The Future of the Press Release – Part II, It’s about people

In the first post of this series, I asked for your help in laying the press release to rest – as it exists today. Unfortunately, today’s release has evolved into a collection of posturing, hyperbole, and canned quotes that have very little impact on the ability to generate significant news coverage.

One of the most important takeaways of the last article was that a significant percentage of customers are reading press releases directly through search engines as well as Google and Yahoo news.

Wire services have opened up the door for company information to reach not only media, but also people directly through search and aggregated news platforms. Blog platforms have created a new channel for that same information to also reach customers through blog search engines and ultimately other blogs that may also link to the content. And, social networks have made it possible for information to be shared directly with peers in the communities where they go to discover and share news and relevant data.

If you really stop and think about it, press releases nowadays can tell a story in so many ways to so many different people. Traditional press and analysts are now only part of the equation, and depending on the industry, it may very well be only 25-50% of total readers, and in some cases it’s only 10%.

People are now relying on news releases as a direct source of information, so let’s take this opportunity to tell the story that matters to them. It’s about deconstructing 100 years of tradition and rebuilding something that actually works in today’s attention economy.

Who ever said that we only need one press release?

If it’s anything we should have learned from the eye opener (or more accurately the rude awakening) that is Social Media, there is no longer an audience for our messages. Markets are comprised of groups of disparate (The Long Tail), yet connected people who look for value and benefits in different ways. Therefore, a good story requires personalization. Oh, and journalists and analysts are people too, so if we humanize the process of writing releases, we might enhance the ability for readers to connect with the information.

At this point, there’s no need to debate over the value of search engine (SEO), social media (SMO) optimized or new media press releases. Let’s just write the stories we want our customers, media and bloggers to see, using the tools and channels that will reach and help them most effectively. And, this can also include company blog posts!

When it comes to evaluating release formats and the process of drafting a release, we first need to hit Ctrl-Alt-Delete to reboot how we approach a blank .doc file to prevent the usual spewing of BS onto a blank slate.

As I’ve said earlier, one press release no longer cuts it (I repeat, there is no longer one audience for a press release), marketing and hype are out, and transparency has cut the reins of message control.

Step back and approach it with a fresh perspective. Create a release that provides a story for those seeking information as well as the building blocks that will also help a reporter or blogger write a better article/post.

Here’s an example:

I can assure you, contrary to executive belief, adding spin to press releases as a method for instilling enthusiasm and demonstrating leadership to readers is ineffective, a turn-off and, it may actually incite backlash and public ridicule.

At the end of the day, press releases are about people and therefore should be written as if you were trying to help or inform them, not sell them.

Next up: Examining the differences between traditional, SEO, Social Media, new media, and blog posts.

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  • Erica

    Brian -

    I cannot agree with you more. Even as a newbie to the PR world, I can see that the press release has become outdated.

    I remember a press release that came across my desk that looked similar to your example – it had lots of SEO optimization, links to important sites and bullet points for the most important information.

    I’d love for my clients to be accepting of that sort of release. It would certainly get rid of the major of superfluous information out there today.

  • Mike

    I think that Erica has a great point. Perhaps the next segment can be on how to convince your client to give it a try.

    Change is hard. It is natural to fear the unknown. So how do you convince a client that the with the world (literally) watching, you need to change?

  • Linda VandeVrede

    Katie Paine has a new book coming out on PR measurement that will help greatly.
    It shows PR professionals and others how to gather the right data to make their case. You need the data to help tell and sell the story – without it, companies and clients will keep writing press releases the old way.
    http://kdpaine.blogs.com/bookblog/

  • Adam Snider

    While I certainly agree with you, Brian, I also have to agree with Erica. Trying to convince clients–or even the wire services themselves–to accept this new type of release isn’t going to be easy.

    Perhaps slowly implementing change will work better than a sudden overhaul. People are much more apt to accept change if it occurs via evolution, and not revolution.

  • Publicity-Hound

    Your advice on press releases is right on the mark.
    You might be interested in knowing that I’m offering a free email tutorial called “89 Ways to Write Powerful Press Releases.”

    I explain why we should no longer be writing press releases only for the press, but for consumers who can find the releases online, click through to our websites and enter our sales cycle, even if journalists don’t think our release is worthy of attention.

    The course includes several terrific press release samples as well as “before” and “after” makeovers.

    You can sign up for the free press release writing tutorial at http://www.PublicityHound.com/pressreleasetips/art.htm

    It’s a very long tutorial but please stick with it. By the time you’re done, it will be like earning a master’s degree in writing and distributing press releases. And you’ll know more about this topic than many PR people.

  • Amanda Chapel

    False assumptions cobbled together in such a way as to draw a wrong conclusion. I just cringe when I read stuff like this. Listen:

    1) Most corporate announcements are inextricably tied to legal requirements. (Unless you are referring to bullshit releases which should not be released in the first place.)

    2) NO sane client is going to agree to a format where a mob gets to willy-nilly cobble together info to paint a picture that the client is ultimate liable for. AIN’T GONNA HAPPEN. Nor should it.

    - Amanda

  • Brian Solis

    Erica, thank you so much! I’m not proposing anything out of the ordinary, just a reminder to be a resource and provide some helpful links without trying to force an entirely new template on the team.

    Mike, absolutely. It’s on the agenda. If anything, this format is the baby step before experimenting with an SMPR. I can tell you that I have worked with some of the most cautious, global brands in the consumer and biotech industries recently to help them embrace a new release strategy – so it’s happening, little by little.

    Thanks Linda! I’ll have to contact her to get the details.

    Adam, this press release idea is already in use…honestly, I’ve been using it, among other variants, on the wire for several years at least as a way of finding what works and what doesn’t. The bullets are more reminiscent of alerts or advisories, but the simple paragraph flow with links, minus hyperbole, seems to be the most effective to date. Bulleted formats with all of the building blocks included have been incredibly useful off the wire and in direct 1:1 emails to your best contacts (with a summary intro).

    Publicity-Hound, Thanks!!!

    Amanda, as always, it’s a pleasure to have ya stop by and keep us from drinking the bath water. Honestly, I can assure you that there are no assumptions here, only experience and years of bruises experimenting with this stuff. The conclusions are based on reality and feedback. There are plenty of people out there who pontificate based on theory and assumptions and I’m not one of them – and I think you know that. #1, Yes, bullshit releases are released all the time, and the point of this series is to help people break the association with that format as a standard. People “think” that’s what you’re supposed to do. My next sentence will address #1 and #2…you’re right about corporate legal requirements. In my experience, this release format (in paragraph form + links without the unnecessary BS marketing hype) has befriended the lawyers before it won support from the marketing department. Regarding the mob cobbling crap together, I think that’s what I’m trying to prevent. In fact, I think we can all agree that this is exactly what happens right now, and look at the result. I think we might be saying the same thing here.

  • Amanda Chapel

    1. With regard to form… form = function. Why does a car have headlights? Why do you get pulled over if you drive at night with a headlight out?

    2. The “release format befriended the lawyers before it won support from the marketing department;” correct. The purpose of law is to create a level playing field. The purpose of marketing is to better position (inequity). In business as society, law trumps marketing. Period.

    3. Re: “mob cobbling things together”… if you offer parts rather than a finished product (form), that’s unavoidable.

  • Richard Stacy

    A few observations.

    Just because lots of “old” press releases are full of hype doesn’t mean the press release as a concept as such is at fault. These are just poor press releases.

    That said the press release as a format has been dying / changing for a long time, the rise of social media may have speeded these changes but they haven’t caused them. The root cause lies in the fact that journalists don’t have time to research stories anymore, they need PR types to provide them with more fully formed content. In effect they have become commissioning editors rather than reporters. For a long time I have never used the press release to draw attention to (or pitch) a story – direct contact has to come first. For this reason even the social media press release doesn’t work for me as a frontline piece of communication because its format doesn’t help if presenting the key thing which is essential in grabbing attention in the few seconds available when pitching a story, which for me remains “the angle”, which isn’t hype, it isn’t even the full story but is the nugget that you need to hook attention. Most social media releases I have seen are not good at this – you need to already be interested to pay them further attention.

    For me the future for social media relations is all about creating a story content hub (as per social media release / newsroom) but using things like Twitter to spread the little nuggets that will capture attention and draw people back to the story. Robert Scoble made an interesting observation recently – “news breaks on Twitter”.
    http://scobleizer.com/2007/10/08/do-i-read-all-twitters/
    In reality at the moment only geek news breaks on Twitter – but when Twitter like applications become mainstream these will be the channels to do what good, old fashioned media releases used to do – namely give the heads-up that there is something worth following up on.

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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