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The press release is dead—or so we keep hearing.
But somebody forgot to tell Sarah Skerik, vice president of content marketing for PR Newswire.
“No one reads press releases?” she says. “I’m sorry, I have data otherwise. People read them by the millions.”
The thing is, press releases can be written well or handled badly. In a session titled “Proving the Value of PR Across the Organization,” she explains that press releases are content that can be widely shared—if you make it interesting and shareable.
“People are tweeting the daylights out of press releases,” she says.
Her comments come as many in public relations express doubt about the value of the press release. In a recent piece for the HubSpot blog, a former Newsweek reporter states that he deleted nearly every press release he received.
He quotes one industry pro who says: “The simple press release should have died years ago. In my mind, they’re dead already.”
Skerik, however, says press releases keep pulling in readers. Ten years ago, she would have told you that most of the people who will read your press release do so within 72 hours.
Today, press releases accrue only half their reads over the first four days. The rest of the readers continue to find the press release over the next four months and beyond.
Here are some tips from Skerik:
1. Write the way you talk.
Search engines prefer natural language, not jargon or marketing-speak. So do readers. Write naturally and use good grammar, Skerik says.
2. Cut back on links.
Skerik analyzed the worst-performing 500 out of a set of 20,000 press releases to figure out why these were the bottom feeders.
“I did find that the duds almost to an item had a preponderance of links within the release,” she says. “Every other word it seems has links, and it’s really annoying to the reader. And search engines saw it as spam.”
3. Avoid the use of Unnecessary Capitalization.
Copy littered with capital letters “in weird places … are a turnoff for a lot of readers and really will make your press release underperform,” Skerik says.
4. Recognize that content recirculates.
Ever puzzle why a friend on Facebook posted that same damned cat video you saw a year ago? That’s because content now is available to people on their own time frame, enabling them to recirculate it, Skerik says.
What’s old hat to you is new and interesting to the person who Googled it five minutes ago. Treat your press releases as part of your permanent content archive.
5. Always include something tweetable in your pitches.
Fans, bloggers, and even journalists can be willing to your press releases—but not if you make them work at it. Always include something they can tweet or share. Make it easy for them.
“They just hate it when you send a text-only pitch and attach a press release, and that’s it,” Skerik says.
6. How about issuing a press release in tweets?
In September, @AmazonKindle issued a press release in a series of 14 tweets. This allowed followers to retweet the parts that most interested them, such as the music or extended battery life, Skerik says.
She adds that a tweet about music might not have elicited a reaction from her, but because she provides tech support for an out-of-town parent, the tweet about a new “mayday button” for such support caught her eye.
— Kindle Team (@AmazonKindle) September 25, 2013
Caveats: @AmazonKindle lost an opportunity by not including additional images or media with every tweet, Skerik says. We at Ragan Central also noticed that at least one irritated Kindle follower responded to the stream of tweets with the words, “BLOCK FOR SPAM.”
7. Feed your influencers.
These hungry critters require regular doses of information to survive. They thrive on attention, and multimedia content is their favorite snack food. Exclusives make them purr.
“Give them the star treatment-give them the media treatment-and you will win an enthusiast for life,” Skerik says.
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8. Interaction matters.
The Google algorithm has moved beyond merely scanning pages for words, Skerik says. Google now places a high value on people interacting with your content, and this can include old press releases.
Do people like the content? Do they link to it? Are they interacting with it? Do they continue to share it over time? That’s how you gain visibility in searches.
Russell Working is a staff writer at Ragan Communications.