United States: The (Exaggerated?) Death Of The Press Release

Brand messaging shows up everywhere these days, from the screens in our pockets to the sides of sports stadiums. The ubiquity of brand content makes the fight for ever-decreasing attention spans only tougher as the number of communications platforms multiplies. It's enough to make traditional forms of messaging, like the press release, obsolete.

There's no doubt that today's savvy marketers are looking beyond the standard release, either replacing it altogether or adapting it to the new world order in communications. Spicing up the customary press release format with strong visual elements—like infographics or video content, for instance—can make messages easier to digest and better fodder for social media engagement. Other brands have discovered that going big with live events offers advantages in driving coverage and building press relationships over the press release. And of course, social media platforms have placed the power of content creation and publishing directly in individuals' hands, arguably replacing the role of the standard press release.

And yet, while its influence may be diminished, the good old press release is still with us.

How I See It

  • The best marketing departments demonstrate value to their internal stakeholders by building multi-disciplinary communications teams. Along with knowledge of traditional PR skills (like media relations and, yes, press release writing), they bring digital expertise, design knowledge, and fluency with video. We'll continue to see this evolution of PR and marketing teams as the platforms they work on evolve.
  • Infographics, video, and other ways of presenting information are wonderful and welcome additions to the marketers' toolbox. There is something durable, however, about the written word. In certain situations, it remains the most powerful way to convey information. The power of text explains why the press release has clung on for so long, despite all the changes ushered in by the digital age.

How the Industry Sees It

I had the opportunity to sit down with Steve Barrett, VP, Editorial Director, PRWeek/MM&M, to get his thoughts on how brands are adjusting to the variety of messaging platforms that exist now outside of the traditional press release, and to that effect, how PR firms are keeping up with the changes.

Where are your reporters getting their story ideas these days?

Whether you are a reporter or working in business or communications, everyone is inundated with a blizzard of information, data, content, feeds, and social media. It's a great thing because you've got more and more sources of information, but it can also be daunting because there is so much to sift through.

The bottom line is reporters are getting their stories from where they always have – great relationships with stakeholders and their contacts, and by meeting and conversing with them to get the scoop and inside track. It's important to #1 break stories, but we've also got to add value in terms of context and analysis on top of pure news. News is somewhat of a commodity these days, and we've got to go beyond that. We use social media feeds to keep on top of trends, specific happenings, people moves, opinions, and that’s a great source of knowledge on what's going on. We use platforms like LinkedIn – a great tool to know when someone moves jobs and for checking their career details (not that you don't have to also check facts, because not everything on social media is accurate). We still get press releases and still have PR companies dealing with us, and we very much prefer to work on an exclusive basis and are more likely to cover something if it's exclusive to us.

Brands can communicate their messages on any number of platforms, from Instagram feeds to mass emails. What kind of challenges does that present to publications, if any?

The sheer weight of information that's out there is the major challenge. And of course, it's open to everyone to see, whether that's competitors or media outlets – or even our readers and consumers. As a media company, you ask: what is your role in that? As we've seen with President Trump and other influencers, people can now go directly to their audience through social media to cut out the "middleman," so we have to make our contribution on top the purest exchange of information and be more useful to our readers in terms of analysis, context, and opinion.

How has your relationship with PR firms changed as the number and variety of communication platforms continues to proliferate?

We are in a unique position because we deal with PR firms in terms of them being PR firms, but it's also the subject we write about, so it’s a two-way relationship. It's all about relationships at the end of the day. Someone who is sending out hundreds of emails or does a "smile and dial" is not going to have as productive a relationship as a dialogue based on real knowledge, preparation, or relevance. As always, reporters get annoyed when they're spammed with totally irrelevant pitches or inaccurate information. If you see something from someone you trust or you know, you're much more likely to open that email. It's all about the relationships.

What is the most interesting trend that you expect in 2018?

Mobile is the biggest trend in terms of delivering our content and also the way PR people communicate. If you look at some of the most innovative media start-ups, like Axios for example, the spin-off from Politico, that channel is totally optimized for mobile and is a "mobile-first" platform. It's really in tune with modern consumption needs and trends, because if you think about the way that people consume information now, I'd say 60-70% of it is on a mobile device. I don't think enough people have tailored the way they communicate – whether they're in PR or media – to that channel, but Axios definitely has. At PRWeek, we recognize this trend and are doing our part. For example, we have optimized our daily Breakfast Briefing for mobile, and I imagine most people who consume it will do so on a mobile device.

The other trend is how AI and machine learning is going to impact not just journalism, but also marketing and communications. PRWeek did a special issue last year on AI and the impact on communications that picked up on some of the trends, and there are already newsrooms that have been driven by AI, especially in the sports and financial sectors. That's going to develop more – we are seeing it come into PR and marketing as well as far as providing and crunching data and doing some of the menial tasks.

What's the most interesting thing in your office?

We have an interesting piece of art by David Finn (founder of Ruder Finn). We honored him at our Hall of Fame in 2015, and he's quite an accomplished artist. He produced a piece using colored paperclips that is displayed here.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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