Just about everything in the communications world has changed in the last few years (months, weeks, hours). Yet, one relic from the PR strategy toolbox still hangs on: the press release. This decades-old tactical staple served a distinct purpose: to share facts with your publics. And it worked! But that was then, when we weren’t constantly distracted and accustomed to snacking on our news. It was also a slower era, when journalists received news in a trickle; now it’s a firehouse. Today, what reporter has time to read a page-long press release, pull out relevant nuggets, and write a story?
But is the press release really dead? Or does it simply need to evolve?
The press release still serves a purpose.
Putting your news in a press release and uploading it to an online wire service or blasting it out to a static media list via email while hoping it’ll magically generate coverage isn’t reality. Press releases haven’t been particularly effective in generating quality earned media for quite some time. Though, for awhile, they were very popular search engine optimization tools. Keyword-stuffed releases could drive search ranking even if they were never picked up by a single media outlet. But Google caught on to this search hack.
Press releases with the sole intention of driving SEO or getting “picked up” in bulk by media are indeed pushing up daisies. But don’t rule them out entirely. They do still fulfill some useful pr strategy purposes. For one, public companies are mandated to use press releases to communicate material information. I also work closely with manufacturers of commercial interior design finishes (e.g., carpet and resilient flooring, wallcoverings), and the niche media market we target requests – and relies – on press releases for new product information.
Here are a few other reasons to keep press releases in your PR strategy tactical toolbox:
- They help you set your story. A well-written press release requires a crisp message and thoughtful attention to details. When your organization has news to share, there is value in creating a release – if for no other reason than to shape your story and keep everyone on message.
- They create a timeline of your organization’s history and indicate momentum. Even if your press release only lives on your website, it becomes part of your brand story and lets visitors know what you’ve accomplished over time.
- They are a great asset to share as part of a targeted media pitch. Once you’re engaged with a media contact who writes about the news you’re announcing, a press release is a helpful supplement to the other information and access you’re already providing.
While the press release as we’ve known – and used – it for decades is in fact dead, it also continues to live on in other forms. But just like any other tactic, it should only be used if you’re confident it supports your strategy and contributes toward your end goals.
When shouldn’t you write a press release?
Ask yourself these questions to determine if another – better – tactic will help tell your story more effectively.
- Does the news center on figures? Don’t hide them in wordy paragraphs. Try an infographic format that would spotlight statistics and make it easy for reporters to process the information. Make sure you call attention to the meaning behind the numbers, too.
- Is it a controversial topic or sensitive issue? In times of crisis – e.g., a product recall, an executive departure – a release makes sense (and may even be legally required). Control the message by sharing the pertinent details with all stakeholders at once.
- Do your quotes add color? If not, ditch ‘em. Stick to a fact sheet. Marketing-speak and jargon-filled press releases aren’t helpful.
- Is the story emotional and/or visual? Forget words on a page; consider video or graphics (or both) and bring your messages to life “on screen.”
At the start of my career, writing and distributing press releases are what I did. Clients wanted them and reporters and editors needed them. More than a dozen years later, we have so many more relevant, effective (and fun!) opportunities in PR strategy to share our stories. Embrace them.