The Future of the Press Release – Part I, Acceptance

The press release is on life support and I’m rallying a team of supporters to euthanize it – not to put it out of its misery, but to keep it from contributing to the misery of reporters, analysts, bloggers and the people who read them.

The process of writing and distributing a press release can be excruciatingly painful and is almost laughable when you read the final product.

Company X Launches World’s First, Industry-leading, Innovative Thingamabob that will Change Our Lives for the Better

Fantasy Land, Sept. XX, 2007 — So and so, a leader in such and such, today announced the world’s most groundbreaking, revolutionary, and never-before-seen widget and will change the lives of everyone who use it. Not only is it versatile and ubiquitous, but it scales across the marketing bell curve and in to the long tail. It is a disruptive game changing solution that forces a paradigm shift and, yes, it’s just that simple to use.

“We are excited and thrilled and happy and delighted that our new widget will change your life,” said a company executive who didn’t say this quote, but instead simply signed off on it since their PR person wrote it for them. “There really is nothing out there like it. We have no competition. This is something everyone needs; they just don’t know it yet.”

# # #

OK, so I think you get the picture.

The funny thing is that releases like this pollute the wires and search engines and one can only imagine how many revisions and contributors it took from the marketing and executive teams to ensure that every buzz word and useless piece of jargon made the final cut. The end product will usually say nothing about what it is, who it’s for, why it’s different and why it’s valuable and beneficial to the people to whom it’s targeted. Yet, everyone needs to get their hands on it as some form of self righteousness, demonstration of value, or simply job security.

But why doesn’t everyone already know this isn’t the best way to do things? The press release is 100 years old!

I recently joined a Bulldog Reporter panel to discuss “smart” press releases and the art of creating SEO (search engine optimization) and Social Media Releases and the differences and advantages of each over traditional releases.

As the conference rolled along, I found myself thinking that before we jumped into this important topic, we should have started with the basics of what makes a release worthy of attention – regardless of SEO optimization or Social Media optimization (SMO).

As you may or may not know, I’ve been a proponent of reforming press releases since I was able to integrate HTML and multimedia into them back in the mid-to-late 90s. Do you want to know the first thing I learned?

No matter how tricked-out your press release is with “extras,” if it is still full of garbage, then we’re only placing our trash in a fancier container.

This isn’t anything new however. Journalists have been complaining about the press release even before I was in the game, which for the record, has been for a long, long time.

What’s important in these remarkable times, however, is that whether it’s good or bad, technology has globalized and democratized information, allowing press releases to reach journalists and customers directly – without ever having to send a pitch or make a call.

According to Outsell, Inc. in November 2006, 51% of information technologists (IT) source their news from press releases found on Yahoo or Google News over traditional trade journals. While this is technology, I can assure you that this stat is probably equally significant across a variety of major industries. What this means is that press releases are no longer limited to journalists, bloggers, and analysts, but also read by customers directly in order to help them make important decisions.

So in the face of this revelation, why are we, PR, still insistent and stubborn about not changing? Why do we still firmly plant our feet, and our heads, in the sand and expect greatness, when in fact all we deserve is expulsion from the conversations that are taking place out there with or without us. Or are we simply afraid to speak up for fear it might cost us our jobs.

Maybe it’s just like the bad driver syndrome. It’s up to everyone else to learn how to drive because we are flawless. Still using the driving analogy, I can guarantee that defensive drivers are the least likely to crash when compared to reactionary drivers that mosey along highways with blinders on.

So if the path to writing better, more meaningful, and relevant press releases is a 12 step program, the first step is to move from denial and accept that as is, most releases should be euthanized. In the social economy, attention economy, conversation economy, or whatever you wish to call it, people, and the groups they represent, are now part of the equation, which completely change the game for all of us.

Stay tuned for Part Two of a multi-part series.

Update: The story is on techmeme as WebProNews re-packages the story.

Next up:

Removing “audience” from the equation

The need for multiple versions of the press release

PR in the Long Tail

SEO vs. Social Media vs. Smart Releases

History Lesson (backgrounder):

As a recap, the Social Media Release has been pushed by many influencers for just over one year now, including Tom Foremski’s public outcry for the death of crappy press releases; Todd Defren who offered the first template and remains an authoritative champion; Chris Heuer who helped lead an effort to propose a standard for their construction and distribution; Stowe Boyd who reminds disingenuous, lazy or opportunistic PR people that they’re not invited to participate in Social Media (and rightfully so); Shel Holtz (along with Chris Heuer and me) who hosted the original NMRcast, and continues to demonstrate the value of new releases; Shannon Whitley’s work to help PR “get it;” and the many others who continue to carry the flag forward.

And to all of you who continue to experiment with and discuss SMRs.

Additional Resources:

Social Media Releases: Everything You Ever Wanted to (or Should) Know

YouTube Killed the Video News Release Star

How to Write an SMR Template (and what it looks like on the wire)

Social Media Killed the Press Release Star

How to Write a Social Media Press Release, Why, and What It All Means

How to Write a Social Media Press Release – Part II

Don’t Kill the Press Release, Shoot the Messenger

PR in the Long Tail

SocialMediaRelease.org

Society for New Communications Research

Connect on Twitter, Jaiku, Pownce or Facebook.

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  • Jeremy Toeman

    I’m looking forward to the rest of the series. We’ve decided in the marketing of Bug Labs to forego any and all press releases. The blog will be the sole method of communicating “news” from the company. We’re doing this because (1) press releases are terrible forms of communication and (2) we want the communications channel to be 2-way…

  • paula

    before acceptance, most comanies will need to go through all of the Kubler Ross stages…..Denial, Anger, Barganing, Depression and at last, Acceptance.

    I believe most companies are still very much in the denial stage.

    What will push them through quickly? NYTimes and WSJ publish a “how to” on press releases insisting on these changes.

  • Shannon Whitley

    Thank you once again, Brian, for bringing this issue to the forefront. In technology, we have an acronym for the press release problem, GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out). Unfortunately, clear and succinct press releases are not the norm, and that’s what is killing this medium.

    A well-written press release is, by definition, already optimized for search engines. Social Media Releases are just expertly-crafted releases that include multimedia enhancements. All of this technology must begin with well-written, buzz-free copy.

    To Jeremy: I’m a big proponent of posting your news on a blog, however, you still need to consider the reach of your blog. I’m sure there are many people who are interested in your news and haven’t discovered your blog yet. I think you should still distribute your releases through a major news wire. Just include a link to your blog post in each release.

  • Ryan Clark Holiday

    Brian,

    I agree with you but I’m not sure reality does. Yes, Press Releases suck but they’re still working!

    I wrote about this here: http://www.ryanholiday.net/archives/when_people_dont_do_their_jobs.phtml

    Half of the tech blogs I read are filled with writers citing press releases verbatim. They don’t fact check, they don’t do anything, they just swallow it totally. So why should PR change? People–especially bloggers–are lazy and huge hypocrites.

    Again, look at the Facebook Platform. Last time I looked, the Amazon App STILL doesn’t exist, but has anyone written about that?

    The fact of the matter is that journalists and bloggers talk a good game but at the end of the day, they still take what people hand them.

    How can THAT be changed?

  • Amanda Gravel

    It’s strange to me that the press release has worked for so long. Too many people think that tolerating something makes it OK.

    I feel like so many people look backward, thinking, “This is what has worked forever.” It’s invigorating to see more people begin to look forward, thinking, “How will this work TOMORROW?”

    I’m green as can be in the PR world, but I’ll say it: I’m pro-euthanasia for press releases.

    Thanks for another great post, Brian.

  • Darryl Siry

    I can’t stand press releases and have written on the topic on my blog. Luckily I have the ability to do something about it for the company I work for so we went to a stripped down, bare bones format. The thing I found when reading all about SMRs etc. was that some folks were over-widgeting and overdressing the “new” press releases with too much web 2.0 bling. In that case, its trading one bad thing for another. Feedback from most media folks has been great, although some have complained (ironically) that it is hard for them to just post my releases verbatim. Ugh.

    here is an example:

    http://www.teslamotors.com/media/press_room.php?id=675

  • Brian Solis

    Jeremy, I agree with you to an extent. I think a “good” release will only complement a blog strategy. At one point in this series, I’ll discuss how to do PR without a press release.

    Paula, exactly. I’ve had success with companies by showing them the metrics based on other efforts that were done using similar tools.

    Please keep in mind everyone, that a press release does not usurp a good media and blogger relations effort. If you rely on a press release to get coverage, then I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed throughout your career.

    Shannon, yes, you’re right!

    Ryan, brilliant! So all I’m saying is write the release you want to read. Write the release that’s going to move your customers – especially if they’re going to just cut and paste!

    Amanda, you raise an interesting point and I think you’re right. I wonder if people who think that this has worked forever really believe it because they have proof or simply because the press release has simply become part of the process of a bigger activity. I don’t think most people can say that a press release works. It has to be written well and supported appropriately. Greg Jarboe has a great story about a press release for Southwest Airlines announcing lower fares, including a link, and driving $1 million in sales just from people clicking the link in the release straight from Google and Yahoo Business News.

    Darryl, amen. You’re doing something about it! Web 2.0 bling is classic! It’s just about good content and value regardless of bling.

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ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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