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Is the Press Release Ready for Its Latest Makeover?

Tiny Pitch

We know, we know: you’re tired of reading stories about whether the press release is dead or not. So are we!

One of the most/least surprising findings in the Business Wire survey we posted on last week held that “traditional” releases are still quite valuable for journalists covering big-name corporate clients.

And yet.

We’ve covered Jason Kintzler‘s PitchEngine a good bit in the past thanks to his ongoing efforts to convince PR “to do more than attach a word doc to an email when it comes time to pitch.”

He does have a new product called Tiny Pitch to show you, but we were interested in a longer conversation about the state of the pitching process and the blunt instruments we use to do it.

Will we ever stop asking whether the press release is dead?

I think that’s the wrong question to be asking.

Instead, we should take a hard look at how brands will communicate in the future (which is basically now). The format of a press release isn’t going to make a PR agency more relevant to a business. Their ability to understand the brand’s audience beyond journalists is far more relevant.

If you’re still thinking the real value you bring is great writing, you’re going to struggle. If you can send a stellar text message, I want you.

What problems did you create Tiny Pitch to address?

We started some hyperlocal media outlets a couple years ago. We still routinely get Word doc press releases emailed to us from small businesses and, quite frankly, we can’t do much with them.

We require photos for posts, and the long-form stuff is painful, so I thought we should create a super-lightweight tool for people who are sharing announcements of all kinds — something that they could share with our reporters, but also with their customers via Facebook, etc.

The idea is to make people’s content look great with little effort.

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How does it work and how is the process different from the way we currently do it?

It’s not for targeting (which kills me too), nor is it a downloadable app. It’s just a link (tiny.pr) and it works with your email, which seems to be the communicator’s tool of choice. Because of this, you can use it from any device. Oh, and it’s free, too.

I use online tools as much as the next guru, but I’m sick of setting up accounts and logging into stuff. I wanted to create an “invisible interface” because most of the world isn’t all that tech-savvy.

The process many PR people are still wrapped up in involves distribution of some kind. It’s like the laziest kind of effort you can probably do for a business. I believe there is absolutely no value. And yes, I’ve heard every scenario from, “it gets tons Google juice” to “it gets picked up and reverberates around the web.”

That’s all smoke and mirrors, and people need to do some serious soul searching.

As a blogger, I’d say the #1 way to get my attention with a release is with an intriguing subject line. Agreed?

Totally. To my earlier point about a great text message: You want real. You want authentic. You want the word straight from the horses’ mouth.

We approach this challenge by breaking down barriers to creating great online content for everyone. I know it’s probably naive and dreamy, but I want to do for businesses what Microsoft Office did back in my parents’ day: all of a sudden anyone could publish a flyer or a press release.

What do you make of the BusinessWire survey finding that journalists still seek out press releases?

It’s not *just* about journalists anymore.

If you’re a brand and you’ve got stuff to talk about, a traditional press release wouldn’t be my first foot forward. It might be my third or fourth. If you’re a brand and you publish a lot of content — making it all freely available to anyone — journalists and bloggers will find it. If it’s relevant to their audience, they’ll report on it.

What can PR do to make the exchange of such releases more convenient for the journalist?

I’m a former broadcast journalist who became a marketer, and I created PitchEngine to accomplish that very task.

When we launched in 2009, brands flipped out because they could finally share packaged content on their (newfound) social networks and with journalists and bloggers.

Fast-forward to today: I think your PR has to be super lightweight and non-obtrusive – like an Instagram pic. I’ve always loved the utility of the press release, just never the length and depth.

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Bonus question: why are PR firms’ internal press releases so boring? How would you suggest they make them read like news that’s actually worth reading?

One of the biggest wake up calls I had over these past five years happened after a visit to a large PR firm. They placed 90% emphasis on the quality of the writing. The elder PR pro critiqued the younger (savvier) pros on the ways of the world.

I think until that type of thinking has disappeared, we will be stuck with this problem. You don’t write for the company’s CEO or even for the company for that matter. You write for their audience and their stakeholders who want to know.

The best stuff is happening at start-ups and boutique PR firms right now. The old model is, “We get paid to write press releases.” It needs to be, “We want to connect your brand with your customers and drive sales.”

Sorry if that offends people, but that’s the world we’re in. If the economy turns, PR will be the first to go unless they’re a critical part of businesses’ bottom lines.

Honestly, that’s not all that hard to do if you just listen. They’re hiring you to solve problems and be efficient, not to go through the motions of yesteryear.

Do we agree with Jason?

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