Are press releases relevant? One Sprocket PR pro sounds off.
April 17, 2019
Are press releases still relevant? It’s a question that, as attention spans get shorter and social media becomes the primary avenue for brand storytelling, members of our industry are asking ourselves.
Sam Alviani is a longtime member of the Sprocket PR team, and she also teaches strategic writing courses at the University of Colorado Boulder. Recently, one of Sam’s students emailed her asking that exact question: Are press releases dying? Her student’s internship bosses had suggested that they were, in fact, on their way out.
Sam’s response, in full below, was so thoughtful that we wanted to share it here, too.
To start, I agree with your bosses in the sense that some industries rely more heavily on other aspects of communication—like a focus on pitching. That could certainly be the case within the travel and hospitality industries. Here is where I land, always: when in doubt, be prepared to over-inform. The more quality writing and detail you provide to editors and writers, the stronger the relationship (and how they view you, in terms of reliability) will be. I've seen publicists approach this in very, very different ways: some paste full press releases in the body of an email, some send short pitches with a press release attached. Some copy and paste the same thing over and over again, something I do not recommend. A hybrid method, one I've used before, is an extensive, beautifully-written pitch in lieu of a full press release. I only do this if I know I can build a clean, compelling pitch that is short enough as to not overwhelm the person I'm pitching—and I always make it personal. Did you like a recent piece they wrote? Mention that. Maybe you saw they received an award on Instagram—mention that, too.
Remember, every editor and writer you'll be pitching will be different, too. Some will see a long pitch and roll their eyes. Others will appreciate the attention to detail, and the ability to imagine the story they would write (because you're good at your job, and you've practically "started" the story to ignite their imagination.) I don't attach press releases as docs or PDFs to emails; I like making it as clean and simple as possible without them needing to download and clog their hard drive.
Really, my rule of thumb is sending an engaging, informative pitch that links to a press release with additional detail and storytelling. Sure, some writers won't click on the press release—maybe the don't need it because they're going to pass on the story, or maybe they have word count constraints and can only cover it in a short format. But in my experience, a lot of writers and editors WILL access that release and use it for details that will make their story better. I'm always willing to take that risk for two reasons:
1) Writers and editors know they can rely on me for information, strengthening the relationship, and often leading to them reaching out directly for story ideas and upcoming client updates that might be newsworthy. I really feel this easy, symbiotic relationship is what publicists should strive for.
2) Sending a package of things they'll need—a pitch, release, links to folders of hi-res photos, social media handles—cuts down on back-and- forth communication. If a writer decides to play off what you're pitching, they'll have everything they need. I've seen this go the opposite way, and communication can be strained and just all-out annoying for both people.
PHEW! Are you still with me? A pitch should never be this long, by the way.
Finally, I should have started with this. I think the future of PR, and of any sort of communications writing, is the communication itself. The interpersonal—and the relationships we build with media, the way we start to intuit what specific writers will need or want to cover—is completely integral to this profession. Everyone in our class, first and foremost, is a natural communicator and relationship builder. You're working towards being standout writers, too.
As you move into your career and build your own relationships, you'll be able to get a read on what your contacts benefit from most. For some it will take a short, personal pitch, and for others, there will still be an assumption that you'll provide a good press release that doesn't bore them to tears.
What do you think—are press releases on their way out?