A press office at a festival, with a graffiti sign

What does a digital press office look like?

What might a press office look like, if a selection of the brilliant and (mostly) free digital tools were put to work?

I’m thinking about a real world scenario: where budgets are lean or non-existent, so I won’t be suggesting iPads for every press officer. And I recognise that not everyone is a confident social media user, so the emphasis is on listening rather than engagement. I am also trying to be realistic about how important social media channels are perceived to be on the media scale. While social media plays a role in keeping abreast of breaking news and opinion, it is not considered as important as the daily front pages or TV news.

My thoughts have been centred on press offices in Government departments or other public sector organisations, but I think the same principles could apply anywhere where there is a requirement to monitor and react to the news.

Listening to the web

The press office I have pictured in my mind has a TV screen for displaying a social media dashboard; searching all the different networks for key terms like the name of the organisation, names of Ministers or leaders, or key policy areas or products. By putting social media up on the wall, where everyone can see it, alongside traditional news broadcasting, the press office is making a statement about the channels it monitors.

There’s a useful post here about monitoring news and debate online.

Typically a press office might be divided into different desks, each covering specific topics. The staff working on each of these will have more niche monitoring requirements such as following specific journalists or perhaps technical terms. It’s important they have a Twitter profile, to follow and read what their contacts are saying. Having a Twitter profile doesn’t mean they have to engage, as long as they are clear about who they represent and the purpose of the account: i.e. just to listen.

I think it’s also important that a press office has its own collective digital profiles across different channels, so that journalists can choose their channel of preference to make contact. Perhaps a press office twitter account like this one from the FBI(!) and blog, for starters.

Collaborating with each other

A great deal of press office time is also taken up with collaborating on writing press releases, statements and agreeing lines. Google Docs is ideal for this. It isn’t as secure as some would like, but I think the risks posed by multiple versions of documents flying around between random copy lists is far greater. There’s always Huddle or Basecamp for an added sense of privacy, plus shared calendars for identifying important events and milestones.

Email traffic can be huge, so some sort of instant messaging system would be ideal, such as Blackberry Messenger, Skype or Yammer.

A shared delicious account is ideal for clipping and sharing relevant news reports and features, without having to constantly email links to the whole office.

Creating content

Visits and events constitute a huge amount of work for many press offices, so it makes sense to come away with some original content that can be used now, and at a later date. Budget flip cameras and tools like audioboo allow press officers to quickly and easily film or record events, or previews of speakers.

Webchats can open up media briefings to many more journalists than would otherwise be available to visit the office in person, and materials such as presentations, photos or film can be shared during the chat, and afterwards. Transcripts of the webchats are available after the event, for those who couldn’t attend and for reference at a later date.

Sharing content and information with press and the public

Incoming phone calls with requests for standard information like quotes, copies of press releases, stock imagery or important dates can be time consuming, which is where the web can help house and share all this information.

A dedicated RSS feed might help keep enlightened journalists up-to-date. Stock imagery sorted into sets on Flickr provide a one-stop-shop.

A daily email summary of press releases and announcements is another option for keeping contacts updated. These can be generated automatically from some websites using tools like Feedburner.

Some of this might be wishful thinking, but I reckon a lot of could be deployed quickly and cheaply. Corporate IT and security could throw up some challenges like downloading Skype or uploading video. But listening to what’s being said online, and using effective tools to collaborate with colleagues should be a no-brainer.

Does any of this sound familiar or too far fetched? I’m keen to hear your experiences, good or bad.

A press office at a festival, with a graffiti sign
There’s more than one way to raise the profile of a press office

10 thoughts on “What does a digital press office look like?”

  1. Tim

    Great thoughts. The one area I struggle with, as a PR person and a geek, is reconciling my two personas…

    The PR person’s desire to understand what a journalist is after, what they’re writing, and have that personal interaction. I can then advise execs that “I expect coverage on X” or “Journalists liked your speech and are requesting transcripts”, and hey, even “I’m inundated with difficult questions you need to be aware of” ;-p


    The geek’s vision to provide realtime updates on everything, all the time, to whoever wants to (mis?? oops that’s the PR guy talking)interpret it.

    Nevertheless some thoughts here I would consider for my private sector professional PR life.

    Da Widge

    1. Good points. I don’t think a digital press office should dilute personal relationships with journalists, but I imagine it could help to maintain and even build new relationships, if online tools could be used to accommodate those who can’t always be there in person for a press briefing.

  2. Really interesting stuff, Tim.

    It’s good to base things in reality. No, there won’t be a massive budget. No, we can’t all travel to work on jetpacks with ipads strapped to us. The reality is that comms people aren’t as savvy with digital channels as the average geek.

    From a local government perspective, social media is growing in importance. It’s not a golden bullet that will reach everyone but it opens up a new channel to people you may not have been speaking with before. Maybe this is because local government is by definition a lot closer to residents. They know where we work and see their elected member in many cases when they pop to the shops for a paper.

    I’m with you all the way on much of this. Google Docs as a place to draft releases sounds ace but I can see IT having kittens and many of our officers being unable to grasp it. Maybe it’s a within the team thing first.

    The Home Office use Flickr brilliantly as a public photo library.

    Good stuff.

    Here’s something I wrote about the tools digital press offices will need…


  3. Thanks Dan. I pondered over the Google Docs suggestion before publishing because I can see problems from an IT perspective too. Perhaps corporate IT departments can offer a similar alternative 😉

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