Anita Davis
Jan 18, 2010

Live Issue... Embargoing the press release, period

It's the quintessential PR tool. But has the time come to tear up the press release?

Live Issue... Embargoing the press release, period
With increased digital awareness by clients worldwide, public relations agencies are rushing to adapt their communication strategies to appease the rising demand for integration. But, in doing this, traditional tactics are sometimes left behind, including the heart of all PR: the press release.

According to analysts, the traditional press release has a very limited role to play in contemporary PR practice. Yet many communications professionals still rely on it as a key tool, unchanged since the birth of the press release in the early 1900s.

Most commentators agree an upgrade is necessary, though simply ditching the essence of the press release in exchange for new-fangled digital platforms can be just as ineffective.

“The issue surrounding press releases isn’t whether they’re going away or not; the issue is how the press release tends to get used as a way to package up a stream of information rather than announce news,” says Will Moss, director at Burson-Marsteller China. “Companies are discovering there’s a place for delivering streams of information, and there are a lot more interesting and engaging ways to do this.”

The traditional press release still has its uses when a message needs quick simplification, such as in financial report announcements. But, with the help of digital, some agencies have found it more effective to send social media releases with hyperlinks and video content that can better illustrate the story.

“These are almost like a virtual press kit”, says Jeremy Woolf, managing consultant at Text 100, citing a recent study from the UK that found interactive releases were twice as effective as regular press releases in terms of pick-up. “The reality is that whatever influences these audiences needs to be put into the communications mix. It might be absolutely relevant to use social media in communications but it should be remembered that something like Twitter is just one channel and you need to look at the range and how they connect with each other as well.”

Distancing a communications strategy too far from the traditional tools can also spell disaster. For instance, digital technology can tempt PR professionals into having too many simultaneous conversations. The result is the formation of relationships that are detached from the news itself.

Raj Seth, vice-president of corporate communications for Computer Associates, notes that the key to successful communications is engaging the end user through meaningful conversation. This could mean syndicating a press release linked to relevant domains or using a social media platform designed to get audiences to read - and, crucially, respond to - a press release.

“I’ve seen a plethora of online media websites that use press release verbatim but, in the media mix, is it actually effective?” he asks. “Who are the main culprits? I’ve seen a lot of second- and third-tier companies in their categories treat press relations as a marketing tactic as opposed to a proper corporate communications discipline. They don’t seem to get it right because, if it’s under the marketing department, releases tend to be treated just as an email. That’s where it goes wrong because it’s not effective.”

This article was originally published in the 14 January 2010 issue of Media.
Campaign Asia

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