Pity the Poor Press Release

newsroomWhen Christopher Penn dropped his post about the ineffectiveness of press releases, it verified what many of us already knew:

The press release, as a go-to communications tool, is yesterday’s news.

You might very well have information, insights and knowledge your audience needs, cares, and should hear about, but the press release ranks lowest on interest, effectiveness, and clickability.

Reporters, editors, and bloggers rarely read them. News organizations no longer cotton to them. A press release means the inevitable follow-up call that asks the one question a reporter never and still doesn’t want to hear: Did you get my press release?

Press releases are vain.  

Just because your organization thinks something is newsworthy, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is.

Who cares about being “pleased” and “proud” about the newest VP?

Is the latest but not very important iteration of your software, unless it does something phenomenally first, like Tesla’s fully autonomous vehicle announcement, worth an editor’s time?

Does your CEO like seeing his or her name in the press just…cuz?

Press releases are passive.

Your audience, editors and the web crave information that is relevant to what they care about, in forms they want to consume.

When a press release offers no context, no understanding of the receiver, and no story, it is lazy “action”.

Creating news and sharing vital market-building information takes time and research. If the information you supply doesn’t meaningfully speak to the receiver, you’re wasting your budget and the target’s time.

Press releases lack utility.

It was once upon on a time before Google Panda, Google actually indexed press releases and hence, provided some SEO utility. No longer. Using a syndication service and having your information plastered on a UHF station website out of the 50th biggest media market is definitely something to sneeze at.

If you must…

If you feel compelled to write a press release (many of you must for regulatory reasons) or you have actual real news (like Tesla, for example) keep the following in mind:

Is it really news?

When we discuss PR initiatives with prospects and clients, we always ask if the information passes the “who cares” litmus test. If you can’t come up with a compelling reason to communicate, think of another way to get that information into the hands of your prospects. Or, ditch the idea altogether.

If press releases come up, we counsel that the media, who wear many hats and cover much more ground, REALLY don’t care about a commercial messages poorly masquerading as news. They want objective knowledge and information to create meaty stories that keep readers, viewers and subscribers glued to their screens.

Know your target

The endemic banality of most press releases – and reporters’ negative reaction to them – show the majority of the people who send them know little to nothing about the publication, blog, or broadcast outlet or the reporters’ area of coverage.

You can weaken the reporter’s impulse to ignore your news with a well-written release directed to them, better yet, work your media contacts via email and phone with a tightly-honed pitch. Of course, we all have stories about a press release that led to an impressive placement. But routinely blasting news rather than taking a rifle approach isn’t effective in a world of building inbound links and winning hard-won domain authority.

Get to the point

Overly verbose and quote-heavy releases get deleted fast. Releases that take four paragraphs to get to the point often including details that cloud the reason you’re contacting the reporter in the first place. Releases don’t tell a story; they should offer up reasons why your story should exist.

If your information doesn’t create curiosity about a new story or add to an existing story and discussion, be ruthless with finding valuable particulars. Such specificity takes time and research.

Be available

A minimalist approach to news releases needs to be supplemented with additional info. Supply links to your website for the rest of the information about your product or service so reporters can determine if it’s worth a deeper dive.

Always include contact information at the end. And always reply to inquiries. If you add an email address, check it; a phone number, answer it. Be there and be responsive.

As with all marketing tactics, use the right instrument for the right task. Press releases have their utility. Practically, though, they now occupy a much smaller space in the tactical tool belt.

This is not to say that media relations isn’t relevant. It certainly is. But now your other content assets – blog posts, white papers, ebooks, infographics, and presentations – deliver your news and content more directly to prospects you aim to influence and want to consume your product or service.

A far better option is to plan and spend your valued marketing dollars on strategies and tactics that will propel your brand, enhance your domain authority, build traffic and entice your prospect to buy.

Four Questions NOT to Ask a PR Agency

New business opportunities can come out of the blue.  Like any agency owner, I welcome them with open arms.  Usually, the initial call helps both agency and prospect tee up a meeting to learn more about the prospect’s company and what it’s looking to accomplish.  The written ones give you time to conduct due diligence before the next step.

However, some questions prospects ask on quickie phone intros send up immediate yellow flags.  I recently had one such phone call that left me with the impression the caller was trying to put out a tactical fire rather than build and send strategic smoke signals.

Articles and blog posts abound about what business owners and corporate marketers should ask agencies to see if there’s a fit. These should be reserved for either a face-to-face meeting or a longer scheduled phone call.  As you read over those articles, here are four questions and statements not to ask, especially over the phone:

1. “What would be your approach?” Until an agency owner or representative can sit down with you or spend some time over the phone to ask the right questions, they won’t have and should not offer any recommendations.  This potentially allows the client to prematurely latch on to a solution which may not even be close to solving their problem.

2. “We’re thinking about a press release.  Would that help?” Yes, media relations could be one of several tactics that can generate exposure, but most companies face additional issues beyond exposure, such as more compelling presentation of their company, together with more relevant messaging (we’ve found it can always be improved!). Press releases are tactical tools – one of many — not thoughtful strategy.

3. Can you get us a story in (insert name of publication/TV/Radio/portal/blog)? Targeting publications is a good idea… if the upfront work to know what messages are to be conveyed is done (which only comes from knowing much more about a prospect’s business). Other concerns include knowing who to contact and how they prefer to be approached, and crafting a story that is a good fit with their editorial slant or the blogger’s preference.

Many companies tend to gravitate to well-known media outlets that in many cases aren’t the best fit for their audience or their business and marketing objectives.  This is often because they don’t fully understand the potential depth and nuances of good publicity.

4. Can you submit a plan by the end of the week? Some agencies can work very quickly if they get access to key decision makers, have time to ask the right questions and can review existing business and marketing plans.

Questions are imperative.  As we’ve written in earlier posts, answering good questions invariably leads to a better outcome for both agency and client. Question number one is completely appropriate after spending some time with the agency.  Avoid the other three.  Because some questions are better left unasked.