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18 April 2012 – The comms dept today called on the public relations industry to call time on the bullying and harassment of its oldest and hardest working ally, the press release.  More sinned against than sinner, the press release has been undermined first by early integrated communications campaigns, then online news sites and, more recently, social media platforms.

“Not a month goes by without someone suggesting the press release takes its pension to be replaced by blogs and tweets. One PR consultant has suggested we ‘re-think the press release’. Here’s a thought. Why don’t we rethink public relations which has been inadvertently undermining the press release for years,” said a spokesman.

The systematic ill treatment of the format began in earnest in the mid 1990s, when ‘integrated communications’ became fashionable. Many organisations got confused, believing that sending a press release to every stakeholder and audience, internal and external, meant they were integrating their communications.

At the turn of the new millennium, with the dot com bubble at full stretch and the number of online news aggregation sites growing, press releases were issued in increasing volume as PR agencies and their clients tried to pump press coverage stats and stock market valuations.  At around this time, many stopped using the term ‘news release, mostly because they seldom contained ‘news’.

Now in the social media age, companies are experimenting with blog posts and tweets as an alternative way of making corporate announcements.  Aside from the fact that this approach risks breaching selective disclosure rules among publicly-listed companies, a press release should engage a journalist to write a story, not the world at large.  Few journalists will consider a widely available tweet or blog an ideal cue to follow up a story.

The purpose of a press release is the same today as it was when Ivy Lee, working on behalf of the Pennsylvania Railroad, issued the first ever release in 1906. It was in the aftermath of a major train crash in Atlantic City, New Jersey and the agency wanted the newspapers to cover the tragedy with accurate, verified details. The press release was born.

The only audience for a press release should be the press.  Other forms of collateral, including social media platforms, are available for other audiences. Journalists, meanwhile, often tweet links to their published stories.  In all likelihood, they’ll have more followers than the PR account, so let them do the tweeting for you.

In the days when each press release had to be put in an envelope, sealed and an address label and stamp attached, PR teams took great care over distribution lists. We called it targeting.  Sending an email might be less time intensive, but that doesn’t mean that the targeting is any less important than it was then.  Some forget this, deciding it very little trouble to add a few more journalist email addresses to the email circulation.

Finally, as the sheer number of press releases has grown, the quality and levels of newsworthiness they carry has fallen, with untold crimes against the English language committed regularly by press releases writers. US technology companies have been primarily responsible for this.

“It’s time to come to the aid of the press release and to show some respect for a format which is over 100 years old and upon which the public relations industry was, in large part, built.  Just because social media is gradually replacing traditional newspapers doesn’t mean that a well written press release with real news can no longer deliver the press coverage a business wants,” added the spokesperson.