Your Press Release Isn’t PR

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Courtesy: Adobe Stock

It’s not your fault. You were taught to run a business, not how to share company news with the press. You likely copy what you’ve seen others do. That’s okay, but it’s probably not doing anything for you.

If your PR firm or in-house communications crew is only distributing press releases, I have a surprise for you, they’re not doing public relations (PR) work.

Don’t misunderstand me. Press releases for B2B companies can serve a purpose. But even then the impact is extremely low. Who trusts a company that says it’s fantastic? And press releases are typically distributed to appease somebody — an executive, marketer, shareholders, someone who wants to see something they did in lights, etc.

Your press release is a blog post you paid to distribute.

Before you even think about writing a press release, ask yourself what the story is to the reader. No story? Then you’ve got a blog post. Simple. Save yourself the time of going to the press.

Now let’s say your company made something great. So what? What did it solve for a customer? What are the data points or customer insights? It’s 2018, your prospects want to hear from your customers, but most of the time not from you. If you don’t have results, then wait until you do. And even then, email pitches (short notes of highlights or bullet points that point to a possible story) to journalists are likely to perform better than a press release.

Depending on the industry, when announcing real news such as a new executive hire/promotion, a press release can sometimes be a wise approach and could reach a broad network. There may be some benefits, but the majority of press releases are pretty much a complete waste of time or, at best, reference material for journalists to make sure they get the company name right. I speak with a lot of journalists on a daily basis. I can tell you what they think of press releases, which releases they see as pointless, and where you should spend your time to get results.

Tell me about the last valuable press release you read that wasn’t biased.

With almost zero time available and incredible pressure on them to produce a range of content, reporters want to quickly hear what’s relevant for their audience when your PR firm/communications team pitches them. And you’d better be sending tailored email pitches to every recipient and tying it to a larger trend or timely item if you want them to pay the slightest attention.

You may not be aware that reporters are receiving on average between 50–400 emails per day. One journo pal of mine says she gets about 25 per day and opens probably two. If you’re Adobe, nearly everything you say is news, and tech/business reporters will read the release highlights regardless. Fact: you’ve got about 30 seconds to catch a reporter’s interest. Which is more likely to win the day in half a minute or less, an email with bullets or a press release that says you’re just swell?

Where your news release is “published” (we’ll get into why that’s in quotes) is a whole other story.

Some folks claiming to be PR experts might suggest, advise or perhaps acquiesce to your insistence on distributing your press release via a wire service for what they claim is the broadest possible reach. You’ll get a timely distribution service report soon after your press release has gone out. That report will show big numbers (total potential audience) and countless news stations listed. You’ll think to yourself, “all these media outlets ran our release and found it valuable enough to present it to their audience. We did great!”

No, actually. That’s not what’s happened.

Those media outlets are “fed” your press release, which is then “published” on their site. The hard truth is your release isn’t searchable on 99 percent of those sites natively. That means if you logged onto their homepage and searched for your “article,” you’ll be unlikely to find it. Your SEO is barely improved because search engines don’t index them, and those news outlets aren’t writing original stories about your “news.” What’s more, your press release will disappear from those sites in minutes or hours to make room for the next release.

I’m going to reveal a huge secret that will upset many public relations practitioners and wire distribution companies: Those audience numbers are bogus. Informed, respectable PR practitioners will never showcase those figures to clients because they know it’s a shell game meant to make you think you’ve gotten media coverage when you, in fact, have not.

The next time you think you need a press release, ask yourself if the story would have more credibility to consumers if it is written by a journalist or told via a third party (partner or customer). I understand it’s sometimes easier to put out a press release. It’s sometimes easier still to distribute your press release through a wire service if you don’t have a PR firm or in-house communications pro. After all, sometimes your CEO just wants to see his or her name and quote on paper. But try to educate them. You might have a chance to see your business’ story appear in the Wall Street Journal, your largest regional newspaper, a relevant trade pub or a must-read blog by approaching it from a news-value-to-the-reader approach.

Again, you and your PR team may not be aware of these truths. If you remember anything I’m sharing, know that your press release is likely to be read by absolutely no one except your CEO. And even he or she may tell you it’s dull.

Reporters don’t read press releases. They’re typically a “jungle of jargon” void of value to readers.

I know many PR folks — some of them friends — will be angry or uncomfortable with this revealing article because they’re “publishing” press releases on the regular for B2B clients to justify their billable hours. It doesn’t matter. I’m looking out for B2B businesses. Any credible, experienced PR firm or communications pro should question your motive when you mention the need for a press release.

Written by

I run Forberger Communications, a commerce-focused Public Relations firm for retail vendors (SaaS companies, ecomm agencies). www.johnforberger.com

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