If there's one thing that guarantees debate it's the future of the press release question. Thing is, while PR people are talking newspaper people have started to quietly turn away from it.
I missed the apparently now annual @commscamp dust up over the Press Release this year.
I may have inadvertently started it and run away last year, and I think I was supposed to kick off a brawl about it at an LGComms fringe event last year too, but sort of declined. Sort of.
But there it was, in all its #commscamp14 glory. The 'new guard/old guard' row. Like Labour in the 80s; a bit of insular, self-serving policy debate as the rest of the world looks away, faintly embarrassed, shuffles along and gets on with modern life.
"The press release is dead, because... social media"
"No it ain't, because... what I do."
I have sometimes expressed a belief that newspapers are probably finished, but don't think I have ever made an argument that traditional media brands are dead. Far from it. I think more people carry more news brands and look to more sources and individual articles, images and writers than ever before. It's easier to pick the little bits you want on a phone than to wearily wade through the whole local rag, a daily, good-for-you-and-now-without-extra-hacking national, and 'the Sunday that lasts a month' every week.
We'll soon reach a point where even TV and radio news broadcasts are available as story by story nuggets online, rather than as a whole show (yes, I mean *you*, the BBC).
Thing is - in terms of the Press Release debate - that we may have forgotten, not for the first time, to ask *cough*... the customer.
I've been in a new job for just a few weeks, and the editor of the local news brand (plural actually; he manages what I think a journalist would feel obliged to call a 'stable of titles') was good enough to meet me. He asked me not to be precise about his physical, hard copy circulation figures, so I won't, but they were a bit lower than I would have guessed and I'm the prophet of doom when it comes to newsprint.
However - and this is massively important - his daily readership figure is the highest it has been for a hundred years.
The highest readership figure that that local news brand has had for a century.
With your twitter, and your telly, and your crystal set (digital with a global reach, natch), and your rolling, twenty-four-hours-whether-you-like-it-or-not news channels, he has more pairs of eyes on his content
than for a hundred bloody years.
Why? How is he doing that?
Because - drumroll - his readers are online. And he is segmenting his audience, understanding that some parts of his readership have no interest in brand a, but will read brand b and c. And he's driving an integrated digital content strategy, through twitter, and Facebook and Instagram and apps, and driving people back to the brand's (plural) online services.
I think he's doing what we should be doing. Building trust, moving away from one-size-fits-all, understanding audiences and their preferences and delivering high-quality digital content to his customers, to inform and engage. He doesn't believe for a moment that the paper is the only channel he should create content for. Not for a minute.
He's a dangerous radical. ;0)
And when I asked him for his view of us (I meant the council, but he took it I meant the comms team) his answer was short and telling; "Frankly, it feels like we've left you behind".
He doesn't really want press releases. He wants us to publish video, audio, digital images, interviews, information... digital content designed to build trust, to move away from the one-size-fits-all, and to inform and engage our customers. He wants to be able to use our content; says he WILL use our content; and that means it reaching the same audiences we want to reach (as part of our full understanding of ALL the channels we have to hand). I suspect that means we need to find a way to manage a broad partnership and a critical friendship, with a changed outlook and a new set of behaviours.
So why do some insist that the Press Release is still key tool number one? (Worse there may be some who think it the only tool worth picking up). I'm not sure. I suppose 'we've always done it that way'.
But increasingly, it seems, the industry we think it helps sees it as a sign that we have been left behind.
Eddie Coates-Madden is head of communications at Sheffield City Council.
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