Once upon a time, there was a tool called the press release.
It was the largest hammer, longest nail, and strongest muscle all in one. Flacks were able to write commercial-esque documents in hopes of national pick-up. Clients were happy because of their approved (and finely crafted) 18-paragraph quotes. PR agencies were happy because they had a sure-fire journalism story written with fluidity.
Today? No one seems happy.
Releases don’t get that universal attention. Clients don’t get infomercial-length quotes. The Web certainly can’t stand such content, what with Google’s pet Panda traipsing all over free news wires like a scene from Godzilla. So, what happened? After the jump, we take a look…
Based on conversations, observations and even reservations, here are our top 5 things that are wrong with the press release. If these factors are not investigated and changed within months (no joke), clients will begin to tell agencies “No thanks” and “What else do ya’ got?”
1. Press Vs. News Release. One is more well known…but don’t look now, the other has more respect. Ask any hack-turned-flack what they call those doohickeys; they call them “news.” Google the difference and check comments, just don’t peek at results. Why? Because “press” says you may not even understand the media. These are not people with press flags in their fedoras. The news is evolving; agencies finally have as well. The release should too.
2. Great SEO Tools. We have already alluded to the fact that–thanks to Google–agencies should begin calling bullsh*t. “We can get good pick-up with this”? Thanks for playing; now go to another “I’m good with people” business. News wires help with exposure? Not necessarily. Now, re-purpose that release as a blog post and you may have something for Google to catch in its Charlotte’s Web. Smart pig, for real.
3. You Represent a “Nobody.” Granted, this not something you would ever tell a client. In fact, quite the opposite. But think about it: Apple or Starbucks can put out a press release about anything. Insert a stupid topic here, and because it came from their PR office, it will get views and even a copy-and-paste job in some blogs. Same for some famous goof who tweets “Just had a Coke and a smile.” That drivel gets 589 retweets and about 13,012 favorites. You do it and you get crickets. People are sheep, and until you represent a shepherd, no one will “bah” in your direction. We think for a living.
4. It’s Written Like Crap. Yes, many people in PR and journalism — including yours truly — graciously admit to being the Grammar Gestapo. The sad thing about PR agencies is that, while the bigwigs embrace a red Sharpie to edit, they give the first impression tools to the nervous interns trying to impress. We all make mistakes, but that’s because we aren’t smart all the time. Add nerves and wanting a full-time gig to the stress level, and that release will suck out loud. And that is what you want to send to the client and media contacts? Try again.
5. What are They Used For Again? The days of thinking your eloquence will be picked up 100 percent are long gone. As PR pros, we need to shout at the computers from whence these releases came and “Remember who you are!” Be Mufasa. Grow some brass. Own it. Releases are not made to be quoted, picked-up, or even shared. They are made to get someone’s attention to do two things: 1.) Ask you more questions and/or 2.) Become a part of a larger story. Either way, this takes skill and observation of the world around you. As a PR person, if all you do is watch whatever MTV and Bravo are pushing then Ray Charles will have stronger observation skills than you.