Sherrilynne Starkie

The News Release is Finished

By: Sherrilynne Starkie | March 28, 2016 | 

The News Release is FinishedBy Sherrilynne Starkie

Steve Waddington’s opinion piece in The Drum explains that the news release isn’t dying.

I agree, but not for the reasons he lays out.

Maybe the news release isn’t dying…but it’s not been very useful for a long time.

Of course, the concept of sending media professionals a summary or synopsis to propose a story idea is not dead, nor will it ever be as long as there are still reporters to pitch (but that’s a subject for another day.)

Let’s face it, that’s all the news release was ever supposed to be since its inception more than 100 years ago.

It’s a story pitch, and if our clients or bosses insist on calling it a news release, why waste energy in objecting?

A rose is a rose, right?

Press Release vs. News Release

At the very least, we can separate the word ‘press’ from release and kill that.

News release is a much more accurate moniker given that most publishers no longer use a printing press (some never have).

So if people take comfort in issuing a news release to ease workflow, as Waddington suggests, so be it, as long as we understand the best way to pitch to story is not via a news release.

For as long as I’ve been working in agencies (a very long time indeed!), I’ve found the best way to get coverage is to pitch a reporter a story.

A one or two sentence story pitch is always much more helpful to a busy reporter who doesn’t have time to wade through two pages of corporate messages.

It might be by phone or email, but today it’s just as likely to take place via social media.

Yes, there are regulatory requirements for news releases, especially as they relate to the financial markets, but many regulators, such as the SEC, the FCA, and the CSI, have also issued social media guidelines.

So while newswire distribution is required for some kinds of news, for most updates there are significantly better choices.

Waddington points out that most news releases are posted to corporate websites as part of office politics.

This is true too, but this content is not, and never has been, intended for use by media professionals.

What About Distribution Services?

Referring to this fodder as a news release was always a misnomer.

His suggestion that news releases exist to feed the vendor market is an interesting chicken and egg concept.

Does the news release exist to feed distribution services, or vice versa?

Either way, even the newswires themselves recognize that relying on the lowly news release is a risky business.

They are reorganizing and realigning their core services away from news release distribution and are innovating content marketing services including origination, production, distribution, and analysis.

Volume and scale continue to drive news release distribution, according to Waddington.

He’s probably right, but this is the new spray and pray for the 21st Century—a tactic of last resort.

Skilled professionals know that such white noise is rarely heard by real humans, so what’s the point?

The News Release is Finished

Waddington points out that media relations continue to dominate PR practice.

He cites the CIPR State of Public Relations data, collected during a six-year period, which shows PR pros spend more time on media relations than any other activity.

This certainly isn’t the case for me or my agency.

I can count on my fingers the number of news releases I’ve issued in the past year.

We’re really busy doing other things.

We’re developing workable, insight-based social media strategies, creating compelling content across all formats and forging strong the strong stakeholder connections our clients seek.

Did we kill the news release?

No, but it’s finished. Over. Ineffective.

image credit: shutterstock

About Sherrilynne Starkie

Sherrilynne Starkie is the executive vice president at Thornley Fallis, a Canadian integrated marketing communications firm. She is also the president of IABC Ottawa. For more than 20 years, Sherrilynne has been providing communications consulting and services to blue-chip organizations in Britain, Canada and the United States. She focuses on helping clients leverage digital and social media to achieve organizational goals and objectives.

  • paul1

    I respectfully disagree with this premise. The News Release isn’t Finished at all. Acknowledging your own failure at utilizing news releases to get publicity for your client, does not mean that news releases are gone. It only means that you have not learned how to create good ones and use them properly.

    Times have definitely changed. What is definitely gone are the instant spam news release distribution services. The days of news release distribution being a viable way to get a client media coverage and to spread the word are definitely gone. The Google algorithm updates with the mandatory no follow, blacklisting for spammy urls, and penalties for duplicate content and anchored text have killed the utility of having the same news copy spread all over the Internet. The typical wire transmittal report is useless. Hits and impressions mean nothing at all. The number of times an email is opened and read means nothing. If you are still struggling with understanding the changes, here’s a link to several post that can be used to come up to speed: n/

    To me, the changes to news release distribution have been like a breath of fresh air. Quality content is now the most important element. Media want quality stories and interview guests. You can create a news release that delivers an actionable proposal.

    What matters most is feature stories, interviews, product reviews and sales. Not just any old story, but galvanizing feature stories and interviews that really help people and showcase the client’s absolute best skills, abilities and achievements.

    I have significant success getting my clients bona-fide media coverage. We aim at getting them feature stories and interviews.
    We also focus on getting product and book reviews, but honestly, these tend to produce less ROI for clients although there are occasional exceptions where we make a client rich. But that’s not what happens usually.

    What you need to avoid is the numerous fatal errors that kill a news release. I wrote many an article on this topic years ago.
    Here’s a link to a post on my blog that goes to an article and Powerpoint Presentation an Why News Releases Fail: ee-ebook-and-powerpoint-presentation/

    My personal belief is that a news release can be like lightning to a client.

    If you put our advertising copy, then you are very likely to receive advertising media kits and blogger pleas for sponsored posts.

    If you offer story content, you better be prepared to see media say they like what you sent, but they need something unique of the same quality.

    I can usually send out a news release to a custom targeted media list twice over a span of two weeks and get one to as many as four or even five dozen solid high circulation media requests for individual feature stories and customized interviews from magazines, newspapers, radio, TV stations and shows, and high authority news web sites and bloggers, plus product reviews.
    Prime media is still very valuable to media and at least in my experience, a quality well written media proposal gets read.
    Online media is also very valuable and can drive SEO and sales in a major way. Social media to me is helpful, but it doesn’t come close to replacing the value of real prime media coverage to the clients I work with.

    News releases to me are a not just an announcement. They are a proposal for media coverage. They must therefore be designed to answer the media questions:

    • Ya so…your response doesn’t actually sound that respectful Mr.. Paul1, but I’m going to accept it in the positive spirit I’m sure you actually meant it. Thanks for contributing to the debate.

      • paul1

        >>> You don’t like the ideas so you criticize how it is stated?
        Did my use of the word Hogwash not strike your fancy? My apologies. I do my best to achieve business quality email in all that I do Sherrilynne, and I hope you focus on the merits of the discussion. I see no other basis for your comment as regards the tenor. In any case, please be assured no disrespect was intended.
        I did want to be straight up as regards my comments on the ideas you offered to support your argument. I have been doing PR since 1978 and this very same discussion has been utilized and even published many times in answer to this very question. The idea that news releases have died is often raised online, usually by people who like yourself, have experienced limited success with them, and do not take the time or have the opportunity to get better educated and grow their news release writing skills and persuasive abilities with media.

        I also observe that part of the reply post was cut off, so here is the part 2:

        News releases to me are a not just an announcement. They are a proposal for media coverage. They must therefore be designed to answer the media questions:

        – What do you want me to do?

        – How many people in my audience are going to be interested in this?

        – What’s in it for my audience?

        – And how much is this going to cost me in terms of time, money and resources?

        I see the dozens of news releases every day as a business and marketing blogger and I can honestly say that most of the news releases don’t even come close to addressing the media’s needs.
        This is the cause of their failure. The people who are writing these releases have not learned how to turn media on. They often deliver advertorials. It requires media to do too much work.

        It’s a mistake to think that news releases are dead. If you focus carefully on learning the psychology of dealing with media, you can make great use of the news release.

        You may have to learn more and then practice and refine what your news releases contain, how they are formated, and what you actually say in your copy.

        I am a practitioner of what I call purpose-driven communications.
        You identify what you want and then design the end product to meet that end. Then you revise it to meet the needs of the media you are aiming at.

        I do not ascribe to the snappy short email. My media pitches tend to be long, although I tell the media what they really need to know right up front.

        The real key is to target the right media and then research what they do.

        Then design and create a pitch (a news release), that looks like it belongs where you want it. Create copy that matches editorial style and readership interest. They often times want you to do their job for them. No one says this is easy. It’s not.

        And then deliver it any way and every way you can, based on what you learn about how your target media prefers to receive pitches.

        I prefer email html over any other vehicle available. I use Cision to create my custom media lists.

        To me the bottom line is that you have to focus on learning what your client can do or say that really turns their people on. This is not an easy thing to do. But I have come to the belief that it can be done, and in fact, you can learn to do this anywhere. I call this the miracle of the microcosm, for this very reason.

        Anyone can do it and it doesn’t matter where you are.

        You start one on one, and then you practice and expand the number of people till you get repeat success. Your goal with the communication is to get the action you need.

        If you talk to ten people and persuade five of them to do what you want, then that script gets you a fifty percent response.

        The rest of the process is to adapt the message to the technology and culture of the media you are targeting.

        I call this process CACA because this can be a very crappy and scrappy process.

        CACA = Create Ask Create Again Ask Again.

        If you study your target media and employ these and other PR techniques, you will see that news coverage is largely predictable. Consumers and editors are drawn to types of stories that have worked well in the past. If you want to receive coverage, it’s important that you get familiar with these content patterns and do your best to replicate them.

        The reason is simple: media publish what sells. To be in media you have to give them what they publish. Therefore to maximize your chances, you give it to them their way.

        And what I find is that when a news release interests and satisfies the needs of one media, then it also tends to interest and satisfy the needs of lots of media. This is what you see when you strike a chord in society.

        And media begets media.

  • As a former journalist and news editor who used to unload two pretty large sacks of mail a day containing nothing but ‘press’ releases I always enjoy these debates.

    A decade into my second career in PR, I’ve always felt that PR folk can sometimes forget the most basic lesson taught by PR folk – write your content for your intended audience and let them have it in the way they want it.

    News editors ‘get’ news releases. They know what they are for. First base: do they know you and, if they do, do they like you? If they do that gets you to second base: they’ll open the email rather than spike it. Does the first couple of pars interest them? Yes. Then that’ll get you to third base: the question about will it interest their readers? Yes. Then that’ll get you to fourth base: assigned to a journalist to have a play with what you’ve sent.

    This is a sweeping generalisation but it’s what happens is newsrooms everywhere. Of course news editors and journalists also read the wires, monitor facebook, twitter, instagram and the rest of it. So that means less time for PR specialists’ dulcet prose. So it had better be good.

    So I’ve got three points:

    1. If you want the mainstream media to publish something of yours then send your stuff to the news editor in a way she or he wants it.
    2. Make sure the stuff you send (whichever channel you choose) is focussed on what your client’s audience wants to read. It’s the audience approval that matters in getting something published in the media, not the client’s. Hard for the client to believe sometimes, but true.
    3. In 10 years time Millennials will be running news desks. Maybe they won’t have news releases to contend with. But, then again, they probably will. My postbag was full of mail. News editors’ inboxes are now full of emails. Who knows what they’ll call news releases in the future. But I guarantee what won’t change is that the stuff which gets published will be the stuff which is high-quality in content, created for its intended audience and transmitted through the medium most likely to appeal to its recipient.

    • Thank you Patrick for this lovely. thoughtful comment. It’s always to have the perspective of someone who has been ‘in the trenches’. I agree with all three of your points (except, will there even be news desks in 10 years?)