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The Modern Press Release: Two Don'ts and Three Do's

by Jay Hickman  |  
July 27, 2017

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

LinkedIn: Jay Hickman

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  • by Ksenia Newton Thu Jul 27, 2017 via web

    Jay, thank you for sharing the article. it's very timely since I'm looking into the various ways of doing PR online as part of the link building campaign. Would you share any suggestions in terms of how to get free PR and/or get featured?

    Thank you in advance

  • by Jay Hickman Thu Jul 27, 2017 via web

    Ksenia, first of all: youíre welcome! Iím glad you got something out of it.
    To your question, remember that free media placement comes at the discretion of individual outlets. As Iíve outlined in the article, your press release should be news or a story that resonates with each outlet's readers or viewers, or dovetails with current events in some way.
    Featuring it on your company website on the News page, or as a blog post, enables you to share it via social media as well and gain additional attention that way.
    Of course, much of your success with getting featured will depend on the strength of the news youíre seeking to share and making smart choices about what media audiences you want to target. If youíd like to share some specifics with me through LinkedIn, I might be able to help. In any case, best of luck!

  • by Toni Wed Jun 6, 2018 via web

    As a former newspaper editor, I am sorry, but press releases don't get much attention. I was too busy and received hundreds of releases, emails, calls etc. each day. I liked short, to-the-point information with targeted reasons why someone would want to know the company's news. When I received "the whole package" - complete, well-written, short article with photos, I was more inclined to use that information. For example, for the Super Bowl, McCormick's spice company sent recipes for changing up popcorn that included photos of the completed product and people enjoying the popcorn at a viewing party. This inspired a simple feature package for our food section. McCormick's put in thought and took care of some of the work for us. We cannot brand-mention, as it seems partial, so McCormick's products were listed along with other's to try.

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