Put the press release to rest

Lock by xserve, FlickrThere’s been a lot of reaction to Lisa Devaney’s blog earlier this week, who argued the press release is here to stay. Sam Phillips, client services director at Battenhall has other ideas.

The press release is dead. If it’s not dead someone should put it out of its misery, it has been abused for far too long.

Often too wordy, a bit boring and clunky – in its most traditional guise the press release has failed to keep up with an evolving media landscape. And it has failed to inspire a lot of journalists. Daily grumbling tweets from the biggest writers across sectors confirm this. And they do our industry no good – it’s the laziest kind of professional PR.

Given that the media are inundated with emails from PR’s, to be heard communications professionals need to think of smarter, new approaches without jeopardising the quality and consistency of the message being sent out.

With that in mind, here are my tips for how to make the press release better, as well as new ways of approaching the quest to spread a message and secure coverage.

Give them what they want

Every contact is distinct and many want to be approached in a specific way. As competition for exposure in print and online increases, thoughtful, targeted approaches make all the difference.

Some of our most valuable media contacts prefer hearing from us on Twitter and WhatsApp while some favour a short email summarising the story in no more than a couple of sentences. Know your contacts and give them what they want, when they want it. We have more access to information about them and their recent stories and interest areas than ever before.

Using this to your advantage is essential. Once interest is secured and the journalist definitely needs more information, a press release could be of value. Or you could send some bespoke information in the body of an email.

Naughty old habits

The press release as a concept still has value, but the form it takes has evolved. Habit and process have become ingrained and can often be favoured over trying new approaches. There is nothing more unhelpful, unsexy or uninspiring for example, than two pages of ‘about us’ company notes at the end of a release. This is the moment to use the mighty link and offer additional information in a concise way.

On the subject of links, go to town with them – hyperlink case studies, quotes and fantastic examples of creative work. If it’s relevant and helpful and makes your client look good, add a link. They will help keep your release short and effective.

It’s time to do away with the corporate sounding company bio and text heavy copy about your spokespeople. These are often copied and pasted in to every template press release and this sloppy approach won’t help you win the affections of the media.

Clunky and complicated

The press release is guilty of being a little clunky sometimes. It often sits as an attachment and can be found topped with a pitch that doesn’t do quite enough to show the journalist the value or relevance of the story to them.

While a punchy and concise release can be valuable, the subject box and first two sentences of your email are the vital first step. Without piquing your contact’s interest, that new product or senior hire story won’t get a look in. Short, concise tailored emails to journalists and influencers are the way to go. They help you develop relationships with the media while building the reputation of the agency you work for.

In conclusion

Moving away from the traditional press release format can help our industry to break bad habits. For too long, badly written releases have been fired out willy-nilly to hundreds, sometimes thousands (I saw the latter happen at a PR agency just recently) of contacts. This is spam and that is something communications professionals should never be associated with.

A well-written press release still has a role to play; it’s just that today it looks different and doesn’t always follow a standard approach. We must be prepared to let go of old, unhelpful habits.

In summary:

A press release shouldn’t always be the default option for distributing news. Sometimes a handful of targeted, bespoke pitches can offer much greater value to your client.

Email isn’t always the way to go. At least half of our successful pitching begins on social media. There is less competition to be heard on social and the 140 character limitations on Twitter forces a pithy pitch. Time pressed journalist’s use this mechanic as a valuable PR filter.

A press release should never be longer than a page and ‘about us’ notes and corporate company bios offer little value to a journalist. Using links is a great way to add extra context without crowding the page.

Consistency of message is still key, as is the sign-off process. Drafting a pitch and a longer form note on your client’s news and seeking their approval is still vital. Use that copy and adapt it for each contact you approach. This will ensure your communications is consistent and relevant.

As PR professionals we should be prepared to constantly try new approaches to capture the attention of a demanding and in-demand media. It is after all our job to give them a reason to care about our news, and without that, what do we have to offer?

Sam Phillips is client services director at Battenhall

  • http://www.prdetox.com/ Richard Glynn

    Hi Sam,

    Lovely stuff. I think despite saying the press releases should die you actually put up a good argument for keeping it – although just not in its traditional form. Am I right?

    What needs to die is the knee jerk response to any communications challenge that insists you should blast out a press release. (We can quietly let ‘social media guru’ SEO spammers crack on with that pointless activity.)

    Personal relevant authentic (initially brief) contact with media and journalists is absolutely fundamental. But the ability to concisely layer brilliant stories in audience-appropriate copy is also a really important skill. And that’s the essential element of a traditional news release that must endure.

    Rest assured the dinosaurs will die out. The frightening thing for me is just how many of them still command six-figure salaries – in top global companies – for pushing out the same old turgid sales dross they always did. Because no-one, apart from the other dinosaurs in their own board room, is listening!

  • Sam Phillips

    Hi Richard, thanks so much for your comment. Fundamentally yes! But I do think there’s an issue around how we define what a press release is / or at least what it should be. Multiple interpretations lead to a lack of clarity which could risk slowing down best practise across our industry.

    Sounds like we’re in total agreement in terms of approach. There are still a lot of long, clunky press releases out there though. And while we often draft those nicely written stories you mention, we never refer to them as press releases. For us, they’re pitches in emails – easy to get at, concise, targeted, relevant and hopefully interesting!

    I think culturally for many, the ‘press release’ today carries outdated expectations with it and for many there is the feeling that certain extras need to be added…when they don’t. It’s simply because that’s how PR was once taught…thanks again for taking the time to comment Richard, nice chatting!