This is a guest post by Sarah Skerik, PR Newswire’s vice president of social media, and the author of Unlocking Social Media for PR. You can follow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.
About once a month, as I trawl public relations blogs, discussion groups, and Twitter streams, I’ll run across the assertion, “The press release is dead.” Is this true? The answer is no, but that’s a qualified no. Press release views on PR Newswire’s web site are 30% higher than the averages recorded in 2009. And people share thousands of press releases on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks. People do read and share press releases.
That said, a lot about press releases has changed – from their audiences to their formats. Press releases haven’t exclusively been the domain of just professional media for years. In fact, a variety of publics and stakeholders are now legitimate audiences for press releases. And with that new audience has come new demands for press release content. Readers want the underlying story, they want pictures, and they want video. They want to learn more about the topics of interest to them, and they want to experience the news, not simply read it.
Needless to say, long, impenetrable, self-serving, jargon-laden press releases are limping to their graves, groaning under the weight of ego-laden quotations and editing-by-committee.
3 Reasons Press Releases Are Still Relevant
One question remains: Why are press releases still relevant, considering the sea of information now available online? There are a few reasons:
1. Authority: The very sea of information available causes some problems for your audience, in terms of what content can be trusted. Press releases are de facto statements of record for an organization, and as a result, they convey credibility and are perceived as being official, verifiable – by both professional media and the public.
2. Packaging: Well written press releases tell the whole story – the who, what, where, when, why and how – within a single message. They’re well suited for the ever-diminishing attention span of audiences.
3. Portability: Press releases are meant to be reproduced, shared, and quoted, removing any barriers or concerns about copyright that may cause your audience to hesitate.
As a communications medium, press releases are unquestionably viable, despite the fact that communicators have more tools than ever of which they can avail themselves. But the medium is only as good as the message. A clunker is a clunker, no matter how it’s formatted. Boring and irrelevant messages are, simply put, a waste of everyone’s time.
3 Characteristics of a Successful, Modern-Day Press Release
To gain and keep attention today, successful content – whether we’re talking about a press release, a blog post or an entire web site – needs to fit the requirements of today’s audiences and how they consume information. Here are some characteristics of successful press releases:
1. It’s nimble. Successful messages are built to fit multiple formats. They feature tweetable headlines and factoids, search engine-friendly elements (e.g. keywords, links, etc.), compelling visuals, and an easy-to-share landing page that renders nicely across LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, and other networks.
2. It’s atomized. Your audience doesn’t live in one place, and neither should your press releases and other content. Derive one piece of content from another, such as turning a webinar into a series of blog posts, a podcast or video, a PowerPoint presentation or pdf, an infographic – and distribute each accordingly. Likewise, a simple press release can be similarly atomized. You can tweet a variety of key points, upload accompanying multimedia to YouTube, Flickr, Tumblr, SlideShare, and any number of other sites, and you can offer an insider, engineering, or customer perspective on the company blog. In this case, more is truly more.
3. It’s useful. Content needs to interest, inform, or entertain the audience...period. When determining how to communicate with your audiences and what vehicles to employ, take into account the outcomes you need to generate, the actions you want to encourage, and where your intended audiences live. As you do so, be willing to re-think press releases and other content. You may find some unusual opportunities.
The Lead-Gen Potential of Press Releases
Lead generation, for example, has not been the traditional realm of public relations. However, press releases can be very valuable lead-gen tools because of their authority and portability, as well as the simple fact that they tend to be widely shared. They’re especially useful when you need to reach beyond the universe of people you know (e.g. those in your email database or your Facebook fans) and find new audiences within previously uncharted verticals. Given their specificity, press releases can do a pretty spectacular job of finding your audience for you. Embedding a call-to-action for your publics within the text of the release instead of simply offering a contact for interested media creates a pathway for potential customers, directly from a credible and widely-distributed source, which, in effect, acts as a distributed landing page.