Hold the presses: The press release is dead; long live the press release

Tim Munroe

A recent report published in PRWeek from the communications firm Greentarget found that most reporters spend very little time reading press releases—less than a minute actually.

And those quotes from company spokespeople contained in the release? No one uses them apparently.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be.

The report is just the latest black mark on the reputation and value of the “press release” or “news release” -- a one-time staple of public relations work that is allegedly on the decline. More brands (e.g. Amazon) are moving away from press releases as PR vehicles, in favor of other modes of corporate communication such as social media (Twitter, for example). Compare the stream of press releases on the likes of Businesswire and PRNewswire from several years ago, and you can see that the way corporate news is being disseminated is clearly changing.

Indeed, when I even say “press release” I feel like I should be in a black-and-white movie and wearing a fedora with a card tucked in it that says “P-R-E-S-S.” It’s a little bit of a holdover from the day when editors smoked and spit on the floor of newsrooms and PR people hosted three-martini lunches with reporters to get a story.

I got my start in public relations several years ago where one of my main responsibilities was preparing press releases for a variety of tech companies. They tapped me to draft press releases because I had, like so many PR people, been a working journalist prior to becoming a “flack.”

Drafting client quotes were always the most painful part of the press release. Depending on the persnickety-ness of the person being quoted, hours of billable time could be spent on what words adequately captured the spokesperson’s “excitement” over a new product launch or that someone was joining their company in a newly created executive role.

I don’t recall too many reporters using the canned quotes from press releases back then either.

The best thing about press releases, at least from the PR person’s standpoint, is that they are vehicles for consensus within a business. Preparing a release always got people talking to each other and collaborating on a company’s messages and what image the client wanted to convey. Press releases are like the source—it’s what everyone in a company would rally around and refer to for a product launch or some other corporate announcement. And that to me is why I think press releases can still play a valuable role within public relations practice.

I don’t doubt that press releases don’t get a lot of attention from reporters. Why should it? A reporter worth his salt has plenty of sources to rely on for a story. The most valuable part of a press release for 28 percent of reporters, according to the Greentarget report, is the contact information.

Today, the press release is less a vehicle of news, and more of a corporate milestone that documents something in the “life” of a business. I don’t think press releases will go away anytime soon, but I do think the role of the press release is really about of corporate memorialization, collaboration and consensus, and that will continue to be the case.

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