Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Do you really need a press release to do the job?

Do you really need a press release to break news and make an announcement?

If you are a publicly traded company, it's required by the SEC to issue releases and information on approved newswire services such as Business Wire.

But beyond that? Certainly many company executives believe that just about everything merits a press release: deals, personnel, new offices, closed offices, product launches, product expansions, you name it. Our business culture has enforced the Pavlovian trigger of sending out releases for all those reasons.

Let's put aside the issue of raining down press releases on every journalist's and blogger's head. How many of these things do you really need to issue a press release for? Why use a press release at all to get the job done? Are we so used to drafting, editing and issuing them, that it's autopilot for every public relations professional without thinking to stop -- can't I get the job done without this?

To be sure, there are agencies whose sole mission in life seems to be to crank out releases, issue them over the paid newswires, charge them back to their clients, and somehow pretend that's going to generate the placements. It amazes me that this ruse, which seems to be particularly heavily practiced in the tech/web sector, Silicon Valley and the entertainment industry, is still pulling the shades over the eyes of so many clients. No wonder why they end up feeling burned by their PR firms.

However, sometimes the situation is not handed on a platter to publicists. There have been dozens of times when my clients want to issue a press release, but one of their partners in the announcement does not want one, yet they are fine with getting coverage. For a number of publicists, this would put them in a complete bind because it would actually force them to pitch a story cold with no release to fall back on.

It all boils down to this: a press release is no substitute for great strategy, relationships with the press, and the execution of that plan.

A good publicist should be able to break news and create finessed stories by contacting the reporters, producers, bloggers, editors and bookers they know. Either by picking up the phone, sending off an e-mail, or ideally, both.

If you've got a well-planned strategy of who to reach out to, knowing what reporter would like the story, aiming high for impact, and taking into account the best timing, then there's no need to play "let's throw spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks" by issuing a press release cold.

Any non-public company who watches their in-house publicist or outside PR firm spend their money issuing paid newswire releases or blasting them out shotgun style with no advance game plan for impact is only fooling themselves.

If you really want to see what your PR people are made of, challenge them to make an important announcement without a paid wire service press release and see what they deliver.


Doug Haslam said...

To add to your point: a press release is not a substitute for a good story. It is also not a substitute for news.

There is a lot of talk about how press releases are great for SEO- and they are. I would go so far as t o say that is their primary purpose now, aside from fulfilling disclosure requirements. But, if the topic is not worth a press release, no amount of SEO will save it from being ignored.

thanks for bringing up the great topic.

Bryan R. Adams said...

I love this post. When I was starting in the music industry, my boss didn't subscribe to newswire services. She built relationships and set info directly to the media. I have followed this model ever since. Targeted lists is my m.o. Newswire services have their place, but that's secondary to me. Blame it on my upbringing.