A rose by any name

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By Linda Forrest

There was a study released earlier this week suggesting that less than half of PR people (at least those surveyed) deemed the press release “useful.”

Some of the data from the study caused me to give my head a firm shake:

“One of the main reasons for the decline of the press release is the recent explosion of the use of social media in public relations and the perception that releases are less relevant in those venues. A majority (64%) of respondents who issue releases say they target them most often to print outlets, while 23% send them to online news and financial sites.”

Uh, what?

It seems to me that what we have here is a nomenclature problem.

Press release. News release. Social media release.

Do these three designations conjure up significantly different images in your mind? Or is the name of your interface with the media irrelevant and the effectiveness of the tactic and content of the piece what’s most important?

I would argue it’s clearly the latter.

It seems that a large swath of the PR industry would rather spend time arguing about what to call communications materials or complain about how shoddy tactics are ineffective instead of find the most efficient ways to work with media targets, regardless of what the interface is called.

The best practitioners know that one market-facing document does not fit all, and that a range of materials will need to be developed and the pitch tailored for specific targets. That said, the call-it-what-you-will release still has a role to play. An important one.

In our industry, I would argue that people throw around the terms “press release,” “media release” and “news release” and that they are used fairly interchangeably. It’s difficult to find consensus on the internet about what the commonly accepted definition is for each of these terms because there are arguments in a lot of different directions. If you ask me, it doesn’t really matter; it’s merely semantics.

If the study is referring to the antiquated press release that’s merely sent to print media, then yes, of course this is not the most effective methodology to employ in 2009 if you’re hoping to get coverage for your clients. If the study is referring to the effectiveness of news releases, which are more widely distributed to all types of media, then I heartily disagree that they’re “a necessary evil” or not useful.

A well crafted release that contains, without hyperbole, all the facts of a story, a strong lead, meaningful statistics, pertinent contact information and information on how to find out more about the story, is an effective tool and will be welcome to journalists, if the subject matter is of interest to them and if the release is compelling and if the story resonates with the reporter, and if… While some reporters hate releases on principle – and who can blame them, when the least of our industry has been sending out preposterous drivel and sullying PR’s good name for years – others welcome the concise details that either enable them to write a story without further inputs or provide them with the necessary tools to investigate further.

There’s a lot of hullabaloo about the “social media release.” I would argue that any well-crafted release in the year 2009 would contain social media elements. If it doesn’t, you should strongly consider whether your agency is serving you well. SEO should be a consideration when crafting a release and, increasingly, access to photos and videos and direction to interactive channels such as Twitter profiles and LinkedIn profiles are becoming commonplace.

The unfortunately named “spray and pray” style of public relations never garnered the success that considered and focused efforts do. Has any company in history achieved the full potential of its story merely by sending out a “press release?” Probably not. We’ve already talked about the secret to successful PR on this blog: it’s hard work, applied consistently against the right targets. That’s it. A release may or may not be an effective tactic, depending on the nature of the story, but it is by no means an ineffective tool. Media relations is so much more than sending out a release and practitioners, prospects and customers who don’t understand that are fated to be disappointed in their PR efforts because they simply don’t understand the discipline.

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