It's time again for someone to stand up against press releases. This may sound like sacrilege from a PR guy. Lots of business people, and probably your friends in the media, think writing and issuing press releases are all PR flacks live for.<
But when creating an effective public relations program, press releases may be among the last things you need to worry about. Nor does a string of press releases issued on a weekly basis mean you have a publicity program. Yes, the "Do Some" approach to public relations will probably get your organization some press coverage. But that technique entirely misses the point of what's news, and more importantly how public relations works to strategically build and maintain awareness and credibility.
Even in our "instant everything" culture, building a company's reputation and developing strong media relationships isn't accomplished in a quarter or two. With wary media, it can take years and be destroyed in seconds. Reporters, editors and market researchers are burned on a regular basis. Their trust is earned over time, not by covering them with press releases.
Listen to what most editorial poeple tell public relations people: "read my book." Understanding publications' informational needs is essential. Ignoring it alienates editors.
Never Cry Wolf
"Getting ink" is a purely tactical approach that may, or may not help further a company's business goals. It may temporarily boost a company's stock price. But very quickly the media and the analysts tracking your market sector will tire of the press release paper storm or e-mail spamming. Stuffing their mail boxes soon has the reverse effect--they ignore everything from the offending organization.
Issuing too many news releases is the equivalent of crying wolf. Most media people are already getting way too much stuff from too many companies--most of which they can't use and wouldn't even if they had ten times more editorial space.
Press releases remain today's single most over-used and abused public relations tactic. Whatever happened to the concept of using the press release as a "silver bullet" when you have real news? Today's all too prevalent shot-gun media relations approach ignores the "relations" part of the profession as well as the "news" part of news release.
Automated distribution techniques and services help further alienate communicators from the media they should be attempting to understand and perhaps influence. Some PR people are attempting to automate the media relations process as if they were canning vegetables. Contract services exist to handle editorial contact and press release distribution. This is work that PR people should be doing themselves, not giving away to automated outside services. Effective PR pros know or should find out exactly who wants their clients' or company's news, not delegate it to an outside vendor.
Wire services like PR Newswire or Business Wire are fine for posting your releases and getting into databases. But don't be mistaken that it's a substitute for alerting, pitching or perhaps even getting to know reporters, editors and analysts.
Believe it or not there are many media people in the US and elsewhere who aren't regular fax or e-mail users. They often prefer postal mail. A hand-addressed letter or labeled envelope with a note saying, "information for your next feature article on such and such" is often the best way of getting your news into the right hands. To them another number 10 envelope with a typed label yells "junk mail!" Contrastingly, some media folk "don't do mail"--period. You must know not only what they want, but how they want it.
An attitude of "some news releases are good, more are better, and the most must be the best" pervades thinking. This entirely ignores the way publications and journalists think. This isn't the "tonnage" business. ("Hey, you know what, we sent out 400 news releases last week!") We're really in the semi- and full-custom information development and supply business. Most often "less is more." Many articles have already been written about the size and weight of press kits. So I won't go there.
The News Release Slam-Dunk
I understand why some people think automated news release services are useful. Because sloppiness and laziness in distributing releases is prevalent. The practice of just grabbing an entire category out of a media directory and sending every release to the list is far too common. The topic of contact database maintenance in media targeting is another whole article. But use a rifle, not a shotgun.
Build "Media Relationships"
Real PR pros do the work. They correctly and precisely target their media and analyst contacts with news they can use rather than giving that responsibly away to a vendor. It's in the give-and-take of talking to media and analysts on which relationships are built, not by automating it or handing it off to someone else.
If there are too many press releases going out for you to directly contact your top-tier media, then maybe that's telling you something about how much stuff your organization is pushing through the mail room or on the net (and to how many outlets).
Somewhere, perhaps back in business school, someone told Business Admin. majors or MBA candidates that public relations equals dreaming up and distributing press releases to the news media. If your public relations program is consistently exceeding the publication's frequency (weekly or monthly) of much of your target media, then you're definitely putting out too many press releases.
Unless you're the IBM or Intel of your market, most media outlets won't use more than one item per issue from an organization anyway. So, if you're sending monthly magazines two, three or more releases in a given month, expect most to not get used. One of the main problems with overdosing the media with too many releases is the editors have to chose which one to use. They may run one of lesser value rather than another you were really hoping to see published. But you shot yourself in the foot by sending out too many in the first place. Less is more.
Press releases can have tactical value, even be required in instances by public companies. But use them judiciously and at a rhythm that your target media can digest. After all, PR doesn't stand for press release.