IN DEFENCE OF THE PRESS RELEASE

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while. A recent podcast reminded me. Speaking on the podcast (regretfully not bookmarked and now lost), PR man Mark Borkowski pointed out that the Daily Mail gets 20,000 press releases every week. The average cost of creating and distributing a press release is in the region of £600. The mind boggles even before you do the sums.

For Immediate ReleaseSome people have started to call time on the press release. What started with a few dissenting voices is becoming a choir. The detractors claim the press release’s best days are behind it, suggesting it’s time it made the ultimate sacrifice. With younger and more nimble social media posts as alternatives, the press release should accept the march of progress and stand aside. To be fair, at 106 years old, there would be no shame if it decided to wave a white flag. However, those calling for its demise are misguided at best.

The PR industry is mis-managing and reducing the press release to junk mail, complete with irksome junior telesales support.  Low on news and too often misdirected, the industry is refashioning the press release as an unloaded blunderbuss in a world that requires marksmen. None of this is the fault of the press release, of course. In the right hands, the press release remains an effective weapon. Rather than pension it off, it might be more beneficial to retire some of the legions of PR folk who think the best way to be heard over the noise is to shout louder and more often.

The press release is more than a written attempt to convince a journalist to cover a story. It is a matter of public record, an official acknowledgement of an event from the source. Taking that a step further, the press release is a compliance tool for publicly-traded companies with a responsibility for transparency and a need to comply with selective disclosure rules.

Just as important, the press release is the device through which most companies decide what they need and want to say.  There’s something about the act of writing ‘XXX today announced …’ that concentrates minds and brings discipline to bear.  Most press officers carry scars that remind them that drafting a press release is often the final meeting when disagreeing executives decide what was actually decided and agree what was agreed. Social media posts just don’t measure up as corporate decision-clarifying tools.

There is not a day that passes that I don’t get at least one email from a journalist, analyst or blogger somewhere in the world asking to be added to the press release distribution list.  I don’t recall a similar request for a tweet or Facebook post.

If and when the press release really has served it’s time, its passing will require the news to be announced via press release rather than a disposable reference wrapped up in 140 characters or fewer.

Share
  • Chuck Ebeling

    An example of what you say about the contribution of a written press release to content: when were were about to announce the acquisition of Chipotle Mexican Grill by McDonald’s in the late 90s, each company’s attorneys were fixated that disclosure required each organization to issue its own press release on the transaction. I argued that this would leave the news media to juggle these statements. So I drafted a final single coordinated news release, blending the two company positions into one. The CEO of McDonald’s was amazed that the PR guy could not do what the attorneys failed to comprehend. So, a single news release satisfied both sides and created a common ground that the companies and the news media could clearly support.