Is The Press Release Dead?

In a Media Relations class at Georgetown University the question was asked, “Is the Press Release Dead?” I of course jumped at the idea, tired of wasting my valuable energy and time pushing out press releases to journalists who seemingly never responded.

In my time at the Athletics Communications office for the University of West Florida, I wrote dozens of press releases that we distributed to the local news agencies and I rarely received any feedback. Don’t get me wrong, they were writing stories, but in Pensacola, Fl there’s not a lot of other options for the sports page.

I also knew that they were following us on social media, and they used the instant notifications of Twitter and Facebook as the basis of some of their stories. Social media and web streaming of games allowed them to push stories faster. Why wait for the press release?

We did have an incredible story that became a press release dream for the office. We actually got the local NBC affiliate to cover it and sit down for a one-on-one interview with a student athlete who was active in the local community. However, we also put out our own video to highlight his story before the local news caught on, and that was probably a big reason why they chose to cover it. That video did very well for us on Facebook. I always attributed the media coverage to its success more than the press release.

Fast forward to now. As a public affairs specialist for a military installation in the National Capital Region we write at least a dozen press releases a year trying to pull in the DC media to the base. We get some interested parties, but we get just as much coverage from an advisory as we do a press release. The truth is, our fluffy base stories pale in comparison to the daily news that DC creates. It’s tough to get news to cover anything that doesn’t have a political angle or a scandal attached to it.

I’ve felt that simply putting out an advisory, and then trying to create the relationships with the local press and pitch them individually would be the best approach. However, now that I’ve seen what a press release can be after taking the legendary Mike Long’s class for PR Writing at Georgetown, I’m back on the fence and left wondering if the lack of success was due to failing to sell the story in the press release correctly.

The key difference from what we’ve learned to what I was doing is the audience.

Throughout my education and experience in public affairs, we’ve talked about several audiences, but we’ve never discussed journalists as the audience. Luckily for me, I have a Bachelors in Journalism. I think that gives me some insight into a journalist’s frame of mind, and now having the epiphany that a press release is simply intended to make a journalist’s job easier and entice them to cover your story, I think I get it now.

Here are some simple steps for writing better press releases that I’ve come up with after these experiences.

  1. Keep it simple. — Journalists are busy. They’re underpaid, overworked and underappreciated. They don’t have time to wade through a thousand word press release only to find out this isn’t their beat, and they can’t do anything with it. Make sure you get straight to the point in the headline of the release, and lay down the interesting facts in the subhead. Avoid any and all editorializing, unless you’re quoting a Subject Matter Expert.
  2. Don’t try to market the story. — You’re not selling this story to a customer. It’s not advertising or a brochure. The press release has only one goal; get the reporter to call you and cover the story. This may not seem revolutionary, but when you stop imagining what audience would be interested in your story, you can cut down to the most important details and save yourself and the reporter time in the process.
  3. Do the reporter’s work for them. — This is probably where most PR professionals will grumble. We do most of the work for reporters. We research the stories, find angles, provide quotes and tie it into current events. That’s a great start. The best way to ensure that your story is written, the only reason to spend the energy and time of crafting the press release, is to make sure that the reporter has to do as little of the research for the story as possible. Find polls, other articles and supporting facts. Basically everything that you would add into the story. The more you provide, and can attribute properly, the less a reporter has to consider. The easier it is for them to say, “Yes, I’ll cover that,” the more effective your press release will be.

Tell me what you think about this topic, and if you’re a reporter, please tell me what you want to see in a press release or story pitch.