While writing a press release for a client the other day, I got to thinking about what I was doing. Dangerous idea, thinking too much. Because the more I thought, the less reason I could find for a company to issue a traditional “press release.”
What with the long decline of the trade press, there is less “press” out there to “release” information to. And what with internal and external bloggers and Tweeters, anyone who cares will probably see your latest news by following your blog, Tweets or Facebook page, or through a Web search, long before they see a formal press release.
More importantly, your target audience of prospects, analysts and, yes, the occasional surviving editor, wants a lot more candor, insight and context than they’ll find in a press release. By definition, the press release is all about what’s important to the vendor, not the reader. (“We blew away our first quarter numbers, we signed a new distribution deal, we won an award, we hired a new CTO, etc.”.) The obligatory quotes from the CEO, the customer or the new business partner saying how happy everyone is with each other don’t, I would guess, wind up getting much play.
The editing process also dooms most press releases because every sentence and phrase is agonizingly tweaked by marketing, legal and PR. True, they are only doing their jobs. But since their jobs are to reduce risk (in the case of legal) and to promote the company (in the case of marketing and PR) they systematically eliminate much of what might interest a reader, such as candid quotes about the real problems that led them to the winning vendor. Much as I appreciate the work, being paid to remove value from content can’t be a good long-term business model.
Maybe, as PR pro Don Jennings suggests, companies need to issue press releases for regulatory or disclosure purposes. If so, we should we treat them like a 10-K or other SEC-required filing and let the lawyers tell us what to say, without trying to make them pretty or creative. We could then save the expensive writing and editing work for case studies, blog posts or Webinars when we have the clearances and approvals to write something that is more useful, in-depth and relevant to the reader.
Is it time to kill the press release, or are companies still getting a bang for the bucks they spend on them?