beyond the press release


Think You Know PR? Think Again

The axiom that "the more things change, the more they remain the same" still holds truth. Today, like yesterday, visibility and credibility go a long way in forging meaningful relationships with customers, employees and media to produce real outcomes. The question is, what's so different about the way we're creating those relationships?

Earned media has never been more valuable; it's impossible to buy, after all. And while paid media's supporting role is very strong, companies are continuously looking for new ways to distribute authentic messages and engage others in what they do; corporate schtick has no place in that equation. But earned media is just that -- earned. As much as we'd like, we can't make people say great things about us unless they truly value and believe in what we do. So if PR is playing a greater role in achieving that missive, do we (and our clients) really get it?

PR is dead

Wrong. PR is more alive than ever; it's just morphed into something a lot bigger and at times, harder to define because the goalposts have moved so much. What is dead is the type of old-school PR that's practiced by those who believe a double-spaced template is the only way to communicate a company's story. Come on, people!



The press release is the axis of PR sins

Absolutely. I have said it before, and will keep saying it: The press release is a dinosaur. No one reads them. When was the last time you read a press release and reacted positively to it? See, journalists feel that pain, too. We can thank blithely ignorant PR people for that. It's okay -- I was one, too.

PR is about storytelling

Correct. A little creativity goes a very long way, but this isn't reinforced enough in PR school. No one wants to read a bunch of quotes from C-suiters. Whether it's PR through traditional channels or part of a social media campaign, journalists and consumers are looking for interesting stories -- something that adds knowledge and value to their existence, not details of a strategic partnership. Where's the story in that?

Journalists will love your story

Not always. But your mom will. One of the biggest struggles PR agencies face is saying no to clients' demands. We're on the front lines with media outlets daily, so we know that some stories should never see the light of day. Too often, clients confuse PR with marketing messages, not understanding the importance of creating a really great story that's devoid of nonsense such as "synergistic," "ROI," "realign" and "transcend."

PR takes care of itself

Wrong. One pitfall of companies is the mistaken assumption that PR takes care of itself. I liken a PR team to an engine that needs to be lubricated and filled with grade-A fuel regularly. A PR team cannot perform miracles without good substance. Companies that kick back and expect placements to come rolling in without input or extra effort are setting themselves up for dashed expectations, missed opportunities and a begrudging relationship, none of which are fun.

PR is about harnessing relationships

Bingo! PR is absolutely about relationships. It's about the agency-media relationship, and using those relationships to sell our clients. It's about the relationships that we're building on behalf of our clients. It's also about helping brands become stronger and creating awareness of who they are, as well as deflecting in times of crisis. It's about helping sales efforts and generating leads.

Really, the PR machine is a terrific multitasker. But as with any relationship, you have to nurture it, treat it with respect and help it grow. Anything less, and you may find yourself dumped.

So what have we learned?

PR can achieve many different things, but the game is changing quickly. As an industry, we need a firm grasp on what the marketplace demands, and our ability to deliver. We need to get tougher when it comes to expectations: We're being called upon to do a lot more with a lot less. It's time for us to gain more respect in what we do, by communicating exactly what it is that we do.


9 comments about "Think You Know PR? Think Again ".
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  1. Uriah Av-Ron from Oasis Public Relations, September 16, 2009 at 8:47 a.m.

    Hi Vanessa,

    As a PR practitioner, I agree with most of what you have written, but I don't understand why one can't write a press release in a way that a story is told? I have written several press releases this year which didn't begin with 'Company, X, the leading..., announces Y' which still managed to generate press coverage for my clients.

    Though there are other ways to reach out to reporters, which can be more effective at times, the press release can still be an effective vehicle for securing press coverage.

    Instead of shooting the messenger (the press release), we should focus on ways to improve the message -- the story we tell in our press releases.


  2. len stein, September 16, 2009 at 9:19 a.m.

    Whatever you cal it- a release is CONTENT- crafting meaningful messages is the name of the game - media placement (distribution) is mechanical.

    Educating clients is key- many still want to be in Print only, or these 6 publications only; while believing the PR firm can make it happen "through connections" without client partnership on content creation.
    Go Girl!

  3. Tripp Frohlichstein from MediaMasters, Inc., September 16, 2009 at 11:47 a.m.

    Actually, I am seeing many well written releases show up word for word in various online AND print publications. Do it right and it works. Write it like a news story (vs. XYZ announced today...) and use good quotes - this is a link to piece about that( Is the press release dead? No. Is it evolving in terms of style and distribution methods. Yes.

  4. Gerard Corbett from Redphlag LLC, September 16, 2009 at 2:36 p.m.


    Great piece and its all true except the part about the press release. There is and remains a role for the press realease or news release. It is about news and should be about news. Taking it one step further, and to quote you, "it is about storytelling." It is about crafting words to tell a news story from an organization's perspective. If done thoughtfully, objectively, truthfully and currently, there will always be a place for a "news" release.

    Best regards,

    Gerry Corbett

  5. Kevin Mercuri from Propheta Communications, September 16, 2009 at 2:45 p.m.

    This article hits the mark, and I've sent it around to my staff here at Propheta Communications.

    The only caveat is that the press release isn't quite - nor will it ever truly be - dead. Whether for the sake of SEO, compliance with the SEC - or simply because sometimes you HAVE to write one. Releases still have their place, albeit less than before.

  6. Lisa Pierce from Packaging Digest, September 16, 2009 at 6:59 p.m.

    As a journalist, I can tell you that the *press* release isn't as useful as the *news* release. But the news release is an efficient way of communicating 24/7 with busy writers, both as a push (e-mails) and a pull (searches). The information in a release is a great starting point for an article. But I cringe when I see other journalists turning them into content. Tsk tsk.

  7. Vanessa Horwell from ThinkInk Communications, September 17, 2009 at 12:40 p.m.

    I am thrilled to see the topic igniting so much passion. My point, to clarify, is that the traditional press release has been so abused, that its impact is becoming more and more negligible. It is my opinion that many press releases (in the context of capturing media’s attention) are too focused on what the client wants to read, versus what the journalist wants to read. The disparity in what a client constitutes as news and what media deems newsworthy is vast. As the matchmaker in this triangle, it is vital that OUR content captures both sides needs.

    Content is king, always.

  8. Nina Lentini from MediaPost Communications, September 17, 2009 at 6:37 p.m.

    As the editor of Marketing Daily at MediaPost, let me tell you that I speak for many writers who ask, "Why do they put out a press release and then make themselves unavailable for follow-up?"

    As someone who has worked in PR, I will never understand calling attention to one's self or company and then not being available to talk to an interested party.

  9. Tim Orr from Barnett Orr Marketing Group, Inc., September 23, 2009 at 11:22 a.m.

    As a sometime PR practitioner, I have always believed that the easier we make it for the editors to use what we've sent, the more likely it is that they might do so. Accordingly, we always sent suggested photo captions, for example, even when some purists told us we were usurping the editor's job. Our hope was that a beleagured editor, desperate for time with a space to fill would drop our story in "as is."

    At the same time, I am also coming to believe that in today's world, we might do well to take the same advice we offer to job applicants: We tell them never to send the same resume to every prospective employer. I would suggest that when we tailor the communication to an editor, whether it's a press release or not, we've got a much better shot at earning their interest.

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