There is no doubt that the way we get our news has changed, with push notifications for breaking news to e-papers for your daily dose of current affairs. The way the media gets its news has also changed and in this dynamic environment of shorter, crisper stories, hanging by the tenterhooks is the faithful press release. A press release is traditionally two to three paragraphs long and contains all the information the media will need to run a story. They are usually sent in bulk to reach a wider audience. It traces its beginnings in 1906 and has served as an effective, inexpensive tool for information. Recently, many have questioned whether the press release has outlived its purpose and utility. Is it merely a relic of the simpler times? While some have outrightly rejected the idea, some believe it is time to bury the release with the other obsolete tools.
Time is Money
Experts have correctly termed the current generation as snacking, not consuming news. We get bits and bytes of news throughout the day and more often than not, in real time. In such a scenario, where the media is chasing stories as they develop, no one has the time to go through a paragraphs that are mass-written and aimed at no one in general. The media gets hundreds, if not thousands of such press releases and it is highly improbable that they read all from start to finish.
Releasing news without a release
The last US presidential elections were a major case study for any PR professional. One of the things that caught everyone’s attention was that the majority of news was broken through modern channels like Twitter and Facebook and the releases were only used to provide context. Hillary Clinton’s website did not even feature a press release tab and while Trump sent out releases sporadically as opposed to the traditional several press releases a week schedule usually followed by candidates. Similarly, celebrities and brands are also increasingly using innovative platforms to announce news, using the release for just contextual reference.
Press Release 2.0
There are some in the industry who still believe that the press release is relevant if it reflects the changes of the time. A release that is packaged as a pitch to provide an angle for the reporters is guaranteed to attract more attention. The release must be customized and be targeted at the intended audience. In fact, apart from SEO optimization and page rankings, press releases are especially important for technical product announcements. PR firm Wildfire conducted a survey 100 press releases across 5 key technology sectors to determine their efficiency. It was found that it worked extremely well to communicate factors such as the key message (98% of coverage included this), direct quotes from a company spokesperson (82%) and a link back to the business’ website (46%).
Brevity, Optimality and all that jazz
Dead or alive, there are somethings that a press release cannot be- long, arduous and jargon-filled. It is not a mere culmination of facts but must convey the story that hooks the audience, in this case, the media. We must remember that Google only displays the first 50-60 words of the headline and we have to make it count. Use the next 4 paragraphs to tell them why the reader or the journalist should care about the company news. In an era where the audience is highly informed and sometimes impatient, a release that beats about the bush will get lost in the crowd.
What replaces it?
There are some viable and widely used alternatives to the press release that have emerged over the years. Social media channels like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter serve as personal mouthpieces giving it a more personal touch and are being used extensively to make important announcements even by government offices. Blogs are a more informal mode that keeps the long form but are not restricted by format and language. Last but not the least, is probably the most important trend so far, content marketing. Using content in various forms to create awareness about your brand. This combines storytelling with the facts and makes it one of the most effective modes for creating awareness.
While the traditional press release may be dead, the concept of providing a written document for the media may still be alive in other forms. Many companies still use a press release to deal with controversial situations where an interview may prove to be explosive and a shorter version fails to provide the complete picture. If the company is reeling from an image crisis and wishes to set the record straight, it helps to put a release on record. That way, there is no ambiguity in the media about the official position on the matter.
When Ivy Lee wrote the first press release and the New York Times published it, he could have hardly imagined that it would go on to become crucial to the PR process. The press release will always be an integral part of the PR professional’s arsenal but it needs to evolve to keep up with the times. When stories are getting shorter, often supported by pithy hashtags, a page of information might seem excessive and unnecessary. With more entertaining and engaging platforms to capture the attention of the audience, the release may well be a relic of the old days where news traveled slower. But in the digital age, it must adapt or perish.