The death of the press release is a favourite topic for media and communications professionals. Recently, it flared up again when Alex Aiken, executive director of US government communications made the (bold?) declaration that, yes, the press release is dead.
Aiken’s argument, as described by PR Week is that public relations pros should be content producers. Here’s the quote:
“You should not start with three pages of A4, but a tweet, an infographic or a video. If you are writing more than 200 words on any subject, you’re probably in the wrong place.”
I understand where Aiken is coming from. Social media has changed the way we get our messages out. I would argue no profession knows that better than journalists, who not only use Twitter and Facebook (and others) as a listening tool, but perhaps more importantly as a platform to project their content.
The nature of social media dictates that those who use it must have a short attention span. There’s a lot to absorb and if you’re browsing for a lead, chances are you’re going to stop on the catchiest title or most interesting Tweet, look, and then move on. Where is there room for a press release in that world?
You don’t have to look much further than Google.
When Google shut the door on its much beloved Reader application, the outcry was swift. How dare it shut down what was an essential tool for so many. When Google made the announcement, it’s possible it didn’t expect the reaction it got. Who used RSS feeds anyway? Especially in Aiken’s era of social-first communications, surely everyone was picking up their news from Facebook, Twitter and maybe even Google’s own Google+ platform. But outcry there was, and even though Google gave its users plenty of time to say goodbye, the Internet has had a hard time letting go.
One of the foremost reasons Google Reader was important was because it was the best tool for browsing press releases accurately and efficiently. I’d often have a Reader window open to watch for news I could follow up on. Often the releases would be posted to their respective feeds well before I was sent the release. So when Google asks me to use its social media platform for everything Reader used to do, I simply can’t. Social media is fast paced, it can be inundating and it can be distracting — all things good press releases solve.
As a journalist, it’s so easy to miss something when browsing social media. In a field that demands accuracy and timeliness, social networks can hurt more than help. It’s very easy for rumour and other misinformation to spread on social networks, especially when news is pouring in. It’s like a bad game of telephone.
A good press release can highlight something that a reporter could have missed, include links to photo galleries, executive bios or slide decks. Instead of seeing social media as a replacement for the press release, I’d instead liken it to the soapbox.
I’d also argue that press releases are better written than ever before, and perhaps more important. They might serve an increasingly secondary function, especially in technology where keynotes, specialty events and extravagant live events seem to be the new favourite mode to make the initial announcement. But with so many devices, products, and features, press releases are still important for keeping everything straight. It’s a rare breed of reporter that can remember how many gigahertz that new CPU can turbo boost to, and was that battery removable or not? Check the release! You can’t use social media for that.
So while the function of the press release as the foremost platform for news delivery might be changing, the press release isn’t dead. In fact, it’s never been more relevant.
Guest blog post from Christopher Rogers, editor of wrlwnd.com a website dedicated to celebrating innovative technology.
Disclosure: Christopher Rogers is a former employee of StrategicAmpersand.