Blogger (www.wordofrod.com) and director of communications for a New Jersey-based marketing firm Rod Hughes wrote a blog today titled, “The press release is dead; long live the press release.” Since the press release was a huge part of my undergraduate PR Copy and Layout class, I was intrigued by the title and found a nice take on the more or less defunct role of the press release in today’s digital media age.
I cut my PR teeth on writing press releases. In fact, I’ve written several in just the past few months that I have seen result in articles in magazines and newspapers, so it is a little hard for me to swallow Hughes’ assertion that the press release is on virtual life support and we should sign the papers to pull the plug post haste. But I can see his point. Hughes says, “As a former journalist, I know traditional press releases hold little or no value for the audience it is intended to reach.” True enough. I think many times PR pros write as though they are writing for the publication themselves instead of to the editor or reporter to whom it is being delivered. This often turns the press release into a flowery, fluffy sort of advertisement for their client, event or product instead of engaging the reporter into checking out more and producing a piece that is tailored for their publication’s audience.
Hughes goes on to say, “While the press release is intended to sway the media and point out perceived news, it rarely does. It’s meant to tell a compelling story and often falls short. It’s meant to capture a journalist’s imagination, and often ends up the butt of a newsroom joke. And in an age of ever-faster moving reporters, bloggers, broadcast producers and bookers, the press release simply takes too much time to read. The press release is traditionally a print medium too long by half trying to make it in an increasingly digital world.” Good point. With the increasing demands put upon journalists, brevity on our behalf is absolutely essential.
But does this mean that the press release should be fitted for a casket? Not so, says Hughes. “A press release, in its best form, serves as short news blurb and quick reference guide for the media professional to whom it is delivered.” He suggests that press releases should not be a promotion of your client. It should instead be a tantalizing, short piece that is a follow up to your initial communication pitch, i.e. email, phone call, Tweet, etc. This is an absolutely critical component of the press release that is almost always overlooked. After all, this is public relations. We look at the long-term relationships and developing those individual relationships with journalists is necessary to get your message out to the best audience for the best return on investment in time and money.
Another point that Hughes makes, that I am ashamed to admit I hadn’t really thought of before, is to include hyperlinks within the press release so that journalists have instant resources at hand to get more information or fact check. Making the job easier for the journalist works a long way in developing the kinds of relationships that get your message published!
One last point from Hughes. He suggests that, “A press release needs to lead with the benefit readers, listeners or viewers will receive if it becomes the basis of a story.” I think this flies in the face of the inverted pyramid that we have all been taught. On the other hand, don’t bury the 4 W’s and the H! Remember, we are making this easier for the journalist to run, not harder.
Anyway, despite Hughes’ doomsday headline, the final word in his post is that the press release should be modified and streamlined to remain a viable method of communicating with journalists. After all, the Titanic was a pretty solid ship, but if it had been streamlined to make turns better or modified to contain water over E deck, James Cameron might not have become a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence (really?! I suppose next Spike Lee will be introducing children’s programming on PBS).