Thursday, January 15, 2015

Press Releases: So 1995 or still important in 2015?

I love it when something I wrote a year or more ago sounds fresh. (OK, sometimes I hate it.)

I last wrote about press releases in October 2013. I'm tempted to simply re-share the whole piece; it still works.

But that wouldn't do my blog any favors, now would it? (Wink, wink)

Press Releases Still Matter. 

Press releases are sort of like phones. They still matter, we still need them, but the way we work with them has changed a little bit. Here's how to think about them, and how to use them effectively, in 2015.

Press releases were built to do a job: that is, to let the press know about something that maybe it (the press) should tell the world about. Closely related: press releases were the original spin machines.

They can be read at a press conference when something bad has happened, for example. They can announce that something good has happened. Or they can ballyhoo a new product.

Press releases once worked pretty well at getting the press's attention. Has that changed? No, not really. What's changed is the press, which is a rather archaic word, so let's say "media." Roughly eight billion channels and the internet have appeared since the dawn of the press release.  Each news outlet has its own agenda.* So, how well do they work? Ah, that's a good question. The answer is, they work great, when you have a great plan. (See Marketing 101, specifically as it relates to goals, audiences, targets, testing, and - well, you get the point.)

At some point, press releases got a little too big for their britches. Or maybe that was a mixup at the office party when PR and Marketing got confused and tried on each other's job descriptions and everyone went home in the wrong hat.

Ah-um, yes; that belongs in another post too. Back to press releases.

They can't do everything. But, when you design them to do a specific job, they do it well.

Who needs press releases in 2015? Large organizations

One way to characterize a large organization - whether it's a public university, foundation, hospital, or everyone's favorite corporation - is as an information center. Most large organizations produce enough internal news to publish a daily newspaper. And the people who work there might, at some point, be expected to know what's going on in any given department. Which is silly, because people who work in a university's biology department really can't know everything that's going on over in the agriculture department (although it would be nice) or public health (that would be nice too) or history departments.

One thing press releases do really well is serve as a news archive of sorts for accomplishments. And other things that happen. And not just in public institutions, but also in corporations. Particularly since employees often are also shareholders, I hope that many of them read their company's press releases regularly. Hint: If I were in charge of a large organization, I would require employees to read every press release the company issued, the PR department would be stellar, and very well paid.  ;)

Who needs press releases in 2015? Small organizations

Remember that party I mentioned, where marketing and PR got a little too cozy? Yeh, well, it's not exactly an incestuous relationship. The fact is there's a huge gray area where Marketing and PR both need to work closely together. We could say they're cousins. It might be a good idea for me to kill this analogy now.

To clarify, when I said "press releases got a little too big for their britches," what I meant was we all got confused about how much a press release can do. Press releases by themselves simply cannot replace sales, marketing, and paid advertising.**

Small organizations rarely have healthy marketing/pr/ad budgets. And while press releases can't make up all the difference, when used well, they can garner a lot of attention. Not "a lot of attention" in a headline news kind of way, maybe, but that's not necessarily what a small business or organization needs.

As PR and marketing both know, the right kind of attention, from the right audience is priceless for a small organization. (And some large organizations.)

A well-targeted press release can function as a productive cold call, generating awareness, interest and when you're lucky, leads.

Why bother with press releases in 2015? 

If you have a message to share, press releases are one way to share it. Whether or not a press release is the best, most effective way to share questionable. But sometimes, under some circumstances, press releases are a perfect fit, britches and all.

*Sadly, none that I know of are out to purely inform us minions with "all the news that's fit to print;" but that rant belongs in a different post.
**Gasp! Can we still say "advertising" in 2015? I may never run out of blog topics...

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