the press release is here to stay

Never let it be said that we're not a broad church. Prompted by the debate around the future of press releases one press officer has written this defence of the channel.

by Kam Mistry

In a world obsessed with social media I’ve been asked to scribble a few words, well a few hundred words, in defence of the press release. Some argue that the ability to tweet and blog instantaneously means that traditional channels and methods are redundant – newspapers’ days are numbered. This is far from the case, and the press release as a tool in the professional communicator’s kit is far from humble.

True, twitter and other social media allow us to get messages out quickly, and as someone who works in local government I have found it invaluable, especially when we need to get messages out promptly, for example during flooding, heavy snow or during emergencies. People trust the information we provide, because it comes from a trusted source – and trust is important with all forms of communication.

Now, I’m not a fan of all of the media, in fact I don’t even believe in a free press, but that’s another story. Put aside the political agendas of some of the national papers for a moment and you’ll see that, generally, one thing that the press provides is trust. I appreciate the irony in that statement, but what I’m talking about is that they provide a filter.  With twitter, individuals, groups and organisations can blurt out their own self-promoting messages and maybe even write their own articles and assume that the job is done. But when you send a press release to the media it has to be screened by journalists and editors so that it has relevance to their, and your, audience.

When I started off in PR, about 20 years ago, we used to send press releases and photos by post in hard-backed envelopes marked ‘Please do not bend’.  Nowadays it’s all done by email but if you work in the public sector, your organisation should still be a marketable brand and should not get lost among the inevitable drivel in your key contacts’ inboxes.  If you’re sending out quality PR, and of course making the effort to build relationships, your messages should still stand out. In a world drifting towards quick fixes, media relations takes effort – but the third party endorsement of the media which critically filters your message and deems it relevant, further strengthens your integrity. I could tweet that I’m a great lover. But how much more credible would it be if others said it? 

I hear press releases criticised as spin. Really? It’s probably more so for tweeting and blogging. There are good press releases and bad ones. Good PRs know what makes journalists tick and are not foolish enough to insult their intelligence with subjective and biased opinion. They want facts, not spin. Tweets and blogs should have similar credibility. It’s the quality of the message not the channel that is important. Patronise your readers/followers at your peril.

Remember the dot.com bubble? When the world went crazy for the next big thing? Remember the crash? Today, with some evangelists getting carried away by the immediacy of social media and dismissing what came before, as professional communicators we should not throw our eggs into one basket. Effective communication involves thought and effort.

When you dissect it, you realise that the press release is a fantastic form of communication. You grab someone’s attention with a good headline, they then read your first paragraph and, assuming it’s still interesting, will continue to read the rest of it and then publish it. I suppose it’s a bit like the mating game – initial attraction, stimulate interest, maintain interest and then… oh dear this is turning into a Swiss Toni metaphor.

Yes, the press and media are having to evolve but they will be there for many years to come. Newspapers – in print and electronic forms  - will continue to be key channels for effective communication and we really should not see them, or press releases, as anachronisms.

Put it this way. First there was radio and then television came along. Have we all thrown away our radios?

I could say a great deal more about the importance of the press release, but I’m already well over my allotted word count…and considerably over 140 characters.

Kam Mistry is a press officer in local government.

Picture credit.