Why I have Banned Press Releases.
You’ve read loads of them. You may have written lots of them and many may have been published.
But I have banned them. Why? Because the concept is fundamentally flawed.
The Press Release – it’s the time-honoured conduit still used by PR professionals to send their clients’ message to journalists.
The aim is to get the journalist to print the content of your press release in the publication or website they work for. When they do – hey presto – editorial has been generated for your client at zero cost and with a ton of authenticity that could not be achieved using paid-for advertising.
So what’s the problem with that I hear you ask? This method often works. So surely ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’?
The problem is that so often it doesn’t work. Journalists’ inboxes are bleeping all day long as they continually fill up with more and more press releases. How on earth is your press release going to get noticed, let alone published?
You could consider bribery. Many do.
You could take the journalists out to lunch, invite them to a launch and ply them with alcohol. You could send them chocolates or perhaps a gift emblazoned with your client’s logo, which will be delivered at the exact moment your email is received.
Genius. You might even use your client’s cash to bolster the bribe by buying advertising space in return for an editorial column or two.
But, let’s take a step back for a moment. Newspapers, magazines, websites, and social media platforms, TV and radio only use two types of content.
I shall be bold here and break this content into two: ’news’ and ‘advertising’. Actually, you know this already so it’s not a new or ground-breaking revelation.
The big question you need to ask is which side of this ‘news versus advertising’ fence are your press releases landing. All too often press releases are thinly-disguised adverts.
So, you’re stuck between a rock and a hard-place. Your client asks you to send out press releases and they pay you for writing and distributing them to all those chocolate-eating journalists you’ve spend years developing relationships with.
But I’m saying press releases are flawed and are not a good way to get your clients the exposure they want.
Perpetuating the way things have always been done
By continuing to send out press releases you are merely perpetuating the way things have been done, albeit badly, for too long.
The solution to breaking this cycle is simple and taps into the concept that journalists themselves are expecting to receive either news or press releases with PR.
The trick is to disguise your PR, to dress it up in a different way. Not to lie but to present your message in a different way.
I hope you’ve read this far because this is the point where you’ll need to sit down. You’ve heard the rallying cries on those sickening self-promotional talks on YouTube: “I’m going to share my secret with you”.
Well, this is my moment. Newspapers (and all other media for that matter) will publish your clients’ news. That’s it. All you need to do is send them news.
Finding the Hook
You’ll be staggered by how much more successful this is.
The most important thing to do is to find the hook behind to your clients’ message. I prefer to call it a story rather a message.
Without a hook, it’s not a story. Look at how news stories are constructed. It’s vital to include the who? what? when? where? why? and how? in your story.
The trick here, and here’s the REALLY clever bit, is that when the journalist receives an email from you about this really interesting thing that’s happening, the thing that your client is paying you to tell everyone about, the thing that is so relevant to this week’s other news, the thing that his readers are really going to care about, he’ll want to publish it.
He’d be stupid not to. You’ve even included some great photographs to accompany the piece. You’ve done his work for him.
He’ll be too busy nailing your client’s story into the next edition that he won’t have time to begin sifting through all the press releases your rivals have sent him.
There’s one last twist to all this. And this is why I’ve banned our team from sending out press releases. You might need to sit down again.
It’s all in the Name
It’s simply the name ‘press release’ that’s wrong. Call it something else, or don’t call it anything at all, but don’t even think of using the words ‘press release’.
You may well have worked out a great hook for your client’s story, you may have crafted a great piece of writing that is spot on and would tick all the news editors’ proverbial boxes.
You have, in fact, disguised that you were paid to write a press release in the first place. You have written a news story and it is about to land somewhere far from the fence near the baseline in the news court.
But then the journalist spots the words ‘PRESS RELEASE’ that you’ve typed at the top of the page. His illusion is shattered.
All your work is undone and your press release is volleyed back into the other court where it will languish unpublished.
The journalist telephones you and asks: “We should do lunch. Shall we go to that lovely place you took me to last time”?
So the next time your client asks you to write their next press release, I hope you’ll be brave enough to explain to them that there’s a smarter way to get them exposure.
And once you’ve won them over, perhaps you’ll be getting the champagne and chocolates that once had a journalist’s name on them.