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Monday, May 14, 2007

Making news

Today, more than ever, I had a reminder lesson in the imbalance of resources between media and public relations. The Ontario (Canada) labour minister flew to Ottawa to deliver an announcement that the legislatively mandated Tarion Warranty Corporation would now share information with Ministry of Labour inspectors regarding unregistered (and therefore illegal) builders. The idea is to improve enforcement research to attack the underground economy.

This is a worthy enough story, which we will report on within a few hours at, but the other story here is the size of entourage for the announcement compared with the number of media for the 'media event'. Staff from the Minister's office and Tarion filled the room. There were a couple of local Provincial Parliament members, and a few people from the Ottawa-Carleton Home Builders' Association, including its president, Bob Ridley, who acted as MC for the announcement. OCHBA Executive Officer John Herbert, who encouraged me to attend, was in the room as well.

As far as I can tell, I was the only member of the 'working press' in the room, and my presence there is largely shaped by the contract we have with the OCHBA to produce their internal newsletter.

The Minister's office of course issued news releases and put them over the news release wire. I don't yet see signs of other media picking up the story, though I'm sure a few briefs will find their way into the press.

We'll cover it with some depth of course because it is important to our readers. But think about the resources that were assembled to 'broadcast' this story -- and the apparent indifference of the media. At times, it seems, doing everything 'right' to get press attention just doesn't do very much, and I'm sure reporters get cynical when they see all the money and energy devoted to managing the story.

Of course, as reported in an earlier blog entry, the new rules of the game for media publicity are not to worry about the media -- issue news releases frequently, and often, regardless of whether news media will pick up your story, because (through the web and search engine algorithms) the news releases will be read by the people who count -- those who actually truly could be interested in your product, service or cause. But remember, as well, that information clutter and overload are truly overwhelming, and getting real and meaningful attention is an uphill battle.

Can I offer a magical solution to this challenge? No. Too many variables influence newsworthiness. For example, as the Minister of Labour announced the enforcement measures on the underground economy, another Minister announced a multi-million construction project for the local Children's hospital. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know which story is more interesting and important both to the larger community and to the construction readership. Still, I have something of an exclusive for the underground economy topic, and so will run the article.

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