Steven Le Vine
first thing most people associate with Public Relations is often a press
release. And that is no surprise. After all, press releases have been the
most widely used tactic that PR professionals have employed in order to
get their client’s message across in a timely and organized fashion.
But has the effectiveness of the press release come to an end?
In 2006 the press release celebrated its 100-year anniversary. The first
press release? A news release regarding a derailed train in Atlantic City
that killed 53 people, disseminated by Ivy Ledbetter Lee. In 1905, Lee
became the co-founder of America’s third public relations firm, Parker
and Lee, and is arguably considered to be the founder of current-day PR
(sans social media-laden 2010).
Also known as a news release, a press release is generally a one- to
two-page document exhibiting the “Five Ws” (who, what, where, when,
why -- and how) of a news briefing. It’s a way of packaging a story to
send to members of the media, as well as other parties, by leading them to
the most important facts and providing them with ideas for a creative
twist or hook to their story.
Through my experience working as a partner in a full-service PR firm for
the past four years, I have come to think of a press release like a
mannequin in a clothing shop. A store, whether in a mall, boutique or even
on New York’s Fifth Avenue, usually sets up an array of mannequins to
display each new style. These mannequins are arranged in order to show
shoppers what it would look like to wear a particular outfit – usually
the retailer’s newest lines. Mannequins act as a way of suggesting to
customers how to piece together a great ensemble. This is similar to a
press release, which intends to show a reporter just how a news story
should be written.
Some customers stick to these ensembles, purchasing every piece that is
worn by a mannequin, if this look suits their needs. However, if the store
didn’t do a good job at putting together this outfit, or if one or two
certain pieces on the mannequin are stronger than the rest, customers may
pick only those better looking pieces and leave the rest. Consequently,
the rest of the shoppers won’t purchase any. The latter situation is
similar to many journalists who scrap most press releases they receive, if
they don’t fit with what they are looking to write about, or are simply
not put together very well.
In recent years, many have questioned the importance of press releases in
today’s rapid-fire society of social media. Are they still an integral
part of the news cycle, or are their best years behind them?
Pop Music Writer Joey Guerra (@JoeyGuerra), of the Houston Chronicle,
believes they are still necessary as they are the quickest way of sending
basic information on a subject.
“I don’t think they’re over,” he says. “But I do think PR people
might need to reconsider what they include and the way they present it.
Guerra says he mainly uses press releases when they are tied to certain
events – a CD-release party, a concert, a festival – “something that
has details [that] you need for a story or a listing.”
He also believes that press releases that are attached to just a general
idea aren’t very helpful, nor are they helpful after the fact, either.
“The most frustrating thing is that often people don’t include enough
Candice Sabatini (@SabatiniOnStyle), the Editorial Director for Beauty
News NYC, agrees. “I depend on press releases to give me information on
product launches, popular travel destinations, lifestyle trends, fashion
trends, and what happened on the runway during Fashion Week during the
shows I wasn’t able to attend. I depend on press releases for product
and key figure information.”
However, she firmly believes if they do not convey the information she is
looking for, are too lengthy, and most importantly, do not follow the
“inverted pyramid” rule, they are a “waste of time.”
“Tell me the point first,” she explains, “and then I can decide if I
want to read further.”
According to Sabatini, there are a few characteristics that make for a
good press release. They can’t be too wordy and must give her only the
information she needs, without trying to do her job for her. They must
also reference the specific subject and or product in the “Subject”
line of the email. Candice doesn’t enjoy a publicist’s attempt at a
nebulously written ploy to intrigue her into opening an e-mail. The press
release must also answer all questions an editor might ask.
Sabatini also explains, “I sometimes get press release pitches that
suggest article or story topics. Even if I liked an idea, I wouldn’t use
it knowing that the same story idea has gone out to a hundred other
A true PR professional will properly counsel clients on the correct use of
press releases, so as to not waste any of their account time on tasks or
projects that will not work to their utmost advantage. By utilizing a
pragmatic approach, I have personally learned over time when press
releases are worthwhile and when they are not. Press releases are great
for things like company, brand or product launches, new releases of music
albums or films, or to announce an event, but simply do not carry the
weight they once did for general story ideas or angles. They are also
essential in providing editors or producers with background information to
accompany a pitch. But for story ideas, pitch letters offer up a much more
personalized approach for reporters, and most of the time act as a
call-to-action to drum up more substantial press exposure.
Consequently, with the emergence of social media marketing, press releases
are quickly being replaced by the media release or SEO press release,
which is a revamped, modernized version of the traditional press release.
While media releases may not usually help in pitching a story and are not
generally suitable for personalized press outreach, they are wonderful
tools for gaining visibility directly in front of your target audience and
for building Search Engine Optimization (SEO) rankings, because of their
ability to include meta keywords or tags, which get picked up by crawlers
from sites like Google, Bing and Yahoo!, and other news aggregators.
In addition, media releases allow publicists and marketing specialists to
embed images, videos, audio and slideshows, as well as links to a
company’s website, blog, Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn account, and RSS
feeds. They can also include social bookmarking links to sites like Digg
and del.icio.us. Their potential is endless.
However, with new technology always comes a rift between the excitement of
early adopters and the fear and rejection of traditionalists. This
particular new technology has already begun to cause a division between
the older generation of traditional publicists and tech-savvy Integrated
Marketing specialists, causing people such as award-winning marketing
strategist David Meerman Scott to offer up his “New Rules of Marketing
Both sides bring up valid points. Traditional press releases have their
time and place, just as much as media releases do. So, why limit ourselves
to one over the other, when they both serve a different purpose?
Vine is the founder of grapevine
full-service lifestyle and entertainment PR firm, based in Los Angeles.
He can be contacted directly at Steven.firstname.lastname@example.org
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