“The press release is dead.” It’s an assertion bandied around communications and PR circles on such a regular basis nowadays that whatever serious point it means to convey is ignored by many, a bit like moral outrage on Twitter.
As a discussion point it is worth raising, though. The emerging consensus amongst many senior comms professionals such as the government’s executive director of communications, Alex Aiken, appears to be that the news release is very old school and that conversation driven messaging via Twitter and the like is the way to engage with the media and directly with your audiences.
That may well be a valid stance in, for example, central government communications, where quick reaction to yet another Twitter storm can be crucial.
But I would argue that although the days when the press release was the prime tool of a comms professional’s armoury have passed into history along with lunchtimes, dot matrix printers, dial-up modems, colour transparencies and the postal franking machine, it still has an important, backroom role to play.
For me the ‘press release’ is about capturing the story. It’s where all the main components and the detail of a story are marshalled, where the story is nailed down. It can then inform a whole raft of communications tools – social media tweets, thought leadership articles, story pitches direct to contacts, as well as web copy and direct marketing materials.
The release is important because it allows you to get to the nub of a story, to clarify in your mind what the angle is and what you need in order to communicate that story in the right way to the right audiences. Once that is clear then you have a solid story platform which can be mined for content to be adapted to a wide range of communications channels.
More often than not the press release still needs to be released, it’s just that in my view, especially with proactive rather than reactive PR campaigns targeting specialist audiences, it’s better to focus first on precise targeting of a story to a specific audience, using content that is tailored to exact requirements of media outlets which are used by that audience. The release can be used to help create that content and can always be brought out from the background, polished up and distributed to your media list when that targeting has resulted in coverage.
For me, reports of the death of the press release continue to be exaggerated. Although it’s not at the centre of media relations any longer it continues to occupy a central backroom role, acting as an information source for a raft of communications channels.
Social media conversation may be an increasingly important part of modern PR and communications but those conversations don’t happen unless there is a story at the centre that people want to hear.
And articulating those stories as fully as possible in a ‘press release’ before targeting your audiences through a range of current channels is still a crucial part of the process.