Down with the Press Release!!

First of all, thank you, Aaron, for asking me to contribute to Technosailor. It’s great to be here, and also serving a readership that’s not in the insular marketing blogosphere bubble.

The best thing about writing for you (as opposed to communicators) is that you already understand that PR and marketing sucks. I don’t need to argue that point. You know what it’s like to get a ridiculous press release, have a flack ask you to write up their product on the blog, sit through ridiculous ads, or suffer through another BS webinar. You’ve been on the receiving end”¦ and hate it.

The great hope of folks like Shel Israel, Brian Solis, Todd Defren, Kami Huyse, Toby Bloomberg, Chris Heuer and other advanced marketing minds is that social media can correct the wayward ways of this backwards industry. We want to refocus it on the actual community. Marketing and PR should not be about leads, but about serving a community and building good will between an organization and its stakeholders (note this word is not Audience).

Social Media Releases

Let’s start with a simple example.

Nothing stinks more than the inexcusable press release ““ a.k.a. the mindless drivel — that marketing departments use to spam news reporters, bloggers, analysts and their stakeholders. The press release was a mass communication tool, blasted out over a wire mechanism to media outlets. It soon lose it its value to news organizations.

Why? As PR became a popular marketing tool in the 80s and 90s, businesses and organizations filled their news releases with positioning statements, posturing to the media and their target audiences.

News releases are a very self centered activity, and rarely offers actual news, mostly because companies and PR pros don’t understand what media outlets considered news to be, and the news needs of companies’ communities. As a result, press releases usually have no real news value to the media or associated communities. News is something that’s new, and as media are dedicated to business trends or events of significance that their communities care about ““ just like any decent blogger — they ignore news releases.

Though the press release does have some search engine optimization and secondary direct community outreach value, it’s not optimized for ultimate results. Thus the diminished value of news releases.

Enter Social Media Releases

News documents do have value. According to Outsell, Inc. in November 2006, 51% of information technologists (IT) source their news from press releases found on Yahoo or Google News over traditional trade journals (via Brian Solis). To better talk with an organization’s community, releases need to be re-engineered to better serve them.

SMRtemplate Originally created by Todd Defren of SHIFT Media, the social media release combines the best elements of new media and significantly streamlines the valuable elements of the news release. The social media release provides new media community members dynamic information, including a bulleted statements of value, additional sources, multimedia content (podcast, video, graphics, etc.).

Readers are provided social media methods of publishing via network tags ( a la Digg, Reddit, etc.), and can use these elements independently or as a whole, really to their tastes. And media members like them, too.

Why? Much less BS. When executed correctly, bulleted facts replace spin (a possible acronym: stupid PR imitating news). Concise readable documents create multiple paths for community members, bloggers and journalists alike to enage in more information.

Coca-Cola entered by taking an approach other than buying real estate and creating a store. Working with the crayon agency, Coca-Cola opted to break into the 3D metaverse by getting out amongst the population. During the Second Life launch event, one blogger in attendance told crayon agency team member Shel Holz that that the event was like a class in “How to do social media right.” Shel’s very successful blog details the results to date, which have already been significant, in turn validating the experimental social media release.

Other examples:

What It Means

The combination of outbound promotion and social network attraction creates a new dynamic marketing mechanism. This next generation press release is much more valuable to its audiences, is community centric, and enables widespread dissemination. It creates multiple methods of pulling in community members who may be interested in your service, product or ideas.

This does not mean all social media releases will succeed. Here are the facts. Over spun BS won’t work whether its bulleted or parenthetical; social media-enabled or plain text. Find in this October, 2006 Buzz Bin entry on what I believe to be the content benchmarks of a media-attention-worthy news release. But if you’re on either the giving or receiving side of promotion, then the social media release tactic should be considered a better vehicle for organizations to communicate with their communities.

If you’d like to learn more, visit Chris Heuer’s Elements of a Social Media Release.

Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

15 thoughts on “Down with the Press Release!!

  1. When I first saw this in my feed-reader, I thought I was eavesdropping on a private chat by mistake. I felt the article wasn’t addressed to me and it’s a bit slow to show its point, listing too many unfamiliar names like they’re famous (maybe they are in the US?), along with buzzwords like “stakeholder” and confusing phrases like “It soon lose it its value to news organizations.”

    Could you try for a shorter, more open (more Technosailor?) style next week?

  2. Geoff, nice work! It was a pleasure working with you on Now is Gone and it’s ever more satisfying to see you spread the good word.

    On the subject of the death of Press Releases, I’m not sure I’m convinced that we’re better off without them either. Obviously there is a need for the improvement of the press release, but after just over a year of defining SMRs and most often, defending them, I’m already starting to see a split in what an SMR is and isn’t.

    It “isn’t” a cure to the press release. It “isn’t” a replacement for them. And, it isn’t a collection of links to social sites. My interpretation of it is that the SMR is a catalyst for conversations and as is, many aren’t doing that at all.

    My next fight for these things is going to be to take them to a social platform and create a partner static release that links back to it to distribute meaningful news and also facilitate and encourage conversation and sharing all within one dedicated ecosystem in addition to search engines.

    The future of PR is conversations and also search.

    Here’s a link to an example of a static counterpart:
    http://www.thinkfreedocs.com/docs/view.php?dsn=836727

    Here’s a bit more on the evolution of the SMR:
    http://www.briansolis.com/2007/05/social-media-releases-everything-you.html

  3. MJ- its not a bad thing to be exposed to other folks writing and thoughts. In this case, I specifically asked Geoff to cover marketing and PR in the social sphere because it is a “technosailor” kind of topic, but unfortunately I can’t tackle it with the authority Geoff can. :)

  4. Brian:

    You are right on a macro level which is that news releases are ineffective today. They need socialization in the sense that they need social media, and also need to be written for the community.

    Whether or not the current SMNR is the future remains to be seen, but I will say that the current version is absolutely ineffective — in large part because of corporate command and control methodologies. I personally find them to be very inneffective from a PR standpoint and we utilize a variety of other tactics to create news opportunities for clients.

    SMNRs are fresh ways of presenting more factual data, so I feel for now they are useful.That may change as more PR people use them and corrupt them.

    The overall problem is not the vehicle (although it does need social media components standardized and added in). It is the profession. I know both you and I agree on that!

    GL

  5. I guess “no BS” would be the best. Maybe I am missing something but I am not sure how a new format automatically translates to “much less BS” unless you are saying reduced word count means reduced BS

  6. Social media releases have the potential to help organizations reach key publics directly, vs. through the mainstream media. No argument there. But they’re also time consuming and expensive to produce, which might explain their slow adoption in the marketplace. Todd Defren deserves our thanks for his innovation.

    But, Geoff, to condemn the news release as a tool whose time has past goes way too far. The problem isn’t the release itself, but the rank amateurs who use it as some sort of adjunct to their advertising and marketing campaigns. They create fluff “stories,” spam the mass media then wonder why editors hate and ignore us. this goes to your “no BS” point.

    A well-written, carefully targeted news release, followed with intelligent personal contact is as effective as it’s ever been. A public relations person worth his/her salt knows this and acts accordingly. We could chose to ignore MSM entirely, but we do so at our peril. Clients still expect (and need) MSM coverage, and that coverage remains more influential than Web 2.0 outlets — for now and for the forseeable future.

    Bravo, Geoff, for this remark: “We want to refocus it on the actual community. Marketing and PR should not be about leads, but about serving a community and building good will between an organization and its stakeholders.”

    We in public relations have been saying just that for 75 years. And as least some of our “evil twins”(a term of endearment, I assure you) on the marketing side have come to understand it. It’s one of the reasons I fight like heck to maintain the separation between the marketers and PR. Marketing focuses on sales, PR on relationships. The philosophical gap here is enormous.

  7. I disagree with that Bill: PR and marketing are blending in the increasingly hybridized formats created with social media. PR for companies is a marketing tactic. Period. PR’s resistance to that fact creates many misteps in the marketplace, such as Wal-Mart. Telling PR people to resist marketing departments is an error.

    We all need to move towards building value for clients rather than he said/she said sides. When you try to take from people: i.e. get leads, get press coverage, demand blog ink, demand dollars you cross a line. That line is selfish exploitation. When you build value for your clients by treating outreach as a product to serve them, a win-win proposition occurs. Leads, sales, etc. is a by-product of doing the right thing. PR/marcom types need to work towards that instead of sales, etc.

    I agree that a good news release works well, but only when its actually news. That’s why I linked to guidelines that actually make a newsworthy release.

  8. in the ipra member yahoo network there is a current discussion of a members proposal to turn next years 101th anniversary of the press release into a global public relations community event. many in favour, just as many (sofar) against.
    won’t comment, but just to inform you that the always less absolute/ever more relative value of this tool to our profession is continually being debated.
    but your discussion does touch on the issue of relationship between marketing and pr and this is yet a much wider issue which is time was thouroughly analysed.
    since 15 years now, in Bled, Slovenia, more than 100 of the world’s top scholars and professionals of public relations meet over the first weekend of July to discuss topical issues.
    Next year (2008) the issue is a revisitation of the relationship between marketing and public relations.
    you may read the call for papers on http://www.bledcom.com and volunteer to offer your inputs.
    I was surprised to hear a few weeks ago in New York by one of the world’s professional leaders that, contrary to the trends in most other regions of the world where other forms of public relations are rapidly surpassing marketing pr both in terms of investments as in terms of intensity; in the US market, if anything, marketing public relations (intended in its broadest terms, and of course including all that goes on in new and social media besides mainstream as as well as in the market place (in terms of salespersons,distributor and customer relationship building)is actually gaining ground and is now closer to 70 than to 60% of the estimated overall investment. Does this figure? And if it does, why do you think this is. thank you

  9. I don’t think we’re as far apart on this issue as it seems, Geoff.

    Yes, companies use PR as a marketing tactic all the time, and they should. It’s how you build awareness by gaining media placements. But it’s also the area in which abuse of the press release happens most often. I’m just not comfortable putting the media relations function in the hands of people whose sole mission is to pull product through the channels. Too often, they revert to that “BS” language of advertising and promotion, vs. the journalistic style required to connect with MSM targets.

    Marketers are schooled in the theories of persuasion, but seldom in the theories of a free press. In short, most don’t really understand the values of news — so kudos for pointing it out. But the press release is and will remain the primary tool of the media relations function for many years to come, so if the marketing folks want to play the game, they need to use the tool responsibly.

    As for PR blending with marketing, it should always do so in support of marketing campaigns. All I’m saying is that PR must also maintain a safe distance from a discipline that defines the world in “consumer” terms. PR has a far broader world view than marketing (by design), as we reach well beyond those audiences who buy and distribute our goods and services.

    If you are saying that marketing might have counseled Edelman to nix the “WalMarting Across America” fiasco, well that’s pure speculation. Fact is, PR has been preaching a mantra of transparency — in one form or another — since Ivy Lee’s Declaration of Principles (1908). But you are correct to fear the influence of anyone, be they PR or marketing, to use social media in a surreptitious way.

    That said, I don’t see anyone promoting the use of “Guerrilla PR,” yet”Guerrilla Marketing” is ballyhooed regularly by ad/marketing agencies.

    No one will disagree with your statements about building value for customers (vs. leads for clients). But it’s an old saw.

  10. Yes, it is old saw. It’s one with a universal rule that PR, marketing and sales people alike seem to forget very quickly. That’s relationship building through value. I think we’re close in a lot of ways, Bill. But we do disagree still (which is OK, too).

    The use of the press release as a primary form of PR is an outmoded 20th century concept for mass communications that old-school PR types, antiquated trade associations, and communications schools continue to propogate. We are no longer in a mass communications environment, rather an extremely fragemented one…

    My experience generating great media coverage for clients has very little to do with press releases. I do find it an effective tool as a means of communicating directly with buyers, but not effectively with the media. There are better ways to get info to journalists.

    Again, the rare exception is when a company actually has real news. But most smaller companies (which are the ones I counsel) are stuck with subject matter expertise as opposed to $20 million contracts, significant product news (for example, iTouch) and major alliances.

    What is effective with any community or representative of that community (a.k.a. journalist, analyst or blogger) is participation by creating value for them. That means give them unique information that benefits them. That is where we agree. The dictionary definition of PR is (via Dictionary.com):

    1. the actions of a corporation, store, government, individual, etc., in promoting goodwill between itself and the public, the community, employees, customers, etc.

    2. the art, technique, or profession of promoting such goodwill.

    No where in this does it say issue press releases.

    Separating PR from marketing and sales is also way off. Yet, ironically your reasoning — trying to lie or communicate to get something — is the same jaded view that many people rightly smeer PR people with… And that’s because regardless of professional label, people have forgotten the old saw.

    Any good sales or marketing person will tell you that sales is about building relationships, not getting leads. Like Ivy Lee that, too is as old as Dale Carnegie and Napoleon Hill (or if you prefer, modern day leaders like Seth Godin and Jeffrey Gitomer). BTW, note the second word in public RELATIONS. See the correlation?

    I wrote up my return to basic PR values view a month ago at Now Is Gone. I invite you to comment there.
    http://nowisgone.com/2007/09/06/the-art-of-participation-public-relations/

  11. I’m no fan of traditional media relations, Geoff. In fact, I was using social networking for clients before there was a Web. Much of my practice was based on face-to-face tactics, communicating value through unmediated relationships. But our clients still expect us to do media relations, as it remains a central part of the practice in the here and now where most of us live.

    And let me say again (since you didn’t catch it earlier), you must marry sales, marketing and PR when you are trying to sell something. Of course. But you don’t want a department that focuses only on “consumers” and peddling products in charge of your corporate reputation.

    I know that in the marketing world Seth Godin walks on water. I’ve read three of his books and didn’t find anything new, just the old saws repackaged. But there’s a market for that, too, as Seth showed us in “All Marketers are Liars.” Maybe if I’d skipped Purple Cow I’d have a different view. But hey, people buy it.

  12. The Eclipse Foundation created a press release with multiple contributors… it was only when they felt ready to pull the trigger that they date-stamped it and released it to the wires. It didn’t make the document any less effective. Open source press release style- v interesting

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