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RIP Press Release?

August 3, 2009

“The press release is dead.”

…….. I don’t think so.person-at-computer1

I keep hearing this, and from some top notch names. The language is pretty strong – from my taking, this means that we have to use other forms of communication and not touch the press release. I take from it that its a useless tool that will not get our message across.  The hype of social media is influencing people in ways it shouldn’t. Use social media in a strategic manner, not in a bandaid approach that it will solve all communication problems.

I think the press release is evolving, yes. We need to use other platforms, ones that enhance the press release. But the actual press release tool is a standard in our industry. It’s not going away. It will be improved upon and made more effective for journalists. That’s where social media comes in – different style press releases – podcasts – social networking.

I’m just not one to jump on the bandwagon because it’s being said at conferences. I think it’s extremely innovative thinking, don’t get me wrong. Should we be using new tools? Absolutely. Should we completely do away with tradtional? No way. Enhance your communications strategy.

What do you think? Is it dead?

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38 Comments leave one →
  1. August 3, 2009 8:05 am

    I agree with Lauren – the ‘press release’ is an industry standard and it will not go away. Yes, standards change and, yes, not everyone is a fan of the press release. HOWEVER, there are far too many things that are served with the ‘press release’ – so making a blunt statement like it’s going away is wrong.

    It can be changed, sent a different way, sauteed and stewed – it will still serve the same purpose as a ‘normal’ press release.

  2. August 3, 2009 8:11 am

    It’s not dead; but I think it should be renamed. Originally the Press were the people that wrote and released the news to the masses. A company or individual would issue a Press release to the Press so that if they were going to cover it, they could publish the story. Nowadays, everyone with a blog is a publisher. So, issuing a press release is not a matter of sending the information to the Press. It’s a matter of publishing the information to the right people. I guess nowadays you could call it a Crowd Release or something.

  3. August 3, 2009 8:14 am

    Hey Tim – I think that’s a really interesting question. Should we re-name it since the target audience has evolved? Should everyone be considered potential press, even without credentials? Something that should be chewed on.

    Thanks for reading!

  4. August 3, 2009 8:14 am

    N – Like your point about how it still serves the same purpose. Exactly. Just because you put mayo on it doesn’t mean it’s still not a turkey sandwich.

  5. August 3, 2009 8:15 am

    I agree with you, Lauren. The release is not dead and I don’t think it will be anytime soon…all that’s really changing and evolving is the matter in which we distribute them because of social media.

  6. August 3, 2009 8:16 am

    As the very bright Rachel Kay (http://twitter.com/rachelakay) pointed out yesterday, “I’ll believe the press release is dead when reporters stop asking me ‘Do you have a press release with more information?'” I couldn’t agree more, as I have heard that question more and more when pitching reporters, especially in the past year or so.

    Perhaps the release is dead as the first point of contact/info as it was long used in the past but has gained new life as a follow-up piece that makes a reporter’s life a little easier?

  7. August 3, 2009 8:18 am

    Lindsay – Rachel is a smart cookie, and I love what she said.

    Do you think reporters are asking for it more and more because of this mentality? That people shove a press release under the doormat because they think it’s not effective?

    Great points as always!

    Nicole – Thanks for reading – we are always on the same page! Your point about distribution is right on the money.

  8. August 3, 2009 8:23 am

    Lauren, I absolutely agree with you and with everything you say here. But the main reason I think the press release isn’t dying is because it’s such a fundamental part of the public relations and corporate communications practice to begin with. You can’t just toss out something that’s defined what we do and how we do it for so long, and something that’s still very much top of mind among communications/marketing executives. Put another way: when something happens at your company, the first words out of the boss’s mouth to marketing/communications are usually “Let’s do a press release…” Simply said, the press release isn’t dead until the boss says something else. That’s a process that requires a significant shift in conventional communications wisdom.

    Sure, the press release is evolving. Practitioners should look for ways to update their releases for different media so that they get maximum bang for their buck, and those industry folks who advocate for change aren’t completely off base. But when something’s as ingrained in conventional thinking and practice as this is, you can’t just toss it out with the morning trash. It may take years – if not decades/generations – to see any real changes.

    @JasonSprenger

  9. @mikeschaffer permalink
    August 3, 2009 8:24 am

    I look at it like a sandwich. Hundreds of years ago, people ate a loaf of bread and considered that a hearty meal.

    In today’s world, we cut the bread and use it as the framework to add in meats, cheeses, veggies, sauces, spices and everything else that goes into it.

    In today’s world, we need the entire sandwich, not just the loaf of bread.

    OK, now I’m hungry and feel like making some promotion magic!

  10. August 3, 2009 8:25 am

    Lauren,

    I still get a good deal of feedback and coverage from traditional press releases I send out. However, most of my media markets are in rural areas. I do agree we need to evolve and adapt to new technologies, though. PR folks can’t assume that we can do the same thing for years and expect it to hold its edge.

    Tim has a strong point about redefining the press release. However, this will require a mindset change for our industry. Those of us who evolve will stay in the fold and those of us who don’t … probably aren’t reading this blog.

    Thanks for your thoughts on this. Glad you brought it up!

  11. Keith Trivitt permalink
    August 3, 2009 8:26 am

    Interesting thoughts, Lauren. Here are my two cents on this very contentious subject within the PR world:

    1. I agree that the press release, as a whole is not dead, but certainly some parts of it are on life support and greatly need a reworking. Like the whole structure of the release. Unless you are in financial PR, which has certain SEC guidelines of how information must be reported, much of the structure of a traditional press release (e.g. the ones we are taught to write in college), are outdated and in need of a restructuring to better fit current reporter/consumer needs.

    2. I’m not sure I would say the press release is a standard in our industry. Why is it a standard? Why can’t we use multiple platforms now to inform and educate without having a true “standard” for the industry? Back to financial PR, some would argue there that the press release is the “standard” in that part of the industry, but when repping a celebrity or a person, I can rarely think of a reason to use a press release, but I can think of many other ways to educate that person’s target audience with information.

    I guess my point is that, yes, I would agree that the press release is not dead. But, I don’t think I would say it is still the overall standard in the PR industry. Personally, I think for many clients, reporters and consumers, there are FAR better ways to reach the public/consumer/constituents/reporters with relevant information.

    Keith Trivitt (@KeithTrivitt)

  12. August 3, 2009 8:37 am

    Keith – My question is, why wouldn’t it be standard? It’s a tool that has been used, and has evolved, over the years. You can’t be a PR person and NOT know what a press release is. Journalists are used to receiving press releases, from my understanding – and many don’t like the new approaches. They ask “Will you send me a press release?” as Rachel Kay said yesterday.

    I do really like your point about educating the target audience – but why not evolve the traditional tools to your approach?

  13. August 3, 2009 8:37 am

    Andy – Digging the point about rural areas. Do you think that we will have to evaluate that as technology becomes bigger? Many small town and urban papers might not like it as much as a bigger daily.

  14. August 3, 2009 8:44 am

    Hey Lauren, I agree with you. I don’t think the press release is dead- I think it’s evolving. The way in which it is shared with people may change, but the content will be the same and it still serves an important purpose.

  15. August 3, 2009 8:44 am

    It’s not dead, like everything else in our communications and corresponding media industries it’s evolving. I say we need to make our tools better and make them work for us in a new environment (no, i don’t mean ‘digital releases’ either) as in did in the days gone by.

    Without question we should be thinking of new tools and figuring out new ways to disseminate content, but declaring the death of an industry workhorse is not necessarily the most accurate move.

    Good post/topic!

    AA

  16. August 3, 2009 8:45 am

    Press Releases are worth something because people still read them.

    Until people don’t read them anymore, they will continue to have importance.

  17. @jeffdonald permalink
    August 3, 2009 8:48 am

    Agree with much of what has been said here. It is definitely not dead, but evolving as the audiences evolve. I do think of them more as news releases than press releases since the object is to make news in whatever forum that may be. That also helps me focus on actually providing something newsworthy in the release and thinking about what takeaways (soundbites, pics, audio/video) my audiences will get from the release. The bottom line is that whatever you’re releasing must have news or no medium will work.

  18. Keith Trivitt permalink
    August 3, 2009 8:55 am

    This may be me waxing philosophically (or being a bit naive), but I actually believe you could be a PR person – and be a really good one at that – without knowing what a press release was (or at the very least, why it was used in the past). To me, a press release is not the end-all, be-all of PR (and of course, I’m not saying that’s what you were saying in your post above). A press release, as you say, is one of many tools that we have at our disposal to inform, educate and begin conversations.

    So that end, I would ask “If you never knew what a press release was, could you do effective PR?” I would venture to say yes. Albeit, you may have to alter some methods, but in my opinion, there are still far better ways to engage conversations and inform than a press release.

  19. August 3, 2009 8:57 am

    Lauren – I definitely agree with Keith. The press release we learned to write in college is definitely dead. Gone are the days of 2-3 page releases full of jargon and lengthy quotes about how excited the CEO is to announce this new product, partnershitp, etc. But is the press release as a tool completely dead? I don’t think so. One thing I love about Twitter is that it’s forced us to share news in a concise and condensed format, and that’s how we need to think as writers when we’re putting together a press release.

    I agree with you too that the press release is evolving rather than going away completely – and social media is definitely a huge part of this evolution. Many influencers have declared blogging is dead, too. I don’t see press releases or blogging totally going away in the near future, rather we’ll continue working together to improve and modify them.

  20. August 3, 2009 9:12 am

    Great blog topic! I’ll keep mine short and sweet. I do not believe the press release is dead but I do agree that depending on your client/industry it might be something people aren’t using as frequently.

    I also think as PR people, we need to be thinking about the IR/Financial side for all of our publicly traded clients. It is important for them to issue press releases for investors/potential customers as well. Often times investors look to company announcements and press releases for a good portion of their information. I’ve seen it happen and it is a big part for some of my clients. We must continue to learn what works best for each client individually and strategically put together plans based on that.

    Nicole (@NicolePRExec)

  21. August 3, 2009 9:15 am

    Great topic. News releases are still VERY much alive and serve a very important purpose. Distribution methods have changed, but the media still need the basic Who, What, When, Where and Why that news releases provide. From a PR perspective, we just have to make sure we are including non-traditional media such as bloggers, podcasters, etc. on our media lists. The days of sending news releases to traditional media only are long gone…That’s my two cents!

  22. August 3, 2009 9:25 am

    I agree with Jeff – I call it a news release because we are using it to announce news. If we’re not, there’s something wrong with our message.

    When I was a reporter, I appreciated having something short and succinct with all the facts as a starting point for my story. And I’ve found today’s reporters all like having something in hand. Despite the new media, traditional media is still alive and shouldn’t be ignored.

    A news release is not the only tool and never has been. But it is still an important way to reach out to the media.

  23. August 3, 2009 9:36 am

    It’s all the rage to declare things dead, nowadays, isn’t it? Blogging, press releases, social media, etc. But, here’s the thing: Just because something evolves doesn’t mean we should write it’s obituary.

    The way we use the press release today is very different than how it was used even just 5 years ago. It used to be that we’d write a press release about *everything.* Now, there are times when a blog post might be sufficient. Also, I find myself writing fewer and fewer releases that get blasted to media lists or the wire; instead, I’m crafting pitches geared to specific reporters at specific publications (or blogs) — and getting better results for clients.

    Rachel’s right, the press release is very much alive because it’s a tool many reporters have come to rely on. However, PR people need to adapt — today’s release isn’t what it used to be. There are other ways of communicating information to stakeholders, including reporters and consumers. The savvy PR person is the one who can find that perfect balance to get the right information into the right person’s hand … whatever the tool.

    Heather (@prtini)

  24. jaykeith permalink
    August 3, 2009 9:44 am

    I think that what the press release originally was, which was a means to get information in the hands of reporters, editors, publishers has effectively died. I’ll tell you why.

    The press release, as an “information sharing medium” is now filled with so much marketing, branding, and PR jargon that it sometimes (especially for you high tech PR folks) can’t even be understood. The simple news release that followed the “who, what, when, where, why and how” rules no longer exist. Nowadays everyone is trying to get their message out, over blowing releases with hyperbole and marketing speak that effectively turn a release that could be boiled down to one paragraph of simple information into a full page. This is why so many journalists and editors simply don’t read them.

    Is it a surprise that it takes a well crafted pitch email, dedicated to the reporter’s beat and coverage area to get interest? No, it’s because the press release (which used to accomplish the same thing) has evolved to be nothing more than fluff. It WAS the industry standard, but then the volume (and lower quality) of them increased by thousands of percentage points, and voila, you have a saturated medium. Reporters still ask for it because they know that’s what companies use as a means to put out their message. A summary email would make them just as happy, believe me.

    I think that the press release has evolved into something much different as companies have found new and different ways to get value out of it. For example, many companies use it for SEO benefits, which can be enormous when done effectively. For many, that’s the only reason they issue them at all. The “news” benefit is essentially zero.

    It’s just like email. When it was new, email was an effective way for PR people to get in touch with reporters and get them what they needed. Now, all you hear is how reporters don’t even check email, and they get thousands of pitches a day. The same thing happened with the press release, it’s effectiveness has been lost completely. I think the only reason that it has held on at all is because there is still an “official” component with it, especially with public companies and the SEC, so that’s why companies keep using it. As long as that doesn’t change, it won’t “die,” but in terms of what it once was, and what it was intended to accomplish, I think that it has run its course.

    Just my two cents.

    @jaykeith

  25. August 3, 2009 9:47 am

    I can’t respond to all, but great conversation, guys! Thank you so much for reading and contributing – you are giving me a lot to chew on.

    LAF

  26. August 3, 2009 10:05 am

    To borrow from Blue Oyster Cult: “Don’t fear the reaper.”

    Seriously. I’m floored by our morbid fascination or obsession with proclaiming things to be dead. PR is dead. Press releases are dead. I saw within the last week that someone has declared that blogging is dying… hmmm…

    I wonder are these declarations about truth or a desire to make a statement that gets attention? Or maybe a desire to incite dramatic change?

    Regardless, I don’t believe the press release is dead. Journalists still ask for them. More than that, many companies have finally gotten comfortable with this mode of communication. As we all know, there are thousands of companies that have not yet embraced the changes in communication and relationship building that we’ve already embraced. Whether we like it or not, those companies are going to write press releases and distribute them until they are ready to take that next step or until their PR person drags them kicking and screaming.

    Take mullets or porn staches for example. Somewhere along the way, someone HAD to have declared them “dead.” And yet, to my amazement, I still see them… people still sport either or both with pride… Apparently, simply declaring something dead doesn’t make it so.

    PR isn’t dead. Press releases aren’t dead and blogging isn’t dying. We simply continue to see changes in the way we do our jobs, the way we communicate and the ways our audience or targets want us to talk with them.

  27. August 3, 2009 10:07 am

    There are some really great and valid points here.

    1) I agree the press release is not dead…Specifically to echo Rachel Kay’s point that I get asked by editors “Is there a press release you can send me?” on almost a daily basis. If the press release were dead, there is a serious missing piece in my specific position as an Account Coordinator as I write, distribute, follow-up on press releases and have received media placements and results we are proud of at my firm.
    2) Journalists are busier than they have ever been. Not only are they performing their job duties, they’ve taken on five other people’s responsibilities at work. I’ve always seen my job as making a journalists life a bit easier. Let us give them thorough and sufficient information in the form of a press release and they can take it from there as they see fit. This echoes Lindsay Allen’s point.
    3) Lastly, press release distributed over the web can do wonders for your clients’ search engine ranking when written properly. This also allows us to reach an audience directly with some client news that perhaps wouldn’t typically/statistically make it into a publication.

    Great discussion Lauren, and all!

  28. August 3, 2009 10:23 am

    Lauren – As we’ve seen throughout the evolution of time, technology works in linear and cyclical progressions. Thus, we see some countries ahead of other countries, and parts of a country ahead of other parts of that country.

    The diffusion of press releases started via snail mail and now is considered dead by many (not me!) In rural America, many media outlets are just now accepting the traditional press release via email! So we can see there is a huge gap between the way a NYTimes reporter may want to receive news and the way Main Street Daily wants (or can) receive the news.

    So we need to continually evaluate the technological capacities of rural markets, how we can best serve them, and educate them on new, more efficient ways of receiving press. What are your thoughts?

  29. August 3, 2009 11:17 am

    I’m with you, Andy. I still send out hard copy press kits – I have 135 Local Groups, and many small publications. They prefer to receive that. Mensa has had hits in NPR, Good Morning America, 60 Minutes…. and we haven’t done a lot electronic. I think you can’t mask good content – or think that the platform depends on it.

  30. August 3, 2009 11:29 am

    Wow, way to start a really great, interesting conversation, LAF!

    I think of all the comments I read, Heather Whaling’s said it best for me: “Just because something evolves doesn’t mean we should write it’s obituary.”

    I’m still writing plenty of media materials, but now they’re full of hyperlinks directing the reader to a Web site, a blog, a Twitter stream, a Facebook fan page, etc., etc., whatever else may apply.

    With social media, there are more ways to connect with reporters. And I think that’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you can catch them on Twitter in case they missed your release in their e-mail inboxes. On the other hand, most reporters are probably not too thrilled at the prospect of being hounded by PR flacks through every possible social networking channel.

    @libbykrah

  31. jaykeith permalink
    August 3, 2009 11:34 am

    Just as a follow up to my previous comment, thought this was a very interesting read by Robin Wauters at TechCrunch today. This addresses many of the kinds of things that I was talking about regarding the content of press releases (especially in tech). I’m not a huge fan of the site, but thought this was an interesting take.

    http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/08/01/10-words-i-would-love-to-see-banned-from-press-releases/

  32. August 3, 2009 3:26 pm

    The press release as we’d know isn’t dead, it’s evolved. Format has changed, but the need for information and publicity hasn’t. I just saw this tweet that sums it up nicely (via @overthinker) “Old-school press releases are kaput but doesn’t mean ‘widespread messaging’ = dead. Did music die when u gave up ur Walkman?”

  33. Kelli permalink
    August 3, 2009 3:33 pm

    Lauren-
    I would agree with you on this post. It is not dead. I personally am over waking up and hearing about the next “dead thing”. We just have to think differently. I will continue to use the press release, but I have moved to a social media release through pitch engine that I have found effective.

    When I think of change, I think of the Winston Churchill quote: “There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction”

    Let’s starting thinking about ways we can improve and stop declaring things dead.

  34. August 3, 2009 4:09 pm

    This may be repetitive (I admit it, I didn’t read _all_ the comments), but…..

    Based on the calls and questions I get from press (even dailies and trade mags) it’s apparent half the reporters haven’t read the document they’ve been sent, even though they begin the conversation with “I saw your press release …”

    I do realize they don’t actually claim to have read it so that may be the beginning of my problem.

    It has gotten to the point where I’m frequently tempted to use a catchy 2 line bit and just list bullet points beneath in the hopes they might actually move their eyeballs across the screen a bit before asking the 5 questions that are answered in the document.

    To be fair, the other half of the calls are for quick calls to get unique quotes and they’ve apparently actually read (and maybe even highlighted) the document so they know wtf they’re talking about.

    All of that being said, heck no, the release will live on, particularly with our current level of technology where nothing online disappears.

    The formal press release, when properly distributed creates a historical waypoint for anyone who comes after. It plants your company’s (or client’s) flag in the sand, declaring “I was here, I did this, Here’s how and when I did it.” For better or for worse. We all want to leave a trail of our time here (or our time in business), the formal release, when well crafted and suitably distributed is still likely the best way to accomplish this.

  35. August 3, 2009 4:58 pm

    I think it’s kind of telling that the people that say the press release is dead are usually the same people that are trying to push their social media release tools as the standard… 😉

    It may not be a “press” release any more, but it’s still a strong and valid part of a PR campaign. While bloggers are excellent for sharing news online as part of a strategy, very few have the ears of CNN, Reuters, etc. A strong PR can get you that.

  36. August 4, 2009 7:02 am

    There was a great conversation on this topic in last night’s #journchat (of which I’m sure you were aware) – the general consensus, which I side with, is that it’s far from dead, it’s simply evolving like everything else out there – platforms and execution are changing – and with new media, it’s becoming much easier to target specific people/communities with your press releases. If anything, the wave of new media and the social web is enabling a more relevant and effective press release.

    Great discussion here – I’ve totally been slacking and have yet to comment on a post here – but have been a subscriber for a while now. Cheers!

  37. August 4, 2009 7:07 am

    Danny – They have to make their money somehow, right? 🙂 But I like you’re point about the PR campaign. Bloggers might be the new trend, but many aren’t journalists with those connections.

    Matt – Thanks for reading – glad you’re a subscriber! I somewhat saw the chat last night – I was working on some freelance stuff. The press release is more effective – if you know how to use it correctly. Many outlets aren’t on the technology train just yet, so evaluation and research are key.

    L

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