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Why Are We Still Talking About the Death of the Press Release?

Aly SaxeBy Aly Saxe, founder and CEO, Iris

Influential media placements are the bread and butter of PR life. That’s nothing new. But in a landscape of ever increasing media channels, something has changed: the validity of the press release.

Once there was a day when simply sending a press release over a wire service could garner strong earned media or even robust SEO traction. Those days are gone. The power of the press release to get attention has changed radically—and if you listen to the legion of online experts, you might think press releases are officially dead and buried.

Ask journalists, for instance. They’ll usually categorize the press release on the “noise” side of their noise to value ratio. And even when they do read them? A survey of more than 500 writers, editors, and publishers on pitching preferences found that 45 percent of writers write one story a day, yet 44 percent are pitched 20 times a day. Even a juicy press release is bucking hard odds.

Then there’s the reality that—sorry, but it’s true—Google no longer allows press releases to boost SEO. You can actually be dinged for the backlinks and duplicate content depending on how and where the release is distributed. That’s why some companies like Twitter have never sent out a single press release.

Finally, here’s an even more damning story: I’m a former PR agency owner and I run a PR software company—and we don’t put out press releases. We gave it a fair shake and tested one press release to announce our funding earlier this year. In addition to distributing the press release over a newswire, we also pitched the news 1-on-1 to media contacts that cover funding news for startups.

The result: 100% of the media coverage we received came from knowing how to pitch journalists directly. Essentially, we paid money for zero media wins and zero SEO value.

Replacing shortcuts with strategy

So it would seem then that the press release is in fact dead and we can put this issue to bed, right?

It’s not quite that simple. Some companies do still find them useful—in certain situations. Let’s break down when exactly a press release is necessary, how to do them right, and the alternatives that can take you farther.

We’ll start with the most common scenario: you’re trying to get news coverage for your company or client. While you could make an announcement on social media channels and your blog, this is an instance when you want third party media to write the story. If you represent a public company, you have some public disclosure guidelines to adhere to and a newswire can help with that.

If you’re a private company and in this situation, then a press release is likely not going to be an effective tool. Instead, pitch a list of highly targeted media contacts. Just don’t send one, uniform pitch to all of them at once. Make it truly personalized to each contact and what they cover.

Keep in mind that journalists can tell at a glance when they’ve been wrapped up in a spray and pray.

Does this take some work? Yep. But the rewards are way better than you’re going to see by spamming through a newswire or traditional media contact database.

Breathing life into the press release zombie

Now let’s say you have news that really is wide-reaching. I mean wider than your own industry or even your own country. It’s rare, but it happens. This is what Newswires were made for. But before you lock and load, consider these best practices.

  • Link only to educational content like videos, infographics, and blog posts. If you provide reporters with timely access to good information and images, as well as a qualified spokesperson, you’ve just boosted your chances of having your story run.
  • Tailor the press release to your intended target. You’re talking to journalists, not customers.
  • Avoid lots of industry jargon or complicated explanations. No one should have to use a decoder to figure out what you’re trying to say.
  • Write the release in a way that empowers the journalist to write the story quickly and clearly. That means get to the “why” first and foremost.
  • Hopefully this is the most obvious: be relevant. How does your story connect to news right now? What problem are you solving and how?

Last year, there were, on average, 1,759 press releases sent every day. In 2015, press releases still play a role in PR—but it’s a much smaller role than it used to be. No, the press release isn’t dead. It’s just older and wiser, so treat it with care.

Aly Saxe is the founder and CEO of Iris, software for agencies and in-house PR teams. She founded Ubiquity Public Relations, an agency representing high-growth B2B tech startups, in 2007. Follow Aly at @Aly_Saxe.

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