The press release is on life support.
Do you agree with that statement?
Perhaps it’s a bit severe, but upon reviewing how press releases have changed over the years
, this once crucial PR tool could be considered to be in critical condition.
The concept of the press release dates back over 100 years. Although social media has contributed to a change in how they’re used, most press releases stopped containing news for the audience for whom they’re intended—journalists—well before we were tweeting and posting them.
It’s safe to say that this traditional communication tool has evolved into a content marketing device used by marketers, advertisers, and social media specialists, not just by the media relations team.
Press release 2.0
The press release has splintered into a variety of formats to serve wide-ranging audiences and purposes:
• Traditional releases announce real news;
• Marketing-driven releases chronicle everyday company and brand developments;
• Online releases specifically influence SEO.
Marketers are even writing releases with customers—not journalists—as the intended target audience. We refer to these as “marketing releases.” This newer breed of releases has driven a significant change in how release text is crafted. Many press releases are now written like actual articles, pseudo impartial, crafted to be read by specific customers.
In these cases we are basically eliminating the “middleman”—the journalist—delivering directly to end users our messages, exactly as we want them read. By doing this under the façade of a “press release,” the information often appears more official, timely, and credible.
We must say that along with new “interpretations” of the press release there has been a lot of creativity, transforming a once serious, respected and important tool in the land of public relations into personal letters
, extremely long Facebook posts
, and even cartoons
Pushing the envelope
So where do the liberties taken stop? How far can people push a press release? Here are examples of releases that are complete embarrassments:
• “Moms, are you closet alcoholics who can’t wait till the kids are gone to booze it up?”: This is actively encouraging women already depressed about their kids going off to college to abuse alcohol, while trying to promote a new cocktail. What could go wrong with that? We hope this tequila company—to remain unnamed here—has a good crisis communications plan.
• Action Automotive—Auto Repair Eugene—(541) 686-0191: Why, when, and where would a headline that reads like a phone book be news or even appropriate for a press release? Giving the benefit of the doubt, maybe they have a new phone number? But no, this release is about aerospace engineers and technicians working together at a local repair shop. Confusing, huh?
• BDD Corporation Plans To Utilize Twitter Research: How credible is this? There’s no news, no explanation, and no relevant information, yet this was issued by “BDD Marketing and Management, a breakout company with a fully customizable menu of business options to fit every need.” How can a breakout company issue a press release about a “plan?” Our team is planning to win the lottery—maybe we should issue a release?
• Klein Honda reveals its huge inventory of Honda certified vehicles for its customers: First of all, what gives them the right to say Klein Honda is “the preferred Honda Dealer in Seattle area”—do they have data to back this up? Clearly they’re looking to sell extra inventory, so maybe they should have tied the headline to something timely, such as the economy, or even something fluffy, like Father’s Day.
We’ve accepted that press releases come in different flavors and serve many purposes, but please remember that well-written press releases are far from dead. When developed strategically, their opportunities, appeal, and benefits are expanding along with the groups of various influencers and consumers who rely on them for relevant information.
Please be smart about it, though, and don’t abuse a tool that’s been a staple in our field since the beginning.
Suzanne Mannion is executive vice president and co-founder at full-service communications firm Newsmaker Group. A version of this story first appeared on the agency's blog.