Why Are We Still Writing News Releases?

By: Guest | January 28, 2013 | 

Today’s guest post is by Tom Bishop

‘Everyone knows’ content marketing is now the primary method of communicating with the public.

That and Twitter.

Everything an organization, business leader, celebrity, athlete, or political figure has to say about themselves or anything else can be boiled down to 140 characters, right?

Tweets and Facebook posts are now regal declarations – the absolute truth, recorded for posterity to be criticized, repeated, and submitted as evidence should anybody doubt what was said.

So where does that leave the humble news release?

Is the News Release Dead?

Brian Halligan, CEO of Hubspot, asked the larger question “Is PR Dead?” in 2009. And in the comments, we see a long line of answers (see? statements recorded for posterity) from people who agreed or disagreed with the premise.

But I’m talking about the news release, alone. I’ve been seeing a lot of them that have seemed to morph from the traditional news release form (Headline, Subhead, Dateline, Subject, Quote, Quote, Company Description, Contact) into something more like this blog post, cleverly designed to trick people into reading it.

Like blog posts and infographics, these releases are then used as the baseline for social campaigns and other forms of outreach, as part of a trend called Content PR. But there are reasons that releases and articles for content marketing are different.

  • A content marketing piece is meant to sell something or just offer advice, raise an issue, or tell a story. It’s supposed to engage regular people and attract attention from search engines.
  • The news release is also meant to attract attention from search engines. And very often, sell something.  But it’s also meant to engage a different audience: Journalists.

Web Journalism

But are reporters still sitting there at the city desk waiting for a fax or checking Reuters and AP on their organization’s intranet ? No. They’re using Google and Twitter like the rest of us.

So why do we continue to insist on the traditional news release?

  • For one, they act as the “official statement” of an organization. All other stuff related to the issue or incident is conjecture or the opinionating of random individuals. In fact, that was exactly the reason for the first news release, which was written in 1906 to deliver an organized response to a Pennsylvania Railroad train wreck that killed 50 people. I think it’s telling the second time it was tried, reporters balked at the notion the story could be ‘controlled’ by a company and used as stealth advertising. And the struggle we continue to see today was born.
  • It establishes a timeline. While the origination of a piece of content marketing can easily be obscured, a release clearly states “See? We said this on October 29.” Nobody truly owns the story, but the release makes clear what was ‘officially’ said, and when.
  • It’s front-loaded, which is something we rarely do in content marketing. In the beginning of this article, I opened with a provocative headline and a bunch of short sentences, which are meant to be compelling (please say they were compelling), hoping to draw you into the story, and entice you to read further. But a reporter would never waste time reading. Reporters know that news releases makes the most important points up front and in order.
  • It’s flexible. You don’t have to produce them only as boring old text. Your news release can also be presented as an online video or slide show, along with images. This may not impress reporters, but they’re not the only ones who receive your news anymore.

Besides these reasons above, it is still the centerpiece of any media relations campaign. If you’re practicing sound media relations, journalists will continue to view it as paramount when trying to extrapolate a company’s viewpoint. And that’s why we are still writing them.

Tom Bishop is director of marketing and communications at KnowledgeVision Systems in Lincoln, Mass. He is an experienced marketing professional focused on brand strategy, content marketing, social media, campaign management, market segmentation, research and data analysis, and business development. He brings a great deal of experience in start-up companies that are positioned for rapid growth. 

  • PR isn’t even close to dead – it’s actually growing and expanding it’s reach more into digital (social media), content creation (SEO), ads (paid media) and sales.
    I think the press release, which as its name states is only for the press, should be worried. But a news release, which is intended to inform your customers and community of your news is still very prevalent and expected. Most PR professionals are great writers (a lot are former journalists) and are capable of writing great stories to engage their audience in truthful and honest discussions. You can call it Content PR, Brand Journalism or as I like to call it, “PR Journalism,” but at the end of the day, you have to produce content people want to read and engage with.

    • mylefttom

      @Trace_Cohen Thank you Trace. You’re right, there are a lot of ways to communicate, and the core of any communications effort, public or limited, is definitely quality content.

  • HI Tom, Great piece and I wholeheartedly agree.
    Anyone who thinks the news release has seen its day is naive (and knows little about media relations). We tend to use releases less than we did a few years ago and now rely more on tailored e-pitches for individual journalists. Nevertheless, the release is still a needed and required communications format. Just think of all those publicly traded companies that need to get the word out on material announcements to all of their shareholders simultaneously. If they didn’t use a news release to do that, they’d be in hot water pretty quickly.

    • mylefttom

      @Shelley Pringle Thank you Shelley! I like the release for the same reason. We talk internally all the time about what should become a news release, and “It affects the owners” is criterion #1. BTW, I’m always wondering about RTs and times of day/day of week, so I’ve got to check out your link.

  • Great points all around, Tom.
    I write a news release every week, or so, and it is still the go-to way to provide information to journalists. And, like you said, it’s a chapter in the overall story we’re trying to tell, allowing journalists to go back and find information that is relevant to their story.

    • mylefttom

      @bradmarley Thank you Brad. It’s true that news releases play a social role as much as an informational one, because they show respect for traditional channels and methods.

  • Tom,
    You can’t underestimate the important of SEO in the role of press releases. Not only will your company appear in major news feeds that Google indexes immediately, but the inbound links contained within each posting of your news release helps your organization’s SEO ranking. And you never know who has a Google Alert set with your company’s name who will see activity on your behalf even if they don’t actually read the alerts.

    • mylefttom

      @johnheaney Absolutely, John. That’s an excellent addition to the list of reasons to use releases as ‘authoritative’ content for search engines.

  • Thanks, Gini.
    Actually for me-I don’t mind reading-and even writing a press release.
    it’s those darn weak-ass PR pitches that flood my inbox every day.
    Multi-paragraph-clone- verse. Drives me nuts.
    The Franchise King®

    • mylefttom

      @FranchiseKing I agree! Every morning I curate articles and filter out the releases, and I also see a very big difference between a standard post, an in-depth article, a strong news release, and a weak-ass pitch.

  • See? Tom, your short sentences were compelling, and cleverly tricked me into reading the entire post and nodding my head in agreement in several places. Well done!

    • mylefttom

      @allenmireles Thank you! This point was made at a MarketingProfs event about posts, but I’ve found I dislike news releases that start that way. It was the genesis of this post.

  • Tom, enjoyed your post. I think (new) PR and news releases are still driven by the same goals. We simply have moved beyond old labels to what is better described as “social PR” and social news releases. The news release now is only one of a bigger set of tools and social channels we can use to go direct to key targets. Way more exciting than spraying and praying.

    • mylefttom

      @Jeff Domansky Darn right Jeff. It’s still an important tool sharing a larger toolbox.

  • Very clever. I was expecting yet another piece extolling a false premise that we didn’t need the news release anymore. It was only a couple of months ago that I was at a PR event with a media panel of journalists from all media types where they said it is still very much a part of how they get their ideas for news. I came into this ready to show you how you were wrong but you’re a tricky trickster.

    • mylefttom

      @Anthony_Rodriguez Thank you Anthony. Would you believe I wanted to start with something like that? I was compiling the reasons that ‘content pr’ is the victor in a new vs. old school release, but it became clear that my premise was dead wrong.

      • @mylefttom They have to work in concert with each other. Which makes our job harder but can expand our reach much further.

  • kamichat

    Also, when you are pitching, one of the first things an interested journalist will say is, “okay, send me the press release and we will take a look.” You might not want to get caught with your pants down when they do. They might not be the actual news generator anymore, but they can move the news along.

    • mylefttom

      @kamichat Yep, that has happened to me (and of course I planned it that way).

  • Ah, press releases, how can I miss them if they won’t go away?
    Excellent points above, which I generally sum up as “they serve well as a record of announcement” – for disclosure purposes, etc.
    The New/Social Media Press/News Release helped a small number of people change their habits and produce more interesting documents, but I have not used nor recommended use of a press release in an actual pitch in at least 8 years. The exception was generally to use them as a backup source of facts and data for follow-up and to have on-hand, but in that purpose the “press release” is replaceable.
    So they stay? Use them well, craft them to do what they need to do, not because someone told you you have to.

  • profkrg

    I don’t think the news release is dead at all. I don’t really think media die, they just adapt. A news release is an official form of communication. The way they’re delivered certainly has changed (no more snail mail or faxes), but the concept and information still is worthy.

  • TheWellynnGroup

    The discipline of crafting a strong release can also  help the client, and the PR pro, articulate in a focused way what they are trying to say. The process of creating the release has benefit, even if the release itself may be a small part of the overall communications plan.

  • Pingback: How to Write a Killer Lead by @WhatsYourAvocad Spin Sucks()