The Press Release is Dead

A zombie ambles among us.

The beast lugs inside it a sluggish, collective plague that, at times, appears impossible to eradicate and infects thousands on a daily basis.

Unfortunately for the masses, those responsible for unleashing this monstrous thing on the world continue to do so unabated, either unaware or apathetic to what they are foisting upon their intended recipients.

Of course, I’m talking about press releases.

Stop this madness.

The press release, as an editorial format, once had quasi-valiant roots. It came into existence because handling turn-of-the-20th-century news with an appropriate attention to journalistic detail involved travel and communication that was not possible or palatable at the time. But by the time the roaring ‘20s came around, the press release had pretty much evolved into a popular mechanism to advertise certain brands of cigarettes.

It’s not just the fact that we have trains and airplanes and drones now. Unlike that time (which was, you know, a century ago) anyone can be a reporter these days. Journalism — or at least the pursuit of something that strives to resemble it — isn’t housed exclusively in the hallowed halls where newsmen and women type with purpose; it is in the hands of anyone connected to social media platforms, produced by anyone and everyone from your thirteen-year-old cousin to a communications staffer at many of the world’s largest corporations, associations, and nonprofits.

But somehow, the press release — a relic of a day and age when people actually couldn’t find reliable details about what happened and major metropolitan newspapers literally copied press release text verbatim to the page — still exists in the form it has manifested in for years: boring, stilted text that offers little and is often ignored, almost always a nuisance.

Unless you are the President of the United States, your release is probably just another digital thing shifting from inbox to virtual dump. One doesn’t need to look any further for evidence than Zach Schonfeld’s harrowing journey into press release hell in late 2014. An experiment aimed at addressing “every PR email I received for an entire week, regardless of the subject matter or sender” led the author to an exhausting malaise:

By 3:40 p.m., I have 12 unopened press releases in my personal inbox and 17 in my work email. It is impossible to keep up and also perform my job; every time I hit reply on one, two or three more seem to arrive, so I try to focus on writing for a bit and then by the time I get home, both inboxes are in the 20s and I start to power through but pass out before 10:30.
Voices drift up to my window from the bar outside my apartment, and in my half-awake, half-delirious state, they remind me of press releases — unsolicited snippets of conversation and information greeting me, unannounced, and just as swiftly exiting my consciousness.

So let’s aim squarely for the press release’s head — and replace it with something useful.

This could mean something different for us all. There’s no one “right” way.

For Amazon’s Jay Carney, it meant writing a post here, on Medium, to address the massive New York Times profile of his company’s labor practices (And for the Times, it meant responding in kind).

For refreshing ways to shun press releases in favor of storytelling, Coke is it.

For Coca-Cola, the not-so-secret solution was to evolve the corporate press release by investing in brand journalism that offers a “tremendous ability to deepen engagement with our consumers.”

For Tesla, it was all about creating a single digital destination with all the information you’d typically expect to find in any number of press releases, but presented in a concisely written fashion that encourages reporters to reach out for additional information — and, perhaps most importantly, is available to anyone, anytime, just by typing “about Tesla” into Google.

Will shedding the press release be difficult? Sure. Changing anything that people do just because everyone else does it is always going to be difficult. Of course, we also all used to not wear seat belts while driving, cooked something called Shrimp Aspic Mold for dinner, and called a small pour of alcohol a “jorum of skee.” So, you see, humanity always rises above.

We can eliminate the scourge of press releases. I believe in us. Let’s do it.

Want to go beyond the press release? That’s exactly the kind of thing we think about and build for clients at Atlantic Media Strategies every day. Sign up for our weekly newsletter, the Digital Trends Index, and get in touch on Twitter.