Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Anybody can send out a press release

When a company posts their press releases on their web site's "In The News" section, they are, in essence, only talking in a vacuum to themselves. There has been nothing accomplished except to pat themselves on the back for issuing a release.

This is symptomatic of an unfortunately common scenario: a company holds auditions for a new public relations firm, finally picks one and it's time to see what fresh approach they bring to the table.

The firm springs into action with its first strategic move: it issues a press release on Business Wire.

If this was the advertising world, pundits, reporters and agency rivals would be scrutinizing the tagline of the new campaign, its visuals, whether the message came through loud and clear, the positioning, and where the spots appeared.

Which brings me to the lesson that many companies need to learn when they are selecting a public relations firm: anybody can send out a press release. Anybody.

My son could do it from his high school. The guy who sells coffee to commuters at Grand Central Station. The woman who ripped your ticket in two before you went to see a movie this weekend. The person sitting next to you on the bus. Heck, even the bus driver could do it.

The release may not be well-written or it could be Hemingway, but frankly, as long as you've got $1,500 to spare and an Internet account, shooting a press release out into the ether can be accomplished by anybody.

If this scenario is a given, why are companies paying thousands of dollars to public relations firms to do the same thing? No pitching. No strategy. No results, except the pleasure of seeing the release reprinted verbatim with the Business Wire, PR Newswire or PRWeb dateline on such sites as earthtimes.org or newsblaze.com.

Do you know anybody who cites earthtimes.org as an influential news source? Any journalists you know retweet the Newsblaze feed on Twitter?

Yet, there are still many companies who have genuinely important announcements, ones that are critical to their expansion, perception and influence, who put all their eggs in the paid wire service basket because their public relations advisers told them so.

You might as well have given a few hundred bucks to the Starbucks barista down the block to do the same thing, and donate all that money you normally pay your PR firm to a worthwhile charity who can really use the help.

If publicity campaigns were dissected by the press the same way that advertising ones were, these syndicated press release-powered operations would be off-the-radar bottom feeders. There would be nothing to cover or admire.

Press releases are nice tools of the trade. And that's what they are -- mere tools. They are not substitutes for relationships with the press, strategy or results in any kind of status report.

When you see your story written by a genuine reporter or blogger in a venue that your colleagues and intended targets actually read, then you have an inkling your PR firm is doing something more than just cranking out press releases and hoping something will stick.