Are your press releases ready for the social media age?

As the rise of social media is very quickly changing the rules of the game for the PR business in India, the ever present press release is also feeling the heat. The rumblings are getter louder and louder that press releases, with the standard text format, may just be out of step with our social media communications needs. The content of a press release is moving towards the direction of a multimedia format, yet critical challenges remain regarding the extra effort and cost of producing them. Is it worth it?

A 2012 study by PR Newswire has some answers. The study demonstrates how press releases perform across different views; the result is a 77 per cent increase in views of those releases that contain multimedia including photos and videos.

Communications strategy consultant Deepanjali Bhas says that even in pre-social media times, a photograph was often included with a press release, so we can see that the “visual” as an element has always been significant. Bhas adds, “With the dominance of social media in the distribution of press releases today, it is evident that the use of visuals – photographs, videos – that is, the entire multimedia spectrum, is necessary to hook the target audience and enhance recall value. Also, each visual element can be further disseminated to separate audiences.”

Murali, Transmedia story-teller at The PR workshop, concurs,Text-only releases, which some agencies and clients churn out even in this age, are almost dead – the qualifier being ‘does this have a quick and compelling story?’ With loads of releases hitting the editors’ inbox, ‘visual press releases’ help the media get the story in a jiffy. The visuals could be graphics, images, or even a short video."

Grabbing the attention of the reporter has become an increasingly difficult challenge. Large mainstream papers like The Times of India and the Hindustan Times have hundreds of press releases arriving in reporters' inboxes every day; multimedia can provide the necessary edge.

Bhas says, “A great press release in today’s attention-deficit times must ensure that the writer has a clear understanding of the target audience (journalists, bloggers etc) and what would be newsworthy to them given their specific interests; so that the links, tags and visuals (pictures, videos) enhance their knowledge base and arouse interest. The press release has to engage in addition to providing information.”

Bhas points out that, “Using hashtags and twitter handles in headlines is already happening and with technology advancing at a rapid space, the press release itself has had to become more compact to suit a smartphone. All the activity in tech and social media can make it look like factual information is not so important but that’s not true. A press release will have to marry the information element with those that are visual and have online traction so that these, in turn, generate more traffic.”

Vivek Sengupta, Founder and Chief Executive of the consulting firm Moving Finger Communications, points out that, “The rise of social media sites, like Twitter and Facebook, makes it even more important that news releases are very well-written. The headline and the lead paragraph must convey the story and serve as lead-ins for the news release that can go as an attachment.”

Such compact story summaries combined with multimedia is critical. The humble press release if enriched with multimedia can multiply its impact, because every major media outlet today has an online presence which is an avid consumer of multimedia content. While many agencies may baulk at the extra expense and effort of adding multimedia content to releases, there may no longer be a choice.

Murali points out that, “The future press release must be portable across platforms and media; so it has to have content created for that. Infographics, telling images, a short video of the product features or spokesperson's comment – anything that helps to compel and communicate effectively.”

With such multiple demands on the press releases, do we need different versions for different audiences?

Bhas says, “It makes perfect sense to tweak a press release in terms of at least the headline and lead paragraph (more too, if necessary) so that in one click or view, the key point that would interest a particular audience is communicated. This is because there are, indeed, different audiences that consume a press release now, apart from journalists, including people researching a company or interested bloggers, for instance. Technology and social media is enabling more participative audience groups in the process of information flow, and since this is likely to become more interactive over the years, there will have to be different press releases rather than a single one.”

When concepts such as brand journalism are being increasingly talked about, the basic press release may just be on the verge of a major transformation that would make it the most compact and portable information tool that a PR professional has.

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