The extinction of press releases

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Ally Lightle
Phone: (918) 212-9914
March 3, 2016

Press Releases in Danger of Extinction

As technology evolves, so does traditional public relations 

Tulsa, Okla.– For about the past five years, there has been talk in the PR world about the extinction of the press release. As practitioners, we have all read the articles or listened to industry experts on why they think this practice is dying. Those working in an agency have tried to convince clients that the press release is on the outs. Rarely does it result in the coverage your story deserves, and in some cases, it can actually stifle your ability to get the word out.

So why does everyone immediately go there? Why is it still common practice for a publicist to immediately revert to drafting a formal press release? These are the questions that keep me awake at night.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’m also anti-press release. I’ve always found the entire process frustrating. It always starts off the same: trying to make a generally uninteresting topic sexy. Then, there’s the back and forth of getting verbiage perfect while trying to stay compliant with AP Style.* After all of that work with blood, sweat and tears- the reporter still won’t run your article word-for-word. It’s time, money and lots of profanity wasted. Meanwhile, there are perfectly good stories in your organization begging to be told, but they don’t fit into the traditional press release model.

Turns out, I’m not the only one who is anti-press release. I was listening to a marketing podcast this morning where three different PR practitioners complained about the ineffectiveness of a press release.

Truth be told, reporters also hate formal releases. The majority of the time after viewing a release, reporters either:

  1. delete the email
  2. call for an interview, ignoring an article that was extremely difficult to construct

Yet, people continue to rely on this archaic practice. The other day, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I noticed two people had shared a press release from the governor’s office. Let me say that again: people were sharing an incredibly boring, formal press release. Why? The article was about Governor Fallin proposing using the Rainy Day Fund to help offset education budget cuts. Both parties that shared the article were teachers, so I understood why they were moved by the article. I also believe there were better outlets to send out this message.

Obviously, media picked up the story. Education budget cuts are a very touchy topic. However, time would have been saved if her publicist would have sent out a media advisory instead of a full blown release. Also, to get the online world engaged, a blog article would have received more traction. In a blog, a call to action could have been included encouraging people to write their legislators or share the article. Plus, a well-written blog would be more likely to catch the eye of someone not as invested in public education.

Another piece of the puzzle is the shift toward online and away from traditional media. News can be found in real time, online for free and more journalists are being laid off. This means that companies aren’t receiving as much coverage as ten years ago. Journalists are overworked, underpaid and do not have the capacity to run every release that appears in their inbox. That being said, there are a few instances where I do push for a press release.

Nonprofit events
When a local paper covers an event, most of the time they aren’t interested in a long, in-depth article. Therefore, it’s good to send a document with all of the event details and a quote so the journalist can cherry pick the information needed for their piece.

Business briefs
Business brief sections are great for an announcement of a grant or new employee. Make sure the journalist knows you aren’t expecting a front page story. Instead, ask the reporter if your information could be included in a business brief section and then include a few paragraphs explaining what needs to be announced. Trust me, if the reporter is interested in a bigger story, they will contact you for an interview.

Don’t worry, there are still plenty of ways to tell your story without a news release. As mentioned earlier, online blogs are one way to tell others about your cause, event or company. If you are wanting a more traditional piece, many printed publications do take submission pieces. This means writing an article with interesting information on a trending topic as opposed to highlighting your business. Again, be mindful that your article is useful and newsworthy and not a sales piece.

The most important advice I can give clients is to think like a journalist. Is this newsworthy? Does anyone care? How can we persuade more people to care? More often than not, the press release isn’t a solution to any of these questions.

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*AP style is the format in which journalists write. For a crash course, click here