Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Please Release Me

There has been a lot of talk recently about news releases and what should, and should not, be in them. This online conversation got me thinking about the dynamics of how news is consumed today and the role a press release has in the process.

In the not so distant past, the media was the filter a company had to go through to get their news into the hands of current and potential customers, partners, investors and distribution channels and the press release was a support tool to help the various reporters understand the news, its context and broader industry implications.

Today, people read news from a wide variety of sources including traditional print and online media sites, local and cable broadcast, blogs, RSS feeds and social networking sites. These changes have already changed the way companies communicate, but what it hasn’t done is change the way press releases are written and it’s probably time it did.

So what should a press release be? To me, a press release should tell the story that you want your customers to read. It should articulate why the announcement is important to the market as a whole, the company’s particular customer or partner base and what it means specifically in terms of the company’s progress and opportunity. And the current inverted pyramid style of press release just doesn’t accommodate this very easily.

Headlines should be clever and catchy to grab the eye and invite readers to read more. To use an example from today’s news, no more:
“Sprint Expands Environmental Leadership with New Initiatives and Debut of Eco-Friendly Samsung Reclaim”

And instead, something written to entice and engage the reader like the headline Saul Hansell of the New York Times used for his story about the announcement:
“What’s Green, Made of Corn and Has Buttons?” or the headline used for Ed Baig's story in USA Today on the news: "Samsung and Sprint Unveil Eco-friendly Cellphone."

Sprint and Samsung's PR teams did a great job telling this story. Original stories appeared in every level of publication: business, dailies, trade, blogs, social media sites, etc. My point is, though, that the press release itself was picked up by over 150 news and content aggregation sites. My question is, would a more engaging and entertaining headline in the news release have increased the number of "click and reads" generated by this pick up? My gut says yes.

With short-staffed newsrooms where reporters are required to meet the demands of an 24/7 news cycle, don’t you think they’d appreciate a release written to be engaging as well for those pieces of news that catch their eye? For some releases, earnings, acquisitions and other materials announcements, the standard format still works, but for other announcements, why not use a different spin.

My point here is not that the media isn’t needed. The media provides validation, perspective and insight that a company won’t have. But the press release, in its current form, isn’t really part of that process, at least in any meaningful way. And if the current form of press release isn’t really important to how an article gets written, shouldn’t it be updated to serve a different purpose? My two and half cents for today.

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