Press Releases: Traditional vs. Online
The traditional definition of the press release still holds value today, although the forms and channels of distribution have changed. A press release (also known as a news release, a media release, or a press statement) is a written, or recorded, communication directed at the members of the media to announce a newsworthy event – be it a product launch, service, company news, employment, etc.
Historically, traditional press releases targeted reporters at newspapers, magazines, television stations, and radio stations. Designed with the goal of capturing a reporter’s attention, traditional press releases were often short and followed a specific template that only provided members of the media with the basic details about the newsworthy information. All other details (images, management quotes, reports, etc) were collected in a “press kit,” which was often offered to the reporter on demand. The reporter then decided whether to run the release “as is” or to give it a different spin.
Traditional Shifted Online
The traditional media is no longer segregated from the new media – now the press release targets online publications as well. All journalists of the print and broadcast environment use the Internet to research, communicate, and collaborate. Most traditional publications also have a strong online presence, both visual and textual.
Naturally, business owners focus their marketing efforts on this new environment, pushing conventional press releases to journalists via email and other distribution methods. Often, the press releases get published online like any other content – “in your face” – and distributed through email newsletters to consumers as well. The purpose is dual: publicizing the news and gaining an SEO (search engine optimization) advantage.
The method used to be very effective ten years ago, when online communication was young and resembled the old broadcast media, but with the growing popularity of social media and new Web (Web 2.0), audiences rely less and less on traditional media for their information. The SEO advantage of traditional press releases is questionable. Traditional press releases do not reach as many people as they once did, and the audiences (journalists and consumers) have grown to hate them.
The Death of the Press Release
In his celebrated “Die! Press Release! Die! Die!” editorial (2006) Tom Foremski did not propose the death of the press release, as the title implies. Instead, he proposes a possible evolution of the press release, making it fit for the marketing dynamics of the new media. His approach was brilliant: use a headline that stirs controversy in the industry and incorporate a call to action to kill the one-size-fits-all self-centered, over-hyping, and sales-focused press releases.
Foremski proposed a new press release format for the media, with a focus on the journalists who receive press releases in electronic format. The ideal press release, in his view, would have a brief description of what the announcement was, but leave the spin to the journalists.
“Deconstruct the press release into special sections and tag the information so that as a publisher, I can pre-assemble some of the news story and make the information useful…The tags would be things like: recent share price, founders, first quarter revenues, analyst quotes, etc…
And because we are dealing with tags that are attached to facts–there is no spin so there is no problem in printing the information as it is received. If we can get the tags to be finely tuned, as a publisher, I could spec out a story and assemble it automatically and then quickly edit it by hand before publishing.” – Tom Foremski – “Die! Press Release! Die! Die!”
The proposed format was rich and heavy, and it was supposed to include an array of information that spread over more than one page (typically the information found in a press kit):
- Provide a page of quotes from the CEO or other C-level execs.
- Provide a page of quotes from customers, if applicable.
- Provide a page of quotes from analysts, if applicable.
- Provide financial information in many different formats.
- Provide a whole page of relevant links to other news stories or reference sources.
The birth of the social media release:
The “page spread” idea would have made a press release too long for online distribution, too “meaty.”
Inspired by Foremski and the multimedia releases (MMR) already existing on the market, Todd Defren created the format of the first Social Media Press Release (SMPR), a concept that opened new perspectives for reach and distribution.
The SMPR targeted both traditional media journalists and new media journalists, including the so-called “citizen journalists” – the bloggers, key influencers of the Net generation. This was, perhaps, one of the most important steps in adapting the traditional press release to the demands of the online world.
To an extent, we are still far from these visions today, although many public relations experts and communicators have worked to refine these concepts and to promote the social media release as an industry standard.
Meanwhile, the traditional press release has survived with the stubbornness of a mule. To this day traditional press releases, with some minor improvements (such as SEO), are still the most popular form of news distribution. Journalists and bloggers alike receive hundreds of press releases in classic format via email every day. Newswires like PRWeb, Business Wire, PRNewswire, PRLeap, and others, also distribute thousands of traditional press releases each day. Believe it or not, the press release format is not the main problem with these releases.
The reason why most of these press releases fail is the use of old marketing speech that enforces stereotypes and hype. This language is omnipresent like a plague in the press releases’ titles, bodies, and even in the pitches that are meant to grab the attention of the reader.