The first press release was disseminated in 1906 about a derailed train in Atlantic City, NJ. More than a hundred years later, public relations agencies are pondering its end. With its demise, many brands are entering unfamiliar territory as new challenges arise in reaching a fickle public.
How Times Have Changed
Press releases once held a monopoly on information. Journalists and editors usually saw new stories first in a one- or two-page document with the Five Ws: who, what, when, where, and why. That dynamic has changed because of the digital revolution, particularly social media. Nowadays, most stories and exposés explode first in the Internet, rather than in press conferences or news reports.
The situation left traditional media to tell news that many in the public already know.
Additionally, journalists and editors are overwhelmed by the amount of mail in their inboxes as an ever increasing number of organizations and startups clamor for attention. They can hardly go through every submission and, unfortunately, press releases are often designed to polish the brand with verbose platitudes rather than help media practitioners understand the story.
Where the News Is
Today, reporters are paying more attention to Facebook and Twitter than their inboxes. It’s where the stories break—often in easily digestible nuggets. In any case, the articles they end up writing often ends up in Facebook feeds anyway, as it has become the predominant way most people get their news.
Numerous brands have taken advantage of the current situation by broadcasting announcements in social media first. While they still send out a press release, it has become a formality, rather than a necessity.
However, the press release is not dead yet. Aside from inertia, there are still valid reasons for its distribution. For one, dry as it may sound, it should still detail important information like the five Ws, which a blog or a post in a social network might not convey. Secondly, it’s still easier to grab high quality photos or videos from a press kit than taking them from an online source. Lastly, releases can be incorporated into a successful online marketing strategy.
Unfortunately, these are all easily solved; the first with better copy and the second with an improved internet infrastructure. In terms of being used in online marketing, press releases take on a different role that’s more akin to a viral blog post. As we can see, the prognosis for the continued survival of a press release seems grim.
Navigating the End
Though the release might be dying, two of its components won’t be going away.
Storytelling: More than the five Ws, it is the story that people and journalists are looking for. A good story is better at changing a person’s beliefs than a dry recitation of facts. Additionally, it is platform agnostic. A good story works in social media, websites, videos, on print or on a mobile phone screen. When your story can be told well, there is no need to fear change.
Media Relations: A press release’s value lies partly in its direct line to the media, a level of access the more general audience-oriented Facebook has not yet penetrated. However, whether a release or a post, a story has a better chance of being picked up by cultivating deeper relationships with traditional media, bloggers, and other influencers. Creating a media network is becoming an increasing necessity.
The press release will eventually be transformed into something very different. However, the principles behind it are still strong and their mastery will be even more necessary.