Numerous online discussions these days raise questions about the continued effectiveness of the traditional “press release” – or as it is more accurately termed *news* or *media* release (since these communications aren’t intended only for the “press”). The discussions are interesting and raise a number of relevant points about how communicating with the media has changed with the advent of online tools and the proliferation of email vs. traditional “snail mail.” It’s fair to say that the number of traditional print releases *mailed* to news outlets has diminished significantly over the past several years. However,
it is less likely that the *concept* of communicating to the media in some manner has lost its relevance and importance for companies and individuals hoping to share their stories.
In my opinion, I think it’s less important what we call these communications than what we intend them to achieve. If we move beyond the semantics associated with what a traditional “press/news/media release” represents the debate becomes a little bit less debatable. What PR people are attempting to do hasn’t changed: “sell their story.” Doing that may still involve the use of traditional news releases. It may also involve much less formal online pitches via email or social media.
When I teach PR classes I’ve augmented the traditional discussion of “formatting the news release” to focusing on how to deliver the same information via new channels – e.g. email/social media. Much less formal now, but the bottom line is still that PR people need to connect with and compel journalists/reporters to pick up on their stories. Today, while traditional news releases still have their place, it is far more likely that PR people and others hoping to get media coverage will connect with the media via email or via social media.
Still, while most of these pitches are far more informal than they used to be, there is still a place for the “traditional” media release. For one thing, it can be useful for many organizations to have an online repository of their releases available to the media and other audiences as a source of ongoing information. Presenting these in traditional news release format is still quite common (just go online to any large organization and check out the “news” or “media” section of their web sites). Traditional news releases also are still distributed widely through channels such as PRNewswire, BusinessWire and others (although in my observations these releases are designed more to drive SEO than to generate actual media coverage).
The discussion of whether the news release is dying is really no different from discussions about whether newspaper ads or yellow page listings are dying–or already dead. It’s not really the concept that may be dead, it’s the delivery channels and, consequently, the format of the messages.
The bottom line, as with any other form of communication, is that the audience and objective should drive the format.