Is the Press Release Dead?

Many of our clients frequently ask me if the press release is dead. I used to answer “no.”

But now, I answer that question differently. If you define the classic press release as the best way to break news, capture a reporter’s attention and tell the best story, then it is definitely dead. It died long ago.

Instead, the press release has been reincarnated to serve a new purpose on limited occasions. It now rarely breaks news. Instead, it provides additional context to news. If a media pitch is like a party invitation (“Will you cover my story?”), then a press release is like a follow-up thank you note (“Thanks for your interest; here are more details as you write your piece.”)

Need proof? Let’s look at the political news cycle last week. Candidates in past years used to spit out several news releases each week. Donald Trump’s campaign website still issues news releases, but only about one a day, and some days, none at all. When the campaign drafts a release, it limits them to around four short paragraphs.   Compare that to Trump on Twitter. He often posts more than a dozen Tweets a day to more than eight million followers. The Tweets break news. The releases just provide additional context.

Hillary Clinton’s website doesn’t even feature a “News Releases” tab. Instead, the campaign lists all its news under a “Feed” section, with this recent BuzzFeed-like post “9 Things Every Voter in America Needs to Know About Donald Trump.”

Now, let’s look at the business world last week. The ride-sharing startup Get Me posted this statement about Uber and Lyft halting service in Austin, Texas, directly on Facebook. The post was subsequently picked up in the New York Times. The company did not post a release. They knew that wasn’t the best way to reach tech-savvy ride-share users.

In the world of entertainment PR last week, singer Rihanna announced a scholarship program for foreign students on her Instagram page. The post received more than 199,000 likes. I thought that the Instagram post might be accompanied by a traditional news release. But when I checked the “News” section of Rihanna’s non-profit website, the Clara Lionel Foundation, I didn’t find one. Instead, she posted this video featuring students that will benefit from the program. The video garnered more than 56,000 views on YouTube. It only makes sense. Can you imagine Rihanna fans posting on Facebook: “Check out this news release?”

So if the news release has been reincarnated, it must still have some purpose. When should you actually write a release? And what should it look like? Here are a few questions to ask:

  • Does the story involve detailed facts and figures? If so, a creative video won’t work. Choose a release or infographic to make it easy for reporters to process the information. But don’t send it cold to a reporter. Write a two-sentence email first to gauge interest.
  • Do you want to decline media interviews on a controversial topic? Last week’s departure of a top Theranos executive was announced in a news release because the company didn’t want to make him available for comment, according to The Wall Street Journal. If you are dealing with a sensitive issue, issuing a release or statement may make sense.
  • Do your quotes add color? If not, ditch them and stick to a fact sheet. Marketing-speak and jargon fill news releases and nauseate many reporters. They want emotion, perspective and color.
  • Is your press release optimized for Google? Google only displays the first 65 characters of a news release in search results, so cut to the chase.

I’m sentimental as I remember my years as a TV reporter, crouching behind the fax machine to pick up fallen pieces of that curly paper in hopes of a big story. But those years are long gone. It’s time to let go of the traditional news release like we did fax machines. It’s time to embrace storytelling in the age of Snapchat. Not only is it much more relevant, it’s also much more fun.

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