Nov 8th 2018

The press release is dead, long live the press release!

good news is coming, sign on lamp post

For the past few years, PR professionals have been proclaiming that the press release is ‘dead.’ Yet despite this mantra, thousands of releases are distributed every day. So is death knell really sounding? And, more importantly, are press releases still a valuable tool to use to gain publicity?

Content is king, and news means news

Much of the debate stems from the fact that not all press releases are created equal. With most journalists receiving hundreds of emails a day, grabbing their attention in the first place is challenging enough. Add this to the fact that reporters spend less than a minute reading each release, and it’s clear that for a press release to be converted into coverage, it needs to really stand out.

To achieve this, content is key. As PR professionals, our role is to critically evaluate what makes a good story, so when advising on whether to put out a release, we should first ask ourselves if the news is actually interesting, and actually news.  If it is, how can we align it with market trends to further bolster the story? Are there experts or customers we can cite to further support our argument? Once we’ve established this, the release needs to be written in a clear and compelling manner, and free from aggrandising statements that will cause skeptical hacks to dismiss the story right away.

Unfortunately, however, this doesn’t always happen. In a Press Gazette/PR Week survey, for example, journalists griped that “lots [of PRs] do not know what makes a news story, omit essential information, send releases claiming to be news when they are weeks old…” As a result, many have become frustrated with the medium, feeling that it’s no longer fit for purpose.

The PR who cried wolf

These frustrations are often compounded by poor targeting, with releases being sent blindly to a list of journalists irrespective of their interests or areas of focus. We hear from journalists that this happens on a daily basis, and can cause them to miss good stories. It is therefore critical that press release distribution lists are highly targeted, and journalists aren’t spammed with irrelevant content.

Providing interesting and focused stories in turn helps build reporters’ trust in the content we provide, and incentivises them to open emails and answer calls. Think of it like the boy who cried wolf – if you only ever send bad releases, no one will listen to you when you send something good.

Relationships, relationships, relationships

In a similar vein, having good relationships with journalists can also make a significant difference to the success of a press release. This is something we firmly believe in at Babel, and we hear time and time again that journalists are much more inclined to read releases from PRs they know and trust. In our digital age, where it’s a hurdle to get someone to even open your email, real, human interaction should not be underestimated.

This human interaction should also extend to having real, meaningful conversations with journalists about news stories, and not just relying on emailing out releases. Yes, some journalists express frustration with phone calls, but often this is because they’re spammed with irrelevant, untargeted interactions (see above). Giving reporters a heads up on an interesting story, and speaking to them in clear terms about what makes it interesting, can be instrumental in securing coverage.

Having these conversations also provides journalists with the opportunity to dig deeper into the story, and go beyond what’s written in the release. Interviews with spokespeople can be arranged ahead of the news being announced, and often leads to much more in-depth pieces being published. However, having a release handy to send a journalist after these initial conversations is undoubtedly helpful, as it can consolidate the key points, and serve to incentivise them to engage with the story.

While press releases have undoubtedly (and in some instances deservedly) got a bad rap, they can serve a valuable purpose, and can still help to publicise new products and company developments. But for press releases to be successful, it is critical that they are interesting, targeted, and not just emailed out on a whim. Without this, we might actually see them die once and for all.

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