Here’s a question that I’ve been wondering about for a while: ‘Is the press release still relevant?’
It would be easy to assume, with social media giving us the ability to rapidly disseminate information to networks far and wide, that the press release is undeniably dead. After all, all you need these days is 140 characters to input into a 24-hour PR machine like Twitter, tag a journalist, and next minute you’re the talk of the industry, right?
Hold up. Before you pass the press release off as passe, I’ve done some research. I know I’m not the first to pitch this question, so you’d think a quick search of Google, Oracle of All Things, would have been enough to figure this out. But with a gamut of posts discussing the topic on both sides of the fence, I still didn’t really get a definitive answer.
So, I posed the question myself to 80 PR and marketing professionals from around the world - here’s what I learnt:
What say you, PR Expert?
Of the 80 PR professionals who responded, only nine said that they did not believe that the press release was still relevant, or that they did not ever use press releases in their role as a PR executive.
Of the 71 PR professionals in favour of sticking with the press release, all unanimously agreed that the reason they still consider it relevant is because its content has changed significantly from the traditional format - more on that below.
The top reasons that those in favour of using press releases believed they can still add value:
- help grow brand identity
- strengthen image as industry thought-leader
- allows for exclusivity that cannot be provided through social media communication
- internally, they provide a means for companies to understand exactly what they're trying to say when they sell their products or services
- opportunity for increased brand interaction through the inclusion of links and multimedia
Many respondents said that press releases were still highly effective because of the SEO value they provide, in that the links and keywords used throughout the press release helped to boost rankings. This, however, is not entirely correct. Google is, in fact, now discounting links from press releases, and links and keywords used in the copy now carry no SEO value.
Indirectly, however, your site can still benefit: “While Google is now discounting links from press releases in terms of SEO juice, they are still creating dozens of new search results for a brand, simply through the number of sites that publish that release. So, if you search for a brand, you should see a lot of links to the most recent press release in among other results,” says Susan Payton from Egg Marketing & Communications.
Mike Juba, content marketer at EZSolution, agrees: “Press releases can still help to get awareness and gain traffic to your site, so they still do have value. We do press releases when we get awards, partnerships, or have events to announce. We have found through analytics that people that come to our site from press releases spend a decent amount of time on our site and visit more pages than the average visitor. So should you still do press releases? Yes, but only when relevant and worthy of press.”
How the press release has rolled with the times
It appears that over the last 10 years, the traditional press release has worked hard to adapt to the changing nature of online publication to keep itself in the PR game.
Today’s press releases no longer assume that the person who picks up a story will necessarily be a reporter or editor who will take the information and turn it into their own story. Instead, writers assume that a press release will be picked up and shared as is, and as such, they now tend to write it more as a news story.
“The biggest transition I have seen is an increased focus on relevancy and this often leads to a release being picked up almost verbatim. Years ago, the releases weren’t written as a story that a reporter could use with very little editing,” says Jennifer Anderson, Fairfield University’s Associate Vice President of Marketing and Communications.
“Now, I see the thought leadership angle as much more critical. Being strategic and focusing on topics that are relevant to what reporters are writing about certainly increases chances of being seen as a thought-leader, resulting in the increased likelihood of piquing a reporter’s interest,” Jennifer adds.
The digital-age press release is also far more interactive. They feature images, videos, podcasts and links to resources that add value to the overall message. “The social and digital world has adapted the press release into a more interactive medium in the past decade. They now integrate visuals and links to other content such as infographics, video or surveys for example, that can serve as supporting materials to inform and to tell stories on behalf of an organization,” explains Domenick Cilea, President of Springboard PR.
Press releases are still only as good as the story you are telling
The press release isn’t completely unrecognisable, and some basic factors still remain. In a world that is overloaded with information, it’s important to keep the press release quick-hitting to succinctly highlight the most important points so they can be easily picked up by media.
“Two aspects of press release that haven't changed in our digital age though are writing great copy and making sure the news is newsworthy. When writing a release, PR professionals should always ask themselves: what is the news angle and why does it matter?” says Jarone Ashkenazi, an account manager at PMBC Group.
How to keep your press releases relevant
I asked some of the PR professionals to give their tips for writing and distributing an effective press release, here’s some of the most valuable advice:
- It’s not a single-strategy solution
“The idea that you can simply pitch traditional PR media outlets such as PR Newswire fails to hit the mark as a single strategy. In order to get people to pay attention you have to work harder and interact with your consumers, truly creating a relationship. That means making your content visible in the places your target audience already goes to consume content, social media or trusted third party blogs.” - Lindsey Paholski, converged media strategist, Springboard Marketing.
- Grab attention before it’s too…
“Headlines matter much more today. Attention spans have gotten really short, so the headline and first sentence are so important. We also include pictures with all the releases now.” Kathy Horn, marketing consultant, VitalinkR.
- Integrate your marketing
“Press releases are still as important as they were in the past, but they cannot be siloed and need to be integrated within a diverse marketing, public relations, and advertising strategy.” Katie Bisson, marketing manager, Technology Seed.
- Think of it differently
“Instead of thinking “press release” first, think “how can I join the conversation?” The goal, after all, is relevant coverage. While a press release can sometimes be a way to achieve the goal, it’s not the only way.” Doyle Albee, Metzger Albee Public Relations.
- Relationships still remain
“While PR has evolved, and online services have made it easier, it still comes down to having a relationship with targeted reporters. You can get a story online, but if you are targeting a specific news outlet, you have to know who to talk to, send them an email and follow up with a phone call.” Bruce Condit, VP of PR and marketing, Allegiance Capital Corporation.
So, in answer to my question, I believe that press releases still hold a place in our digital world - as long as we continue to adapt them to the changing landscape of online media, leverage the power of other channels to distribute information and start conversations, and only promote relevant, newsworthy information.
Do you use press releases in your business? What kind of success have you experienced? Share your thoughts below.