The press release gets a bad rap, and many have been calling for the death of the press release for at least three years.
Despite that fact, I still write and distribute a fair amount of press releases and people are still willing to pay me for this service.
To be fair, I’m a proponent of the use of social media in business communications and am very involved in my workplace in helping to integrate the use of new tactics into our PR plans for clients, but the press release as a tool has been unfairly maligned for the simple fact that not all press releases are created equal.
Unfortunately, many of the characteristics people point out as good reason for the death of the press release simply exemplify bad press releases.
What a press release is NOT:
- Hyperbole — A post on Copyblogger by Muhammed Saleem dismisses traditional press releases as “spammy” since they rely on hyperbole to “shamelessly promote a company’s product or service.” If a press release has to rely on hyperbole, excessive adjectives and exaggeration to communicate something, then chances are good that what the company is trying to promote is not newsworthy and should be advised against issuing a press release.
- Entertainment — Sorry, but the first priority of a well-written press release is to inform — and inform quickly. The old joke that newspapers are written at a 6th grade level should also hold true for press releases. They should have tight word economy and rely on what my journalism teacher referred to as power verbs — most any verb other than is, was, are, were, etc. (These are examples of plankton verbs — bottom of the verb food chain :)
- Repurposed marketing speak and/or sales pitches — Ugh. Marketing collateral and/or a sales pitch dressed up like a press release isn’t just blogger repellent, it’s journalist repellent, too. Nobody wants to see your sales pitch cloaked as a press release; it’s just embarassing. As with the use of hyperbole, if you find yourself relying on fancy adjectives and one too many visits to Thesaurus.com, scrap the release and write up another marketing slick, company newsletter article or e-mail blast. But for goodness sake, leave the media alone.
- A Formality — A good press release should obey some basic formatting and style guidelines, journalists obey these same rules, and glaring violations of style will just make it look like you either don’t know what you’re doing, or you’re phoning it in. Adherence to AP (Associated Press) style also deserves a bit of attention and will help secure media coverage since it reads like actual news. Pay special attention to AP style guidelines regarding proper use of abbreviations, datelines, headlines, titles, etc.
While I’m intrigued by new methods of communication, I would hate to think that there are businesses positioned to benefit from implementing a basic PR/media relations strategy avoiding the practice in fear of losing some kind of imagined, cool-kid social media street cred.