The Press Release: Should We Plan a Funeral or Keep Cranking Them Out?

By on Monday, July 30, 2012

When I first started working in public relations, one of the first things I had to master was how to write a press release. While I wrote several press releases while working for nonprofit agencies as a community activist (thank you helpful toolkit), my first one (for cash) was about a deck of insect identification cards that the university extension service I worked for was distributing to help gardeners. While I’ve come a long way since those first few releases about house dedications, food drives and bug identification cards – the press release remains a key lynchpin of the PR profession.

Many have argued that social media today makes the press release “dead” for a variety of reasons:
– Press release abuse – journalists are suffering under an email mountain of press release spam every day, thanks to the media databases and PR firms that blast out stuff to reporters, regardless of what they cover, just so they can say to a client that they “sent it to x number of reporters.” No wonder they get testy.
It’s an old format. The press release is over 100 years old. The first one was sent out in 1906 to report that 53 people died when a train derailed in Atlantic City. It has seen better days. The old style double-spaced release on corporate letterhead is no more.
 – It doesn’t work for general news story ideas. Duh. Of course, it doesn’t work for “general” news story ideas. “General” is not going to fly in any way shape or form these days. Gives us the details please.
My personal opinion is the the press release is not dead – and calls for its demise are ill-founded. The press release remains a compact way to present information – with the key nuggets up front – and the details following.  But for issuing statistics, event promotion, sharing new information that matters – the press release remains king. For story pitching – a more informal pitch email/note ,social media approach can work – esp. if you are building relationships with journalists.
There are several reasons why press releases are not going to go the way of the dinosaur in the nonprofit community:
– Journalists still use them – even if a few view them as a necessary evil. The press release remains a viable way to summarize information for an event or a recently-released report. In a 2012 survey, 86% of journalists prefer to get releases by email (not wire, not standard mail). A case in point – journalists are having their own internal debate over attribution of press releases – something they wouldn’t be doing if they weren’t using them.
– The format is updated to be more useful to journalists today. Increasingly, reporters are updating blogs and online news websites, in addition to cranking out stories. Today’s press releases are getting multi-media-ized – with links to downloadable images, video that can be re-used or embedded, and connections to social media platforms. Releases are also archived now in online press rooms that are stocked full of statistics and backgrounders that are available 24/7/365 online.
– The press release format can be understood and followed by nonprofit staff and volunteers. There are lots of online sites sharing press release format tips and information. It’s not hard to get a staff member or a volunteer up to speed on press release format – so long as they have writing skills. See this toolkit from Students for Bhopal.
– We are using press releases today to share and write news on our own websites and social media streams. Today, many nonprofits are recycling press release verbiage into their websites and social media streams after an event. The press release structure helps us keep information succinct and relevant. Today’s social media tools give nonprofits the ability to issue their own news, in their own voice, at their own pace. And we are including multimedia content now – photos, video links – with the content. Some studies are showing that multimedia usage is upping press release circulation.
Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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