Press Releases Aren’t Dead — But Do You Need One?

No, press releases aren’t dead. Despite what many PR pros say, the news release is still a reliable tool for sharing information with media. In fact, when I share information without a press release, the first question many reporters ask is, “Do you have a press release I can look at?”
So the press release is here to stay. But do you need a press release for your announcement? What announcements work best? And how do you write an effective press release? Let’s take a closer look.

What is a press release

A press release is a formal document from an organization or brand that communicates “newsworthy” information. What qualifies as newsworthy can mean different things to different people. But, in most cases, a press release is used to announce things like:

  • A new product
  • A new hire
  • A new company milestone
  • A new partnership, etc.

Now, not every new partnership or milestone might be worthy of a standalone press release. But this gives you a good overview of when to potentially develop one.

Do you need a press release?

How do you determine, from your list of product and partner news, whether or not you need a press release? For me, there are six questions I keep in mind — and ask my clients to keep in mind — when considering a release:

  1. What’s your story?
  2. What’s the business impact of the story?
  3. What’s the news? (What’s news that will get someone to write about the story?)
  4. What assets do you have to tell this story? (Clients, product, personnel, data, etc.)
  5. Who’s the target for your release?
  6. What are your goals for the release?

Many clients tell me they want to put a press release out about X or Y. But when we start working through these questions together, it quickly becomes clear that the announcement isn’t press-release-worthy. Perhaps the story is soft or there are no assets yet.
With that in mind, feel free to download our own press release background document here. We provide this to clients to share with their internal teams. It helps them decide whether or not a press release makes sense for a given announcement.

How to write a press release

There is no exact formula or format for a release. But you can check out this Forbes piece for guidance or take a look at these press release templates from HubSpot. They can give you the basics.
More broadly, here are best practices that I keep in mind when writing a release:
Lead with your news — Your headline and subhead are critical. No one will read your release if you don’t start with immediate impact. Don’t save the best parts. Forcefully lean into your story.
Keep it tight — Press releases are often overlong. Brands pack them with extraneous messaging and information. But it’s best to keep releases hyper-focused on your news and why it matters. Anything else is just filler.
Steer clear of jargon — A press release speaks to a number of audiences. Current clients, prospects, media, analysts, influencers, and employees. Relying on too much company or industry jargon can limit opportunities across these groups.
Be consistent — Brand messaging shouldn’t vary from release to release. Some brands will tweak and tinker with their descriptor or boilerplate over and over again. This can hurt your SEO and confuse readers who regularly follow the company.

Where to distribute a release

There are two primary points of distribution for a press release. First is your own website or blog, where you can drive traffic through paid advertising, email newsletter or social media.
Another option is a newswire service. A newswire distribution service has paid relationships with hundreds or thousands of news websites. Examples include Cision’s PR Newswire, GlobeNewswire and PRWeb. Those relationships allow you to immediately scale a release and drive traffic to it through sheer volume. Newswire distributions also end up being discoverable in Google News searches, which amplifies your news. The biggest benefit of a newswire service is the SEO value.
There is a debate over whether or not paid newswire distribution is worth it today, especially as costs increase. After all, most media won’t find your press release through a newswire distribution but through one-to-one outreach. My recommendation is to evaluate newswire distribution on a case-by-case basis. If it’s a “big” announcement, it’s likely worth the spend. If it’s a smaller one, or if you make multiple announcements in a single month, using owned media on your company site or blog is probably a better use of your PR budget.

PR Tips For Stellar Executive Quotes

In the round-the-clock battle for media attention, reporters, marketers, and PR pros cannot afford to waste words. We’ve all come across executive quotes in press releases or news articles that sound like they were written by a novice PR person, or, worse, a committee. A poor spokesperson quote is a lost opportunity at best. How do you make something as ordinary as quotes from executives a real asset?

PR tips for stellar executive quotes

Add to the story

The executive quote is a chance to add information — substance, details, color — to the story, not to repeat information found elsewhere in a press release or article. If a release announces a $30M Series B funding, the executive quote should not be about how “pleased we are with the investment,” even if that is true. Instead, it should describe plans to use the cash infusion, brag about milestones already hit, or articulate specific reasons why the company merited it.

Use visual language

One thing that will make a quote stand out is visual imagery. If you plant an image in the reader’s mind, they are much more likely to remember it, and a journalist is more likely to use it. In an article where many industry figures are quoted, a visual one is also more likely to be used as the “pull-quote” — a key excerpt pulled from the piece as a highlight. A congressional hearing is a “political strip search.” VC pressure for startups to scale prematurely is like “driving a car that’s leaking gasoline.” A loss of transparency is a “black box.” Using such evocative language also adds dimension and color to an executive’s persona.

Be bold

Strong language works for those corporate leaders who are keen to embrace a higher public profile or be seen as a thought leader — and who can weather the attention that may follow if the comment is controversial. Quotes that convey bold predictions, unexpected opinions, or blunt honesty will often attract attention. When objecting to Indiana’s law to allow businesses to refuse service to gay or transgender people, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff objected with public comments. But he didn’t just say, “We don’t agree with this legislation” or “It doesn’t reflect our values.” He called it “brutal,” “unfair” and “unjust” while pledging to reduce the Salesforce presence in the state. The strong words put Benioff at the top of the list of business leaders who opposed the move in the media coverage that resulted.

Banish robo-quotes

Even if an executive isn’t trying to be a Benioff or Bezos, his comments don’t have to be boring or robotic. Press release quotes are often written in stilted, jargon-stuffed, or boilerplate language, the better to earn internal and legal department approval. Yet they’re far more effective and usable if they read as comments that a human being might actually utter. The ideal way to craft a natural-sounding quote is to discuss it with the executive on the phone and listen to or record his response. Unfortunately, PR staff don’t always have the opportunity to do that, so we rely on our skills and familiarity with the situation and the spokesperson in question.

Don’t go overboard

In press releases, it’s not necessary to quote business leaders more than twice at most, and one well-written quote is better. Sometimes we must include quotes from multiple people, as in the case of partnership releases involving two or more businesses, but too many executive quotes can be tedious and unwieldy. If remarks by executives multiple organizations must be included, consider a quote sheet and a press release addendum.

The perfect executive quote adds value to the story in a visual, conversational manner while simultaneously reinforcing the organization’s voice. We are storytellers. Let the quotes help tell the story. Quotes in press releases and as commentary are valuable opportunities to communicate with stakeholders in a fairly direct manner. Don’t waste them!

Should PR Reconsider The Press Release?

With the PR industry always abuzz about new types of content and digital dissemination, it’s easy to overlook or question the value of the humble press release. But it remains one of the most economical ways to deliver your message to a wider audience. While not every company development warrants one, there are many perfectly apt occasions to write a press release and many reasons beyond immediate pickup to distribute it.
Press releases introduce a company to the media.  New and old media expect to hear about a new company or product via press release. Whether it’s a fancy release with audio and video or a more “plain vanilla” version, the comprehensive, well-written press release is still the best way to get your information into a familiar, digestible format for the media.
Press releases save editors time. No reason to get extra clever with it or mess with the basic style, a succinct press release answering the “5 W’s” is what most editors need to get a story started (or finished). Editors appreciate a brief, timely release with all major questions answered in the first grafs. A well-worded quote that advances or enhances the narrative  (and, that doesn’t start with “We are thrilled to…”) scores points as well.
Even press releases that aren’t immediately used... may pique interest for a future story. Usually when an editor says he cannot use a story at this time but sees possibilities for the future, he means it. Or, sometimes the news will be passed on to someone who can use it.
“Search” loves likes press releases.  High-quality, useful content that media use or that you post yourself can be effective for building search rank, although Google has rightfully cracked down on promiscuous use of keyword-stuffed newswire releases.
Press releases help media connect the dots.  A company’s “newsstream” can tell a story of growth, innovation, success, or strategic partnership-building.

Visitors to your website expect to see current news. Nothing takes credibility away from a company like a website with an empty or outdated press section. A steady stream of current press releases adds vibrancy and relevance to your company’s site.

Creative Updates For Tired PR Tools and Tactics

Want to “break bad” from traditional PR tactics and tropes and get better publicity results? Examine the way you are executing the tried-and-true at your PR agency and be an agent of change!

“The press release is dead, long live the press release?” Lively debate on the state of the news release continues. Some say in the world of the 24/7 news cycle fueled by social media, it’s a relic, outdated by the time a journalist sees it. Others believe it’s still the best way to provide press with  facts and approved quotes. While most PR pros and companies aren’t quite ready to abandon the press release, some companies have reinvented it for the social media savvy and come up with exciting ways to get the who, what, when, where, why about their clients out in the media.

Recently, Amazon‘s PR team announced a new product rollout in a series of 14 tweets. Amazon kept its tweeted release together by using a branded hash tag and having each tweet focus on a different element of the new product. A traditional press release still appeared on BusinessWire and the Amazon website, but we commend the creative PR tactic that tweaked the traditional tool.

“Pulled a list from (fill in with name of online database)”  As great as these services are, they were never intended to be the sole resource for a media list. Rife with errors, misspellings and people who left long ago, they are only the beginning of your list. If you want to assemble a strategic list of contacts who will open your email and consider your pitch, try these simple tips:

Google your topic and see which media have covered it in the past.
Stalk media and bloggers on Twitter and other social sites. It’s a good way to determine their personal and professional interests. The Crenshaw Team recently unearthed a slew of pet-lovers among the press for outreach on behalf of a client event and clinched a couple of great stories.
Follow journalist posts on social media channels for other reasons. It’s useful for learning about their pitch pet peeves like how they prefer to be addressed or stories that have captured their interest in the past.

I left three messages for the producer.”  We’re all busy, and it’s often easier to communicate online. Many reporters feel the same and say so in their online profiles or voicemail greetings. So, instead of being classified as clueless, pitch cleverly. This often means nailing a catchy subject line to start and following up with something meaningful, not the dreaded, “checking in to see what you thought about xyz pitch.” 

“But emails go into a black hole.” Try a new tool. Email today is very sophisticated, and there are apps like ToutApp that can tell you if a journalist has opened it or clicked on links involved. It’s similar to how a newsletter service works, but you can use it with individual emails that aren’t in the newsletter template.

Often, a story needs feedback from media so it can be changed to suite their needs. You want to build a relationship with media contacts, not just “pitch” all the time.  Visit Muck Rack, which allows PR pros to connect with journalists and send pitches. Try communicating about anything other than your client as a way to start a relationship. Get on their radar by giving them a shout on Facebook or Twitter…a simple, “great read!” goes a long way.

Friends With Words?

PR pros tend to be wordy people, and we all have our favorites. Here are some of ours. You may not be able to drop them into your next client press release, but if they fill the bill without making you look like a sesquipedalian (given to or characterized by the use of long words), go for it!

Mondegreen – If you hear, “here we are now/ in containers” instead of “entertain us” when you listen to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” you have experienced the phenomenon of “mondegreen.” Mondegreen is mishearing or misinterpreting a phrase as a result of near-homophony, in a way that gives it a new meaning. It’s most commonly applied to a line in a poem or a song lyric. Writer Sylvia Wright coined the term in her essay “The Death of Lady Mondegreen,” published in Harper’s Magazine in November 1954, and there are some very funny examples found here.

Disemvowel – A delicious take-off on “disembowel”! If this is how you text, you are disemvoweling: “pln 2 mt @ gt 12,” or removing vowels from text when writing it electronically, especially as a way of typing more quickly (or disguising offensive words).

Skeuomorph – A great word even without a definition. The etymology suggests some kind of strange change, and in fact, a skeuomorph is a physical ornament or design on an object made to resemble another material or technique. Examples include software calendar applications that resemble a paper desk calendar or “simulated woodgrain paneling” on a car.

Tartle – This is a terrifically onomatopoetic word for that panicky hesitation before you introduce someone whose name you can’t quite remember.

Mumpsimus – If you are George W. Bush and you’ve been told countless times how to pronounce “nuclear,” yet still mispronounce it, you suffer from mumpsimus, an adherence to or persistence in an erroneous use of language, memorization, practice, or belief, either out of habit or sheer obstinacy.
Got any impressive vocabulary you’d like to share? Do so in the comments!

Merry Mad Libs 2012

The Global Language Monitor has released its annual list of the Top Words of the year.
“’Apocalypse’ tops the list. Armageddon, and similar terms reflect a growing fascination with various ‘end-of-the-world’ scenarios,” said Paul JJ Payack, President of the Global Language Monitor. In fact the list is chock-a-block with some scary terms!

Once again, with apologies to Mad Libs , we have created a press release template where you can use some of the most interesting of the top words. Please enjoy it and feel free to adapt for any of your clients. Think of the SEO possibilities!
1. Fiscal Cliff
2. apocalypse
3. Frankenstorm
4. omnishambles
5. obesogenic
6. memes
7. phobes
8. the 47
9. YOLO
10. adorkable

The End of the World as We NO it?
World Celebrations Mark No “(noun) Now”

Partying like it could have been its last, the world over issues a collective (noun/acronym)

December, 2012 – – Despite dire predictions, the world did not come to an end! This turn of good fortune in a year that saw too much tragedy has prompted an outpouring of positive good will and festive good times.
According to international cultural anthropologist Wanda Rallover, “It is collective human nature, even in times of despair and with an overwhelming sense of various different (plural noun) occurring all over the world, the spirit is unbroken.”
This unbroken spirit has been evidenced far and wide.
Tri-state area – Although the freakish (Proper noun) Sandy wreaked unparalleled havoc, people remain buoyed and helpful towards neighbors and perfect strangers alike, bringing holiday cheer to entire affected communities.
Silicon Valley – In the heart of technology, innovation and (adjective) self-proclaimed nerds, rational thought prevailed when the Tech Museum in the valley announced the opening of a Mayan-themed exhibit…on December 21.
New York City – Even with the mayor’s ongoing battle against sugary sodas and (adjective) fattening foods, on this New Year’s Eve, the city needs some comfort food! One hopes Mayor Mike will retain his sense of humor about it as he has done in relation to his Spanish-language skills as evidenced by the slew of popular parody (plural noun) circulating online.
Washington DC – Yes, there is financial fear and loathing that we have not solved the potentially devastating (adjective/noun.) The President is listening to (number) Mitt Romney’s ”percentage of Americans who pay no Federal taxes” and cutting his Hawaiian vacation short to come home and tackle it. The (plural noun) on the other side of this debate need to do the same!
Have you used all ten words? Have fun and let us know any of your own personal best-liked (or most disliked) words of 2012.

Merry PR Mad Libs

The Global Language Monitor has released its list of Top Words of 2011. In the spirit of the holiday season, and with apologies to Mad Libs, we have created a press release template where you can use all ten words. Please enjoy it and feel free to adapt for any of your clients. Think of the SEO possibilities!
1. Occupy
2. Deficit
3. Fracking
4. Drone
5. Non-veg
6. Kummerspeck
7. Haboob
8. 3Q
9. Trustafarians
10. (The Other) 99

New (noun) Product Has Great Appeal to (plural noun)
Avoid (Proper noun) — Emotional Eating — with Delicious Snack

December, 2011 – – Just in time for the holidays, a new inexpensive, nutritious, zero-calorie protein snack will hit store shelves nationwide. According to spokesperson W. Smith, the developer set out to create a game-changing product that would appeal to the entire economic spectrum, from those in the (adjective) movement to (plural noun).

The new product is all natural and is produced with no environmentally harmful methods, such as (gerund). It requires no refrigeration and sells for under $5.00 per product.

“We wanted to give people something they can enjoy anywhere,” continues Smith, “Whether one is operating (nouns) from an air force facility or stuck in a perilous (Proper noun) in the southwest, it can be easily prepared and enjoyed.”

Available in a number of test markets, the snack is already earning high praise and “(plural noun)” from grateful consumers. While company officials don’t claim it can solve major problems like the growing (noun) it is a small way to provide a tasty bite for the masses.

Have fun and let us know if you have used any of the Top 10 words in your work.