The press release used to be the bread and butter of many public relations professionals. At its best, it could be an art form unto itself. At its worst, it could be… boring. Today the press release is another tool in a growing communications toolbox that includes things like social media, content marketing, company newsletters, live streaming video, influencer marketing and much, much more. Each of those channels, when used well, has the potential to reach far more people than a single press release, although few achieve all the same goals. Do press releases still matter today? Absolutely, but they have certainly changed.
What Is A Press Release Anyway?
Not too long ago, a reporter could stroll over to the newsroom fax machine (yes, fax machine) and pick up a stack of press releases to search for an interesting story that day. The fax machine may be gone (they’re gone, right?), but the press releases keep coming by email, wire service, LinkedIn notifications or press release distribution services. The delivery may have changed, but the format of a good press release has basically remained the same.
So what is a press release? For the most part, think of it as the formal voice of your organization to the outside world. It’s where you announce significant news and other developments, but it should also be where you continue to communicate your core values, mission and key messages throughout every communication.
Announcing a new CEO? Sure, the press release is about them, but it’s even more about who your organization is or aspires to be. Celebrating an award? Great! Celebrate, but also make sure to communicate how that award connects to your other strategic goals. Sharing news about a new product, program or other initiative? The press release you share should also talk about how that next step moves you forward as a company toward achieving your vision.
Yes, there are standard press release styles, forms and formats, but the press release itself is a communication about your organization, your work and your goals at a given moment in time. You mark that time by putting it up on your Company News page, sharing on social media and sending out to possibly interested reporters and editors who might find what you’re doing interesting as well.
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Who’s Going to Read Your Press Release Today?
Let’s be clear. Press releases are not only written for reporters and news editors to read. In fact, early on in my public relations career I had a frantic conversation with a colleague who wanted to quickly send out a press release about an upcoming event. The thing is, they didn’t want the “press” to attend. That left me scratching my head for a moment and we ended up finding a better solution, but they were not entirely wrong. With so many layers of communication that can be included in a single press release and the nature of it being broadcast widely as a company communication, each press release must be written for a wide and very diverse audience.
In some cases, a company today may not even distribute a press release directly to the news media. They’ll post it to their news section, share on social media and email it to their core audiences. If a reporter picks it up too, great, but their main audience might be their customers, employees, board members or even potential investors.
Long after that press release goes out to the media, it will stand on your website as a chronological record or mile marker for others to see what you have accomplished. Consider that for a moment. When you think of a press release as a kind of historical document of your progress, it will begin to shape how you write each release, what you include and how you begin to measure your own growth and progress.
A Modern Press Release Strategy
Now that we have a broader perspective of what a press release is and the role it serves, let’s look at how it can fit into a modern press release strategy. Which audience is it written for and which goal does it hope to achieve? The answer is all of them. A successful press release strategy includes a great many different kinds of communications with different goals, but they are all integrated so each connects to the other.
There are major press releases that mark significant moments in an organization’s growth. Then there are less significant releases that maybe serve as a way to stay on the radar of interested reporters, even if they’re unlikely to write a story about that specific topic. For a successful strategy, though, all of those different types of press releases should be identified, categorized and when possible, added to a calendar so you can begin to see how they all fit together with every other form of communication you’re creating. And most importantly, each and every press release should be seen as an opportunity to speak about the values and goals of your organization as well as where you are going.