Like it or loathe it, the press release ain't dying

Stephen Waddington is partner and chief engagement officer at Ketchum and visiting professor at Newcastle University.

10 years on from media and tech writer Tom Foremski's polemic against the press release Die! Press release! Die! Die! Die! the format shows no signs of giving up.

Foremski lamented the abuse of this general purpose document that has been mangled as a means of community engagement with a variety of marketing audiences or publics.

Time to pension off the press release?

​Despite the fragmentation of media, a shift to more personalised forms of communication, and the ability to create audio, text and video content, organisations remain fixated by a medium that is more than a 100 years old.

We’ve all a war story about a press release we’ve had to write to satisfy the ego of a boss or client that has zero news value.

The format was adopted and distorted by search agencies seeking to spray backlinks around the web until Google cut short their fun with an algorithm change.

Today progressive agencies and in-house teams push hard against the frequent call for a press release, making the case for alternative formats.

The UK government’s executive communication director Alex Aiken has rallied against sending out stuff for the sake of it, calling on press officers to become content producers.

Eight reasons the press release remains a dominant content format

There's plenty of reasons that the press release is alive and kicking.

1. Workflow

Press releases are well understood by organisations. It's a common format, created through a process of iteration and approval, for communication with external publics. Everyone know how they work.

2. Legislative requirement

In many financial markets around the world, statements about public companies must be made on a wire service. The press release is a legal form of communication.

3. Web fodder

Here's a dirty secret. Most press releases aren't written for the press. Instead they are a general purpose document mangled and posted in a corporate website as a political pacifier to a multitude of audiences. Office politics can be heavily involved.

4. Vendor market

Press release distribution is a buoyant business. Cision’s $841m acquisition of PR Newswire at the end of 2015 confirmed that the press release remains a primary form of content and distribution.

5. Volumes

Data is hard to come by as vendors are tediously opaque but my hunch is that more press releases than ever are being pushed out onto the web. Our professions are filling the internet with lousy content that no one will read.

6. Scale

A lot of corporate communication and marketing teams still take comfort from how distributing a press release on a wire service will ensure that a story gets pushed out to a multitude of websites and indexed by Google.

7. Innovation

Smart vendors have spotted the opportunity to add a modern twist to the traditional press release format, giving rise to the social media press, and social media newsroom. It still looks and smells very much like a press release.

8. Dominance of media relations in practice

The CIPR’s State of Public Relations data from the past six years records media relations as the profession’s dominant activity by agency and in-house practitioners alike.

The press release is much maligned and abused as a format of content but it’s well understood. It’s a fundamental part of content marketing and public relations that is deeply embedded in organisational communication.

My hunch is that I’ll still be writing press releases for clients in 10 years’ time.

Stephen Waddington is chief engagement officer at Ketchum. Follow him on Twitter @wadds


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