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The Evolving Press Release

For years, we’ve been hearing the press release is dead. And true enough, the traditional press release may well be considered extinct. Really, who reads a boring list of facts about a specific event or a product release? No one, that’s who.

However, don’t write off the press release just yet. As a vehicle for building awareness and driving preference, the right press release still brings value to the communication mix. You just have to think of it differently. Now, for those of us doing this for a long time, you’d think that might be a challenge. Moving away from the 5W’s of a release to something else would be like asking old-school practitioners to not use email as a communication tool. You’d be surprised to find that many of today’s entry-level hires still follow the old format. And guess what — that version is in fact dead.

In her August 26, 2015, article “5 Reasons the Press Release is Dead,” Heather MacLean points out release pick up is down and illustrates five very good reasons that’s the case. I encourage you to read the piece.

While I agree with everything Heather wrote, I have my own position on the release and its uses. Some of it stems from what your goal with it is. If, as Heather states, you are looking for pickups, there’s more to consider.

For example, if you know your audience and understand the pinched editorial landscape, you have to factor in the nature of online coverage. More and more these days, releases are picked up exactly as they are written. I call those pieces of coverage pickups — no human involvement; a site aggregates and posts them. Done. It has fundamentally changed the landscape of the press release. In some minds, it has made the press release obsolete. I agree, unless you change the way you think about it.

Using Heather’s five things to consider, what you really find yourself left with is making the distinction between pickups and earned coverage. If you are creating a release to be a pickup, it has a different tone and feel. It essentially becomes storytelling.

Storytelling is thinking — and writing — like your end audience, which is the reader and NOT your client., You must answer their critical questions of “So what?” and “Why do I care?” It’s great to have all the supporting facts and figures, but if you can’t make John Doe understand that this is for him, no release — old style or new — will have much success.

Now, some will say you are doing the reporter’s job, and that you won’t get earned coverage that way. And that may very well be true. But earned coverage generally doesn’t come from releases. An Adweek story in July 2014 indicated that reporters get 68 percent of their story ideas from tips and sources, 41 percent from news outlets and only 34 percent from releases. The same story indicates that reporters spend, on average, less than a minute reading a release. While that was in 2014, one would think the numbers haven’t gotten better for the release in that regard.

So if you work on crafting a release that tells a story that resonates with your client’s end audience, the consumer, and you are confident that it will get picked up verbatim in the vast majority of cases, you can then focus your energy on becoming the person reporters go to for tips and sources.

Understanding the evolving nature of public relations, the editorial landscape, and tailoring your press release to match can give the press release a new lease on life — at least for now.