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One of the benchmarks of successful public relations is the ability to attract media attention for the organization subjects. Media attention is important in a number of cases, for example: to communicate crisis responses, to build a good reputation among the public, to create publicity for key events, etc. And what a better way to do so than to create a powerful press release that gets picked up by the media?


Of course, it is not that simple. In their recent publication on the topic “The news value of Dutch corporate press releases as a predictor of corporate agenda building power”, Schafraad, van Zoonen and Verhoeven (2015) examine the factors that influence the success of a press release.


About the Research

823 press releases issued in 2012 from 30 of the largest Dutch corporations were analysed with quantitative content analysis. News articles were sampled from Dutch news media – three newspapers in their print and online version (De Telegraaf, De Volkskrant, De Financieele Dagblad), two largest Dutch news websites and the press agency ANP. Comparing the source data with the media data turns out that only 220 press releases were picked up by the media. Which results in ignoring the other 75% press releases. This leads us to the question – what makes one press release more successful than others?


The Agenda Building Perspective

In order to understand the interaction between organizations and media it is important to look at the agenda building perspective. Agenda building outlines how the press works together with other institutions to create issues of public concern. It precedes the agenda setting process and it is influenced by the public relations strategy of a particular organization and the personal and professional evaluation for newsworthiness of the journalists. The study focuses on understanding the selection process of news media, namely, what characteristics of the message in a press release make it newsworthy?


What factors can play a role in the news selection?

The authors expected several factors to have an impact on the newsworthiness of a message from the point of view of a journalist. They can be seen as a cognitive catalog that supports them in the selection from the vast supply of news events and issues.

Surprise Unexpected event that cannot be announced before its occurrence and contradicts current expectations
Controversy Presentation of different opinions which are carried verbally or literally, there have to be two parties
Impact reach Number of persons who are affected by the event
Positive and negative consequences Consequences relate to the economic, political, physical, psychological or social impact the information has
Elite reference Reference made to the social power of a group, institution, their representatives or individual people
Prominent reference Degree of fame that can be attributed to a person
Dynamics How the event is presented, some movement and change needs to be present, an existing process needs to be changed or interrupted
Message topic Includes topics like general societal or political subject, financial news, product information, employees, management or CEO’s, other organizational news and human interest news
Incentives Quotes by laypersons, key figures, research, sensation, current affairs and events

What were the findings?

It turns out that within the field of business news only a selection of news factors improves the press releases’ chance for succession in news media. The presence of controversy, negative consequences, surprise and elite organization is found to impact the newsworthiness of a press release positively. Mentioning positive consequences on the other hand leads to a negative influence. Which reinforces the saying among journalist that actually “Bad news is good news”. The inclusion of incentives hardly improved the chance for media attention. The actual message itself – the bare facts presented in the press release – of only some topics, for example, business news, was also a substantive factor in agenda building. For example, general topics like financial performance and employees and management may be interpreted as news factors in the field of business news. The paper suggests that this is because their aim is to cater for a specific audience: stock owners.


What is your opinion on the topic? Do you think that the news factors’ agenda building power would vary in different context, for example culture, sports, and politics? How do you think the mix of influential news factors would differ from field to field?


For more information check out the article in Public Relations Review and get acquainted with the details of the research. For further information you may contact the corresponding author (P. Schafraad).