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Public Relations (PR) Marketing Press

Press releases are the selfie of the marketing world

By Max Tatton-Brown, founder and managing director

May 10, 2016 | 6 min read

The press release was a document born of necessity nearly 100 years ago. But over time, the format has become a hyper real pastiche. Many no longer think you should even create them and meanwhile, more types of marketer than ever are eager to crank them out to show what an important and newsworthy company they are.

In the meantime, the language of communication has changed. And the means of publishing have spread. What was once the only way to market has become just one option – one I think is actually amplified by its contrast to the alternatives.

In the current communications mix, the press release has become a pouting, superficial self-portrayal — often largely unwelcome, leaving the subject disparaged behind its back. Duck-faced brands smile on obliviously, instead of thinking about what would encourage someone else to hold the camera.

So what do we as marketers do about this?

Context as the subject

The issue with selfies is that they demote the importance of context. You can be standing in front of the Great Wall of China but an arms-length framing makes you an artificial focal point.

By contrast, if you turn the camera around, you’re presenting your viewer with your perspective on the world around you. Taking care to turn a quick snap into an artful, composed observation shows your audience something important, without having to tell them so directly. And it respects their time and attention.

It’s also harder to hide the fact if you’ve trotted out something pedestrian, derivative or uninteresting.

Similarly, most press releases ignore the bigger picture around them. Part of this is formal — they’re literally not made for it because they were created for a simpler time. So, instead, why not write a short announcement post, straight form your founder that puts your news in context? Why not write a series of them? Why not record a short video about why the news matters?

See if you can do it without using the words 'excited to announce'. See how short you can keep it while making your point. See what other relevant articles you can quote and link to. Maybe interview someone involved and ask good questions. Think like a journalist.

Just the facts

This can go too far.

There’s nothing worse than trying to write up a story when the facts are buried in reams of insignificant detail. Great photos don’t come with details like ISO rate and shutter speed hidden somewhere on the canvas. They are included as metadata through standards like EXIF — or an accompanying note in the gallery.

If you're pitching this story with something other than AP rests release, it's important to keep your facts clear.

Try three credible, quantitative bullet points. Maybe you can use each as a heading for another sentence or two that provides more context. But keep it short and link elsewhere if there’s more relevant detail.

Dividing facts and context means you can still reference the former in the latter but your reader can't miss them. If the facts don’t show why your story is interesting, maybe it isn’t. This exposure of the truth alone may be worth the price of entry.

Confront it. And if there’s no way to express the story without achieving this, perhaps it’s time to consider another way to publish. A short interview might be a better way to express what makes this story point matter. Or maybe you should just release the data? Or perhaps it’s worth an email to a small subset of your customers/audience?

There is no one size fits all. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder — but the facts should give you an apparatus to identify whose eyes to aim for next.

The holy grail

It’s likely the best photo of you is not a selfie. You probably aren’t looking straight at the camera. Maybe you didn’t even know they were taking a photo. You’re just doing your thing, perhaps in good company and in a place that makes you happy.

More than ever, we’re a society used to recording moments in each other's lives and the best marketing today is similar. Showing up on communities like Reddit or being submitted naturally to a site like Product Hunt shows something significant about you. And they aren't likely to share a stuffy old document designed almost to exclude them instead of involve them.

The way people capture you won't always be enjoyable. It won't always be flattering. But in this day and age, if you can't deal with the scrutiny of your audience exposing you from every angle, you have bigger problems. Maybe it's time to think more closely about what they reflect back at you.

Ultimately, no amount of selfie sticks, ‘beauty’ filters or orbiting drones are going to hide the fact you are holed up, alone in your room taking these snaps. It’s time to ignore the distractions and turn the lens on the world around you. If you make it the subject, you’ll be surprised how quickly it may return the interest.

Max Tatton-Brown is founder and managing director at Augur. He tweets @maxtb

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