The news release has always been the workhorse of public relations agencies. Have a new product or a new location? Send out a release. Have a new CEO or maybe you’ve won an award? Write it up and send it out to your media list.
Then the Internet came along and made the news release even more useful. For a long time, you could use news releases to entice traffic back to your website. By posting multiple news releases on newswires with the judicious use of keywords and hyperlinks, you could really help your site rise up Google search engine rankings.
The trouble with a good thing is that it can get abused. So last year, Google put an abrupt end to the practice. News releases (or press releases, if you prefer) would no longer be considered when preparing search results.
More recently, the Government of Canada took things a step further. It decided that the traditional news release format was no longer needed. Instead of writing a news release in journalistic, inverted pyramid style, the government would lead with two to three short paragraphs summarizing the news, then follow it with bulleted facts and a handful of quotations.
In a blog post entitled â€œThe press release is dead. Long live the press release…,â€ Kim McKinnon of the Canadian Government’s Communications Community Office said:
The Government of Canada is retiring the traditional press release format in favour of a more digital-friendly product that makes the key messages of announcements clearer, quick facts more accessible and integrates more effectively with social media channels.
Google was cheered for taking a stand against another form of spam. And the government was lauded by many in our industry for taking the lead in refreshing a PR tool that hadn’t changed in decades. While the news release is far from dead, circumstances are forcing us all to rethink how they’re used.
In our practice, we pitch stories to the media in Manitoba, across Canada and around North America all the time. We’ve found that the utility of news releases has been badly eroded in recent years. Where we used to write up a news release for many different kinds of news items, we are more circumspect now.
Reporters are inundated with releases. Facing yet another big grey block of text in their email is about exciting as sitting in a traffic jam. And since the available pool and size of newsrooms is getting smaller and smaller every year, it has become harder and harder to put together news releases that can earn positive media coverage.
In our day to day activities, we always ask ourselves: is this news? If it’s genuinely newsworthy – a major breakthrough, a noteworthy investment or new project, a change that will impact the public – then a news release is probably still warranted.
But what about the softer stuff? What about the human interest angles or the behind the scenes looks or the stories that might appeal to niche audiences? What about the subject matter expert who would make a great interview for morning TV or radio? For those kinds of stories, we generally avoid putting them in news release format. Instead, we’ll prepare very short email (and phone) pitches that we’ll send to a targeted list of reporters, broadcasters and bloggers we feel are most likely to be interested.Â If those less formal pitches attract interest, then we follow up with background information, photos, video or whatever else is required.
One of the other things we recommend is to make sure the stories you’re telling are easy to share digitally. Post them on your website with links to things such as infographics or photos. And if they’re worthy of a news release, make sure you’re posting them on the newswire with similar media assets.
So is the news release dead? No, but it’s definitely changing.
The way it’s evolving is a good thing for agencies like ours, because we’ve never focused solely on media relations. We work with our clients to make sure they’re telling their story in ways that meet their needs. That means running open houses and giving speeches. It means getting out to meet your target audiences, or giving them reasons to come in to meet you and your organization.
We use our creativity to design events that attract media interest (like our Gingerbread Doghouse Decorating Contest for Petsecure), but we also generate ideas that give our clients’ customers a reason to read more or buy now.