PR Does Not Mean “Press Release”

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Photo by GiantsFanatic, Creative Commons licenseIn college, we spent quite a bit of time learning how to format a “press release.” The idea was that reporters and editors would take a well-written release, edit it slightly, and print it. It was important to leave room for editing and slugging and all the manual copy manipulation that might happen.

Quite often, it worked, and my company or client found themselves with a story in a media outlet. (Before the Internet, we found out weeks later when the clipping service delivered our news to us, but that’s another blog post!)

But much like my favorite 8-track tapes and reliable rotary telephone, the world has passed the carefully formatted press release by.

Sadly, I still find too many PR professionals relying too much on this old standby for the bulk of their PR programs. This results in press releases being written and issued that, to be direct, have no business seeing the light of day. They’re not newsworthy topics, and they only serve to clutter up inboxes and irritate thevery people they’re trying to influence. In the end, the goal of most PR programs is to tell a story to an identified audience, and that just doesn’t happen by sending a regular stream of boring press releases. You’re simply wasting money for your client or for your company.

So what’s a flack to do? It’s simple, really. Instead of thinking “press release” first, think “how can I join the conversation?” The goal, after all, is relevant coverage. While a press release can sometimes be a way to achieve the goal, it’s not the only way. Sometimes, it’s even the wrong way.

We’ve achieved coverage for our clients through a variety of tools, including:

  • Targeted pitching. When the Heartbleed bug hit the news, we didn’t write a press release. We called and emailed reporters who had relevant beats and offered the expertise of our client Coalfire. The Associated Press quoted our client, and the story ran in nearly 200 papers. This resulted in the single largest day of web traffic in the company’s history.
  • Contributed content. Many blogs take contributed posts, and more and more mainstream media outlets welcome thoughtful, well-written pieces (important: if you want to write and submit a sales piece, don’t even bother). Our client Cardinal Peak writes a monthly post for EDN/Electronic Design News, a highly targeted publication which gets them in front of potential customers in a far more meaningful way than a press release announcing their new VP.
  • Infographics. When I was learning to type (yes, on a typewriter) press releases, we would often cut articles out of newspapers, paperclip them to a note that said something like “thought you would enjoy this” and send to a friend or colleague. Today, that cumbersome process has been replaced by clicking and sharing on sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest. An attractive, easy-to-read infographic has a far better chance of getting shared than a 2,000-word white paper — and a far better chance of being consumed and shared by others. Even established media outlets often run infographics.
  • Surveys. Help establish your company or client as the expert by conducting an inexpensive survey and sharing the results (maybe in an infographic). Something like “47 percent of managers say…” is far more interesting to reporters, editors, bloggers and your target than “Bob Jones at Acme says…”
  • Video. Pre-roll advertising is a source of revenue for traditional and social media outlets. If you can provide good video outlets can put ads in front of, you increase your chances of landing on a media site. Something like “how to increase your home’s curb appeal to attract buyers” is probably an average (at best) press release. But a well-done video could not only get placement on a major blog or online outlet, but could be shared by realtors or anyone with a friend trying to sell their home.

These are just a few common tactics, and there are many more ways to join conversations and get noticed without ever sending a press release.

To be clear, press releases do have a place in a PR program. Land a $10 million investment? Send a release! Get acquired by Apple? Fire up the presses! However, as the old saying goes, when the only tool you have is a hammer, pretty soon the whole world becomes a nail. If you find yourself asking, “what are we going to do our next press release about?” you’re doing it wrong. Use press releases only when they make sense and meet your program goals.

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