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Why we should keep the press release alive!

Last month I was lucky enough to spend some time with wild mountain gorillas. It was an amazing experience that doesn’t need much selling to perk someone's interest. Public Relations should follow this approach, if you have a good story to tell, it will sell itself. The skilful part of our job is recognising that story.

We’ve all been asked to sell in a story that no one wants to hear. We know that we will have to endure an embarrassing phone call, just to hear the word “no” so we can provide feedback to our clients. It is these unfortunate situations which irritate journalists and highlight our failure to properly work with clients. In his infamous post on why the press release is dead, TechCrunch’s Mike Butcher argues: “Mostly, ‘press releases’ are written in the way a PR’s client would write a news story. They are usually pretty rambling and designed to please the client.”

A bad press release is useless. But, the format certainly isn’t dead. Used correctly, a press release provides interesting, relevant information, concisely put down for our media contacts to use as they wish. A good press release will tell an interesting story, and assuming it is put across to media correctly, will sell itself to the reader.

PR is a creative industry, we’re not paid to sit around phoning journalists with any old story our clients give us. Sending a dull, irrelevant press release to a massive media list isn’t going to help anyone, and is likely to alienate rather than foster positive relationships on all sides. A good PRO should work directly with clients to craft and develop interesting stories that will be of interest to the press. This is how we’ve continued to grow in recent years. Be honest with your clients. Tell them when something won’t work.

Instead of wasting time writing press releases the press don‘t want to read, we recommend that clients put the release on their websites whilst we work on something separate to issue to our contacts in the media. The outcome of this approach is better results for our clients. This isn’t to say we have fewer client messages included. Far from it. The skill of a good creative PR is crafting engaging content that is relevant to the media and a client's key messages. One piece of coverage in top target media is always better than five secured through a press wire service.

The true skill of the modern day PRO is no longer just about relationships with a few key journalists. This is still important, but talented PROs are developing interesting and engaging stories for their clients, and using relationships to get these in front of the media. As a client, if your PR agency never provides feedback or makes suggestions as to what might get better results, you need to evaluate your relationship. You’re not just paying them to activate your ideas, you want to use their expert knowledge and combined experience to get even better results.

A journalist at a well-known technology trade publication recently explained its new editorial focus to me. The publication no longer wants any of the content it publishes to be available elsewhere in another form. This means whilst remaining news focused, its articles now engage more with industry discussions and debates, rather than just company x has done y.

Again, a press release can be a good way to relay information to these contacts, but the content of the press release can’t be simplistic company news. It needs to be about why company x has done y in response to issue z, and this is what the spokesperson thinks it means for the wider industry.

The press release is far from dead. Good stories are still out there to be extracted, positioned correctly and given to the right contacts at the right time. Ignoring the changing industry, demands of journalists and the exciting parts of your clients’ businesses in favour of an untimely new product release is a dangerous path to take.

Article written by Sam Mohr, senior account executive at Jargon PR

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