Does the traditional press release need a makeover?

In December last year, a version update of Opera Coast, the browser for iOS devices, was launched. Instead of a “normal press release”, Opera Software decided to use a ‘choose your level of ‘corporateness’’ slider that would let journalists, and anyone else for that matter, choose the jargon quotient of the press release.

Also in September 2013, Amazon overturned the usual press release format for the release of the HD format of their Kindle Fire. Amazon’s release was in the form of 14 tweets, highlighting different product aspects. 

Both of these were a big hit with the media. 

Mrunmaiy Abroal, Director of Communications, South Asia, Opera Software, says: “The idea of 'The PR machine’ came from the awareness that the journalists we target get a metric ton of press releases each day, usually filled with industry buzzwords such as innovative, revolutionary, award-winning, cutting-edge, next-generation, industry leader and so on. They are tired of reading this again and again. To make our communications stand out, we decided to play on the brand personality of Opera Coast, the one that has a bit of edginess and irreverence to it.” 

Mrunmaiy adds: “We developed an interactive web page with a slider so that readers could choose the level of ‘corporateness’ in the press release. It was the same product, same features, but the press releases were written differently. The slider gave 6 options to choose between ranging from super-geek and super-suit. In addition to these, there was a ‘full corp’ version which was stuffed with communication buzzwords and a ‘geek edition’ written in command line format. Through its various levels the Coast press release got more and more ridiculous as the settings were turned higher.”

Mrunmaiy says: “This press release stunt appealed to a lot of the media as it was very different from the usual ‘yadda yadda’ they receive”

The humble press release, the mainstay of media communication, is changing.

A brief history of press releases

The first press release was sent out in 1906 by Ivy Lee, who was considered the father of modern public relations. This first release outlined the details of an electric train wreck in New Jersey.

By 2009, as many as 3000 plus news releases were circulated in the city of New York every day. In 2009, a senior reporter in the ‘Times of India’ shared that the paper receives as many as 300 press releases every day and the discard ratio is high. Less than 20 stories, which include non-press release reportage, make the final story cut.

The new press release

So is the press release dead? Its demise is regularly declared and there are journalists who feel that there should be a better way to put out media communiques. 

Aashish Washikar, head of media relations, Tech Mahindra feels that the: “The advent of social media has definitely reduced the importance of a press release. It may not be dead completely but it has definitely been reduced to a more statutory requirement for companies. Crowdsourcing is the buzzword. There are various avenues for journalists to crowd source the responses and ideas for their stories rather than depending on a press release.”

Senior editor and technology columnist, N Madhavan, Hindustan Times says: "I have been speaking publicly about how the blog should kill the press release. We still need abstractions of releases to help journos. Some kind of an inbox appeal will always be relevant. But tiring, predictable releases are passé. A judicious combination of tweets, blogs and Facebook posts are the way to go, with occasional summary bulletins. The real challenge would be in blending the style and substance in a horses-for-courses approach".

Gautam Paul, Group Sales Director, PR Newswire India agrees that: “The traditional press release with its text, contact telephone number and email address is no longer the best way to engage with the media and get the best ROI. The world is becoming increasingly more digital and journalists and corporates need to get their target audience in the most direct and cost effective way. Social media platforms are now an important part of the mix. No one platform can be enough. For maximum impact and reach a combination of wire distribution, online reach and social media interaction is a must.”

Gautam adds that: “Journalists need factual, relevant and timely information as the demand for content is even higher now that there are so many media platforms for readers/subscribers/buyers to use when it comes to gathering information and making decisions.”

Taru Agarwal, Managing Director, Business Wire India, feels that it’s too early to kill the press release: “It still does a superb job of conveying an organisational message to the world and it will continue to do so. It has, however, not evolved as fast as the rest of the communication industry. It has added variants in the form of digital or multimedia releases but this form of press release hasn’t yet taken off properly, at least in India.”

Mrunmaiy feels that: “Press releases are an important tool of communication and they are far from dead. Every touch point made by a company or a brand to its audiences, including the press release, builds up to its overall perception. Hundreds of press releases are circulated every day, each one of them has an important announcement to make. While many make sure that the ‘what’/ key message is captured in the headline or subject of the e-mail, there is another opportunity to stand out in the crowd by putting in some creativity on ‘how’ you communicate. In addition to announcing news, I hope that press release communications in the future will also reflect the brand values that make a company special.”

Online distribution of press releases

Taru says that the last few years have seen a tremendous change in the focus of publishers shifting from purely print to digital. This has prodded the growth of the online press release distribution. “The majority of them set up dynamic websites for an instant update of news. The world of online news distribution received a major push and thus began the evolution of online news distribution in the true sense. There’s a growing acknowledgment and acceptance for online news distribution in all types of industries. There’s definitely an increase in the use of multimedia elements like images and videos in releases but standalone multimedia releases in the form of videos haven’t yet taken off.”

So while the press release is still considered a valid communication tool for the smart communicator who needs to get the attention of multiple audiences, a little dash of creativity will go a long way in gaining earned media.

Written by Paarul Chand

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