Is It Time To Rethink the Press Release?

Jul 31, 2017 Samantha McGarry

Here’s the TL:DR answer: Yes.

Especially if you are using press releases to drive media coverage.

We had a hunch that press releases are in dire need of an intervention. But don’t just take our word for it. We asked 20+ reporters from a spectrum of business, mainstream, technology and industry trade publications for their thoughts about the value of today’s press releases—and, well, they didn’t hold back.

If press releases are the be all end all of your PR campaign, then something has gone horribly awry.”

"Press releases are increasingly irrelevant.”

It’s clear from our reporter research that a press release makeover is very much overdue—especially given the considerable time and resources you invest in planning, writing, approving and distributing them over news wires. So let’s dig in:

What reporters don’t like about press releases

The harsh truth, according to the reporters with whom we spoke, is that most press releases are filled with buzzwords and the information that really matters within them is often hard to find. Here are some of their pithier responses:

  • “So many clichés, and manufactured quotes from analysts and customers. “ 
  • “I find myself drowning in jargon and unable to figure out why exactly what I’m reading is newsworthy.”
  • “It takes so long to extract the facts.” 
  • “They're helpful when they contain actual news but seldom do.”
  • “I can't emphasize enough how frustrating it is to go over a whole press release and not be able to confidently describe the business in a sentence.”
  • “Bluntly, I can tell what's in a release is for the purpose of pleasing an executive.”

But reporters still find press releases helpful

Most journalists use press releases to assess whether something is worth writing about and to find out who to contact for an interview. They also use them for background information and general research. In a pinch—like when faced with a looming deadline or in breaking news situations—reporters say they might write from a press release but otherwise they view them largely as a tool for fact-checking.

Which means, we need to ensure the facts are easy to find and understand.

When a press release is warranted

We’re not suggesting you throw the baby out with the bath water. Press releases remain a core part of the PR toolkit. There are several instances in which it makes sense—or is even legally required—to issue press releases, which include:

  • If you are a public company
  • If there is a capital event (i.e. merger, acquisition, funding, IPO)
  • If there is a material announcement (e.g. change of C-level leadership or strategic partnership)
  • If you are planning to IPO (and need to set a cadence for public announcements pre-S1 filing)
  • If you are announcing a new customer win, major product news or a significant campaign.

For everything else, ask yourself: does this really warrant a press release?

There’s a better way to drive media coverage

Reporters tell us they are bombarded with press releases about things they would never write about. They’d much rather write stories as the result of ongoing relationships, context from executive blog posts, and from well-crafted email pitches that succinctly highlight what’s new and why it matters.

And if you are using a press release to announce something that’s truly new and important, then you better be sure it’s clearly written, to the point, free of buzzwords, with a meaningful quote that addresses the problem and the solution and not “how excited you are.”

  • “I find a good blog post from an executive that has a hint of authenticity is often better than a press release.”
  • “I don't find press releases helpful unless it's really big news. An email and pitch is best.”
  • “Intro chats, coffees, dinners etc. where we can talk freely about the industry is where the value really is. For me the ideal relationship is a free flow back and forth where we can trade what we’re hearing.”
What now?

We’re proposing that press releases return to their roots: a vehicle to provide reporters with the essential facts. Most other news (such as awards, certifications, personnel news, incremental product news, events etc.) can be publicized via your blog, an email newsletter, video and your social channels.

What’s more, these can be directly targeted to your distinct audiences bypassing the media.

The press release is a tool, not a strategy

Press releases are merely output. What your audiences do with the information is what matters. Are they engaging with your content, are they sharing it, are they taking the actions you wish for them to take? A digital marketing strategy that integrates earned, owned and paid media and content is the best path to supporting your business goals. This approach is more targeted, impactful and measurable than any stream of press releases.

Our advice: if you want to secure strong media coverage, reserve the press release for only when it really matters.

Topics: Media Relations, Press Releases, Public Relations, Earned Media
Samantha McGarry

Samantha is the executive vice president of Story Crafting at Inkhouse. Her curiosity for business and technology - combined with her love of semantics and communication - has translated into a 20+ year career in PR.

Read more from Samantha McGarry

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