If you’re a fan of Scott Stratten and his thoughts on QR codes (they kill kittens!), then that headline should sound somewhat familiar to you. Either way, I have some tough love for our industry and this is going to ruffle a few feathers.
We’re writing too many press releases and too often, sending them to the wrong people.
This is one of the primary reasons why our friends on the other side, the journalists/content creators/bloggers/whoever, often have such a tough time dealing with PR people. They’re overwhelmed by press releases that shouldn’t have been sent to them or even written in the first place.
After more than 15 years on the agency side, I feel that I have a strong handle on this topic. My personal client background is pretty diverse, ranging from snowboard brands to tech startups and financial entities. Because of that, I deal with journalists who cover topics of all shapes and sizes. Regardless of what they cover, the one thing I’m consistently hearing from them is that the press releases they’re receiving just aren’t worthwhile to them.
A big reason for this press release glut is that technology has made it so much easier to get the news out, but in reality, what we’re often pushing just isn’t newsworthy to the person we’re sending it to. Superfluous press releases are, to borrow a term from the Instagram world, clogging the feed, and making it harder for everyone involved in the media relations/editorial process to do their jobs.
Just because we can send it, doesn’t mean we should.
We need to be realistic and come to grips with the fact that not everything is a story idea and relay that belief to our clients/colleagues. Not everything needs to be put on the wire or emailed to hundreds of journalists you pulled from a database. Not everything is a good pitch. Sometimes it’s a good Tweet or LinkedIn post. Not everything coming from your brand is appropriate for the Wall Street Journal or High Snobiety. And that’s OK.
What are press releases for?
I’m approaching this position from a media relations standpoint and I realize that some companies need to issue them for regulatory disclosure requirements or similar needs. This isn’t about those times.
Let’s assume your press release is an actual press release, designed to inform our friends in the media about something relevant to them and the audience they write for, with the end goal of securing some sort of editorial coverage. With that in mind, ask yourself:
- Compared to whatever else is happening in the modern news landscape and with your competitors, is this newsworthy to someone outside of your office?
- Am I sending this to the right person in the media who covers this topic, or am I mass blasting it to 1,000 journalists I pulled from a database that is either out of date or otherwise hasn’t been vetted? Local news stories should go to local media. Trade related stories should be sent to trade media. This sounds obvious, but look at a few outspoken journalists’ Twitter feeds and you’ll find this just isn’t the case.
Note: Mistakes happen, and I’ve made them too, but often this is purely an issue of laziness.
- Is the way we’re positioning this product/story idea realistic? If it’s truly ground breaking or paradigm shifting, you should definitely say so. More often than not it seems PR people (or their clients) are hoping that a few aggressive descriptors will help convince journalists that something not that newsworthy actually is.
Journalist are not parrots on a perch waiting to rebroadcast what PR people send them. Many appreciate good ideas and relevant pitches. What they don’t appreciate are cluttered email inboxes that resemble the same fiascos direct mail campaigns have left their physical mailboxes.
The other side
As PR practitioners, we’re under constant pressure to deliver in a world where no matter how hard we work, we can’t actually predict or guarantee true editorial results (I’m not going to dive down the pay-for-play rabbit hole with you here). At the same time, we bill clients for our time, so if we’re writing press releases, that’s billable time. And billable time keeps the lights on!
At the end of the week though, our clients (internal and external) want to see results and the best way to get those results is through strategic media relations. Something that isn’t press release worthy can still be newsworthy. And because something is newsworthy to five journalists doesn’t mean it should be blast emailed to 5,000.
Bill Byrne is a director in the San Diego office of Remedy Communications.
While he doesn’t find it press release worthy, he wants to go on record saying that press releases, QR codes, puppy dogs and kittens all have their place in the modern media relations landscape.