Transforming the Press Release

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Companies continue to use the term “press release” without really meaning, or really thinking of, the press. Their intention is to put out a formal release of information for various audiences. The problem that develops from automatically using the phrase “press release” is one of semantics, mind-set and distribution strategy.

For companies that use press releases no matter the actual content of their releases, the problem is twofold. First, these companies are buying into a self-fulfilling prophecy that simply because they call it a press release, the press should be interested in it, even when it contains nothing of news value. Second, these companies lack a coherent strategy for the type of information release actually being produced.

Many forms of the release are in fact quite valuable, but it’s rare that the value is actually for the press.

The solution to this problem is also twofold. The first part is simply to break out of an old mind-set by no longer using the phrase “press release.” This is in large part up to the public relations professionals who oversee the process. They need to take a firm stand on determining when a release is for the press and when it is not. In order to do this, there must also be a solution for the other types of releases. This means the PR team must develop a distribution strategy for each release and its appropriate primary audience. Marketing releases, information releases, official statement releases, customer information releases or we-need-more-new-content-without-redesigning-the-site releases need to have their own distribution strategies.

One way to do this is to create a direct information release strategy similar to direct mail strategies, where the focus is on directly addressing a target audience. Sometimes this audience is the press (so we call it a press release) and sometimes it’s a consumer (so we call it a consumer information release). It’s a matter of knowing what kind of information is going to what audience and what format is best for each release.

Here are descriptions for a range of releases.

  • Product information release
    This is probably the most common release. Marketing executives often want to advertise information on product upgrades, new versions or other types of information of interest to customers and prospects. This release should focus on the facts and technical aspects of the product. It is worth noting that technical and vertical trade publications are sometimes interested in these releases.
  • Product or company update releases
    These information releases often don’t need to be distributed as a formal press release but can be done via a blog posting that links to the original product release and spec sheets.
  • Customer information or marketing release
    Similar to a product release, this release focuses on other initiatives such as promotions, partnerships, and customer or prospect programs (such as company giveaways). These can be posted on a customer blog and distributed via e-mail and blogger outreach (if appropriate).
  • Official statement release
    Companies often need to put out their official position on a matter such as a partner’s merger, a non-newsworthy acquisition or the CEO’s speech at a big conference. The audiences can vary (customers, investors, etc.), but the purpose is to have an official statement of record.
  • News release
    That’s right. There are still times when a release is needed for the press. During big, newsworthy announcements (e.g., an acquisition, major product launch, etc.), we still get requests for press releases so that the reporter has an official statement with the basic facts.

Once you have established the type of release needed, next look at distribution methods. Here are some of the most common:

  • Wire services
    PR Newswire or Business Wire put releases in press offices (at least, in theory), in search engines and in news databases such as Factiva. Releases are often put on the wire not for the press to access, but to make the information available to search engines and news databases. This distribution is best when a company wants to make sure the release is indexed with these databases so that it’s searchable in the future, and in a location where there may be news value (the second is often seen as more optional that the first).
  • Direct distribution and SEO
    For releases with more defined audiences, such as customer releases, direct distribution through e-mail (if allowed), newsletters, and the company web site will suffice. In addition, the URL for these releases should also be submitted to news search engines for indexing.
  • Search engine optimization
    This is where too many companies still fall short. Just about any release should be optimized for the Web and contain links to other relevant areas of the company web site. While the optimization can help bring the right visitor to the site, the internal links and design make sure they stay there and take any appropriate action. For example, a product release should link to a product page, which then links to areas where the product can be purchased.

By creating an appropriate release strategy, your organization ensures better relations with the press (by not annoying them with useless information), better audience relations by steering the right information to the right audience, improved management of internal expectations and better information distribution overall.

Release strategy beyond the press release is still taking shape, but it holds a lot of potential for communication professionals to implement programs that create a direct dialogue with their audiences.

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