The latest one was a discussion on a LinkedIn group called Public Relations and Communications Professionals. Jay Stancil, a PR person at a college in Kentucky, pointed to a blog post titled “Time to Put the Press Release on Life Support.” It was written by an assistant VP at a PR agency in Colorado.
The piece talks about how useless releases are. In fairness to the writer, she eventually does say that the press release, which more accurately should be called a media release or a news release, can be a useful public relations tool. But take the time to read though some of the comments and you’ll see I’m not alone in disagreeing with her.
The piece refers to a “study of 100 reporters and editors across the country found that 69 percent of journalists spend less than 60 seconds reading the news releases that many of us in the public relations business spend days writing.”
“And for an even bigger reality check,” she writes, “based on my own conversations with journalists about the usefulness of press releases and the level of response I’ve received to news releases I’ve distributed—I thought their figure was low.”
OK, I’m being picky here, but “news releases that many of us in the public relations business spend days writing.” Days? Hours, maybe. Aren’t those of us in PR supposed to be good and fairly fast writers?
And the news release is not an end-all to getting media coverage. Those who use it by simply blasting it out everywhere and anywhere are wasting their time, the client or boss’ money and frustrating media people who are overwhelmed by useless or misdirected news releases cluttering their inboxes.
But more important is to look at why so few news releases get used by journalists.
Some of it is simply bad writing. I had an office-mate who was a beauty writer, and I’d see the news releases coming in from some of the biggest and most prestigious agencies around. So much of the writing was horrendous, and cover letters accompanying the releases or product samples were equally as bad.
Too many news releases are totally self-serving and are of no news value to a reporter.
So many releases are totally misdirected, thanks to the services like Cision that make it easy to create media lists that can be used to e-blast out to the world. But Cision and other media databases are not easy to navigate, and they still require the user to have some knowledge of the media he or she is pitching.
Several months ago I wrote about a great column by New York Times columnist David Segal,who lamented the lack of targeting and judgment by many PR people who use databases to send releases out to the world, regardless of whether most reporters targeted are even remotely interested in the subject of the release. Check out the article. It should be a wake-up call for too many in our business.
Media list development is grunt work – boring, time-consuming, not glamorous. But it must be done properly rather than the lazy way of clicking on computerized databases. A good media list forms the foundation of media relations – pitching, news release distribution, follow-up and – score! - a placement that we get paid to do.
So please, no more articles and posts and online discussions about the death of the news release. It is – and should be – very much alive and an important component of a comprehensive media relations program. It should not be the sole component, for sure, but it IS still needed.