Call me old-fashioned, but I like press releases. When starting to execute a PR strategy, press releases have served as the central point of crafting the message. Words are chosen carefully, reviewed thoroughly, and approved only if all major stakeholders are onboard. In a landscape where most of the content we produce is like breadcrumbs cast out across social media to be chewed up and swallowed by the birds, a press release serves as the rock, stationed in a place and time, acting as a sturdy documentation of where the story began.
Today, marketers and public relations professionals must balance a wide array of digital media channels and convince executives that these moving pieces are valuable. Naturally, the worth of the press release often comes into question. This question is one worth asking.
“In this era of hyper-customization, people don’t want to see the same news that everyone else is getting,” says Darlene Hollywood, Principle at Hollywood PR.
Hollywood points out that even though the age of the press release has passed, marketers hold onto them.
“Press releases are so intricately tied to the profession,” says Hollywood. “People are uncomfortable getting rid of them—it would be taking the main tactic away.”
As brands continue to build strategies aimed at generating earned media, many wonder if this is a tactic to which we should recommit or finally leave behind.
As the public relations and content marketing evangelist at Skyword, I’m tasked with cutting through the mass of information in reporters’ and analysts’ inboxes to spark interest in the company’s latest accomplishments.
This was the challenge that Ivy Lee faced way back in 1906, as he managed the public communication for his client, the Pennsylvania Railroad, in the wake of a trainwreck in Atlantic City which claimed 53 lives. Lee knew that he needed to open up a dialogue with the media before rumors took hold. In the first press release ever, he issued an announcement to all major newspapers and invited them to survey and document the scene. This release became the launch point of the company’s PR strategy. It helped Lee solidify the brand’s side of the story and empower the journalists to provide the best and most accurate reporting possible.
However, as communication got faster and easier over the next hundred-plus years, the honest value of press releases and the power of the medium waned. Most press releases boost company-centric accomplishments rather than highlight transformative events and the ripple effect they have on audiences. For press releases to continue to have value, marketers must keep their excitement in check and focus on the story and the individuals and groups impacted. Once they are published, it’s our responsibility to connect the content with the right owner and communicate why it matters to the audiences they serve.
Like most things, press releases do not thrive in isolation. I was reminded of this last week, as Cision, one of the top public relations software companies, finalized its $841 million purchase of PR Newswire. This acquisition served as one of the company’s largest yet, and the investment sends a message to the brand and marketing community of the value that a press release has in the larger marketing and PR strategy scheme. However, in order for the press release to realize its full potential, it must be accompanied by assets, attachments, and resources that help the media tell their story.
Cision’s own announcement serves as a solid example. The release is highly visual, with the top fold featuring a video of CEO Peter Granat discussing his thoughts on the next generation of content delivery. On the side, readers can download an infographic that outlines the history of both companies, and how the strengths each developed will fit together. At the end, readers are invited to click on the FAQs to learn how the details will impact new and existing clients.
By going beyond a basic text summary and offering a thorough base of assets, brands give the press more to work with and reference within their coverage.
In the digital age, PR experts recommend that brands stop thinking of releases as a company announcement and instead create news stories. However, as much as our role has stretched and shifted on the account of changing consumer behavior and blurring lines within the media landscape, it’s not our job to write news stories. It’s our job to represent our company as accurately and fully as possible and empower reporters to incorporate the brand into the conversation.
What differentiates press releases from news stories is that they are biased, and they balance professionalism with the brand’s voice. Apple nailed this balance in announcing iOS 10. The press release posted the day of the launch offers a subtle sense of enthusiasm toward the truth. The headline describes the software update as Apple’s “biggest ever,” with adjectives like “huge” and “massive” sprinkled throughout the text.
Besides those moments of glee, the release sticks to the facts, showcasing each new feature with downloadable images, app details, and implications for users and developers.
By seeing the magnitude of Apple’s moment, we believe the brand and become excited along with them.
After the train crash in Atlantic City in 1906, the whole country just wanted one thing: the truth. They wanted to understand what happened and why, and how the railroad company would ensure the safety of passengers moving forward. The press release was the company’s attempt at cutting through the pain, loss, and fear, and boiling down the message to what really mattered.
Let press releases always return to that idea and allow us to put the best foot forward as we continue to tell the brand story.