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Laura Pevehouse Thomas

The Press Release: Zombie Apocalypse Proof

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Has it already been six years since Tom Foremski’s “Die! Press Release! Die! Die! Die!” rant made such noise? And yet, the press release is still not dead. Perhaps it has moved to the realm of the undead.

And while zombies are quite popular these days, the press release is still not without its haters. I, myself, don’t exactly hate it, but I have come to ponder if public relations professionals should just walk away from it.

Why continue to argue with marketing professionals who look at a press release as collateral for the sales teams or simply additional online content to raise search engine rankings? Why beat our head against that wall trying to explain that it should only be used to announce actual news?

The Age of the Social Media Press Release

After Tom’s blog post suggesting the old-style formula release be replaced with a new media age version that had special sections and would “tag the information so that as a publisher, I can pre-assemble some of the news story and make the information useful,” there was a valiant effort to resuscitate the press release for new media outlets.

Social Media Press Release Template - Shift Media

A lot of effort went into discussing how to make the content of a press release more interactive and compelling. Todd Defren and the good folks at Shift created a template for it. And Chris Heuer, founder of the Social Media Club tried to bring a larger community together to build on that template. New businesses like Pitch Engine were founded and all the old wire distribution services were eventually forced to incorporate new elements to keep up with the competition.

Did this usher in a new era?

Ian Capstick checked in on the progress of this movement four years later in a post for the MediaShift blog and said “It seems there’s still work to be done in making the social media release a new standard in public relations.”.

Yes, a lot of work, I’d say. And the larger the organization, the harder it is to produce. As an example, someone on the product team might be responsible for photography and video creation. Someone in a marketing team could be producing videos, too, along with other campaign assets. This could include social media elements like a blog post, or there could be a separate social media team that is creating those, as well as Facebook elements. Or, the PR lead could even be writing a blog post and tweeting about it. And who’s in charge of getting the product photos on Google+ and Pinterest?

All that to say that creating a social media press release in a large organization is the proverbial cat herding exercise. It’s a lot of effort to create a press release with the type of multi-media and multi-social network elements Foremski wanted and I’m not convinced it’s worth it. Capstick spoke with one PR agency president for his 2010 post who said, “I don’t think the news release is dead. It’s still a useful communications tool. But that’s what it is: A device that helps tell a story”

What Journalists Really Want

So it tells a story, but to whom? The main audience that public relations people generally try to reach is the media – be that the traditional mainstream variety or the influential blogger variety. And press releases sent on the wire are not reaching that public. At least not with any effect.

For the past six years PWR has surveyed journalists to learn about their news release preferences and in both 2011 and 2012 results, most respondents told them they “never” get releases via wire service. Their preferred method to receive information is that old workhorse email.

PWR Journalist Survey Results

As best I can tell, this is primarily a survey of American journalists, but even as some of the percentages might change around the globe, I’d be surprised – based on conversations with my global colleagues – if wire service overtook the lead in any of them.

But, there is still one group that seems to find getting a press release out via wire distribution very important – the marketing professional. My next post will take a look at another undead topic – that of public relations vs. marketing.

Note: While I currently sit in a public relations role, I have worked on the marketing side of this aisle, too; so while I’m writing this post with my PR hat on, I do understand what it’s like to wear the marketing hat, as well.

2 comments on “The Press Release: Zombie Apocalypse Proof

  1. As a journalist, I agree with your premise. I also prefer getting press releases via email. But the truth is I am getting close to 400 emails most days. So all too often I’m not seeing the press releases either.

    It would help if PR professionals would NOT follow up for the first 2 days. Give me a chance to read the first release.

  2. I think this is telling:

    But that’s what it is: A device that helps tell a story”

    HELP tell a story. Not tell me a story.

    Regardless of e-mail or news wire source, the problem with most press releases is that when Company X wants to tell a story, it can be counter-productive to a journalist actually writing a story — which may or many not be on message with the story Company X is trying to tell.

    Most journalists can instantly detect what is pure fluff and what is real content, so in some respects, a press release would be better if it just mainlined the critical information up front and left quotes and supporting statements at the bottom.

    More simply, don’t bury the information I need.

    I’ve seen this approach more and more (Dell and Oracle have been dabbling in this style of press release) but it’s not happening enough.

    It’s not about interaction or social media or any of that, IMHO. Just the facts.

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