What did he ever do? He ain’t hurt nobody.
You have to feel bad for the good old press release. Here he was, minding his own business, spreading news about new products, acquisitions and new hires, and then out of nowhere a steady stream of people, relatively new to and not completely familiar with public relations, started to attack him.
Let me explain. This is usually how the attacks on the news release typically come about.
Someone who bills himself as a digital marketing guru graduates from college and spends a year or two working for someone else. Before long, he sets out on his own and starts his own digital marketing business. He quickly learns that “digital marketing” is a limited niche and since there is enough cross-over with PR, and in order to grow his business, he must establish himself as a public relations expert, too.
By this point, he’s learned about the effective use of keywords, and to how to generate traffic with social media and blogs.
On the subject of PR, he is a bit more foggy. To him, PR is publicity, and publicity is part of marketing. PR is simply press releases on wire services. When he realizes there has to be something more, he decides to go beyond press releases, and that’s when he assumes he’s inventing something new.
Of course, that’s not all digital experts. Some know that the field of PR is quite practiced in strategies and tactics that go beyond issuance of press releases. But still, to differentiate and market their own services, some digital gurus feel the need to create the perception that what they’re selling is something no one has ever seen before.
So, in order to do that, they must tear down the profession’s symbols and proven practices and solutions. This all falls under the iconoclastic banner: “This is not your father’s PR, anymore.”
That’s why our little friend the press release is such a frequent target of these digital bullies. Ironically, the solutions digital experts usually offer are in fact things that have been PR staples for more than a few decades. Things like calling reporters, sending them customized pitches, building personal relationships and finding creative ways to get attention through events or mailers.
The one thing that has changed is we can do everything we’ve been doing and more with new digital tools.
While I have to admit it’s rather silly to engage in a debate over the merits of the press release, our old buddy deserves more respect than he’s been getting of late. With this in mind, I’d like to debunk a few myths that have some PR pretenders have spun to try to create a niche for themselves:
Myth #1 – Press releases are only for major news media.
Myth debunked: Press releases are master documents distributed publicly to media, analysts, regulators and others to notify them of some event of development they should know about. The news media is an audience, but it is not always the only audience. They are written in journalistic style for ease-of-use by reporters. Good ones are credible, timely and relevant.
Myth #2 – Press releases aren’t for building relationships.
Myth debunked: As source documents, press releases are effective at helping to build relationships because they provide, in one place, all of the key details of a particular development. This is a solid document on which to base further discussions, follow-up, meetings and interviews. Press releases are effective tools for triggering new relationship-building processes or re-igniting old ones.
Myth #3 – No one wants to read news releases. They are boring.
Myth debunked: Because press releases are usually written in journalistic style and most often tied to some new development, they must meet the “newsworthiness” test. For the same reason that readers read news, viewers watch news and website visitors click on articles, a news release should be and often is timely, relevant and newsworthy. Not all are designed for the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Every news release has its own audience and its own purpose. Keep in mind, just about every (non-crime or disaster) news story you see, at some point, was derived at least in part from a news release.
Myth #4 – Press releases are the only PR tactic companies use to draw media attention.
Myth debunked: Even a PR intern knows that public relations involves more than news releases to attract media attention. As mentioned, we meet with reporters formally and informally, we have events, press conferences, briefings and tours. We line up spokespersons for interviews, not to mention providing video, product samples and test drives. We have done and will do whatever it takes to help connect reporters to the information and experiences they need to do their jobs better.
Myth #5 – Press releases are mutually exclusive from other PR tactics.
Myth debunked: When we do all of the other non-press release activities, we often include press releases as part of the information package. Sometimes, when it makes sense, we don’t. Often as not, we don’t rely on the press release to do all of the heavy lifting.
Myth #6 – News releases are only about the issuer.
Myth debunked: When digital marketers attack the press release, they usually point to the self-promotional tone of some releases. Some may be quite self-promotional, but good ones are not. A good press release centers on relevant information while issued by a credible source. So, for example, if a company involved in conserving part of the Alaskan wilderness issues a news release on that topic, chances are, the news release will be more about the problems being addressed and how they are being addressed. The company serves as a credible source. The news release is not all about the company, but the company is part of the story.
Myth #7 – PR people never call reporters or send customized correspondence.
Myth debunked: Yes, I think we’ve covered this, but it’s worth specifically saying, most everyone who handles publicity in PR has made his or her share of calls to reporters and are quite good at it.
Myth #8 – Press releases are not timed right.
Myth debunked: This gets at the notion that the media only finds out about news from PR people after the fact. The truth is, unless you’re talking about a publicly traded firm that must adhere to strict Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) disclosure regulations, PR people have long used ample flexibility in reaching out to reporters prior to the official announcement of everything from a new product to a major acquisition. The common terms for this are “embargo,” “exclusive,” and just plain outreach to give reporters a heads up.
Moral of the Story
The next time someone tells you all of the proven PR rules and proven PR practices, such as press releases, no longer apply, consider the source. And consider the possibility that you are talking to someone light on public relations experience and with little historical PR knowledge. Buyer beware.