News Releases: Who Needs Them?

There have been some long, lengthy and actually quite interesting (for communication nerds like me, anyway) discussions in LinkedIn and other groups about the proper terminology for a commonly used communication tool designed to generate interest from the media — is it a “press” release, a “news” release, a “media” release or something else? Truth be told, it probably doesn’t matter what we call it — what really matters, pointed out the pragmatists in the group — is whether or not the desired results are achieved. And that created an entirely separate discussion!

Regardless of what you call it, is the practice of sending out self-proclaiming statements via “snail” mail or, now, email, a thing of the past? Are there better, more effective means of generating media attention? The answer is yes, and no…

First things first. What should we call this thing? Personally, I’ve long felt that “news release” was the most appropriate term, because the use of the word “press” suggests an era in which only newspapers carried news. With the advent of broadcast and, now, online media, the use of the term “news release” seems, frankly, outdated. Some pointed out, though, that the term “news release” is somewhat presumptive, declaring that the information being sent is, in fact, news when those on both sides of the desk (journalists and PR folks) know that this is not always the case. Often these communications are more marketing messages than news. A third alternative: “media release.” I haven’t heard that term used broadly, but I like it. It’s broader than “press,” it doesn’t presume to judge whether the content is truly “news” (that is, after all, the role of the media), and it does encapsulate the audience for these messages — the media — whether they’re in traditional or new media roles. So, my pick is media release and that’s how I’ll be referring to these releases throughout the rest of this book.

But, as previously suggested, what we call it isn’t as important as whether it generates results. And that brings up an entirely different question: “Is the press/news/media release dead?” Do we even need this tool anymore?

Certainly, for small businesses, these releases represent an outmoded means of attempting to gain media exposure. There are a couple of reasons for this:

  • Obviously, the advent of social media and online communication, including access to journalists and reporters, is one reason.
  • Somewhat related is that because of the use of online communication and the ability to literally target hundreds — even thousands — of media contacts with one email blast, there has been a significant pushback from journalists and reporters against these mass kinds of contacts, which really makes the traditional news release rather useless in light of a preference for more focused communication.

What can you do to fill the gap that these tools used to fill? A number of things:

  • Identify and establish relationships with key media contacts in your market — build these relationships by remaining focused on delivering information that is more news than marketing
  • Establish social media sites designed to connect directly with your target audiences (including media). This might include any number of combinations among sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, etc.
  • Develop contact lists of customers, prospects and other key audiences, and communicate with them directly using email, e-newsletters, etc. — but, again, make sure the information you convey is more informational than promotional.
  • Deliver a good product, backed by great service, and encourage your customers to spread the word — word-of-mouth marketing remains one of the key ways that businesses of any size gain marketing traction for their products and services.

What PR people are attempting to do hasn’t changed: they want to sell their story. Doing that may still involve the use of traditional news releases. It also may 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 focus 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 those seeking media coverage 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 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 websites).

Traditional news releases also are still distributed widely through channels such as PR Newswire, BusinessWire and others (although in my observations, these releases are designed more to drive search engine optimization (SEO) than to generate actual media coverage).

The discussion of whether the media 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.

(Excerpted from 21st Century Secrets to Effective PR: Tips and Best Practices for Gaining Media Exposure)

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