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No, the Press Release Is Not Dead

We’ve recently noticed a good deal of dialogue about the future of the press release. Some seem to feel that the press release–with its self-lauding and company-specific spin–is, for all intents and purposes, irrelevant in a media world that runs on in-the-minute social media. Others, however, feel that PR professionals may simply need to tweak the way they approach both the releases themselves and the journalists they pitch. We tend to find ourselves in the second camp.

Lisa Gerber of Big Leap makes some good points in her recent blog post on the subject. While she concedes that journalists are wary of PR-generated press releases because of potential bias, she still feels that writing them and putting them out there is worth it–assuming you have your finger on the pulse of the audience you want to reach and an understanding of what writers do and do not find newsworthy.

“…please, stop asking your PR agency to crank out another news release on the upgrade of your manufacturing equipment; something in which only your mother and your CEO will take interest…”

Amen! The more spammy/niche/look-what-we-can-do information you send, the less likely writers and editors are to pay attention when you send them something that’s actually relevant to their audience.

“Start identifying those who have the audience you wish to reach – could be bloggers, journalists, someone with a big following a specific social network – it’s all the same – and create that relationship, and find ways to help them.”

Agreed. As our own editor recently said in an interview with Susan Young of Get In Front Communications, “The message has to be very clear and interesting to me. Make it clear to me why my readers would be interested in the story; why does it stand out?”

Along those same lines, we know we aren’t alone in making this plea: When contacting writers through email, please, please personalize the message (and we don’t mean simply changing the name at the top). We know that PR professionals are really, truly busy (we’ve been there!), but taking the time to explain what the story is about and specifically why you think it will appeal to our readers can make all the difference.

Finally, in order for writers to even make it to the point of reading your message and your release, we need to be interested in your subject line. We we don’t want to be pandered to or SCREAMED AT!!!! (see how jarring that is?). We like Mickie Kennedy’s five subject line mistakes to avoid and we’ve paraphrased them below. While some of them may seem obvious, we really do see these mistakes all the time:

1. Including “spammy” words like “free”, “opportunity” and “guaranteed”. These words have been so over-exploited that they’re virtually meaningless. At best they will be ignored, at worst they’ll inspire suspicion and annoyance.

2. Using all capital letters (as we lovingly demonstrated above). It’s the email equivalent of those tax companies paying people to dress up like the Statue of Liberty and parade around in parking lots; it gets our attention, but not in a good way.

3. Lacking clarity. Being creative may catch writers’ attention, but make sure your main point is clearly, concisely expressed. We want to know exactly what we’re about to read.

4. Misleading the recipient. This is a no-brainer. Lie to us, and we’re likely to ignore your messages in the future. Don’t be the PR equivalent of the Boy who Cried Wolf.

5. Failing to nail the length. This is tricky, but thanks to Twitter, we think people are getting the hang of being concise, to-the-point, and catchy in very limited space.

We’d love to hear from our PR pro readers – how do you feel your press releases are received? Has social media encouraged you to tweak your strategy? Do you have any advice for your fellow PR pros? Educate us!

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