The press release is dead (again)

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If the humble press release could talk, it would probably borrow from Mark Twain and say something like: “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” We hear of the death of the press release on a regular basis, and at a conference last week, Twitter's VP of marketing and communications Gabriel Stricker, called on the mostly PR agency crowd to bring an end to irrelevant press releases.

Stricker even went a step further and urged agencies to “stand up to your clients in a moment of courage and say: “What you don't need is yet another milquetoast press release.” Rallying words indeed and on many levels, music to my ears. Yet, while I have been known on many occasions to discourage clients from tasking my team and me to draft releases, experience has taught me that this is not a discussion clients particularly want to have. Many would much prefer that we set fingers to keyboard and get on with drafting said milquetoast release.

When I've probed further at such insistence, I've heard responses including:

“Our CEO is old school, he wants a release and won't be satisfied until he has a document he can edit himself.”

“The sales team are asking for a press release they can send to prospects.”

 “We just need something to put on our web site. We understand the media won't be interested in this story.”

“How will we get media pick-up without a press release?”

“We want the SEO.”

Of course, not all companies are so entrenched in a format that originated in the days of manual typewriters when copies of press releases were delivered by mail to smoke-filled newsrooms. Some companies, like Facebook, have long used their own blog instead of press releases, to share product and company news. It should go without saying that public companies (including Facebook) are required to share potentially market-moving news using any effective broadcast service, including newswire services like BusinessWire or PR Newswire, and as of last year, Twitter and Facebook are also deemed adequate. Really, there's no reason to rely on the tired old press release.

Alternatives have been proposed: take Prezly for instance, which offers a dashboard for journalists and PR folks to use to post social media press releases. One of the things that I like about this format is that you are forced to include pithy bullet points, not endlessly re-worked sentences - edited by thousands - which no longer make sense to man nor journalist. There are analytics to boot. However, I'm not so sure of the adoption levels and when I've suggested this approach to clients, I've been met with various responses (see above).

In a nutshell, targeted email pitches, supported by content on a company's web site or blog, can just as easily do the job of a press release. And it should go without saying, that all that matters is THE STORY… if you have a great one, people will want to hear it. But remember this, putting boring data points into a press release format does not a story make.

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