ‘group’ and ‘trade’.

One deep, searchable archive

All of the above online press release services could be improved by thinking about how journalists actually access press releases from a website – or speaking to them to find out. In our experience, the best services are simple but highly useful – well-labelled, well-signposted, deep, searchable archives (with keyword search and relevant filters). Coming to that conclusion is probably the easy part. The difficulty comes in overcoming the internal politics – governance, in our terms – that are likely to have led to the separate buckets in the first place.

- Jason Sumner