There’s an ongoing debate in the public relations industry about press releases.
Do we need them? Are they dead?
The answer to that is – they’re not dead. But going a little deeper, is a press release always the best solution?
Are Press Releases Always the Answer?
Let me start by saying that I often write press releases for clients. They do have a role to play in a client’s communications program. As long as journalists continue to ask for them (which they do), I say they can be valuable.
Where the trouble comes in is falling back on this as the ONLY way to get your message out there. When it’s the knee-jerk reaction, that becomes a bit lazy.
The other day, I mentioned on Twitter that a press release isn’t always warranted. As one Twitter follower pointed out, they should be used judiciously. They shouldn’t be the go-to every time you have something you want to communicate.
All too often, when someone in the C-Suite says, “This is happening – we need to write a press release,” instead of asking why, the PR team just jumps to – and writes it. Without asking:
- Why are we doing this?
- What message are we trying to convey?
- Who are we trying to reach?
- What is our goal with this communication?
- What are the options to communicate this? Which will work best for this particular audience?
So why does this happen? Sometimes, it can be the PR team’s lack of pushback. We may not ask enough questions about what the C-Suite wants to achieve. A wise executive will value the PR pro who first asks questions.
Other times, it’s the C-Suite’s ego that gets in the way of what skilled PR pros know better – that a press release isn’t the end-all/be-all of an effective public relations effort. Or it could be that so many are familiar with a press release that they just blurt that out – “Let’s write a press release” – without understanding there may be a better option. It’s the PR pro’s job to educate clients about the alternatives.
Why do we need to have this conversation? Because overuse of press releases can be a little like crying wolf. Pretty soon, people are tuning you out if you issue one every time you do anything. It can impact your credibility.
Yes, we CAN write a press release – but first, let’s talk about why you think you NEED one. It doesn’t mean you won’t still end up with a press release.
Alternatives to a Press Release
Sometimes we may be trying to reach multiple audiences, which can take more than one mode of communication. One may, in fact, be a press release. But beyond writing the release, let’s factor in other platforms and methods of sharing that information or news – perhaps it’s a media pitch, social media post, email, a case study, or a success story. For B2B clients, maybe it’s a contributed article, a thought leadership piece, or a self-published blog or LinkedIn post.
The point is that there are many options available to us – no longer is it simply a press release or nothing at all. And we should be looking at those options and utilizing whichever are best to help us achieve our goals.
Let’s move away from the throw spaghetti at the wall mode of communicating or marketing by first understanding how best to reach our audience. Then, we can make a better-informed decision about how best to convey the message.
“I ask, are we really trying to get press coverage of this, or is it more important to get the info out there?” said another Twitter follower. “Because outreach to key audiences, social media, a webinar, etc., can still be PR.”
As you consider alternatives, think about the format – is it written, audio, video or some combination? Often you can get more than one piece of content from a story or news item – and you may want to reach multiple audiences on more than one platform.
Then, which platforms will reach your audience? A press release may suit journalists, but do you need to issue it on a wire service? (That can be expensive.) Would a pitch sent directly to reporters work just as well?
If it’s customers you’re trying to reach, an email could be a better vehicle – or maybe your newsletter is a good option.
How to Decide If a Press Release Is Needed
What if you’re trying to decide if a press release is the best option to share your news? Here are some reasons to write a press release:
1) Journalists often ask for them. They appreciate the who/what/when/why/how that a press release generally contains. It’s a format they’re familiar with. Pro tip: Don’t forget to include a photo when you send them the release.
2) Writing a press release gets key players on the same page. The very process of writing a press release can help those who are communicating the news – not only PR but sales, marketing, HR or other departments – agree on the messaging that needs to be highlighted.
If you can’t communicate your key messages in a page and a half (that’s usually 400-600 words), you may need to go back to the drawing board to figure it out. If you have more to say, you can always provide that information in backup documents – a backgrounder, case study or a longer form post, or even a whitepaper.
3) Press releases can be repurposed in various ways. They’re usually one part of a more extensive campaign. Once written, they can be used as a source of key messages or quotes to plug into other marketing or communications efforts.
4) Posting press releases on your site provides an archive so prospective customers or journalists doing research can read about your past announcements.
Press Releases CAN Work – But Let’s Ask Questions First
Love them or hate them, press releases can be effective – but be sure to ask the right questions before embarking on any marketing or PR initiative.