What I’m about to say is heresy – at least to some. I’ve already been admonished by several PR practitioners who refuse to consider the possibility of change. It appears that nothing is as sacred to these “old schoolers” as the rules governing press releases.
There was a time when a press release functioned as the foundation of the public relations campaign. For PR pros like myself, they served as our calling card; our declaration to the gatekeepers of the news that we had something worthy of attention. And if we crafted them properly – gave due attention to every word and punctuation mark – and if we were able to get the release past legal and didn’t upset the reporter with a poorly executed dateline, and if we were able to catch someone’s attention via the headline enough that they might actually read the first paragraph, we might (hope against all hope) actually get a phone call from a reporter that deemed the information on the page worthy of follow up.
As such, we were taught that each release had to adhere to very strict guidelines – rules that governed everything from how it is formatted on the page to how it is sent to reporters. Among the sacred cows:
- Use press releases sparingly.
- All releases must be “newsworthy” (as determined by a reporter).
- Releases must be void of anything that smacks of marketing.
But that was then.
As hard as it might be for some to grasp, Internet realities have changed the rules. Here are some of the ways that Brenner Associates have broken the rules to get game-changing results for our clients.
First, we write and send them out often – for some clients, two or more a month. With the aide of tools provided by several on-line press release distribution services, the posting of a release will certainly get picked up by Google and other top search engines (no gatekeeper here). By adding a bit of SEO (search engine optimization) strategy in the writing and dissemination of the release, we up the chances that the information also gets picked up by a variety on-line news services and bloggers who share it with other services and bloggers who are followed by customers who talk about it on Facebook, where it is seen by their friends and mentioned on twitter, where reporters see it and check out the client’s blog and then write about it on their own blog which is then picked up by others who…etc. etc. etc.
2009 press release rule # 1: use them liberally.
In the past, releases were only seen by the press. Reporters look for “news” to report. So if it wasn’t an announcement you were sending, they weren’t interested.
Today, a release posted on the Internet can be seen as easily by a customer or an investor as by a reporter. And these audiences may find non-newsy information of value.
Earlier this month, we posted a release for a medical device company that was about a presentation the CEO gave to a gathering of colleagues. While the information was certainly not newsworthy from a reporter’s standpoint and would never have reached the pages of a publication, it gave us an opportunity to reiterate the benefits of our client’s technology. Through SEO tactics that ensured the release popped up on news aggregators and keyword searches, it was seen by hundreds (if not thousands) of people following the industry – that included some from the company’s board of directors (who were excited to see it) and the CIO of one of the biggest players in the industry. As a result, this client has a meeting scheduled with that CIO for the first of the year.
2009 press release rule #2: don’t wait for news to write a release.
Reporters are looking for facts. A big part of their job is to separate the reality from the spin. For this reason, they are usually suspicious of anything that sounds like marketing hype and are particularly sensitive to reporting anything that might make them sound like a spokesperson for a product or company.
But with direct-to-customer distribution, press releases can now be effectively used to announce sales and even provide special offers.
Brenner Associates recently sent out a press release about a client’s “two for one” offer on a new product. The release even invited readers to click on a link that sent them to a website for a coupon good for additional discounts. It was blatant marketing – pure and simple.
If I had sent this directly to reporters, not only would I have received no coverage for my efforts, but I would have certainly jeopardized the reputation of both my client and the agency itself. As it turned out, the release was read and shared by an online community of customers. As a result, our client saw a sharp spike in traffic to the site (not to mention sales).
As I write this blog, I noticed an incoming e-mail newsletter from a large wire service. It contained on article on press release writing for the holidays that included the suggestion…”When deciding on a theme for your press release, think like the media. Is the information useful? Newsworthy? Or is it merely an advertisement for your product?” I say, that’s old-school thinking. It’s more than “media” that will be reading the release. While hard-nosed news still has its place in press release writing, there are times when it is totally appropriate to contain elements of advertisement as well. See for yourself. A growing number of companies – from WebEx to Cisco are finding marketing success by expanding the role of the press release.
2009 press release #3: releases can be used for direct sales.
This is not to say that PR pros can declare release anarchy. I still believe that there must be a thought-out strategy behind each one. At Brenner Associates, we separate releases into several categories – from those with significant (mainstream) news value to those that are pure marketing. The type of release we write will dictate the information it includes, who it is sent to, how it is distributed and the type of follow up conducted.
Your comments appreciated