The Humble Press Release Still Has a Lot of Juice

In the PR business, we often have to remind clients that “PR doesn’t stand for press release.” This is, of course, because what we do is so much more, and a modern approach to outbound communications integrates PESO – paid, earned, shared, and owned media – not just news releases and any coverage they might generate.

That said, the humble press release is still a pretty big deal. Time-tested, the news release is among our most reliable PR tools because it helps us deliver news at scale.

The first news release was created by PR pioneer Ivy Ledbetter Lee for the Pennsylvania Railroad, in response to a 1906 accident that took over 50 lives. His approach – which also included what are now accepted crisis communications tactics – included developing a press release that covered the accident in factual terms and offering the media a site visit. Lee’s news announcement was printed in the New York Times word for word.

New Form Factors

Well-crafted releases are central to the efforts of PR practitioners, and their ability to message to multiple audiences is critical. However, printed press releases, sent via the mail or hand-delivered in press kits – or even sent by fax – are pretty much a thing of the past.

Today, email is the way most releases get out, and newswire services remain useful for mass distribution. Wire services push releases to newsrooms and select reporters instantaneously. And while social channels and company websites are a good place to push news, press release content from trusted sources like newswires is often used by editors.

Newswires also help reach a wide audience. News going over the wire can reach many more journalists than a PR person or firm could singlehandedly. What’s more, wire releases help achieve search engine optimization (SEO) benefits through nearly instant publication on various news websites that can aid in organic search results via backlinks.

While some journalists may ignore wire releases, many leverage the daily delivery of releases to monitor companies and markets on their beat and to organize and prioritize the companies they’re planning to cover. Automated delivery of tailored news saves reporters research time, and a regular cadence of releases also builds awareness.

Pitching Still Matters

Experienced practitioners also know that news releases should also be accompanied by a tailored pitch. A good pitch frames the story and demonstrates an understanding of the media outlet being targeted.

Press releases can also be used to help secure TV coverage by providing relevant news that can be put in a newsroom’s “daybook,” which is a daily list of story opportunities for camera crews. Releases can be offered in advance (typically under embargo) to provide background and support forward story planning and are ideally provided with visuals like b-roll.

In the end, PR practitioners should create press releases that are as eloquent as the coverage they seek. A compelling narrative, combined with careful writing and editing, will help tell your story most effectively. In an ideal scenario, releases generate not only news, but they also help to seed lasting brand awareness with key influencers. For a humble communications vehicle that’s more than a hundred years old, the press release still delivers incredible value.

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About the author

Curtis Sparrer is a principal of Bospar PR. He has represented brands like PayPal, Tetris and the alien hunters of the SETI Institute. He is a member of the Forbes Communications Council and has written for Adweek, Forbes, the Dallas Morning News, and PRWeek. He is an active member of the National Lesbian Gay Journalist Association.  Business Insider has twice listed him as one of the Top Fifty in Tech PR.

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