Friday, September 21, 2007

Press Releases are here to Stay!

Poor little “press release.” This standard tool of the trade for most PR professionals is getting no respect these days and everyone is calling for its head. In the September 24th edition of Marketing Magazine on page 6 (wow - PR coverage! ) there is a little story by Rob Gerlsbeck about what he describes as an antiquated tactic known as issuing press releases. A very good story with the usual suspects quoted including High Road, Weber and CNW Group.

Personally, I wouldn’t dismiss the art of press release writing and dissemination over the wires anytime soon. For publicly traded companies, issuing material releases over the wire is a must. And as for most large multinationals, this is the best way of distributing timely news announcements efficiently and en masse.

But don’t call press releases “static” as
Kerry Harris does over at Weber. The only thing static about press releases are the people who are writing them. Press release writing is a skill, a dying art quite frankly. Many releases I read have headlines that are weak, lead paragraphs that are verbose, and just too many pontificating CEO quotes for my liking. Releases should focus on news and answer the mandatory: Who, What, When, Why and How. Lazy PR practitioners still believe in the “Spray and Pray” PR model; Spray a release over the wire and pray that someone picks it up!”

A press release is just a tool, that’s it, not a strategy. Social media is not going to kill off press releases or wire services either. That’s just silly. Just like the advent of television didn’t kill off radio, and the Internet didn’t stop people from watching TV.

The press release is here to stay. Bad writers should kindly exit their premises.


ZoeyBella said...

Press release writing IS a skill - sadly, not everyone is good at it. I always find, as a writer, that it's much easier to read a well written press release and use it, than to have to suffer through a poorly written one.

And no, I doubt very much that press releases will go to the great beyond any time in the near future.

Martin Hofmann said...

Bad writing is bad writing. Of course it would be nice to see more press releases that are a joy to read. But that complaint is as old as the press release itself, and it will still hold true years from now.

The press release is not dying. It is adapting. Because, like you say, Julie, it is a tool. But thanks to the Internet, the reading habits of people are changing and the “PR toolbox” is getting bigger and bigger. The press release as the “standard tool” has made way for other options in some situations, and is capitalizing on the benefits of Internet technology in others. The only thing that needs to die is the perception (and usage) of the press release as a convenient one-trick pony.

The real trick is to understand all the choices that are available to PR practitioners today, and deliver great creative content for all of them.

Julie Rusciolelli said...

Thanks for your comment Zoeybella, I can only imagine the volume of poorly written releases you must read each day!

And to your point Martin, a press release is just one tool in our PR toolbox (a very important one indeed) that is adapting. In the article it states that Edelman sends out two releases: a corporate one and one that is roughly 200 words in point form for delicate bloggers who can't read more than 600 words. I call that a media pitch, we've been doing that for years! Nothing new here. It's all about content, not the delivery system. I'd like to see schools teach how the Internet plays in the PR/media ecosystem, but put an emphasis on writing and creativity --not the plumbing.

Christine Smith said...

We teach students how to write news releases based on the 5 Ws in two different courses. Each semester, I get a kick out of comparing the theory to the practice when students download and critiqe actual releases on,say,CNW. Far too many are verbose, full of irritating adjectives and contain leads buried in the fourth paragraph. Yet they keep getting churned out.