The Press Release: Dead or Alive?

May 30, 2017

From flirting to Presidential addresses, just about everything about the way we communicate has transformed. Gone are the days of love letters and fireside chats and it seems like 140 character announcements, video messages that automatically delete in 24 hours and status updates are here to stay. With companies taking an increasingly digital approach to communications—both internally and externally—are our PR tactics adapting at a parallel pace?

Let’s take the press release as an example. Created during a much more traditional, and slower paced era of communications, the traditional press release was a valuable tool for firms to share important news with the only conduit to the public available at that time: the press. Yet, we now live in a world where attention spans are small, newsrooms are even smaller and a large percentage of people get their information directly through social channels, so can we continue to justify or even recommend the press release as a valuable PR tactic?

It’s clear that this debate remains a heated one amongst PR pros, media members and brands, which is why I won’t take a specific side, instead I’ll lay out some of the factors that play into the debate, and you can decide if the press release is dead or alive for yourself.

Some People Still Request Press Releases

One of the most common responses an entry level PR person receives as they call down newsrooms for clients is, “Send me a press release and I’ll let you know.” So, it seems that some press people actually want a release to get the relevant information they need to make an informed decision about whether they will pursue a story or not. The question is, is this a genuine response or a tactic used to shew eager publicists quickly?

Press Releases Can Help a Brand’s SEO

It’s true that Google changed their tune on the value of press releases in 2015, when the search engine announced their algorithm would allow companies’ own statements to appear atop searches, which was good news for proponents of the press release. As such, when releases include the right keywords and are distributed using wire services, they can help land higher search results. Yet, some still argue that press releases are not SEO tools and while national publications do pick up releases from the wire, most are relegated to obscure and hard to access areas of the site that get little to no traffic and fail to rank highly in searches.

Investors Want to See Press Releases

A common phrase heard from startup founders is, “Our investors need to see press releases so they know we are making progress,” or “We need these releases to secure more funding.” Like reporters, it seems that the real truth behind this statement is more art than science. While some investors may rely on press releases to stay abreast of their portfolio clients’ progress, others flatly state they’ve never read a release and don’t plan to.

Reporters Still Want to be Pitched

While some assignment desk editors request press releases ad nauseum, it is clear that most reporters still want to receive personalized, topically relevant pitches that highlight why their particular readers should care about a brand. Releases can serve as useful support in these efforts, but at the end of the day, they tend to be too long and full of corporate speak to provide a reporter with the real “story.” Reporters want the information that will help them pitch their editor successfully and complete a story quickly aka bullet points over lengthy releases.

Wire Services Are Expensive

If you are going to go ahead and take the time required to write a press release, it’s important that it is distributed through a reputable channel, which is most frequently a wire service. While there are several “top tier” options they all essentially utilize the same network of publications and portals. They are also all incredibly expensive for a service that may, or may not, be outdated. While a $1,000 price tag may seem small to a large corporation, that same cost could be a major investment for a startup, which begs the question: is the ROI really there for wiring a release?

Whether you believe the press release is still a worthwhile tool or think it’s as outdated as having a land line, what is clear is that having a compelling story to tell is more important than ever. Authentic brands that clearly and creatively communicate their value will be successful and break through the noise.

-Sarah

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