It’s an ongoing debate in the field of public relations – is there still value in crafting a press release?
The very first press release was written in 1906 after a train wreck that killed 50 people in New Jersey. The rail company’s publicity expert issued a statement to the media with all the facts about the incident. The statement was published by numerous newspapers and – it is believed – the press release was born.
For decades, the press release was used solely to share important information with the news media about a company’s business, people, product or service, with the ultimate goal of landing coverage in local, national or trade media.
If a company was really lucky, a newspaper (particularly the smaller ones) would run a press release verbatim and give the company inches of free publicity to tell its story. That is why PR students have always been taught to write a release as if they were writing their ideal version of a news article.
In the early 2000s and for many years after, press releases were picked up by hundreds of websites simultaneously. These pick-ups positively affected a company’s SEO and helped drive traffic to that organization’s website. Google knew that its algorithms were allowing cleverly-written press releases to rank highly in search results, and they took steps to change that. It was a move appreciated by Google users, but it was a sad day for the press release. Without the easy SEO as a target, many proclaimed the press release to be dead. That was nearly ten years ago.
So, is the press release dead?
Far from it. Today, a good release is still written in inverted pyramid style with the 5 W’s in the first paragraph. It still contains a headline, dateline and boilerplate along with media contact information. And, more often than not, it still proclaims in big bold letters “For Immediate Release.” But while a press release may look the same as it did a century ago, today it has evolved to be multi-purpose, and smart companies know how to capitalize on its many functions. In fact, for many successful organizations crossing all business sectors, the press release remains a key element of a comprehensive PR strategy.
While a press release can still be used as an effective form of communication between a company and the media – and remains an efficient way to communicate with vast media outlets simultaneously — its other uses have multiplied over the years to a point where, in many instances, the “new uses” dwarf the media motivation.
Today, a well-written press release can still be:
- Distributed via a wire service where it will be sent to newsrooms across the country and archived on the wire service website.
- Used to pitch a reporter to cover a story.
- Sent to trade publications, community outlets or alumni newsletters.
But, in addition to those traditional media uses, a press release can also be:
- Pitched to bloggers or influencers in niche industries.
- Posted to the company’s website to help keep content fresh and current.
- Used to establish a timeline of company’s history, momentum and progress.
- Repurposed as an article on self-publishing platforms.
- Included in press kits, marketing kits, and community reports.
- Used to fulfill regulatory or legal requirements.
- Included in board of directors reports.
- Shared on social media.
- Modified for newsletter content.
- Developed into a blog post or bylined article.
- Shared with a company’s email database.
- Included in proposals to potential new clients.
- Shared with employees.
- And more!
The bottom line is this: When a company has an announcement or story to tell – whether or not it would be of interest to the media– the development of a press release is an excellent way help to shape the story with key messages and colorful details. Think of the press release as a frame of reference for many potential communication tactics. It can be shared in standard press release format where it lends legitimacy and immediacy to a topic, or it can be reworked to deliver content in a modified manner, such as a blog post or newsletter article.
All of this to say, the press release is definitely not dead. In an era where fresh content reigns supreme, the press release is more relevant than ever.