The press release is dead; yet it continues to be one of the main vehicles of corporate communications. New forms have emerged such as the news release, as online marketers recognise the benefits of the old PR staple. As marketing pundit David Meerman Scott puts it in The New Rules of Marketing and PR:
“The Internet has made public relations public again, after years of almost exclusive focus on media. Blogs, online video, news releases, and other forms of web content let organizations communicate directly with buyers.”
Especially for small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), the news release provides a cost effective, easy to manage comms tactic to market themselves on the web. But it also opens a can of worms with regards to the traditional rules and etiquette of media relations and distribution. Understanding the pros and cons of the news release strategy helps organisations balance PR objectives with broader marketing goals.
• The times when press releases were exclusively read by journalists are over. Today, anyone can subscribe to company updates on the news wires and corporate newsrooms. In many cases, companies don’t have a choice; they merely comply with their disclosure requirements. They can as well embrace it and being more conscious of non-media audiences, cater for the demand with regular updates on activities and achievements.
• Not all news is hard-hitting enough for media coverage. By publishing updates directly to buyers, investors and other stakeholders, businesses can take a more targeted approach with their messages and contents. They also make their news available to bloggers and other influencers that might not be captured through their traditional media relations program.
• The online newsroom is often the most frequently updated and as such, SEO-friendly site of an organisation’s website. The news release plays an important role in the overall success of the online marketing strategy, and also provides much needed content for social media channels and other forms of marketing communications.
• Distributing news releases directly to marketing audiences and the public can diminish the news value of the announcement. Cutting out journalists as the traditional “gatekeepers” can not only impact the quantity but also the quality of media coverage as there is less time for clarifications and analysis. Conversely, distributing updates to media that are mainly intended for customers, partners or investors (but don’t meet traditional news criteria) can also negatively affect your PR program.
• Press release templates vary from industry to industry, across countries, and depending where the company is listed, but they have certain attributes in common, such as the dateline, a pyramidal structure and above all, a more fact-driven, neutral tone. In contrast, taking its inspiration from blogs and online entertainment, the news release is less standardised. The excessive use of animated GIFs (see ZDNet op-ed piece on the topic) as an example of the more experimental forms demonstrates how this can render news releases unsuitable for the media, and even invite ridicule.
• Even with its less rigid format, the news release should be reserved for actual news updates. Consider other communication channels such as a company blog, video or slideshows for opinion pieces, company backgrounders or product information.