Don’t write off the press release

Last week the government’s communications chief Alex Aiken declared, “the press release is dead“. Aiken argues that this method of communicating with journalists and other key stakeholders, which dates back to the start of the 19th century, has become “cosy” for press officers, and they should look into multiple channels to distributing messages.

Aiken talks of a new era of communications where his staff are now required to prove their worth in helping to meet the government’s objectives, by making sure they are looking at the big picture: “This is the end of the big budget advertising and marketing campaigns. We will have to dip into the tool box and broadcast now and again, but it is no longer ‘SOS’ (Send Out Stuff).”

The PR toolbox

Whilst the press release is being considered a classic, it certainly isn’t a relic. You can’t deny that communications are evolving; readers are receptive to broader information and far less detail, 140 characters rather than 600 words.

For many organisations in healthcare, social media is the emerging mass market; cheaper and quicker than many other communications tools. With over 300,000 LinkedIn professionals with ‘NHS’ in their job title, and over 150 NHS trusts using Twitter, this trend is only going to increase over time.

Dipping into the toolbox, like a screw and a nut, social media and press releases work best together. LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, et al. are excellent channels. However, a good old-fashioned press release drives all the key messages for your organisation in one place, making it easy for readers, including journalists to digest and disseminate.

The toolbox includes other media types. Videos, sound bites, infographics are different ways of presenting news, thought leadership, comment, industry statistics. The King’s Fund’s ‘An alternative guide to the new NHS in England’ animated video is a great example of shareable content, which grabs the attention of both direct audiences, and the media.

Publications add value to your communications through distribution (therefore readership) but also credibility. So the skill here for PR professionals and press officers alike, is how do you engage with journalists to give organisations the best possible chance of achieving positive media coverage?

Think strategically

If we take Aiken’s ethos of looking at the bigger picture, you need to ask yourself what motivates publications, and subsequently their journalists?

The reality is that the publishing industry has changed dramatically, to an extent where ex-journalist and author of ‘Flat Earth News’, Nick Davies coined the term ‘churnalism’, a pressure from management to journalists to “cut the costs of production, and to increase the flow of revenue”.

This means that a publication’s core activity of creating and distributing news has fewer resources than ever before. Publications are changing their business models to increase revenues including pay walls/subscription models, mobile applications with added features and opportunities at industry events (i.e. networking).

Editorially, journalists want good quality content, that adds value to their publication, which means it must be relevant and interesting to their audiences.

Writing a press release isn’t a “cosy” task if you are really focused on what your target publication wants to hear. This means that your organisation’s messaging needs to be clear, concise, relevant, making it easy for the journalist to use. A standard, ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach isn’t always appropriate.

Yes, the rules of the game are changing, but press releases are still very much part of it. If your story is worth reading, it will be read, even with 600 words or more.

Long live the press release!

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