Press releases are a form of open communication, most often circulated within the news industry by a company or their representatives via email or newswire. These releases are designed to convey the 5 Ws of a story – the who, what, why, where, and when. Usually no longer than one side of A4, they’ll also contain a quote from the relevant company figurehead, include press contact details, additional notes to editors, and maybe even a photograph. Of course the press release is inherently a marketing tool and as such, there will be a sales message buried within the content. The overall layout of the press release has to be well-balanced, and clients usually like their logo stamped on it where possible. In this respect, the press release is somewhat close to an advertorial – the difference here, however, is that it forms part of a tactic called “earned media” – publicity gained through promotional efforts that are earned, as opposed to paying for feature.

“Earned” means that we have worked to have the right to be mentioned in glowing terms in connection with a significant topic or newsworthy event – whether that’s by staging a stunt, or by finding a way to position the client as a voice of authority in relation to said topic. The press will be picking up on it, and our client’s target demographic will be tuning in. It sounds simple and it sounds effective. From the client’s perspective the legwork for the journalist has been done by us – we researched, drew out an angle, made it relevant and even wrote it – now all they have to do is report.

press-releases-1 What Should the Future of the Press Release Look Like?

However, prospects for the traditional press release are bleak. The majority of ongoing debate around the topic confirms this and so do the figures – according to US-based PR firm Green Target, 70% of journalists ‘spend less than a minute reading new press releases’. I tweeted the deputy editor of Tech Insider, Steve Kovach, asking how much content from press releases informs the articles he writes. His response? 0%. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the press release is dead. It’s merely a well-worn medium of communication that’s become tired, both in the face of the quickening pace of the internet, and because PRs now outnumber journalists with a ratio of 4.6 to 1.

Together we’re blowing up the inboxes of journalists with something that’s essentially of the printed press era, yet expect it to be equipped for our rocket speed digital world, just because we stuck it in an email. So, how do we change our mindset and approach?

Don’t get precious

When crafting a press release it can be difficult to rid ourselves of the emotional current that dominates the process, from initial research to final draft. Yet this can result in an overly branded, ego stroking press release that communicates a message that may satisfy your client but not the necessarily the journalist. According to AdWeek, 68% of journalists say they ‘just want the facts’, and 53% said they’d ‘prefer that you deliver that info in bullet point form’. We must therefore remember that a press release is an announcement of the news and shouldn’t get too precious about the way in which it’s written.

A good journalist will strip all those flowers from the release and use only the raw information as a supplement to their story as opposed to the crux. Besides, if every journalist regurgitated your press release word for word when reporting online, you’d have an issue of duplicate content on your hands – a problem that is not exactly hailed as SEO best practice.

This brings me to my next few points:

Talk to the journalists

Let’s talk to the journalists about what they really want before we start putting in the work, only for it to fall on deaf ears. Floating an idea by them can reap great feedback, and if the journalist really warms to it, you may have a deal for an exclusive on your hands before you’ve even started orchestrating your masterpiece.

Mirror social media’s waves

Social media is rapidly rubbing out the relevance of the traditional press release, as it enables the public to share stories straight from the scene, faster than any journalist, SEO or PR can. So, really we should be going about it the Buzzfeed way circa 2013 – copy the way social media presents content. It’s bitesize, caters for short attention spans and is highly visual. As in the words of Government Communications Chief Alex Aiken, speaking at a PRCA conference: ‘You should not start with three pages of A4, but a tweet, an infographic or a video. If you are writing more than 200 words on any subject, you’re probably in the wrong place.’

Make your links relevant

It’s an added bonus to receive a link to the client’s site in any online coverage secured – but this “call to action” must be relevant to the body of the content, otherwise it’s difficult to convince a site’s webmaster why they should include it once the piece has gone live. To get around this, place further information on your client’s site about the release – it adds a real incentive to click through, turning the reader into a potential customer and brand advocate.

Now, of course, my insights on the long overdue evolution of the press release form only a small part of the overall changes that must take effect – the journey of which will continue to be fraught with competing opinions. But what’s certain is that media professionals, in our increasingly diversified domain of online communications, must work better together to create stimulating content that the masses can keep enjoying – and the points made here about the future of the press release are just a start.