In competing for a piece of business not too long ago, my public relations firm was asked to supply three samples, each, of recent clips, bylined articles we'd authored for clients and press releases.
For two of the three requirements, the issue was our embarrassment of riches. But for press releases, we were hard-pressed. These days, we write fewer and fewer press releases—most are the obligatory personnel announcements, with the periodic feature release sprinkled in between. We just don't see them as being as important a tool for PR as they once were.
Yes, there are exceptions. For disclosure purposes, news releases are mandatory for occurrences or developments that could materially impact a publicly held company. And some businesses have real "news" to report, even if they're not publicly held, that may lend itself to distribution via news release.
But despite the popular image of PR firms as press release factories and their account personnel as pitching machines (and the regrettable fact that many still churn them out and indiscriminately blanket the media with releases that have little or no relevance), the reality is that the press release is pretty much dead as a piece of the strategic communications arsenal.
Think about it. As a society, we've gone from the era of mass production, mass merchandising and mass marketing to one where customization is king.
In this environment, press releases are to PR professionals what the 30-second television commercial is becoming to the advertising industry. As far as most reporters and editors are concerned, they are overproduced, they lack differentiation, they generally aren't relevant and the vast majority just aren't worthy of coverage.
As a profession, we must be falling down on the job of providing education and counsel. Why else would prospects, clients and their bosses still insist on "expertise" in developing press releases, when the pertinent question should be this: "For our business and our purposes, what are the most effective ways to get media coverage?"
Understanding the client and the thinking/strategy behind its offerings is a first step leading to the best possible storyline hooks. It takes getting to know the company and its positioning—intimately. What differentiates it from the competition. The thinking by senior level people in the organization that makes it great.