News releases: Do we still need them?

This author says yes, because they are an official statement of a company’s position, among other things. Do you agree?

Everyone knows content marketing is now the primary method of communicating with the public.

That and Twitter.

Everything an organization, business leader, celebrity, athlete, or political figure has to say about themselves or anything else can be boiled down to 140 characters, right?

Tweets and Facebook posts are now regal declarations—the absolute truth recorded for posterity for people to criticize, repeat, and submit as evidence should anybody doubt what was said.

Where does that leave the humble news release?

Is the news release dead?

Brian Halligan, CEO of Hubspot, asked the larger question, “Is PR dead?” in 2009. In the comments we see a long line of answers (See? Statements recorded for posterity) from people who agreed or disagreed with the premise.

But I’m just talking about the news release. I’ve been seeing a lot of them that seem to have morphed from the traditional news release format (headline, subhead, dateline, subject, quote, quote, company description, contact) into something more like this blog post, cleverly designed to trick people into reading it.

Like blog posts and infographics, people then use these releases as the baseline for social media campaigns and other forms of outreach as part of a trend called content PR. But there are reasons news releases and articles for content marketing are different:

  • A content marketing piece is meant to sell something, offer advice, raise an issue, or tell a story. It’s supposed to engage regular people and attract attention from search engines.
  • The news release is also meant to attract attention from search engines, and very often, sell something. But it’s also meant to engage a different audience: journalists.

Web journalism

But are reporters still sitting at city desks waiting for a fax, or checking Reuters and the AP on their organization’s intranet? No. They’re using Google and Twitter like the rest of us.

So, why do we continue to insist on the traditional news release?

It acts as the official statement of an organization. All other stuff related to the issue or incident is conjecture or the opinions of random individuals. In fact, that was the exact reason for the first news release, which was written in 1906 to deliver an organized response to a Pennsylvania Railroad train wreck that killed 50 people. I think it’s telling that the second time it was tried, reporters balked at the notion that a story could be controlled by a company and used as stealth advertising. The struggle we continue to see today was born.

It establishes a timeline. While the origination of a piece of content marketing can easily be obscured, a news release clearly states, “See? We said this on October 29.” Nobody truly owns the story, but the release makes clear what was officially said, and when.

It’s front-loaded, which is something we rarely do in content marketing. I opened this article with a provocative headline and a bunch of short sentences that I meant to be compelling (please say they were compelling), hoping to draw you into the story and entice you to read further. But a reporter would never waste time reading. Reporters know news releases make the most important points up front and in order.

It’s flexible. You don’t have to produce news releases as boring old text. You can also present your news release as an online video, slideshow, or with images. This may not impress reporters, but they’re not the only ones who receive your news anymore.

Beside the reasons above, news releases are still the centerpiece of any media relations campaign. If you’re practicing sound media relations, journalists will continue to view them as paramount when trying to extrapolate a company’s viewpoint.

That’s why we still write them.

Tom Bishop is director of marketing and communications at KnowledgeVision Systems in Lincoln, Mass. A version of this article originally appeared on Spin Sucks.

Topics: PR

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