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.