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The End of the Press Release?

Once upon a time, before the Internet was a go-to resource, when postal mail and faxes were key ways to disseminate detailed information to media, the press release was pivotal. Those days are long gone because:
  • Journalists don’t want to write about something that’s already been released. In the past, readers had few media sources for this information. Today, seconds after you post a press release on the Internet, it’s no longer new news. This story is already one click away from any one of billions of people with an Internet connection. Of course, you could send the press release out under embargo beforehand, but even that signals to journalists that you’re giving the story to a ton of competitors.
  • Google’s search algorithm isn’t helping. For a while, the saving grace of press releases was SEO, short for “search engine optimization.” The idea was that writing press releases would improve your visibility on search engines. While it’s true that producing more quality content will improve your SEO, a press release is increasingly becoming the least effective type of content to create. Google itself has said that it’s discounting content that you pay to distribute, and explicitly warned against putting unnatural links in press releases.
  • People don’t want to share boring content on social media. Social media was thought to be another miracle cure to save the press release, since you can stick share buttons next to the releases. The trouble is that people must want to share your content with their friends and followers. A formal announcement typically isn’t well-suited for these channels.
  • The SEC doesn’t require it. A really good reason to send a press release would be to avoid serving time in jail! Public companies need to release information in a certain way to be fair to investors and avoid running afoul of regulations. Thankfully, the SEC has already provided the guidance that public companies can simply post announcements on their websites, rather than use a press release service. The SEC has even announced that information can be released via social media, provided investors know where to look, and it’s not restricted. “Most social media are perfectly suitable methods for communicating with investors,” said George Canellos, acting director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, in a press release (old habits die hard). Of course, check with your lawyer before exclusively tweeting out your next big company announcement.
This is the part of an advice article where the author would usually jump right into what to do next. But that’d be like marrying the queen just two months after the king has died — i.e., Shakespearean tragedy territory. Before anointing its replacements, I’d like to extol the press release’s virtues of helping:
  • Get the story and facts straight. For all of its faults, the press release often forced communicators to figure out what story they wanted to go out the door with. Statistics needed to be calculated, quotes needed to be written and approved, and language needed to be settled on. This still needs to be done, just not for a press release.
  • Make it easy to grab photos and videos. Even in its analog days, photos were often attached to press releases. Today, photos and videos are more important than ever, and they still need to be rapidly distributed.
  • With ease of distribution. The press release forced us to consider an essential question: How will anyone see this thing? Unfortunately, as time went on, many organizations responded with the easy answer — they put the press release out on a wire and never thought about it again. The death of the press release forces the realization that distribution strategy is often as important as the content itself. Without the distraction of the press release, we can focus more on actually releasing news to the press and ultimately the public.
It’s time we accept that the days of the press release are over (let’s skip the anger, bargaining and depression stages), and focus on more effective methods to release news. I’ll be covering new ways to release news in a future blog post, and in my upcoming PRSA course, “Announcing News in the Social Media Era.”

Gregory Galant is the CEO and co-founder of Muck Rack, the leading network to connect with journalists to get press, and “one of the most useful tools ever invented for media professionals,” according to TheNextWeb. He’s the co-creator and executive producer of the Shorty Awards, which honor the best of social media. He’s also a member of Twitter’s exclusive first name club — follow him at @gregory

10 Comments

  • LOL! Did Gregory just spell out “Search Engine Optimization”?

    While I agree in theory, there are still a large number of news aggregators/journalists who pull PRs off the Wire and republish them. It ain’t pretty, but it does help get the word out. That doesn’t happen when you/we post it on our Web site and simply socialize it. The question is: In 10 years, when the old-school journalists are retiring, will a “Copy and Past this Content on your Site” note on your web site where the material is posted, generate the same results?

    • There will always be resistance to change. Change is inevitable and so is resistance. I do believe the press release is still relevant, however in an increasingly shrinking market space. Time and access to news & information in a digital era has greatly impacted this. We should always present our stakeholders/audiences with options, however we should always be most concerned with the masses. Resistance to change in communications often means ineffective communications.

  • If the press release is truly dead, then why do relevant data-and trend-driven releases we write here at our university routinely get picked up by top news organizations? Press releases aren’t dead…bad press releases that have no news value are dead. One more thing: Issuing a press release over the wire does not mean your job is over. Conversations (remember those?) and e-mails with reporters about the news ensure that you’re taking steps to see the process through to completion.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience Andy! Great to hear of your success, sounds like you’re releasing valuable information. But why release your news as a press release rather than as a blog post or in another format?

      I couldn’t agree more that conversations and emails with reporters are essential — I’m planning on covering that in my followup.

  • Hear ye: recent announcements about the demise of the press/media release are greatly exaggerated and acutely premature. Please be guided.

  • Another thought . . . . the actual creation of the press release — getting the info, writing it coherently, running it through approvals (from source to lawyers to marketing to whomever) — is actually a useful process. You get what I always called your “core story” (now called content, I think) down in writing. You get all the right people to say grace over it so you know you are safe using the words, phrases and facts. And then you can use it in pieces and parts, across multiple internal and external platforms. Call it content, call it announcement, call it press release — it’s your official, for-the-record story, for now and for the archives.

  • There are two questions relevant to this issue. First, will the message reach relevant stakeholders? A message with no audience has no impact. While traditional news audiences are smaller they still exist and the size of the audience may not be the most important factor. Second, is how do stakeholders use a medium. This is the century of active rather than passive audiences. Active publics seek information and websites may work well for those with high problem recognition and high involvement with an issue.

  • Yet another “the press release is dead” piece, and this time on PRSA’s own site. As with the other pieces on this meme, this one is full of inaccuracies that really don’t help further our ability to effectively engage with our audiences.

    Since I have a bit of experience in this field as well – I’m past the 26-year mark at Business Wire – let me respond to a few of the author’s points:

    -Seconds after you post a press release on the Internet it is no longer news: Well, that’s because you’ve written a press release and reached your audience with it. The media and non-media data for our clients press releases show, in fact, they do use press releases for coverage, research, to share on their social platforms, and to aid in purchasing decisions. I’m not clear if the author’s assumption is that if you post to the “Internet” everyone will somehow know the news is online. We know that not to be true. Effective content and distribution is a requirement.

    -Search: Google’s algorithm changes allow PR professionals to focus on quality writing that engages journalists and inspires brand fans. When they cover or share press release content, it enhances your search authority.

    -People don’t share boring content: So don’t produce boring content. Understand the different needs of the channels your audiences use and produce relevant and engaging content. Embed a click-to-tweet link for your Twitter followers and a compelling photo for your Pinterest users.

    -The SEC doesn’t require it: This is incomplete and inaccurate advice at best. The channels you choose for disclosure must be established and defined. Virtually no companies have chosen to use social media as the only method to disclose because social channels are not designed to provide fair and simultaneous access to market-moving news. In addition, individual stock exchanges have their own guidelines for material news. Media rely on wire-distributed press releases to auto-publish key data points to investor audiences.

    -Ease of distribution: I was hoping for enlightened advice here, but didn’t find any. Wire services provide ease-of-distribution. Business Wire, in fact, provides highly granular targeting options based on industry, geographic and topic needs. We feed content directly into editorial systems, provide custom feeds to reporters and individuals, post to authoritative sites and provide a “document of record” for reporters and investors to rely upon.

    I welcome a lively debate on communications best practices, but we can do better than this.

  • Yet
    another “the press release is dead” piece, and this time on PRSA’s own site. As
    with the other pieces on this meme, this one is full of inaccuracies that really
    don’t help further our ability to effectively engage with our audiences.

    Since
    I have a bit of experience in this field as well – I’m past the 26-year mark at
    Business Wire – let me respond to a few of the author’s points:

    -Seconds
    after you post a press release on the Internet it is no longer news: Well,
    that’s because you’ve written a press release and reached your audience with it.
    The media and non-media data for our clients press releases show, in fact, they
    do use press releases for coverage, research, to share on their social
    platforms, and to aid in purchasing decisions. I’m not clear if the author’s
    assumption is that if you post to the “Internet” everyone will somehow know the
    news is online. We know that not to be true. Effective content and distribution
    is a requirement.

    -Search:
    Google’s algorithm changes allow PR professionals to focus on quality writing
    that engages journalists and inspires brand fans. When they cover or share press
    release content, it enhances your search authority.

    -People
    don’t share boring content: So don’t produce boring content. Understand the
    different needs of the channels your audiences use and produce relevant and
    engaging news-worthy content. Embed a click-to-tweet link for your Twitter
    followers and a compelling photo for your Pinterest users.

    -The
    SEC doesn’t require it: This is incomplete, inaccurate and dangerous advice. The
    channels you choose for disclosure must be established and defined. Virtually no
    companies have chosen to use social media as the only method to disclose because
    social channels are not designed to provide fair and simultaneous access to
    market-moving news. In addition, individual stock exchanges have their own
    guidelines for material news. Media rely on wire-distributed press releases to
    auto-publish key data points to investor audiences.

    -Ease
    of distribution: I was hoping for enlightened advice here, but didn’t find any.
    Wire services provide an easy way to quickly and cost-effectively reach target
    audiences. Business Wire, in fact, provides highly granular targeting options
    based on industry, geographic and topic needs. We feed content directly into
    editorial systems, provide custom feeds to reporters and individuals, post to
    authoritative sites and provide a “document of record” for reporters and
    investors to rely upon.

    I
    welcome a lively debate on communications best practices, but we can do better
    than this.

  • Yet another “the press release is dead” piece, and this time on PRSA’s own site.

    As with the other pieces on this meme, this one is full of inaccuracies that really
    don’t help further our ability to effectively engage with our audiences.

    Since I have a bit of experience in this field as well – I’m past the 26-year mark at
    Business Wire – let me respond to a few of the author’s points:

    -Seconds after you post a press release on the Internet it is no longer news: Well,
    that’s because you’ve written a press release and reached your audience with it.
    The media and non-media data for our clients press releases show, in fact, they
    do use press releases for coverage, research, to share on their social
    platforms, and to aid in purchasing decisions. I’m not clear if the author’s
    assumption is that if you post to the “Internet” everyone will somehow know the
    news is online. We know that not to be true. Effective content and distribution
    is a requirement.

    -Search: Google’s algorithm changes allow PR professionals to focus on quality writing that engages journalists and inspires brand fans. When they cover or share press release content, it enhances your search authority.

    -People don’t share boring content: So don’t produce boring content. Understand the different needs of the channels your audiences use and produce relevant and engaging news-worthy content. Embed a click-to-tweet link for your Twitter
    followers and a compelling photo for your Pinterest users.

    -The SEC doesn’t require it: This is incomplete, inaccurate and dangerous advice. The channels you choose for disclosure must be established and defined. Virtually no companies have chosen to use social media as the only method to disclose because social channels are not designed to provide fair and simultaneous access to market-moving news. In addition, individual stock exchanges have their own guidelines for material news. Media rely on wire-distributed press releases to auto-publish key data points to investor audiences.

    -Ease of distribution: I was hoping for enlightened advice here, but didn’t find any.
    Wire services provide an easy way to quickly and cost-effectively reach target
    audiences. Business Wire, in fact, provides highly granular targeting options
    based on industry, geographic and topic needs. We feed content directly into
    editorial systems, provide custom feeds to reporters and individuals, post to
    authoritative sites and provide a “document of record” for reporters and
    investors to rely upon.

    I welcome a lively debate on communications best practices, but we can do better
    than this.

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