We get asked about whether or not the press release is dead all the time. At the risk of sounding like former President Clinton, it depends on what “dead” means. If dead means no longer fulfilling the purpose for which it was originally intended, then, yes. Press releases are dead. If you think dead means we shouldn’t do them anymore, then we’d argue they are still alive and kicking.
Press releases were originally intended to get news in the hands of the media. They were typically shared in bulk, by mail, wire service, fax, and more recently, the internet. Media outlets would “pick up” a press release and either share it in its entirety or more often modify it into a more original story. This worked fine when information was available by the trickle. Now, journalists have access to a firehose of information. Putting your news in a press release and uploading it to an online wire service and hoping that you’ll get press coverage is a bit like throwing a pebble into the ocean. No one will ever find it.
Press releases haven’t been particularly useful for generating earned media for quite some time, but they did become very popular, and effective as a search engine optimization tool. Keyword stuffed press releases could drive search ranking even if they were never picked up by a single media outlet. But alas, Google caught on to this search hack and rendered it essentially useless.
Press releases for bulk media distribution or for SEO really are pushing up daisies.
So does that mean you can cross press releases off your to-do list? Not necessarily. They can still fulfill some useful purposes. Here are a few reasons to keep on crafting them:
- They help you get your story straight. A well-written press release requires a crisp message and thoughtful attention to the details. When your organization has news, there is great value in going through the exercise of creating a release. It will also help everyone stay on message.
- They create a timeline of your organization’s history and indicate momentum. Even if the only place your press release ever lives is on your website, they serve the valuable role of letting visitors know what your brand has accomplished over time.
- They are a great asset to share as part of a targeted media pitch. Throwing your release on the wire and hoping for coverage is a terrible strategy, but once you’ve engaged with a media contact who writes about the type of news you are announcing, a press release is a good supplement to the other information and access you will provide.
While they aren’t what they use to be, press releases are still an important tool of the trade. It isn’t so much about whether they should be used, but more about how and why. Like Miracle Max said in The Princes Bride, “There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead.”