Press Releases. These concisely written news announcements have been a mainstay of public relations since the industry as we know it existed.
The press release was invented in 1906 when the Pennsylvania Railroad had an accident and its PR consultant, Ivy Lee (often considered the Godfather of PR), sent out a statement to media representatives, inviting them to hear about the accident first-hand. While I admit I’m not 100% clear on this, I believe it was sent out by mail. He invited the media to travel to the scene of the accident by train.
Think about how communication has changed since 1906.
- Mail delivery became more reliable due to advents in transportation, such as the mass production of the automobile and airplane.
- Telephones and telephone service were adapted and improved and, therefore, became more widespread until they were adopted by nearly every home in America.
- Cell phones came into existence and people could talk on the phone anytime, anywhere.
- The Internet connected the world.
- Smart phones gave people the ability to access the Internet anytime, anywhere.
Yet, for most people, press releases really haven’t changed that much . . . unless you count media distribution via wire service and email.
It’s time for the PR industry to rethink the press release, and remix our old friend into a powerful tool once again.
With the advent of new technologies, companies now have the ability to: A) create, publish and leverage their own content, and B) reach media in a much more personal, authentic and targeted manner. As PR pros, it’s time to accept that the role of the press release has changed, and adapt our services and campaigns to reflect this shift.
For example, at PR 20/20, we write optimized press releases — press releases that announce company news and are optimized for search engines. We use a wire service to send the news online and provide links back to the company’s site. This serves two purposes:
- If a reader is interested in more information, they can follow the link to the company’s site (where we may host multimedia content like photos, video and audio files, and ask people to share information via social tools).
- By embedding links in the release that is syndicated online, the company’s site authority with Google and other search engines has the potential to increase.
Other PR pros are embracing the social web by turning news announcements into Social Media News Releases (SMNRs). These include multimedia content and offer readers a way to share the information through social tools. Wire distribution services will even send out your SMNRs online.
Recently, our friends at HubSpot released the findings of months of research on press release distribution as it stands today. They compared the success rates of SMNRs vs. optimized press releases1. To be clear here, by success I mean syndication levels, or how many sites picked up the releases in full.
Not surprisingly, HubSpot found that more sites syndicate optimized press releases than SMNRs. This makes sense because without the multimedia content, it is easier to post the information.
Many people disagreed with HubSpot’s apparent promotion of optimized releases over SMNRs, arguing that the point of SMNRs isn’t necessarily syndication, but sharing and encouraging interaction with the news. That’s fair. But, I agree with HubSpot’s logic that if you’re going to have people interacting with your news and sharing your content, wouldn’t you rather have it hosted on your own site?
That being said, here are my three main thoughts on the Press Release of the Past, the Present and the Future:
The Past: Traditional press releases, sent out via mass distribution and on the wire in hopes of getting press coverage, don’t work. Or, perhaps more accurately, they rarely do.
The Present: Optimized press releases offer a great tool to spread company news (that most people won’t care about enough to share) online and give your site some SEO credit through inbound links. They can, however, become cost-prohibitive and don’t offer incredible results (average number syndication per release was about 7 after 3 months – Rebecca Corliss, please correct me if this is wrong. I had to do some math.). Also, there is a fair chance that Google and other search engines will begin limiting the SEO credit they offer to sites that post nothing but press releases.
The Present & The Future: When you have news, new ideas or other content that is actually interesting enough to share through multimedia content like videos and photos — content that people would actually want to interact with and share — host it on your own site. Put it in the style of a SMNR if you want, but put it on your site. Then, share it with your social network and let them do the rest.
Side note: It’s rather difficult to complete a post like this without talking about new resources with which many PR pros are finding success. For example, Pitch Engine is a website that hosts SMNRs for many companies, and allows journalists (or any possibly any interested party) to receive feeds of news releases in topics of interest.
A lot of people love Pitch Engine and find tons of value in the service. While I can see the benefit of housing information in a place where media reps know they can find it, I can’t let myself ignore the importance of hosting your best content on your own Website. Maybe a combination of both is key, especially as Pitch Engine and similar services gain in popularity with media and other influencers.
So… what do you think about the future of the press release?
- PR pros – how do you handle press releases and news announcements with your clients? How do you see this evolving in the next year?
- Journalists/media/analysts/bloggers – where do you look for news announcements? What kinds of press releases (if any) catch your attention? How do you want companies to share their news with you online?
1HubSpot referred to these as “traditional” press releases in the report. Because they included keywords and links, for all intents and purposes they can be considered optimized press releases. (Have you ever seen a footnote in a blog post before?)
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