When I was a newspaper reporter a hundred years ago, the first job of the day was to sort through the press releases. Most wound up in “the round file” – the garbage can – because they were self-serving, irrelevant or both. And that was way before email.
Now, rather than stuffing envelopes or relying on the fax machine, PR people can send thousands of press releases with the single click of a mouse. This “spray and pray” method of publicity is competing for even less space in the daily newspaper than did the releases of yesteryear. It didn’t work then. It certainly doesn’t work now.
David Segal of The New York Times called PR pitches appeared in his box after the email system was changed “spam that started showing up the way flying monkeys appear in ‘The Wizzard of Oz.’ Swarms landed each day, imploring the Haggler (his alter ego and the name of his column)
to write about Christmas Cookie Treat Boxes, or a document previewer called Igloo, or a liquor called Pura Vida Tequila, which ‘will be in the house this season at Qualcomm Stadium.’ Woo-hoo. The odds of the Haggler writing about any of these topics could safely be described as nil.”
Segal went on to write in painstaking details about what he did to get himself removed from the Vocus database and provided email addresses for Vocus and other popular PR databases so that other journalists can also get their email addresses removed, as well. Ouch.
He quoted the client of one PR firm who, unbeknownst to him, was spending his money spamming journalists. The businessman called the tactic “fishing with dynamite.” Segal said that fishing with dynamite probably yielded a better result, and he’s right!
So – is the press release dead? Is there ever a time when you should use a press release? And what should you do instead of spamming journalists? Let’s unpack that.
First, yes, there is a place for the press release. A press release is the optimal way for a business to organize material in a logical, readable format for an announcement and to make sure that the facts are presented in a newsworthy format. Writing in inverted pyramid format from an objective viewpoint is the standard for press releases. Once your press release is written, where can you use it so that it has value?
Post it on your own website – That’s right – that’s the first place your press releases go. You should have a media room on your own website. That’s where you post news of your own product announcements, promotions, awards, etc.
Social media – Post short announcements on social media with links to your press releases in your media room.
Your blog – Write commentary about important happenings in your company on your blog. Link to your press releases. Your blog posts should be less “newsy” and more story-based. If your company just launched a product, for example, write about people whose lives will be changed by it.
Your YouTube channel – Make a video that relates to your press release. Again, make it story-related.
Your local media – Local newspapers, magazines and TV stations are much more receptive to getting press releases about businesses in their service area than national media.Your industry press – Newsletters and magazines that cover your industry often are starved for trends, appointments, awards, etc. Don’t pass up these opportunities.
Press release distribution channels – While sites such as PRNewswire and PRWeb do send releases to journalists, they also post your release online and distribute your release to thousands of blogs. At one time Google rewarded your website with SEO value for these links, but this is no longer true since the Hummingbird algorithm update. However, there is considerable value in the visibility gained from showing up in so many locations on the web.
The next question – when you seriously want to get national attention, how do you do that? What is there besides a press release to get the attention of reporters at big-time papers such as The New York Times?
The secret is the individualized pitch. You research the reporter who is the best reporter to write the story, become familiar with their work, then carefully craft a pitch based on work they have done in the past and their interests. You send them a short email suggesting your story idea, making it as compelling as possible.
Yes, it’s more work than clicking one button and sending out thousands of press releases, but it’s more effective. It requires a lot of research to determine the best reporter to pitch and to develop your angle, but ultimately, it pays off. While you may not always score a story, reporters respect the effort you put into learning their work and respond to your attempt to be helpful, if you approach them in this manner.
If you aren’t comfortable with this kind of work or don’t have the time to get involved with journalists at this detail, this is the value that PR firms, such as The Buzz Factoree, brings to their clients.
The bottom line, is — no, the press release is not dead – but it’s important to know when to use it and what to expect from it when you use one.