Monday, September 13, 2010

Ad Age's premature proclamation of the press release's death

When Wired magazine made the bold cover statement that "The Web Is Dead: Long Live The Internet!" a couple of weeks ago, it was a shameless silly stunt that had many people scratching their heads as opposed to raising a pint. The fact that the story was co-written by notorious self-admitted "non reporter" Michael Wolff didn't help in the credibility department either.

When you make big statements like that, it's a huge throw of the dice: you run the risk of provocative discussion where the truth dawns upon the listeners, or you become a total laughingstock.

Today, Advertising Age's Simon Dumenco took this same gamble by proclaiming: "RIP, the Press Release (1906 - 2010) and Long Live The Tweet." His argument is the press release died when BP kept issuing press releases on its cleanup efforts instead of taking to social media and JetBlue barely responded at all to flight attendant Steven Slater's well-publicized leap down the emergency chute.

Yet, it's Lindsay Lohan and Kanye West, he says, who can command attention through their tweets instead of planting celebrity items with "Liz Smith" (whose last column in the NY Post ran in February 2009, ahem).

The fact is press releases have not died, and are not going away anytime soon. Not that they are the greatest thing since Swiss cheese, and I'm not a big fan of them, but the fact is: whether it's a press release, a tweet or a dissertation on Facebook, it's the communication skills and honesty of the writer that matters most, not the vehicle.

Arguing over whether the tweet has replaced the press release is a non-starter because blather, musings and nonsense can be distributed on just about every way possible, online and off.

Ironically, it's services like Twitter and Facebook that are circumventing journalists and bloggers altogether, and shuttling messages directly to their targeted audiences. That can make a pretty convincing case that journalism is dead (!!) in the age of social media, but that's not true either.

If Kanye West wants to go unfiltered about his feelings to make up to Taylor Swift what he did to her last year at the VMA's, then he can go right ahead. If you find news value in that, that's your decision to believe it and if you're a journalist, write about it. I don't have to subscribe to anybody's Twitter feed and I don't have to read gossip columnists. And if I did, I can choose what I want to believe or what is pegging the BS meter.

If a company wants to issue a press release about a some award they won that nobody knows about or anything else vacuous, they are entitled to issue it, and everybody -- including journalists -- is entitled to read or ignore it.

Dumenco is right on the money when he says, "press releases will probably continue to stumble along, zombie-like, for years to come because too many PR firms are still heavily invested in grinding them out."

Ironically, it is journalists who are also keeping the press release alive and well. Public companies give their financial disclosure over Business Wire, PR Newswire and other syndicators and on the receiving end writing up those statements, SEC filings and quarterly numbers? Reporters.

Journalists still ask publicists, "Do you have a press release you can send me?"

The fact is -- publicists shouldn't be relying on press releases anyway... or Twitter or Facebook. They are nice tools that can become unreliable crutches. They should be relying on their good press relationships that they can pick up the phone and call the right reporter. Or e-mail them with a to-the-point relevant pitch that engages in dialogue.

Frankly, I'd love to see bad press releases die, but like "Resident Evil" movies, they are always going to be around. You believe what you want to believe. Just consider the source.

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