Back in 1997 at Rubenstein & Associates in NYC, one of my first experiences in agency life was jockeying for a desk near the fax machine. In those days, email wasn’t used to distribute news releases.
While channels for sharing news have changed, the importance of a well-structured news release hasn’t. A PR Week article by Sarah Shearman entitled, “Planning the Evolution of Press Releases,” recently ignited debate among PR pros. Shearman argues that the industry shouldn’t expect the news release to disappear anytime soon. She asserts that releases will “evolve rather than die out.”
I agree and believe that the news release is still a fundamental tool for communicating news. The inverted pyramid structure – with important points addressing the five Ws near the top – and key elements such as the dateline, contact information and boilerplate should stay intact.
Back in the late 90s journalists were the primary readers of news releases. Today, journalists are still a key audience, but we have to remember that consumers are also reading releases.
Every press release would be better if we strive to:
-Shorten our news: Anyone in PR will tell you a super-long release is not going to fly with time-strapped journalists who typically spend less than 60 seconds scanning your news – whether they have to read more than one page of hard copy or scroll endlessly through a release sent via email or posted online.
-Incorporate more bullet points: Package the news in a format that’s most amenable to journalists. For some RoseComm clients we place the three most important points of the release in bullets at the top. Then the reader can determine if the release is relevant to them even before they hit the headline.
-Include compelling quotes: I agree with almost everything that Sherman shared in her article except her POV on quotes. We’ve found that trade journalists use quotes from press releases in stories more often than not. The key is to write quotes that are meaningful and not overly promotional.
-Go beyond text: It’s no longer all about the words. Photos, graphics and videos should be added whenever possible to further illustrate the story.
I love what Amazon did last year with the launch of its new Kindle Fire. The PR team posted a news release to the website and then disseminated the most compelling and important facts via 14 tweets. Granted, they are Amazon and journalists are waiting to hear their news. Still, they chose an unconventional way to parse out their story to influencers. Although the release still played an important role in the strategy, additional channels were tapped to create anticipation and share the news more broadly.
For companies and brands that may not be as well-established as Amazon, issuing a press release on a newswire is still beneficial. It’s a cost-effective tactic that helps with SEO and indexes your news in online databases. Adding a Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest or other social channel to your communications strategy should always be considered as a way to amplify your news and reach your audiences directly. But the news release will live on, as the fundamentals will never fit into 140 characters or less.