The press release has long been a staple of PR, first coming into use in 1906, when Ivy Lee, the PR representative of the Pennsylvania Railroad developed it to disseminate information following a train derailment. Knowing how damaging the accident could be for the company, Lee wanted to get the truth out quickly before the rumour mill could begin.
Back in 1906, when newspapers were the main source of information, the merits of the press release as a method for businesses and brands to spread information was clear. But, in this day and age where we receive our news instantly, can watch global events unfold in real-time and find out all there is to know about a subject in a matter of minutes, is there still a place for the press release?
Cutting through the fake news
We’re currently living through the era of fake news, with almost half (45%) of adults in the UK believing they encounter fake news every single day. It’s a time when a rumour can be taken as gospel due to it trending on Twitter or a celebrity discussing it on their Instagram story.
I would argue that this makes an even stronger case for the use of press releases, particularly when it comes to crisis comms, as they offer a means through which businesses can communicate important information and cut through the online noise. While social media platforms, for example, can be a force for good, in times of crisis, they can also be a hive of misinformation.
Issuing a press release during a crisis can help businesses get their story out there clearly and succinctly. It allows them to take control of the narrative, separate fact from fiction, and target key media with their messaging.
Yet, while I believe there is certainly still a place for the press release in PR, it would be foolish to think it hasn’t evolved. I think it’s time to reconsider whether it is the best vehicle for disseminating information by looking at what you’re trying to achieve.
When to issue a press release
According to research, 63% of global respondents said press releases were the preferred method to receive news and 44% of journalists think press releases are the most trustworthy source of brand-related information. That said, with journalists receiving up to 200 pitches a day, for them to cover a press release the story needs to be compelling.
Consequently, before sending out a release, it’s vital to consider whether the information is actually news, or whether it’s more about increasing awareness of a brand, as the outcome is likely going to differ depending on the focus of the piece.
For instance, distributing a press release about the opening of a new office or a low-level appointment might help grow awareness of a business among the journalists that receive it, rather than gaining coverage. Conversely, a news release announcing the findings of a research study or issuing a statement after a crisis may garner significant pickup.
Ultimately, there is no harm in sending out a carefully crafted press release, as long as the expectations of what it is likely to achieve are realistic. And, rather than seeing press releases as standalone pieces, incorporating them to larger integrated marketing campaigns can be incredibly effective.
Let’s take the research press release as an example, this asset can be used to launch an entire marketing campaign. By sending this type of press release out, you’re alerting journalists not only to the information in the release, but also giving them a glimpse of the bigger picture and what else you have to offer. In an ideal world, this could lead to the journalist following up for subsequent related content pieces or perhaps even an interview with the subject matter expert quoted in the release.
Integrated marketing campaigns as the way forward
With a wide range of resources and content types at our disposal, it’s possible to tailor the content you create not only to the messages you wanting to convey, but also to the audiences you want to target and how you want to reach them. By adopting this approach, PR and marketing campaigns will become multi-faceted and have a broader appeal.
So, while press releases are just one of the tools in our arsenal, as the world of PR is so fast-paced, they can be the ideal way to share information quickly and efficiently. It’s just about considering what you want to achieve and whether that format will get you there.
Long live the press release!
By Hannah Buckley, Head of Content