A research brief from MediaPost this week brings up, yet again, the issue of the press release -- is it a dying dinosaur? Nearly half -- 49% -- of the professional communicators polled said releases are "as useful as ever."
I've said it before and I'm saying it again: the news release is not dying. It should not be the full extent of an organization's relations with the media, but it remains a useful public relations tool that supports other p.r. tools and tactics. What is changing, though, is how the news release is used.
For the most part, the days of the mass-distributed news release are waning, and for good reason. For too long, p.r. departments and many p.r. agencies populated by inexperienced people who don't know better have been blasting out news releases indiscriminately. I suppose the attitude is if you throw enough stuff out there, some of it will stick. Email has made it easier and less costly to blanket the world digitally with news releases.
Media people get frustrated, understandably, when they continually find their mail boxes overflowing with news releases, and we hear many of them complain loudly and frequently about the deluge. It's not that they never get ideas and information that they use from releases. The problem is that so many releases are not properly targeted and, to make things worse, they are poorly written.
P.R. people need to understand the importance of targeting, which should be easier than ever with all the online directories and other tools now available. They just need to take the time to do some research, instead of taking the easy and lazy way. It's our job, as p.r. professionals, to know the media and understand what they want and what they don't want. And today, "media" includes blogs and other social media.
We must practice good journalistic writing. A release should flow so the most important information is near the top, with further details and amplification down below. A release doesn't have to be dull. It can be written with creativity and flair, but don't make a reporter or producer or blogger read through three paragraphs of fluff or "cute" copy before you get to the meat. And always put a date on a release, so the person receiving it knows it's current. (It's PR-101, but I'm amazed at how many poorly written and undated releases I see.)
The news release still serves an important function, but it's not like "the good old days" when you could expect to see your news release picked up verbatim by the media. Today a news release is a tool that conveys information and helps a reporter tell a story. Even when I'm talking to an online reporter or a blogger in whose space I'd like to get attention, if my pitch sparks some interest they inevitably ask me to send them a release. If it's properly prepared, the release gives the information they need in a way that's easy to understand and follow and, if appropriate, easy to use to develop a story by taking sentences or paragraphs or more that convey the information the way the client would like it explained.
So I think, despite the naysayers, that the news release will continue to be an important communications tool. In cases where it's not a good tool, it's probably because lazy or amateurish p.r. people are simply not doing their job.
Long live the news release -- as long as it's properly written and used.