We start with a paean to the humble press release.

The first press release was issued in 1906 by the Pennsylvania Railroad, under the direction of public relations expert Ivy Lee, to provide media with an on-the-ground account of facts about the 1906 Atlantic City train wreck. Since then, it has become a staple in marketing promotion, public affairs, and politics.

As we arrive at the 111th anniversary of the press release, it seems appropriate to examine this marketing tool and its optimal uses.

Ideally, a press release enables an organization to share the facts of a new development in a way that will have the most impact on its target audiences. If the content is newsworthy, the release can capture the attention of relevant media outlets, which might then reach out for more information to develop a story of their own. If it is particularly well-written, the release has the potential to be posted verbatim on one or more media outlets. (Such was the case on Oct. 30, 1906, when the New York Times printed the Pennsylvania Railroad press release word for word.)

In all cases, the press release allows the brand to carefully craft and control the message—accentuating the elements it wants, avoiding those that it doesn't—and establish a messaging foundation for other versions of the news, or suppositions, that might be shared subsequently.

However, the potential power of the press release is sometimes misunderstood by those who aren't studied PR practitioners. Many self-marketing entrepreneurs or others serving in some marketing function often believe—falsely—that writing and distributing a press release means guaranteed free company publicity and a third-party media endorsement. Others wrongly believe there's no such thing as "too much of a good thing" and so they document every move made by the company and send it along to the media.

Acting on those beliefs can be fraught with problems, so I would urge that companies consider a more strategic approach. If you are Google, Apple ,or McDonald's, these guidelines likely don't apply to you: If you ever decided to change your logo, the world would pay rapt attention.

For everyone else, though (including most global corporations), there are some best-practices regarding press releases as marketing tools.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Jay Hickman

Jay Hickman is the director of public relations for MMI Agency, a full-service integrated agency in Houston.

LinkedIn: Jay Hickman