Nearly every day of my career as an in-house writer, someone would invariably burst into my office with an urgent request: "We need a press release!"
Next to "This is a great story—you should get it in the paper!" *, nothing made me stabbier than these five words. Why? Because press releases suck.
Think about it: Press releases are the most over-used, under-effective content "strategies" out there. (For a great perspective on why press releases are spam, read Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson). How many times have you slapped together a hastily written announcement of a new product or service and shipped it out on the wire? How many times have you sat back with bated breath, waiting for that editor's call? And how many times did you get one?
The reasons for this are many, but they all boil down to one important tenet that should guide all of your marketing communications strategies: Who cares? Every day, editors of international trade publications and local dailies alike are inundated with press releases--all from well intentioned communicators like you who believe in the promise of what you've described. The only problem is, your press release doesn't make an editor's job easier. It doesn't rise above the noise. And the more you send, the less likely an editor will pay you any attention.
So then, how do you make editors care?
- Develop relationships with them. I know: this takes time you don't have, and it's much easier and efficient to send a blanket email to tens or hundreds of contacts. Fact is, you'll be wasting more time writing and sending irrelevant press releases that don't get picked up, than you will in cultivating friends in the press that yield results. For ideas on building media relationships, read Abbi Whittaker's post in Ragan's PR Daily.
- Find the latent story and then pitch it--intentionally and personally. Demonstrate you know an editor's content needs or a reporter's beat, and make their day with an idea that resonates with them. For more on making effective pitches, see Amber Mac's story in Fast Company.
- For newsworthy events, issue a media advisory instead of a press release--and include specific information about photo and video opportunities, interviews with key personnel, and anything else specifically useful to editors and journalists. You can find lots of decent samples online with a simple Google search.
And please, whatever you do--don't post press releases on your website under "Latest News." ** They're not news. They're tooting your own horn. Audiences see right through this, and then they tune you out. Remember: If you want to be heard, teach your audience something
What's your take on press releases?
*For a delightfully snarky (and local) view on what doesn't make a great story, read Don't Ask, Not Gonna Tell in Seven Days.
**Unless you're looking to boost your SEO, in which case the jury's still out. Read more about that from someone smarter than I am here.