Photographer T.J. Hamilton creates a photographic illustration to accompany one of the stories produced by Sabo PR’s news bureau. Courtesy Sabo PR
As newspapers across the globe reduce their staff and resources are dwindling, public relations firms are finding they need to make sure their message isn’t lost in the fray, with fewer eyes to see it. In some cases, that means writing the story themselves.
In recent years, many PR firms have created in-house news bureaus to aid in getting their stories told. Whereas previously a story would have been pitched to a reporter or editor, who would then decide whether it was worth investing time and resources to cover, a news bureau allows the firm to pitch a fully packaged, finished news story. Then the only decision an editor needs to make is whether or not to run it.
“It benefits our clients and also benefits those papers who might be interested in this story but not have the resources to cover it,” Sabo PR owner Mary Ann Sabo said.
Sabo has had a news bureau for about five years, and it has allowed her clients to reach a wider audience in instances where, previously, a faxed press release might sit in the printer tray for days before being discarded.
Three of Sabo PR’s clients use the bureau on a regular basis — either quarterly or monthly — while another two use the in-house newsroom when the opportunity arises. Sabo said her firm has forged strong relationships with about 20 to 25 newspapers, typically in smaller markets where those resource pools are even smaller. And because the completed package is marketed to a number of outlets that might be interested, the story might run in multiple newspapers across a wider footprint in West Michigan.
Sabo’s in-house reporting staff is made up of former journalists with varied experience. Tom Rademacher was a longtime columnist for The Grand Rapids Press, and Peg West was a writer and editor for the same publication. T.J. Hamilton’s photography has appeared in numerous West Michigan publications, and Sabo is a former Press reporter.
“The media outlets (we work with) know they can expect that we’ll be on time, we’ll write according to AP style, and they’ll be getting something that’s not just a blatant advertisement,” Sabo said.
In recent years, the trend of in-house news bureaus has picked up, with some organizations such as Spectrum Health and Kent Intermediate School District adding their own bureaus to tell their stories. Similar to Sabo PR, these in-house bureaus are heavily staffed by former reporters by and freelance writers who have experience in reporting and crafting a story.
One issue some news organizations might have with using stories directly from a PR firm is in avoiding the “advertisement” aspect of it. Sabo likened the stigma to the rise of video news releases — videos produced by PR firms to look like news reports, often deceiving the viewer — nearly a quarter-century ago. She said it’s important to be as upfront as possible when pitching a story package, and to avoid the appearance of selling an ad or disseminating propaganda.
When done properly, in-house news bureaus provide a mutually beneficial service to just about everyone involved, from the client to the newspaper and ultimately, the reader. Sabo said it’s another tool available for firms looking to get their clients in the news, and it allows general interest newspapers to fill their pages with interesting stories that otherwise may have fallen by the wayside.
When Sabo began offering the in-house news service five years ago, she catered only to one client. Now those services have expanded to cover the needs of several clients, and she anticipates the trend will continue to grow in coming years.
“Twenty years ago when you would ask a client, ‘What does success look like to you?’ they would say to be on the cover of Grand Rapids Business Journal, Grand Rapids Press, or on the 11 o’clock nightly news,” Sabo said.
“Media was just the way to do it. And as we’re watching now, there are more and more companies, organizations and individuals who want to tell their stories, but there’s less of a way to get through traditional media channels. So for us, it’s a great way to expand our reach and it meets a need not only for our clients but also helps the needs of a newspaper.”