“I just need a press release.”
When someone says this, every fiber of my being strains to keep me from yelling, “Noooooooo!”
The press release is dead.
I’ve been in this business long enough to have lived in the golden years of the press release. Ok, the tail-end of those years. I’m not that old.
They served us well. One page of information about someone or something happening in the local community, or news from a business, got into the hands of those who would share it with their readers, viewers and listeners. I’ll never forget seeing my first release in print, the first reporter who called to get more information based on what I had sent them, and the first television and radio interviews I secured for a client.
I was taught to write well and then I was taught how to write AP (Associated Press) style; well. For years it was the standard, and lo the person who sent a press release to a journalist that wasn’t written following AP rules. “File 13,” as they used to say.
I’m not shy to share that my releases nailed the format. Not bragging. Just a fact. Information was presented in the proper order, sentences were properly constructed, quotes were the perfect length to be a written “sound bite,” and supporting content filled in the backstory. Rarely were they edited for anything more than space and never for content.
Here’s why that was so important. Even though it was a standard press release – and general in its message and content – I was writing for the journalists, reporters, editors and producers, hoping to give them a story that they would easily understand and find appealing. I gave them information that would make their job easier, either to copy and paste into their story or make the decision to schedule an interview or attend an event.
But something else I did and still do was send them a personal greeting and give them a sentence or two of background on the release and showed how it connected to their personal audience or publication. “Spraying and praying,” as it’s called – sending a stock message to everyone on a media list without personalization – was not and still is not acceptable and considered disrespectful by the recipient. The release began below my “Thank you!” and signature.
Then things started changing.
As digital communications became more advanced and information could be sent with the push of a button, media became inundated with “news” from every angle and everybody. You didn’t have to be a professional communicator, and from the stories my colleagues in the media tell, many glaringly weren’t.
As print outlets saw declining sales and circulation from the rise in digital information availability, they found themselves downsizing staff, leaving once busy newsrooms looking like ghost towns and the remaining journalists doing all they could to make up for the lost coverage. They had to get more stories, produce more content and do it all before deadline.
No longer were “just the facts” enough. Our media audiences demanded more. More personalization on our side in reaching out to the person or outlet; more compelling storylines that spoke to them and their audiences; and more of a reason to select our submission over the others they received every day. They had to if they were to keep providing content that their audiences wanted; and keep their jobs.
Gone are the days of writing the standard press release and shipping it out to any and every media outlet you think will embrace it as the next big story that everyone wants to hear.
It’s all about the pitch!
Today – and really, it always has been this way in our world – “pitching” a story to a writer, reporter or editor that fits the audience you want to reach, and who writes about or covers that topic is your best bet.
Last year, I had been searching for a partner that could get our clients around the country the high-level media exposure they needed to grow their brands and businesses. It was clear the media were getting harder to reach and it boiled down to who had the relationships and could pitch the best story. Like most firms, we have great reach in some markets but lack in others, so I’m always looking to collaborate with agencies and professionals who can provide complementary options and services for our clients; and share in our mutual success.
That is when I first met Frēda Drake. Frēda is Vice President of Membership Development at News & Experts, a subsidiary of Advantage Media Group|Forbes Books. Her agency specializes in developing strategies and content that gets their clients interviews on local and national broadcast and cable tv and top-tier news and talk radio stations, along with print and digital coverage in major media outlets. The best thing about News & Experts: they guarantee their work! Plus, they’re truly a great team of communication pros.
When Frēda said, “We very rarely write press releases,” during one of our early conversations, it was music to my ears. News & Experts create custom content for each media contact and platform and utilize their established relationships with key contacts in primary news outlets, print and digital publications, and tv and radio to get their clients great brand exposure.
Since our first meeting, I’ve had occasion to speak with Frēda on topics of our field so I asked if I could interview her about the changes that are happening and how our industry reaches and convinces the media to take our clients and their stories over others. She hit on some solid points that I want to share.
“…For the most part, the media is not responsive to press releases anymore.”
She started by saying, “People outside of our industry think of the 1950s or even 1980s publicity styles and the classic press release. But just like we don’t put wagon wheels on cars, we can’t use ineffective tools and need to apply modern-day public relations principles. For the most part, the media is no longer responsive to the press release.”
She stressed that everyone is clamoring to get seen and heard, so unless a message is custom-tailored to what the media wants, it’s not going to get anywhere. “A pitch for radio is different than TV, and different than both of those for a print article. You have to customize and tailor it to the medium, but the impact far surpasses what a press release can do, which is simply to disseminate information that most people don’t want to hear.” She joked, “I don’t know of any journalist that sits around by the fax machine all day, waiting for the latest press release to come across. It just doesn’t happen anymore.”
Frēda said the key is to put ourselves in place of journalists and media outlets and to ask, from their perspective, what they want. “They want good stories, those that resonate with readers or listeners and will bring value,” she said. “They want experts, not somebody to tout their latest ingredients or newest service. They want someone who can address a need and respond to what’s going on in the world. And press releases don’t demonstrate that.”
As we finished what was a great conversation, she left me with this final statement. “Up until 10 years ago, a press release was still ok, but we’ve progressed so far past that. Now, a press release goes to a couple places on the internet to die a quiet death. Predominantly, they’re antiquated.”
So, we find ourselves working just as hard getting the media to pay attention to us as they do trying to pay attention to us; they’re inundated by hundreds, sometimes thousands of emails a day. Only those that get and hold their attention make it to the next round and possibly on to be seen, heard or read.
Keep this in mind when you make your next pitch, not send your next press release.
Goodbye, old friend. It was a good ride!