Have press releases gone the way of phone books and QR codes? Or are they still effective for spreading the word about your latest company news? We asked journalists, PR pros and marketing experts to weigh in.
You may have heard that the press release is dead. Those of us in the communications industry have been hearing it for years, but the truth is, press releases—short communications that relay news—are very much alive. “Many reporters still prefer to receive press releases because they are the easiest way to understand the who, what, where, when and how of your announcement,” says Michelle Barry, a public relations strategist with Chameleon Collective.
Former news reporter Liz Jeneault, now a vice president of marketing with Faveable, agrees. “I believe in the power of press releases. When I worked as a reporter, I relied on them for story ideas.…They are chock-full of great information, and they’re a great jumping[-off] point for a story, especially on a slow news day.”
While press releases still have their place, it’s important to note that they’re evolving right along with the communications industry. “Press releases don’t have the same effect that they used to,” says Ronjini Joshua, owner and CEO of The Silver Telegram, a PR agency. “They are used more like fact sheets and reference points. They also are a primer for reporters to determine whether they want to create a bigger story out of the news.”
“A press release…should be viewed as one of many tools at the disposal of a company,” says Edward Yang, managing partner at Firecracker PR. “If your goal is to create an online profile with a history of official announcements that are picked up automatically by certain websites, press releases can do that. However, if you’re looking to generate original stories from reporters, the chance of that happening from a press release on a wire service is low.”
“Issuing a release over the wire can be expensive and doesn’t guarantee media coverage,” adds Barry. “The press release is only one small part of a larger strategy.”
So how do you use a press release strategically? The first step is to determine if your news is actually newsworthy. “Many clients want a press release for every new hire and promotion,” says Margaret H. Geiger, the owner of Twelve31 Media, a full-service marketing company. “This [information] may be important to the business internally, but news outlets wouldn’t consider [it] very newsworthy.”
What is likely to catch a reporter’s attention? “Grand openings, big events, nonprofit/charitable contributions and fundraising opportunities, new product launches and notable business acquisitions,” says Geiger.
Writing the Press Release
If you have an announcement that is truly worthy of a press release, there is a right way to go about crafting it. “Most companies organize their press releases using a completely wrong approach,” says Rafe Gomez, co-owner of VC Inc. Marketing, a public relations firm. “By not understanding the essential ‘rules’ that make a press release readable, interesting and usable, these organizations will have tremendous difficulty attaining the valuable benefits that a well-crafted press release can deliver.”
Besides sharing updates that are truly newsworthy, Gomez says companies should present the information clearly and concisely, and avoid hype. “Mirror the flow of a CNBC story rather than a QVC segment,” he says.
“Keep it under 500 words,” adds Barry. “Avoid jargon and buzzwords, and focus on customer benefits. Don’t make overinflated claims that you can’t back up with facts, and when it comes to quotes, ditch the fluff. Remove any quote that starts with ‘We are excited….’ They add no value.”
Besides these tips, be sure to format the release properly (search “how to write a press release” or view examples here). Include hyperlinks where relevant—two or three at most. You can also use images and video if they help tell your story.
Promoting Your News
Once you have a well-written, jargon-free press release, you need to promote it. “In an innovative industry like tech…every press release should be on a company website, on the internet more broadly, on tech blogs, on all your social media channels, and, if it is a major announcement like a funding round, on a paid press release distribution service,” says Andrew Blum, a PR consultant with AJB Communications. “Using a video to serve as a press release announcement is also a good way to go.”
You also need to pitch your news to reporters. (Simply hoping they’ll write a story after seeing your release isn’t a sound strategy.) What is? Doing your homework.
“Building relationships with media and news outlets is extremely important,” says Geiger. “Maintaining an up-to-date media list that is specific to your industry is key since the news world has a high turnover.” You can build these relationships by reading and commenting on industry blogs, following the trade press, connecting with influencers, and following journalists and editors who cover your industry on Twitter and other social media sites.
It also pays to be persistent. “Media personnel are busy, and some receive hundreds of emails a day,” says Geiger. “To get seen among the clutter, always follow up with a phone call. For bonus points, find their social media handles and reach out via direct message. They’ll appreciate the urgency and determination.”
“You never know what a reporter is looking for, so it’s important to keep sending them press releases,” says Jeneault. “Even if you don’t get a response the first or second time around, you might on the third. When I used to host and executive produce a weekly news program, I remember passing on one woman’s press releases several times until I finally received one that fit what I was looking for. Even though I had ignored her for months, her patience and persistence paid off. I booked two of her clients to appear on my show.”
Note, too, that your time might be better spent courting the trade press rather than the big media outlets. “The wider the market you’re going after, the harder it is to get press,” says Yang. “It is magnitudes harder to get a mention in a national mainstream media outlet versus in an industry-specific magazine. Yet the latter often offer the best opportunities to generate press if you can tailor your message for unique audiences.”
Press Release as SEO Tool
Besides helping you to engage reporters, press releases have a place in your search engine optimization strategy. “Establishing a strong brand position in Google and other search [engines] is important, if not critical, to most companies, and press releases serve as strong SEO and online reputation management tools,” says Eric Fischgrund, the founder of FischTank, a marketing and PR firm. “Releases that are well written, laden with keywords relevant to [your] business, and [that contain] links to important online assets are helpful for online branding.”
“With the rise of social media and digital marketing, press releases now are an invaluable resource for gaining organic backlinks, which are important in digital marketing, especially SEO,” says SEO expert Kenny Trinh, CEO and founder of Netbooknews. Like the other experts we consulted, though, Trinh cautions that focusing on backlinks is not enough. “Press releases will be effective only if the content is useful, newsworthy and done correctly.”
Go Beyond the Press Release
“Companies with a small marketing budget can make a large impact by investing their time and resources in PR,” says Olga Mykhoparkina, chief marketing officer of Chanty. “We’ve extensively used platforms such as HARO, Sourcebottle and JournoRequests. With just a few hours per day, we’ve been able to get massive exposure for our website, as well as a large number of backlinks (30-plus) every month, just by following what journalists are asking for and giving them the right information in time.”
You can also contact reporters directly. “I will only write a press release if the client asks for a formal release they can use on their website for SEO and/or content,” says Patricia Jones, founder of PJones Communications. “If a client wants me to generate news coverage for their product, service or industry, I craft pitch emails customized to the reporter or editor I am writing to. In the first sentence, I tell the reporter why the pitch is of interest to their audience. I don’t waste the reporter’s time, and I don’t waste my client’s resources by writing a lengthy press release that will most likely go to spam or get deleted.”