When I was a kid, the local news came on each evening at 5:30 and 10:00 PM. I suppose it still does, but I wouldn’t know. I don’t need to turn on the tube at a prearranged time to get the news. These days news is all around us. It’s in our social feeds, Google alerts, and on our mobile devices. When something happens we can get instant comments, images, and video from the people who are closest to the action. Business news is no different. Brands don’t need to look at an editorial calendar anymore or hope a journalist will be interested in their announcement. Now, they have hundreds of direct channels for letting their audience in on what’s new.
This change in how news is crafted and distributed has many PR professionals asking whether press releases are still relevant. While there are some compelling reasons for ditching press releases all together, we think they still have some value in ways you might not expect.
The Case for Putting Press Releases to Rest
Of all the arguments we’ve heard for killing off the press release once and for all, these are the most convincing:
Journalists don’t find them very useful – A recent study found that nearly 70% of the journalists surveyed spend less than a minute reading each new press release. Further, it found that only 34% of story ideas come from press releases. And you know that quote you worked so hard to get approved? It’s unlikely to see the light of day as only 28% of journalists use quotes regularly.
The SEO extravaganza is over – For a while press releases were able to slip through a bit of an SEO loop hole and boost search rankings by generating hundreds of back links. Alas, those days are long over as Google has tightened its algorithm and the leading press release distributors have changed their policies to comply. Google is actively discounting content that brands pay to distribute and will penalize unnatural links that appear in press releases.
They aren’t social – Press releases are intentionally straight forward and focused on facts. They don’t usually have a compelling hook that would make someone want to share it with their friends and colleagues. People don’t like to share boring content, so a formal press release is not a great fit for social networking.
On the Other Hand …
We agree that changes in the way news is generated and distributed have altered the press release’s role. While it should not be the cornerstone of a brand’s PR strategy, there are a few reasons that you might want to continue to issue them.
They help get the story straight – Creating a press release is a great way to force all stakeholders to hone in on the meat of the message and agree on how the story is told. The press release helps everyone get clear on the “who, what, when, why and how” of your announcement.
They show momentum – Whether releases are distributed to reporters or simply posted on your website, they give the appearance of a steady stream of activity and forward progress for the brand.
They create a time capsule – Press releases reflect the history of your brand. They tell the story of where you’ve been and what happened along the way. This can be useful for self-reflection or for giving potential customers, investors and employees a glimpse into your past.
Once in a while, they find a target – Relying on mass distribution of press releases as the sole strategy for gaining earned media is clearly a mistake. However, once in a while, a well-crafted release will catch the attention of the right journalist. Releases that are succinct, multi-media, and directed to the people most likely to be interested can be an effective component of a brand’s PR plan.
On the whole, we think that well executed press releases still have a role to play, but as a support for a larger content marketing and PR strategy rather than as a substitute. We’re interested in what you think. Are you still crafting press releases for your brand or clients? If so, what value do you think they add and what are your best tips for making them effective?