Hegemony, ivy lee and the press release


Nothing in the commercial world ever lasts. Facebook, a company that has one billion products (called users) and earns a living by selling information about them to advertisers, won’t be around forever. Nor will Google, even with its humongous technical infrastructure, well understood and currently profitable business model. The fact is the number of commercial companies that are more than a century old is vanishingly small.

It isn’t just commercial organisations, however. It’s pretty much everything. Whether it is international politics, religion or even public relations as a concept, the transition of hegemony is inevitable. That’s just the way of the world.

The first ever press release
On October 28, 1906, public relations expert Ivy Lee was working with the Pennsylvania Railroad when a three-car train crashed killing 50 passengers. Lee convinced the railroad company to comment on the tragic accident before any rumours spread and the incident reported. The officials reluctantly agreed and on October 30, 1906, Lee’s public statement – the first ever press release – was printed word-for-word in the New York Times.  

So the press release is 107 years old. That’s more than twice the average life expectancy of a multinational or Fortune 500 company. And, interestingly, it continues to be relevant today. But only just.

There are many practitioners that actually believe the press release is already dead, but as long as reporters ask for them – and sometimes run them verbatim – the old dog will live on. That said, there are a handful of alternatives with fewer grey hairs and greater agility that organisations must consider if they want bigger results when announcing “big” news. Some of most powerful substitutes have been outlined below:
1.    Blogger briefings

Some have suggested that bloggers are trying to re-invent PR, dressing it up as journalism and playing at  venture capitalism, while others consider blogs to be the ultimate form of collegiality. Whatever your opinion, blogger briefings are widely regarded as the next iteration of the traditional press conference. So when there’s a major announcement, consider setting up a conference call, a video meeting or even briefing bloggers over a beer to share the facts. Note: bloggers always want the news before anyone else.

2.    Send a tweet

Tweeting news only works if the organisation, or the PR agency working on its behalf, has built a strong network with the top influencers and key constituencies in that domain well ahead of time. Bypassing traditional media, celebrities have used Twitter to announce breakups, pregnancies and other so-called “news” to their networks and achieved overwhelming success.  The ubiquity of social media and the potential bandwidth a tweet has can yield results above and beyond that of traditional means so long as the network includes the right people and groups. Note: Do you know a journalist who doesn’t use Twitter?

3.    YouTube video
If an organisation has a message from its CEO, PRs needn’t cross their fingers and hope the local newspapers or trade magazines run the statement. Instead, organisations may want to consider shooting a video, posting it on YouTube, sharing on it on their company blog and posting it to their social media sites. Many newspapers today, nationals included, are starting to embed multi-media along with news stories, so helping a reporter out by providing some audio visual will not only freshen up things for the journalist, it may also improve conversion.

There are a myriad of alternatives beyond the durable, but dated, press release, but of course these are not always viable options. Some news just suits the traditional, tried-and-tested approach.  As Mike Bassett, the legendary fictional England Manager, once said in the brilliant film ‘Mike Bassett: England Manager’: “If you’re old enough, you’re good enough.”